Saturday, 8 August 2015

5 Peaks Fish Creek: first trail, first class

When You Walk Through The Storm
A different kind of week leading up to my first trail race had me pondering all kinds of wide-ranging questions, mind awash with thoughts.
On tuesday, I had a close brush with a Canada Post van which ran a red light. I would've been hit if I hadn't run a few steps backwards. A 1-reverse-metre PB no doubt. 

There was a heavy hailstorm about 20 minutes later, which I managed to avoid being outside for. 

My First Time
In the lead up to my first trail race on saturday then, every sunrise was worth more of a smile than usual.
While I had done a leg of the Grizzly Ultra a few years ago, that had been on wide stony or soft grass pathways, so this was really my first. Rich and Brent (in yellow and on far left) had also done Grizzly. 
So, the trail world. Quite a bit different. At the start, the later winning lady asked Rich about the course, and made a sad face on hearing that the 1st k was paved. 
Everyone was having such an enjoyable chat at the startline that I almost missed the horn. I nearly didn't start my watch again too, although good things happen when I forget that (PB last race).
"Right, right, right!" someone yelled at the leader who almost took a wrong turn in the first 10 metres. 
To start off, the course was on the same pathway as the halfway point of the Harvest Half Marathon, but in reverse.
As the 5 Peaks tagline says, "get off the road". Like a car with broken steering, we all veered off the paved stuff straight after a bridge. 
Rapid fire blind lurches left and right came the instant the pathway was behind me. Seeing how others were doing it had me going 50% faster than I would have run by myself. 
I saw Brent slip avoiding a walker, around the corner from me. Tubthumping ("I get knocked down, but I get up again..") is clearly his theme song. 
Down and up a rocky bank (with iconography from the gopro), I let quicker runners past on twisty sections. I'd find myself re-passing quite a few on flatter and wider paths - a small demonstration of the different strengths trail and road running bring. 
A brief paved interlude again and then a short, steep uphill section with lots of tree roots. The word "technical" is a key trail runner's term for rough ground, be it roots, stones, ruts or anything making for an uneven surface. (Wildlife leaves technicalities in various places too). 

Sheer Brilliance 
From that shaded area out into brilliant sunshine, and along a cliff edge. Although not a huge drop, it was high and sheer enough. I really wanted to turn my head to capture more of the view, but feared my feet would follow where the camera was pointed. 
Unlike all other races, not even once did I take it off to film myself mid-run. I didn't even think about it, even on the short paved sections. As a first timer, the race was a constantly busy event of taking in everything you could see all at once, near and far, left and right, up and down, then re-evaluating every half-second. A stretch of pathway was a time to rest my eyeballs from bouncing around, as if in a pinball machine. 
Another thing I barely did was look at my watch, just a few times to see how far I'd gone rather than checking pace. 
Grabbing a drink also had to be timed carefully to even ground, and not in an area where both hands were needed to move tree branches out of the way. Worst case scenario, a tree branch bitch-slaps you in the face and you snort blue energy drink out of your nose. 

Bridge On the Halfway
This bridge marked the approximate halfway point. There was a switchback hill just after, and I saw Brent come back the other way about 200 metres in front. 
In the next bit of tree roots and uphill scrambling, I let one or two more accomplished trailers past. "My first trail run, ever. Scared of falling," I told one. 

Good Wood
About 10 minutes later, the toe of my left shoe (don't know why I remember) caught a tree root. That moment when... each step sees your centre of gravity get lower. Rolling over on gnarly roots it was going to be, but for the perfectly placed tree. I came to a complete stop nice and gently. I love that tree. Good Wood. 

Handsome Solo
A nice laugh at myself, then into maybe my favourite part of the course. A tight slalom through pine trees at decent speed due to good visibility. "I am on Endor in Return of the Jedi on a Speeder Bike," I imagined:

For Flag's Sake
After this a more mundane adventure: a missing course marker. 
I thought the 5 or 6 ahead were maybe mistaken going left instead of right, but followed anyway. I only got a few metres when they all turned around. Right at the top of the hill, a little orange flag was just visible if looking carefully. 
"Enjoying your ultra?" I asked Brent as he re-passed. 

Get Back
The last 4 or so k were the same as the first, now overtaking runners taking on the (slightly) shorter Sport Course. The final downhill, like many others, seemed to make my nose run. 
After the final snot shaker, there now remained tight pathways that occasionally hugged the riverbank. I could hear another right behind. "Need to get past?" "No, I'll stick with you." "I warn you I'm a road runner." There was another guy up ahead who I used as a guide/ canary myself. 

In what seemed like all of a sudden, I popped back onto the pathway for the final kilometre. My legs felt a little strange for the first 100m. I passed the guy I'd been trying to keep in view, he stayed with me for about 20 seconds then changed his mind and let me go. 
Looking further ahead I could see Brent once again. Try to get a little closer for a good finish, a good yardstick, I thought. 
I wasn't expecting to catch and pass, though neither was I expecting to be traveling at 5k race pace rather effortlessly. 

Somehow I nearly took the wrong turn for the finish. Fortunately, Rich, who ate the course for breakfast in 1:14, and others pointed me in the right direction. 
The 15.6k done in 1:23:29. Aim achieved of getting under an hour and a half, and running between half and full marathon effort. 
An exhilarating, life-affirming experience that everyone should try. I've rarely concentrated so intensely for so long. The ankles and shins can take quite a battering, though it does massage the soul. 

Yet further testament to how running can turn things around. 

PS: This is the first time I have watched the entire race on playback before editing. Do check it out, it has a funky late 60s soundtrack: 


  1. Hey Peter, great commentary again- fantastic humour!! Glad you came out and "got off the road". It is a whole other world on the trails. Almost ready to solo the Grizzly 50k? Rich