5 Peaks Buntzen Lake

The final race of the season in the 5 Peaks Trail Running Series took place this weekend at Buntzen Reservoir Recreation Area. The 13 km Enduro course loops around the lake and includes the Diez Vistas trail – a rugged route with 10 (normally) beautiful viewpoints.

This was one of my first trail races last year and, after several thousand kms on the trails and some 100,000+ metres of climbing, I was hoping for not just an improvement but maybe a shot at a podium finish within my division. I also had a not-so-great result at 5 Peaks Cypress this summer when I missed a turn and went off course – just a little. So this was redemption time!

Since running Waldo 100k last month, I had been focusing mostly on shorter, faster running on similarly technical terrain in preparation for the race. This included lots of ‘Zone 2’ running, along with a few days at the track, but nothing over 2 hours which felt very unusual. I had also since raced a leg of the Meet Your Maker Relay as sort of a test of my fitness.

I ran the course itself three times in the weeks leading up to the race which starts with a lung busting climb to the ridge, a slippery scramble along the top, and some gnarly steep descents before a fast finish along rolling double track. The cumulative elevation gain is only 880 metres but I wanted to learn exactly where and when to push on race day and to eliminate any chance of going off course.

Buntzen Lake

Buntzen Lake the morning of the race.

The abnormally dry weather we enjoyed all summer couldn’t last forever. A rainfall warning was issued for race day as the first storm of the season was forecast to bring up to 75 mm of rain along with winds up to 90 km/h. Technical descents are a bit of a weakness for me even on a good day, although I was kinda looking forward to playing in the mud.

Setting up for 5 Peaks Buntzen

Setting up for the race on a wet morning.

I arrived early and went for a 20′ or so warm-up run, followed by some strides. It’s always great seeing everyone from the local trail running community but I was hoping the rain would make some of the competition stay in bed! No such luck – a fast field would add to the challenge of running on the slick technical trails.

I self-seeded in the first wave (a requirement for consideration in top 5 of division), about 10 or 15 runners back from the start to avoid having to go out too fast, and we were off.

Running over the floating bridge on a training run.

View from the floating bridge on a training run a few weeks before.

After starting at South Beach, the course follows Energy Trail to Main Access Trail before crossing the floating bridge, serving as a short warm-up before hitting the Diez Vistas trail to begin climbing. My plan was to push hard through the first part of the race in order to bank some time, since climbing is a strength of mine, allowing myself to recover along the ridge.

Just when you think the climbing is over, the trail gets even steeper and follows a series of switchbacks up to the first vista. I was able to pass quite a few people on the way up including speedy Salomon Flight Crew runner and friend Tom Craik, a lead which was short lived as he passed me again pretty quickly after hitting the top. Another speedster Mark Green who I passed on the climb had caught up, giving me someone to chase along the ridge.

View from Diez Vistas

The view from Diez Vistas two weeks before.

There certainly were no views to be had this week along the ridge where the mud was deep enough to lose a shoe. The slippery rocks worried me less than the possibility of stepping on a root or twisting an ankle on a sharp rock obscured by anyone one of the huge puddles 6 inches deep. In other words? Super fun.

Diez Vistas Trail

Running through the clouds on Diez Vistas Trail two weeks prior.

I managed to keep Mark in sight and eventually to catch up and pass him again. Just before hitting the end of the trail and the halfway point, we were passed by two more runners, giving us both someone new to chase.

The trail hits a short stretch of road before looping down past the North Beach and back to the South Beach via the Buntzen Lake trail on the other side of the lake which is shared with the Sport course. This is where it helps to have a road running background as you can really open up the stride and make up some time on the back half.

I took a gel and dropped the hammer, finally losing Mark and passing first one and eventually the other guy who had passed us earlier. I ran past 5 Peaks sports photographer Robert Shaer who got some great shots (including the one at the top of this post) and the small aid station setup at the North Beach.

Diez Vistas Trail

A group run on Diez Vistas the week before the race (and the rain).

I was running scared, knowing that Mark was probably still close on my tail, and hopeful that I could maybe catch up with Tom who I hadn’t seen since the climb. I passed a lot of Sport runners but Tom was nowhere to be seen (damn, he’s fast!). Before I knew it, I could see the beach as the course made a few final sharp turns and opened up onto the field where I made a final sprint to the finish. I crossed the line in 1:33:09 for 16th place overall, 4th in my division, and a 7 minute improvement over last year.

I think the race went about as well as it could have for me: Given that Tom finished almost 4 minutes ahead of me in 15th, I don’t think I could have placed any better overall. To have come top 3 in my division, I would have had to run over 8 minutes faster to beat Scott Meacham who was in 10th overall.

I’m looking forward to next year when, after another year and several thousand more kms on the trails, I hope to be able to shave another 7 or 8 minutes off my time and maybe to finally get that podium finish. Some drier weather wouldn’t hurt either!

That’s the end of my racing schedule for the season! I may end up running something last minute, but I’m looking forward to enjoying some less structured running throughout the Fall. I’m planning on picking up skate skiing this year along with doing some snowshoe running and racing throughout winter.

It turns out that Mark was only 21 seconds behind me but I sure had him to thank for pushing me through the technical section on Diez Vistas. See the full 5 Peaks Buntzen Lake Enduro results here.

Gear: Salomon Sense Hydro S-Lab Set, Suunto Ambit2 Sapphire (HR)
Clothing: Salomon Trail Short, Salomon Trail Tee, Salomon Trail Runner Sleeve
Shoes: Salomon S-Lab Sense Ultra