Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hallows Eve Half Marathon

October 24, 2010

This race (and accompanying 10k) are part of the Run the North Shore race series which host over a dozen trail and road events throughout the year. This is the second race I have done as part of this series (I ran the Iron Knee 25k back in 2007). I really enjoyed the Iron Knee and have wanted to run it again in subsequent years, but have been thwarted by scheduling issues. This year, I really wanted to try a new race on the mainland so a few weeks out Sonja and I decided to sign up for this one. I knew little about it except that it took place in Lynn Valley and therefore was bound to have at least some good single track.

The race started at Lynnmour Jaycee House right next to Capilano College. The venue was fine except for the lack of washroom facilities. One stall and two urinals for 150 guys just doesn't cut it. Lack of toilets is a common complaint for runners, but too many races still have insufficient facilities. Yes, we realize that there will often be lines since everyone wants to go at the same time, but having to wait in line 20 or more minutes really isn't acceptable. Fortunately, I got in early and didn't have to wait too long.

Being that I am competitive, I had researched previous winning times and course records for this race. Last year, James Richardson had dominated the field winning in 1:38:18, over 8 min ahead of 2nd place. Simon Driver holds the course record of 1:33:06. Looking at those times and knowing James' approximate fitness level since I have competed against him in previous years, I figured that any time under 1:40 would be a reasonable goal for me. Where this time would place me, I really had little idea since I didn't know who would show up.

As we lined up for the start, I saw Jen Segger who told that she was trying to get some speed back into her legs after several multi-day expedition adventure races recently. Funny how everything is relative, since not too many people outside of the ultra and adventure racing crowd would say a half marathon is short. I also saw Gary Robbins, who wasn't racing, but was there as part North Shore Athletics. He was sporting a crazy Norwegian Ski racing uniform from the 1980's. Many other volunteers and racers were also wearing an array of Halloween costumes that made for some interesting viewing. One day, I'll have to come up with a costume that is good, but still allows me to race at full speed.

Once we were underway, I was surprised to see a teenager in a Steed Cycle jersey, quite literally sprinting ahead. I know that I frequently comment on the crazy guys (usually young) who go out way to hard, but this guy was taking it to new levels. For a second, I thought I must have been in the wrong race as this guy was acting like we were in a 800m race rather than a half marathon! There was no way he was going to maintain that pace and sure enough within a few hundred metres, I caught up to him and passed him as he was clearly already cooked and gasping for air. Soon after though, I heard someone else close behind. As we entered some single track, one of the volunteered shouted, "Looking good, Simon!" Quickly putting thing together, I asked Simon he was indeed the Simon Driver I was thinking about. Indeed he was, I knew then that winning this race would not be easy. I asked him if he was going to try to beat his own course record, but he joked that his goal was only to keep up to me. Runners are generally humble though, so there was no way to know exactly how fit he was.

I tucked in behind Simon as we continued on some flat, windy and muddy single track for km or so before descending down to the river. The decent included quite a few stairs, and I noted this knowing that we would be climbing back up these on the way back. Simon descended well, but I had no problems matching his pace. Once we got down to the river though and started a gradual climb upstream, he really put the pressure on. I stayed right with him for awhile, but I felt that the pace was a little beyond my ability to keep for the full duration of the race. I let him go figuring that I would see what kind of a climber he was when we hit the steep stuff. Either he would be gone or I would be able to close the gap and have a chance to get ahead. He had perhaps a 100m on me before hitting a steeper climb and I honestly I figured that this would be the last I would see of him.

Once we got to the main climb which included many flights of stairs I was surprised to be able to start pulling back the gap. Part of the reason I was able to do well on the stairs was because I was usually taking two steps at a time while he was only taking one. While it is not always possible to do them this way since sometimes you are just too tired, I have found it a more efficient method. While it is harder on the cardo system, it requires fewer legs contractions. After a few more flights of stairs, I was able to finish closing the gap and moved ahead. The climbing wasn't finished though as we still had a long gradual climb on a dirt road to the highest point on the course at 400m above sea level (7.5km in).

When I hit the decent, I had perhaps 200m on Simon, but as I winded my way down the technical switchback trail, he started to close the gap. I am a solid technical down hill runner, so he really had to have been hammering to catch up. By the the time I reached the bottom, he was nipping at my heels. We crossed a bridge over the river and then started up the other side of the river on a double track. I was still feeling fine, but this sort of terrain has also be mentally tougher for me as it is somewhat monotonous. Simon was good enough to tell me what was coming up on the course so that was appreciated. We would soon come up to another moderate climb followed by some rolling terrain and a decent back to the single track we came up on.

This second main climb also had some flights of stairs and luckily my legs still felt good so I was able to move up well and gained a bit of time on Simon. On the subsequent rolling and downhill, however, he did his thing and pulled back up to me. It was a fun decent though with quite a lot of technical sections with roots and rocks. Partway back down the trail intersected the 10k race course and we were soon passing a lot of runners. There was a lot of "On Your Left!" and "Thank You!" being shouted for the remainder of the course. Everyone was very accommodating with the exception of the couple of runners who sported headphones. I frequently listen to music when I am out training on the trails, but in a race you need to be able to hear what is going on around you so I don't think they should be allowed (at least not on shorter events such as this where there are lots of runners on the trail).

Simon stayed right with me on the gradual decent next to the river so it was still unsure who would grab the win. There was one 100m climb left before the final 2km of flat and downhill to the finish. I figured my best chance was to push as hard as possible up the hill. If I could gain 30s or so on him, I had a good chance of being able to hold that off the top. I gave it my all and the legs held out. The hardest part of the climb was trying to ask the 10k runnesr to let me by. My shouts became wheezes as I just didn't have any extra breath to spare.

As I crested the hill, I didn't look back and continued to push hard. The body still felt good and I was able to move well. With 1km to go, I did glace back and couldn't spot Simon. This boded well as it was unlikely that he would be able to catch me on the final 1km downhill. I stopped the clock at 1:36:05 well ahead of my prediction. Simon came in about a minutes later and 3rd place wend to Doug Giles a full 10min back. Tamsin Anstey won the woman's division with a 1:48:39 clocking good for 6th overall. Simon's wife Katrina was second and Jen came in 3rd. Sonja was the 8th woman in (out of 76) in a solid performance. Results. Video.

This was a quite a satisfying win for me as it was one with real competition. It was great to be able to run toe to toe with Simon for most of the race as this does not happen very often on these sorts of trail races. He is a great competitor and accomplished trail runner with many wins and course records to his credit (incidentally he convincingly won the Iron Knee in 2007 when I in attendance). It was morale boost to be able to run with someone of this caliber (even if he was not quite as fast as when he set the course record). Thanks to Simon for being there since there is no doubt that he pushed me harder than I would have gone otherwise. Also thanks to the race organizer who put on a great race (the lack of sufficient toilet facilities non-withstanding) . The course was well marked and marshaled and had a lot of varied and interesting terrain. While I didn't use them, there were also 3 aid stations which is more than sufficient for this length of race.


Simon Driver said...

Thanks for the nice words. Great blog, a friend directed me here. A true duel in the trails, thanks for pushing me and making it a real race.

Shaner said...

Great to run with you Simon. I hope to see you at a race again soon.


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