The road to ultra distance is not paved it’s not even road. My first trail race was almost two weeks ago. My goal has always been to run an ultra. I’ve done 5K’s, 10K’s, and marathons so I thought to myself the next logical step is the ultramarathon. Although I’ve never done a trail race of any distance I knew that jumping right into the ultra distance with only road experience would be pure folly. For the longest time I was debating whether or not to do the North Face Endurance 50 which was down in Seattle but I talked myself into a 30K as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
Around the Lake Give R Take 30 is a 30 kilometer trail race that circumnavigates Cultus Lake in Chilliwack. It is probably considered a small race with an entry limit of 150 including relay runners but of course what do I know my last marathon I ran with 5000 runners. In preparation for the race I ran my favorite loop which includes a steep section up to the monastery out in Heritage Park. All the while during training I thought to myself the trails in the race couldn’t be this steep. So I gained solace in knowing I was training on trails that were burlier than the actual trails of the race.
Cultus Lake is beautiful, nestled between the city limits of Chilliwack and Abbotsford in the shadow of Vedder Mountain. Cultus Lake is a small little community of older ornate houses and some newer design homes that should probably grace the cover of Architectural Digest. My race morning started like any other morning I picked up my number at registration, pinned it to my shirt and eyed the ‘competition’. Right then and there I was intimidated by the ‘ultra’ race shirts and the ‘sponsored’ runners. Pretty much everyone had on a race shirts worthy of their entrance into this race. And me with my plain navy blue adidas long sleeve with no sponsors or logos I felt outclassed.
I lined up mid pack and when the race started I settled into a slightly more than comfortable pace. The first mile or so is all flat of the local roads so as to thin out the crowds heading to the trail head. I came to the trail head with modest pack of runners. Our first true test was shortly after we hit the forest. It was a steep grade I would estimate 22% or more up Vedder Mountain. It went up and up. Some were shuffling; most were walking as we occasionally broke into a few strides from the few flat spots of relief. My knees got a good massaging from the amount pushing my hands did on them from the steepness of the grade. This must have been a few kilometer worth of up hill I remember from the topo that the top of the incline and the first aid station was at 6km.
I made the first aid station at 38:08. I filled my water bottle that I had pre-filled with one scoop of Gatorade and put it in my belt. I knew the race was going to have an electrolyte drink but I had never heard of it so I didn’t take chances and I brought my Gatorade. I was glad I did too because I grabbed a cup of what they were serving and it was awful. I drank about half and washed down the taste with water.
The next section was mostly downhill. On the uphill I was passed by several people mostly because it was unnerving to hear heavy breathing a few steps behind with no one in front of you. So I let them pass and became the heavy breather in the back. I was expecting this after the first five minutes of uphill because I knew my pace was too fast. But the downhill I thought I could pick up some speed. I mean how hard could it be. I was going a fairly good clip down a fire road, looking around me I saw no one. For a brief moment I thought I was lost because I didn’t see any trail markings. Then it was almost like I was standing still because three runners past me fast. They showed up out of no where and were soon no where to be seen.
The next aid station was at the beginning of the road section. I filled my water bottle and switched it out for Gatorade. The road section is a gradual downhill through the area they call Columbia Valley. Once again beautiful rural landscape I was actually a little relieved from the mental break the mundane road running provided me. No roots, ruts or stumps to worry about just the road. I was caught by yet another runner after the first turn, a local who had run the course before. I took as much beta as I could but the fast pace on the roads took there toll on her and she faded.
The aid station at the end of the road section was appropriately placed before another steep incline. This was the exchange point for the relay racers. I had completed the first ‘half’ in 1:27:53. I felt sorry for the people running the second leg as the grade was steep from the get go. This trail and for the rest of the race was steep but they were horse trails so they didn’t have the deep ruts grooved into them like the counterpart dirt bike trails on the first half. It was easier to shuffle your feet upward here. I was impressed by some runners who seemed to maintain their shuffle the entire ascent. I wondered if the mid packer could shuffle up the hills what were the lead runners doing.
I caught up to a couple of runners and ran with them for most of the rest of the race. The one girl had trained on this last section so was able to give me some good beta on the last section. The first hill after the exchange was steep but short the next hill was even tougher and longer. I pretty much walk/shuffled the entire hill because there were no flat sections. The last downhill was long. By this point in the race my calves were starting to get knots in them. My twenty-twenty hindsight tells me I didn’t drink enough. I was now on my third bottle of fluid and was about 2½ hours into it. I normally drink a bottle every 45 minutes so I was down about a bottle and I sure felt it.
The road came as welcome relief my quads were thrashed. I would guess that my finishing pace must have been 12 minute miles on completely flat roads. The last three kilometers followed the beach to the finish line. Normally I would think this is a scenic beautiful way to finish the race but all I could think was where the finish line was.
I finished the race in 3:08 which is a great time I think for a first trail race. The people at the finish were really friendly and the spread of food was phenomenal. I stuck around to see if I could pick up some draw prizes which were also really good. They gave out shoes, water bottles, massages, pedicures, and even a case of beer. All told this race gets two thumbs up and I will definitely be back next year.
A Sherpa in Arizona
2 weeks ago