The Locals’ Favourite
For a place with such easy access to fabulous trails and wilderness, filled with adventurous and outdoorsy people, the Comox Valley does not offer many trail races. Perhaps we have not yet found out about all of them, but, at this point, I can only count 3. There is the Snow To Surf Team Relay in April, the GutBuster Hill Climb in August and the Perseverance Trail Run in October. Although there are quite a few road running races and one Yeti snowshoe race, there is simply not much available for racers who prefer to run on trails.
When I began some subtle inquiries into the Perseverance Trail Run, locals answered with words like ‘extreme’ and ‘challenging’. Most had heard of the race but no one I spoke to had attempted the full 10 km. There is a 3 km option which still put fear into those I asked. These reviews left me feeling unsure if I was cut out for something so difficult. But after feeling so great after the grueling Kusam Klimb, we decided to register for this one.
We linked up with some of B’s co-workers who really know the endless Cumberland trails and we began meeting up weekly to train on the race route. It is no wonder that the course is notorious for its difficulty – sections of the trails are relentlessly steep and rocky with precarious footing. Those training evenings opened my eyes to the wide open access we have to the backcountry. I’m certain you could climb on well-trodden trails all the way to Gold River, if you had the time!
The race is held on the weekend prior to Hallowe’en so my biggest concern in the final week was a costume. I finally decided to don my daisy Moeben running skirt with matching arm sleeves. It seemed festive but practical. The starting line had every kind of costume imaginable, including ballgowns, wigs and swarms of bees.
When the starting ‘go’ was shouted, I tucked myself right in behind Steve, our training tour guide, and let him lead me through the crowd of 200. He took off like a cannon, trying to race up the gravel road and reach the narrow trail entrance before the middle-of-the-packers did.
It was only about 300 m of gravel road, but we sprinted hard. As we neared the trail entrance, I saw a tall man decked out in a ridiculous ladybug costume and I clearly remember thinking “I will NOT let that ladybug beat me!”. I have no idea where that competitive edge came from.
Once on single track, I did a double-take, seeing that B was just up ahead of me. I knew that I had to cool my jets if I was going to complete this thing. But once on single-track, it became difficult to choose my own pace because I was locked in between fast racers. The first trail section passed through Two And A Juice and Buggered Pig before it popped back out on the gravel road. For that whole section, I pushed my pace and tried to hold my ground, red-lining my cardio system the whole time.
As we came out of the woods and onto the gravel road, a woman hollered at me “Fourth Woman!”. I had planned to catch my breath for a few minutes, but that comment spurned me on. I really dislike gravel road running, especially when it is straight and steep, but it does have the advantage of allowing racers to re-seed themselves. A few men passed me but no women.
We turned onto another trail called Miner’s Revenge and began our ascent up to the high point of the route. It is grunt and, for me, much of it has to be walked. During one of the slightly less steep sections, two women passed me. I didn’t mind being passed here because I have never been very strong on climbs. But what I did mind was that they were chatting amiably the whole way up! I could barely keep my eyeballs looking the same way yet they were talking, answering and making sense. I felt like calling out “No talking. People are suffering here!” (Thanks to Erik Zabel for the useful quote!)
Once we summited at the little no name pond, we headed down some of the sweetest downhill single track I know. With names like Bucket Of Blood, Bear Buns, Steam Donkey and Off Broadway, we descended quickly from the 450m high point. I hoped that I would catch one of those women but I never even saw a glimpse of them.
As got closer to the finish, I changed my focus from the ones I was chasing to the ones who were chasing me. I tried my best to keep my tempo up and to stay upright. As we re-entered civilization (and therefore pavement), I fought off the urge to slow down and walk. The last km, it was difficult to stay in the mental game.
I was thrilled to see the finish chute and I crossed the line in 1:10.35. My efforts earned me the placings of 37/234 Overall, 6/144 Woman and 2/77 in the Women’s 40-59 category and I was rewarded with a Hot Chocolates silver-wrapped chocolate medal, which was promptly eaten. There is no doubt that this run is a true challenge, offering just about every kind of terrain that Cumberland has to offer. But don’t be frightened off by its reputation. If folks toe the line in bunny costumes, fairy wings and togas, then it must be a race for everyone!