There's been a lack of blog posts, which means that I haven't had the greatest year of racing! Of the races since last year's Buckin' Hell 50k, I've had two DNFs, two DNSs, one epic vomit-fest of a fifty-miler, some minor injuries, and, okay, fine, two pretty okay 25k races. It's been a long time since I'be been able to prove my ultrarunning ability to myself, and I hoped that this race would give me that chance.
Despite the setbacks in racing, training has been great over the past few months, steadily logging 80-120k weeks since November, all on trail, with plenty of vert. I even went out and got a bike for some cross-training. Having not ridden a bike in nearly nine years prior, I naturally disregarded all advice and got a twitchy, light, single-speed track bike. I love it, and no, I have no intentions of taking up triathlons, unless someone can find me one with a short swim in a pool, a nice road bike, and a steep mountain race!
With a fourth-place finish, last year's Buckin' Hell went pretty well, and I made a couple changes to try and make the most of my improved training. Most significantly, I ditched my Luna Sandals for this one in favour of a pair of old Altra Superiors. Although I continue to train almost exclusively in sandals to keep my form in check, racing over rocky trails is much easier in shoes since you can land mid-foot, giving more foot placement options which helps with speed, fatigue, and safety. I like how I'm bothering to explain the function of shoes, as if they're somehow novel.
2017 Buckin' Hell 50k Deep Cove/Mount Seymour, North Vancouver
Like last year, the lead pack went out hard. Ten seconds after the start, in a group of eight runners, I announced "alright, we need to sort out who here is relay!" Surprisingly, only two people of the lead pack were! It was time to hit my first and most important race goal - run my own race. So, when Ullas and Graeme (2nd and 3rd last year, respectively) made a move on the technical, stair-laden trail, I ignored my impulse to chase, falling behind and out of sight. By minding my own business, I could keep the stress down and focus on what I was doing. It's so easy to give in to chasing people, but I find running to my own strategy produces the best results, so I sat back and waited.
Sure enough, as soon as we started on some good climbs, I caught back up, and pulled into the lead. I noticed that Graeme had been following Ullas closely, and when I passed he tucked in right behind me. Not having any background in competitive running, I'm a total novice when it comes to race tactics, but I made a note of this, and it would come in handy later. In the meantime, I employed my only other tactic, which is to happily chatter non-stop at whoever is around me, and so both Graeme and Colin from Kitimat, a relay runner, got a good dose of chit-chat as we finished the climb and started the wonderfully smooth banked trail down again. This race is worth doing for many reasons, and the upper section of Dale's trail is near the top of that list.
Over the next 5k we swapped stories (and places, when I stopped to retrieve part of my beloved peanut butter chocolate chip Lara Bar, lying abandoned, neglected, forlorn in the dirt after a rocky drop). Colin put the hammer down on some technical climbs, and Graeme stopped for a moment, but we were all into the first aid station at 13km together, after the smoothest, fastest, most wonderful non-technical descent. Apart from the bars, I was relying on liquid nutrition (strawberry vanilla Hammer Perpetuem, for those interested. Good stuff, but gets a bit bitter when warm) for the rest of my calories, making aid stations a pleasingly simple and efficient task. My dad was crew, and I just ran in, tossed the old bottle, grabbed a new bottle and bar, and was off. #2 race goal was to spend less than a minute cumulatively between all eight aid stations.
The main climb of the race starts at about a half marathon in. I wasn't feeling bad, but not great either, and looking back I could see Graeme still behind me. I was keen to try and put a bit of a gap between us, since nearly the whole second half of the race is downhill, where he had been quicker. A third of the way through the climb, I couldn't see him any longer, but after exiting the forest for the last time onto the road, I just wasn't moving quite as well as I should. It's usually a sign that stomach issues are around the corner, and sure enough, at the third aid station, 28km in, I ate a couple chips, ran out of sight of everyone, and promptly vomited everything up. Well, I was out of sight of everyone except Graeme, who had ripped up the hill and passed just as the first spew hit the dirt.
But, it's not like I don't have experience running on empty.
I kept on going, and thankfully the next 6k were slow going because of the crazy snowpack this year, giving my stomach a bit of a break. Steadily winding our way to the summit, past tourists and immensely dedicated volunteers, past alpine lakes rimmed with melting snow and fresh early-spring foliage, I kept as much drink down as possible, and let Graeme move ahead, onwards, out of sight.
Returning to the summit aid station, I leaned against the table, ready to take a moment and regroup. My dad wasn't having it. "He's a minute ahead. Go."
I felt like the people at the aid station shouldn't be cheering me on - doesn't anyone know how much of a mess I'm in? It's been over an hour since I've had any meaningful calories, I'm losing time to the guys behind on these technical trails, and I can hardly see out of my right eye! Onto the path, through knee-deep puddles, over roots, logs, small creeks, rocks; all good fun, but slow going. On the plus side, I hadn't puked again, and had taken in just enough calories from the drink mix to keep myself moving. The trail eventually smoothed out, and gradually turned back up the hill for a short climb. I was moving well again, and to my surprise, there's that blue shirt - Graeme, just ahead on the hill!
Only 10k left? That's like a drag race for ultrarunners.
We got to the aid station at 39km within a couple seconds of each other. He filled with water, I filled with water, he stopped to get a little more food, I took my chance and booked it. I remembered how close he had run early in the day - it would freak me out to be followed so closely, this late in the game. There was no way I could keep my mind on the trail with someone right behind me, and I'd make mistakes. Time to take some risks. About 10,000 of them, every step to the finish. This was going to end with a win, a close second, or a broken ankle.
Down the first descent, carefully past where I'd taken a short wrong turn last year, and out onto the gravelly powerline trail. Dang, still there, maybe eight seconds back. Hard left onto the trail again, and as soon as the view back is blocked by the trees, floor it. I don't know how many toenails this next section cost me, maybe I'll update this blog when they finally fall off. It's cool, actually, I have one which was already recovering, so I might have three layers of toenail on one toe!
I tried my best to look fresh and confident as I came into the final aid station, 5k to go. Shouting "thirteen thirty-four, one-three-three-four!" for the check-in, I swapped bottles and turned around. Quick note - I always make a point of thanking the volunteers on course, but I'm afraid that I missed thanking the aid station workers here, both times - first time through because my mouth was very full of chocolate, and the second time because my brain was broken. I say it now - thank you very much for taking the time to support all us runners!
The final aid station has a short out-and-back, and I really wanted to pass by the incoming trail without seeing Graeme, but we crossed over just long enough to shout encouraging words at one another, a gap of about one minute. The final ascent, some flat, and a gnarly steep trail descent back onto the finish road. Ask the volunteers "do you see a guy in a blue shirt behind me?!" "No!" Sprint anyways.
11 months without a successful ultra. I won't hide it; I was pretty happy. Maybe a little too enthusiastic, but adrenaline does that. Into the finish, big hug from Gary, first ultra win, a new course record of 5:12:01.
But best of all, several hours enjoying the finish line, meeting new people, chatting with friends new and old, watching Gary's crazy scheme of having runners dash down rocks, over a beach, then swim out to a platform to win prizes, it made me wish I lived on the mainland to be a part of it more often. More frequent ferry rides are in my future, 'cause this is way too much fun to miss out on.
A day on the trails is best when shared - not only did I find someone who would push me much further than I would've otherwise gone, but also just a fun guy to run around on the trails with. Thanks Graeme!
Writing words here and there on adventures running out in the forests and mountains