There is only one week left before we leave for our Tor Des Geants 338 km run in Northwestern Italy. The race itself begins in two weeks. As my training days wind down and the race looms ever closer on the horizon, I endlessly wonder if my preparations have been enough. How do you prepare or train for an event that is bigger than your imagination?

When received my acceptance into the event, I made myself one promise:

If anyone asks me to go for a run, I must say yes.

It seem like a pretty simple guideline and I have followed it. I think I have accepted every offer, except one when I was out of town (at a race!). With a dedicated group of trail running friends who have all had their own racing goals this summer, I have managed to run with a buddy for almost half of my runs. Most of those shared runs were the long, mountainous loops that took up a good chunk of the day. Many more of those runs followed a day of solo training, where I had worked alone on speed or hills. I have become used to running on tired legs and luckily my trail buddies are patient and haven’t minded waiting for me to catch up along the way.

So even when the TDG doles out ascents and descents that are way beyond my level of preparation, I will be able to think back on my training with a smile, thinking of those beautiful trails at home and those dear friends who have made me strong.

Here are some trail pics taken on those fabulous days with those friends (most of these have already been posted on FB in my One Per Run album):

Is that a trail? With Kelsey and Todd on Red Rotor

Is that a trail? With Kelsey and Todd on Red Rotor

Wild flowers on the rockey outcrop of Upper Queso - with Todd and Kelsey

Wild flowers on the rocky outcrop of Upper Queso with Todd and Kelsey

"There's a black bear in that clearing" - Twister trails with CVRR

“There’s a black bear in that clearing” – Twister trails with CVRR

Summiting Albert Edward with Bruce and Todd

Summiting Mount Albert Edward with Bruce and Todd

Caught in the mist of Mt. Becher - with Kelsey and Todd

Caught in the mist of Mt. Becher with Kelsey and Todd

Mtn Bike Trail Art on Crafty Butcher with Kelsey

Discovering new mountain bike trail art on Crafty Butcher with Kelsey

Hot and steep descent on Forbidden Plateau with Kelsey and Todd.

Hot and steep descent on Forbidden Plateau with Kelsey and Todd (photo credit: Todd Gallagher)

Climbing out of the log jam on the Boston Ridge Trail with Jerry, John, Todd and Kelsey (photo credit: Jerry Van)

Climbing out of the log jam on the Boston Ridge Trail with Jerry, John, Todd and Kelsey
(photo credit: Jerry Van)

 

Fabulous sign placement on Upper Puntledge Plunge trail - with Bruce

Fabulous ‘no diving’ sign placement on Upper Puntledge Plunge trail with Bruce

Using the Furtherburger stream to refill water bottles with Todd

Using the Furtherburger stream to refill water bottles with Todd

A casual MOMAR reconnaissance run with Peter on Upper Thirsty Beaver

Finding more art on a casual MOMAR reconnaissance run with Peter on Upper Thirsty Beaver

An brand new trail which gives an odd perspective on Cumberland's downtown

Jerry showed me a brand new trail which gives an odd perspective on Cumberland’s downtown

Our Cumberland Long Loop finishes off on a nasty clear cut with 2-storey-high slash piles that we call "Gateway to Corporate Greed" - with Todd, Kelsey, Steve, Jerry and J.P.

Our Cumberland Long Loop finishes off on a nasty clear cut with 2-storey-high slash piles that we call “Gateway to Corporate Greed” – with Todd, Kelsey, Steve, Jerry and J.P.

Running through a Raven Rookery high above Perseverance Creek on Bear Buns with J.P.

Running through a Raven Rookery high above Perseverance Creek on Bear Buns with J.P.

Mountain Bikers build the best trails! This cantilevered bridge is on Race Rocks trail - with Todd

Mountain Bikers build the best trails! This cantilevered bridge is on Race Rocks trail – with Todd

Running up a beautiful switchback trail called Blue Collar with Jerry, Todd and Steve (photo credit: Todd Gallagher)

Running up a beautiful switchback trail called Blue Collar with Jerry, Todd and Steve (photo credit: Todd Gallagher)

Thanks team! Every step with you has helped!

Kusam Klimb 2014

Having been Comox Valleyians for over 2 years, Bruce and I now have annual traditions to follow. Since doing something twice comprises tradition, the Kusam Klimb event is now one. Each year on the Saturday of the summer solstice, about 450 outdoor enthusiasts gather to enjoy 23 km of trail, climbing from sea level to almost 5000 ft and returning back to sea level. It is as grassroots and community-driven as an event can be.

Don't let those metric numbers fool you!

Don’t let those metric units fool you!

In order to make the most of the longest day of the year, our little group of runners, Todd, Kelsey, Bruce and I, met up at our house for a 5:00 am departure. It takes about an hour and a half to drive from Courtenay to Sayward, which allowed us just enough time to check into the race and line up for the portapotty before the 7:00 am race start. We easily met up with Steve and Karl near the Heritage Hall starting area, completing our group of local training friends.

Once again this year, the start line scene pleased me to no end. Beside wizened hikers, clothed in expedition wear and laden with heavy cordura backpacks, there were skinny shirtless dudes and dudettes decked out in compression calf sleeves and zero-drop trail shoes. This is an event for everyone – no exceptions.

At the check-in table, we each received our complimentary cotton t-shirt and a nifty thermos lunch bag (or six-pack cooler) along with our chip-enabled race number. After briefly sharing snippets of memories from last year’s event, we ambled to the start line and set off.

Most of our group had done this 23 km run last year so we knew what to expect. After a 2.2 km teaser pavement run to the Bill’s Trail trailhead, the route begins its ascent. For the next 7 km, you climb steeply and steadily for almost 1500 m (just shy of 5000 ft). There are sections where ropes are necessary and very few places where you can manage more than a shuffling pace. GPS gadgets are unable to detect forward movement due to the steepness. Strava decided that I was not moving for much of the time. Unfortunately again this year, the cloud cover was low, preventing us from seeing the 360° views from the H’kusam pass and from Keta View lookout. Instead we were treated to slightly cooler, moist air as we made out way up through the fog.

I have been working hard on my climbing legs this year so I pushed the pace whenever possible. I tried to find my own space, free of other people, so that I could monitor how I was feeling and stay within my comfort level. But comfort is not a word for this course. With sweat dripping steadily off my eyebrows and the sound of shallow panting breaths for the entire climb, I finally crossed the summit in 1 hour 53 min.

My Kusam Klimb efforts, according to Strava

The initial downhill section is incredibly steep and ropes have been put in place to help descend. But this year, there was very little snow on the course, meaning that there was little opportunity to glissade down the hill using the ropes for balance. Instead, there was a fair amount of slightly out-of-control running through recently thawed mud, hoping to avoid trip-wire roots and submerged rocks.

Soon enough, I reached the 2/3 Hut Shelter (10 km) and popped out on an ATV track which descended more gradually. For the next 13 km, the steady grade allowed for my legs to operate like windmills – just spinning freely, touching down gently with each turn.

An easy. wide descent

An easy. wide descent for about 13 km – although here I look like I’m barely holding my balance.

Little did I know that Bruce was hot on my heels. Despite his very recent recovery from Shingles and this initiation back into the world of running, he was the next person photographed at this point.

Bruce approaching Rainbow Bridge

Bruce approaching Rainbow Bridge

As I continued down towards town, I knew that I was far ahead of last year’s time. I crossed the finish line in 3:21, which is a 30 minute improvement over last year. This awarded me 44/458 overall, 13/243 in the women’s race and 3/65 in the women’s 40-49

Yahoo! Hill training really works!

Yahoo! Hill training really works!

But the story of the day belongs to Bruce – he finished just a few minutes after me in 3:24. Although he was 3 minutes speedier last year, this year he decided to run the race only 2 days before, having been flattened by Shingles for the past six weeks.

Take that!

Take that!

And with that, our little group re-assembled at the finish line and began sharing trail stories, filled with lies and embellishments. It was a stellar day of effort and enjoyment. Congrats to Kelsey on her third place finish, to Steve for his longest trail run to date, to Todd for toughing it out and still finishing fast and to Karl for being the most consistent of us all. I’m already looking forward to continuing the tradition next June!

For the story of how the real runners of the Comox Valley did in this event, you have to read the Comox Valley Record sports section of July 11, 2014. Here you will learn about the real ‘who’s who’ when it comes to running tough mountain trails. ;o)

See you on the trails!

White River 50 Miler 2014

For many years, I have approached races with caution. My mantra has been ‘conserve for later’ and, with about 30 ultra distance races in my wake, I dare say that it has served me well. I have completed all races that I have started, save for one, and I have usually finished feeling like I could carry on beyond the finish line. But I have found myself wondering if I have been holding back too much and if I am capable of more than my mantra allows. Having just completed the Knee Knacker 30 Miler with slight disappointment in my result, I decided that a change in mantra was in order.

Right Now.

How do you feel right now? What can you do right now? What do you need right now? Is this the best you can do right now? Can you push harder right now?

If I push too hard and end up crumpled on the trail side then I will take it as a learning experience and perhaps go back to my conservative ways. When the start of White River 50 came, the limit of my expectations was to improve on my previous finish time but that was it. Oh – and I wanted to enjoy the final 10 km section on Skookum Flats this time (which are not flat BTW).

As the mass of racers headed out along the airstrip and then along the beautifully rolling downhill single-track section to Camp Sheppard, I ran a comfortably swift pace, wanting to get ahead of the mid-packers before the switchbacks began. I found myself among a number of triathletes and road bike riders who were giving subtle hand signals every time we approached roots or rocky sections. I commented that their hands and arms would be pretty tired by the end of the day if they were going to point out all the obstacles along the way.

I arrived at Camp Sheppard Station (6.3 km) in 32 minutes. I hadn’t felt like I was going so fast and decided that the mileage was incorrect. As we started up the 3000 ft climb to Corral Pass, I settled into the switchbacks and the people around me. Although there were some steep sections and tight switchbacks, I was struck by how run-able the whole climb was. The trail would bring us time and again right to the edge of the rocky bluffs where you could look down on the airstrip where we started. Soon enough we could see the peak of Mount Rainier and it was an effort to pull myself away from that glorious view. As we climbed higher, more of Rainier would reveal itself and it seemed close enough to touch.

I found myself alone for most of this climb – out of view of any other runners – and I reveled in the feeling that the trail was mine alone. I was truly able to run my own pace, putting aside all chasing and hunting instincts. There was the occasional pass-and-chat with individuals along the way but then I would be alone again. A cramped belly had me visiting the little girl’s room a number of times and I made a mental note that a Buffalo Chicken Wrap is a poor pre-race meal choice. Luckily my stomach issues resolved themselves and didn’t impact my nutrition plan. I pushed myself to run most everything. I would equate the trail to Upper Queso or Mt Nikkei or Furtherburger and remind myself that I run this kind of grade all the time in training so don’t hold back now.

After I left Ranger Creek aid (18.8 km), I expected to see the returning front-runners coming down towards me but it took a long time before that happened. My memory of hurling myself into the bushes to allow them room was not accurate this time. They did come down fast and I had to step off the trail to make way but I had much better sight lines this time and there were far fewer since I was ahead of my previous pace.

Right before Corral Pass, the ‘photographer  ahead’ signs came into view and I was delighted to see Glenn Tachiyama and Ross Comer seated among the Paintbrush wildflowers, taking photos of all the racers with Mt. Rainier as an incredible backdrop.

With Glenn in the foreground and Mt Rainier in the background, this is the shot of the day in my eyes!   photo credit: Ross Comer @ http://www.comerphotos.com

Corral Pass (27.2 km) was a full-0n, Cowboy-themed, hoot’n’holler experience. I filled my bottles and got out of there before the two-step dancing began. The trail took us on a lollipop loop up to the high point of the course before it began descending and meeting up with the ascending runners. The addition of the loop meant that I didn’t get to see my friends Marie and Carie all day and I wondered if they were ahead or behind  me.

The following 16.5 km, 3000 ft descent of single track is the crowning glory of this race. The trail is soft underfoot and mostly shady through the forest. It is such a well-established trail that there are very few rocky and rooty sections with almost no alder stumps reaching out to grab trailing toes. I ran hard because I felt great Right Now. I saw almost no one for that whole time except for a few downhill specialists that I had met and passed earlier on the climb. I pushed myself to accelerate and lean downhill because Right Now I wanted to go fast but all the while I was wondering if this would destroy my quads for the next huge climb and descent.

I spent a short time at Buck Creek aid (43.7 km) making sure I got all the food and electrolytes from my drop bag for the second half. As I got back on trail and headed on the flats through the campground, my legs felt heavy and I shuffled a bit. But as soon as the trail began heading up, my legs fell into the rhythm of climbing again. For the next 2800 ft climb, I took small, high cadence steps and passed other runners who were taking big, deep-knee steps. I thought of my legs as efficient pistons on some sort of robotic machine and I was able to run some of this shorter but steeper hill.

Fawn Ridge station (51 km) came up quickly and I knew that there would soon be a brief break in the climb as we reached the ridge line before continuing up to the false summit. I continued pushing my pace and I plugged in one ear bud so I could listen to my playlist of upbeat latin, big band and folk tunes. There is nothing quite like Squirrel Nut Zippers and Basement Jaxx to get me grooving!

Getting close to Suntop with Mt Rainier behind. photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama @ http://www.tachifoto.net

Suntop station (59.5 km) was filled with enthusiastic volunteers who knew exactly what to ask a runner. My pockets were emptied of trash, my cap was soaked in cold water, my water bottle was filled with ice and they watered down cola exactly to my preference. I took a section of PayDay bar from the food table – my only aid station food indulgence of the day – and headed down the road. The gravel road descent is a mentally tough 10 km section. It is hot, exposed, dusty and covered in – gravel! It curves this way and that way and is graded consistently until the final kilometer. I passed 3 or 4 runners who were all walking and feeling too demoralized to exchange pleasantries. I found a comfortable rhythm that wasn’t fast but it didn’t ache either. The time went by quickly.

I had been dreading Skookum Flats since I signed up for this race. When you look at the race profile, your eyes are drawn to the two huge climbs and you forget to pay attention to the final 10 km of gentle up-river single track.

Yowza! Look at those 2500+ ft climbs! But don’t forget to save something for those last “flat” 10 kilometers!

From the Skookum Flats aid station (69.8 km), the trail winds up and alongside the White River and there are many little rocky ascents that are tempting to walk. In fact, the whole trail cries out for you to walk, enjoy and meander. But by this time, I had studied my watch and knew that I was headed for a big PR. The aid station volunteer warned me that this final section would take 1 hr 30 min but it fell on my deaf ears. I pushed myself hard here and passed a number of runners who were caught off guard by this tricky section. I even passed two women – the only women I had seen since leaving Corral Pass – and one of those women had a non-racer friend who was both pacing her and muling for her (arg!). I tried not to let this minor rule infraction bother me and focused on trying to run my own race.

Luckily this difficult section offers miles and miles of beautiful distraction. photo credit: Ross Comer

There are three new wooden bridges along these ‘flats’ and the final bridge is the marker of about one mile of trail to go. No sooner had I gone over that bridge when I caught my trailing toe on a root and did a full Superman flight into the bushes. Not only did I re-open a knee scrape from Knee Knacker two weeks ago, but I landed right on my recently injured and stitched up knuckles. It took me a minute or two to stand up, deal with the ensuing calf cramps and inspect my former injuries before I was able to find my pace again and push on.

Madonna was singing Die Another Day in my ear buds as I exited the trail, which seemed fitting. The long gravel parking area seemed to lengthen as I ran towards the finish line. I turned the final corner and was shocked to see my time – 10:15:01. This was a full 60 minutes faster than my time here in 2010! This finish time placed me 84th overall (out of 248) and 13th woman (out of 64) and I was first in the women’s 40-49 age group. My friends Carie and Marie took 2nd and 3rd in our age group, making it a clean Canadian sweep! Pretty decent results for a course that offers 17 400 ft of elevation change!

So I think my new mantra is here to stay. I felt like I pushed myself hard and my body responded. I had no muscle issues or fatigue during the race and my recovery has been better than I ever remember. Perhaps all that ‘conserving’ on the downhills was causing more quad damage than leaning in and flowing through. Right Now is the mantra I will take with me to Italy next month for the Tor des Geants.

As for the White River 50 Miler, it is a phenomenal race that I hope to return to many more times. Not only is the terrain unbelievably spectacular and challenging, the organisation is flawless. There was never a moment where I questioned where to go, even though the trail markers were minimal. The volunteers were helpful, enthusiastic and obviously runners themselves. It was the perfect place to throw caution to the wind.

 

Knee Knacker 2014

How is it that I grew up with the Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run practically in my backyard yet I have never entered the race? I can only surmise that the lure of exotic landscapes and unfamiliar trails has been more of a driving force than the desire to run through the easements where I hung out, tried smoking cigarettes and giggled about ‘going around’ with boys.

But upon moving to a new town and trying to find my place in the local running community, I have been asked over and over,

But have you done the Knee Knacker?

No matter that I have run numerous 50 km races, a handful of 50 mile races and even some multi-day stage runs. No matter that I have traveled to run in the heights of Colorado, New Mexico and Macchu Picchu. No matter that I co-race direct the Diez Vista 50 km trail run. It simply seems that my race resume is incomplete without this local favourite.

So I signed up, was selected in the lottery and ran it this year.

It was a hot day – tipping the thermometer out at 29° C – and the skies were bluebird blue. The course was both challenging and incredibly beautiful. There were thousands of trail marker ribbons, hundreds of volunteers and dozens of photographers. There were eleven aid stations, equipped with everything from food-stylized race snacks to pre-snipped freezies to water served in wine glasses and even a cellist. Super-soaker water guns and two-person sponge baths were welcome treats in the second half. The trails were mostly double-track, often groomed, but with plenty of rocky river bed and rooty toe-grabbers. There were countless non-racer, trail enthusiasts along the way. Mountain bikers, bus loads of tourists and dog walkers all shared the trails with us.

I was intimidated with all the talk of huge, relentless climbs and the course offered all of that, and more. I held back as much as possible on the first climb, chatting with others and staying well-below my threshold. In fact, I spent the entire day conserving energy and shying away from any fatiguing effort. I didn’t push hard, I didn’t chase and I didn’t suffer.

I was caught off guard by two sections of the course:

1)  After the Cleveland Dam, we climb up Nancy Green Parkway on the pavement. But the climb becomes pretty nasty once you re-enter the trail beyond where the Grouse Grind begins. It is a steep traverse where the footing is sketchy and where big, sapping steps are required to get around tree trunks and rocky outcrops. This section goes on and up for much farther than I had realized from the course description.

2) After Indian River Road, there are only 2 or 3 km left until the finish but it is a very challenging section. The course goes steeply down slopes and stairs to cross a creek and then it steeply climbs up out of it – approximately 9 times (hence the 9 Bridges name). That itself would be challenge enough at the end of a 30 mile run but now add in hundreds and hundreds of people out for post-picnic walks. There were small children and off-leash dogs everywhere with very few people aware that there is a race going on. I found I had to holler “Runner Up” most of the way down this section. Don’t underestimate the difficulty here!

I had hopes of finishing in 7 hours, mostly due to UltraSignUp’s finish time prediction, and I was fairly close, with a time of 7:21. The heat was a factor for everyone, causing the median finishing time (7:50) to rise to the highest point in 25 years. I finished 61/192 overall; 20/77 in the women’s race; 7/26 in the women’s 40-49 age group. But most importantly, I finished. And now, when someone asks me if I have done the Knee Knacker, I can reply:

Yes. Yes, I have. Isn’t that some superb race? Can you believe those mountains? Isn’t it incredibly well-organized? I loved every step!

But enough with the chatter. Here is my day as recorded by the many course photographers:

Start  line contemplation photo credit: Ken Blowey

Start line contemplation
photo credit: Ken Blowey

Climbing Black Mountain photo credit: Karen Chow

Climbing Black Mountain
photo credit: Karen Chow

A spectacular view of the freighters in English Bay, Point Grey, Richmond and Puget Sound beyond. photo credit: Herman Kwong

A spectacular view of the freighters in English Bay, Point Grey, Richmond, Southern Gulf Islands and Puget Sound beyond.
photo credit: Herman Kwong

Summitting and taking it all in. photo credit: Herman Kwong

Summitting and taking it all in.
photo credit: Herman Kwong

The sounds of the oboe and cello carried a fair ways down the climb. photo credit: ?

The sounds of the oboe and cello carried a fair ways down the climb.
photo credit: Karen Chow

You thought I was joking about the wine glasses, didn't you?! It was full black tie service on the top of Black Mtn. photo credit: ?

You thought I was joking about the wine glasses, didn’t you?! It was full black tie service on the top of Black Mtn.
photo credit: Ivan

The congo line of runners heading down Black Mtn towards Cypress aid station. photo credit: Ivan

The conga line of runners heading down Black Mtn towards Cypress aid station.
photo credit: Ivan

Arriving into Cleveland Dam aid station (half way) photo credit: VFK

Arriving into Cleveland Dam aid station (half way)
photo credit: VFK

Enjoying a freezie on my way out of the craziness of Cleveland aid station. I regretted having that freezie for many miles. photo credit: Bettie Neels

Enjoying a freezie on my way out of the craziness of Cleveland aid station. I regretted having that freezie for many miles.
photo credit: Bettie Neels

Zipping along the wide groomed trails around Lynn Creek and Seymour River. photo credit: Karen Chow

Zipping along the wide groomed trails around Lynn Creek and Seymour River.
photo credit: Karen Chow

Climbing up the Seymour Grind, knowing that the worst climbs of the day are behind me. photo credit: Karen Chow

Climbing up the Seymour Grind, knowing that the worst climbs of the day are behind me.
photo credit: Richard So

Just when you think the race is in the bag, they throw a section called "9 Bridges" at you and then fill it with day hikers and off-leash dogs! This was a very mentally challenging piece of the day. photo credit: Salvador Miranda

Just when you think the race is in the bag (28+ miles done), they throw a tough little section called “9 Bridges” at you and then fill it with day hikers and off-leash dogs! This was a very mentally challenging piece of the day.
photo credit: Salvador Miranda

And done. Now I can answer "yes" next time someone asks me if I have done KKNSTR.  :o) photo credit: Mike Jones

And done. Now I can answer “yes” next time someone asks me if I have done KKNSTR. :o)
photo credit: Mike Jones

The Happy Wanderer

Receive instant email notifications of new posts by entering your email address below:

Oldies But Goodies

Currently Reading

My Reviews of Recent Reads

Martha☀'s bookshelf: read

Lucky: A Memoir
2 of 5 stars
Oct 2004 - I had trouble with this book and didn't finish it. I so enjoyed "Lovely Bones" and I expected to be similarly transported. Perhaps the fact that this is auto-biographical made it too real for me and I couldn't be a by-stander ...
The Goldfinch
4 of 5 stars
From cover to cover, this is a bleak story with only brief glimmers of hope or optimism. Around 600 pages into this tome, I began to worry that it would end happily or even tidily. But Tartt did nothing so predictable and it ended with a...
Promise Not to Tell
2 of 5 stars
Yet another story about crime scene manipulation which leads to an unsolved murder case. Sheesh! This theme has been way too prevalent in my reading lately! Katy returns to her childhood home after 30 years away. Coincidentally, a young...
Cypress Point
1 of 5 stars
Who reads this kind of crap? At least I know who writes it so I never have to waste my reading time again. The prologue describes, in all its gruesome glory, a messy hippy home birthing scene which results in the death of the child and t...
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared
3 of 5 stars
If you ever wanted a summary of the important events from the past 100 years, this is the novel for you - although there is a fair amount of speculation and fictionalization, making it historically inaccurate. Jonasson tactfully ties pol...

goodreads.com
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 76 other followers