All posts for the month February, 2020

2019 was a great running year for me. I’ve been healthy (coming off a broken ankle from a pothole last year), managed to make the time to get out, and hit a slew of races over the season including my furthest: the Sinister 7 160km trail race.

What more do I need to chalk this year up as a great season? Well, I failed to qualify for Boston by 12 seconds in the Calgary marathon, so instead of stewing all winter about the results I decided to sign up for the last qualifying race of the season: the Okanagan Marathon in Kelowna. We blasted out on the 7 hour drive the night before and crashed a few hours before the race.

Its a flat course, in a cool time of the year and offered a little escape before we settle in for a long cold winter. I love the city, the lake, and was thrilled that my wife signed up for the half and we were going to have a bit of an escape from the kids for a few days.

enjoying a coffee and leg stretch on the kid free dive out

Normally I’m all about the experience, as a non elite running I truly don’t get worked up about my finishing time as long as I feel I put in the effort and hand a great experience. This race however was a bit different in that I really wanted to go through winter knowing I had finally qualified for Boston.

The weather was perfect for a late season race, and I arrived early to mentally get in the right state. Pushing hard means entering the pain cave for an extended period of time, in this case 3 hours. Its much more mentally exhausting than physically. Your body screams at you to stop, but if you mind can overcome, you body will just drag along at the pace you command.

As the race started I positioned behind a small group of fast runners. It takes a lot of mental energy to continually look down at your watch and gauge your pace. I find it much easier to just pin a fast runner and try to keep up, let the mind go empty and purely focus on just keeping behind the ‘pacer’.

Kelowna is a two lap race, which normally I’m not a fan of, but when you are trying to go fast it lets you experience the course, then know exactly what is ahead of the second half. I was really impressed with how well run this race was, the course markings, water stations, scenic route along the lake and groups of people cheering the racers on.

After half way through I was really focused on keeping pace, but with an amazing sub 3 hour split pace I started thinking about the possibility of crushing my goal with a sub 3 hour race. This is the worst thing that can happen because it make you get excited early and the race really begins at km 30, not 21.

Like most of my marathons I hit 35km feeling great only to hit a complete wall. Legs feel like they are encased in concrete and energy drops to a minimum. This time however I was determined to keep pace and finish within my Boston Qualifying time of sub 3:10.

The last 7km was a mental gauntlet. My body was screaming to stop, but I managed to push through and came in with a 3:05:48!

My immediate reaction was that I left some gas in the tank, but having crushed my goal and qualified for Boston I was stoked. Either way it was my fastest Marathon and made me finally believe that I could come in under 3 hours, maybe next year for now I was happy with the last race of the season.

I walked around for an hour knowing that I had another 7 hour car ride ahead of us. Finally qualified for Boston and although I missed next spring cutoff, I feel confident my time will be good for the 2021 race.

As I get older I often get frustrated that I didn’t get into racing and ultra running at a much younger age. I’ve finally found an outlet that completely drains my stress, anxiety and makes to feel physically better, it just took me 20 years longer than it should have. Whenever I feel this way I recall the Rich Roll autobiography, he wasted years on addiction only to find his outlet and become the fittest man on earth. In his words of wisdom: “Keep running”.

Thanks Kelowna for the perfect weekend to end my 2019 racing season. Thanks Rich for the inspiration.

The Golden Ultra in Golden, British Columbia is one of my favorite events of the year. Its late in the season which makes for totally unpredictable weather. This just adds to the challenge at hand. Its also one of the best run events, in a beautiful area and a great way to close out the ultra season.

Golden Ultra Trail Race Start

This year I opted to pass on the 3 day stage event and make it more of a family event. My wife entered the 10km trail race and two of my boys participated in the kids event. I signed up for a single day in the 60km event.

My plan was to run hard as there was no need to save energy and legs for any subsequent stages. As often happens, best laid plans have a way of going sideways. First issue was that the course changed to a different mountain. Instead of going up Kickinghorse, we were routed towards another peak just south of the town. This meant the trail was new and unknown to me, silver lining was that it was to become more of an adventure.

Getting out to Golden the weather was perfect: cool and dry with no snow like the previous year. When the race started I went hard out of the gate. I was feeling the best I have in any trail race and had a ton of summer conditioning under my belt. By the 10km mark we were settling in and I felt that I wasn’t too far off from the lead pack. I roughly new the course, but opted to not load any routes to my phone or watch like I typically do. This race is so well organized with flags every 20-40 meters there was low risk of getting lost or confused (or so I thought).

There were, however, a few sections where the course would loop back on itself and eventually we came across a trail intersection with flags going off in 4 directions. The runner in front of me blasted straight through, and although there was nothing at the intersection that indicated any correct direction, I assumed he knew where he was going and followed along. I heard the runner on my heels come with us and came to the conclusion that between the 3 of us someone had confidence in our quick selection. I thought about it for a while wondering how they knew which direction to take considering there were no arrows or indications.

Morning sun coming up

We raced though single track and down a long hill for another 4km until reaching a clearing. Up ahead was a group of about 20 runners standing around. My first inclination when i see runners stopped is that there must be a bear or other hazard up ahead. I ran up to the group and it became apparent that we had all come to the wrong place – a wrong turn had been made. A guy beside me immediately mentioned that his watch beeped to turn back that the crossroad but seeing everyone go straight he just followed suit. At that point I knew exactly where we had made a wrong turn, and groaned knowing it was a 4+ km climb back up to the junction.

About 15 of the runners immediately decided to continue forward to a road and double back a service road to the main trail. I had no idea how to get back to the junction except back tracking. The remaining runners debated whether they would continue forward or double back. I immediately doubled back with another runner, at least we knew how far and where we made the wrong turn.

We started back and the guy I was running with was really down about the situation. I consider route finding and wrong turns part of the adventure and tend to not get too worked up – hey its just another 10km on a perfect day in the beautiful trails!

After about 4km of backtracking the guy I was running with stopped and was certain we went too far back, I wasn’t convinced and we quickly agreed to separate – he ran back again and i continued “forward” to the junction I thought we missed. Not even 1km further I reached the junction we all blew past, I tried to run back to catch the guy who went the other direction, but it was no luck and I decided to continue on the right path.

I spend the next 10km passing runners who were at the back of the main pack. At this point I threw out any high performance placement and just wanted to have a good day – good vibes only.

The climb this year was grueling, absolutely one of the longest, steepest, mentally challenging climbs I’ve done in a race.

By the time I reached the top I was hurting, but stopped to take some pictures, chat with runners and take it all in.

Hitting the top – stunning views of the valley

After the top we ran along the ridge with some scrambling and route finding. Some awesome volunteers were up there to provide some guidance in the more sketchy areas, cant imagine how early they would have had to come up – thanks!

After the summit the trail plunges down a long winding single track. I’m a climber, not a downhill speed runner, so this part was a knee destroyer for me.

By the last aid station I was feeling good, but ready to be done. I ran hard into the finish including the flat section along the river which I find is a good spot to reel in any hurting runners ahead.

Overall it was a great race. Scenery was epic and although i took a wrong turn, I was happy about how it came together. I came through the finish line with my family waiting at the end – perfect ending to a nearly perfect day.

Update: about a month after the race finished I received an email from the race organizer. Apparently someone had gone out the night before and removed some signs which caused the wrong turn by the lead pack. They were able to easily determine who had missed the turn and adjusted their time, and offered a discount on next years race. Super nice, shows the quality of organization that goes into this race and I’ll definitely be back next year again.

my son ripping on the kids race
my middle guy bringing it home in the kids race