My race report from last weekend. Thanks again to my awesome sponsors - Salomon Canada, Suunto Canada, Compressport Canada, Muscle MLK and Vespa. All are top notch products!
I was very pleased to be standing at the start of the inaugural Blackspur Ultra 100km race in Kimberley, BC, this last weekend. Just three short weeks ago I finished the Elkhorn 50 miler in Montana. It was a big effort, racing in the heat, and I wasn't sure how the recovery would go. Still, I was feeling well rested, and with a few reasonable miles in my legs since Elkhorn, I lined up feeling confident that I could have a good showing. The weather had looked pretty iffy earlier in the week, with a lot of rain, so when race day dawned looking clear and cool, I was happy. Coffee, beet juice, Vespa CV 25, and some greek yoghurt with a few berries, almond butter and nuts are my go to pre race breakfast fuel. I like to eat at least two hours before I race, so it was a 6am breakfast, which in ultras is quite civilized!
The race format was fantastic - 3 loops back to the start/finish area at the Kimberley Alpine Resort, then repeat. I was self supported on this one, so all I needed was a well stocked cooler with food and drinks and a few spare clothes at each transition. Simple logistics, that made self support a breeze.
Leg one involved a big climb to the top of the ski hill. Brian Gallant, RD, was laughing when he described the route in the pre-race meeting. He described single track, turning into a scramble up a gully, then, well not much of a trail at all! He figured this one would beat us up. About 16km with 1000m of climbing.
Leg two involved apparently involved some great singletrack and fast times were predicted here due to the very runnable nature of this leg. Still, it came in at around 18km with over 900m of ascent.
Leg three involved more single track, a big descent down an old dirt road, followed by an equally big climb back to the finish, with some great views promised on this leg. 18km and 800m of climbing would mean this leg was no pushover, especially on the second go around!
Race morning dawned cool and slightly breezy, with a great forecast for highs of around 21C. It's impossible to remain completely tension free at the start of a race, but I had already decided to go out slow, take it easy on lap one, scope the terrain as it were, then push through lap two, if things were going well. The pre-race plan had me quite relaxed. No pressure. I had also decided, that if things weren't going to plan, I'd drop early, and save my energy for Run Rabbit Run in Colorado in 4 weeks.
At 8am - a highly sociable hour for a race start - Brian counted us down, and we were off. A few of the 50km runners bolted, but I held off, consciously told myself to go easy, and set off up the initial climb. After a couple of easy kilometres up a wide access road, we veered off right, enjoyed some flowy single track, then made a hard left and it was hands-on-knees time. The next couple of km was a mix of steep grassy ridge, rocky gulch, and deadfall scrambling. I loved it, and was pulling away from some of the other 100km solos, and before long I was running alone, high along a great little ridge out to the aid station high on the ski hill. A quick bite then a fast descent down some great technical rocky trail. We crossed some large boulder fields, and an off camber trail traversed under some spectacular cliffs. The beauty and technicality of trails was quite surprising to me, and I was inspired to crank up the pace, but an inner voice told me to cool my jets and save the quads. After a quick transition back at the start finish area, where I reassured a nervous looking Brian that not only was the course a lot of fun, but that it was well marked and I hadn't got lost, I was off on leg two. By this time I think I had about a 10 minute lead on second place Majo Srnik, who was running in Luna sandals!!
Leg two was a bit of a blur. I remember it was quick, fun and runnable, and aside from some steep burmed MTB trail early on, I ran every step. The highlight was a fantastic little trail that gradually climbed up alongside a beautiful silvery lake. More rocky cliff-side trail and bouldery traverses followed, and given that the next nearest guy was racing in sandals, I pushed the pace a little on this leg, and soon I was heading back through transition with a 14 minute lead.
A quick refill of water, a swig of some sports drink at the aid station, and it was off onto leg three. The start was very similar to leg two. We climbed some twisty and burmed MTB trails, which would be a blast to descend on a bike, no doubt. Then we headed off through some thin forest. Again, the whole trail was very runnable. Eventually I dropped down onto an old road and it was a fast smooth descent to the Aid station at the campground. It was a long drop of around 350m I'd say, and after a couple of thousand metres of descending it was a relief when it ended. The day was heating up now, and the climb up the Myrtle mountain trail was hot and dusty, but the views of distant peaks were quite inspiring. I was still running most of the climbs well as I approached the 50km mark, and I figured my lead was growing. I was passed by a team (who ended up winning the overall team event), and surprised myself when I was able to pick up my pace and latch on for the final few kms to the end of lap one. My lead was around 35 minutes buy the end of this leg, so my pit stop was a little more relaxed.
Lap 2 was simply a repeat of the first lap. The measurements were a bit off, so lap one ended up being closer to 54km than 50km. With a good lead, I felt I could back off, run relaxed, and avoid blowing a gasket. In 4 weeks I race the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile event in Steamboat Springs, CO, so avoiding digging too deep was the modus operandi. The remainder of the race is a bit of a blur to be honest!
The climb on leg 4 ended up being the only significant low point. I'm experienced enough now to know that almost every race will have one. I felt a bit drained on the steep hands on knees climb, and decided to take a short break. I sat for about 2 minutes, downed some Vespa ultra concentrate, 2 gels and an Omni Bar! The calories kicked in quickly and soon I was high on the ridge and life was good again. The descent was still a blast the second time round, and I think I had a large grin on my face again at the end of this leg. By the end of leg four my lead was almost 50 minutes. I changed shoes, knowing the nature of trail now, into the new Salomon Propulse shoe, which I figured would be a great shoe for the faster more runnable and smooth trails ahead. Dennene Huntley was gracious enough to help me refuel; she filled my flasks and grabbed me some gels, and her bubbly, energetic personality gave me a definite boost! Thanks Dennene!
On legs five and six, I have to say that I felt like I was covering new terrain! I remembered bits of each leg from the first time around - like the beautiful lake traverse, the technical descending, the climb out of the campground, the distant peaks visible from Myrtle mountain, but I felt as though I was on new trails! Amazing that the mind can play such tricks, and my GPS track confirms that yes, I did indeed do each lap twice! I suspect that I was watching my step a little more on lap one, as the pace was higher, whereas I was moving more slowly, and had time to enjoy the views on lap two. So whilst laps can be boring, this was not the case here!
At almost 12 hours 59 elapsed, I dropped down to the finish area for the final time. I was feeling great, and was even able to manage to jump across the finish line, Jorge Maravilla style! The atmosphere was fantastic, as it had been all day. I think this format of race makes for an incredibly friendly and enjoyable experience. The race volunteers were fantastic all day. Mevlut Kont, who won the 50km deserves a special mention. He was there at the finish and at the end of leg 5 to let me know that the lead was big, and that I didn't need t push hard. He grabbed me food and drink at the finish, and was generally just a great help, despite having 54 fast kilometres in his legs. Cheers Mack!
Kudos to Brian and his race organization for a brilliantly organized race. There are so many great races out there now, but if you're looking to stay in Western Canada, this one is highly recommended. The race prizes were unique (a handcrafted beer stein!) and the sponsors clearly very generous.
I hold the course record now (year one!!), but I tell you, it can be smashed!
Final distance 107.9km with 4483m climbing. Data from this Strava track.