On Saturday April 26 MEC Burlington held the first race of their 2014 series, and their first ever trail race. They offered 5.5k, 9k, and 12.5k distances. I ran the 12.5k. I’m writing two reviews: my race report (how I did), and my race review (how they did). Both me and the race organizers did awesome, but one of us has got some room for improvement. (Spoiler: it’s me)
MEC Trail Race One Race Report 1: How I Did
I ran the 12.5km distance as a kind of tune up for Sulphur Springs- I’m running the 25k distance there and these races cover a lot of the same trails. I had no time goal, but I wanted to run strong and see what kind of pace I could sustain on the trails. My guess was somewhere between 5:00 and 5:15.
I ran a bunch of these trails in the weeks leading up to the race, including a course preview the weekend before with a crew from MEC Burlington, so I knew what I was in for: mud and hills.
I probably should have ate and slept better the day before. And I definitely should have drank less beer. I slept in and so had to skip breakfast and coffee and head out on the 9km bike to the race start. I figured the ride would either be a good warmup or tire my legs a bit. I think probably the latter happened. I got my bib and chip and got ready to go.
Spring Creek out and back
The race was 2 trails: an out and back along Spring Creek, and two loops of the DVCA Main Loop. 5.5km-ers did just the out and back, and 9km-ers did only one loop. The 9 and 12.5km runners headed out 10min before the 5.5km-ers.
We got called to the line and I walked through the arch/timing chip area and set up about 4ft behind it. I figured this would put me in the first 20 or so runners across the line. Turns out everyone lined up beside/behind me. I toed the line with the guys who won the 9 and 12.5km distances, totally not by purpose.
I took off with these guys when the gun went. One look down at my watch- which read something like a 3:30 pace- told me I had to slow down and let some folks by.
The run out was fine, some rolling hills and a couple big mud pits. I tried to settle into a pace I could manage. At the end of the trail there’s a “big, mean, nasty hill” (according to the race director). It’s steep enough it could have stairs on it, but today it was just covered in mud. Here’s where being one of the first 10 runners to reach the hill paid off- it wasn’t too dug up and slippery. Yet.
I turned around at the top of the hill and tried to hold on and not crash into any up-going runners on the way down. I was slipping and swinging off trees trying not to fall. Turns out pretty much everyone did the same, and I saw quite a few 9km-ers with big mud slicks down their backs later on in the race.
When I got back to the trailhead there was a kid counting out our positions, I was #19 overall coming out of the trail. That includes some 9km guys who were flying.
Main Loop Lap #1
I know this loop fairly well, having run it probably 6-8 times this year and covered it on the bike in past summers. There are three significant hills in the direction we ran it.
Hill 1 : Switchbacks.
The switchbacks are about 400m worth of 10%ish grade. This section was really muddy in earlier weeks-I’m talking knee deep postholing-but either the DVCA or the race crew (or both) did a great job with some quick reconstruction.
I could hear some runners closing in on me and I wasn’t about to let them pass on the hill. I shortened my stride and pushed up pretty quickly. I could have had better form- more arm swing, high knees. As usual, I opened up on the downhill that followd.
Hill 2: Hermitage Climb
About 200m after the top of the switchbacks you start climbing again. This time in what I call the Hermitage Climb.
This is also a pretty short, steep climb followed by a quick little drop in elevation and then about 400m of flatfish running before the next climb.
Not much to say here. I ran up it.
Hill 3: The Peak
The Peak takes you to the highest elevation on the trail. It’s a tricky hill due to both location- it’s the final climb of the 3 hills that cover about 80m of gain in just over a mile- and it’s trickiness. From the bottom it looks like a fairly easy slow gainer, but then you turn a corner and it gets a little steeper. From here you can see what APPEARS to be the top of the hill, and it’s not until you crest this lying SOB that you can see you’ve got about 100m more of climbing.
Luckily, I was knew this was coming. But I had no strategy for dealing with the hills overall. I mean, I planned to go even effort up and then let it rip downhill, but I had no energy conservation plan. This was part of my problem: I didn’t really take the race, the distance, or the course seriously. I can run hills, I can run trails, and 12.5km is my baseline easy distance, but I didn’t respect the race ahead of time. It started to show here as some folks passed me.
At the time I assumed everyone who passed me was doing the 12.5k, and that I was getting my ass throughly kicked. A couple of folks I recognized from the MEC Meetup the weekend prior (Patrick, and ??? I think, though they might have gotten past on the Hermitage climb), and two runners wearing mostly all blue got by just before the hill. One of the folks in blue was the first (and only) woman to pass me during the race. They were running good, and I trailed them up the hill but let them go after the first of two big downhills that followed. The woman in blue went on to win the women’s 9k distance for, and I believe all 4 of these folks ran the 9k.
I could hear two more runners about 200m behind me chatting and running strong as I finished the lap.
DVCA Main Loop #2
The loop was a bit more crowded now as more folks made there way to the 2nd portion of the course. I had to weave around a couple slower runners but for the most part everyone stayed to the right and was super friendly.
I had some time to recover since the hills all come in a 1 mile stretch during the frontside of the loop, and this leaves about a mile of flat/downhill running before you’ve got to start climbing again.
Hill 1: Switchbacks.
You don’t see the switchbacks until you’re right in front of them. Ditto for the Hermitage Climb. So all three hills are full of trickery.
I passed a couple women who, immediately after I got by started laughing. They were cracking up. Straight howling. I wasn’t sure what they were laughing at, until one of them said something along the lines of ‘OH! THAT’S THE HILL!? HAHAHAHA.’ I didn’t want to ruin the surprise they’d get from the next 2 hills, so I just kept running.
I had to power hike up the top half of the switchbacks, hands on knees, pushing hard. Part of my goal to ‘run strong’ was running all the hills, start to finish, but the lactic acid was really starting to burn. The two guys I heard behind me at the start of the loop got by. I chatted with them afterwards- one was named Tim (Tom?)- and he said that running together was a huge benefit since it kept their minds of the climbing and that they were pushing each other a bit. I would see them again about 200m in front of me near the end of the loop, but wouldn’t catch them. No one else passed me.
Hill 2: Hermitage Climb.
A little bit of power hiking at the crest to get over. Along the short flat section I passed a woman who asked something along the lines of ‘how many km is this?!’ She was clearly hurting and it took me a minute to figure out she wanted to know how much more of this hilly business she had to endure. I didn’t know if she was running the 9 or the 12.5, but I told her she was halfway through the loop and that she was doing great.
I had to get by a group of three running side-by-side just as the downhill started, and I really wanted to open up to flush my legs and get some turnover before the final climb so hollered: “Trail left! Please!” and thanked the group before letting it rip.
Hill 3: The Peak.
I don’t know. I gutted it out, and then ran down it, and then started the push for the final 1km or so home.
BONUS HILL 4: Main Loop to DVCA Trailhead.
I knew this was here, and I knew I would have to climb it. I figured it wasn’t significant enough to worry about. I was wrong. The hill covers a 250m-ish stretch from the Main Loop to the Rail Trail and then slopes down to the finish line. It isn’t accurately reflected in the GPS data.
I figured ‘fuck it,’ Im hitting it hard. And that was cool. For the first half. I was more beat than I thought.
About halfway up the hill some St. John’s Ambulance guys on bikes were on lookout. And right about there I started to slow down. I kept pushing but just not at my max. I knew there was a dip and another short climb before the folks at the finish line could see you and I wanted to at least look like I was finishing strong up the hill.
I hit the final push, and opened it up on the downslope and through the finish line in 1:02:25, good for 17th overall a 5:00min/km pace.
I didn’t feel THAT bad, but as soon as I stopped running I was a nauseous as ever and quickly darted behind a tree to gag, but didn’t puke. I blame this wholly on the beer and crappy food the night before. The effort wasn’t enough to make me that sick on it’s own. I took maybe 5min to recover and started chatting with some folks I saw on the trail and from the MEC Meetup.
Emma from the MEC Meetup won the Woman’s 12.5k distance in 1:07:xx, so big congrats to her!
The top Men in the 12.5 distance were crazy fast for that course:
After the 10km bike ride back to WestDale I hit up My Dog Joe some the breakfast and coffee I skipped earlier in the morning. Celebration fritata!
Final Thoughts/Sulphur Springs Prep
I could have prepared better and I could have run stronger. But I’m pretty happy with the result of MY FIRST TRAIL RACE.
I think I’ll aim for 5:00/km at Sulphur Springs and see what happens. Between now and then I’m hitting hills, trails, and tempos. I’ve largely left out tempo runs since Around the Bay and focused on hills and trails. I don’t think it hurt me today, but I definitely would benefit from more sustained efforts at threshold paces.
I also need to work on hill recovery. One of the toughest workouts I did in training for Around the Bay’s hilly portion was a long run in which I hit the hills hard and focused on recovering while running. I need to do more of that. None of this hill-stop-recover bullshit I’ve been playing with.
The problem today wasn’t my cardio, My legs just didn’t have it. They tired easily and were complaining from the start. Either I need to rest up better, eat better, or get stronger legs. Or all three.
I ran in my Mizuno Wave Hitogami’s. They were fine except in the mud. And also except that I blew holes in the uppers along the seams. Only 350-ish km (about 100 on trails), and the uppers blow out? Im pretty bummed about that, but I guess that’s not what they were made for.
MEC Burlington hooked us up with a 10% discount this weekend. (Ya, not much but hey, pretty awesome to give to EVERY RUNNER!) So I rode in on Sunday and grabbed some Nike Zoom Wildhorses for trails for the rest of summer. I’m looking forward to getting them nice and muddy.
Overall it was great race, and while I didn’t run as strong as I wanted to it was a good test before Sulphur Springs. I should have taken the course and distance more seriously.
Check out my GPS details of the race on Strava
Official Results from Guelph Victors
Details on the DVCA & Main Loop
These guys are putting on 4 MORE races this summer, I’ll definitely be at a couple of them at least. Bonus! They’re chip timed races for under $20!!