I found myself signed up to race The North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco 50-miler. Now the above video doesn't necessarily give a good indication of the hilliness of the course, but this elevation profile
does. Don't panic, the Americans haven't embraced the metric system yet, so mercifully, the y-axis is in feet. What I'm eventually going to get round to saying here is that I needed to get good at running hills. Or, more realistically, at least used to the idea of spending lots of time trudging up them.
Canadians don't have very good imaginations when it comes to naming their roads. So it'll come as no surprise to learn that "Mountain Highway" is exactly that: a long, winding road that takes you from suburban North Vancouver to the top of Grouse Mountain. It's pretty unrelenting and probably the least interesting place to run on the whole of the North Shore. But training-wise, it's unfortunately hard to beat in terms of getting experience of long, constant, just-about-runnable uphill.
Knowing this, myself and Alex had resolved to run up and down Mountain Highway on Sunday. Twice. It's just over 12 km from top to bottom, so you're looking at roughly 50 km of hilly goodness. Neither of us were particularly enthralled by the prospect of this training run. This only increased for me on Sunday morning when I noticed that the ankle stiffness I'd started to experience on my run the previous day was still lingering. "I dunno", my internal monologue muttered, "perhaps you shouldn't go out and run for five hours today". But then the competitive jerk side of my brain chipped in with a brusque "Shut up body, you'll do what I tell you". So that's how we found ourselves at 8 o'clock on a chilly Sunday morning at the base of Mountain Highway, desperately trying to distract ourselves from what lay ahead.
Fortunately, the grade of this road is just about shallow enough to sustain an actual running pace, so we began with a gentle jog that was still fast enough that the first few kilometres clicked by fairly quickly. I'd like to think that the wilderness inspired us to ponder some of life's greater philosophical questions, but really we spent most of the ascent gossiping about mutual friends and making supportive noises about each other's questionable life decisions. Still, in no time we were getting high up the mountain. At this point, despite the fact that the weather had been unseasonably dry for the past few days, a number of icy patches appeared on the road. It was while gingerly trying to step over one of these that I slipped and fell flat on my back, thus maintaining my impeccable record of wiping out on all the least technical surfaces in the Lower Mainland (the wide, flat trails of the Pacific Spirit Park around UBC are my chief bête noire).
Still, we made it to the top without too much trouble and turned around to eagerly embrace the descent. This was altogether more fun and at 10:31, only a minute later than my predicted ETA, we were back at the bottom. In the previous few days, Alex had been rightfully worried about me being her only source of entertainment for a five-hour training run and had been desperately trying to recruit
|Yeah, you're smiling now...|
The last few kilometres to the top seemed to drag on a lot more this time; yes, we were starting to get a bit tired. And cold. And hungry. But eventually the Grouse Mountain chalet loomed out of the clouds. There was a temptation to go inside to warm up briefly, but I was worried about the danger of being seduced by the warmth, coffee and smell of baked goods. So after a brieft photo op
we turned back around again for our final leg. Ben had clearly been fantasising about the downhill stretch for some time and quickly settled into a rapid pace. Alex and I, however, were definitely feeling it a lot more in our thrashed quads. While I'd only managed an easy trot around the seawall the previous day, Alex gradually revealed that she'd been on an epic 3-hour mountain run on the Sunshine Coast, and I think it was finally starting to catch up. Still, by this point, the novelty of being constantly blizzarded in the face was starting to wear thin so we pushed on, and soon enough, were back at the car. We felt pretty pleased with ourselves. We'd got through a run that was tough both mentally and physically, and Ben hadn't pushed us off the side of the mountain in anger. Nearly 50 km of running including 1,500 m of elevation gain in just over five hours. A solid morning's work.
- Pre-run: juice, oatmeal with banana and honey, cup of coffee
- While running: water (about half a litre?)
- Post-run: chocolate milk, a kamut bar (I've no idea what kamut is, but it was delicious, so thanks to Alex's friend Lucy for that), more coffee
- Brunch at the Tomahawk BBQ: two cups of coffee and the "Yukon Breakfast" which consisted of two eggs, two slices of toast, hash browns and most of a small pig, thinly sliced and fried.