Had I missed a turn off? As I grunt up the never ending ridgeline that makes up the final monstrous climb I continually looked over my shoulder to see if anyone was gaining on me. Still no one in sight with 8 kms to go. I’m running slow and scared at this point… up this unnecessarily steep ridge.
It’s funny the tricks your mind plays on you. I voluntarily put myself through this, why was I complaining? I was terrified I’d blow it and lose the 2nd place I’d held onto the whole race. I had far too much ego to let that happen though.
Coming into the race a complete unknown, I’m sure a few people were confused to see some random guy in a green hat settle in behind the leader as we worked our way up the first steep climb. A light breeze met us at the top — perfect running weather.
Despite a few bouts of being sick on race morning and the night prior, I felt fresh — looks like the taper was successful. Nailed it.
Bombing down the longest descent of the day I clicked off some fast km’s while trying to not go head over heals on the rugged terrain. This course was way more technical than I expected going in, but luckily, our trails in Vancouver are plenty-a-technical.
The crappy thing about out-and-back courses is that you know what’s coming in the second half — no novelty to get excited about.
I hit the first aid station 12 km feeling chipper, refilled my bottles and gels (disgusting) and was on my way for climb numero dos. This was my favourite climb of the day — barely runnable, nice and steep. Perfect for what I think my skill set is (or is going to be).
The cool thing about Yakima Skyline Rim is that the whole race is run on exposed ridge lines — you can see who is in front and behind you. I kept Justin, the leader, in my sights. He floated up the mountain like a gazelle as I growled, pumping my arms and downing gels in hot pursuit.
I crested and knew another steep downhill was in my immediate future. This’ll take me into the halfway point before we turn around and retrace our steps. I passed the leader on his way up from the aid trying to calculate how far behind I was. Must have been 5-10 minutes.
I hit the aid station, refilled — this time taking a few hand fulls of M&M’s to the house before making the return trip.
Making my best impression to look fresh and fast, I flew out of the aid station, passing by the oncoming 3rd and 4th place runners. Deciding to push it a bit to increase the gap on these two, and maybe put some time into the leader, I made a ‘move.’
This meant pushing the third climb pretty hard for the first 20 minutes. I felt strong as I prodded my way up, but no sign of the leader. Damn. This dude is moving fast!
I did however put some good time on the 3rd and 4th place guys as I descended again into the final aid station. More gnarly gels and water before the brutal final climb — about 8 km of never ending ridges with more false summits up the ying yang.
Fifteen minutes into the climb: ahh, there’s that wall I knew from other races. I didn’t feel all that terrible — I just felt like I was moving incredibly slow. Was I running in quicksand?
Glaring at my watch as the km’s crawled by, it was like being in purgatory. This is where I kept peering over my shoulder down the ridge at my competition.
I knew I wouldn’t catch Justin, and was fairly confident I had second place locked up, so I figured best thing is to keep moving, no matter how slow it seemed.
Luckily, I do a fair bit of steep power hiking in training. I never really felt tired while hiking the last climb, only when I tried to generate power and run.
Another look over my shoulder. SHIT! There he was. I could make out a white shirt in the distance. He’d just crested the ridge I came up no more than five minutes ago.
Was I going to blow second place in the last 5 km of a race? This scared me like you wouldn’t believe. Does this guy know how hard I worked in training and through injury over the last 4 months to get here?
How dare he even entertain the thought of passing me this late, I said. I wanted to make him hurt for thinking such blasphemy. Is that weird? Probably.
Suffice it to say, I was probably suffering much worse than he. I later found out this guy is running the three most prestigious and competitive 100 mile races (Western States, Hardrock, UTMB) this season alone! He was probably just warming up. I’ll note also that he was an awesome guy and I mean no ill will toward him. Just my twisted psyche.
Seeing him gave my legs a sudden jolt of energy. Funny how that works. I finished the last bit of the climb and cruised the 4 km downhill to the finish en route to second place!
The finish line is unlike any other experience. I can’t describe the feeling to you, but it is awesome.
The best part of this race in particular is the community. James Varner of Rainshadow Running puts on a great race, and the atmosphere was amazing. Tons of people posted up on lawn chairs, fresh brick oven pizza and ice cold beer at the finish — my kind of shindig.
I think I could get used to this mountain running stuff: everyone is so laid back and friendly. I even did a pithy post race interview with the folks from Uphill running who did some great live coverage of the race.
I’m grateful my body and injury held up. I guess all those hours doing ridiculously looking glute and hip strengthening exercises is paying off. Also a huge thanks to Gordon at Marpole Physio & Rehab for getting my body back in order. The man is a magician.
I’ll be back to hard training next week because this race made me hungry like you wouldn’t believe. Speaking of hungry, I chowed 14 slice of pizza post-race to go along with 4 cookies, chocolate, and easter eggs for those keeping score at home.
I have a ton to learn in all aspects of mountain running. This race was the first time I’ve used gels. They’re disgusting but efficient. I consumed around 200 kcal per hour and my stomach felt good. Looking back, I probably could have eaten more.
Gear / Nutrition
Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest
Arc’teryx Soleus Shorts – these are short as hell but I love them!
Nike dry-fit hat
Random green sunglasses I got from SXSW this year
Nathan hand-held bottle
10 Gu Energy Gels – about 200 kcal per hour
After running two mountain ultra’s last summer I knew I’d found something. I literally stumbled across an outlet to channel two of my favourite things: spending time in nature and pushing myself.
You may not relate to the same degree, and perhaps you voice valid concerns around the long term health of runners. I will say that this is something I think about daily. How sustainable is it to be running up and down mountains six days a week…
I’d like to be in the sport for the long haul — I hope that if I stay curious, I’ll achieve the longevity that I seek as I conquer the lofty goals I’ve set along the way.
This sounds all fine and dandy, but what happens when disaster strikes? When things don’t follow the plan you’ve laid out, you’ll suffer but eventually learn and gain some perspective as I’m finding.
Following a planned three week break from running in January, I got injured. Perhaps ironic that I got hurt after three weeks of little activity, but looking back, I jumped back into workouts too quickly.
There was pain and suffering, but mostly extreme frustration over the ensuing three months. I rehabbed like crazy, and was stabbed with more IMS needles in places I’d rather not share. Fortunately, this was not a serious injury. I know there are some of you going through much more serious health issues than mine and for you I can attempt to empathize.
You all have struggles, and I won’t act as though mine are more important than yours. What this obstacle did for me was expose a weakness. My running gait (fancy word for form) was terrible.
It gave me the opportunity to learn and hopefully become a better runner.
I started reading everything I could about the particular injury, what sort of muscular imbalances and running style caused it, and how to treat it.
I pestered my physio, running coaches, and other resources on how to correct my issue, and more importantly, how to run properly.
I find it off that despite playing every sport under the sun growing up and competing at a high level for years, I was never taught how to run.
We’re in a constant state of transition. Whether personally, professionally, or spiritually, I like to think we’re all striving to become better versions of our current selves.
Part of transition is finding some life balance. Life is not always sunshine and butterflies. We project the highs but hide the lows. You have to learn to embrace the lows and put them in perspective for what truly matters.
Family, career, a social life, AND be active, well, and fit? I hear people say: “career, social life, fitness — pick two and be happy with what you have.” Maslow would not approve, that’s for sure.
I want it all, and you should too. We have to be selfish with certain things in life. I spend 15-20 hours a week running in the mountains, and I know this is inherently selfish. But it also makes me happy and allows me to balance sitting at a desk the rest of the day… the ultimate contrast.
Fulfillment in life comes from being content with yourself. Mountain running is making me eerily happy at the moment, so I’m going to keep doing it.
April 20 is my long awaited first race of the season in Ellensburg, Washington. I’m stoked to finally race again at the Yakima Skyline Rim 50km. I guess we’ll find out if my 5 am wakeups and hours spent with exercise bands around my knees doing goofy exercises is paying off.