MEC North Van 55k Trail Race Report

As you may have noticed from hints in my previous post, I’ve taken a little deviation from my training for a faster marathon and decided to dedicate this summer to running farther. Naturally that means ultra marathons… And as an individual who pretty much is an ‘all or nothing’ type of gal, once I looked up what ultra marathons were (I really had no idea – basically just knew they were anything longer than a marathon), I knew pretty much immediately I wanted to do something considered extreme by most. Which would be a 100 miler.

I know you’re not surprised to hear this because I referred to this distance in my BMO Marathon Race Report post. And so, for the past nearly 2 months I’ve been contemplating and researching what it takes and what it would be like to run 100 miles. To begin to grasp what it’d be like I started running farther.

After my BMO Vancouver Marathon, I jumped right back into running immediately. With my mindset now completely shifted, the marathon distance become normalized in my head as a typical weekend training run distance. (Yes, haha, I know this does sound a bit crazy – but honestly it’s amazing what perspective does!)

So I went out and ran 54km on the road. No problems. I started running trails, including a 25km Ironknee trail race. So fun! I ran back to back long runs on the weekends. All good.

As an obvious next step (no?) I signed up for the inaugural MEC 55k race, held on Saturday, June 11th, starting and finishing in Ambleside Park in beautiful West Vancouver. And then I signed up for Seek the Peak 16k 4100 foot climb type of race the very next day – but that’s another story haha.

I’ll admit I wasn’t nervous for this race. Probably because I’d decided not to actually race it – but instead use it as a training run. I’ve discovered I love running in the trails, but I’m nervous about getting lost. So knowing that the course would be well marked was a huge factor in signing up, an opportunity to run 55km on trails that I definitely wouldn’t have had otherwise. I also am nervous of running out of water in the wilderness – so knowing there’d be 6 aid stations along the way was also a huge draw. Here’s how it played out…

I awoke race morning to rain!! Argh. Well, misting was probably a better description. Actually, come to think of it, it really wasn’t so bad, so I decided to stick with the outfit I’d laid out the night before and just throw my lightweight raincoat overtop everything. I got ready for this race just like any other – oatmeal and matcha tea upon waking would be my fuel for this race just as for any other.

I drove down to Ambleside Park and along the way picked up a friend – Pargol – who was also racing… er, running. We arrived exactly at the time I wanted to arrive – 6:45am, as we still had to pick up our bibs (the race was to begin at 7:30am). By 6:50am we had our bibs in hand and were ready and raring to go! So we sat in the car to stay out of the rain. Next time I wouldn’t worry about getting there so early – it was easy to find and as a small race there were no lineups anywhere.

We met up with another friend, Katie (who would later that day take 2nd female in this race!!). Katie was pretty much the first person to take me into the trails and I’ve learned a lot from her in a short amount of time. Mostly confidence – she is fearless on the trails… She dances through them like nobodies business. It’s actually quite fascinating and beautiful to watch. I hope to become faster and more agile on the trails like she is!

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At 7:29am everyone assembled on the start line – there was only maybe 70-75 of us altogether including another couple of gals, Nat and Steph we also knew were running it. And then we were off. The first few kilometres were along paved pathways – still very much urban park trails. But before we knew it we shot up into a single track trail for a short period before popping out onto a road – more pavement running. I quickly realized I’m not a fan of running on pavement in my trail shoes. I typically wear Nike freefly knits on the road – and in my trail shoes I feel like I’m clumping along.

However the road quickly leads to a wide gravel path and the trail shoes are perfect there (make no mistake, trail shoes are a must for this race – it gets much, much more technical!!). Pargol and I decided to run together and as we dove into the trails (which I’ve discovered I love running downhill trails quickly), I sped along (which honestly isn’t actually that fast), stopping to regroup at various point. Eventually we popped out of the trails and back onto another wide gravel road as we approached aid station number 1, at Cleveland Dam. Woot, 7km down!!

At this point we had to climb about 3km along the side of the road leading to Grouse Mountain. More pavement running in trail shoes, argh. We power walked most of it! Once we hit the base of Grouse Mountain, we were directed into the the Baden Powell trail – a rather technical and single track trail – one of the most challenging (I think) that I’ve been introduced to yet. The kilometres clicked by very slowly with all the climbing we had to do.

After ages, the flagging told us to leave Baden Powell and climb Executioner. I love running down Executioner – have done it a handful of times now – but I’ll never voluntarily climb it again! At one point we ended up wandering off the trail and onto another – continuing for a couple hundred metres before realizing there was no more flagging to be seen. We double backed and quickly saw where we’d gotten off track.

Finally we came up out of Executioner and onto Mountain Highway – and ran into aid station number 2! It was about 10am, 2½ hours and 14km into the race . I texted hubby at this point to tell him all was good, filled up my water bottles, and off we went! We ran/power-walked up Mountain Highway for a while before being diverted off into technical single track trails again – this time going down! As luck would have it, with the rain making the rocks slippery, I slipped and landed hard, winding myself. But I managed to pop up and say all was fine! Walked it off for a few moments and then got going again.

The majority of the trails in this race were quite technical and slow-going. We finally made it through to aid station #3, about 20km into the race, and at this point I was beginning to panic that we wouldn’t make it to aid station #5 by the cut off time, which was 2:30pm. Having just entered a very runnable non-technical bit I began to run, probably a bit too fast out of that fear, and kept pulling back and trying to keep calm.

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We ran up and down through trails that were feeling really tough! Finally we were spit out onto a wide gravel pathway with a bit of a downhill and I found myself by myself. I love those downhills and this gravel path was such a gift – I guess I’d been making full use of it powering down them. I stopped, took off my coat and stuffed it in my bag, ate a power cookie, drank water… Still on my own… I started running slowly… Then power walking the climb… Passed another racer. And then from there I was just on my own.

I thought I might be frightened to be in the trails by myself – I’d never been alone like that before. But I quickly realized I loved it and as I ‘danced’ through the trails (one of those where I’m picturing myself looking LOTS more graceful and speedier than I actually was hahaha), I found myself lost in my thoughts while keeping a keen eye on flagging and watching the ground for rocks and roots. I passed another racer, and another! And then finally I popped out at aid station #5, the one I’d been so worried about. I was 38km in now, and it was 2pm – I’d made the cutoff with 30 minutes to spare! And I’d already been out there for 6½ hours. So long! I was feeling tired for sure.

But there were many kilometres yet to go, so I downed a cup of soup, a power cookie, filled up my water bottles and off into the trails I went! Very slowly. I was immediately hit with a lot of climbing. So I climbed. And climbed. And run tiny bits but mostly climbed and made my way through rocks and roots and climbed more. In my head I just had a few kilometres to go before we’d be popped out onto Skyline Drive, a gravel road. So I kept at it. And then FINALLY, after what felt like HOURS, there it was – the point where Skyline Drive begins.

But the arrows and flagging were pointing me back into the woods, up a steep trail and back onto Baden Powell. Nooooooooo!!!! Oh man, why had I thought we were going to run on Skyline??? I couldn’t believe it, but the flags were clearly indicating Baden Powell was the way to go.

What went from what I thought was going to be running a few sub-6:00 minute kilometres turned into a very long few 15 to 20 minute kilometres. The time passes SO MUCH slower that way haha. It was painful and I was worried as a part of me wondered if I really was on the right track. But then, FINALLY, I popped out at the base of Grouse Grind and there was a volunteer to point me in the right direction – so I guess I had been on the right track all along. Ha.

I flew down to Cleveland Dam (like totally flew, avg 5:12/km!!). And my GPS died right there at the final aid station. Grrrr. The first time I used my GPS to track a long run I realized this whole time I’ve owned it the backlight has been on always, whenever I use it. That’ll kill the battery in about 5 hours flat. This time I’d gotten a bit smarter – every time my watch lapped and automatically turned the light on, I immediately hit the light off. This gave me 8 hours and 19 minutes. Eventually I’d learn there was a way to completely turn the auto light off for good – and squeeze a max of 9 hours and 15 minutes out of my Garmin 220 – but for today 8:19:27 was going to be as good as I’d get.

So I started Strava to track me the rest of the way, and started running down to Ambleside Park, the last leg of this race. I’d reached this last aid station with only 25 minutes or so to spare before cutoff – but now I was on the homestretch. I hit a climb, and as I was power walking I pulled out Strava to see how I was doing to see that it was auto paused. Lol. What? It was pausing as I walked up the hill? Grrr. I figured out how to turn auto pause off, and tucked my phone away. From there I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. I was TIRED! Finally I hit the bottom – just a short jaunt on flat easy paved paths to the finish! Which took literally forever, oh my. But then, there it was – the finish!!! And oh my, there was Katie!!! She was cheering me in, she ran over and ran me the final 100 metres or so! It was amazing!

Out of about 70 runners who began that race, 47 finished it – 17 females and 30 males. I came in as the 13th female with a time of 9 hours, 14 minutes and 39 seconds. It was a much more challenging race than I thought it was going to be – I’d run the Iron Knee 25km trail race a few weeks prior and had been thinking it’d be more like that one – but no, most definitely tougher!!

Pargol came in and we hung out until they tore down the finish line, as there was a time limit of 10 hours – which personally I think was a bit of a tough time limit – but as a very new trail racer, I don’t really know!! Regardless, it was an amazing day – such a great experience, and absolutely exceptional training. I’m not sure I’d do it again… Unless I get better at technical trails and climbing, then maybe. But amazing volunteer support and well organized – the marking of the course was really great too.

I woke the next morning and ran from Ambleside Park (talk about dejavu haha) all the way up to the peak of Grouse, and then ran down – 25km total. Over the course of Saturday and Sunday, I ran 80km (50 miles). Needless to say, I feel very ready for my next adventure in two weeks time, the Tenderfoot Boogie 50 miler!!!

Run faster…

sarah

 

 

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One thought on “MEC North Van 55k Trail Race Report

  1. Pingback: Tenderfoot Boogie 50 Mile Race Recap | RunFasterSarah (for the love of running)

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