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