This weekend marked my last big weekend of training before Diez Vista 50k in just under two weeks.
Saturday, I joined a group of another 70 or so runners in Squamish for the first of several Squamish 50 Orientation Runs. I’m not running SQ50 this year, but the orientation runs are always a great way to meet some new faces and to hang out with old friends. I tried to keep the pace in check though for the 21 km and 2.5 hours or so, knowing that the big event for the weekend was still to come. After all, Sunday was to be my first trail race of the year, the Cap Crusher 8k, part of the Coast Mountain Trail Series and said to be “the toughest 8km trail race in Canada” with 500m of gain (which would translate to a 3000m 50k).
Both Squamish 50 and the Coast Mountain Trail Series are run by Geoff Langford and Salomon Athlete Gary Robbins. Gary likes to make his courses tough, with lots of technical trails and plenty of climbing. I’m not so great on the technical stuff but climbing is one of my strengths, so I was looking forward to finally getting a chance to run one of his races.
With so many big races on the schedule this year, I promised my coach that I’d keep the shorter races short and would treat them like a tempo run. After all, I knew I’d have to go out for another run after the race to cap off my mileage for the week. So with that in mind, I lined-up for the 8k instead of the (probably more suitable) 13k option. As several friends were eager to remind me, it just meant that I had better do well. I had also hoped to beat my friend Karl Woll‘s course record from last year’s inaugural race of roughly 43 minutes (seconds weren’t recorded).
A funny thing tends to happen as trail runners toe the line right before the start of a race. Most seem to hang back in order to let the faster runners lead the charge when the race starts, creating a stalemate of sorts. Eventually, a few will step up to the front to proclaim their intent to compete for the win. I introduced myself to Calgary’s Jonathan Heinz and Daniel Helm who had both done just that, realizing I had my work cut out for me!
As the race started, I figured I’d let the two younger guys set the pace. It quickly became obvious, however, that I was going to have a hard time keeping up on the technical descents, although I seemed to be able to gain back a bit of ground on the climbs. Not 10 minutes into the race, I began to lose sight of them and resigned myself to a solid 3rd place.
Starting at Cleveland Dam, the course was a confusing, quad-crushing maze of loops and turns around the Capilano Canyon trail system. I had actually tried to pre-run the course a few weeks before, using Karl’s GPX file from last year, but gave up after running 10k of aimless loops around the canyon. Fortunately, this proved to be the most well-marked course I’ve ever run (Gary knows how to mark a course for faster runners with ‘tunnel vision’) and the volunteer course marshalls were definitely on the ball.
The way the course loops and crosses paths with the 13k, it was hard to tell if the runners I’d occasionally catch sight of up ahead were Jonathan and Daniel or someone else. Around 30 minutes into the race, closing in on the final kms, I passed my buddy Mark Green who was directing traffic at a critical intersection. Turns out I was only about 30 seconds back and gaining ground after the last time I passed.
I tend to have a hard time in these shorter races with staying completely focused. It’s too easy to let off the gas just a little and to drop just below lactate threshold, especially when you’ve trained your mind and body to conserve energy for 2, 4, or 8 hours later in a race. To be honest, I was just getting warmed up and there was a bit of climbing to be done back out of the canyon, so it was now or never.
There was Daniel, just ahead in his blue shirt. I was right on his heels as we hit another big climb. Just then, he started to walk and I knew I had my chance to run past in a decisive move.
Up and over the ridge onto the Baden Powell trail, I had lost Daniel and caught sight of Jonathan. Down one more technical decent and a few more precious seconds lost. Onto the fire road and a chance to open up my stride to the end. Past Gary at the final turn who yelled at me to hammer it. Down the hill, over the dam, and back up to the start line as I heard Jonathan being cheered on as he crossed the line about 30 seconds ahead.
I managed to finish in 2nd place in 43:39, followed by Daniel in 3rd about 30 seconds later. Not in 1st place but my 1st podium finish nonetheless, and what I guess we’ll call a tie with Karl’s rounded-down 43:00 from the year before.
Congrats to Mike Murphy who absolutely killed it in the 13k, finishing in 59:28 for 1st place, and to Salomon West Vancouver teammate Gemma Slaughter who finished first female in the 8k (6th overall). Be sure to check out the rest of the Coast Mountain Trail Series, including the upcoming Survival of the Fittest on May 31st.