Rain was tapping tirelessly against the bright orange fly of my tent. I remained motionless in my sleeping bag, listening. Realizing that waiting any longer would only make me be late for the race and would not make it stop, I got up. It was raining, yes. But it didn’t sound like too much of a downpour from inside the tent…
Sounds, however, can be deceiving.
The rain wasn’t extraordinarily heavy – the drops were characteristic of a nice springtime shower. However, there were many of them. They fell, unrelenting, onto the ground, magicking puddles into existence just about everywhere. Gloomy clouds clung stubbornly onto mountaintops. Their intention was clear: making sure that the participants of the day’s race had a soppy, slippery, muddy, and thoroughly soaked run ahead of them.
The best I could do was to put on my waterproof gear before exiting the tent. I was going to become incredibly wet in two hours’ time, yes, but I had no intention of letting the water get to me beforehand. I crawled out of the tent, unlocked my car, which was parked right next to it, in a flat area at the end of a logging road in Squamish – my preferred dirtbag campsite in the area –, proceeded to boil some water and sat, sheltered, in the boot of my Subaru Outback, a warm bowl of home-made instant oatmeal in my hands, contemplating the day ahead.
It was going to be an interesting one, for sure.
When you participate in a race that is held in your area, everything is pretty easy. You wake up in your own comfortable bed, get ready, drive to wherever the event is held, warm-up, and run. However, when you register for an out-of-town event, suddenly a pile of logistics heaves itself on top of all other race-related preparations. It is, however, a valuable and rewarding experience. Even if it ends up pouring rain – and you end up camping because you’re too cheap to do anything synonymous to ‘comfortable.’
I was aching for some more trail-race experience, the feeling of exhilaration I felt during the Nimble Bear 25K still etched vividly in my mind. I was going to participate in the Dirty Feet half-marathon in Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park, which is basically my backyard. However, grander designs in the form of my family coming all the way from Europe to see me graduate thwarted this plan, albeit for a most important reason.
Thus I settled for a race in Squamish – neither too far nor too foreign to me. I did spend some quality time in the Howe Sound area last summer and therefore knew where I could pitch my tent without any of that money-spending hassle.
Part of the Coast Mountain Trail Series, Squamish’s Survival of the Fittest 18K takes participants through the lush forests in the mountains behind Quest University, on one of the best trail networks (especially for mountain biking) in Western Canada – in my opinion, at least. The course was set up to be a real treat. It snaked its way up the main climbing trail, crossing a few of the downhill biking trails in the process – course marshals were making sure bikers and runners remained safely distant from one another. It then took the racers down Angry Midget, which, as one may guess, is a fun but steep and technical singletrack where proper channeling of emotions is essential to avoid wipe-outs. After crossing Garibaldi Rd (which is one of the dirt roads leading up to Garibaldi Provincial Park), the course took on slightly rockier multi-use trails such as STS and Bonsai.
It was a really fun race and even though it was shorter than the Nimble Bear, I cannot decide which one I found harder overall. This is partly because the set of factors surrounding the race could not have been more different. Nimble Bear was at home. I was fully rested and, furthermore, the weather was clement. Survival of the Fittest, however, required a 6hr+ drive the previous day, a night in a tent. Not to mention the rain. Surely, I am not made out of sugar and do not dissolve in a downpour, but it does drain energy quicker if the entire day, from the moment of waking up, has to be designed with careful attention not to get too wet (at least until the race). All in all, I was definitely more tired for this race than my previous one. I clearly noticed this on the uphill sections, which were mostly walked.
On the downhill, however, I was able to let loose and bomb down the trail. I have come to the realization that I am surprisingly sure-footed and speedy down the trail. The downhill sections are where I was able to pass people and leave them behind until the very end. Even though the trails were really muddy and slippery, I managed to work them without sliding or stumbling. In fact, my fast cadence worked wonders – by taking many small steps and increasing the turnover rate, I drastically reduced the time that my feet and the ground were in contact. Doing so made it almost impossible for my foot to slide, as it simply did not have the time to exert the necessary force on the ground to overcome the power of friction.
I was soaked to the bones and very muddy when I passed the finish line. I am quite certain that I had never been this wet in my life. To be fair, it’s not often that I voluntarily spend almost three hours in the pouring rain without wearing rain gear. More so, I usually take a nice warm shower after becoming drenched outside – in this case, not an option. I changed into some dry clothes in the bathroom of the Squamish Visitor Centre after the race, before getting a well-deserved bowl of chili and raw vegan pad thai at a coffee shop in town. I spent the entire afternoon there, not wishing to return to my campsite until the evening – I was a little done with all that rain.
The following day was dry, and I took to the trails again. This time, however, I did so riding my mountain bike. Even though my legs were screaming in protest, I could not miss the opportunity to ride down my favorite trail, Half Nelson. Furthermore, my friend Sacha had finally returned from her time at sea working on a super yacht, and a celebratory bike ride was in order.
This race was an experience that pushed my comfort zone further in many aspects. It was an adventure in its own right and, even though it was difficult and rendered me the dirtiest and smelliest I’ve been in a long time (camping + running + not showering), I am extremely glad that I took the plunge and tried for something different, further away from home and the comforts that it brings. This is something we should all strive to do, as we only grow mentally and enhance our physical abilities when we go beyond the limits we like to set ourselves, when we go beyond what feels safe and easily bearable.
(Photo courtesy of Brian McCurdy)