On Saturday I ran my first race in more than ten years, finishing third in the Coast Mountain Trail Series‘ 13 kilometer Run Ridge Run between Sasamat and Buntzen Lakes in Anmore, BC. Having explored the trails of Bert Flinn Park above Burrard Inlet during the last year, I stumbled onto the CMTS a few weeks ago when a hike above the Sea to Sky Gondola coincided with the inaugural Sky Pilot Race in September. And after floating the idea to my recent running buddy, R (who ran his first marathon last spring), we signed up to compete in the shorter of the two courses being run Thanksgiving weekend (the other being a 25km tour of the Diez Vista Trail in addition to the ridge-line connecting the two lakes).
Having grown up on tracks and cross-country courses since I was eleven, I rode an athletic scholarship to Arkansas when I was seventeen. Down south I enjoyed a few successes, briefly holding my school’s 800m record, and was a member of a few national and conference champion relay and cross-country teams. Eventually though I ‘retired’ on the heels (or, shins, rather) of successive seasons ruined by injuries, and threw myself headlong into my academic studies, fortunately earning a scholarship there that allowed me to finish school in Arkansas and discover the path(s) that would lead me into teaching, outdoor education, and the intersecting life’s passions that have sustained me in the years since.
Since graduating in 2004, I hardly thought about running. And if I did think about it, or even found myself on an odd streak of jogging on the paths around the inlet near my house, I hardly thought of racing.
When my track and field days had been petering out, I struggled to find motivation to work my way out of injuries that had severely limited my capacity and potential as an ‘elite’ athlete. Having once been at least good, if not great, I had very little interest in fighting my way through the middle of the pack, and as I began to excel in my studies, my desire to compete slowly waned. And while I’ve generally remained an active person – hiking, participating in intramurals, biking to work and the like – I’ve remained apart from organized competition, leaving it in my ‘former’ life until only recently.
About a year ago I started running again, heading up the narrow trails above my house into the forests on Heritage Mountain. Beginning at a few kilometers, I started supplementing these jaunts in the woods with sessions at a spinning studio where I met local endurance-athletes, started to push myself beyond mere aerobic exercise, and began to talk about racing again.
I became reacquainted with the satisfaction of tired legs, the zen-like trance of the anaerobic threshold, and the no man’s land beyond what I knew was within my grasp.
With this all making its way about my mind on those runs, and increasingly in between, it was only a matter of time before I toed the start-line of a footrace once more. Because while I’ve done a lot of things in the time since I left the sport, many of which have opened my eyes, challenged me beyond words, or led me to new personal achievements or experiences, nowhere is the essence of a personal challenge more literally waged than in a race.
And if a race, why not a grueling tour of the local watershed?
Why not put the trouble of travel by foot to the rigors of the British Columbian coast?
Dirt, and granite.
Slippery cedar roots climbing incomprehensible inclines.
R and I paid our entry fees and scouted the course a few weeks before race weekend with equal parts excitement and giddy fear that the experiment might go horribly awry, that we would be sandbagged by the hills, or wind up wrestling one another to not shuffle in dead last. On a second trial of the course, a week before the Big Day, we became more familiar with the rigors of the Run Ridge Run, and talked about where we would conserve our energy, where we would try to push the pace, a race plan we followed almost exactly – if a lot faster than we bargained for – on Saturday.
With the excitement of the start and the rush of the departing crowd, our first three kilometers (all relatively flat along the shoreline of Sasamat Lake) were more than a minute faster (each) than in our trials on the course. We bid our time heading up the ridge road, and then steeply up the single track section of trail leading up to the water station, drafting on the pace set by a runner in the 25k race. Cresting the hill, we recovered and descended briskly to Buntzen Lake, where we were able to log a few quick kilometers along the road before heading straight back up the mountain.
This ascent had been the concern of my pre-race anxieties, much due to our run the week before on the course where I soundly ‘bonked’ on the climb after a hard week of training on the Bert Flinn trails. But with a mostly restful week leading into the race, my legs were burning, but still able to meet the challenge of the steep and technical climbing over roots and rock back up to the ridge.
“That’s the ball game,” R said when we were (*almost) back to the water station atop the trail returning into the finish, where we pressed the pace against our knees and the soft single-track descending the ridge. Mist was hanging in the trees and beginning to glow with sunshine poking through the clouds.
Not having seen anyone since we left our 25k companion on our way up the hill initially, we couldn’t tell where we were in the pack, but were pleasantly surprised to hear that we had arrived within a few minutes of the 13k winner, and come in third and fourth separated by only a few seconds.
In addition to the third place plaque and a pair of DryMax socks, I was also unofficially awarded “first place in the rocking beard division” by the MC, himself a notable bearded fellow.
Having arrived and warmed up in teeming rain, I drove home in the sunshine hooked (again) on racing.