2015 Canadian Mountain Running Championships

Its hard to believe its been a year since 2014 nationals at Kicking Horse Mountain. Before beginning the write up for this years race, I thought it would be interesting to look back on my post from last year and remember all the thoughts that were going through my head.

Back then, mountain running was fresh and new to me. I new few people that did it competitively and I was still surprised myself that there was even a World Championships for it. Not getting what I wanted from collegiate sport, I decided to drop from the UBC team and pursue it on my own.

It was clear to me reading over my recap that I was putting way to much pressure on myself before the race. After racing at last years Mtn Running Worlds and in Skimo Worlds this past winter, I’ve learned a great deal from others about the importance of calming oneself before a race. In order to perform at your best, you have to rid yourself of as much external pressure as possible and run the race to your own strengths.

Deep in the pain cave, meters before the finish line at 2014 Worlds

Last year was a great example of not doing this. With so much pent up emotion and desire to win, I took off from the start line in the lead way faster than I new I could sustain. I paid for it, and suffered for the last half of the race, slipping deeper into the pain cave with each cumbersome step. I won, I qualified, but I was lucky. I did the exact same thing at World Champs and paid for it again, pulling my IT Band early on.

Back in grade school I used to thrive upon starting slow, patiently sitting at the back of the pack, letting my opponents sizzle out front with all cylinders firing. Then, as the race would progress I would pick up my pace, and slowly make my surge to the front. For the longest time, I lost my ability to do this. Maybe I’m not patient enough, or maybe its just difficult to employ such a strategy when you often cannot see your opponents (in the trails), but either way I lost it.Marco Pantani, the legendary Italian cyclist said it brilliantly. I’m at a loss for an exact quote, but it went a little something like, “I like to start at the back at the base of any climb so that I can pass people later on and watch them suffer.

This year, I’ve changed a lot of different things ranging from my diet to training plan. But I knew all of this would truly make a difference if I could find my old running tactics.

This year, nationals would be held at Cypress Mountain in conjunction with the local 5 peaks race series. This meant a few things for me. I would have an advantage being able to train on the race course, it would be a very technical course, and likely more athletes would show up.

I addressed the issues I could, working on my technical abilities with short snappy intervals on root infested trails, and did as many long rungs of the course as I could. I wanted to have each section memorized so I could have a better idea of where the best places to attack and hold off would be. I chose not to worry about who else would show up to race, something I would have worried about a lot the year before.


The Course

I felt this course strongly favoured me, especially because it was not an uphill only year as it was in Kicking Horse. I used to think the uphill was my strong point, but after seeing how unbelievably fit some people (Killian Jornet) are I’ve started to look more towards my downhill and flat speed. In track & cross country, flat speed is everything, something that many pure trail runners are not used to.

The Course Map

The Course Map

The course consisted of 3 climbs, one small one in the beginning (150m), one large steep one in the middle (400m), and a final rooty technical climb in the final section (100m). I knew from running the course the year before that going too hard on the main uphill would leave my legs dead and slow for the technical downhill. Attacking the uphill may give you a couple minutes advantage, but that pails in comparison to the 5+ minutes you could put into others if your fresh for the remainder after the climb.

The bulk of the race would be spent on a technical out and back section just after the main climb. This is where I planned to make my move, picking away at the people in front of me.

The Race

I warmed up slowly, earbuds in my ears, listening to the playlist I had selected carefully the night before. I always like to make a 20-30 minute long playlist before each race, beginning with soft, calm music, and progressively picking up tempo with each song. The benefit of such a playlist is two-fold. First, you can distract yourself from the usual pre-race  talks with competitors of “how is your season going” or my personal favourite, “Are you feeling good today?”. It helps you focus on warming up properly. Second, it gets your adrenaline going, which is important with races that consist of so much suffering.

With every change of song, I felt more and more ready to race. I new my plan, and I was poised to execute it. “Thirty minutes to go” I finished up my jog and started on my FMS exercises, making sure my glute meds, psoas, and TFA’s were firing properly. “Twenty minutes to go,” dynamic warm up: High knees, butt kicks, karaoke, leg swings, priming my body like a gas stove. Ready to go, just waiting for the single spark of the gun. “10 minutes to go,” music out, deep breaths, slow down my heart rate and repeat the plan over and over again in my head.

The race took off at a reasonable pace up the first hill with runners strung out right away. I started off nice and easy, tucking in around 20th place. I stayed well within my comfort zone on the first climb, picking a few people off here and there, making sure I didn’t expend to much energy early on. When the first descent came I let my legs fly, putting a little bit of a gap into the group I was running with. At this point, I could see far ahead the lead pack (1-10) were putting considerable time into everyone else. Knowing that pretty much everyone in that pack was faster than me, I decided to keep my position and keep the HR low. If someone beats you every time you race them, and you know they are better than you on the day, there is no point in thinking your somehow going to be 4 minutes faster on the day. “Let them go, run your own race” I told myself.

At the bottom of the first descent we ran through about 2km of winding flats. I could tell the runners behind me were trying hard to catch me, so I slowed the pace down a little so I could have some people to work off of on the main climb. The flats went buy quick, and it felt great to get going with a decent stride. Going into the main climb I fell back into 11th place, with the fellow who had just passed me sprinting up as if the very finish line was at the summit. “Your going to blow up” I thought. I let him go, I knew if he had that kind of speed he would have been with the front pack anyways, hopefully he wouldn’t sustain it and I could pick him off later.

At this point I started to get a little worried about how well my plan was going. I had run this hill many times before in training, but I started to really feel fatigued. Up until this point I felt completely in control, able to surge if need be, but suddenly the climb had turned into a bit of a death march. I decided right then and there I had to slow it down. It was to early on to risk going into the red, and I knew there would be plenty of terrain up higher to make up the ground. I still managed to run the entire 30% climb, taking a few minutes longer than I thought and losing a few spots, but I managed to recover a little bit.

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At the top of climb I took a wrong turn, but thankfully local ultra running champ Mike Murphy gave me a shout and I came back on trail. Mike had made ground on me on the climb, coming to within about 10m at the top. I was glad I could start the decent with a little bit of a lead, knowing how impressive his downhill skills were, but unfortunately I would now have to somehow try and catch him.

With the little bit of energy I gained from slowing down on the climb, I started the out and back hard. Quickly making back the positions I had lost on the climb. I still had Mike within my sights, about 100m in front; I was absolutely determined to get him. After about 15 minutes we reached the turnaround point at the eagle bluffs. Whats quite cool about this race is you get to see exactly how far apart everyone is as well as how tired they look when you turn around to head back into he ski area. My immediate worry was the people I had just passed on the downhill. I had made a sizeable lead on most of them, around 4 minutes, but one guy managed to keep pretty close to me. Knowing he only had about a minute to gain on the technical uphill leading back to the ski resort, I knew I would have to absolutely empty the tank to fend him off. When I ran by him on my way back he looked like he was gaining speed, my work was cut out. Although the finish line wasn’t the end of the out and back, I ran the race as if it was, because the final kilometre would be straight down the ski run to the finish. No matter how tired I would be, I was confident I could rally for the final descent.

This was when the pain started. The racing tactics were done, I had made my move and the pack was chasing me. There wouldn’t really be another opportunity to gain much more time if they did catch me, so I knew I had to keep the gap. Mike was still in front, around the same distance as before, but I couldn’t focus on him at all. One thought crossed my mind, “Don’t let them catch you.” “Don’t let them see you, don’t give them that motivation. Give them nothing, you owe it to yourself. Prove to yourself that you still have the guts to lay it all out.”

My HR climbed as my hamstrings filled like balloons with lactic acid. I’d finish a short steep section, wanting nothing more than to recover a bit on the flat, but I knew I couldn’t. The air was hot and dry, making every step that much harder. I finally reached the final descent, with Mike about 150m in front and my chaser 100m back. I let my legs fly, and started making my final push. Everything hurt now, I could think of nothing but the finish line.  I wanted to quit, I wanted to slip and fall, anything to give me a reason to stop. I kept going, injecting little bursts of pace to try and drop my pursuer. Each time I looked back he didn’t look any farther. I pushed harder, harder, “It will be over soon. If theres one thing you need to do right now it’s to not give up. Nothing else matters, there is nothing after this race. This it it, you must beat him.” Finally I saw the final corner before the finish line. I had about a minute to go. Mike was closer now, maybe 30 meters. I kicked, with every morsel of energy I had left. I wanted to vomit.

And then…. it was over. I crossed the line, keeping my pursuer at bay and just 10 seconds behind Mike. I was pissed I didn’t catch him, but this was the first time I had even been within 2 minutes of him, better to be happy with improvement than unhappy with not enough improvement.

I was spaced out in a trance, utterly exhausted, but so happy it was over. I didn’t give up, I fought with everything I had. I honestly haven’t been able to really feel like that for a long time. As a runner, its easy to fall into the illusion that you give your best effort every time, but deep down we all know it takes a special will to tap into that final gear. In the end I managed 12th overall and 7th Canadian across the line, giving me a spot on the Senior team for the World Championships this September in Snowdonia, Wales. I couldn’t be happier with how the race went, and I’m excited that for the first time in a while I was able to run a smart, tactical race.

It’s been a hell of a ride, and all I can say is I’m glad to say this roller coaster doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon.

Cheers,

Oliver

Dirty Duo 25k Race Report

Until pretty recently, (less than a month ago), I had never ran a race longer than 2 hours and had only done so a couple times in training. The longer distance events never seemed to appeal to me because the pace tends to be very slow and runners are so tired and sore that they lose all sense of competitiveness.

After a successful ski mountaineering season in which races routinely range from 1.5 to 3 hours I started to think to myself it might be worthwhile trying a slightly longer race. I certainly was doing ok with the physical exertion over that distance, yet I couldn’t possibly predict how my body would react to 25k of impact I was not used to.

So, when I arrived back home from Switzerland I began increasing my mileage and decreasing the tempo of my workouts to prepare for a somewhat longer race. Coincidentally around this time I read and became a convert to the 80/20 running phenomenon, so these slow easy miles made total sense to me. If you haven’t heard of 80/20 running, I suggest you read this book!

A couple weeks went by and training seemed to be going very well. I had much more energy than normal and was recovering very well. In the past I had always thought I had to train like I race. I would punish myself with hill intervals, race pace long runs, and all out vertical kilometres without the slightest idea what I was doing to my body. Several of my training runs were over 3 hours, so I decided I would sign up for the fast-approaching Dirty Duo just to see what would happen.

The Course

Course Map

The DD has been around on the North Shore since 1991 featuring a whole bunch of different categories to enter into including a 50km, 25km, 15k, 30km bike, Relay (25km run + 30km bike), and Solo (25km run + 30km bike).

This year due to massive flooding the 25km route had to be changed making the course a bit longer at 27.88km… but not much of an issue. Rounded off at 28km there was about 1,100m of climbing to be had.

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The Race

Because it was my first 25km and I also knew nothing about the capabilities of the people I was racing I decided to start of with the pack and asses the situation. After a few kilometres over rolling terrain to start I began to realize how different the pace was from your standard 12km. We were moving at a decent clip but still much slower than what I had been used to. I couldn’t decide whether or not too stick with this pace and play the waiting game or make a move, so I went with my gut feeling and dropped the hammer.

 

From where I left (3km) until about 20km in I was running solo, occasionally seeing a runner in the distance behind. I pushed hard on the flat and uphill sections, trying to widen the gap and use my cross country background to my advantage. The course was generally rolling, with most big uphills complimented by a very technical downhill.

10k into the race

Photo by Chris Thorn

 

After I had been running for what seemed like a long time I looked at my watch to see it had only been 1hr10min…. What had I gotten myself into.

At about the 20km marker I had just finished the main climb and begun descending a steep technical trail when I noticed I was being caught up to. There was no doubt that this guy was quicker descending technical trail so I figured he would pass me by and I would have to regain the ground on the flats later. As we neared the bottom of the decent he got closer and closer to within a meter of me. At this point the trail changed from slow and technical, to flat and smooth.

Perfect! Time to make a move. I ramped up the cadence and changed from 6min/kms to 4 min/kms. He didn’t seem to be expecting this nor in the mood to challenge, so the gap widened and I was able to relax again.

Finish line

Photo by Chris Thorn

 

In the final sections of all the shorter races I had done I remembered a deep lung burn with a burning lactic sensation in the quads and calfs. This feeling was very different. In fact, throughout the entire race my heart rate and breathing never seemed to become a limiting factor or even noticeable. What was surprising was the overall soreness I had succumb to. My arches, lower back, and hamstrings were killing. I felt sluggish and dysfunctional, yearning to reach the finish line to put an end to it.

The final section went by smoothly and I crossed the finish in 2hrs10min, snagging my first victory of the season!

My biggest worry going into the DD was getting injured. Maybe its a result of my new training regiment or perhaps because of all the mobility work I’ve been doing, but I managed to run the race without feeling any pain at all. As a guy who has pretty much been injured every season for the past decade, this is quite a relief.

I’ve decided to give a stab at running two more 25km races this season after having so much fun at the DD. Next up will be the Yakima Ridge Run followed by the Iron Knee. To anybody considering running their first 25k, the DD is a perfect one for it. There are plenty of aid stations and the overall vibe is really encouraging.

And stay tuned, because next up will be my report from the World Champs in Verbier!

Oliver

 

2014 World Mountain Running Championship

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I thought I knew what it meant to suffer. I thought the hours of sweat and overwhelming training had taught me a level of pain unlike anything else I could experience in competition.

That was my whole game plan. Make training so unbearable, so taxing, that the final race wouldn’t even seem hard anymore. Spending night after night, staring at the ceiling of my room.. afraid of the workout planned for the next day, I thought I was doing myself some sort of sinister justice.

This didn’t turn out the way I predicted.

The winner of the senior mens race. Fitness at a whole new level

The Journey There

Unlike the quick and dirty nature of local races, Worlds necessitated months of planning itinerary and accommodations as well as several days of travel just to get to the venue. The location for this years World Championships was Cassette Di Massa, Italy, a beautiful coastal town home to an inspiring range of jagged peaks. It would have made for a fantastic vacation even without the race, but the underlying reason for being there still lingered in our minds on the flight over.

The view from the Canadian Team Villa!

The view from the Canadian Team Villa!

After several days of travel, late busses, lost luggage, and crippling language barriers, we finally made it to the coastal town of Massa. Massa is the name of the bigger town in which all the athletes stayed in; Cassetta Di Massa is the small village deep within the mountains where the race would be held.

In Massa we were shuttled to our hotel which we were to share with teams USA and Mexico.

Several of my fellow team members out front of the hotel!

Several of my fellow team members out front of the hotel!

The next day we got a chance to pre-sweep the course. This was the first glimpse at the absolute hell we were in for. Roughly 15 buses filled with athletes from around the globe were escorted through the city by the local police force. After 45 minutes of very impressive driving through the bustling city and narrow roads we reached the starting zone for the race. We had a few hours to walk the course before the buses would depart back to Massa.

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The start area

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One of many steep switchbacks through the city

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Walking the streets of Cassette Di Massa

Walking the streets of Cassette Di Massa. Just past the start line.

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One of many police escorts

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Cassette Di Massa from the quarry

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Perspective. A glimpse at the mountain we would soon be running to the top of.

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Overlooking the quarry. Steep, 25% gradient switchbacks in the 30 degree heat

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The quarry, with Massa off in the distance

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Volunteers preparing the finishing area

Roughly halfway through the course. Just after the steep and only downhill of the race.

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Nearing the top of the first climb. Right before the viewpoint and big downhill.

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Nearing the tree line on the first ascent. Roughly 4km into the race.

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Looking north from the finish line area at nearby mountain ranges.

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The Course

The course was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Unforgiving, barren, scenic, magnificent? Words I had never thought could all apply to the same thing without being contradictory.

From a tactical point of view, it was a mountain runners paradise. With many different gradients and surfaces to run on ranging from 45% and muddy, to flat marble, there was something for everybody to enjoy. Too often courses are monotonous without much variation to keep the mind engaged. The Italians really did their homework creating this one.

Part 1:

Beginning in the paved streets of Cassette Di Massa, it began with 1km of quick flat running on a paved road before taking a sharp left uphill into a series of winding alleys and stone steps. After another kilometre of winding steeply through the city you entered the forest.

Part 2: 

The second section was the core of the race and where the gradient really kicked back. The route went through the forest steeply up the mountain side for about 4 kilometres at an average gradient of 35%. To those of you who are familiar with the grouse grind, it was very similar to that. As you gained more elevation the trees thinned out until all that was left was thick grasses, shrubs, and the occasional withered tree.

Part 3:

After climbing for what seemed like an eternity, racers would reach an intermediate summit of the main mountain. From here you ran steeply down a winding road that lead into the massive marble quarry. The marble quarry was easily the most impressive location for a race I have ever seen. 40m high marble steps were cut into the mountain like an ancient staircase, and massive excavated holes dropped away from the side of the service road for what seemed like a mile.

Through the quarry we followed the service road up and down rolling terrain which lead us to a massive tunnel.  The tunnel was a 1km out and back loop that took racers deep into the depths of the opposing mountain. The tunnel was completely black, except for the large work lights lining the path. This whole section was about 4k or more.

Part 4: 

After the tunnel came the final sting in the tail. A 1.7km long section of 30% service road leading straight up to the summit. It was like something out of a movie, a service road that would only exist in a James Bond film. What made this section particularily memorable in the race was the thousands of people lining it the whole way. From the base of the final climb to the summit, there was a consistent crowd on either side, as thick as 4 people at times.

 

The Race

Pre race warmup on the turf field

Pre race warmup on the turf field

The eventual winner of the race. Philip kimketo of Uganda.

The eventual winner of the race. Philip Kimketo of Uganda.

Standard pre-race photo for the mother!

Standard pre-race photo for the mother!

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Physiotherapists attending to my IT band

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The winner of the junior race running through the finishing coral

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The moment before the start was so quiet.. you could have heard a pin drop.

All the nerves and predisposed desires to “do my country proud” and “show the world that canadians are tough” went out the window when that gun went off. For days, even months I tossed and turned in fear of how painful.. how intense the suffering would be. It almost felt heroic toeing the start line… but maybe that was just because I got a frontline spot next to the winning Ugandan runner.

My expecations of a fast race were not let down after running a brisk 2:52 first kilometre on the flat road. I knew right away I was faster than I wanted to be, and I was going to be in for a painful race.

The pace barely slackened as we reached the first sharp uphill turn. Runners all around me seemed like they werent even exerting energy as they floated up the stone steps. I gritted my teeth and focused on staying on the tail of the racer in front of me, but I new my HR was way higher than normal.

The first part of the race went quite well and I managed to stay right around the middle of the pack. I could start to see the runners around me feeling the same intense level of fatigue, which made my own suffering feel a bit easier.

The second section of the race climbing steeply up through the forest was where the real pain began. At this point my body had gone entirely anaerobic. I was gasping and wheezing with every step as the lactate bubbled in my calfs and quads.

 

And then, it all goes wrong

It was at this point, roughly 15 minutes into the race that my worst nightmare came to reality. A recent camping trip weeks prior to Italy gave me a little niggle on my right IT band that I was worried would come back to me on race day.

I took a particularily large step uphill with my right leg, maybe a meter in height, and immediately paid the consequence. My IT band and Vastus lateralis rippled up to my hipbone like a reloading shotgun. I winced with pain and was terrified at the prospect of having torn or pulled my IT band. I honestly can’t remember how everything went from this point on because I was so fatigued. But I could tell after a few more steps that it couldnt be torn, or else I would be on the ground.  The dull aching pain remained, but I figured dropping out was not an option after having worked so hard to make it to this race. It wasnt about placing well anymore, it was just about crossing the finish line on my own two feet.

After what seemed like forever I crested the top of the first main climb and began descending into the quarry. My IT band was feeling a bit better at this point, probably because the swelling had numbed much of the pain.The section through the quarry went by quickly, and before I knew it I was on my way up the final climb. The atmosphere up this final climb was electrifying with the cheers from the crowd. Apparently most countries really like to cheer on Canada, because they made me feel like I was in first place for a second.

 

Do not go gentle into that good night

Despite the immense motivation I was receiving from the crowd, the last section was one of the hardest sections of any race I have ever ran. My HR was now sitting at 205bmp and every muscle in my body felt like jello. I was foaming at the mouth with sticky salivas and I was fighting the urge to puke with every step.

The pain in my IT band intensified throughout this last section to an unbearable point. With every step I took it felt like my lower limb was about to separate from my leg. My right quadriceps muscles were going through spasms, and the veins were thick and pulsating like a spiders web.

Despite not having the race I had hoped for, I cannot describe how happy I was to cross that finish line. To have worked for something so hard for so many months, and finally experience it in full was unbelievable. I gave everything I had on that final climb despite the circumstances; to me, that effort is all that matters.

Moving Forward

As always seems to happen with every race I sign up for, there are a few important lessons that I will take with me back home. After speaking with so many high caliber mountain runners over the week I realized my training and preperation was very flawed.

I was so focused on getting my weight down to have an effective power/weight ratio that I left myself feeling weak and hungry day after day, severely sabotaging my chances of making fitness gains. My training was also far too unpredictable. On pretty much every workout I always had the goal in mind of giving it 110% at some point, feeling the biggest lactic burn I could handle. From the mouths of some of the fastest in the world themselves, the most effective training is nowhere near a max effort pace.. because this allows you to recover properly.

I could blab on for hours about all the mistakes I made, but at the end of the day this was my first time competing at such a high level of competition. I’d be lying to myself if I thought things were going to go well and I wasn’t going to be given a swift dose of reality. Things went well given the circumstances, and since the race I have recovered well from the IT band injury.

Here are some more pictures from the trip!

Cheers

 

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The impressive marble podium

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A popular Massa beach

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One of the transport buses

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Getting into position for the opening ceremony

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Meeting some Kenyans

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Building Up Lights and Brighter Colours: Burrard Crossing.

Briliant!

Graham Bretton Bibby's Blog

The third week of this composition and the sky, mountains and bridge abutments are all but completed. I am adding the streetlights and running lights on the water bus. This part of the composition is most rewarding; when all of the values are correct, the lights and colours start to sing.

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Next week the water will be finished and I can begin refining the final details of the bridge and boats.

I am proudly wearing part of my Nephew’s new line of sports clothing: Montem Valebat.

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Cyclocross, Ski Mountaineering, and Other Ramblings

To all those expecting an update on the World Mountain Running Championships, sadly this is not it. Although I am currently in the process of writing it, it has proven to be a much harder task than I expected.

However, I thought in the meantime I could give an update on what I have been doing lately, as well as an outline of what to expect in the coming winter.

Cycling and Cyclocross: A New Cross-Training Vision

As per GQ fall edition cover.

This past summer I was hired at La Bicicletta Pro Shop as a sales representative. Despite my vast lack of cycling knowledge, I managed to adapt well to the job and learned a lot about the benefit of cycling as cross training. Because of this, throughout the summer before and after nationals I used cycling for about 50% of my training volume, allowing me to log massive mileage without over-stressing my joints.

Why Cycling Works:

The truth is, many of the fastest mountain runners in the world and Canada use cycling as a massive training component- as I learned at worlds in Italy– so it just made sense to make my own addition. Some of these athletes include Killian Jornet, Bernard Dematteis, Sebastian Salas, Mike Simpson, Sjaan Gerth, Chris Swanson, and many many more.

Engagement:

For years I always liked to incorporate 30-45 minute spin sessions on the stationary bike at my old high school, but the major problem with this is spinning will bore you to death, plain and simple. When  you go out cycling with a good group or even alone as I did most of the time, it is much easier to stay motivated to continue the workout. The scenery changes, you feel the air wizzing by you at 50km/h, and its just a much more interactive experience

It Mimics Mountain Running

Cycling is a very good simulation of running up steep trails because of the massive amounts of power you can generate. Even on a flat rode, you can simply change into a lower gear and grind on the pedals to mimic hard power hiking. Not to mention you can cycle up roads almost as steep as the Grouse Grind.

Low Impact

This point speaks for itself. There is little to no blunt impact in cycling, which means you can train all you want and stay virtually injury free.

Cyclocross:

When I arrived back from Worlds, I knew that after a couple weeks of rest I would need to hop back on the horse and begin training for the Ski Mountianeering Season. The problem was, my IT band was shot, eliminating running as a viable training option.

My immediate though was to start road biking as my primary training, but I knew with the deteriorating fall weather that would not be a fun option for very long. After doing a bit of research on other options I stumbled across a video of the world cyclocross championships.

After 5 minutes of the video I knew cyclocross would be the perfect solution to my problem. It would allow me to log tons of miles even in the worst weather, and best of all I could still train on many of the same trails I run on.

A canadian cyclo-cross racer at the 2014 World Championship

A canadian cyclo-cross racer at the 2014 World Championship

 

Testing out the new whip on Fishermans Trail.

Testing out the new whip on Fishermans Trail.

I was able to snag a great pro deal through La Bicicletta on a nice cross bike, which was the solution to my training quarrels. Cyclocross bikes are basically identical to road bikes, except with they’re beefy tire treads they are meant for the muddiest of trails.

My Cyclocross Bike: Felt f65X

Looking Forward:

Racers boot-packing up an undulating ridge

Racers boot-packing up an undulating ridge

This coming winter season I am excited to be taking my ski mountaineering to the next level. I’ve invested in an ultralight rando style setup (as seen on the athletes above), and I have a list of races and objectives for this coming season.

Along with the ski setup I’ve attempted to lighten the rest of my equipment including my pack, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, stove, rope, and ice axe. Of particular interest is a pack I just got in the mail from Hyperlite Mountain Gear. They were generous enough to give me a pro deal on a fantastic ultralight pack for ski mo (review to come).

Hyperlite Porter Pack-a mere 850 grams!

The hyperlite porter pack: a mere 850 grams!

If all goes as planned, I will do well at the Canadian Nationals and qualify for the World Championships in Verbier Switzerland in February. However, as I learned from this summers mountain running season, I will be sure to focus on the process more than the result, completing plenty of fun mountaineering objectives on the way.

Once the winter season gets fully underway I plan on updating this blog much more frequently and more casually. This will include race reports, training recaps, gear reviews, ski mountaineering objectives, and good old ramblings.

Between know and the beginning of the ski season, I plan on continuing with Cyclocross training and brushing up on my skills with a couple close to home alpine scrambles. Many alpine scrambles are remote and far away from public roads. However, with a cross bike I can bike up nearby 4WD roads, ditch the bike in the woods, and press onwards to the summit. In some cases, this can reduce running distance up to 20km!

Enough of me talking, time to go back to the drawing board and see what this winter will hold.

Enjoy some more pictures below!

-OB

Me and Team Uganda at the World Championships

Me and Team Uganda at the World Championships

Posing in front of some ancient North Vancouver ruins, midway through a cyclocross adventure

Posing in front of some ancient North Vancouver ruins, midway through a cyclocross adventure

Atop Grouse Mountain after a satisfying vertical kilometer

Atop Grouse Mountain after a satisfying vertical kilometer

On top of Mt Brunswick

On top of Mt Brunswick

The view from Black Tusk

The view from Black Tusk

St. Marks Summit overlooking the Sea to Sky

St. Marks Summit overlooking the Sea to Sky

Even Sunset on top of Mt Price

Even Sunset on top of Mt Price

Post race damage

Post Cypress 5 Peaks Damage

Canadian Mountain Running Nationals Recap

My legs felt stiff, unresponsive to the commands my brain was barking. The soft ground and interspaced rocks were slipping out beneath my feet, threatening to pull me down to the barren, unforgiving ground. I had nothing left to give, until something deep within was set ablaze. Lungs burning and legs throbbing, I pushed onward to the line ahead. Two hundred meters, one hundred, fifty, my vision felt cloudy. Thirty, twenty-five, fifteen, I wanted to crawl into a corner and die. Ten meters, five, I was too tired to wipe the foamy saliva off my face. I crested the hill, crossed the line, and collapsed. Was it the altitude, or the pace that killed me? It didn’t matter either way; it was all over.

Emotions flooded my system as the event that I had dreamed of for months had finaly come to fruition. It was over, and unless I had missed being passed, I had won my category and qualified for the world championships.

A relentless road up an amazing mountain

There and Back Again, A Runner’s Tale:

Canadian Mountain Running Nationals was the culmination of several months of training and dedication- all of which began in my cramped UBC dormitory. When I realized there was the possibility to represent Canada as a junior, unlike the past years when I would have had to compete with the elite men, I put everything aside and treated it as my life’s goal to make the team.

One of many training sessions at the Wreck Beach Stairs. -Photo by Steven Richards

The training was intense and scientific, everything I did had a purpose and every purpose was geared towards nationals. Initially my diet remained unchanged, but after a bit of research on power to weight ratio I decided losing weight would help me just as much as training would. Every bit of food I ate was accounted for and scrutinized, which lead to a strategic weight-loss of 15 lbs. After running competitively for over 11 years, I could finally say I looked like a runner, something the bulging veins on the surface of my calfs and quads were evidence of. I made training and running my life over a four month period. Besides schoolwork, there wasn’t much else that crossed my mind; thankfully it all paid off.

In the past I have always trained with various goals in mind, but the intensity in which I committed to this race brought about fitness improvements I never thought I would achieve. Running the Grouse Grind at my previous best pace felt effortless, I could maintain a run on the steepest of trails, and I began to feel much more powerful over shorter hill intervals. All of this was great, but it did little to calm my nerves leading into nationals. No matter how well I did in any workout or race, I always walked away saying to myself, “the people I have to beat would have done better.”

The Plan:

This years National Championship was to be held in Golden BC, at Kicking Horse Mountain. It takes the average driver about eight hours drive to reach Golden, so I new I would need a companion to keep me from falling asleep at the wheel. My friend Jordan Maynard, a bloody talented athlete in his own right, was conveniently in need of a ride up, so we decided to drive together and camp at the site of the race.

Rather than stay in a fancy hotel I figured that camping in the parking lot in the days prior to the race would help calm the nerves while saving a few bucks. There’s something about the “high profile” feeling of staying in a hotel that always made me more nervous throughout races in high school.

Jordan Maynard and myself drove up to Kicking Horse Resort two days before the race and did exactly that! We strategically hid the tent behind the car in the corner of the ski resort parking lot and enjoyed the peace and quiet as we quarreled over race strategies and other competitors. We slept in, made espresso on the stove top mocha pot, and read our respective books each morning. All of which contributed to a calm and collected headspace for race day.

 

Dinner Time!

A little bit of entertainment. “Into the Mind”

Our exquisite setup!

Jordan Maynard chillin at base camp

Trying to catch some Zzzzz’s

Its hard to read with a backdrop like this

IMG_2096

Rolling out the muscles!

The Course:

Just like the Seek the Peak course, there was no bullshiting on this one. With absolutely zero downhill and only a few flat sections, there was no way to beat someone on this course unless you were fitter or ready to push harder- a most respectable idea.

The 8.5km course, as seen on Strava

Kicking Horse Mountain

Kicking Horse Mountain

The men’s course was a stout 12.5km at an average trail gradient of about 8%. Luckily for me, being a junior I would only have to run the short 8.5km short course. However, without the initial flat section in the men’s course, the short course had a steeper average gradient, and a shorter distance would mean I had to run it faster than if I ran the longer course- either way it was going to hurt. This was all right though, shorter races are where I generally feel the strongest, and the steeper the gradient the better I perform!

Elevation Profile. Several disappointing drops in pace, as seen by the peaks of the blue line.

As per usual, I did a fair bit of course recon in order to prepare myself as best as I could. This course was unique in that it involved no conventional trails at all- conventional meaning single track packed dirt- the course followed the Kicking Horse Mountain service road. This service road was a green level ski run to those who dabble with sports other than running! The gradient would begin relatively mild at about 5%, then the pain would begin on interspaced sections of up to 12%, culminating in a final steep 20% kick in the ass. All in all, the elevation gain would remain fairly constant and there were few if any possibilities to recover.

Born to Die:

Enough of the similes, clichés, and fancy wording, and on to the point of this post! The poetic culmination of five brutal yet pleasurable months of work was all to come down to a single, all out, gut wrenching effort too the summit. “Born to die” is the title of one of Lana Del Rays albums. As my go to training playlist and an all around great album , I started to take this phrase to heart.

Going into this race, I wanted to run with the phrase “Born to Die,” in mind. My plan was to push until it hurt, then onwards til it throbbed, then when every fiber in my body was ready to tear and raise its white flag in surrender, I would kick until I finished or passed out (or died). Overly poetic and dramatic you say? Possibly, but its race mantras like this that have lead me to successes in the past; I would take no chances at nationals. Besides, who actually sticks to their race plan after the gun goes these days? It’s all about psyching yourself up and feeling tougher than you are!

The 8.5km start

I toed the line with my colorful shorts fluttering in the wind, and waited for the signal. To my surprise I was the only male racer starting on the line. The picture makes it look like I was a gender confused boy, but I promise their were a host of speedy men behind. Since the men over the age of 20 were required to run the longer course, I was left with the the juniors, masters, and elite women as contenders for the win. Luckily though, I only needed to be the first junior male to secure my spot on the team.

I planned on attacking and leading from the start. When the race director yelled “Go,” I took to the front right away and settled into my pace. In hindsight, I probably would have finished another minute or so quicker if I did not begin so quickly, but after waiting for so long for this race I wanted to zoom off right away.

The first ten minutes felt great. I felt light and swift and the distance to the finish line kept coming down. Sadly though, my starting pace was a bit ambitious, I realized this as some seriously fit elite women starting passing me. At least they would not affect me for the overall junior standards, but I still tried very hard to maintain contact as they seemingly floated up the hill.

The first three kilometres were quick and on my target pace, roughly five minutes and thirty seconds a piece. However, during the fourth kilometre the gradient steepened and my pace slowed sharply (My kilometre splits can be seen on the course map above). Maintaining a quick pace on the steeper sections is something I have been working on feverishly since nationals; if you can do it there are massive gains to be made on other racers, but as most already know it is a very hard discipline to get good at.

The fourth kilometre was probably the lowest point in the race for me. Feeling so exhausted with so much running still to go was a terrible feeling, more mental than anything. Thankfully the gradient slackened in the ensuing kilometres and I was able to pick up the pace again. Around halfway through the race I reached the one and only aid station. I grabbed two cups of water, dumping the first one all over myself and choking the other one down with little success. Immediately I felt a surge of energy creep back into my legs, enough of the suffering, it was time to start racing! I pushed hard over the next section and made up solid ground on the racers in front of me. I don’t believe I was any less tired than before, I jut managed to enter into the demented state where pain and suffering becomes somewhat enjoyable.

This carried onwards until I entered the final valley leading to the finish line, where a combination of the altitude and general exhaustion crippled me. The course was not steep at all at this point, maybe 6% at the most, but my legs felt ridiculously heavy. I tried my best to push through this lull, but sadly I was unable to come out of this slow pace until about a kilometre to the finish line, where the “home stretch” excitement kicked in.

A Brief Diversion:

The road was painfully monotonous and the minutes seemed to pass like hours. Although the course was no more difficult than several other races I have done, the real difficulty was the pace at which it was run. Something I have always found laughable is when someone says that one race is “more difficult” than another,  just because the actual trail is more technical or sports more elevation change. The bottom line is, it all comes down to the pace at which you run the course.

For example, the Knee Knacker is an infamous trail race sporting ridiculous elevation change on a technical trail from horseshoe-bay to deep cove, totalling fifty kilometres of distance. This race is technically more challenging of a course than its common comparison, the Boston Marathon, yet there is absolutely no comparing the difficulty of doing the Knee Knacker fast to doing the Boston Marathon Fast. The 2:03:02 Boston Marathon record run by Geoffrey Mutai is so much more difficult than running or evening breaking the course record of the Knee Knacker that its funny to hear the comparison. Mutai’s performance would be comparable to running the Knee Knacker in about four hours, a forty minute improvement on the course record. Don’t get me wrong, technical courses are very challenging. But often the more technical a course, the slower it ends up being run and the less stress put onto the aerobic and anaerobic systems of the body.

Mutai winning the Boston Marathon. Pace beats technicality any day of the week

Mutai winning the Boston Marathon. Pace beats technicality any day of the week

Back To The Race:

In the final kilometre I picked the pace up sharply and managed to catch up to several runners, resulting in a 5th place overall and a 1st place for the under-20 category. Despite slowing down more than I should have on the steeper bits, I managed to maintain a large lead over the second place junior making for a relatively stress free race. Had the elite women who passed me been junior men instead, I feel I would have had the motivation to stay with them, but luckily in this race this sort of competitiveness was not necessary. As you may have been able to tell from my opening paragraph, this finish was a pretty emotional experience for me. It suddenly didn’t matter how sore and broken the course had made me, because the finish line was finally there, along with the title I had been dreaming of for months.

Racers nearing the finish line- Photo by Bruno Long

Canadian Mountain Running Champion and 12km winner Sjaan Gerth. Unbelievable athleticism! -Photo by Bruno Long

Canadian Mountain Running Champion and 12km winner Sjaan Gerth. Unbelievable athleticism! -Photo by Bruno Long

An ominous looking road- Photo by Bruno Long

Gemma Slaughter making the course look fun somehow- Photo by Bruno Long

A racer battling a deep leg burn-Photo by Bruno Long

Photo by Bruno Long

Trying to contain my excitement- Photo by Bruno Long

 Looking Forward:

I always find it fascinating how much improvement can be made given the right amount of motivation. If it was not for the single goal I set myself months ago in my dorm room, I doubt I would have been able to improve at the rate I did. It wasn’t that the workouts were any different than the previous years, there just seemed to be that extra desire to push myself into that higher gear day after day.

Even now, several weeks after nationals I have made even more improvements, mostly due to the great incentive to train for the World Championships in September. Although the fitness level I attained going in to nationals was sufficient to qualify, now I need to push it even further, to the point in which re-running the nationals course would results in a five minute improvement. The competitors I will race against at worlds will be a level above anything I have ever seen; although I think it would be ridiculous of me to think I have any chance at contending for a top spot at Worlds, I do want to do myself and Canada proud in the best performance I can possibly muster up.

Training has already begun and motivation is at an all time high. In the next month I am hoping to increase my lactate threshold, increase my top end hill climbing speed, and shed off another 10 pounds of excess body weight. Yet, aside from all the technicalities and hoorah about success and accomplishment, I am really enjoying running again. Throughout high school I struggled to maintain a desire to run because practices began to feel like work. Some nights I remember being sleepless out of fear of a training session the next day. Although there are still sleepless nights before race and training days, they arise now out of excitement to get out there and run, not out of fear.

But for now, I will close with a final cliche and bid you all adieu. Thank you for taking the time to read my writeup and happy running to you all!

Cheers,

Oliver Bibby

 

 

Seek the Peak 2014 Race Recap

 

“You can break me down temporarily, but I will always pick up the pieces, rebuild, and come back much, much stronger than I was before”


The usual pre-race anxiety

The usual pre-race anxiety

In 2013 I signed up for the Seek the Peak not knowing what to expect. Being relatively experienced with grueling uphills and certainly not foreign to the grind I thought my strengths would be well suited to the seek the peak. I was wrong!

Last year I bonked (Hit the wall) big time. I took a wrong turn about 8 km into the 16km race which not only lost me time but ruined my perfect mental state. I tried way too hard to make up the ground I had lost and burnt myself out in the process. The rest of the race was terrible, an absolute fight for every inch of ground. I was being passed by weekend warriors and everybody’s grandmother which made me give up even more than my body already had. Before I even crossed the finish line I knew I would have to come back the year after and set the record straight.

The beginning of the grind in the 2013 STP. Completely destroyed.

The beginning of the grind in the 2013 STP. Completely destroyed with Mark Green blowing by.


Course Overview (a diversion from my fear):

The Seek the Peak is an absolutely brutal course boasting 1300m of elevation gain in 16km, with the bulk of that elevation gain in a single 5km section. However, it is also the kind of course that I like the most. Too often in mountain running races it all comes down to who is willing to descend the fastest. This in my strongly guarded opinion is not a representation of great athletic ability. Sure, you need to be competent to run downhill quickly, but the man that runs down the hill fastest is often no more fit than the people behind him. If you don’t care about falling or possibly getting injured then there is nothing stopping your from flying down the hill and making up ridiculous amounts of time. If attacking the downhills is your thing, kudos to you! But don’t think that nobody is sticking with you because they aren’t as fit as you…quite the opposite I would argue.

Anyways, this race is all about your ability to grit your teeth and climb. The start may be a bit misleading with its rolling hills and speedy nature, but you realize exactly what your in for once the gradient kicks back and the fibres of your hamstrings feel like the strings of a guitar.

What makes the Seek the Peak so difficult is that before you even begin the climbing, you are already tired. The first 7k is a deathtrap. Run it too quick and you will crash and burn for it later. Run it too slow and you will lose massive amounts of valuable time. After the initial speedy 7k you tackle hill after hill until you reach the unrelenting grouse grind. Indeed, this course is about careful pacing and making sure you don’t fade away too quickly, for if you begin the grind with no energy left you will be in for a painful ride- Something I can vouch for 100 percent.

The ridiculous elevation profile of the Seek the Peak

The ridiculous elevation profile of the Seek the Peak. (1300m gain)


Section Breakdown:

The Seek the Peak course is best analyzed when broken down into four separate parts.

Part 1: (4km)

The start of the race features winding single track and pleasant views of the capilano river. The elevation gain is very small making for a very speedy beginning too the race. If you are more of a trail runner in nature I would recommend taking this section a bit slower. If you have experience with cross country, track, or any sort of fast road running then this section is for you to dominate.

Part 2: (6km)

This second part is where the hills start to take centre stage. This section involves steep and quick ascents and descents for the first few kilometres that still lend themselves well to fast running. Once you reach the Cleveland Dam the steep climbing begins and the pace drops sharply. You ascend the steep staircase beside the Cleveland dam which spits you out onto Nancy green way for a gruelling kilometre of 13% gradient running. My tip for this section is to try and settle into a relatively comfortable groove. You don’t want to be taking it easy, but you certainly want to have energy left before the grind.

Part 3: (3.1km)

The third and steepest part of the race is the grouse grind. No explanation needed. I recommend consuming a gel right at the start to give you an added boost!

Part 4: (3km)

Once you reach the top of the grind you have a short flatter section to pick the cadence up and get some much needed oxygen to your legs. This leads you to the final climb. One kilometre long at an average gradient of 15%, this hill will make you want to cry…and just when you reach the top and are ready to throw in the towel you get to turn around and run back down towards the finish. Once you reach this section it is time to fire up all cylinders. While everyone else is slowly plodding along to the final hill you will kick it into overdrive and make up mountains of time on your opponents. Attack the hill with everything you have.

The business begins

Be ready for the hardest grind you will ever do.


Seek the Peak strategy; Its all in the pace

This year I was determined not too go out too hard and pay for it in the end. My time last year was roughly 1 hour and 50 minutes, far behind where I should have been. Going into this years race my goal was to run sub-1:30. Difficult, but completely achievable given how well my year had been going so far.

My plan this year was to consume 2 gels over the course of the race, and save enough energy to hammer out a 38 minute grouse grind. After the grind I would hopefully catch up on a few stragglers and possibly snag a podium finish.

In summary, if you are reading this before doing the Seek the Peak for your first time follow these three tips to crush the competition.

1) Consume 1-2 gels over the course of the race. Ideally one about 6km into the race and the other at the base of the grind.

2) Start slower than you feel like you should. Don’t hurt yourself trying to stick with the lead pack. Start slow and make sure you have energy heading up Nancy Green Way to tackle the grind.

3) Drink at every aid station. You will be dehydrated beyond belief if  you don’t replenish yourself with water. In a race like this that is predominantly uphill you sweat much more than normal. Don’t let that become a problem!

Local hardman Benoit Gignac cruising up the Cleveland Dam stairs.

Local hardman Benoit Gignac cruising up the Cleveland Dam stairs.


And Without Further Adieu, My Seek the Peak 2014 Race Report

 

And so it begins...

And so it begins…

 

In the days leading up to the race I meticulously reviewed elevation profiles, segment times, past results, and race reports; this is a pre-race tradition that I find always helps me get into the mental headspace to perform well. The more of the them I read the more I began to think to myself, “Why was this race so difficult for me last year?” A brutal course no doubt, but I still couldn’t understand why I had bonked so hard. Luckily for me the reason came back to me about halfway up the grouse grind.

I started off at a decent pace running roughly 4 minutes per kilometre, nothing too fancy. I was eager to blast ahead and contend with the leaders (Benoit Gignac, Mike Simpson, and Shaun-Stephens wale) but I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold their pace, so I held off. Before I knew it, the first segment was done in good time and I still felt full of energy. At this point I wanted so badly to break away and chase down the lead pack, but I told myself to keep the pace steady and save the break away for later.

This race plan payed off as I made quick work of the steep ascents and descents leading up to Cleveland Dam. Around 6km into the race I started getting some bad stomach cramps from the pounding on the downhill, a recently re-occuring problem for me. However, I knew from past experiences that the cramps would likely go away on the uphill when the pace naturally slackens; I pressed onwards and slowed my pace a little. This certainly cost me a few vital positions but it saved my intestines for the better.

After what seemed like no time at all I reached the Cleveland Dam and began the steep ascent up the stairs. I sucked back an espresso gel and did my best job to swallow it without any water. This was actually my first time using a gel in any race and it surprisingly went down with ease! Just like last year the stairs up to Nancy Green way were relentless, but this year they didn’t feel nearly as difficult, a sure sign of improvement. At the top of the stairs I gulped back water and gatorade from the first aid station in an attempt to replenish my electrolytes for the ensuing climb. I splashed a final cup of water onto my chest and flew on up Nancy Green Way.

I was completely shocked at how good I felt on the road. At this point last year I felt like my legs were going to explode; this time they felt nimble and light. My pace quickened as I set my sights upon the runners ahead.

However, this is when I began to notice a dull ache on my left IT band, indicative of a long term injury that had plagued me in the past. I knew that this pain would not be aggravated much from steep ascents, but rather the technical descents. I decided it would be ok to continue onwards, but I had my worries for the final leg after the grind.

After powering through Nancy Green Way at about 5 min/km I reach the based of the beloved grind and the second aid station. I repeated my routine as per the first station, sucked back another gel (this time strawberry), and powered on up. Just as I had planned, I had plenty of energy left to motor on up the grind in speedy fashion. It was painful, probably one of the most painful ascents I’ve done up the grind due to the extensive pre-fatigue. But my pace was quick and I managed to crest the top in just about 37:50. There were many grunts and yells to be heard from myself and the other competitors on the trail, but beneath all this it did feel comfortable. I knew I was regaining my energy and I was eager to make a big break on the runners in front of me and chase down the third position. I repeated my aid station routine for the final station at the top of the grind and motored onwards to the final ascent.

And then everything took a turn for the worst…

There was no getting around it anymore. The pain on my IT band, LCL, and lateral portion of the knee was brutal. This was the moment where I had to decide whether or not I would drop out. I knew with Mountain Running Nationals only 2 weeks away it would be stupid of me to push through it and still chase down the runners in front of me, but having come all this way I couldn’t stomach dropping out.

I decided that I would finish the race, but I would have to drop my pace substantially so as to not aggravate my knee anymore. It was a crushing decision to make, letting the competitors in front run away and the ones behind bridge the gap that I had fought to create, but it was necessary if I wanted to walk the next day. I ran/walked the rest of the race, loosing a few minutes of time here and there and finished with a time of 1:36:55 in 11th place, a 13 minute improvement on last year.

Still managed to podium for the U19 category despite the tribulations.

Still managed to snag a podium for the U19 category despite the tribulations.


Post-Race Reflections

As I sit here a week later with my feet up sipping on a strong cup of coffee, I can honestly say I am very happy with this race. In a sport as brutal as Mountain Running it is important to be happy with yourself in the end no matter the performance. The circumstances took a turn on me between cramping and knee issues, but above all the fitness aspect is there. Injuries can be recovered from and cramps can be sorted out with proper hydration, but having fitness does not come overnight (unless your name is Mark Green).

With a recent PB on the Grouse Grind of 32 minutes a few days after the race and a fully rehabilitated knee I feel confident heading into nationals. I figure that without the knee failure my STP time would have come in around 1:32-1:33, which is right around where I need to be.

Of course, I plan on coming back next year to run the Seek the Peak and finally crack the 1 hour and 30 minute barrier. But for now, I’ll continue to enjoy my coffee and prepare for the fastest mountain run of my life at nationals.

Cheers