I went into this run thinking I was in pretty good shape. After being injured in the late Spring, I fast-tracked into a hefty endurance training program, specifically for this trail run.
In all, 12 runners would show up on the day. 7 from the mainland, and 5 from the Island. This number was somewhat disappointing when you consider the initial e-mail interest in the early summer. It looked like there would be in excess of 30 runners. However, having others around was not really why I was here this day.
The day began early as usual. I was up at around 4 am, and I already had all my gear ready to go. I wasn't overly impressed with my 4 hours of sleep the night before, but when I had a family wedding up in Duncan, what else can you do?
I drove my dad's blue truck out to the China Beach Trailhead, and it wasn't too long before people began arriving. Most of the group left at around 7:45 am. They had chose the traditional South to North option of doing the trail,but I had opted for something different this year. I would be going North to South, and as luck would have it, I would also be doing it solo.
On the drive up to Botanical Beach, we saw bears on the side of the road about 10k along, so that got my West Coast vibes flowing inside of me. I dropped my co-pilot, Jeremy Lawrence, off at Sombrio (he was doing a 25k option run back to China Beach) and then continued up to Botanical. From Sombrio on, the road has been newly paved, and it is nice. Far nicer than the roller-coaster road it used to be.
I parked the vehicle, got my parking stub, and began my run at the 47k marker right at 8:30 am. This was it. This was what I had been training for all summer. This day. And here I was.
The first kilometre was rather simple - a downhill rocky road to sea level. From here the trail cuts South and is more or less flat. I rocked out the first 2k in 9 minutes and I thought to myself that if I could just maintain this pace for the next 45k, I'd have the course record. Haha. Things don't work that way.
After the first 2k, the trail takes on more of a JdF flavour. Hills, stairs roots and scenery. This part of the trail resembles the WCT in appearance. However, I was feeling great in the early going and did extremely well to cover the first 7k in 45 mins, and the first 10k in 1:02. At this point, I remember that Sean Chester last year did the final 10k in 1 hour going the opposite way, so I was happy that I was going fast, but not overly fast.
Soon thereafter, I saw a hiker coming the other way who flagged me down. He told me that up ahead in 1.5k, there was a large wasp nest on the trail. I asked him if there was any way around the nest, but he said no. He said he got stung.
Deep down I have always had a fear of bees. Snakes and spiders, no problem. But bees, I am scared of them. Maybe it is the fact that I know I cannot really outrun a bee.
So continue on, keeping my eyes open widely in case the man didn't know how far 1.5k really is. And then I see another group of hikers approaching. I stop. They tell me that their entire group was stung multiple times, and the lady in their group was stung 8 times. She said they were angry.
So now I am petrified. I got them to describe exactly where the nest was, and within a couple minutes of running, I hear buzzing sounds, and I totally panic. I scream backwards on the trail 20 ft and look up at the trail ahead. I am cold and have goosebumps of fear. I look up and see a small swarm right in the middle of the trail. Looking left of the trail, I see a 10 foot wall of salal. On the other side, a steep cliff. There is no option here but to go through it. My worst fear is about to be realized. So after a couple minutes, I decide on the Usain Bolt approach. I am going to hammer over this thing so fast that I will be stung the least amount of times. So off I go, and I went hard.
I get about 4 feet away from the swarm and then leap over the thing, planting my left foot at the base of the salal wall for extra propulsion. With my eyes shut, I leap over the nest and cannot believe my good fortune. I didn't get stung.
My heartrate is high and the adrenaline is going. But I guide my body back into the rhythm of the trail, and before I knew it I was leaving the trail for the top end of Sombrio Beach. 17k down, 30k to go. And I'm actually feeling great.
Although normally the beach is a welcome relief from the trail, I was anticipating a better time on Sombrio. Although the tide was out, the boulders were slippery, so it forced me to slow right down and travel slowly. I wanted to use the slow pace to refuel, but the footing was so dodgy that it was quite some time before I was able to take in my gels and s-caps. I also had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at the South end of Sombrio, and I also was so buddy with my nutrition that I missed the trailhead off the beach for a second.
So back onto the trail I go, knowing that I will stop in just a few minutes at Sombrio Waterfall. I have this landmark pegged as a refueling station, and it did its job well this day. A full stop to load up the Hydropack and dunk my head, and then a few words of encouragement to myself and once again I am off.
Wasp nest aside, the going had been very good so far. But I knew there was trouble ahead. This next section of the trail past Sombrio is bad running, and I knew this new Southerly direction (uphill) it was only gonna be worse.
Yes it was bad, but I faired very well. I coped with the technical part leading up to the old road, and I was able to run the 1k uphill stretch of the road in its entirety. I was pretty bagged at the apex of the climb, but it was certainly fun to travel down this time (rather than up) towards the Loss Creek suspension bridge. I was pretty beat up by the time I hit km 23, but I was super excited to make it to the half way part of the trail without seeing anyone else from the JdF Epic Run. Shortly after though, I saw Ian coming toward me, and I stopped briefly to warm him of the wasp nest at 33.6k. He then told me that he had been stung, as there were two wasp nests around 12 and 13k. Great. I said goodbye, and then saw his running mate Nico shortly behind. It wasn't long before I found the short cut path that led to the ocean, and I opted to get off the trail and get onto the beach. The trail had beat me up enough.
This was, in hind sight, a bad move. The tide was much higher than I anticipated, and the short cut proved to be no time-saver. The sea arch that I would normally go through was now in the ocean, and I was forced to scale some rocks and do a 8 foot leap down off the rocks onto the beach. The beach was soft, but I did get to the top end of Chin Beach without injury.
Chin Beach was slightly better than Sombrio in the sense that I did manage to jog part of it. At the South end, I saw the 6 members of the running group from Vancouver. They were amazed and excited to see me and they took my photo. They asked what kind of pace I was on and I said 6:15. I knew at the half way point I was at 2:55ish (PB pace), but I also knew the chance of me getting an even split was near nil. I felt good, but I was feeling drained, and the worst part of the trail was about to hit me hard in the face.
I left the beach and for a moment I forgot what the trail ahead was like. What is was like was bad. Really bad. Not very runnable, and large elevation gains and drops. I tried my damnedest to cope with the power hiking/run down the switchbacks routine, but simply put, this part of the trail killed me. I felt drained of energy earlier, and this sucked every ounce of energy out of my legs. My hydration was good, my salt was good (I wasn't cramping), but my legs were like Jello. I slowed down with each kilometre, and by the time I hit 14k I was barely jogging.
And then I remembered what Ian had told me. There were more wasp nests ahead. Two lady hikers were coming my way, so I stopped to ask them if they had seen any wasp nests. No they said. Whew. I was relieved. It couldn't be that bad, but I should keep my guard up for the next few kilometres.
I never saw any nests over the next few kilometres. My pace did pick up over that section, likely out of fear, but I was in pretty bad shape when I hit Bear Beach at the 9k point. Normally Bear Beach is a beach I would consider running. But not today. For one thing, the tide was way up, so the rocks I usually go on were submerged. I was forced high up onto the sand and it was just as well, because I was struggling now. Beach Beach is a long stretch of beach, but when you are walking it in the sand and exhausted, it seems even longer.
I was hoping that the beach would revive me. I used the walk to refuel, and I prayed that the Calories would hit me sooner than later. But as I left the beach for what should be a pretty easy section of the trail, I was in the same sad state I was when I entered Bear Beach.
I now had all of 8k to go. And I couldn't run at all. I was that tired. Normally 8k would be a snap, but I knew I was in some trouble, and I knew I was on my own, so I had to take it easy. After all, it is the JdF Trail and most people spend 1 day to hike to Bear Beach.
So I walked. And boy did the kilometres go slow. I wasn't paying attention to the clock, but it took a long time to see the kilometre posts. Every once in a while, I attempted to run a flat section, but my effort was for nought. My head was down, my hands were on my thighs and I was doing my best to finish in one piece. I was bonking and bonking bad. There were some of the longest kilometres of my life.
At kilometre 3, I decided to sit down, as my stomach was a bit queasy and I was in rough shape. I took my final gel and finished off my water. Still no cramping, but zero energy to move the jello legs. It was only 2-3 minutes before I began again, and I was relieved to get to Mystic Beach shortly after.
Mystic Beach was full of people. And the people seemed to give me some energy, at least, for the time being. I got back on the trail again after the brief beach walk and climbed up the massive staircase back into the canopy of the West Coast Rainforest. The route was slightly uphill here, but I felt obligated to attempt another run. This time, I held form and was able to shuffle through the last stretch and through all the hikers/walkers. I made it to the end without stopping and clocked my time at 6:19.
I was happy to be done. This trail is bloody tough, no matter how many times I've done it, or how many different ways I go. It was a tale of two stories for me this day. The first half was incredible, the second half was dismal. Again, I now am in search of answers.
I feel that I had the fitness to continue my pace that I established early on. It was a similar pace to that of last year, but I was beaten by the trail. My hydration was good, my salt intake was good, my Caloric intake or glycogen reserve let me down.
Do not go to a wedding the night before a big ultra. You will lose energy.
Get more sleep. 4 hours per night is not sufficient.
Last year was a pretty good run when I did it in 6:01. This run sucked, and I still got 6:19. So now I am 100% confident that I can do 5:4x if all goes well.
I am keen to redeem myself from this day, and I think I may give it another go in a couple of weeks. My fitness is there, and there is room in the racing calendar for it. I should be able to do these distance events and finish on a way better note than this. I hate finishing a run and feeling sour, like the trail beat me. And today, without a doubt, it pounded me.
Results will come, but I need to focus on consistency/pace/energy throughout the distance.