Saturday, August 23, 2008

Chuckanut 50 KM Trail Race

I had been training for this race for quite some time. I usually don’t trail run much over the winter because of the snow but that didn’t stop me this year. This was my 3rd 50 km run and I was happy to get out onto some new terrain in a different country. Chuckanut 50km

I woke up at 5am to prepare my pre-race meal- oatmeal w/ banana. I like eat at least 2 hours before race time. The race starts at 8am and I didn’t get there until 7:36, so I was a little rushed for time. I waited in a 15 minute line to get my race number and then give the volunteers my drop bag for mid race. It was raining so I packed an extra pair of gloves and a shirt to change into in case I was soaking wet. We all piled up near the start line and I moved my way up to the front of the pack. The race director did her final countdown and 3…2…1, we were off. The first 6 miles runs along fairhaven’s interurban trail. The trail is pretty much flat with a couple undulating hills. This is a speedy section but because it is at the beginning of the race it is really easy to get caught up and start too fast. I made sure to hold back a little bit but my heart rate was still in the high 160’s almost 170’s and I was iffy on whether I went out too fast. I was running with these 3 guys and we were all shooting for a similar time (break 5 hours) and they were locals. We ran together for the entire 6 miles. That is one thing I love about ultra-running, you get to meet so many people all along the course. You may be with them for 5 minutes or 1 hour but you always chat after the race and talk about your experience. After you reach the end of the 6 mile trail you pass by the first aid station and loop back onto the interurban trail for about 100 feet and then head up. I got to see the leaders pass me by on this loop and they looked strong.

Me and my boyfriend/training partner Peter had ran part of this course a couple of months ago just to get familiar with the trail. I knew that the upcoming section was all uphill and if I was to run it I would completely deplete my legs and struggle the whole rest of the race. My plan was to hold back and power hike until I got to the top. All of the men around me flew right past and surged up the hill. I am very much used to that. I let people get tired running up the hill and pass them once I get to the flats and down hills. The next 1.8 miles consisted of uphill switchbacks. I made sure to keep a steady tempo going up. Once you get to the top, descend by a beautiful lake and follow a narrow path going uphill again and then downhill. I reached aid station number 2 as the 6th place female. Knowing this gave me a little but more of a push because I really wanted to try and catch the top females. For the next 3 miles you ascend up a logging road. Some of it is quite steep. I started the ascent with another guy but he started to run and I continued to power hike. It didn’t take long before he was 20 feet ahead of me doing the same thing. I kept him in sight the entire way up and it didn’t take me long to pass him once we got into the descending trail. Before the descent, I reached Aid station number 3. This station had my drop bag. I gave my camelpak to the volunteer to fill up and changed from a thicker long sleeve shirt into a short sleeve shirt. I don’t sweat a lot and therefore I have a poor cooling system and tend to heat up quickly, which I really dislike. The volunteers were very helpful and after thanking them I was off. Nutrition wise, I had a gel right before the gun went off at the start and I continued to have one every 30 minutes. I only take water as my liquid fuel source and gels as my source of calories. I have had much success with this in the past and it was working well for me today.

This next section was really fun! It was mostly singe track along this scenic ridge trail. I think if it wasn’t so foggy it would have been a bit more scenic but I used my imagination instead. They had all these fun signs up along the trail such as “everyone loves hills” and then 10 feet later “ok…maybe downhills are better” and I also saw one that had a picture of a girl on it that said “you are fast and sleak”. They are good for a little distraction here and there. I passed the 5th and 4th place women during this section and was now in 4th myself. I find it very motivating to be a placing contender. It only drives me to push harder and I really wanted to try my best to catch the 3rd place female. There was a lot of mud at this point. It was almost impossible to dodge so I just accepted having wet and muddy feet. It’s part of the game so you might as well embrace it. I was now running with a group of 3 men. One was a little faster than the others and once we got to a hill he would just surge ahead. It wouldn’t be until the last 2 miles that I could catch up with him. We were now going back up…and up…and up. Don’t get me wrong I like hills because they give me a break from running and my heart rate settles a little bit, but this ascent was relentless. Now I have heard people use that term for many races and never have I said it myself, until now. Just when you thought you were near the top, it would only get steeper and then level off and you would get to run for a minute, only to begin to ascend again. It was so steep in some parts that I began to walk sideways to give my calves a little bit of a break. I finally reached the top and had the pleasure of heading downhill. This is where I get to have a little bit of a break and have some fun. The descent consisted of some muddy switch backs and then spitted you back out onto some logging road. I caught up to quite a few men on this section but hadn’t seen any females yet. The logging road was pretty steep going down and was hard on the knees. After a short while you turn left off the logging road to head back into some non-technical trail. This was just as steep as the logging road but the ground was softer taking some of the load off your knees. Before I got to the bottom of the steep descent I experienced a little bit of gastro intestinal difficulties and had to head to the bushes a couple of times to relieve myself. This is pretty common because my body can only handle so many gels. At that point I had probably had about 8 or so. After dealing with that the trail met back up with the first aid station.

Once I reached aid station #1, I expressed a big sigh of relief and a lot of excitement. All I had to do now was run 6 miles of flat trail all the way to the finish. I soon realized that this was going to be very mentally tough. My legs were already pretty cooked from all the uphill and steep downhill and there was about 5-6 men up ahead I really wanted to try and catch. I felt like I was going at a snails pace but I just kept moving my arms and putting one foot in front of the other. I guess I wasn’t going that slowly because I ended up with the 16th fastest time on the last section of the race. As the numbers started to decrease from the 6 mile marker to the 5th, to the 4th, I just kept thinking to myself how small of a number that was and how close I was to being done. I purposely inhaled about 2-3 gels in that last section to make sure I had enough energy to keep going as strong as I could. I ended up passing about 4 guys right in the last 2 miles and I was pretty excited. There is something about passing someone that drives you to go faster because there is no way I want them to pass me again, not in this stage of the race. One of the guys was someone who I had been going back and forth with the entire last ½ of the race. I could finally hear the announcer calling out people’s names and I knew I was close. I really started to pick up the pace because I wanted to have a strong finish and came across the line in a time of 4 hours 55 minutes. I was so happy and so relieved. I hugged a few of my friends who were already finished and waited for some of the men I had previously passed near the end to congratulate them on a good race. It is these guys who help you stay on pace and motivate you to go faster and harder and that is worth thanking them for. I immediately headed over to the massage tent and had a 25 minute massage that felt heavenly. Afterwards you are directed into the food tent where they have an amazing spread of homemade burritos w/ all the fixings.

I am very happy with my finish. I ended up being 4th place female and I achieved my goal of a sub 5 hour finish time. Would I do this race again? Of course I would! They are thinking of changing the course for next year which would be nice because there is a lot of flat trail and too much logging road without enough technical trail sections. Living in North Van I get spoiled with how much technical trail running there is here.All in all a great experience and would suggest this well organized race to anyone.

Comfortably Numb 25km Trail Race

My training partner Peter Watson (manager at North Shore Athletics- they sponsor the event) has done Comfortably Numb ever since it began 5 years ago. It is located in Whistler, B.C and after a few mixed messages on the weather over the last week (and some rain on the drive through Squamish); it turned out to be a very nice day. The race starts at 9am, a little later than most. This allows people commuting from Vancouver a chance to drive up. There were a lot of recognizable faces. The same faces you see at most of the local trail races.

I agreed to do the race a few months back and had kind of forgotten about it. As I am in the middle of my training I did not taper for it. My training partner and I are on a periodization training program and this was a “down” week in mileage. We used it as a great training tempo run. I have been feeling like I had a cold coming on and was unsure of how I was going to perform today. I really had no intention on racing it but once you get out there, that competitiveness simply takes over.

This race was very challenging in the sense that it was extremely run-able. I have grown accustom to running in the North Shore Mountains. Here you will find very steep up-hills and very steep down-hills, with some fun flats in between. The steep slopes means that I am usually power hiking up, not running. Having to run all of the up-hill sections of this race meant that my heart rate was quite a bit higher than it normally would be if I was power hiking. The race starts out with a short climb up a logging road and the rest of the first half is single track undulating switchbacks. As I said earlier, all the hills were very run-able with short descents. In fact you are only climbing for 800 meters, with zero net elevation gain. This back and forth up hill with little down seemed to go on for a long time. There would be times when you would think to yourself “ok this has GOT TO BE the top”, but it never was. I conserved my energy going uphill for the first 30 minutes and finally had some fun going down, passing 2 women and placing myself as the 5th female. I slowly caught up to the 5th place female. She was struggling a bit on the long uphill section and let me pass her politely. Near the top of that large climb I ran into the 4th and 3rd place females. I had raced against one of them before last year at the Knee Knacker 50km. I knew I was a bit quicker than her and I exchanged some friendly words (a sarcastic comment about how easy the course was- which it is not) and passed the two ladies. I kept climbing and finally saw the ½ way mark and the first and only aid station. It was right after this that I spotted the 1st place female. She was holding a good pace with another gentleman and we were playing the back and forth game. I would pass them on the downhill and then they would pass me on the up hill. Lucky for me, this undulating back and forth ended when the course became all downhill.

Once I had passed the lady in 1st, I tried to really push the pace. I did not want her to pass and just focused on getting the next person in front of me. Downhill running has always been my favorite, especially if it is technical. This course was very technical and I had a lot of fun with the footing. There were a lot of open areas with stunning views where I was running across big slabs of rock. It is also a mountain bike trail and there were lots of ladders to run across. The race finishes back down a logging road and you end up at the Spruce Grove Field House (approximately 2km north of Whistler Village). I finished the race with a time of 2 hrs 17 minutes. The men’s course record was broken by 10 minutes by a man named Aaron Heidt (1:49). We all sat around for an hour or so, had some food, caught up, soaked my legs in the glacier river, and watched the awards ceremony.

I would recommend this race to anyone who enjoys trail running. Keep in mind you will be out there from 2-31/2 hours. You will see beautiful views and spectacular trails. It is also a mountain biking trail, which is an excellent alternative if you enjoy that more. The trail is accessible from the Wedgemont Lake turn-off, which is approximately 12km north of Whistler Village.

Iron Knee 25km Trail Race

The day started out at 5:45am. I looked out my window at what was to be an amazing day. The race director ordered sun and it was delivered in fine form. I quickly made some oatmeal w/ banana, raisins and honey and put on my Innovative Fitness race gear. My boyfriend Peter came to get my co-worker/ friend Justine and I and we were off to Grouse Mountain.

The race begun at Grouse Mountain and finished in Deep Cove. It used to be called “Half Knacker” and it was first put on in 2003. The name has since been changed to the “Iron Knee” because it isn’t exactly the same route as ½ the full Knee Knacker, which is a 50km trail race spanning Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove. The Full Knee Knacker goes the entire length of the Baden Powell Trail. The Iron Knee instead follows the power lines from Grouse Mountain, up onto the Baden Powell trail until the Lynn Headwaters, down fisherman’s trail to Mystery Creek, up Mystery Creek and up Power line Hill, and finishes back along the Baden Powell into Deep Cove (Panorama Park). Power line Hill is a real killer. It is a fairly steep hill with 13 switch backs. It is fairly open and on a hot day the sun will just beat down on you.

Last year, I finished 2nd overall in the women’s category. Katrina Driver placed 1st and her husband (Simon Driver) also came 1st in the men’s category (I should note that they both set course records last year = power couple). She happened to be pregnant this year and I knew I had a good chance of winning. I found out last minute that a girl by the name of Ellie Greenwood had signed up. She has won 2 big 50km trail ultra marathons this year (Diez Vista and Dirty Duo) and I knew that she would be a hard one to beat. I was not tapering or peaking for the event and was using it as a hard training day. I am peaking later in July for a 50 mile trail ultra marathon called White River in Auburn Washington.

After arriving at the start, I did a quick warm-up with Jurgen Watts and Darcy Young, both experienced runners who I have previously run with through the North Shore Athletics and Mountain Madness run clinics. We were cutting it a little close and literally made it back 1 minute before the gun went off. I quickly grabbed my camelback and headed to the front of the pack. I kissed my boyfriend (who was also running) and we were off to the races. The start of the race is a pretty difficult section for me. It is fairly hilly and my heart rate definitely sky rocketed quickly. The last thing I want to do was fatigue my muscles too early because I knew I could dominate the last 4km and wanted to have some gas left for that section. As soon as we got onto flat ground and headed into Grouse Mountain I found my pace. It is still a pretty difficult section because it is undulating and I found myself power hiking a few of the steeper hill’s. As soon as we hit any downhill’s I was gone. Downhill running is one of my favorite things in the world. Nothing makes me feel more alive and giddy than running down a mountain, especially one that is technical (lots of rocks, roots, and obstacles). A lot of people lose time here because they are afraid of tripping, falling, and rolling an ankle (all very common). To me, that is all part of the game. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have fallen, cut up my entire body, and rolled my ankle. I am lucky though, I have spaghetti ankles and if rolled, the pain goes away within a few steps. To make a long story short, the downhill sections are where I pass most people.

I chased down the 3rd place girl and passed her before heading into the Lynn Headwaters. This is a flat tempo section and it is here that I saw the 1st place female up ahead. She was probably a few minutes ahead of me and I was on her tail. We headed down Fisherman’s trail and up Mystery Creek. After a quick power hike up this trail I started my ascent up Powerline Hill. This is a really neat section because Heather Mcdonald, the lady who runs the Mountain Madness trail clinics (I am a volunteer leader for these clinics) makes personalized signs for the clinic members and has them lined up all the way up the hill. A few weeks before the race she had asked everyone in the clinic to tell her their mantras. She then takes these and puts them on signs. It is just a little tool to help runners stay motivated up this grind of a hill.I got passed a couple of times up this hill by a few men who were running it. They must be savage because that is really hard to do. Thirteen switchbacks later I got to the top, screamed “WOOOO” at the top of my lungs in Joy and started the final descent along the Baden Powell heading towards Deep Cove. I passed a few guys heading down and once I hit Indian River road one guy told me that the 1st place Female was just up ahead by maybe 30 seconds and to “go get her”. I love that sort of motivation. It really does make you want to push harder and catch that runner. I have run this section a lot this year and am pretty confident at it. I didn’t see Ellie until the bottom of the first hill. She was at the top and was power hiking up. I quickly did the same and chased after her. I didn’t see her again until the bottom of another climb. I just couldn’t gain anything on this girl. The last descent is very technical and it is one of my fastest/favorite sections. I could see myself gaining on her and finally almost caught her by the stairs that lead onto the road that leads you into the finish at Panorama Park. She was probably 10 feet ahead of me and I don’t think she really knew I was that close behind her. There was a volunteer between her and I that had a walky talky and was relaying information to the announcer at the finish line. He said “We are going to have a sprint finish”. Right then, Ellie turned her head back and saw that I was right behind her. She kicked and I kicked but she was just too far ahead of me to gain anything and pass her. She ended up winning by 4 seconds. It was the most exciting finish I have ever had. I was so happy to have chased her down and made up that much distance near the end of the race. She shook my hand after the race and told me she was running scared because some guys told her I wasn’t too far behind going up Powerline Hill. She ran a good race and deserves the win because she led the entire time. She is a talented runner and I will race against her a lot next year I am sure.

After the race I cheered in a lot of the Mountain Madness clinic members and co-workers and customers from Innovative Fitness (Josip, Justine Boulin, Paul Chung, Bob Hardy, Susan & Kim Sollis, Brian Young and Darcy Young). This race was my co-worker, Justine Boulin’s, first trail race. She was in 4th and doing really well until she unfortunately sprained her ankle right near Quarry Rock with 1km to go. My boyfriend Peter stopped to help her and ran ahead to get help. She said a lady came by and gave her a piggy back down the hill. Now that is amazing. Someone takes the time out of their own race to help an injured athlete get back safely. It is really noble and something you don’t see enough but is quite common in the trail running community.

The trail running community is amazing. The people are very friendly, usually a bit older than myself, have a passion for the outdoors and are a little more laid back than the average road runner. There is an unofficial rule that if you fall, you owe a beer to whoever see’s you fall. I have smuggled many celebratory beers that way post race. People always follow through on that one. Trail races take place on the most beautiful mountains and the finish line is usually very scenic. People usually bring their families down, have picnics on the grass, and stick around to cheer everyone on. They are not protected by fence barriers which you see in most road races.

All in all it was an awesome day. Couldn’t have asked for better weather! After congratulating everyone on a great day I headed up to Oliver to cheer on 19 customers and coaches from Innovative Fitness who were participating in the Oliver Half Ironman distance triathlon. I am sure you will here more about that soon…

White River 50 Miler Trail Race

White River 50 was the race I was peaking for all year. I did my first 50 mile race (Stormy) last year in Squamish and I had a fantastic experience. I have a couple of friends, including my boyfriend and training partner Peter, who have previously done this race and have had nothing but positive things to say about it. I did very well at Stormy last year and had the opportunity to compete in it again but if I am going to run 50 miles, I would rather discover and adventure off into some new terrain. Peter and I both ran White River 50 this year. We are both looking to qualify for Western States 100 Miler next year and you need to have completed a 50 mile race in less than 11 hours to qualify.

Peter, his whole family (mom, dad, 2 sisters/husbands, 4 kids, 2 dogs) all stayed at a campground near the start line. It was really great to have them all there for support. It was also nice to have them cook us our pre-race meals, allowing us to solely focus on our respective races. It was definitely a challenge watching them all pass around smores at the campfire the night before the race.

The weather was perfect. It was going to be sunny with cloudy periods with a high of 24°. The race was to start at 6:30am and I was up at 4am to eat breakfast and get all my clothes and gear together. I was really excited for the day but knew it would be a long one. I started to get really excited once we got to the start area. It is there you get to see and chat with other participants and the hype really sets in. People always ask me if I am nervous or excited a few days before the race but it isn’t until I am at the start that I really get giddy. I went for my warm-up and felt awesome and was antsy to run. There were some ladies there that looked very experienced and were carrying only one 500m water bottle with them. I know for myself I need a camelbak hydration pak and a shirt I carry some fuel in. Some of the aid stations are hours apart and I don’t think I could race 50 Miles with a water bottle that small. Where do they put all their fuel? Most of the pro’s use just one water bottle and I always wonder why and question whether I am carrying too much.

The race takes you up and down one mountain and then up and down another mountain. Needless to say there is a lot of climbing and a lot of steep downhill. When you first head out you run about 35 minutes of flat single track trail and then start the ascent to Corral Pass. There are some steep parts but most of the ascent is switchbacks which you are able to run. As you go up you get to witness some of the most spectacular views. You are surrounded by mountains and you even get to see the back of MT. Rainier. It was these moments when I just thought to myself, “This is the life”. At the top of the mountain you hit an ‘out and back’ section. It is here that you get to see the leaders because they are passing right beside you on a single track trail. You literally need to jump off trail to let them by you or else you will get knocked over (I know from experience, it was a pleasant surprise). It was here that I started to count the ponytails in front of me. I was in 7th or 8th place at the turn around. Along the way back I spotted my boyfriend Peter running. It was so great to get to see him during the run. A quick little smooch and off we went in separate directions, wishing each other good luck as we parted ways. The next section was fun because you got to go down all the terrain you just came up. As I have written in other race reports, downhill running is my favorite. It was here that I seek to pass most of my competitors. I knew there were at least 6 other females ahead of me and I was eager to find them. After filling up my water at an aid station I started running down a steeper slope. I was going really fast and all of a sudden tripped. I went FLYING down this hill and ended up smashing the side of my head into some rocks and roots. My ear was throbbing and I scraped up my hands, forearms and knees. There was a gentleman not to far behind me and he helped me up. I asked him how my ear looked and besides a few scrapes it looked alright. After a fall I seem to always get a surge of energy. All the pain goes away and I get right back to where I left off. I passed by one female and was now in 6th place and feeling good. I read on the website that it is important to take the first descent a little slower because you don’t want to kill your legs for the 2nd half of the race. I tried to keep a steady tempo but find it really hard to holdback on the hills. A few minutes later I fell AGAIN! This time, I was rounding a corner and tripped and in mid air I got the gnarliest calf cramp. It’s like one of those one’s you get in bed, where it feels like you have a huge hard ball in your leg. Again, there was a guy right behind me and he helped me up. It is an unwritten rule in trail running: If someone goes down, you make sure they are ok and get them back on their feet. There is also another unwritten rule: If someone falls down on all fours, you owe a beer to whomever see’s you fall. I have been called out on that one many times. The cramp in my leg was present the whole rest of the run. It was never an active cramp but I could feel that it wanted to. I started to take a lot of salt pills to prevent anymore cramping and never had any other issued the rest of the race. I ended up passing one more female (leaving me in 5th) before the halfway mark. I think she was being paced by another guy as they had been running together the entire race. I noticed quite a few people doing this today and it may be because it was a national 50 mile championship and racers were trying to do there very best. Sometimes people need that person there to push them to their goal time.

I approached the halfway mark at 4hrs 30minutes and met Peter’s family at the aid station there. They helped me fill up my Camelbak and threw out my empty GU gel packets and refilled my race jersey with new ones. With their help I was in and out in no time. I was pretty tired at this point and knowing I still had 25 miles and another mountain to go up and down was tough. The next mountain was fairly steep and not as runable as the first. As I started my ascent I caught up to the 4th place woman. She was among the woman at the start line that I thought looked very elite. I remember this conversation this woman was having with another at the start line. She was talking about how she had recently met up with Nikki Kimball for a run a few weeks back. Nikki Kimball is a lady who won this race last year, holds the course record and has won many prestigious ultramarathon competitions throughout her career. This led me to believe she was going to be really fast. Needless to say, I was really pumped when I passed her. I was feeling good going up and I felt like I could keep the pace I was going all day. All of a sudden I was not in the trees and shade anymore and the mountain opened right up. The sun was beaming straight down on me and my black shirt. I drank a lot more water during this section and that seemed to keep me cool. I hardly saw anyone on this climb, maybe 3-4 other people over the next 3 hours. I power hiked quite a lot over the next few hours. If I had not ran a very hard race (Knee Knacker 50km) 2 weeks prior I may have had a bit more gas in the tank and could have ran a few more sections but I did what I could. Once I got to the top of this mountain I jumped for joy. All I had left was 7 miles of logging road down to the base of the mountain and then 6 miles of flatter technical trail back to the start. As I was leaving the aid station another girl, who I had passed previously on the other mountain, was just approaching the aid station. She had clearly caught up and I darted out of that aid station so fast. The 7 miles of logging road was one of the toughest sections in the entire race. It was so extremely hard on my body and I wanted it to end badly. I could feel the pressure in my Achilles tendon upon every step. The hill was steep and I was flying down but the impact was insane. I got to the end of the road in about 50 minutes and having to actually run on flat ground was really tough. You would assume that getting onto a flat section would be heavenly but running takes a lot more energy and mental toughness than propelling yourself down a hill or power hiking up a mountain, especially after 43 miles.

The last section was the most mentally tough. I knew I was almost there but my legs felt very heavy and it took a lot of self talk to push myself. I had to continuously tell myself to ‘pick it up Nic’, ‘you can do this Nic’. I was not the only one struggling, there were a lot of men I was passing who were clearly bonking. At one point a few miles from the end, I saw the girl I had seen at the aid station before the logging road descent. This really made me get into high gear. I did not want to come 5th or get passed. I had worked too hard the entire day and she was not about to pass me in the last 20 minutes. I sucked back one more gel and went as fast as my body would let me. This section never seemed to end and the tiniest hills seemed like giant mountains. I finally hit the road and started my approach to the finish line. Finally, I could see the finish line and all the people cheering me in. I finished in a time of 8hrs 34 minutes. Peter’s family was there to give me big hugs and I was so happy to be done. The sense of accomplishment at that moment was overwhelming. All the months I had spent training and dedicating myself towards this goal had got me to the finish line successfully. The pain of today’s run was completely gone and a feeling of joy overcame me. I sat down, chugged down some chocolate milk and waited to cheer on Peter. He had an awesome race to and shaved 25 minutes off his last time. A lady came up to me a few minutes after I had finished and told me I had the fastest time on that course ever for someone my age (24 years). The woman who won was 42 years old and she set the female course record this year in a time of 7hrs 32 minutes. The 2nd place female is 40 years old and finished 12 minutes later. The 3rd place female was only 3 minutes faster than me and she was 37 years of age. As you get older you start to reach your peak. I like knowing I have a lot to learn and a ways to go until I reach my full potential and it is fun competing against some of the runner’s I read about in magazines. One day I will be the lady on the cover of Trail Runner magazine!

I spent the rest of the afternoon by the campfire, eating smores and drinking some delicious recovery drinks. All in all a fantastic day and I can’t wait for the next adventure. I would like to thank Innovative Fitness and North Shore Athletics for all of their support. My teammates at Innovative Fitness were all very supportive and sent me away this weekend in good spirits.

See you in the trails!

Knee Knacker 50km Trail Race

The Knee Knackering course essentially follows the Baden Powell trail which traverses Vancouver's North Shore Mountains from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove. Both ends of the trail are close to or at Sea Level and the high point on the course is 4,000 feet at the peak of Black Mountain. The race as a whole has some 16,000 feet of vertical climb and descent. The Baden Powell trail is a scenic and very technical trail through a Pacific Northwest rain forest. Most of the trail is within the forest, although there are some absolutely spectacular vistas at a number of points along the trail. The course is 30 miles long and the field is limited to about 200 starters. Today was the 20th anniversary of the Knee Knacker and I was glad to be apart of it for my 3rd year in a row. A little history about me and Knee Knacker. The first year I ran it I finished in 6 hours 40 minutes. It was my first ultramarathon and things happened to my body that I had never experienced. I had muscle cramping for the first time ever. I remember falling down and not being able to get up for 3 minutes because my muscles would cramp up. I had major acid reflux which prevented me from ingesting food and fluid. I did not have a set nutrition plan that year and was taking random items for fuel. I learned that to do well in this race, proper nutrition is a must. The next year I ran it in 5:48 and was 2nd female overall. This time I only drank water and used GU gels for fuel. I have been using that combination for the past year now and it has served me nicely. This year, the woman who normally wins year after year, Susan Evans, was not competing. This meant that I had a good chance of winning the female category. That was my goal this year for this race.

I was woken at an alarming 3:45am. The race started at 6am. I like to eat breakfast (plain oatmeal w/ banana and honey) at least 2 hours before. I got my drop bag, camelbak, and post race gear all in order and waited for my training partner Peter to come pick me up. We drove to Deep Cove to meet a friend and he drove us to the start of the race in horseshoe bay. It is much more convenient to have your car at the end of the race instead of having to get a ride back to the start. Most people drive to Deep Cove, leave their car, and take a shuttle bus to the start of the race.
The week of the race I am usually pretty calm, the day before I am really excited, and the morning of I am super nervous. People were coming up to me and asking me what time I was planning on pulling off this year and whether or not I was going to win. All these kinds of questions add unneeded pressure and I prefer to focus on other things. The same people come year after year to this event and catching up with everyone is one of my favorite things. Participants are selected based on a lottery format because they only accept 250 runners. The last 2 years I have ran this race, everyone has got in. This year there were so many applicants, that 75 people weren’t allowed in. I knew many of them and it was nice to see that even though they couldn’t run today they were out volunteering or race crewing for someone, providing support all along the way.

I checked my bags and got my spot in the start line. I did not start near the front. The thing about this race is that the first hour and a half are directly up Black Mountain with an elevation gain of 4000 vertical feet. I have received a lot of advice over the years and everyone says to take it easy up this section. Not starting at the front allows me to relax and not get caught up in someone else’s pace. I ran and power hiked very consistently through this section. A girl named Sasha Brown has done very well the last 3 years of this race. Last year, I was right behind her going up Black Mt and I was hoping to pace myself off her again this year. I caught her as we started the ascent and stayed pretty close the entire way up. The single track terrain up the hill is unreal and quite steep. You even find yourself using your hands to pull yourself up, especially when you start to ascend up the scree slope. This looks like a massive boulder field but it is one of my favorite parts. It is the only part of the race where runners are close together (looks like an ant colony) and as soon as you get to the top everyone starts to spread out. The view from the top of Black is a reason to do the race alone. It looks over the entire Georgia Straight. You feel like you are on top of the world. I took a moment and looked behind me at that spectacular beauty I continue climbing. Shortly after, we started the descent into Cypress Bowl. There was a lot more snow this year then in years past. The course was well marked which made it easier to know where to go. I passed a few racers and picked up the pace. My strengths lie on the downhill’s and flats and this is where I gain the most time on people. I purposely try to conserve going uphill so I can have more energy for the descents. Downhill mountain running is one of my favorite things in the world. It sounds weird but I get an amazing sense of freedom from flying down a hill as fast as I can. I feel like a little kid again without a care in the world. Many people are afraid of falling and that is what holds them back from being a good down hill runner. I consider that part of the game, if you fall you fall, it is not something I think about when I run. I came into the first ¼ aid station at the Cypress Downhill ticket centre. There are always a ton of people cheering here and it is the first convenient place to view racers. I came into this section 5 minutes faster than last year and I could tell because my heart rate was significantly higher than years past.

The next part of the race takes you from the downhill ski area over to the cross country trails. It is a very technical undulating section with lots of rocks and routes, thick fallen logs, and patches of snow. I quite enjoy this section because you have just gone straight up for just over an hour and then straight done into Cypress. It is the first time in a while where you get to run for a consistent length of time. I passed a few runners here and was looking forward to the descent into Hollyburn Lodge. At this point I was the 3rd placed female and had my sights were set on catching the women ahead of me. I spent a lot of time looking down at my feet following muddy tracks in the snow. I knew I was near the end of this section but I kept going uphill. Knee Knacker uses pink with black stripes for flagging all along the course and the Baden Powell is marked by orange triangles on the trees. Because of the intensity I was working at I was only looking for pink markers, not realizing that the one’s I had been following for the last 5 minutes were missing their stripes. I knew something was not right and I noticed that the footprints on the ground were going in the opposite direction. I decided to backtrack in an attempt to find where I had gone off trail. As I was heading back down, other racers were coming up. I thought “Oh no! Maybe I WAS going the right way” but the person coming towards me was a racer I had passed 20 minutes prior to getting lost. There were at least 4 others behind her and we all headed back to where we had come from. At this moment I was very disappointed in myself. I know the course very well but I had not run the first 3rd of the race at all this year because of the amount of snow from this past winter. Before I got lost I was already wondering when I was going to catch up to the 2 women ahead of me and now having lost 10 minutes of time, I was unsure of how the rest of the race would unfold. I pretty much decided that I was going to pull the best comeback ever. I had been running at a solid steady pace before I got lost, but solid and steady quickly shifted into high gear. I literally started booking it and re-passed at least 10-15 people that I had already passed previously in the race. Right near the Hollyburn ranger station I saw my boyfriend and training partner Peter. I was excited and nervous all at the same time. Excited because I had someone to talk to and get guidance from; and nervous because I am usually quite a bit ahead of Peter in most races. I told him what happened and he reassured me that I would be fine; that the 2 ladies ahead of me were poor technical downhiller’s and that I would be able to catch up with them no problem. With his reassurance, I continued my mission to catching the lead females. I was lucky that the next section was completely downhill and as I have said earlier is where I excel and add time on other runners. I was passing male runners left right and centre and having a lot of fun. I was completely focused and had to wonder whether this quick pace was going to tire me out for the 2nd half of the race. I knew I couldn’t think about that and would have to deal with whatever conditions my body would face in my attempt to win today. I finally saw the first and 2nd place females running together about 5 minutes before heading into Cleveland Dam. This was an exciting place to pass them because there a lot of people cheering and it pumped me up to be in the 1st place female coming into this section. A few of my co-workers, their families, and personal friends were out cheering and the support I got from them was extremely meaningful. Cleveland Dam marks the 2nd half of the course and is the transition zone for many runners to change their socks and shoes and refill any fuel they will need for the next half of the race.

Nancy Green is the road that takes you to the base of Grouse Mountain. This time last year I was in 2nd place and passed the 2nd place female around the exact same time I passed 1st and 2nd today. In both cases I got passed heading up Nancy Green rd. I always walk run this hill because I want to conserve all my energy for Grouse. I couldn’t see the lead female as we ascended Baden Powell from Grouse Mountain, but as soon as the trail went downhill, I caught up and over took her. I pretty much never looked back. I knew that if I ran a solid race and pushed hard on the downhill’s I should have been able to keep my lead.

I was having a pretty good day and my nutrition seemed to be working well. I was having 1 gel approximately every half an hour and washing it down with plain water. I never took any food off the aid stations tables but did stop to refill my camelbak bladder in Lynn Headwaters. The day was starting to get hotter and I was starting to sweat. I have always cramped in this race but today it came sooner than expected. Fortunetly, I had my thermolyte salt tablets in an empty mini m&m’s container. I usually just start taking them when I start to cramp but I think the real trick is to start taking them early (approx. 1 every half hour) to prevent cramping. I must have had 15 within an hour and 10 more the hour after that. Cramping is very debilitating and can make or break you in a race. I was able to calm my cramping but it was an ongoing issue for the rest of the race.

After the Gazebo aid station at the Lynn headwaters, you encounter some fun downhill, undulating short hills and a 20 minute steep hill climb called the Seymour Grind. I sang my praise once I got to the top of it because the rest of the race is almost completely downhill. As long as you can hold on and run at a steady pace, its home free. My cramping came back and I was worried that it was going to slow me down. I had to stop and stretch out my muscles a few times but kept throwing back salt pills and kept moving. The last 2.5 km is said to be the longest 2.5 km of your life. You can hear the announcer from Indian River Rd. and it seems as though you are very close to the finish. In reality, you are about 20 minutes from the end. There are about 4 small hills but they seem like mountains after you’ve been running for over 5 ½ hours. I finally got to the road in Deep Cove and sprinted into the finish. Everyone was cheering so loud and I was super excited to have accomplished my goal as the first place female. I also found out that I was 9th overall which is an improvement from 14th last year. I hugged some friends and family members and cheered in other racers. My boyfriend had a personal best by an hour and 12 minutes and finished in a time of 6:17. I was so proud and excited for him as I knew this was going to make him very happy. After we both finished we walked into the ocean to soak our achy legs with some other participants. We also had a complimentary massage by the students of West Coast School of Massage that volunteer there every year.
One of the special things about Knee Knacker is that they have a big banquet at Parkgate Community Centre every year. There they have food catered, drink service and hand out awards and prizing. The banquet allows you catch up with other runners and share your experiences. The top 3 woman and men receive a hand crafted native carving; the top age group winners also receive a free pair of Montrail shoes. I was happy and proud to collect another carving to hang on my wall.

I would highly suggest this race to anyone who loves trail running and is looking for a serious challenge. I truly believe anyone who puts their mind to it can participate because I have seen people from all walks of life doing this event. I hope to see more first timers out next year to experience one of the North Shore’s toughest trail races.

Special thanks to all of the volunteers who repeatedly come out year after year to support all of us racers. It truly means a lot to have you out there!!

See you in the trail,
Nicola Gildersleeve