Monday, June 22, 2009

Kusam Klimb

June 20, 2009

With a catch phrase of "Are you Tough Enough?" Kusam Klimb markets itself as an epic endurance event. With 1500 meters of elevation gain in 5.5km and some very challenging terrain, it lives up to its billing. It has even been listed by elite trail runner Dale Reicheneder (scroll down about half way) as the toughest race he has ever done. While I don't consider it to be quite as insane as Dale describes, if you have never done it yourself, mere descriptions don't convey the length and grade of the ascent. You can also read a longer article by Sarah Seads here.

This was my third trip to Kusam (located near Sayward on the North East coast of Vancouver Island) in as many years and I have been fortunate enough to come cross the finish line first both times. In 2008, I had one of the best races of my career, where everything went right and I ended up setting a new course record of 2:23:04. Since I had such an amazing race last year, I knew bettering my time this year would not be easy. In addition, I found out that Adam Campbell was registered for the race and Jason Terauchi-Loutitt might make a last minute appearance. Even though I had prior knowledge of the course, I knew that would probably have to run the race of my life to have a chance of winning with those two on the starting line.

I traveled up the night before with Sonja, Garth Campbell, and Joanne Rosen and stayed in a cabin close to the race start. Unfortunately, I had been feeling a little unwell that day and suspected that some sort of sickness was on the way. I just hoped that it would hold off long enough to allow me to race in reasonable condition. My sleep that night was terrible, which never helps. I tossed and turned all night and contemplated not starting the race at all if I woke up feeling totally exhausted and sick. I don't like to under perform I didn't want to start a race where I thought I couldn't muster a decent performance. Especially one that I won twice before.

Six o'clock finally came I while I didn't feel great, I felt good enough to give it a go. I just hoped that once the climb began, I wouldn't fall apart! The race starts with a nice 2.2km on the paved road so in my mind, no warm up was required. I'd save all my energy for later in the race. I hadn't spotted Adam, Jason, or any other top talent that I recognized. As we began to gather for the start, I still didn't see them I began to think that I may have gotten lucky. I like a good challenge and had a I been feeling 100% I would have liked to see how I could have done against better runners on this unique course. However, I also like winning so I'll have to admit that wasn't too disappointed when they didn't make an appearance. Unlike last year, when there was a good sized pack to run with on the first road section, this year I found myself on my own within just a few hundred meters of the start line. A couple of guys with good sized backpacks swaying side to side did make an initial dash for it, but soon fell back.

Fortunately, I continued to feel better than expected and moved ahead of the group in a relaxed, but sustained pace. By the time I hit the single track, I couldn't see any one else. In my mind, the start of the climb was the final test to see if I could be able to hold it together for the rest of the race. If things felt fine in the first 5-10 minutes, I figured I could pull it off. I wouldn't be breaking my time from last year, but I could hopefully still take the win and make it a 3-peat. Thankfully, the legs felt pretty good although my calves did start to tighten up quickly. Fortunately, after about 15 min they loosened up and I was able to climb in relative comfort (not that Kusam and comfort really go together).

I reached the first checkpoint (3.7 km @ 390m elevation) at 23:52. After this checkpoint, the already steep climb starts to go vertical. While this is a running race, during the climb, there is very little running involved. It is a one long power hike punctuated by a few places where a jog is possible (if your legs allow it). Up and up and up it goes, with some rocky sections where you need to pull yourself up with ropes and some nice views if you take the time! It is often better just to put your head down and climb. Looking up can leave you feeling defeated when all you see if more is the same insanity.

In the past two years since I have done the race, the course starts to hit snow near the top, but this year due to warm weather, pretty much all the snow was gone. This generally made for easier climbing as you didn't have to worry about slipping around on the snow. There is a small decent into a alpine lake followed by a final climb to the the col (pass), the highest point in the course (1482m). It took me 1:00:15 to make the 4km from checkpoint #1 to the pass. It is hard to imagine doing 15 min kilometers and thinking the are hard, but that is the reality of Kusam. This was actually about 1 min faster than last year which was quite surprising to me.

My legs had held together pretty well, but they were still pretty toast by the top. I was ready for the downhill, but without the snow I was used to I didn't know what to expect. Previously, I'd just run down hill slamming my heels into the snow and forgoing the rope lines that had been placed to aid racers in their descents. This year, it ended up being a bit harder for me as running down such a steep (and I do mean steep) hill without snow would likely have led me to hospital. This time, I opted to use the lines as a safety and ran straight down hill (gloves are a must). I think this method was a bit slower, but I still made reasonable time. Once the steepest decent was over, we were treated with some great downhill technical single track that I had never seen before. This is a cool thing about Kusam, each year the race can be different depending on snow pack and rainfall. The single track didn't last long, but it was good fun.

I reached the safety checkpoint at the end of the single track 12:06 after the summit and headed onto a steady decent onto an old road trail in a clear cut. This trail is relatively uneventful save for several good sized creek crossings where keeping the feet dry is not an option. After a couple of km, I passed checkpoint #3 and the course soon moved onto a 5km section of gradual downhill gravel road. While I would still prefer to run on trails, this road is actually not bad, as the gradual downhill makes running fast on tired legs seem fairly effortless. After passing checkpoint #4 in 28:48, there was 3km of slightly downhill overgrown logging road which is pretty easy except for where the road has been cut to allow streams to cross (and there a more than a few of these dippsy doodles). It took me 12:11 to traverse the logging road and a short bit on single track before being treated to another creek crossing with one rude little climb to reach the final checkpoint. During the decent I was feeling reasonable and up to reaching the final checkpoint I thought that I may have had a chance to better my 2008 time. However, with 2.5km to go and under 6 min to do it, it wasn't going to happen (it took 9:41). Still, I continued to push right to the finish coming across in 2:26:51, winning the day and posting the 2nd best time on the course.

Second place would go to 2006 Kusam winner, Rob Fontaine coming in at 2:36:23. Joanne ran an amazing race, wining the woman's division in 2:53:25 and setting a new course record along the way. Not bad for someone who only decided to come 2 days out! The true "Toughest" award certainly has to go to Garth though, who was solidly in 3rd place with only 3km to go when he tripped and fell hard onto his right arm, dislocating his shoulder. Despite being in great pain, he managed and hobble to the finish line, only loosing one position. Sonja also raced well, taking about 12 min off of last years time. Most people would consider doing Kusam once a year enough, but how about twice in a row? For Randy Duncan it was just a bit of training for the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Ultra. He pocketed the first go in a respectable 3:22:08 and headed out for another grueling lap (passing some of those still doing the first one I might add). Final results are unfortunately no longer available.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

North Face Endurance Challenge Half Marathon - Bellingham, WA

June 6, 2009

I hadn't heard of this race until a few months ago when my uncle, who lives in Seattle, forwarded me the info. The course description sounded pretty awesome advertising some great technical single track and moderate to hard climbing. The timing also worked well being on the way back from a family vacation in northern Idaho.

For a trail event, this was a pretty big one with about 600 participants in four events (10k, Half Marathon, 50k, and 50 Mile). The 50 Mile event was the marquee event with over $2,000 in prize money for the top 3 men and woman. In addition, the overall male and female winner receive a free entry into the Endurance Challenge Championship in San Francisco where a prize of $10,000 is up for grabs. Sadly, no cash prizes were available for any of the other distances although there was still some pretty decent swag awarded.

This was probably the best organized running race that I have ever attend. Each distance had its own participant guide with course descriptions, maps, profiles, directions to the start, pace charts, participant info, etc. The staging area itself was well set up with a number of sponsor booths, registration and bag drop, food tent, and information. Registration although steep at about $80 Canadian, also included North Face technical shirt and socks, and reusable drawstring bag which. Dean Karnazes, ultra running legend, was also in attendance giving out the awards. Overall, I was pretty impressed with the whole setup.

Leading out the pack. Photo Credit: Sam Ruljancich

In terms of competition, I really didn't know what to expect for this race as I had no idea what the trail running scene was south of the border. Given the fairly high caliber look of the event, I did expect at least a few faster runners to be out. As we gathered near the start line in the minutes before the race I found it strange that no one wanted to actually line up under the arch. This was a race wasn't it? I have never seem a more bashful group of runners in my life!

Eventually, seconds before the start they finally moved forward and we were off. It was a pretty slow start, no one burned out front and I soon found myself in the lead. One guy did speed up and run beside me for a bit during the first 2 Mile loop that brought us out on some single track and then back around the start area again, but he fell back on some of the early climbs. Interestingly, I caught up to and passed a guy who said he was just out for a run. It turns out he ended up running the whole course and had be been registered, would have come in third.

The little loop was fun and I was hoping for more single track. Soon though, we were running on gravel roads. OK, I thought, I can handle this, more trails will be coming soon. I thought I had a good lead on the second place guy, Jacob Stout, but just before a steep ascent up a power line right-of-way, I realized he was just behind me. I was a little worried at this point because it looked like he was pushing hard. If he kept it up, I wasn't sure I could match his pace. It didn't help that as I started the climb, I began to hurt. My stomach was a bit upset and I just wasn't at 100%. Luckily, climbing probably wasn't Jacob's forte as I still gained on him even in my weakened state.

The climb was followed by a road decent. I was feeling better and moving well, but Jacob continued to power ahead and eventually caught up to me. We ran together for perhaps 2 Miles and it was good to have someone to help push me. When soon moved onto some single track for another climb and I fortunately felt better than the last climb and was able to make a up fair amount of ground. By the time I reached the top (and the highest point in the course) and popped back onto a gravel road, he was out of sight. Despite having a comfortable lead, I kept the pressure on myself up. I didn't want him to get the chance to see me again as that could give him a second wind.

I passed and aid #2 station and began a 4 Mile out and back section (unfortunately again on an old road). At this point, I started to see many of the participants from the 50k who also did this section and then after the turn around I saw who was behind me for the first time. I had perhaps a minute on Jacob at this point and 3rd place was another 2 or so more minutes back. It was now my race to lose. The reminder of the race was mostly down hill with another Mile of road followed by some nice technical trail leading into the finish. This brief bit of trail was what I had hoped the whole course would be composed of.
I crossed the line in 1:32:32, a decent time for an off road half marathon assuming the distance was fairly accurate.

The top 3 finishers (myself, Jacob Stout, and Graham Thomas) with Dean Karnazes.
Photo Credit: Sam Ruljancich

The top woman came in 21st overall in 1:52:15 and Sonja ran to a strong 5th place finish in the woman's division. Results are here. As a bonus, the announcer even pronounced my last name correctly! I was happy with the win, but was disappointed with the course which was not near as interesting as advertised. I'm thinking that the 50 Mile racers probably got the prime course. Perhaps I will have to try it in a future year.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Squamish MOMAR Race Report

May 23, 2009

This report is way overdue, but at least it is finally complete. This was the first of only two MOMAR's this year and the third year at the Squamish venue. For the first time, I decided to try a MOMAR solo. In the past I have raced with Garth Campbell and we have managed to get some respectable finishes, but have never been able to sit atop the podium. Garth is a stronger kayaker than me,we are similar speed on the mountain bike, but I hold the edge when running. Since there is not kayaking in the Squamish MOMAR, I decided to go solo to see if I had enough to make it to the top.

Upon looking at the map handed out 1 hour before start time, I realized that this course was going to be a tough one and had a large amount of mountain biking. This was not good news for me since my biking is not as strong as my running. I also didn't really pay attention to the 3rd trek stage as it didn't look that significant on the map at first glance. Upon further inspection, however, I realized that that little trek was actually a climb up to the first peak of the Squamish Chief! If you have climbed it before, you know that it is more than a little hill with about 600m of elevation gain over a short distance. In all there were six stages in this race: short run, medium mountain bike, short navigation section, long mountain bike, ascent and decent of the Squamish Chief (including a rappel), and a short mountain bike. Originally there was to be a urban navigation stage as well, but it was cut as the course turned out to be taking too long.

Soon enough the race was underway and everyone charged ahead in the first 4km marked running stage. Within a couple of minutes, Gary Robbins and myself had distanced ourselves from the rest of the pack. Since Gary has been doing some intense training for his upcoming Western States Ultra, I knew he would go out hard. I was determined to keep him in sight as I didn't want him to build up a big lead so early in the race. Gary had a good strategy going in though and only carried the required gear and not any liquids while I found myself lugging around over a liter of liquids plus some food. Within a few minutes, I also started to feel my right calf which I had stressed the week before doing too many stair repeats. While I continued to feel it for the remainder of the race, it was not super painful and probably only played a minor role in my performance. While I probably was working harder than I should have been at this point given the this length of race, I did manage to stay in contact with Gary and hit the transition only 17 seconds behind.

With no shoes to change, I was quickly onto the bike with Gary a few seconds ahead. There was a moderate climb up some road and then onto some single track. Being stronger riders, Bart Jamula and John Markez passed me after the half way point in this stage. I was feeling reasonable, but for the first time since I had been using flats on my bike, I wished that I was using clipless pedals...and there was a lot of biking to go.

I hit the navigation stage in 4th place. This is where I hoped to do well and make up some time. The navigation itself turned out to be pretty straightforward, but the controls themselves were all hidden. It was a bit frustrating getting to the correction location, and then having to search for the correct tree or root ball for the control. At the second control John caught up to me (I guess he must have gone elsewhere first) and since we were going at the controls in the same order, we helped each other grab a couple of them. I made no big mistakes, but did take longer to find the controls that I would have liked. Also, the course was small so my advantage in being able to run faster between controls than most people was reduced.

I finished the stage at the same time as John, hopped on my bike and proceed to go the wrong direction down on the road! Luckily, I looked at my map and soon corrected my error. After bit more climbing on the road, we moved onto some single track that didn't look all that significant on the map, but ended up being quite a climb. While all ride-able, it seem to go on and on and definitely made me work. Eventually, the decent started and I had my hands full navigating technical terrain that is on the edge of my ability. There was even a log crossing that I convinced my body to ride before my brain knew what was up. Then back on the road for a bit of flat and then another climb to the start of another section of down hill single track. I wasn't rocketing up the hill, but kept it steady and controlled. I knew there was still a long way to go. The downhill single track was pretty much the same as it was in last years course and consists of a number of sections broken up by road crossings. Much of it is quite fun, but there are sections that test my abilities. Early in the decent, I misjudged a corner and had a bit of a wipe out over the handle bars and into some tree branches. The crash was minor and I got nothing more than couple of scratches. Unfortunately, it ended up bending my read derailleur which caused my gears to shift on their own. I managed to bend it back enough so that most of the time it would behave. Later in the race, however, I would end up paying more for this little crash. It could have been worse, however, as I later found out that John had crashed and had to pull out of the race.

At checkpoint 8, I was told that I was in 2nd place. "Really?" Up to now, I was still expecting to be in 4th. That gave me a bit of a mental boost and I tackled some more uphill and cross country on the bike. I thought I was moving pretty well, but Norm Thibault managed to catch me at the end of the single track. He was just in front of me for a long section of gravel road and wide trails to get us to the base of the Chief. At the time, I figured that as long as I didn't let him get far ahead, I could catch him on the climb. I actually passed him at the transition as he spent some time changing his shoes and refueling. I managed a slow run to the start of the ascent, but my legs were tired after more than 3.5 hours of racing. I knew it was going to be a long painful climb with legs that felt like they had weights attached to them already. I put my head down, grabbed as many railings and trees as I could to help pull myself up, and did my best to power my way up. The one good thing was that my legs were so tired that my heart didn't have to work too hard. There were also a tons of tourist heading both directions that made the climb a bit of an obstacle course into itself.

The view from the top of the Chief. Photo Credit: Amber Thom

Eventually I reached the checkpoint at the top and took a quick look at the spectacular scenery. No time to doddle though and went back down a short ways to the rappel site. I wasted a bit of time getting into my harness which turned out to be a bit twisted up despite my efforts to pack it well. As I was getting into the harness, I saw Norm approaching. I was thinking, "No Way!, he can't have been that close to me."

"Have you been to the top yet?" I asked
"You mean we have to go all the way to the top!!?"

The rappel was long, but this being a race, I whipped down it as quickly as I safely could. My belay device was so hot by the time I finished, I almost burnt myself on it. Soon enough the harness was off and I was on my way back down. I proceed to have a quick, but controlled decent. This was no time to get injured just to save a few seconds. I saw many racers heading up and said hi to those I knew. At this point, I found out that Gary had actually dropped behind me during the navigation section and was not the one leading as I had suspected. During the decent, I suffered my mild cramping, twinges of which I also felt at other stages in the race. I was taking electrolytes, but probably not quite enough given the warm conditions and the challenging course. Luckily, compared to some other racers I talked to later, I fared well.

Tackling the River Crossing. Photo Credit: Mark Teasdale

Back on the bike for a short ride into Squamish. Along the way we got to cross a small river. I almost managed to power through it on my bike, but didn't quite make it. I make a minor navigational mistake after the crossing and as I revered course to correct myself, there was Gary. I did the friendly thing and told him I thought that was the wrong way and soon enough he was on my tail. On what was the last little climb of the race, I tried to shift down and most likely due to my damaged derailleur, my chain slipped off and into my spokes. Damn! I didn't panic as I thought it would be a quick fix and attempted to pull the chain out. It didn't want to come though no matter how hard I tried. Soon enough Gary caught up and as he passed he said "That's not right, that's not fair!" I will note that he never even slowed on his way passed. He was pushing hard and I don't know who would have won had I not had mechanical problems, but it certainly would have been closer. I do give Gary enormous credit for making up over 20min he lost in the orienteering to come in 2nd - that take fitness and well as mental determination. After a couple more minutes, I finally got the chain unstuck and was on my way to what I thought was the final transition to the urban navigation section. Unbeknowst to me, however, as I hadn't been notified, that stage was canceled as racers were taking too long to complete the tough course. I finished in 5:16:02, good for 3rd overall. Gary was 2nd and Bart raced to a well deserved victory with a finishing time of under 5 hours. Sarah Seads won the woman's division with a 6:31 time. Final results are here. While I didn't get the win and was disappointed to lose 2nd place so near the finish, overall I was fairly happy with my solo race. While physically I could have felt stronger, I avoided making any major navigational errors and didn't burn out.

Free Blog Counter
Poker Blog