Gust Buster — the 2015 Oregon Coast 50k

A gust of wind picked up and then amplified to a raging shriek in the millions of Sitka Spruce needles in the canopy above me. Huge trunks bowed and swayed. As I waited for the squeal and crack, I eyed cover downwind of large trees in hopes of any kind of protection. Shirtless, sweating hard, soaked with tropical rains and dancing down Cook’s Ridge I just couldn’t help it. I started to howl at the wind. Scream at the thrill of more than half-nakedly running through a forest alive with wind and rain; the thrill of being unquestionably alive — as close to my beating heart and thrumming brain as I’ve been in months, years, god knows how long. All of the pent up and broken relationship residue along with the held love and comfort of those times was all laid bare in those screams, yet they remained screams of joy despite working through yet another bonk and being 35 km into the race I was as alive and happy and connected as I could possibly be. This was my Oregon Coast 50k.

The race started as the skies lowered and southerly winds picked up and began to gust up the beach. Forecasts were for 20 knot gusting to 40 knot winds and heavy rains from the remnants of Hurricane Oho and that forecast was conservative. Despite rain, the beach sand was picked up and blown making the lowest 2 feet of air a sandblast. James the race director lead us out from the huddled protection of the Governor Patterson picnic area’s pines onto the beach where nothing could slow the wind. It was immediately clear that this was going to be a different kind of race. It became even more apparent when shoes sunk into the sand indicating that the beach was still summer-soft not yet hammered solid by winter waves. This was going to be interesting.

James counted down and we were off. The whole pack swerved toward the ocean hoping to find hard sand since there was no hope of finding refuge from the wind save for with other racers. The field quickly split into groups although there were the brave souls who struck out on their own, perhaps their race ethics more pure than mine. The eventual race winner set out with his brother in a pack of two. The account of the Ghelfis is here. I found myself in the second (or maybe third) pack which contained about 20 runners variously trying to hold onto and losing the group as it swerved and dodged waves, lumps, dead sea lions, and soft sand. An occasional gust would hammer down hard enough to blast us apart akin to the scene in March of the Penguins where the huddle is broken by a savage katabatic gust. The real hero story here goes to Dave Melanson who makes up half of Project Talaria. He took the lead of our group and while I strove to do my part by leading for a couple of kms, he hung in there for more than 8 of the 10 beach kms. Breaking the wind, dodging the softest sand, and swerving away from the encroaching tide was very hard work. Some runners likened it to putting out a 5k pace effort to move at slower than typical ultra pace.

My pack as we split to cross a stream. We rejoined very quickly. Note the haze of wet blowing sand. Note also that this is a picture I purchased from Glen Tachiyama ( Please support his great work by purchasing a photo now and then.

My pack as we split to cross a stream. We rejoined very quickly. Note the haze of wet blowing sand. Note also that this is a picture I purchased from Glen Tachiyama ( Please support his great work by purchasing a photo now and then.

So, that was the beginning. The inverse of how one wants to run one of these races. Eventually the pack approached the trails and split apart for the last km to the first aid. I hung back figuring that I would work on recovering for the next several kilometers before getting back after it. I rolled through this and all the rest of the aid stations fast.

My aid strategy was to grab enough gels to replace what I’d lost and fill up on some gu brew and water and then walking off as I arranged my gear. I was going light overall with my equipment consisting of only two hand helds, a Wilson headband, wind shell, shorts, shoes and socks. Simple and to the point. Conditions were very wet and windy but also quite warm. On the drive over the night before, we noted temperatures of 67 F in Corvallis at 8PM and it couldn’t have been much colder than that all day. because of the heat and 100 % humidity I would actually sweat a lot this race and, as a sweaty creature to begin with, this would mean drinking a lot. On final tally, I guess I drank almost two gallons of water or 11 24oz bottles.

Moving on things got easier. The 4 km after the aid were on road and still buffeted by wind but then the route entered forested trail where it would stay until the returning 4 km. And once there, conditions were much more pleasant. The trails were in excellent shape since this was one of the first big rains of the year so they had plenty of capacity to soak up water before turning to muck.

As the trail wound up to Cape Perpetua, the winds began to pick up owing to the prominence of the place. When I reached where the Amanda trail breaks out onto the overlook the storm was  beginning to reach its own climax with winds strong enough to push a runner over ripping up the slope and into the forest to the north. This was a brief introduction to the coming madness as the trail quickly dropped from there down to the second (doubles as the fourth) aid station. Again, this was a quick pass through to fill my fluids, down a bottle, and grab a couple of gels although recalling it now, I seem to have taken a while there. The extreme conditions kind of spurred a nonchalance based in feeling like just running out there was enough and that I could allow myself some comfort given the nutty weather.

Out from there the race soon reaches the halfway point as the trail parallels the coast before ducking east to climb up Cummins Ridge. This climb isn’t difficult but plays with your mind as the gradient is just steep enough to feel, but not so steep as to be unrunnable by a racer of my calibre. And so I ran despite working though a first bonk and some low mood which was causing my brain to wonder extensively about why one runs these races.

And then magic happened. About halfway up the climb, the wind made any thoughts such as those impossible to hold onto. Gusts started to pick up a banshee quality with building crescendos that climaxed much louder and harder than one thought they could without blowing the whole forest down. My eyes started to dart around during the peak blasts, searching for any tree about to fall or limb about to crash down. And with that thrill my race turned into sheer bliss. From then on, each gust was something to laugh at and to celebrate. When the rain  started to come down so hard that a small creek gushed down a rut in the trail and my headband would seep male-sheep-tasting sludge into my mouth it was just funner and funnier. When I reached the top to find the turnaround check point and that they were playing 90s electronica and that apparently a very famous pop artist was present my thoughts could be nothing but enjoyment. I was a crazed, shirtless, stringy haired and balding, flabby but completely enthralled animal.

From the top back to the final aid station was unforgettable bliss. I was alive, the forest was certainly alive, fall mushrooms were practically speaking to me, my frequent pee stops were pleasant chances to gaze into the swaying trunks and to marvel at the setting, at how cleansing the forest can be and how lucky I was to be in it at all and more so to be able to witness it at that time with warmth, fleet feet and legs, and knowing that friends and family were waiting for me at the finish. Hollering and screaming with glee I pushed on. Only 2 hours to go; the length of a feature length movie to burn into my retinas and set fire to my brain.

I finished with a slower time than last year, but with 1000 times the exuberance and that much greater will to run. I shouted it out on top of Cape Perpetua when I passed the race director, but I’ll say it again here: thanks James. This is what it’s all about.

Heat Stress: 1/2 day “speed” climb of Mt. Landale

On Wednesday I decided to go up to the Summit of Mt. Landale. You see, I’m on a bit of a break from work and kind of training for a race in the middle of the hottest part of the summer. So, I’ve got mid-week time and figured a 6km logging road run followed by a 1200m scramble would be the ticket for training. The west of North America is in the grips of a very hot summer. June was one of the warmest June’s on record around here. These records go back almost 150 years, so that’s saying something. The day of my run/scramble was about like all the others lately. In the 30s C, windless, and blazing sun. This was perfect for my aim of a hard day out in tough conditions. To make it better, I futzed around the house until about noon, so didn’t get to the trailhead until about 1:30.

Mt. Landale lies just to the north of Lake Cowichan, a WNW/ESE trending fjord-like lake which almost saws off the bottom third of Vancouver Island into two separate islands. Much of Vancouver Island’s spine is mountainous and the mountains north of Lake Cowichan are seen as the start of “real” alpine around here. In this case, “real” alpine means elevations nearing treeline, heather and blueberry meadows, lakes, abundant winter snows and some decent views. In these respects, Mt. Landale is a typical modest summit. Also typical about Landale is that it sits on land owned by Timberwest, which is a forestry company that owns about 10% of Vancouver Island outright. They own it. They can do what they please with the land, they can lock you out or lock you in. They are a company operated for profit, not for recreation so using their mountains is done purely at their mercy. Although this boggles my mind — that one company can own so much ecosystem and such large and diverse contiguous blocks of land — this is the way it is. Given that the summer has been hot and extremely dry, they have an official closure on all of their lands except for a few campgrounds that they operate. So, any hope of driving up a logging road was non existant.

I arrived at the Cottonwood Creek main, a bit west of the small town of Youbou, at 1:30. There are closure signs everywhere, the gates are locked, there are no trespassing signs. I guess it was clear that I wasn’t wanted there. But, this kind of played into my plan. My hope was to run the 6km of logging road. And being on foot is low impact, fire safe and silent so the chances of being discovered were really small. I loaded my running pack with 1.5 L of water, a few cliff bars, some gels, a pack of shot blocks and a baggie of buckwheat crepes and sliced salami which combined breakfast leftovers with fridge food scraps. I also had a headlamp, my phone, two hand held 22 oz water bottles, and a wind shell. I had a rough return time of about 8PM in mind but realized I hadn’t told anyone where I was going.

So, nervously expecting to be found out for trespass; nervously wondering what would happen if I hurt myself; and nervous about the unexpected that lay ahead, I trotted off up Cottonwood Creek road. The run was pleasant. I knew it climbed about 250 m up into a valley as it followed alongside Cottonwood Creek. After about 3 km I realized that it was pretty hot. Sweat was running off in rivulets and I was well into my first water bottles. Whew. At 5.5 km and a few right trending forks, the road reaches a decommissioned bridge. Apparently it’s the law for forestry companies to destroy roads that are no longer to be used. Apparently Timberwest had had their fill from the Cottonwood Creek valley and this was their statement to that effect. There is a creek gauging station here, and Lomas creek comes in from the right. The way forward is a 4 wheeler track fording the creek which was flowing surprisingly well given the dryness of the summer. Beyond the crossing, the road took on an alder-ey overgrown appearance and climbed steeply into a clear cut. At about 6.5 km in, the road up the Lomas Creek valley forked off to the right.

From the Lomas Creek turnoff on up is considered the “trail” although the next couple of kilometers could have been mistaken for logging road still. The alders had grown in, but you could still drive a car up there. Eventually, this lead into a nice patch of hemlock forest and the road narrowed into a track that gradually switchbacked up the flanks of Mt. Serivice. This track was alternately alder choked, open and rocky, bordered by dense newgrowing hemlock and doug fir and featured numerous Grouse flushing that startled me every time. Every now and then views up the west flanks of Mt. Landale opened up or snippets of Mt. Service would appear. I sat down about 9 km into my hike and up 600 m of climbing for a first break. I was about 1:30 in and had gone through about 2/3 of the water in my handhelds and a few sips off my pack. In the shade, I pulled out my phone to get some GPS bearings on a map. Everything looked as it should and after what would be my last pee for 20 hours, I was on my way.

Just beyond a left-turn switchback soon after lunch, a small camp marked by a fire ring signalled the start of the trail. Normally when scrambling around Vancouver Island, the word trail would be written “trail” indicating that it is barely a track and choked with bush that’s festooned with flagging tape. But, in this case, the trail was nicely groomed, steep but not terrible, modestly flagged and entered immediately into a beautiful grove of shady old growth hemlock. I was stoked to be in the cooler forest and my map locating had put me a few hundred vertical meters below Lomas Lake. The trail continued for 3 more km making a couple of small stream crossings and opening up for a couple of views down into Cottonwood Creek valley. Bluffs started to appear near the trail, blueberry started to come into the understory, and occasional views of El Capitan or Mt. Service indicated the arrival to the “alpine”.

At 12.5 km from the car, the trail dropped a bit to the shore of Lomas Lake. This lake is nestled in a steep cirque that cuts into Mt. Landale and has El Capitan as it’s northern wall. The slopes around the lake quickly lead to cliffs save for a couple of gullys that seemed to penetrate. The eastmost gully had the clear signs of the mine tailings that I’d read about in the various guides and online postings about the mountains. The dryness of the season had left the lake about 10 feet lower than normal, but its waters were still clear and deep enough for a swim. By this point, 2:30 in, I was feeling a bit tired and was wondering what to do. I had been hoping to get home early enough to have a bit of an evening with Liz and was unsure of my water supplies. But, I’d come that far and who knows when I’d get back there, and the way forward looked so enticing. I laid down in the shade of a boulder on the gravel bar where the inlet creek had formed its delta and ate a snack and drank the last of my water bottle water. I was about 1150 m above sea level and knew Mt. Landale is just under 1500 m. So, I didn’t have far to go, but knew that there was some scrambling to get there. Well, curiosity killed the cat, and I decided to see what was at the top of the gully where the mine tailings were.

From the lake, the route remains flagged but is less distinct. I soon lost the flagging as the route entered an old avalanche and its broken down trees. I invented a route boulder hopping and jungle gyming through the downed trees and across a talus slope. Eventually, I wound back to the route just as it hit the scree of the mine tailings. I slogged up through that with shakier and shakier legs and then past the mine and up to the pass. My mountain sense had told me that the summit route would be above and right of the gully and when I got there I found a nice little bench leading around to the SW. The agreement with myself on the way up that this would be my high point was soon annulled. I wanted to at least get to the scrambling difficulty. So, around the bench and slightly down lead to a ledge entrance to another gully leading up through the major cliff bands. I could see a couple of minor rock steps but nothing steep and nothing exposed. With curiosity, onward. I delicately scrambled the gully wishing for a helmet but not feeling much endangered otherwise. This topped out with a steep exit onto another, larger bench. I rediscovered the route here and decided to get onto the ridge above to see if I could pick up cell service. If I could, I’d let Liz know where and when I was and continue on. If no service, then this would be my high point.

Ha. Cell service was found and I called to find out that Liz was in the midst of birth craziness and wouldn’t be around for the evening. I told her I was on Landale and that I wouldn’t be back until 9 or 9:30. Also, from this ridge, the way forward was clear and looked easy. After taking in the amazing views back down to Lomas lake, which seemed very far away already, I headed onward. From that ridge, a high point has to be descended to reach the summit block of Mt. Landale. The trail goes along the east side of the ridge and soon crosses the small pass and begins to climb up and to the west for the finals step. This last step is a very moderate scramble/veg climb leading to some small tarns and then the summit.

The view is amazing from there. I hadn’t been on the summit of anything since Mt. Allan Brooks earlier in the year, so was more impressed than normal. And, solos tend to heighten the experience even if the route isn’t all that difficult. With the clear skies I had and Mt. Landale’s prominance, I could see Cascade volcanoes, to the ranges near Tofino, and up to Mt. Arrowsmith and beyond. Mt. Tzouhalem and Maple Mountain were nestled down to the SE near home looking like small bumps from that height. I made a note to try to spot Landale from Mt. Tzou next time I was up there. With the heat getting to me, I grabbed the summit register and found some shade for a good rest and a snack. I’d made it up there in about 3:45 so the time was a bit after 5PM. I lounged in the shade and ate while reading and writing in the register. Then took a photosphere panorama and started to make my way down at about 6PM.

The path back down was easier as I knew where I was going and could see the trail laid out before me. The gullys went easily and I found the official path through the avalanche which was much much easier than the way up I’d chosen. I was soon back at the lake where I finished the last of my water, filled up my pack’s bladder with backup water (I was hugely lamenting my lack of water treatment tabs which weigh nothing and would have made my trip much more comfortable). Then I jumped in the lake naked and cooled my jets for a few minutes. A week before I had run out of water on a slightly shorter climb with greater heat and knew that the descent would be killer because the temperature would be going up as I went down and my body’s ability to cool would be reduced as well. So, I packed back up and went for it. 12.5 km to go and about a vertical kilometer to lose.

The trail down was pleasant and actually quite runnable. Again, this presented a dilemma — to run gets one home more quickly, but it also generates more heat which increases the need for water. So, I settled on speed at a nice easy trot. At the largest creek crossing, I grabbed some water for my bottles hoping not to have to try to drink it, but just in case. And down I went making good time.

I popped off the trail an hour off the summit and made good time on the road/4-wheeler track. But the heat was catching up to me. I freed the drinking tube from my pack and began to spritz my legs with the lake water which felt really good. By squeezing the bladder with my other hand, I could spritz my head and feel the hot sweat run off in a wave of coolness. Well, cool wasn’t right. Maybe coolerness? As I came into the clear cut near the Cottonwood Creek main I knew I was going to make it. I only had 7 km or so to go and it was almost all downhill. At the decommissioned bridge where the trail fords the stream I laid down in the cold waters with my legs up and my head and armpits in. I splashed water on my chest and neck to signal to my brain that everything was cool — literally, it was all cool. This felt great but wasn’t getting me home. So, I climbed out of the stream with soaking wet clothes and trotted my way down. As I heated up, I’d use the water in my bottles to spray my head and feel the hot sweat wash off on the wave of coolerness. At about 2 km to go I ran out of water. At 1 km I almost stopped to walk it in, but realized I needed to build some mental reserves so kept at it. Soon the gate appeared, I bounced up the sneak-past trail, and hit stop on my watch. I walked up to my car and pulled out the liter of water I had in there and drank 1/3 of it walking back down to Cottonwood Creek. I climbed down to the creek and laid in it guzzling the rest of the liter and feeling pretty damn beat but also pretty damn good. I’d made it, and I didn’t get caught for trespass, and I saw a beautiful little corner of the island that’s one of thousands of hidden gems out there.

On the way home I stopped in Youbou and spent the $4 in change I could scour from my car on a powerade and a popsicle. Both were gone in a flash. I got home and drank fresh beer from a growler then ate a BBQed sausage while drinking more. It wasn’t until the next morning and about 6L of fluid that I had my first pee.

Trip totals were 28.5 km, 1580 m climbing, and 5:35 of moving time and about 6:40 start to finish.

Overall, this was a great outing. It could easily be done very quickly if a mountain bike was used to cover the first 8 km or so. This would leave about 13 km of hiking for a nice balance. Running as much of that as possible would enable someone to go car to car in 4 hours, maybe? On a cooler day, with water, and knowing the route. I’m sure a mountain machine could do it in much less.

Under Sub Human

Ah hubris in running strikes again. Less than 48 hours after stepping off the crispy Thursday trail all energized I was curled in a ball on the side of the Juan de Fuca trail projectile vomiting 1 1/2 liters of water and remains of breakfast for the second time in as many hours. My one day run of the Juan de Fuca with the fun runners of Victoria was not to be. Somehow, I still want to run.

Super Sub Human

Yesterday was one of those runs. Everything flowed, I felt nimble and fast on technical downhills, powerful and strong on steep climbs. Running alone with no benchmarks, I felt as fast as the fastest even though my running always falls about 50% slower than the speed demons out there. Who cares, my shirt was off, sweat was flowing freely out while breath flowed freely in and the trail felt like home: fun, friendly, playful. I dashed across the trans-canada as twilight settled in. A hairy, shirtless, glistening, geared-up sasquatch in front of the couple of cars that saw me. Back into the woods and over rocks along Goldstream past bigleaf maples and madrone. I am so damn lucky to be doing this. So damn lucky.

Kusam Klimb

A photo journey of the 10th annual Kusam Klimb. I ran this race as Liz’s pacer feeding her gels and maybe slowing her down by taking photos (maybe that was a good thing?). The race is 5000′ of climbing in 22 kms with the first 7km covering all of the elevation (much in just 4 kms). It’s a feel-good, very challenging local event that has the ear of trail runners all over BC. The race is also a “hike” for many who complete the route by walking and taking their time with a goal of just finishing. Liz and I fell near the front of the middle with a time of 4:26:00 and a lot of good memories and having met some great people along the way. Later in the day we found the community centre hot tub and indulged. Best $4 ever spent.

Up the wet streets of Sayward

Into the forest and up the wee hill…

Past the first aid/refreshments cabin ~300 m elevation

Up a rocky scramble. ~500 m elevation

The view from Grouse Rock. Yes, there was a grouse there not just grousing humans. ~800 m. Half way!

View down toward Sayward.

Into the foggy hemlock forest. Near 1000 m elevation.

Another rocky scramble. 1100 m?

Top of the pass above the lake. False summit! 1300 m

By the little cirque lake. 1250 m.

Liz by the lake.

Down the other side looking back up at Mt. H’Kusam. 850 m

Liz about to get Lei’ed near the end. 200 m


The lei’ers

The record “book”

Liz and Brianna

Awards and feast time.

H’Kusam from below.

The Google view of the route.

Trail Amputation

When training for a long race/run, one winds up quickly running through the standard trail options of an area. Victoria is rich with trails which explains why there are such fast trail runners here. For a trail example, where I work, there is a beautiful stretch of trail called Mystic Vale that runs though a deep, cool, maple lined gulley from the ocean up to the summit of Mt. Tolmie (roughly). This is 4 kms of running and 350 feet of climbing each way and can be stretched into an hour long run. Further afield are Mt. Doug, Thetis Lake, the Lochside Trail, Elk/Beaver Lakes and then Gowland Tod, Goldstream and eventually the Sooke Hills, East Sooke, then the coastal trails. It sounds like a lot, but in a typical week now I’m running for around 7 hours. If you add up the weeks and the time, you pretty quickly run out of new trail and understand how precious this resource is. In a land of very ugly tract housing and giant malls, finding new trails in hills can be like stumbling onto a hunk of gold.

One of the motivating factors for all kinds of running for me is exploration. In my earliest running days almost 8 years ago, I used running as a way to explore my area and challenge my sense of distance. I carried my old yellow Garmin etrex GPS in hand and would track my runs and then marvel a them on the tiny little screen when i got home. Each track was a treasure permanently locked away on the little microchips in that device (I didn’t have a way to download that unit). Of course now there are wrist-top GPS units slightly larger than a typical watch; cell phones and their apps allow GPS tracking and instant uploading, so these tracks are now instantly available in the cloud. A side-benefit of this is that open source mapping web sites like Openstreetmap (similar to Google Maps, but without the big brother data mining) can be updated to show all the trails in an area if someone goes out and covers the ground.

This past weekend my training schedule called for something like two 3 1/2 hour runs. These are the back-to-back runs that are a staple of building endurance for very long runs. My peak training week will have me running a 4 hour run one day and a 6 hour run the following day. Ouch. But that’s still a month out so I can pretend it’s not in my future. I covered Saturday’s run by running 3 repeats of a local 1300′ mountain with some friends. Sunday was a house-moving day, so I schlepped boxes for an hour or so and put off the run to the end of the day and was tired at the outset. I promised myself to be happy with any length run but was hoping to get at least two hours. To cap it all off, I’m trying to run on less sugar. A vague idea about this was recently reinforced by a friend who is a professional kinesiologist. She suggested that training on low to no sugar or any food intake leads to more efficient fat burning. But, to do this, you have to bring yourself close to bonkland and work through it sending a strong signal to your body that secondary fuel resources would be handy. So I set off yesterday with two bottles of water and one gel (equates to 100 calories) and maybe 2000 calories of work ahead.

Prior to my run, I looked at maps and saw that there was a spur off of one of my standard climbs called Prospector’s trail. Prospector’s is a beautiful track up a slope of douglas fir and madrona with rocky outcrops and lush undergrowth. This past spring, the slopes were covered with lillies and then camas. I set out with the intention of exploring this spur and seeing where it took me. After a few failed attempts running through the group camp site where one of the trails was meant to be, I got back on the known trail kind of giving up on exploration. I was feeling really tired from the previous day’s run and all the moving so latching into a known route was comforting.

Further along, at the top of the first climb there is a spur I knew about, but had thought just petered out. I decided to pursue it with a little more perseverance than before since the maps showed something out there. There was a steep step that looked like a deer trail but I climbed it to find a pretty little single track path snaking through some grass and madrona. What followed was some of the prettiest trail running I’ve done in a while. Partly because it was new and partly because it’s simply gorgeous in there. The path climbed steeply up and northward past another trail fork into a deep vale filled with fir and fern and a little creek. This area was lush with birds and growth and silent in that old forest way that always brings joy and peace into my brain. The tiredness in my legs dissolved and I whispered exclamations of wonder to myself as I ran.

Of course, I knew that this little sanctuary was pinched in between the area I knew, Prospector’s trail, and something called Bear Mountain. Bear Mountain sounds like a nice place in name. There are black bears on the island, so it’s not out of the question for that name to crop up. However, in this case the Bear refers to a golfer named Jack Nicklaus and the name is that of a massive condo, resort, golf complex sprawled up against Saanich Inlet, pristine salmon spawning streams, and the beautiful hills of fir and madrona. Bear Mountain was hotly contested when it was proposed and through its development during the real estate derivatives bubble of the mid-2000s. The “Mountain” is actually on Mount Skirt and Mount Miniskirt an area that was a mecca of trails. As I explored on my run I realized that I had connected into the old trail system. The feeling was like opening a hidden door into the servants passageway on an old mansion — this entirely other world that I hadn’t guessed existed that I hadn’t known the extent of, and that was rarely used.

My trail wound up the lush little cove and along the streambed to a fork in the trail that goes steeply uphill to the right and another toward daylight to the left. Noting the right-hand trail, I went left and soon broke out of the forest, through a thin barrier of scotch broom and into a sand trap. I was looking up the fairway of the 5th hole of the Bear Mountain “Mountain” golf course and the trail just ended. Cold. The landscape had been remolded to that expected by a golfer and which is completely foreign to the region — smooth and rolling with neatly trimmed grass and gentle slopes. These are characteristics that embody nothing of the local landscape. Jack Nicklaus, the course’s designer, was born in Ohio and spent his life on golf courses, not in nature. The contrast between the forest behind me and the smooth greenness in front was shocking and sad. I couldn’t help but imagine where this trail used to go and through what little natural wonders, but it was all paved-under by trucked in soil and fake-emerald turf. I ducked back into the forest to explore the other trail and to try to reconnect with that cool little valley.

It’s not that I dislike golf; I actually have a certain love for the game having played in High School and to this day on occasion. But the development of this area; the lack of need for it (many of the condos remain unsold almost a decade after completion and the golf market has softened considerably worldwide) is hard to be okay with.

The rest of the run went well. I explored the rest of the remaining network (the right-hand trail hit one of the development’s rock quarries). I hit bonk-city and grovelled in it for a good 30 minutes in hopes that my metabolic systems got the message that bonk-city demands scraping from and getting by with already available resources. My more-ample-than-average-runner amount of adipose tissue has literally hundreds of thousands of calories free for the taking. Why go scouring elsewhere for something artificial to fuel something so irrational? Maybe land-developers can learn something from that message?

A tale of two hearts: Deception Pass 50k

I roll into the last aid station with about 4 kms to go. I’m angry. My hydration pack wont open, they don’t have the snacks I want. I’m short with the aid station attendees who only deserve abunant thanks for the work that they do for the runners. This is the way my longest runs have been since I started up the Kludahk trail last August. I get irritated. Head full of bees, pukey, thirsty, etc. Although I don’t train as hard as I should, I do run a lot; enough to lend me some ease in these races? The thing that happened is that I’ve just been running with a lot less joy these days than I did when I started and when I was progressing through the Island Race Series a year ago.

Of course, this isn’t to say that there’s no joy in my running. I’ve had countless blissful runs over the summer, fall, and into this winter. Pure smoothness some days and pure speed (for me) others. But, my state of mind has been eroding overall. Negativity creeping in as I stagnate at work, then come home frustrated day after day of wasting a precious life.

The start of my race was one of those blissful runs and, actually, most of the run was. But the photographs of me en-route show a different heart, a different face. In each picture I could scrounge up of me since the race, there I am with a god aweful grimmace on my face. Brow furrowed and concentration in the extreme. When I first saw the pictures I couldn’t understand them. I had felt pretty good, pretty happy, and pretty chatty during much of the race. I had set out some rules that were similar to my Sun Mountain 50k but a little stiffer in terms of what they would demand of me: heart rate cap of 160, pace of 5:30 kms when on roads, and drinking a lot and eating as much as possible. At Sun Mountian, my HR cap was 140 and I’d hoped for 6:00kms on roads late in the game. For Deception I was hoping for a time around 5 hours 30 minutes.

This is the look that tells the story of my race

At the start all was going according to plan. The race begins by running a couple of kms on road up a short but steep hill followed by a fun taste of the trails to come near the Deception Pass campground. I caught my friend Chris in there and met her friend Lisa. We watched a beaver swim past on the lake and generally marvelled in the decent weather and how much fun it is starting a long race like this. Each runner holding onto a little ball of energy and enthusiasm and stoicness for what lies ahead. After nearly looping back to the start, the race hooks north to a trail paralleling the shore that makes up the south side of the pass. This trail is rocky and rolly with sime short steep climbs and technical sections interspersed with wide forest paths eventually climbing up to the bridge itself. I was caught up in the moment and had forgot to note that my watch was displaying lap average heart rate rather than instantaneous thus I was peaking well above my target max rate. So, with things looking in check, I powered along and eventually caught a friend of Dave C’s from Vancouver who I knew was fast. So, I slowed to his pace and held on for a while.

The route crosses the bridge from the south side to the north and then ducks off down a “trail” leading into the park and the first in a series of four “lollipops”. These loops are fun because they get longer with each successive one allowing slower runners to say hi to the faster. They are also good places to play trail chicken and keep you alert for head ons when the lead runners race past the trailers on the stem of the pop. In the middle of the second lollipop a runner in front of me twited his ankle and went down. This startled me after watching Liz have to pull out of her race with a badly sprained ankle the day before. After checking in with him, on with the race (he later finished and seemed in good shape)!

After a few lollipops I began to realize that I’d gone out too hard. I was ahead of people I knew to be faster than me and was running in between a couple of fast runners from the Seattle area. So, after the second pass through the first aid I decided to slow it down a little. Until then, I’d been running with others and was kind of racing people despite the early stage. After slowing, Dave Campbell caught up with me and we ran together and chatted for the next few kilometers. I learned that his strategy was to build his heart rate through the race and that he was still in the slowest stage about to kick it into a higher gear. I knew to let him past when he decided to kick it, which he did midway through the 5th lillipop at around 15 kms.

The course in google earth

Lollipops 2 through 4 travel out onto headlands in the Salish Sea and we got beautiful views of the Olympic Mountains, Smith Island, and the shoreline of Deception Pass. Beautiful passageways between rocks, blu-green kelpy waters and eagles calling from trees. These were the prettiest parts of the run and might argue for a reversal of course for next years’ event to give weary runners something nice to look at. Loop 5 climbed up the hill above Pass Lake on old and new logging roads, through a clear cut and down the other side through nice old forest. On that descent I caught Lisa and started chatting with her. In retrospect I wonder if all the chatting was getting on her nerves. Some runners lie to talk, others not. I was in a talkative mode but don’t know if she was. So, I steadily streamed questions at her down Pass Lake hill, back across the bridge, and up Goose Rock. Eventually I had to duck into the woods to pee and we parted ways. All of that was simply gorgeous running with views of water from the Bridge on and a very steep albeit short climb up Goose Rock then back down to the retreat center and onto Cornet Bay road to the second aid station. (access to 3rd through 5th aid opportunities).

After my pee break I started to hit some kind of wall. Up onto Cornet Bay road I caught Chris and then ran with her a little ways. I was feeling pretty run down by then. My early speed was catching up to me and I wasn’t comfortable and I recall moving through a similar tough time at the halfway point of the Sun Mountain 50 k. At the aid station I lingered, getting water in my pack and drinking a lot of water and gu bru and grabbing a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwhiches. Heading out of there I was a fair bit behind Chris and Lisa and again running my own race. This next phase of the race is two loops through a mixed 2nd, 3rd, and minor old growth forests on old roads, connector trails and the like. It’s pretty in an industrial forest way with the odd beautiful patch of trees.

As I ran I slowly munched the PB + J sandwiches I’d grabbed and tried to keep down the food and water as nausea and general discomfort settled right in. I was starting to cramp already which didn’t bode well for the rest of the race. I had strange cramping in my left anterior tibialis that I’d never felt before and very crampy quads. I guess this is when the racing really started. My pace felt really slow, but my GPS revealed that my splits were reasonable. I tried to focus on anything but the pain. I’d recently read Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running wherein he describes various pains entering and exiting the body and the eventual freedom from pain that happens when you run long enough. Well, I tried to focus on the leaving or anything besides the pain and wished for an ipod.

Midway through that first loop I caught Chris and Lisa who were running together. I glommed onto them and somehow we together powered each other through that first go-round. We didn’t talk much but I think we were all happy for the company of friends. I wouldn’t have run that fast, but they made it look possible, so I just did it to hang on. Midway through this loop, the leader of the race lapped us. It was none other than Victoria’s Matt Cecil who is a terriffic trail runner. He was pushing well ahead of the nearest trailing runner and wound up finishing about 12 minutes ahead. For myself, I didn’t have any desire to pass Lisa and Chris until the end of the loop where the course drops back down to the aid station. I wanted to get some speed on the down so passed Lisa and Chris and blasted to the road and to the aid station. On this blast, Dave passed on his way back up from aid a good 20 minutes ahead of me and looking really good. His friend was a couple of minutes ahead of him and it turned out that Dave wouldn’t catch him. Those folks are fit from running the north shore of Vancouver.

Foodwise, I’d been eating a GU or two, dates, swedish fish (YUM!), and PB + J at the aid stations with a lot of gu brew at aids and lots of water. I was flying through water at a hydration pack full per aid stop with lots at the aids themselves. Over the whole race I drank around 6 L of fluids and probably not enough salt. For food, in total I ate 3 GUs, a large handful of dates, and a large handful of sedish fish and 1 1/2 PB+J sandwiches. At the current aid stop I dug through my drop bag and dug out the reserve dates and fish and then got back on course. A slow aid stop at almost 4 minutes, but I felt like I needed the rest. While I was there Chris and Lisa breezed through and dashed out leaving me to try to catch them later on. They are saavy, experienced racers and know how to speed through the aid stations.

As I headed out from the station I didn’t quite know how I was going to do that loop again. I took comfort in the fact that I knew how it all went and, like a long boring commute, sometimes familiarity makes the time pass faster. So, I chugged, I cramped, I walked more on the ups and ran not as fast on the flats and downs. Again about midway in the loop, I caught Chris and Lisa but not long after I did Lisa pulled over for a pee break and Chris stopped to wait for her in a very sportswomanly move. I ached past to their encouragement and was mostly alone for the rest of the race.

Of course, by now I was starting to taste the finish and knew that I actually would finish and that always pulls one along. But, I could never, in this race, shake the nagging feeling of “why not just stop”. Maybe that was the concerned look on my face during the race — a sense of forcing myself to do something I didn’t want to do. I wanted to bed down in the ferns and just sleep, I was never sure I could do it, that I wouldn’t twist an ankle, or puke or even pass out. I’d adopted a blister on km 5 or so and it was lively and sloshy by the 20th kilometer let alone the 30th and the 40th and the 50th. My crotchal region started to chafe at km 10 or so and was a world of sting from then on makng me worry that I’d wear a hole down there. So, when I hit the aid station at the end of the last loop and with only a few kms to go, I was in a sour mood. JUST GET ME OFF THIS COURSE. I left aid quickly and walked the first minute on the road and then started to run. Back throuh the retreat center eventually to a mellow climb back up to the highway and an underpass leading to a final descent to the north beach and eventually home. A guy passed me on the climb out of the retreat center and I tried to hold onto him a little, but to no avail. After a walk up the hill, I roled into the final descent. Back on the rolly, beachside trail we swung past Glenn Tachiyama who photographs the races. He snapped my photo and soon I heard him shout encouragement to Chris who still had some cheer and chat in her. Damn. I knew I couldn’t do anything to keep her from passing me if she had the gumption. I had no gas pedal to hit, just maintenance.

finally, the trail climbed away from the beach over to the parkinglot and the 1/2 km of pavement to the finish. My watch hit 50k (3 km longer than sun mountain) and I tried to speed up to finish. I crossed and turned to high 5 Chris who was only 30 seconds behind me. I hugged Liz and then collapsed on the grass in my usual post race crash of cramping and nausea and extreme frazzle.

Blargh! Done! Snarl!

And that was it. 5:47 or so. A steady heart rate that was way too high. A full week of badly lactic acid filled legs. It was great. My disgruntle during the race faded as soon as I had pizza and beer in me. Liz and Brianna were there to cheer me on and care for me and soon my desire to run again returned.

But why all the grumpy faces in the race? Do I take this too seriously now? Was I trying to race instead of challenge myself and myself only? Was it the presence of fast peers that made me try to keep up and be disappointed when I couldn’t? Is there a root in here that is shared with my dysfunction in my workplace?

I don’t know. Since the race I’ve had many excellent runs with my sister who visited for a couple of weeks. A 30 km run from Sidney to Victoria, a 2:45 run in Goldstream up difficult hills at a friendly pace with little food and almost no water. Running with people I love, being social seems to make running into what I want it to be and my life into what I want it to be. Being isolated and alone on trails or at work these days seems to be draining me. Leading to pain both firm and existential. I have another race in a few weeks on Orcas Island. How do I do this one and keep the smile on? Slow down? Not compete? Compete with a smile?

We’ll see.