I stayed the night in the lower mainland at my friends house (the very same one who adoringly compared my running vest to a men’s bra, and of course, upon entrance to his domicile, unscrupulously, pointed out that I had not forgotten this piece of equipment). Usually when I visit Vancouver my nights end in a blurry haze, and sometimes I wake up half naked with chewing gum stuck to my friend’s couch. However, I was taking this race pretty seriously so after one Fat Tug beer, and a nostalgic session of Super Nintendo Donkey Kong with my buddy, I was off to bed.
The next morning I was wide awake just after 5 am and for once, I didn’t panic and check to make sure I had all my credit cards, or that I, indeed, was staying in a place I recognized. However, after packing up my gear and getting outside the real panic kicked in. There was snow. Everywhere. I’m not talking an inch, I’m talking like a full-foot.
After grabbing a Timmies coffee and bagel I headed towards Sasamat Lake, carefully navigating the lazily plowed roads. Surprisingly, it was pretty smooth sailing, until it wasn’t. A short distance from the parking lot a snow plow had broken down and race director, the notorious Canadian ultarunner icon Gary Robbins, frantically informed me that the roads were just being plowed by a back-up plow and, as a result, they were running behind schedule.
I didn’t mind. For those of you who don’t know who Gary Robbins is, he’s a big deal in the Canadian running scene. Anyone on the west coast who is half in tune with the ultra and endurance scene knows who Gary is. Most recently there was a documentary made about Gary’s failed attempt to complete the infamous Barkley Marathon. It sounds creepy, but I was pretty happy to sit in my warm car, sipping on coffee and occasional stare at the man who had inspired me to do this race in the first place.
Eventually, the plow cleared enough snow for some of us to scramble to the parking lot, which, unsurprisingly, had not been plowed. After consulting with one of the race volunteers, and a guarantee that someone would be around at the end of the race to push my car out, I hit the gas and drifted through the fresh snow into a make shift parking spot.
The next hour or so I do what I do before a race: fill up my “Braseer” with water and Gatorade, throw some energy gels and chocolate bars in the pockets, and throw on my headphones, crank the tunes and get pumped. The race was delayed by an hour due to the snow (they actually had to shovel out a start line), but by 10 am, in +2 degree Celsius weather, with the sun gleaming over the snow covered trees, more than 140 brave souls set out to run 25K of snowy terrain (another 100 racers participated in the shorter 13K course).
The first few kilometers were flat, crowded, but surprisingly nice. I tried to stay in the middle of the pack so the people in front could carve a path through the snow. I didn’t bring spikes for my shoes (again, see my previous comment about experience with west coast snow, and my macho “I’m from Ontario, this is nothing” attitude) and none of my training runs had taken place in snow. Regardless, I felt good for the first 4-5K. Then came the first climb. I knew this course had approximately 1,000 meters of ascent (the course had to be altered the night before due to the weather, which was good news for a fat Jason Bourne, because the original course had 1,400 meters of ascent), and I had a rough idea that there was a big climb near the beginning and near the end of the race.
So my plan was simple: relax, hike and survive the climbs; recover on the downhills; and rip it on the flats. If my training had taught me anything it was I suck at climbing, I like to catch my breath on the downhills, and I have a tendency to find my rhythm on the flats. So, the first climb I took it easy, letting people pass me, often stepping into the deep snow to let those with actual runners bodies gracefully pass me.
Honestly, the first climb wasn’t all that bad. I mean it was hard – I knew I hadn’t done enough climbing in my training, but again, my goal was to complete the race, not place on the podium. Then came the descent. As I started to descend I took it easy, anticipating the slipperiness that came with the packed snow. But eventually I found my confidence and started to giv’er. Then around the 7-8K mark, as I was getting close to the end of the first descent my right leg slipped, which caused me to twist my body and subsequently twist my leg’s right knee. Immediately a jolt of pain shot from knee to my shoulder and I fell onto the closest tree for support.
This is the part where I would type out the expletives I yelled into the surrounding wilderness. However, I am really trying to make this a family friendly blog, so I will let you use your imagination or insert your own favourite curse words into this next part:
“CUE AN UNNECESSARY AMOUNT OF EXPLETIVES”
It seemed, after less than halfway through the race, disaster had struck. And it got worse before it got better. At some point during this time, while climbing a technical section of the trail, I felt a familiar tightness in my left quad. During my last long training run, prior to the race, I had noticed this tightness in the same quad. I never went to the doctor, but I was fairly certain it was a pulled muscle. Anyways, after three or four days it seemed like it had gotten better, but apparently I was wrong.
For the next 5 km I painfully hobbled through uphills and downhills, often stopping to yell obscenities into the wilderness, which I’m sure scared off any cougars or bears who might have been looking for wounded prey, such as myself. It was a constant switch between pain: on the uphills my left quad taunted me with a dull, yet consistent nagging tightness. During the downhills, my right knee, whenever caught in uneven terrain, shot what felt like lightning bolts from my knee to my shoulder. By 13K I was seriously considering quitting.
At 13K I asked a course Marshall if I needed to drop out of the race where could I do that. She radioed someone and they said to try and make it to the aid station at kilometer 18. At the time, I was pretty devastated. I thought for sure I wouldn’t make it to 18K, or if I did I’d miss the cutoff time. However, since there wasn’t much to do, I took a deep sip of Gatorade from my “Braseer”, popped an energy gel down my gullet, and carried forward.
Not long after, it seemed like, for once, my luck had turned.