Monday, October 8, 2012

Knee Knacker 50k

July 14, 2012

It may seem as though I have dropped the ball on my blog, but I still have intentions to add my races over the last couple of months.  Sadly, I have probably forgotten a lot of details by now, but I'll do my best.

Once I determined that I wanted to taste a bit of the ultra scene this year, I decided to give Knee Knacker a try.  I've heard from others that is a great race with some amazing technical terrain and tough climbs.  It seemed to be something that would fit well with my strengths.  It is also very popular and has a cap of 200 racers so getting in is only by lottery.  Based on the numbers, I had better than 50% odds, but it was by no means a guarantee.  Obviously, since I am writing this, I was luckily enough to get in.

I did a few long runs, but should have done more to prep for this race, but while I knew I could have probably been more prepared, I figured that should still be able to pull off something decent.

I stayed in a friends apartment the night before.  Sadly, I tossed and turned for a while before sleeping despite knowing that I had to get up before 4am to drive to the finish line to board a shuttle to the start.  The night before, I had prepared my hydra pack with everything I planned to use during the night, I just needed to grab it and head out the door once I got up.  The alarm, went off, I ate a bit, grabbed my bag of extra gear and headed out the door.  I had just walked out the front door of the complex when I realized that my hydra pack was still sitting where I had left it.  Normally, this would not be an issue, but I didn't have a key and my friend was soundly asleep in his 2nd floor apartment with no active buzzer and with a phone on vibrate.  I had a sinking feeling - that pack was pretty important, loaded as is was with water, Gatorade, electrolyte tabs, gels, blocks, and bars - could I even do the race without it?  I tried calling to no avail and even went so far as trying to buzz some other units to see if someone would let me in.  Needless to say, one woman wasn't too impressed to be woken at 4:20am and promptly hung up on me.  I contemplated not doing the race and all then sat and thought for a few minutes.  I could carry an extra bottle I had or perhaps even borrow and proper hand bottle from someone.  I also had extra bars and gels and would probably get me though especially since there was going to be more at aid stations.  I could survive and decided to go for it.

Unfortunately, by now it was too late to make it to the shuttle in Deep Cove so I had to head to the start line directly near Horseshoe Bay.  It didn't help I didn't know exactly where it started and had failed to bring the directions so hoped to be able to find it somewhere along the highway.  Luckily, I was able to do so and make it there with just enough time to check in and hit the toilet before the race started.

After that gong show of getting to the start line, I  hoped the race went a little better.  The course starts with a couple km of flat and gentle climbing on single track and I eased into things knowing this was a long race.  After 10 min or so I was in in 4th place had slotted in just behind Gary Robbins who I felt would run smart and pace himself well.  Gradually the trail steepens and the main climb to the summit of Black Mountain begins.  The total ascent is 1000m so it is a tough climb.  Soon after things got quite steep I was surprised to noticed that Gary seemed to be struggling.  After a bit, he told me to move ahead as he was not feeling well do to a lingering virus of some sort.  He would later drop. 

I managed to be a bit of effort in and catch up to the 2nd place guy, Phil Villeneuve, a very seasoned runner whom I had heard of before, but never met.  I was feeling reasonable, if not amazing on the climb and Phil and I continued together to the summit.  As we started a small decent to Cypress Bowl, Phil opened it up and I realize that I no longer felt that great.  Since I was only about 12k in, this was bad news indeed.  I decided I had to throttle it back a bit if I wanted to survive so I didn't attempt to go with him.  I would have to race my own race and hope I recovered someone.

Fortunately, after the first major aid station and another few kilometers I did start to feel better.  I was still concerned that Gary (I didn't know he had dropped until after the race) would come whipping by me but no one did.  There was a modest climb out of the bowl which wasn't too bad, followed by a long decent that led to the halfway major aid station.  I had left a drop bag here in case I needed it, but didn't end up requiring anything from it.  I grabbed a bit of fluids and food and moved on.  There were a lot of enthusiastic volunteers and spectators which was a nice little boost.  Ellie Greenwood (a world class ultra runner) mentioned to me that Phil was only a couple of minutes ahead and wasn't looking that great.  I certainly had not expected to see him again, but anything can happen in this length of race and sure enough I soon spotted him on the road climb up to the base of Grouse Mountain.  This section was definitely a grind, but I was feeling fairly decent and was able to gain quickly on Phil who was obviously suffering somewhat.  I caught him just before heading back onto trail where we had to grind up another significant climb.  It hurt and I ended up hiking much of it with Phil just behind.

We finally make it to a to a plateau where I was able to speed things back up a bit.  The trail was technical which I generally like, but this far into the race, it does start to grind away at you.  Overall though, the legs were still working pretty well.  After a few minutes I realized that Phil was no longer right behind.  I took a look back and he was gone - I later found out he just hit the wall, likely a result of fatigue from another recent ultra.  Not a fun way to finish a race as his last 20k involved a lot of hiking.

I powered up another small climb which fortunately wasn't as bad as the last one and then had a long section of most flat and downhill to contend with.  At one of the aid stations in this section, Wayne Crowe (a seasoned veteran runner who son was also racing) told me that the leader had left only about 5 min ago and had been cramping badly at the time.  This information gave me a bit of new life.  Did I really have the chance to win the whole race?   That would be really amazing and unexpected.  At the time it seemed possible as I was still feeling pretty decent.  I picked a the pace a bit with the hopes of reeling him in.

Things continued to feel decent for another 5k or so until the final climb up the Seymour Grind started.  It wasn't steep, but my legs decided to call it a day and refused to cooperate anymore.  I was forced to hike even the slightest slopes and the climb seemed to last an eternity.  I knew there was little chance I was gaining time on the leader at this pace and thought it was quite possible someone else would catch me.  After what seemed like an hour (but which was certainly much less) I topped out.  It was a huge relief to hit some downhill, but my muscles were now so toasted that I could not open it up very much.

The course briefly pops onto a road before heading to the final stretch of 4km of downhill single track leading to Deep Cove.  Having done this section a few years back as part of the Iron Knee race, I knew what to expect.  This is a very technical section with roots, bridges, and a few little ups.  It is slow even when fresh and a bit of torture when fatigued.  It feels much longer than it really is.  I was thankful to finally hear the finish line and knew that I was just about finished.

I cruised in for a time of 5:18:04.  Not a spectacular time by any means, but considering my couple of low points in the race wasn't too bad.  My 2nd place was better than expected, but I was lucky to not get caught by the 3rd place guy (Colin Miller) would flew in just 2 min behind me.  The winner was Nathan Barrett who recovered well from his cramping finishing over 20 min ahead of me in under 5 hours.  An impressive performance for Nathen who told me it was his first ultra.  Phil managed to hold on to a top 10 finish coming in 8th and the first woman, Lisa Polizzi, finished 11th overall in 5:53:20.  Overall, I was satisfied with my performance, but know I could have performed better with more training.  Results.


2 comments:

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