Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Juan de Fuca 47k Trail Run - August 23, 2008

It is amazing how news can spread. In the span of one month, a run between two friends turned into a massive group event. The event would be a day where 19 trail runners would storm the JdF trail, in some format. When people started signing on, it seemed like it was going to be another epic adventure. When all was said and done, it was not only another memorable adventure for all 19 runners, but it would also be the day where I had the race of my life.
The morning started as planned as Carlos came to pick me up at 6 am. After stopping to pick up Myke Labelle, we then drove to the Thetis Parking Lot to join the others. All the carpooling arrangements were made from that point, and by 8 am, we were at the China Beach Trailhead, our starting point. There, we picked up a few more from our contingent, and by 8:20 we began our trail run.
There were 9 people who were attempting to run the entire distance of the trail. Of those, it was evident that 6 were fast, experienced runners. The plan was for the 6 of us to run together, while the other 3 would form a steady-pace group. The other 10 people that day were doing shorter out-and-back distances or shorter one-way trips.

China Beach to Bear Beach (0k - 9k)
I nominated Bob Wall to lead the pace for our group. He had always been great in the past with leading a comfortable, yet pushing pace. The group agreed and Bob took the helm. It was shortly after that it seemed like Bob was trying to win an Olympic event, by absolutely gunning out the first couple of kilometers. By the time we hit Mystic Beach, I had to stop to take a pee, so I did so. After I did my duty, I looked out and saw the other 5 doing the same. It was then that Rafael Albert said, "I had to go pee earlier, but I was afraid to stop, in the fear that I would be dropped." I chuckled and said, "I was thinking the same thing." We then skipped along the beach section and found the trailhead after briefly missing it.
The next few kilometers was spent speeding through the West Coast Rainforest. It was important for us to run any sections we could, as there would certainly be sections later on in the trail that would be not runnable. I was not looking at my watch, but I know we were going as fast as ever, and all 6 of us were having a great time. Shawn Nelson (who had only done the trail once before, and it was a night run) remarked how much easier this trail in the light of day. Along this stretch, I saw my watch hit the 1 hour mark, and it was time to execute my plan. My plan was to take 1 gel and 1 S! Cap every hour, and to have my 2L Nathan HydroPack loaded with a combination of Gatorade and Carbo-Pro. So after taking my first gel and S! Cap, it wasn't too long before we descended down to Bear Beach at Km 8, and I was delighted to see the tide was out. By this point, Shawn had already asked me about our pace, in relation to the last time I had run it. He knew the last time I ran it was in 7:40, and he knew that a faster pace would push him at the course record (which is 7:15). In time, it would be evident that this course record would become the focus of Shawn's efforts.
It was also along this beach that I thought of my knee for a minute. For two months leading up to this day, I had been rehabbing my knee from some pretty bad tendonitis. I had actually done no hills at all in the previous 2 months of training, and it became my duty to ice it every night. My knee seemed 100%, but I did have some Vitamin I in my pack just in case.
Along Bear Beach, Shawn decided to keep jogging, so Rafael, Myke and myself followed, but I think Bob and Rob Mackay decided to conserve their energy somewhat by walking. In fact, I had never run along this beach in my previous two attempts as the running proved to be futile. At the end of this beach section, we found the trailhead again and began the climb.

Bear Beach to Sombrio Beach (9k - 27k)
This is the section of the trail that is called the 'Most Difficult'. The hills are steep and relentless, and there definitely was some mud. However, having done the trail a couple of times before I knew what to expect. After a short while through this section, it was now just Shawn and myself together, and the others decided to not push the pace like we were doing. I was concerned that the pace I was leading was too fast, but I always knew that if I were to run out of energy, that I would then have the option of just walking it in at the end, and have the other slower runners bring me home. This safety net gave me the insurance I needed to keep up with Shawn.
Shawn and I continued to make excellent progress over the bluffs, and we enjoyed our fast small descents when the opportunity arose on a fun downhill. He kept saying how much he loved the pace. In hindsight, I think we actually had fun in this difficult section. Somewhere along the way, around kilometre 16, Rafael had caught up to us and he joined our charge. He informed us that the other 3 fastees were quite some distance back, and I kept telling Shawn and Rafe that I didn't think we had seen the last of Bob Wall, as he is a true distance guy.
Around kilometre 18, I felt my quads for the first time show some signs of fatigue. No real surprise, as the hills in this section are fairly brutal. If it isn't the uphill pressing the quads, it is the downhill crushing them. Shortly after I would feel some very light cramping in both of my quads. I then asked Shawn how he was doing, and, as expected, he said, "Great, you?" I told him that I was feeling great but had some cramping in my quads. I assured him that I would be fine. Complete bullshit. I knew that if I was cramping at this point, with 1/2 of the trail ahead of me, that I was in big trouble.
At kilometre 20, we were ecstatic to descend and finally see the emergency shelter at Chin Beach, which meant that we had a nice beach section - a reprieve from all that hill crap, which was now behind us. The tide at Chin Beach did not look very good, it appeared to me like the tide was coming in, and the tide table I read said that we were supposed to be coming close to low tide. Anyways, after I stretched my quads, I had a PowerBar and some fluids and we walk/ran along the beach chatting for most of the way. The boulders at Chin Beach make it impossible for you to keep your run with your head up and actually enjoy the scenery. I suppose this is why Shawn, Rafe and I missed the trailhead. We ran up to a sea cave and then a sea arch, and then Shawn looked at me and said, "Are you sure this is the way?" The real answer was no, but I saw some footprints in the sand ahead and told him that if hikers came this way, then we are still fine. After wading up to our thighs in the ocean around a rock, and having to do a 7 foot jump off a rocky ledge, I knew that we had missed the trailhead. I urged the other 2 to continue and before too long, I saw some hikers up on the real trail above, and we clambered up a rock to rejoin the trail. Missing the trail actually cost us nothing. The way we went was a little slower, but I believe by going the way we did, that we avoided one of those climb and descents that makes the JdF trail so famous.
On the trail, my thighs now seemed just fine. Soon after we saw two female Harrier runners passing us the opposite way: Lara and Sonja. We high-fived them and continued. We climbed and descended until we got to the highlight of the trail: the Loss Creek Suspension Bridge. This bridge spans about 150 ft. over a canyon below, and I always am impressed at the beauty when I cross this bridge. It also symbolizes another thing: the largest and most difficult climb was just infront of us. I told Rafe and Shawn to prepare themselves for the incoming climb.
The climb was difficult, but we managed just fine. By the top, my quads were cramping pretty badly and I was shocked to go for a drink, only to find that I was out of fluids. This was not good at all. We were still a good 2-3 kilometers away from the Sombrio Waterfall (my intended refilling station), and my body was starting to deteriorate again.
I told the other two that I was hoping to make it to the waterfall without too much problem, but this was wishful thinking. At the top of the hill, there was a nice 1k running section (the only easy running part!), where Shawn opened up a lead on me. I told him that if Rafe and him wanted to go, that I would be fine on my own behind them. Shawn reassured me that I could do it. But it was not easy. After the trail went back to the hilly singletrack, I caught up to Rafe and Shawn again. This section of the trail was ugly: lots of mud, and lots of gnarly roots. I did manage to make it to Sombrio Waterfall though, and I told the boys that I was definitely making a full stop for a water refilling. I also had brought more Carbo-Pro/Gatorade mix, so I did my best to add it in. Rafe filled up his Camelbak as well, but Shawn, I could tell, was eager to get going. However, I didn't rush. I needed this stop. We were only 27k in, and it was looking like I was in trouble. Shortly after, we descended the stairs and make our way to the beach.

Sombrio Beach to Botanical Beach (27k - 47k)
The beach could not have come at a better time. The beach was not runnable, which forced us to walk. This gave my body a much needed recovery to absorb the water and I also took the time to chow down a chocolate protein bar. In the distance we saw Shawn's parents, and they were completely surprised to see we had arrived after 3:33 of running. They didn't expect us for at least another 45 minutes. No doubt, we had made superb time thus far. So fast, I was excited and concerned at the same time. Sombrio beach proved to be a struggle though. There was deep seaweed on the shore, and the rocks were very slippery. On a number of occasions, we slipped. We had to be very careful to not sprain an ankle. We did survive and I quickly looked back along the beach, looking for the other guys behind us. I didn't see them...and I was surprised at this. We found the trailhead with no problem, and began the grunt.
Now at the 30k mark, it would be easy to get excited and make a charge for the end, but if you know the trail at all, you would know that this is impossible. This section of the trail is simply nasty. Very little of it is runnable. And the mud. It is hilly, rooty, and very muddy. There are tons of little drops and climbs that just wear you down.
I knew coming into this section, I wasn't feeling particularly strong. My quads were not cramping anymore for the time being, but my experience told me that I still needed more recovery time, so I told myself that I was just going to walk the next few kilometers. I knew if I could get to Km 40 with any steam at all, I would still post a good time. I also figured that the other guys would catch me by then.
I battled through the mud and hills. I definitely was not going fast by any means, but I was covering ground, and my body was not deteriorating. I was challenged mentally to persevere, and this would be the very first time that I was now completely on my own on one of these adventures. Shawn and Rafe were long gone infront of me. I knew that, unless these guys bonked severely, they were going to beat the course record. I was not disappointed at all not to be with them; I was very proud that they were going strong, and I was glad to be part of their adventure this day. At the 33k mark, I saw some hikers and they laughed at me as I went by. I knew this would be my last chance to fill my Nathan Pack up, so I ensured that I had enough to get me through.
To my delight, I hit the old logging road at 35k with still some legs left. I had made it through the toughest section. I was not cramping. In my previous two runs of the JdF, I was completely in trouble with muscle problems at this point. Not today. I was doing ok. And then to my total surprise, I saw Rafe jump out of the bush. He smiled and said that he had some, "body issues to deal with." I asked him how he was doing, and for the first time, he didn't look great. He told me that he was struggling somewhat. Hey - been there, done that. He didn't feel like running, but I encouraged him to run the old logging road with me, because I knew that it didn't last long, and we ran together for the next 5 minutes. Rafe then disappeared behind me. I didn't intend on dropping him, but I figured now that we were only 10-11k to go, that he would find his way just fine. I also still figured Bob Wall and the others could not have been too far behind now at all. Rafe was a strong runner, and he would be fine.
Then it happened. Only once before had this ever happened before to me on a run (at the 2007 Oak Bay Half). Just when I thought I would get more fatigued and fade, I managed to find another level and pick up steam. I ran the running sections well, and power hiked up the tough bits. My body seemed to be in a happy place. I was in a groove, and I was picking up around each corner. I wished Bob Wall was here to see me now. I was flying. Or at least, it felt like it for the time being.
At the 40k mark, I was ecstatic. I only had 7k to go now, and much of it was easy boardwalk. My time also looked great. It was at this point that I realised just how good my time was. I figured that with a good push to the end, that I could actually break 7 hours.
So, I continued with the steady pace. At the 42k mark, a female hiker said to her partner, "Here comes another runner dear." Then she said to me, "Keep going, the other runner is only 5 minutes infront of you." What! I couldn't believe it. Could it be true that Shawn was that close to me? I pushed the tempo even more trying to catch him. I had visions that we could cross the finish line together. At the 43k mark, I saw two more hikers and I asked them, "How far infront is the other runner?" The guy replied, "Oh, about 10 minutes." I felt a little deflated. It was clear that either the first hiker didn't know how to tell time, or that Shawn was putting in a great finishing kick that those Frontrunner Westshore boys are known for.
A couple times on the boardwalks, I slipped and have my calves cramp on me slightly, so I knew that I was definitely fatigued. But, as you watch the last few kilometer marker go by, it certainly became encouraging. Finally I made it to the Botanical Trail road, and I saw a sign that said 1k to the parking lot. I rounded the corner and actually started running up the hill. I didn't make it very far, but I walk/ran the last uphill to the parking lot in disbelief at my time. I came to the parking lot and crossed at 6:25. I screamed in celebration. Carlos was there with his camera, and Shawn was there with his parents. They were all amazed at our achievement that day.
This was the run of my life. I ran fast. I ran smart. I was patient when I needed to be. I used my experience of myself and the trail to my benefit. I shattered the old course record of 7:15.

For the first time, I kicked ass on an ultra.

  1. Shawn Nelson 6:15 (Course Record)

  2. Jeff Hunt 6:25

  3. Rafael Albert 6:33
  4. Myke Labelle 7:48
  5. Rob MacKay 7:48

  6. Bob Wall 7:48

  7. Geoff Palmer 8:10

  8. Matthais Schoek 8:50
  9. Don Peterson 8:50

Other runners:

  • Carlos Castillo (28k), Cynammin (28k), Cheryl and partner (14k). Out and backs.
  • Nico Verrier (30k) - China Beach to Sombrio. 6 hours (on a sprained ankle).
  • Shane, Garth, Sonja and Lara (30k) - Sombrio to China Beach.


  • Thanks to Nathan for getting me my Hydropack 2 days before the run. It was awesome.
  • Thanks to Carbo-Pro for helping me with the distance.
  • Thanks to Carlos, as always, for transporting everyone and cheering us on!

1 comment:

The Jackal said...

Right on Bro!
I'm all over this one...