Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Running on the Sunshine Coast Trail

You know those runs where you feel like you are flying? Your heart rate is barely pushing 100bpm, you dance around roots and rocks in a way that would make goats envious, the weather is perfect, the views stunning, the company and conversation hilarious...Well, my run on the Sunshine Coast Trail this past weekend resembled nothing of this trail running harmony. Let's just say that Mother Nature kicked my arse in a very un-maternal way.

The plan was to run the last section (section #5) from Saltery Bay to a campground at the west end of Lois Lake. This would be approximately 42km, and I estimated it would take me about 6 hours given the uphill climbing and terrain. I had camped overnight with my girlfriend, Jenni Chancey, who dropped me off at 6am at the trailhead. Plenty of time, or so I thought. I had such high hopes. The guidebook had promised stunning views and big elevation gain and loss - Just what I needed for a good training run so close to the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc.

The view of the Strait of Georgia from the campsite at Saltery Bay at 6am:

Getting ready, take note of the down puffy jacket I have to wear mid-summer in Canada!

At the trailhead, right next to the ferry terminal at Saltery Bay:

Saltery Bay:

After about 3km I knew that this run was going to be one of those runs! Lots of the climbing was a decent mix between scrambling and trail pointed straight uphill, not gentle switch backs easing you up the slope. I had my new Black Diamond Z-Series ultra distance trekking poles to train with and get accustomed to, so the hiking was well suited for that purpose. Much of the trail at this stage was through open forest, with occasional glimpses of the sun on the glass-like water of the Georgia Straight. At reasonable intervals there was signposting marking the S.C.T, making the job of navigation easier for a first-timer like myself.

After the forested, coastal section above, I came out on the Saltery Bay FSR. Here I should've taken a left (Hindsight a couple of days later, while sitting on the couch with a beer is a wonderful thing!) I took a right instead as there was no immediate signage. I ran down the FSR and eventually came to a sign that said S.C.T North, the trail that I needed. About halfway up this trail I realised I had already come this way, and that I had looped back on myself. I had to run back to the FSR and up the road to the original intersection. By this stage I was starting to question whether I really needed to run the whole damn 42km, or whether I could call my friend for an early pick-up (yes, I was considering bailing). I was back on the original trail now, and about to start the climb up the the 1300m Mt Trubridge summit.

The sign pointing the way to Mt. Trubrudge:

The day was warming, the humidity rising, and spring was in full swing. All around me insects were busy in a frenzied orgy of mating and sucking nectar from the blossoming salmon berry bushes. The air was vibrating. I started to notice that every time I stopped, I would pick up a swarm of mosquitoes and horseflies. I'm not sure if it was my sweat, or whether they could sense my rising irritation. I looked like a mad-woman flailing my trekking poles around my head to stop the horse-flies from diving down to bite me in the face. All I could think about were the good, old Aussie hats with the dangling corks.

Up the mountain I climbed with my swarm of flies. Any photos I took became a risk. "Is this photo really worth a bite from an angry fly?" I had to ask myself.

The view from the summit of Mt Trubridge: the Salish Sea and Nelson Island:

Not wanting to linger on the summit with my hungry companions, I started to descend on the north side, only to find that winter was still lingering even here on the Sunshine Coast in mid-summer. The snow made navigation tricky as much of the trail was covered. I wasted a lot of time searching for trail markers and flagging, and was grateful every time I located another piece of pink tape hanging off a branch. The snow didn't deter the flies whatsoever, so I made use of the downhill to try and outrun them.

I passed through a swampy section where the snow had melted and formed large pools. Keeping my feet dry was impossible as I squelched through, still moving from marker to marker. The trail turned onto a narrow, rocky chute that looked like a small creek-bed as it had melt water running down it, heading for either Elephant Lake or Lois Lake at the bottom of the mountain.
By this stage I had given up on out-smarting the insects. They had proven themselves the superior species, both in endurance and in intelligence. See below the photos, taken while descending from Mt Trubridge and note the mosquitoes trying to strike at me:

Finally I hit some open trail that seemed to be part of a mountain biking system and I could pick up pace and get into a rhythm. By this stage I had been on the trails 6 hours. I was anxious to finish within 8 hours, but super happy I had not bailed earlier despite the natural disasters that had befallen me. Scratched up, nursing several insect "wounds," feet wet in unavoidably stinky shoes, I arrived at the Highway-FSR intersection where I would meet Jenni for a well deserved pick-up. Although I can reflect on this adventure and laugh now, at the time the frustration I felt at not running the run I had expected was mentally defeating. As trail runners though, this is what we live for and what makes us so strong. We deal with crappy weather, run in knee-deep snow and fight through tear inducing winds. Nothing on the trails is ever monotonous or predictable. That said, I killed a few of those flies and felt pure satisfaction.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer running at Frosty Mountain

The week preceding my trip to Frosty Mountain had been a challenge. The weather had deteriorated back to Autumn conditions - cold and misty with unpredictable rain showers - and I could not find the mental strength to get out and get my running shoes on. This was a week of staying in bed as the alarm sounded, snuggling deep under my covers, and ignoring the small voice that insisted I drag myself out and get on with it. Yes, it was a challenge, and I am sure many runners have faced this mental funk, especially as they approach a huge race that has required months of planned preparation and dedication.

My solution to this motivational block was to find absolutely anyone in the running community with an epic plan for the weekend. I wanted to draw on their energy and positivity to launch myself back on track! Who I found were two amazing runners: Sam, a 100miler veteran with such exuberance and energy that one can't help but feel happy to be running, and Mike, another strong runner that had just finished at the Western States 100. Both men had so much experience behind them that I was sure to be inspired for my last 4 weeks of training.

The plan for our run: The Frosty Mountains loop, a 27km trail winding up from the Lightning Lake parking lot in Manning Provincial Park (British Columbia). This would give us almost 2000m elevation gain, give me some good climbing training, and provide us with views that made us feel like adventurers, not runners. More information about Frosty Mountains here.

Before our run, at Lightning Lake parking lot:

The first 5km wound through sub-alpine forest and presented us with a few technical challenges:

Climbing out of the sub-alpine, passing through an old burnt-out forest:

Myself, starting the final climb to the top of Frosty Mountain:

Almost there, the sign behind me warning "Use extreme caution past this point." Does that include running the rest of the narrow trail to the summit?

The view from the summit, at 2404m:

The descent through snowfields that had still not melted - could this be the beginning of a new glacier?
The run finished with a series of switchbacks opening out back at Lightning Lake. In the end the 27km took us 4:30hr due to the immense amount of snow that often had us searching for the trail or making the steep climbs that much harder. Nevertheless, maybe it was the fresh mountain air, or just a fresh environment to run in with new friends, but somehow I left Frosty Mountain feeling my running groove again!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Comfortably Numb 25km trail race (x2)

Described as epic, phenomenal, Whistler's best, the Comfortably Numb 25km trail runs from the Wedge Mountain parking lot, heading west toward Spruce Grove park on the outer fringe of Whistler village. Awesome. It has everything you would want from a technical single-track trail: gentle switch backs that take you up to just over 1000m elevation, beautiful open rock plateaus that mess with your mind as you run loops around, and around, and around...then you get dropped off rock faces, down technical chutes of trail, and finally through beautiful lush forest that always smells fresh.

Comfortably Numb is the trail race that has it all. So why not do it twice?

The idea started over a tasty seafood risotto cooked by Vancouver's Nicola Gildersleeve, aka "long-sleeves", an awesome lady that has pushed me on our weekly runs and adventures. We had been deciding how to fit in a long weekend run (in my lead up to the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc) and also race Comfortably Numb. "Why not just run from the finish to the start of the race and then do the race as well back to the finish?" Yes!

Race morning, 5.45am, crisp clear morning, Nicola and I start our run to the race start:

"Physically demanding?"

Nicola making a quick call to double check which way the trail goes: Left or Right?

What a morning to be out on the trails:

At the start line with Cathy, a local Physiotherapist and legendary for her consumption of 8 gels and 15 salt tablets during this race to stop cramping (she smashed the race):

With Nicola, restocking water:

The start:

At the only aid station, having a wrap. Thanks to the North Shore Athletics race organizers who hiked in 12k to man this remote outpost of help and hydration:

Halfway for some, 3/4 of the way for others...

Nicola and I started in the morning together and ended up finishing together as well. She jarred her ankle badly 7km into the race and I found her at the only aid station munching on salty chips. We ended up running the rest of the way together. At one point she commented to me "geez I feel so held back by my ankle, I just want to go faster." I think I grunted something to her, but inside I was thinking "I am at my maximum and could not go faster if I wanted." Nevertheless, running with Nicola, even if not at her best pace, pushed me to go harder than if I had been running by myself. Sometimes, running with a better runner is humbling to one's ego, but if you can move beyond that then you may just find yourself being challenged to work harder and become better as well.

I finished in 6:10 hours and gained 3165m of elevation in total. What a great day of running:

Post race party at the Whistler Brewhouse: