Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run: Race Report
July 15, 2018
Yesterday I completed my first ultramarathon: the Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run. This is a 48k trail race following the entirety of the Baden Powell Trail through West and North Vancouver.
Since this was my first ultra I meticulously prepared a race day plan, studied every twist and turn of the course, and even solicited the help of my Mom and girlfriend to cheer me on at a few aid stations. The race breaks down into 4 segments of roughly equal distance connected by major aid stations, so I’ll structure this post in the same way.
Leg 1 - 12.0 km, plan: 1:30 - 1:45
This leg has nearly half of the elevation gain of the entire race. The climb up Black Mountain is relentless, and I found it difficult to know how hard to push since the leg is so unique compared to those following it. The climbing begins immediately after the start, and I settled in for the long haul along with 250 others. About 10 minutes into the race I felt a sudden sharp needle-like pain below my right calf, which I initially though was a thorn or bramble but judging from all the swelling today is an insect bite of some sort. How it managed to bite me as I was running by is a bit mysterious. After smacking my leg a bit the pain dulled and was quickly forgotten.
The rest of the leg was more or less uneventful. I had people to run with, and although I was ahead of pace I was feeling strong.
Actual leg time: 1:28:27
Leg 2 - 11.8 km, plan: 1:05 - 1:15
After stopping for a few minutes at the aid station to refill my water and eat a bit, I was on my way. This leg begins with about 20 minutes of climbing and then is straight downhill all the way to the next aid station. Although I had run this section before and written it off as dead easy, on race day the terrain seemed technical and fast running felt tricky.
About halfway through the leg, I tripped over a root and nearly flew face first into the rocky trail. Luckily I managed to stay on my feet, but it gave me quite a scare as well as an adrenaline rush, prompting me to walk for a minute to calm myself down.
Descending down to Brothers Creek bridge I slid across a flat rock and hurt the inside of my right quad. It felt like a pulled muscle, and after 2 or 3 minutes of stretching and slow walking I was barely able to put weight on it again and carry on. I wasn’t sure how long I would last or if I had actually injured myself, but I seemed capable of making it to the halfway point so I thought I’d go from there.
Actual leg time: 1:15:34
Leg 3 - 11.9 km, plan: 1:30 - 1:45
I felt somewhat refreshed after the long downhill, but the steep descent and all the climbing from early in the morning had definitely taken its toll. The sun was also starting to feel quite hot, even though it was not even 9:00 am. I used the bathroom at Cleveland dam, refilled my water and ate some pretzels.
Leaving the aid station I followed one of the lead women up the only paved section on the entire course to the Grouse Grind trailhead. After passing the Grouse Grind and BCMC entrances, the trail continues climbing before levelling off and beginning to dip back down to Mosquito Creek. I was feeling rough through this stretch but was still moving well.
I lost track of distance and was a little bit surprised when I found myself at Lynn Headwaters a few short kilometers later. I had forgotten how close Lynn Headwaters was to the Mountain Highway crossing. Knowing I was now very close to the final major aid station, I picked it up a little.
Actual leg time: 1:43:23
Leg 4 - 12.6 km, plan: 1:35 - 1:50
I was quite relieved to have finished the previous leg and looking forward to a few minutes of rest. I had planned to stop for up to 5 minutes at each major aid station depending on how I was feeling. Alternating between ice cold sponges and frantically chewing some solid food, 5 minutes went by fast. I said goodbye to my crew for the last time and headed off toward Mount Seymour Road.
Although I was still on track for a 6:15 finish I knew going into the final leg that I wasn’t racing anymore. I was now focused solely on completing the leg. Almost 20 people passed me during my final 2 hours on the course, and without them I would have been much slower yet. Each time someone went by I said hi or congratulated them and then tried to stay behind them for as long as I could before taking another walking break.
Unfortunately this was the section of the course I was also least familiar with, having only been through it once. I knew a big climb up to Mount Seymour Road was coming, but I didn’t know where it started. It kept looming over me for what felt like an hour and had me bracing myself with each little uphill section. I was quite confused when I heard someone playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” on a clarinet from a bush at the side of the trail. His friend offered me a ginger ale and informed me that I was at the top of the climb. In my disoriented state I replied “Yup, almost there!”, thinking I had another 15 minutes of climbing remaining and that the top was at Mount Seymour Road. As it turned out there is a sizeable flat section before Mount Seymour Road which I jogged extremely slowly since I was conserving energy for the rest of a climb which never materialized.
The rest of the leg went more or less as planned. All of the steep staircases on the Quarry Rock hike crippled me, but I was able to jog the rest of it. When I hit the pavement at the end of the Baden Powell I let the wheels fly, and cruised down to the finish line in 3:50/km speed as though I hadn’t just taken a 5 minute walking break on flat trail eating a Freezie 30 minutes earlier.
Actual leg time: 2:03:22
The Finish Line
Official time: 6:30:46, 33/172 men.
I was physically and mentally exhausted, and relieved to be finished. The experience was so different from road racing, and demanded quite a different set of skills. I’ve become quite familiar with the road racing pattern of staying right below your threshold for as long as possible, and letting the discomfort creep in and slowly build up until the finish line. In a longer trail run though, there are moments that feel very easy, and other moments where you are pushed past your breaking point into a slow hiking speed.
Having had a day to recover and think through my race, I’m pleased with how I performed in the hot conditions. I had a sub 6 hour race in the back of my head as a best possible outcome, and I believe that would be achievable if I ever returned to this race. My nutrition and hydration both went very well, and although I went out aggressively I showed that I can power up a mountain quite quickly. I finished Leg 1 in 12th place and Leg 2 in 14th place before fading away. Longer training runs and higher mileage would give me the staying power to maintain a pace like that.
Maybe I’ll do another 50k race and try for more even pacing with less time at aid stations.