Race Day Play By Play
Have you ever wondered what runners think about when they are out, alone, on the trails for hours? For me, some hours drift past almost unnoticed while others are cemented in my mind for years.
Here’s my hour-by-hour memory dump for 22 glorious hours on the Finlayson Arm 100 km route.
Pre-Race Prep Over these past two months, I trained as if cramming for an exam, sort of like drinking from a firehose. Having run the Finlayson course multiple times, I know you can’t fake the fitness needed to climb and descend the endless hills but I didn’t have time to build up a base of fitness nor work specifically on hills and speed.
When I finally decided to register in July, my training plan was simple – run a lot – and I did, making the most of my glorious summer time off and trying to get out of my covid slump. Now that race day is here, I am simply ready to see what today (and tomorrow) hold for me. My goal is to run as much as possible and go as fast as I can – but isn’t that everyone’s goal?? The difference for me this year is letting go of time pressures and expectations. I will be just as content with 26 hours as I will be with 19 hours. What a freeing thought.
5 pm – Start Line We arrive at Goldstream in plenty of time to pitch the tent, organize my gear and head down the hill to race central. Old friends are everywhere and I manage to have quick chats with Lori, Myke, Sylvia, Geoff and Jade as well as sneak one or two of Lori’s amazing cookies that she makes for the volunteer crew. As I stand in a fairly long line-up for Matt’s pre-race moody headshot, I meet Sarah Li who reveals that this is her first 100km and that she is more than a little familiar with my race reports. Imagine! My own fan-girl!
My usual pre-race sense of calm and preparedness washes over me as we all gather for the briefing. With about 100 racers toeing the line, it feels almost congested. Forty are attempting The Double (100km + 28km) while 60 of us are content with just 100km. I find Marion in the crowd and we have a quick catch-up chat and start our run together. All systems are go and we are off.
6 pm – Mt Finlayson Outbound (6.8 km) Having completed the loop on the western side of Hwy 1, I am six minutes into my first ascent of Mt Finlayson which will take me 30 minutes today. This bottom section is tough with nasty footing and rolling unstable rocks. There are gradients occasionally topping out at 44% although the Finny Climb averages 18%. I settle into the climb, trying to occupy my mind with mapping out the best route up so that my nighttime ascent is easier to navigate.
7 pm – Caleb Pike (12.5 km) I am at the junction of Rabbity Trail and Caleb Pike. After descending down from Rowntree Aid Station, this is where we start ascending again, this time towards Holmes Peak. I amuse myself for a short while wondering why Myke doesn’t send us along Rabbity Trail instead. It also goes to McKenzie Bight but maintains a low elevation and has a cute name. Maybe I’ll suggest it to him tomorrow. I was in and out of Rowntree aid station quickly. Bruce is working there all night so I look forward to his encouragement and efficiency during each of my four visits. I’m moving well, feeling great and looking forward to checking off these next two peaks.
8 pm – Over Jocelyn Hill Outbound (18.3 km)What an awesome surprise to find an unsanctioned water station at the top of Jocelyn Hill! I have just had a water refill with a side of unexpected encouragement and now I am headed down my favourite part of the entire course. This part reminds me of Goathead and Plateau trails on Forbidden Plateau. Matt is up here, snapping his trademark shot of each racer with the stunning view of Finlayson Arm below. Although the sun has just gone below the horizon, the dying light and crescent moon are beautiful from up here. Soon I’ll need my lights and I’m looking forward to the dark.
9 pm – Starting up Mt Work Outbound (24.0 km) I have just left the Ross-Durrance aid station and hit the 24 km mark. The aid station was super busy and I simply couldn’t get out of there fast enough. As I climbed out of McKenzie Bight with Sarah, I made a mental note of the three things I had to do at the station – get food from drop bag, refill water, get rid of garbage.
I was in and out in less than 3 minutes. It is especially strange with masks and covid protocols but everyone is adapting really well. We are given hand sanitizer as we enter the station (stinky fragrant stuff) and everyone wears a mask while interacting and at food tables. If eating, we racers distance ourselves from the many helping hands and shovel the food and drink in with our backs turned. I imagine that all these spectators will go home by the time I get back here tonight. I kind of hope so.
10 pm – Approaching Munn Road Station (28.6 km) I’m still in this but suddenly everything feels cautious. As I climbed up Mt Work, on a runnable section, I caught a toe on a root and did a flying Superman fall. Although I didn’t hurt myself on landing, both legs went into complete spasm, cramping up and causing me to screech and wail. An oncoming runner, who must have been in fourth place or so, actually stopped and ran back to me to see how badly I was hurt. Realizing that my drama-queen antics needed to be toned down, I quickly sent him on his way.
But my race flashed before my eyes – Will I have to drop? Will this be the end of my day? Is this severe cramping doing damage to my calf and groin muscles? With my legs all akimbo, I had to scooch my upper body towards a tree and pull myself up. As soon as my legs were under me again, relief washed over and the cramping subsided. I searched around for my handheld flashlight and then took a salt tablet, gently testing my legs. Not knowing when the cramping will come on again, I am moving slowly and considering every footfall. I haven’t been able to run yet on this descent but, with every kilometer, I feel more confident.
Derek and Jordan recently passed me on this section which surprises me since I thought they were far ahead of me. I look forward to this next part since there will be more racers crossing paths from here on.
11 pm – Ross-Durrance Station (33.8 km) I am hungry for real food so I step up to the food table this time and find that they have dill pickles! I eat a bunch and then hear that the chefs have made fantastic quesadillas. They are ready, warm and delicious. In reality, they are simply a tortilla with some melted cheese but race food is a whole other category of deliciousness. These hit the spot and I eat couple plates full.
My legs have cooperated since my fall and I am able to run in a mostly normal way. The cramping was so severe and it never really leaves my mind that it can happen again. But it is a boost to me to think that I have overcome something so painful through sheer determination.
I am dreading the next big climb, coming up from the shore of McKenzie Bight but I just have to remember that, going the other direction, this is my favourite section. It’s all in the perspective.
12 am – Almost at Jocelyn Hill Summit Homebound (38.0 km) Would you believe that four hours ago I was in the exact same spot? How crazy is that? But I am just about at the end of the 1+ hour climb and can hear cowbells up around the next switchback. It surely isn’t cows. It is probably the pop-up water station whooping it up as midnight rolls in.
This summit is such a big milestone. I have the tunes playing through my one earbud and I am boogying up this ‘hill’. It is a perfect night for running or, in my case, walking with distinct purpose.
1 am – Almost at Holmes Peak Homebound (43.1 km) Things really do go bump in the night. Just back there, I saw a creature at the side of the trail. It was long and black. It could have been a muskrat or a mink. Or I suppose it could have been a cat. But it surprised me as much as I surprised it. I have seen so many voles on the trail tonight and many of them have been right underfoot, trying to escape the beam of my lamp and the tread of my shoe. So far I haven’t crushed any. (small victories)
I have been on my own for a long while now although I am sure that other runners are fairly nearby. I prefer if this way – just me and my 5 foot radius of light.
2 am – WTF Bear Mountain! (48.6 km) This is some crazy ass sh!t. Just before sending us off at the start line, in Myke’s understated way, he told us about a slight course change on the return trip around Bear Mountain. But this is nonsense.
Apparently after five years of granting access to the Canada Cup Trail, the Bear Mtn community denied access for the race this year. On very very short notice, the race committee got innovative and built the trail I am currently cursing. It is not yet a trail (maybe by weekend’s end) but the flagging is plentiful so I know that I am supposed to clamber over these boulders and navigate this 60 degree slope. Is that a cougar-launching pad up ahead?? Maybe I’m hallucinating. I don’t question anything – except my sanity.
As the saying goes, if you don’t like the trail you are on, keeping moving.
3 am – Goldstream Halfway (52.7 km) Have I really been here at the turn around aid station for almost 20 minutes? How did that happen? I blame it on the dreaded chair – or in this case a cot. Or perhaps it is this beaken of light and warmth in the darkness. I try not to think about the fact that it has taken me 2 hours longer to get to this point than last time. I am sitting down for the first time in 10 hours, just taking a few minutes to go through my drop bag, change my lamp batteries, eat a plate full of tator tots (is this a good idea??) and find the will to head out again.
But the minutes have quickly slipped away and now I feel rushed. A patient volunteer has been with me the whole time, pulling stuff out of my bag, refilling my bottles, closing the frickin’ battery case when my fingers simply won’t cooperate. She is an angel and I honestly could stay here for hours. But now there are new sets of headlights approaching the aid station and I am suddenly driven to get out of sight before I am seen.
Now that I’m on my feet again and heading up the road, will I be able to resist the temptation of my cozy sleeping bag inside our pitched tent right here in the field?
4 am – Westside of Hwy 1 (57.4 km) It is almost unfathomable to think that I am going to run all of this again. Now that I am once again out and alone on the trail, I simply can’t imagine another 11+ hours of this. I am listening to a fun play list of favourite songs but the shuffle feature is not shuffling very well and I am listening to Boyfriend (Repeat) by Confidence Man way too often. I didn’t think I could get sick of this song but … right now I hate it.
I just passed a guy who was actively puking on the trail. He tells me that he has been sick for hours and was trying to get over it but now he just wants to quit. We talk about salt and electrolytes but he really just wants to know the fastest way back to Race Central. Although I disagree, he insists on continuing forward to the base of Finny and then picking up the return loop home. It will be a 90 minute loop either way in his condition.
Suddenly I am thankful that my biggest complaint is a repeating pop song.
5 am – Mt Finlayson summit Outbound (61.0 km) It is done. Finlayson is in the bag. It was slow and agonizing but I did it and I don’t have to do it again today.
My earlier study of footing through the babyheads and routes through the roots paid off. At least I recognized specific parts and felt like I was making progress. Now all I have to do is make it to Bruce at Rowntree station. He will set me straight and it will feel like I have accomplished something.
6 am – Caleb Pike (65.4 km) Here I am again at the Rabbity Trail and Caleb Pike junction. Who would notice if I took the low road? Oh – I would. I would notice, remember and regret it forever. Keep on trucking. The dawn light will be lovely from up on Holmes and Jocelyn.
7 am – Summit of Jocelyn Hill Outbound (70.0 km) I just summited Jocelyn Hill and had my water bottles refilled at the secret station again. Somehow I am in the same place again at the top of this hour. What are the chances?
The breaking dawn has been beautiful and I keep waiting for a good spot to snap a photo. It has been a lovely night but I am relieved to remove my light belt and be able to see farther than my beams reach. I don’t think it will make me move any quicker but you never know. Unfortunately there are red skies this morning and dark clouds ahead.
8 am – Approaching Ross-Durrance Outbound (75.3 km) I have just left the lowest elevation point of the route but this time, as I climb out of McKenzie Bight, I am feeling down, defeated and depressed. It has started raining.
I have just passed Gillian, who has been reduced to a walk by severe and unpredictable knee pain. We chatted and walked together for a while and, being the first familiar face she has seen in hours, she was brimming with emotion, wondering out loud about her knee and if she was risking damage to it by continuing. It looks as if her race is over and she is coming to terms with it as she hobbles along but the stress of her emotions was passed directly to me. I shouldn’t be in front of her and I shouldn’t be feeling good if she is suffering. This is the lowest point for me.
Why am I doing this?
9 am – Summiting Mt Work Outbound (78.9 km) It sure helps to know people out here. The race committee here is built of runners who know exactly what to do and what to say to a runner who needs help. When I got to Ross-Durrance, Andrew came to my rescue. He listened to my concerns and acknowledged my tears but said what needed to be said to get me going again. He knows my history and reminded me that I can do anything I set my mind to. Next thing you know, I’m heading out of the station and up Mt Work again.
Although he has helped me move forward, I have no idea how I am going to find the will to climb up that frickin’ Jocelyn Hill again. But that is a long way off. I still have to climb up and descend Mt Work twice more before I can think about Jocelyn. I am moving so slowly. I just have to remember that I have lots and lots of time left. I don’t need to go fast. I just need to go.
10 am – Summiting Mt Work Homebound (83.4 km) For the first time all race, I am running with someone. Mark and I met up coming into the Munn Road station this morning and we have been regaling each other with stories of our day. He is better at route finding than me so he leads the way and I shuffle along behind.
Hitting that turn-around point is pretty significant. All I have to do now is head home. Less than 25 km to go.
11 am – McKenzie Bight (87.7 km) The tide is out now as I cross the sand at McKenzie Bight – the tide line simply more proof that I have been out here for a long time.
I have been moving pretty well now that the technical footing of Mt Work is behind me. I picked up my trekking poles at Ross-Durrance this time and I imagine that I will crutch my way up Jocelyn once again.
The 50 km runners are approaching me as they head outbound and the men’s leader just passed me as he pranced on towards home. Everyone seems cheerful and positive despite the rain. I have seen a bunch of familiar faces from the Comox Valley which offers such a boost, even if I don’t know some of them very well.
There is endless distraction in watching all sorts of runners in this out-n-back course and I enjoy seeing all the different running styles and attitudes. It is hard to mask anything when the effort is this high and I’m sure my glassy-eyed grimace speaks volumes. I want to tell each of them that this is my attempt at a smile and that I am enjoying myself in a type 2 way.
12 pm – Almost at Jocelyn Hill Summit Homebound (91.9 km) It is Groundhog Day as I am once again almost at the summit of Jocelyn Hill as another hour rolls past. These switchbacks are very familiar now. So much so that when a 50 km racer passes me and asks if the summit is close, I actually give an accurate description of the next two kilometers. I think it was a lucidity test and I give myself a passing grade.
I know I should stop and deal with the blister situation on my toes but somehow I decide to ignore it since there are less than 15 km to go. For that choice, I fail a lucidity test.
1 pm – Holmes Peak Homebound (96.5 km) Crossing over Holmes Peak means yet another checkmark on my endless list of peaks to bag today.
Usually I would be thinking ‘it’s in the bag now!’ with ~10 km left but I clearly remember that brutal Bear Mtn trail and I really wonder how my body will navigate those huge boulders, narrow slots and steep slope on these wet-noodle legs. I have to focus more on this moment and stop worrying about what is coming up.
‘Focus, Martha! And stay frickin’ positive, you binny skitch!!’
2 pm – WTF Bear Mountain #2 (101.8 km) Nope – I wasn’t exaggerating. This trail is a nightmare. It has had a bit more wear since I was here 11 hours ago but it still is only a vague idea for a trail. I am trying desperately to think of something positive about where I am. Here go my attempts at gratitude:
I am glad I picked up my poles to help with this part, especially with my painful toe blisters.
I appreciate the plentiful flagging. I pat myself on the back for having crossed over the 100 km point.
I know that I’m almost done.
This section will make the final descent down Finlayson look easy.
This terrible trail is actually only 1 km in length.
There is a Driftwood beer in my very near future.
Bruce who I just saw at Rowntree station will be at the finish when I cross the line.
I will be done within the hour.
2:47 pm – Finish Line (105.5 km) I have been playing mind games all the way along the Prospector’s Trail. I am certain that the flagging is incorrect and that I am heading back down to the creek for another loop. My feet are destroyed with popped blisters and aching toenails. I should have attended to them hours ago but I didn’t and now I am just hobbling along. Hobbled.
As I pass the junction that actually leads down to the creek crossing, I realize that I have been on the right trail all along and I have less than a kilometer now. I can see the tents in the group site. I can see folks milling around. I call out my race number to a volunteer spotter. I hear the race announcer’s voice. I descend onto the field. I hear my name. I see Myke. I see Bruce. I cross the line. I did it.
Finish time 21:46:49; 30/59 finishers; 6/17 women; 2/4 W50-59 age group