Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mt. Tzouhalem 11 km Gutbuster

May 17, 2009

For the first time (at least since I have been racing them), the gutbuster series commenced with the Mt. Tzouhalem race. Prior to the Mt. Washington ascent race being added in 2008, this race had the toughest climb of the series. Nearly all the climbing is packed into a single painful grind where 500m is gained in 3km or so. I doubt that anyone will ever complain that there isn't enough climbing for them in this race. In 2006, I placed 3rd at this race which really a great performance for me at the time. Since then, my times have gotten a little faster, but I have not placed any higher.

This year I had hoped to run under 1 hour (last year I ran 1:00:56) if I was able to have a good race. Where this would put me in terms of placement was difficult to say since you never know who will show up for these races. Unfortunately, prior to the race I suffered from a few poor nights of sleep and when I woke up on race day, I pretty much knew that I wasn't going to be at 100%.

Sonja and I rode up with Shannon Coutts and Claire Morgan. The day was awesome with temps over 20 degrees and clear skies although this was warmer than ideal for racing. Feeling that I might burn up on the climb, I opted to go shirtless for the first time ever in a race. It was a wise choice as I ended up not noticing the heat to any great extent.

The competition would be stiff in this race as Jason Loutitt, Kelly Guest, and Sean Chester all toed to the line. Jason is a very accomplished trail runner who has been on the Canadian Mountain Running Team and Kelly is a national level triathlete. I have competed against Sean in many local races - he has beat me twice on this course.

The course starts with a brief 1km warm up on a level surface before is starts to steepen on double track. As I expected, it didn't take long for Jason and Kelly to surge ahead. I kept my own pace and decided it would be foolish to try and chase. I can climb well, but I don't have the same level of core fitness as they do. Near the beginning of the climb, Travis Hird briefly passed me, but seemed to be working hard. I didn't know who is was and didn't try to respond as I figured that he didn't know that this was just the start. Sure enough within a minute of passing me, he fell back and ended up placing 11th. I settled into 3rd place and hoped to hold on to it.

This climb always hurts so of course this year was no exception. I was feeling OK, but did feel a like I wasn't able to push as hard as I would like to. In previous years, I remember working so hard that my temples throbbed with blood as I pushed myself to the edge of my ability. This year I just didn't seem to have the energy most likely due the poor sleep. Luckily, I could have felt worse and was still able to run all but the two steepest sections. Jason was actually still in sight at the halfway mark, but quickly disappeared after that.

I finally hit the high point just after the 28min mark. After a bit of downhill road, we were treated to some fantastic single track. Technical single track is what I enjoy the very most and there are a couple of km of that on this course. While the climb felt like a bit of a struggle, I felt as though I was moving well though these sections. I was already a couple of minutes behind the leaders, but there was also no one in sight behind me.

There is a small climb just before the final decent. In 2006 this section nearly stopped me to my tracks as my legs were completely fried at that point. Luckily, my body is better able to take it now. After that, the course heads back down the mountain and races are treated to a punishing decent on double track. While I can't run down paved grades that well, I feel I can hold my own on this steep stuff. Attention must be taken as to make sure that you don't do a header, but otherwise it can be fun to bomb down the hill. Hopefully I didn't take out any of the short course runners who were returning along the same route as I ran by.

I kept the speed up and still thought at this time that I might be able to better my 2008 time despite my mediocre climb. Unfortunately, I underestimated how long the return is. I struggled up the final little hill before the finishing stretch and rolled into the finish in 1:01:21. I held my place at 3rd which I was happy with, but it was a disappointing 25sec off of last years time. I hope it is a consequence of the lack of sleep rather than lack of conditioning. I'll find out soon enough at my upcoming races.

Jason smoked the course in 55:50 with Kelly not too far behind in 56:44. Sarah Peters won the female division, Shannon Coutts won her age category, and Sonja enjoyed a 2 min improvement over last year. Andrew Pape-Salmon also raced well coming in 7th overall. Results can be found here.

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