Monday, August 31, 2009

Juan de Fuca Epic

August 22, 2009

First of all I'd like to thank Jeff Hunt for organizing this event. While some people may have still run the trail in their own little groups, it was a lot more fun to be involved in a bigger event. A total of 21 runners (16 would do the full distance) came out to test their mettle against the 47km character building Juan de Fuca Trail.

We met at Thetis Lake parking lot at the unreasonable time of 6am. The plan was to car pool and then head to China beach where most runners would start. Adam Lawrence joined Sonja and myself and we arrived shortly after 7am. After some logistical planning, it was decided that all the runners doing the full distance wanted to go from China Beach to Botanical Beach. This meant that we needed to make sure there was at least one car on the other end so we wouldn't end up stranded. Fortunately, Shawn Nelson's parents were kind enough to offer to drive Sonja's car to Botanical Beach where we would use it as a shuttle after the run.

Once that was taken care of, I barley had time to strap my hydra pack on before the group was off. Jeff and Shawn bolted so fast, it took me a couple of km to catch up. This was the 'easy' part of the trail being predominately down hill from China Beach to Mystic Beach and was only somewhat technical. However, this was a long run and the pace did seem pretty brisk, but I didn't want to fall back so soon so I kept up.

The three of us ran together for a couple of km before Jeff fell back slightly and Sean Chester moved into 3rd place. Sean is a very strong runner, but tends to specialize in track rather than trails, I wasn't sure how he would far on such a long technical trail. He also didn't look all that prepared, as he was sporting running flats, was carrying a 1.5 liter pop bottle, and didn't seem to have any nutrition (he did in fact have some stowed in his shirt). That being said, I really didn't know how I would fare either. I was just one week back from 14 days in Norway where I didn't do any running. In an attempt to get back to my normal trailing, I had punished my legs a bit in the days before this run so they were not feeling as fresh as they could be. Also, I don't routinely do runs longer than about 2 hours, so 6 hours was going to be a interesting challenge. Last year, Garth Campbell and I had run from Sombrio Beach to China Beach (29km) in around 3.5 hours at a fairly cofortable pace. Based on this time, I thought it was quite reasonable that I could cover the entire distance in 5.5-6 hours.

For the next 10km or so while Shawn and I ran together, Sean continued to catch up and then disappear again. Eventually he decided (quite prudently I might add) to fall back a bit and run with Jeff. I commented to Shawn that we did seem to be moving quite fast and in my mind I was pretty sure it was too fast for me given the distance and difficultly of this trail. However, I ignored the that logical part of the brain and pushed on ahead swapping the lead with Shawn from time to time. When we hit the halfway point, we were just over a 5 hour pace. If we could hold onto that, it would be an amazing time. I was feeling pretty decent although the climbs set up quads burning within the first hour. And climb we did, the section between Bear Beach and Sombrio Beach is very tough consisting almost entirely of steep climbs out of creek valleys and steep (often technical) descents into the next one. While no single climb is huge, they all add up and become quite relentless. This mixed with roots, rocks, stairs, and mud are what make this trail so very difficult.

As we were descending to Sombrio, I felt my left leg cramp up slightly. It was not major, but with about 20km to go this was not a good sign. Even though I was drinking Gatorade with some extra electrolytes tabs mixed in, I needed to make sure that I got some more electrolytes into me soon or things could turn ugly. I'm not particularly prone to cramping, but am certainly not immune either and know how debilitating they can be. Fortunately, I had brought some extra electrolytes tablets with me so as soon as we hit the beach I consumed one. Shawn's parents met him on the beach and acted as his refueling station and we kind enough to give me some sports drink as well.

Much of Sombrio Beach consists of smallish to medium rocks which are not really much fun to run on especially as you begin to tire. We also found ourselves running too close to the ocean where the rocks had more slime on them. Just as I was thinking it might be better to move up to a drier area, down I went. The fall itself wasn't bad, but the rocks there were covered with barnacles which cut by left hand and right wrist up. It was nothing too serious, but did bleed nicely.

At this point I was definitely starting to feel the effects of going out so hard on tired legs, but I still thought that I should be able to hang in there at a reasonable pace. We were soon back on the trail, but after a relatively short time, I ended up with a rock in my left shoe that needed to be removed. As soon and I bent down to untie the lace, my whole left leg cramped up. It was the worst cramp I have ever had, but luckily I was able to shake it loose and continue on fairly quickly. I took another electrolyte tablet right away and hoped they would kick in soon.

While I was dealing with the cramp, Shawn had pulled out of sight. I started to try and pick up the pace in the hope of bringing him back into sight, but I soon realized that I was spent. The legs were tired and the energy was low (the cramping and fall probably hadn't helped either). With about 15km to go, I realized I was now going to be in disaster avoidance mode. I could no longer sustain a fast pace at all and was forced to hike pretty much all uphill sections. Even many technical sections that I would normally be able to run with no problems became difficult to navigate in my weakened state. The run had ceased to be fun at this point, but despite the fact that my body didn't want to run at all anymore, I forced myself to slowly run the easier sections. My km splits were down to around 10min when they should have been more like 6 or 7min.

As Botanical Beach started to get closer, there are more and more boardwalks on the trail. This would sound like it would make the running easier, but they are still tricky as they are permanently wet and slick. Running on them is hazardous and at one point I went down hard on my ass. This caused my whole body to seize up for a moment, but luckily receded quickly. Given the pitiful pace I was able to sustain, I was expecting that Sean or Jeff may well catch up. With about 4km to go, Sean did just that, blasting by me like I was barley moving (well I guess I was barely moving). He said that we navigated the last 10km in under 1 hour (it took me close to 90min). I finally managed to make it to the last 1km section up the access road to the parking area and surprised myself a bit by actually being able to run it even though it was all uphill. I finally hit the finish at just under 5:51.

While the last couple of hours were not the way I wanted it to go, I wasn't that unhappy with the time itself as it was within the window I had expected. Next time, however, I should do a better job of pacing myself. Shawn had also slowed and suffered a bit on the last section, but still managed to get an awesome time of 5:28, bettering his time from last year by about 45 min. Sean put 8 minutes into me in 4km finishing in 5:43. Next time, I'd like to finish more like that. Carolyn Goluza set a very solid woman's time of 6:50. These times my not seem too fast for a distance only 5km more than a marathon, but if you have run or hiked this trail you know why it takes so long. All times are available on the JDF Epic site.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


August 2-16, 2009

Since it has been nearly two weeks since my return, I decided I should get something onto my blog about this trip. Todd, Kim, Sonja and I spent the better part of the two weeks car touring around, car camping and hiking. We landed in Trondheim (where Todd and Kim are living for a year) and went west and south making it as far down as Bergen. In lieu of a full write up of our travels, here are a few of my impressions about Norway (in no particular order).

- Much of the scenery is spectacular, often rivaling what we have here in Canada

- The vertical nature of the mountain in some areas is awe inspiring. You can find places where it goes from a flat valley bottom straight up over 1km (and I do mean strait up!)

- While it is not a tourist destination for North Americans, it is very popular of Europeans and Asians

- It is very expensive. Most things are twice as much as here in Canada, some are more. How would you like to spend about $30 on 1 liter of motor oil or close to $1,000 on a winter jacket? (I'm not making it up).

- Amazing waterfalls and streams are everywhere. There were so many great ones that after a while, a waterfall that would be the destination for the day here, wouldn't even warrant a photo - Norwegians are generally polite, but somewhat reserved

- When buying food there, selection and more importantly quantity is limited. What 4 liters of milk? Forget it, 1.5 liters is the biggest they sell. How about a kg of peanut butter? Nope, better get used to 350g jars.

- There was surprisingly little wild life. The most exciting thing I saw was a fox, but it was actually in town. While hiking in the mountains, we mostly saw livestock (cows and sheep) and not anything wild

- Norwegians are avid hikers and cross country skiers and have set up an amazing network of trails and hiking/skiing hostels (where you can sleep, buy food, take showers, etc - all for a fee of course).

- Likely a result of their outdoor enthusiasm, they also seem to be fitter than the average Canadian

- The selection of interesting cars (particularly small wagons and hatchbacks) it much more extensive than it is here. There are also diesel options for many models. Diesel Toyota Yaris, check, Diesel Ford cars and vans, check.

Here are a few photos. You can find many more here.

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