A Tradition Begins
Kusam Klimb Race Report
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!