“You’re running the 50k, right? How big is the big climb ahead?” I asked the woman who was probably the leading female runner of the day’s ultra race as I ran up beside her. We’d just left the first aid station, about 11 kilometers into the race (and 36 for her, as she was doing her second loop).
And with that, she took off, chasing after some goofy, long-haired and scrawny character who had started singing Oh Canada on top of his lungs while darting into the aid station only a couple minutes earlier.
On Saturday, April 23rd, I ran my longest race to date: the Nimble Bear 25k in Rose Valley Regional Park, in West Kelowna. It wasn’t only my longest race; it was also the longest run of any kind, be it road or trail, that I have done in my life. Talk about it being a big deal… But, considering that I want to run the Full Stoke in Revelstoke at the end of August – 43.6km of pure mountain-running bliss against a gorgeous National Park backdrop – it was really only the start to something bigger. A sort of launch pad to get me closer to my goal of running ultras.
This race did more than merely kick my running ability into higher gear by showing my mind and spirit that I can, indeed, run far. It showed me a new community, a new world that now has me hooked and begging for more – trail and mountain races.
Of course I already loved running wild on trails – I mean, how could you not? It’s a light and speedy way to explore places. It always feels like an adventure to throw down on the trail. You get to tire yourself out in beautiful surroundings and, at the same time, you feed your soul on Mother Nature’s beauty. But starting in this race got me hooked even more.
Mainly, I was fascinated by how laid-back and relaxed the trail running community is, especially when comparing it to road running. Have you ever participated in a road race, let’s say a half marathon, where you chat up other contestants at random, laugh with them, and take photos, all while running? Yeah, me neither. It’s almost as if the word ‘race’ in a trail running setting gives a false sense of competitiveness. Of course, there are numerous competitive people going for the podium. However, most people are not in it to win it. They participate in a race for its atmosphere, its community and because it’s fun. It is like going for a really long group run with an impressively big group of like-minded people.
Another thing which struck me is how good running in a trail race makes you feel. The concept of ‘runner’s high’ should be familiar to all – this good and addicting feeling that running, or any other physical activity, can induce. Obviously, it all comes down to chemical and hormonal reactions in the body. But I like to think that this feeling is about more than that – mainly, a feeling of utter pride for managing to do something so good for one’s body and for being able to pull through, despite our brain, the world’s laziest couch potato, telling us otherwise.
The ‘runner’s high’ is not only restricted to trail and mountain running, of course. However, it felt as if this rush of endorphins was higher across the board at the Nimble Bear than it would ever be at any other road racing event. Maybe it has to do with the laid-back atmosphere, or with the fact that you were running through stunning landscape?
I think it all ties together somehow. I, for sure, know that I want to participate in more races – and I know that I will. In fact, with the help of my trusted friend, Google, I looked for other events to participate in before the Trailstoke in August. I signed up for Survival of the Fittest, an 18-kilometer race through Squamish’s lush forests, on May 28th. And, if I can give any piece of advice, it’s to see for yourself: find a local trail race, even a short one, and see what it’s like. You’ll probably end up like me – hopelessly longing for more.
The big climb I had been warned about, according to the elevation profile, turned out to be roughly 360m of mean and steep altitude gain over less than a kilometer and a half. The trail was bone dry and about as tacky as the skin of a wet rainbow trout, making for many a situation of straight-up scrambling on all fours.
To my biggest surprise, as I finally reached the top of the grueling climb, drenched in sweat and all, my quads burning, I instantly kicked back into gear and here I was, actually feeling good and running after what should have left me feeling weak. Those runners I kept in sight while forcing my legs up the hill were suddenly left behind, and I felt like I was flying.
But the saying ‘it’s all downhill from here’ did not apply to the entire post-mega-hill portion of the course. There was one section of uphill left. But, seeing how far I’d already come, I thought that it was probably not going to be too bad.
How wrong I was.
The last five kilometers of the race were difficult. Really, every single incline was walked. And it just kept going uphill for what felt like an eternity. My brain was screaming at me to put an end to this already. But then, a tall runner with pink skulls on his gaiters and a blue number on his race bib – indicating that he was running the ultra – came swooshing up behind me. As he passed, I asked how he was doing.
He was beaming. He was stoked. He had run 41km at this point and was absolutely excited and happy. I was awestruck. Because I realized, right there and then, that I actually felt the same.