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Mighty Quail 100 km race report – Take 2

I re-read my last post and was struck by the vanilla of it all. Was that really how my day unfolded? Although all of that race report is true, I think I failed to capture my moods, my tenacity or my stubbornness. I made it seem as if my injury and my lack of training were immaterial in the end and that a hundred kilometers is an easily attainable goal. If this blog is supposed to be a personal journal of my experience running, then I missed the mark and cheated myself in the end. So here is a more truthful rendition of the race:

I arrived at the start line with a lofty finish time goal of 14hr 30min. This was arbitrary but somewhat based on the winning time of last year’s first female. I didn’t have any grandiose ideas of winning, since I knew that the bar would be lifted ever higher during the first years of a race, but I thought the time could be attainable. I had pored over the inaugural year results and lurked through strangers’ Strava race profiles, even going so far as to make a cheat sheet of times to meet along the way, which I carried with me on race day.

In a way, this mental game doesn’t amount to much since I am able to abandon lofty time goals mid-race and re-focus on simply finishing alive and upright (as in TdG). I also had a look through some other racers’ UltraSignup results which is where the depth of experience among this cohort came to light but I knew none of the women entrants. I had a good laugh at my UltraSignup ‘Target Finish Time’ since I was targeted to finish in 18hr 54min, almost an hour over the race time limit. Thanks for the confidence boost, UltraSignup!

The first 30 km played out just as I wrote before. I was alone for hours, I focussed on climbing strong, I worried about Bruce’s ankle roll, I ate and I drank like clockwork and I wondered if our recent 500 km walk through Sweden would hinder or help me on this course. I also felt disappointed that the course had taken us up and over the eastern foothills and into a valley hidden from the Okanagan lake views. Beautiful views are a hugely motivating factor in my running and it looked like we would not get the wide-open views pictured on the website.

After making the high point of the day (33 km), I was finally near other runners again. “Stealthy Black” was standing at the side of the trail at one point, looking surprised to see a bunch of us pass her. In no time, we were all filling up at the 38 km water drop and we proceeded down a trail which I’ll remember as Bear Sh1t Alley. Between the very fresh, steamy (!) piles of bear poop were very fresh, mucky cow pies. It was sort of like an obstacle course for a few kilometers. Perhaps “Bear Bell” guy had the right idea after all.

Once we hit the logging road, we had 6 km of road running before aid station #2. This is where my race began. I could see runners far ahead and I worked hard to reel each of them in. I set my sights on the “Circus Gals”, two brightly-dressed women who looked to be close to my age, and pushed hard to pass them. They did not relent easily and they quickly shifted gears into chase mode after I passed. I could hear breathing nearby after and turned to see “Stealthy Black” making a strong push to pass me. All of this chick-jostling told me that I was probably among the female contenders (within our tiny field of 11!)

Upon arriving at 47 km (AS#2), I was told that I was the 4th woman with “Stealthy Black” in 3rd and the “Circus Gals” in 5th/6th. We had essentially arrived together so it was a race to see who could resupply herself fastest and get out ahead of the others. “Stealthy Black” won that race and I followed, after ensuring that I had everything required for the remaining 54 km and the upcoming night. The “Circus Gals” left soon after me and I could hear their chatter from the switchback below.

Along the dreaded Beaverdell Rd (remember – the gravel, the pick-up trucks, the relentless climb?), I tried to run everything. I tried to look stronger and faster than them by running when they were walking. In the process, I nearly rejected my recently swallowed PB&J, pushing too hard after consuming so much food at the aid station. I could see “Stealthy Black” way up ahead but sadly never again. When we finally reached the Ellis Canyon trails, I flew, knowing that my endless training on mountain bike trails would be a hard act to follow. But what is gained is so easily lost.

I needed nothing at the 58 km water stop – except the pit toilet (I blame that friggin’ PB&J!) so the “Circus Gals” retook their lead. They were out of sight when I emerged and I put myself back into chase mode. Losing a place is disappointing but losing two places really bothered me. “Cowboy Hat” and I descended through the deep sand together and both of us opted for wet feet as we forded the reservoir river which allowed us to easily gain six or seven places. During the steep ascent on the climb out of the reservoir valley, I could hear, then see, the “Circus Gals” but I was unable to overtake them until one of them stopped to remove her pack near the summit.

When we finally began to descend down Campbell Mtn DH trail, I hooked my invisible bungy onto the back of one of the “Twins” as they yahooed down the mountain bike trails towards aid station #3. I knew that one of the “Circus Gals” was just behind me so I tried to lengthen my stride with each step. It was one of those descents where I was huffing from the strong downhill effort. Of course, we all arrived at AS#3 (71 km) within seconds of each other. I chatted with old friends and tried to nourish myself well before heading out. This is where Lisa’s wise words about getting the same burger and same award at the finish helped me put things in perspective. It didn’t matter how we all placed. We were strangers who love doing the same thing and are well-matched to run together. In any other scenario, we would have laughed at our commonalities.

While I caught up with Lisa and Heather, “Cowboy Hat” and the “Circus Gals” quickly left the aid station and the “Twins” picked up their enthusiastic pacers all before I found the motivation to get going. I was dreading the next part. Greyback Mtn Road is the soul-sucking climb that would go on for 6+ km and would take me at least 1hr 20min to attain.

When I left the pavement and the grade steepened, I had time to start crunching the numbers. It was 5 pm, 11 hours into the race, and I still had 30 km to go. I was behind my secret time by 35 minutes which wasn’t too bad, but I was starting to feel the fatigue building in my legs. I knew that I wasn’t going to get any faster and that my longest training run (33 km) was not enough to pull it off. At my current slovenly pace, I was not going to see the “Circus Gals” again but I desperately wanted to catch them. As I was trying to re-calibrate my goals, I realized that each 25 km section had taken 4 hours. Surely I could run a downhill 25 km in less time. I waffled between optimism and defeat for this entire climb. It was the lowest point of the day.

Reaching the turn off Greyback and onto High Point Rd was awesome. I was able to run along the double track and I could see the orange colours of the sunset as the sun briefly made an appearance below the clouds. There were about 30 peaceful minutes of twilight running where I met up with “Cowboy Hat” and we stuck together until the headlamps came out. He mentioned that I seemed to have bounced back from a low point and I replied that sometimes you don’t even know you’re having a low point until it is over and you suddenly feel good again. We parted ways once our lights were on and I trucked on ahead and up the final steep grunt of the day.

I ran everything down to aid station #4, although caution has sadly become my downhill running style. I wanted to pull out my ipod and listen to some motivating tunes here but I dared not lose a minutes time in fumbling around with cords and stuff. Three long switchbacks kept looping us back and forth above the station so I could occasionally hear chatter or music down below. It was eerie and it took forever! When I arrived at the short out-and-back to the station, the “Twins” and their effervescent pacers were on their way back into the trails.

I was the only customer at AS#4 (87 km). A volunteer tried to direct me to a fireside chair and blanket which I declined but, as I started to dig into those delicious, fresh Okanagan apples, I simply had to take a seat for my second and third helping. Since I was now having a gag reflex every time I tried to swallow a gel, that crisp, pure taste of apple was exactly what I needed. I downed some Coke too. The clock showed 14 hrs 23min (remember – my secret finishing time goal) and here I was, sitting in a chair with 13 km to go. It was time to re-calibrate my finish goal again. I figured that I could run the last section in 90 minutes so I set my sights on sub 16.

Once back on course, it didn’t take long for me to find the “Circus Gals”. I could hear their chatter and see the glow of their lamps long before they saw me coming. We greeted each other again, as we had all day, and I could see that the downhill was taking its toll on one of their knees. I retook my lead and tried to look strong and confident as I scurried on ahead but, a few minutes later, I took my only tumble of the day. I caught a toe, flew a few feet and managed to right myself, jarring my wrist slightly. They both checked in on me and made sure I was okay before we re-assumed our positions and continued on.

With the frenzy of the fall and with finally being ahead, I got cocky and missed a significant turn just a minute later. I found myself on the far side of a creek with no markers in either direction. I had to retrace my steps (uphill) and find my error. Of course, this put me behind the Gals again. I berated myself for losing my concentration and vowed to really focus on the reflective markers. I figured that I would find the “Circus Gals” quite soon but it took over 4 km for that to happen.

The markers were fewer here and I kept doubting that I was on the right path. I stopped, searched and retraced my steps multiple times. I finally thought Screw It and plowed on where I thought the route was going and, sure enough, I found a marker a few minutes later. I had the same attitude when I came across a frisbee golf course full of cows but no markers. At this point, I could see Lake Okanagan and the lights on the far side and I knew that the trail section was almost done.

Just as I could hear traffic and see street lights, I came up behind the “Circus Gals”. They thought I was “Cowboy Hat” and seemed surprised that I had ended up behind them again but I reassured them that it was just me, “Skirt Lady”. We confirmed that this next section, the last section, was about 5 km on the Kettle Valley Railbed (KVR) and a final km down to the yacht club.

I made my final pass of these women and ran with full effort along this wide, gravel road. I was determined to put a big gap between us and I still had my sub 16 hr goal in mind. But all my bumbling around, searching for markers in the dark, had eliminated my time cushion. My quads were screaming from the long downhill trails we had just completed and the leg turnover was sad indeed. Somehow I managed to overtake another runner here but only because he had been reduced to a walk. The KVR was another part of the course that I had not looked at carefully since it was a gentle downhill grade. It was long and it was hard (said the actress to the bishop) and I searched endlessly for the right hand descent to the water. I only looked back once to see if I was being hotly pursued and thankfully there was only darkness behind me.

When I reached the yacht club parking lot, I was truly exhausted with the effort and I truly didn’t think I could run all the way across to the finish chute. And when I crossed the line, I had to stand with my hands on my knees and breathe for a couple of minutes before receiving my congratulatory hugs. I left it all on the course. The “Circus Gals” and I raced each other for 60+ km and traded placings over and over again. They arrived at the finish 6 minutes after me, having run every step of the day together.

They call these events ‘races’ but I have only ever entered to simply run. But today, this felt like a race all day long. Although it was a much slower pace than the winners, it felt like the three of us were playing some kind of strategic mind game. I doubt that I would have had my 16:08 finish time if they hadn’t been pushing the pace and offering the challenge all day.  Thanks, “Circus Gals”! May we meet again.

For a place with such easy access to fabulous trails and wilderness, filled with adventurous and outdoorsy people, the Comox Valley does not offer many trail races. Perhaps we have not yet found out about all of them, but, at this point, I can only count 3. There is the Snow To Surf Team Relay in April, the GutBuster Hill Climb in August and the Perseverance Trail Run in October. Although there are quite a few road running races and one Yeti snowshoe race, there is simply not much available for racers who prefer to run on trails.

When I began some subtle inquiries into the Perseverance Trail Run, locals answered with words like ‘extreme’ and ‘challenging’. Most had heard of the race but no one I spoke to had attempted the full 10 km. There is a 3 km option which still put fear into those I asked. These reviews left me feeling unsure if I was cut out for something so difficult. But after feeling so great after the grueling Kusam Klimb, we decided to register for this one.

We linked up with some of B’s co-workers who really know the endless Cumberland trails and we began meeting up weekly to train on the race route. It is no wonder that the course is notorious for its difficulty – sections of the trails are relentlessly steep and rocky with precarious footing. Those training evenings opened my eyes to the wide open access we have to the backcountry. I’m certain you could climb on well-trodden trails all the way to Gold River, if you had the time!

The race is held on the weekend prior to Hallowe’en so my biggest concern in the final week was a costume. I finally decided to don my daisy Moeben running skirt with matching arm sleeves. It seemed festive but practical. The starting line had every kind of costume imaginable, including ballgowns, wigs and swarms of bees.

When the starting ‘go’ was shouted, I tucked myself right in behind Steve, our training tour guide, and let him lead me through the crowd of 200. He took off like a cannon, trying to race up the gravel road and reach the narrow trail entrance before the middle-of-the-packers did.

Lorenz Jimenez Photography: Two and a Juice &emdash; PA270108

Steve is in the red shirt and I am tucked right in behind him as we enter the single-track. All you can see is the edge of a daisy skort.
photo credit: http://photos.lorenzjimenez.com/

It was only about 300 m of gravel road, but we sprinted hard. As we neared the trail entrance, I saw a tall man decked out in a ridiculous ladybug costume and I clearly remember thinking “I will NOT let that ladybug beat me!”. I have no idea where that competitive edge came from.

Once on single track, I did a double-take, seeing that B was just up ahead of me. I knew that I had to cool my jets if I was going to complete this thing. But once on single-track, it became difficult to choose my own pace because I was locked in between fast racers. The first trail section passed through Two And A Juice and Buggered Pig before it popped back out on the gravel road. For that whole section, I pushed my pace and tried to hold my ground, red-lining my cardio system the whole time.

As we came out of the woods and onto the gravel road, a woman hollered at me “Fourth Woman!”. I had planned to catch my breath for a few minutes, but that comment spurned me on. I really dislike gravel road running, especially when it is straight and steep, but it does have the advantage of allowing racers to re-seed themselves. A few men passed me but no women.

We turned onto another trail called Miner’s Revenge and began our ascent up to the high point of the route. It is grunt and, for me, much of it has to be walked. During one of the slightly less steep sections, two women passed me. I didn’t mind being passed here because I have never been very strong on climbs. But what I did mind was that they were chatting amiably the whole way up! I could barely keep my eyeballs looking the same way yet they were talking, answering and making sense. I felt like calling out “No talking.  People are suffering here!” (Thanks to Erik Zabel for the useful quote!)

Lorenz Jimenez Photography: Sykes Bridge &emdash; Sykes Bridge Action

Caught mid-air, B demonstrates his fine descending technique.
photo credit: http://photos.lorenzjimenez.com

Once we summited at the little no name pond, we headed down some of the sweetest downhill single track I know. With names like Bucket Of Blood, Bear Buns, Steam Donkey and Off Broadway, we descended quickly from the 450m high point. I hoped that I would catch one of those women but I never even saw a glimpse of them.

In the final 2 km, I felt like I was being chased, but apparently no one was in sight.
photo credit: http://www.daveprotherophotography.com

As got closer to the finish, I changed my focus from the ones I was chasing to the ones who were chasing me. I tried my best to keep my tempo up and to stay upright. As we re-entered civilization (and therefore pavement), I fought off the urge to slow down and walk. The last km, it was difficult to stay in the mental game.

I was thrilled to see the finish chute and I crossed the line in 1:10.35. My efforts earned me the placings of 37/234 Overall, 6/144 Woman and 2/77 in the Women’s 40-59 category and I was rewarded with a Hot Chocolates silver-wrapped chocolate medal, which was promptly eaten. There is no doubt that this run is a true challenge, offering just about every kind of terrain that Cumberland has to offer. But don’t be frightened off by its reputation. If folks toe the line in bunny costumes, fairy wings and togas, then it must be a race for everyone!

Your Life in Digital: Perseverance Trail Run 2013 &emdash;

B and I at the finish line.
photo credit: http://www.yourlifeindigital.ca

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