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.
Gels are nasty
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.
This guy again?
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.
Brutal course, great race
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