(Or Kusam Klimb 2016)

This is where the magic happens - Sayward Community Hall

This is where the magic happens – Sayward Community Hall photo credit: http://www.adventuresbycamera.com

500 people descend upon the tiny seaside village of Sayward, BC on the longest Saturday of the year with the goal of hiking steeply up to the pass of Mt. H’Kusam (1482 m / 4862 ft) and descending the gentler side in an event called the Kusam Klimb. It is a 23 km loop which can take some as long as 13 hours and others as fast as 2 hours (and change).

Kusam profile

Don’t let those metric numbers fool you! That’s 4800 ft in less than 4 miles

There is something unbelievable in the difficulty of this event that makes me keep returning. Each year, I am stunned by the route. With sweat dripping off my eyebrows and my chin, occasionally I crane my neck upwards to see those ahead of me, ascending rock faces with ropes or switchbacking endlessly out of sight. This was my fourth tour of Mt H’Kusam and, by far, it was the most enjoyable – although ‘enjoyable’ may not be the word of choice for most.  But this annual trek has become less shocking and more familiar with each passing year.

Mt H'Kusam - sea level to 5000 ft and back

Mt H’Kusam – sea level to 5000 ft and back down

I dare say that this year, I was able to approach the event with a strategy and it worked. I started off fast, pushing the pace on the paved town roads, passing as many others as possible, trying to get ahead of the middle of the packers. Although this left me gasping before I even left the pavement and before Bill’s Trailhead, I found myself free and clear of other runners for the rest of the hike.

Arriving at the Cottonwood switchback, Glen proudly looks strong and effortless as he takes the lead.

Arriving at the Cottonwood switchback, Glen proudly looks effortless as he leaves me in his dust.  photo credit: http://www.adventuresbycamera.com

Of course, there were plenty of runners near me and we made a long train up onto the single track but there was no jockeying for position, no waiting at the ropes and no frustration in wanting to pass.

The steepness still surprised me but the various twists, ascents and bluffs were familiar. I knew not to get excited when I reached Keta Viewpoint or when I arrived at the first snowy patches. I knew that the first descent is not actually The Descent and I correctly anticipated where to put my gardening gloves on for the fixed ropes. After summitting, there was no one else near me and I had the ropes all to myself. I flew downhill using the fixed ropes as my guide, hurtling at the edge of control over small trees, rocks and fallen logs along the way. In the blink of an eye, I was at checkpoint #3, out of the forest and onto the Quad Track.

I counted no less that 18 piles of fresh bear scat as I whistled down the quad track, the gravel road and the decommissioned trail. The checkpoints came and went so quickly that, in no time at all, I was back on pavement, heading to the finish line.

I crossed the line in 3:26:21, which ended up being a grand 36 seconds faster than last year!

No matter how hard I try, I always look like I'm collapsing in my finish photos!

No matter how hard I try to finish strong, I always look like I’m collapsing in my finish photos! photo credit:www.adventuresbycamera.com

Although my finish times over the past three years have all been within five minutes of each other, this year felt different because of my familiarity with the route and my mental preparedness for the inevitable spanking that this course delivers. It is an awesome event and I will keep returning each summer!

Team Huband Park teachers raised a $200 donation towards the Cumberland Community Forest Society!

Our team (Glen, me, Lisa and Korky) raised a $200 donation for the Cumberland Community Forest Society just by entering as a team and choosing a charity! 

Finish time – 3:26:21

48/497 finishers; 7/273 women; 3/88  W40-49 age group

 

When I was young, my family was a skiing family. My parents moved to this part of the world primarily due to a love for skiing. Each year, we downhill skied almost every weekend that the ski lifts operated. For more than a decade of weekends, our winter days were spent carving turns on the hill and our evenings were filled with board games, reading and early nights.

This is one of the very few photos from those by-gone days before handheld devices. Me and Sandy hamming it up near the Roundhouse on Whislter - circa 1978

This is one of the very few photos from those by-gone days before handheld devices. Me and Sandy hamming it up near the Roundhouse on Whistler – circa 1978

One night at dinner, I proudly proclaimed that I had skied hard all day and had not fallen once. I still remember being taken aback by my dad’s abrupt response:

That just means that you weren’t trying.

Even at nine years old, or whatever impressionable age I was, those words hit hard and sunk in. I guess I had been fishing for praise but his words were a reminder that pushing yourself is the only way to improve. Not working hard was not praise-worthy. His demand for work ethic even flowed into leisure pursuits.

I am no longer a skier but I carry Dad’s message with me when I run. To me, running is my version of play. I play in the forest as often as I can. I take my play seriously and I work hard when I play. That can mean that I sign up for challenging races and work hard towards being ready to toe the line. It can mean that I refuse to walk a hill or that I push my pace faster.  And this week, it meant that I ran fast, tripped on a root and fell down hard and fast during a casual solo run.

With the wind knocked out of me and severely bruised ribs, I lay at the side of the trail, gazing up at the trees and tried to figure out how I came to be reclining in the moss. I thought about Dad.

Well, Dad, I guess I am improving.

 

 

This year on Valentine’s Day, I am looking forward to feeling my pulse quicken and becoming a little flushed as I head out on a date with my guy. But this is no romantic date with red roses and whispered sweet-nothings. This is a full-on forest chase!

Pulling away on the flats

Pulling away on the flats

Since moving to our peaceful island valley, my FM and I have made a pact to take advantage of the multiple trail systems which surround us, offering fast and flowy trail runs as well as steep and nasty climbs. Twice a week, we meet up at a trailhead for date night (more of a play-date, if you ask me). Sometimes our dates are orgies, including many other like-minded trail lovers, and sometimes our dates are intimate one-on-one affairs. In either case, we drink in the beauty around us in the fading light of day before igniting our headlamps for some subtle light. Often we are so caught up in the moment that no words can be spoken. Instead, we huff and pant in unison.

Pulling away in the dark

Pulling away in the dark

There is truly nothing better than flying along forested trails in pursuit of my husband. Being a far superior athlete than me, he is able to adjust his pace to keep me company or to leave me in his dust. We stick together as we start off, maybe debriefing about our work days or discussing which trails we would like to hit. But soon conversation ends and the narrowing trails force me to fall into single file. I keep right with him, step-for-step, thinking that I am feeling fresh and I’ll be able to maintain this pace.

Pulling away in the snow

Pulling away in the snow

But soon we hit a short, sharp descent and, like a light switch being flicked on, he pulls away. I see it happening and try to match his sure-footed steps. For a while, I hold on and feel myself at the edge of control. It feels amazing to fly like this with him. We are a streak of ribbon winding through the woods.

Pulling away on the ridgeline

Pulling away on the ridgeline

Although I feel like I am holding my own at this blistering pace, I notice with each twist of the trail that he is gaining distance. Soon enough, I catch sight of him only when the trail undulates a certain way. I focus my concentration on keeping him in sight. This time, I promise myself, I will stay with him.

Pulling away on the mountains

Pulling away on the mountains

When he has finally accelerated enough to be out of sight, my mind darkens with defeatist feelings and I begin to lose my determination. My pace slows to something more manageable and I try to gain control of my breathing. This is the hardest part. I am frustrated at my performance and disappointed that my goal will not be reached. It would be easy to give up and walk.

Don't do it. Keep going. Positive Mental Attitude. PMA PMA PMA PMA PMA

Don’t do it. Keep going. Positive Mental Attitude.
PMA PMA PMA PMA PMA

But then, I spy the dim glow of his headlamp and the chase is back on. Calculating how much longer our loop is, I weigh the speed against my leg strength and stamina. I can do this. I’m not that far behind. From nowhere, I push away the dark thoughts and my determination returns.

Trying to keep up

Trying to keep up

As I reach the parking lot at full speed, he greets me warmly, looking like he barely broke a sweat, and I believe him when he comments about how fast we were today. I am realizing that this running game is not about speed and physical stamina. It is about mental strength and the ability to focus on the moment. I am thrilled to have overcome my demons once again. I can’t wait for him to put the hurt on me again next week.

And I'm spent! Let's do it again, lover!

And I’m spent! Let’s do it again, lover!

What does it take for a runner to move on to a longer distance? This question has long been one that rattles around in my head. I have blogged about it before (here) but I still don’t have an answer that satisfies. Here is Wikipedia’s definition of Long-distance running:

Long-distance running, or endurance running, is a form of continuous running over distances of at least three kilometres (1.86 miles). Physiologically, it is largely aerobic in nature and requires stamina as well as mental strength.[1]

While some runners break into a sweat at the idea of adding another 8 km to the end of a marathon, others think nothing of jumping from a 50 km to their first 100 miler. What allows one runner to constantly search for bigger challenges while another holds back?

I choose to enter races that my running friends organize or have successfully completed, thinking there is some kind of safety in that. Often I know a few folks out on the course which gives me some reassurance. Slowly, over the years, the distances have increased and my sense of adventure has grown with it. But I am still cautious in my selection of events and in monitoring my readiness for a longer distance, always wanting to read through results and blogs to know exactly what I am getting myself into.

IMG_0182

At C4P 2005, Canadian Club Smart Ass took Ventura County by storm because there was safety in numbers.

Most of us think that the marathon or even the 100 miler is the upper limit of possibility because we are unable to imagine anything beyond. But those distances are only known and accepted because someone broke out of the mold and attempted something unknown with dubious possibility of success. If you dare to do some research, you will find unbelievable events which fill to capacity with people who are able to open their minds to the endless possibilities out there. Once the bar is raised and a new distance is established, the flood gates will open with others wanting to try.

But, even more daunting than increased distances, I am amazed at runners who enter an inaugural race – a race that has neither stood the test of time nor had the wrinkles worked out. What if the water-drop gets put on the wrong mountain top or the distance is measured in nautical miles rather than those regular ones? (Don’t laugh – these things have happened!) A race’s long history is a sort of proof of its do-ability and that the organization has worked out the logistics. But this proof is absent in a first-time event and therefore it is not a race that I would enter.

Recently, Get Out There magazine published an article titled Going Long which featured two humble athletes who thrive on those kinds of races – the ones with no results, no blogs, no history. One of those featured athletes is my own husband.

tor de geants 2010

Inaugural year of 332km Tor des Geants 2010 – the great unknown in action

Those who read farther than Bruce’s extensive resume were treated to a glimpse into the philosophical thinking behind his leisure pursuit. These inaugural races of ultra-long distances, put on by unknown race directors, often in distant countries are the kinds of boundaries he aims to push. There is a purity in being completely self-reliant and, in some cases, self-sufficient, having to carry all necessary food and supplies or even having to acquire those enroute (in another language). There is also a thrill to being ahead of the curve – competing in an event that the media has not yet sullied as ‘the next great must-do race’. These events are not about the speed-work sessions you did, the number of Strava kudos earned or even the number of training kilometers logged. It is more about being able to filter out the noise and focus solely on the immediate present so that the next mountain pass can be attained. It is a great reminder that the finish line is arbitrary; the journey is everything.

No matter how far we aim to run, our limits are directly linked to restrictions we put on ourselves. If you say “I could never run that far”, then you can’t and you won’t. An open-mind and deep self-knowledge are the tickets needed to go longer.

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The Transpyrenea route follows the GR10 trail from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic through the French

The Happy Wanderer

My Paths on Strava

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