A first draft of my race report from the half marathon I ran

The Rookie Report

Heiko’s Hellish Half, Fernie BC For pictures (123 of them, a few doubles) click the link http://www.flickr.com/photos/pasivirta/sets/72157635223861469/

This is first race I have ever done by myself, and the second trail run I have ever participated in. My cousin has cajoled me into this sport, and I am glad. The truth is that we invented it when we were 15, but so did many others. We ran down mountains with huge packs, falling and rebounding like teenagers can, and this race reminded me of those days, specifically because of the final descent, which folks had dutifully reminded me to save some energy for, thankfully.

The race day was gorgeous, just enough cloud cover to keep us cool, and the people at the checkpoints on the ridge tops were quite cold it seemed, there was gusting wind off and on, and I think the runners appreciated it. I sure did.  The scenery was unbelievable, mountain spires towering overhead, beautiful waterfalls, and a huge variety of terrain.

The race began after a 45 minute drive up a treacherous mountain road. The group of us racers were chatting excitedly while listening to music on the bus. When we got there, a number of racers visited the bushes in final preparation (feel free to edit that out:) while the rest waited in the chilly morning air. There were 46 racers who finished, in times ranging from 2.5 hours to 6 hours plus.

We got started right at 8, I ran with the lead pack of runners, quickly realizing I wouldn’t keep up, I backed off and settled into a pace that seemed my own, and started to get into the zone. This being my first long distance run, I wasn’t sure what to expect. first ascent was quite steep, so I went quite slowly up it. There were beautiful waterfalls, ladders and lush rainforest sections. It was a great and intense introduction. Once we were over the first ascent, we were into a gorgeous meadow that was relatively flat, but still the uphill battle continued. It was less steep but there was no rest for the weary. The scenery continued to be amazing through Bisaro Canyon, where there was a cave that had been visited so often, the trail seemed to beckon us in, the runners who were nearby also thought the trail went inside or through, but we saw the pink flags taking us the other way. The flagging, it should be noted, was great, and having never been on the trail, I only wandered one time, and it was only a few feet past where I should have gone. The organizers should be commended for this. The flags were small, and simple, but clearly laid out and very helpful. After Bisaro Canyon, we hiked to Three Sisters Pass, which was the first of three passes, and came with an epic shale trail. I was gratified to get there and take a little break in preparation for some decent descent. After this little rest and a gel, I ran down towards fairy meadows which is appropriately named. It would be easy to see any of the Lord Of The Rings have scenes filmed here, or Narnia, or any beautiful fantasy film. It is easily one of the most beautiful places I have been to, and I am a native of BC who has spent my life doing various mountain related activities, despite this being my first foray into the trial running scene. The second pass we came to was also quite exciting, I think because it seemed like such a milestone, I felt like I could do it, now that I had come this far. And again the downhill section that followed was such a nice break from the constant uphill climbing, my legs were beginning to notice. The checkpoints were also better stocked than advertised, which was encouraging. I had enough with me for the whole race, but I was glad there was a bit of water in case we needed it. During the middle section, I kept on coming around different corners and looking up at steep rocky pitches thinking ‘where on earth do we go from here?’ which was kind of fun, and then the path would go on these really unexpected routes, through the trees, on the edge of the cliff, it was great. When I finally got to the top of Mt Fernie, it almost surprised me, but there he was, the last checkpoint guy, eating a can of beans and calling me in the radio, perched atop the 3 foot wide ridge overlooking the Elk Valley. I took a short break, asked how long it should take me to get down, he said 40-60 minutes is average,  and then texted my wife and told her I would be more than an hour :)

But this, this is the fun part. If I like trail running, it’s for the downhill part. I already could feel slight blisters forming on my heels, but I also knew if I was going to pass anyone, this was the time and place, so I went. I went hard. In the last descent, we drop a full 1000 metres of elevation over a mere 3KM. That seems like a 33% grade to me, which is pretty steep. I loved it. My knees didn’t, but as long as I kept bouncing down the mountain it was ok. When I tried to stop, that was the hard part. The second hard part was that after spending all of my energy on this downhill grind which really was excellent and fun, I still had about 1.5 km of nearly flat ground to run on, and my gas tank was pretty empty. But I finished, and I loved it. I finished with a guy I had passed, who caught up to me on this flat ending, and we chatted a bit about how beaten we were, and it was great. My cousin always tells me that one of the great things about it is the cameraderie, and it’s true. Now I feel a bond with anyone who has done anything like this, because you can’t understand by reading an article or looking at pictures, you have to taste and see what it’s like. Eat the dirt, breathe the dust, smell the waterfall and feel the crushing descent in your legs and then when it’s all over, know that you will have to do it again.