Runner’s blog – Going back with Glenn Pacé
Here’s Glenn Pacé’s race day experience, all the way back in 2009. Enjoy!
Not exactly my best run.
I had built this one up as a goal race for 2009. It’s a local 50km that is somewhat the gold standard in these parts. With a fearsome reputation as a very technical run that starts with a rather ominous climb, it is never taken lightly. You will never hear someone say “It’s only a 50km” and “Knee Knacker” in the same sentence.
For me, the Knee Knacker holds a very special place…it was the reason that I started running back in 2002 (ultras, trails. or otherwise)…if not for the lure of this race, I’d probably still be a mountainbiker. I’d done the race a couple of times before joining the race committee & took on the jobs as Trail Coordinator, Training Run Leader, & (on race day) Runner Safety Coordinator. 2008 marked my return to the race, but with my leg in a cast for 2 weeks before the event, I posted a PW (Personal Worst) finish. Despite the slow time, I felt that I did my best & decided to take another stab at it in 2009.
With the 2009 Knee Knacker in mind, I slanted my training towards the technical trails & vertical changes. As in 2008, I was also aiming at a 24 Hour event a few weeks prior, so I balanced my training with some flatter road-type long runs the day after my mountain runs. My goal was to run a decent 24 Hour, but (more importantly) finish un-injured & able to continue with hill training.
The plan seemed to work…every training run, I felt stronger & finished at the front of the pack (we would get an average of 65 people at each long run!). The 24 Hour event went perfectly…I got a PR, course record, & finished with minor blisters & a slight Achilles ache. The week after the 24, I was back training in the mountains with the regular group.
The night before the race, we gave a pre-race briefing to the first-time participants & sent them on their way by 8:00pm. When I got home, I mixed a couple of water bottles with some Gu2o, re-loaded my iPod with some obnoxious mix, & laid out my clothes for race day.
My sleep was somewhat fitful…excitement. Normally, I’m pretty relaxed, but I had high hopes for this race. The alarm went off at 3:45am, & I was dressed, fed, & ready to go by 4:05am. Only one thing was “off”….my morning post-breakfast…um…”ritual”. Nope…..maybe too early in the morning?
I mill around the start area & chat with friends/racers & wait for the gun to go off. Finally, at 6:00am sharp, we begin the trip from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove. Immediately, the trail sweeps upward & we are heading towards the top of Black Mountain….some 4000’ above us. I get into a reasonable pace & despite the predicted heat, it is still early & the trees will shade us for most of the race…humidity would be a bigger concern, but it’s won’t be an issue today.
We climb higher & higher. The trail is so steep in parts, that running turns to walking, which turns to scrambling….don’t look down. Eventually we come out of the forest & onto the boulder fields & the rock slabs. The view is spectacular & one could see clear into Washington state & Vancouver Island. I had been pacing myself based on “feel”. That is, I made the decision to ignore my watch (& therefore my heart rate monitor) for the first ¼ of the race, reasoning that I would keep a more maintainable pace if I wasn’t trying to push for a unreasonable split. My plan was to gauge my speed after the first ¼ & then decide if I was going to put in a PR effort, or simply enjoy a nice day in the mountains. “1 hour!” someone blurted out. AAAAGH! Hmmmm….not bad actually, I thought.
After passing through the Black Mountain aid station at the peak, it’s a quick 12 minute descent to the ski lift base & the ¼ mark. I’m right on pace for a PR…actually, I’m 2 minutes slower, but feeling very good. I pass though & continue along the trail that takes us around Hollyburn Mtn, through the cross country ski trails, around a small lake (& another aid station), & eventually to the start of the Hollyburn Chute. The mountain had been logged a hundred years ago & the Chute is a remnant of the chutes that would send the logs down the mountain & to the ocean. It takes a very direct route & is strewn with roots, logs, & boulders. It makes for some serious quad-mashing & a momentary lapse in concentration could result in a painful fall. Being a big fan of downhills, I take to the Chute like a duck to water (or in this case….a log). I push my pace a bit & start dropping a couple of followers & I manage to catch & pass a few others. All the while, I am watching my heart rate. Eventually the trail spits me out into a residential neighborhood still high above the city & the trail crosses several streets. The marshals make sure that the runners get across without incident & I’m able to focus on my footing as I descend further towards the ½ way point….eventually popping out of the forest & onto the paved road that crosses Cleveland Dam.
Every year, this section surprises me with the crowds that are waiting at the aid station to welcome & cheer on the runners….it’s a bit of a shock from the serenity of the forest. I guess it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. After all, the dam is located between the two biggest tourist attractions in Vancouver….Grouse Mountain, & the Capilano Suspension Bridge. I pull in at 9:04am. Not a PR, but it is within reach. I am greeted by my wife, the kids, & the dog….as well, former woman’s record holder, Patricia, is there to help me with my drop bag. I’d had spare socks & shoes ready just in case the mud had taken its toll, but all was good so I simply guzzled an Ensure, switched out my ClifBloks, electrolyte caps, & a Buff…kissed the family goodbye, & I was headed up the road towards the base of Grouse Mtn.
The climb up the road was getting warm, but I opted to walk in order to save some energy….there is still a lot of climbing in the 2nd ½ & many have made the mistake of going too fast too soon. As I powerwalked, my stomach started to bother me a bit. I figured it might mean a pit stop at the base of the mountain, but nothing was out f the normal. A group of us finally made it off the road & back into the woods. It’s an odd section because the race trail joins the most popular trail in all of Vancouver for about 100 meters…the Grouse Grind. The Grind has turned into a phenomenon of it’s own (climbing something like 2800’ in 2 miles) & the hordes were out on Saturday morning. Most people noticed our race numbers & realized what was going on, but one fellow asked me why I was so muddy (we are in a drought in Vancouver). “We just came from Horseshoe Bay” I pointed towards Cypress Mtn. He looked at me quizzically. “That’s gotta be 20km from here! But where’s the mud?” he exclaimed. Between breathes I explained that it was more like 28km from here & that we took a direct route….over Cypress ski area. He looked at me…looked at his watch…”What time did you start!?”. It was about that point where he had to turn up the Grind while I carried on my way towards Deep Cove.
My stomach was somewhat unsettled & I slowed my pace…it felt like I was carrying a brick in my gut. Mike had been with me since the dam, but while he picked up his pace, I started to fade. Then I realized that my pace was really slowing….people were passing me & I could go no faster. It felt like I was going backward. Even the downhill section was unrunnable to me….my stomach was a knot. I was hoping that I would just puke & get it over with, but no such luck. More people were passing me….many of whom I knew from other races or the training runs. In training, I had always told people that were having a tough day that it was better to suffer on a training day than on race day. And here I was…suffering on race day.
“Hey Glenn!”…Karen, a local photographer was ahead on the trail taking photos of the race. I joked that I should actually run if she was going to take a picture….I explained my situation hoping that a sympathetic might urge me to DNF & end the suffering. Nope. Instead, she asked if she could take a photo of my muddy legs. “Sure” I said I’ll even stop for you”….not that stopping was much of a stretch. I carried & marched towards the next aid station. Skyline is somewhat remote. It’s smack dab in the middle of the trail in a small accessible opening a thousand feet above the city. Lots of smiling faces…water…melon…coke. I took my time & didn’t even fake that I was going to feel OK. I moped out of the aid station like a turtle & headed down towards Mosquito Creek. Again…no running.
I carried on for quite some time…debating the merits of a DNF vs walking to the finish. I had enough buffer to cover the distance before cut-off, but the thought of walking 25km would make for a very long day. I counted the 30th person to pass me…then the 35th. Not fun. I tried a trot. It felt a bit better but not great. Another climb…another drop….another climb….I can hear the Mountain Highway aid station, & I decide to run the 100 meter downhill…nice technical footing…the kind that could easily twist an ankle or break a wrist if one were to fall. I guess I was hoping for “real” reason to quit. I’ve always had the mindset that as long as I could move forward & meet cut-offs, then I should keep going. A twisted ankle here would be a perfect way out…plus I would have the benefit of an aid station right there!
My luck changed….I didn’t trip, or fall, or puke, or pass out. Instead, I had a fun drop to the aid station. I refilled my bottle & continued out….more downhill, more running. Stomach settling down…sort of. Eventually, the countdown started as I began to pass the people that had caught me earlier….35, 34, 33, 32, 31….OK…good.
I finally pull into the LSCR aid station that marks the ¾ mark. Rod & Suzanne had passed me way back on Grouse & now I had caught them. Was I going that fast? No. Suzanne was having stomach issues. Rod has a torn meniscus and was running conservatively, so he stuck with Suzanne (Rod’s a fellow race comitte member & a former White River 50m winner). I suggested some melon & refilled my water. My stomach was somewhat sensitive, so I stuck with water & electrolyte caps, melon, & a flat coke.
Out of the aid station, I decided to pour it on a bit more. I wanted to make up for lost time & I did not want a PW worse than last year’s! The runners were far more spread out at this point, so catching people was a more difficult task…but I caught a few. This section drops you down to the lowest point before the finish which only means one thing….more climbing. Out of the Lynn River Valley, up past Jaqui’s aid station & another drop to Seymour River before the final grunt. I arrived at Hyannis aid station feeling OK, but fairly hot so I ditched my shirt & abandoned my heart rate monitor. I managed to refill my water bottle & even grabbed a few ice cubes to go. Nice!
The final climb is a bear…the Seymour Grind is only about 20 minutes long, but it is steep & its position late in the race makes it downright cruel. Thank gawd the news I received on Friday had not panned out! I received a call from Search & Rescue that afternoon, that a police incident had closed part of the Baden-Powell trail (our race course) & that we might have to deviate it 1 mile in order to get around the investigation (I would find out later that a human femur had been found). Thankfully, they were finished by 5:00pm Friday, so I didn’t have to go out & re-mark that section of the course (or have the pre-sweeps take care of it). The best news was that no one would have to suffer an extra mile this late in the race.
The climb went well & I felt quite strong. I managed to drop someone that had joined me from the aid station & when I crested the top of the Seymour Grind, I knew that it would be a nice tough jaunt to the finish. I blitzed the downhill & passed a couple more tired souls, crossed the Seymour Mtn access road & got into a nice rhythm for the drop to Indian River Road. Once there, I simply let my legs turn over gravity had its way with me.
The course takes one final nasty turn towards the finish…off the road & onto a tight, twisting single track. It is nasty. It’s not unusual for people to take 15 to 25 minutes to cover this 2.5km section of trail. There are 9 small foot bridges in various states of disrepair, & short stout climbs after each of them (as a visiting friend has said…”I have never seen so much uphill in a downhill section!!”). You can even hear the race finish announcer as if you are almost there. There are also quite a few tourists making the hike out to a rocky viewpoint, so it’s a bit like running through a labyrinth of human bodies. The tourists are often oblivious to others on the trail & sometimes walk 3 to 4 abreast (on single track….I dunno how they do it!?), while the racers are running/walking muddy zombies at this point & all they want to do is get it over with.
I crossed one of the longer bridges & caught up to another fellow. He saw me coming & realizing that he might lose a position, picked up his pace. I would pass him on the drops, & he would pass me on the climbs. I sensed a bad scene from an Ironman finisher’s highlight reel. Luckily, the final section is a steep drop to the road & he ceded to me. I put in a final kick towards the finish & managed to smile as I crossed the finish line. I got my medal, hugs from my wife & the kids, & then I grabbed some fluids & walked down to the ocean to soak my legs in the cold water. It felt great. I chatted with people as they finished & was really happy to see some of their finishing times…..almost 50% of the field at this event are first time ultrarunners, so the emotions are flying pretty high. Many of them take part in the Sunday morning training runs, so it’s a bit like family. Normally, my highlight of the season is the Knee Knacker banquet that follows the race…everybody has a story & it’s a nice bit of closure after almost 10 weeks of training together. Unfortunately, my stomach wasn’t fully recovered & the thought/smell of food would send it reeling….so I had to miss out.
As for myself lately, I have been kicking my rear for what could have been. For a few days, I couldn’t look at the race website, the results, or anything to do with Knee Knacker. My medal lays in a bowl with the junk mail & USB cables. I just want to move on & get it out of my head. The problem though, is that this race gets into your blood. Even non-runners know something about the mystique of this race. Everywhere I’ve gone the last few days would elicit “How’d your race go?”….at the coffee shop, work, the grocery store, the beer store…I have been putting on a smile & saying “Oh…the first ½ was great & then I had some problem, but then finished strong” …”Yeah, your time looked pretty good.”….”Yep”. What I want to say is “It sucked….all my training was wasted….I walked a ¼ of the race….I whined like a toddler….I was robbed”. But in the big picture, a 6:41 finishing time is respectable. It wasn’t my goal, but I know a few people that would really be happy with that. But it wasn’t my goal…hell, last year I was a full 8 minutes slower, but I can accept that….granted, my goals were different when I had just got my leg out of a cast….but I also don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade. Truth is, many people worked their tails off (literally…one fellow showed me the 5 holes he has cinched on his belt since starting training!) & should be proud of their finish. They don’t need to hear my sniveling.
I hate excuses, & I hate sour grapes. Truth is, I was hoping for a whole lot more. I know that’s just part of racing. I’ll just have to get myself out of my own ass.
I guess I’ll just put my head down & train a bit harder for my next race….& begin training for Knee Knacker 2010 tomorrow.
Gawd I love this event!