Location: Victoria, BC ♦ Distance: 53km ♦ Elevation: 2971m
For this race review I feel like I should just direct you to the Coastline Endurance Running website which features the Project Talaria video from the 2015 race. In case you want to check it out (and I highly recommend you do) here it is:
This race took place just outside of Victoria and traveled up, over, and along the beautiful finlayson arm trails (…and then back again). It was a day filled with ocean views and Arbutus trees, a Vancouver Island forest specialty. It had Vancouver Island vibes right from start to finish. The race began at the Goldstream group campsite, where music and a warm fire welcomed us to the start.
On the morning of the race it was chilly, but the forecast called for a warm day so I went with my usual tights, tank top and hat, but packed gloves and my rain jacket just to be safe. I added my drop bag to the pile, checked in, and got ready to go. After a pre-race briefing we crowded in at the start line, as usual, all hovering roughly 20 feet back from the actual start line until just seconds before it was time to go.
One kilometer in we ran through a ‘calf high’ (mid thigh for me) river, but to be fair I know people who avoided the water altogether so there likely was a dry way around, I just didn’t take it. Knowing the river crossing was coming I had strategically started in shoes I did not want to do the entire race in, and placed my ideal shoes in the drop bag so I could put them on at the 12km mark and have dry feet for the rest of the race (secretly I think I plan more than I train…).
The trail starts off following the Arbutus Ridge and Gold Mine trails making for a nice flowy start to the race and acting as a great warm up for Mt. Finlayson. Then comes the 1.5km up and approximately 300m gained as Mt. Finlayson is the first of the big climbs. It felt so familiar. Knowing the trails was an advantage I had never experienced before. I knew my usual steps up Mt. Finlayson as I have covered this climb many times. Admittedly, when I was living on the island I usually headed here on Friday nights, for what I called ‘full effort Friday’ where I’d test my personal best time up and then run down the back and around the longer, quiet farm road. My familiarity with the trail actually helped most on the descent, as I noticed myself finding a comfortable flow down the steep trail.
Off through the Highlands and over to Gowlland Tod Provincial Park where we ran up and across the most scenic ocean-view trail. This portion, strictly speaking to Gowlland Tod to Jocelyn Hill, of the race is much more difficult on the way out as there is more elevation gain in this direction, so thankfully the views make it well worth it.
After this climb comes the long awaited descent. I can’t lie, all I caught myself thinking about during the long, multiple kilometer run down to sea level was ‘after Mt. Work I have to come back up all of this…’ I kept pulling myself back into the moment and trying to enjoy the downhill and get any time benefits I could out of it. In a long descent in an ultra I also find myself trying to preserve my legs. This section really mentally challenged me to focus, stay positive, and not fret about what I wasn’t even working on yet.
I found with knowing the course I had a physical advantage of knowing how to strategize, but had to challenge myself mentally to stay in the present moment. Knowing the climbs and what was ahead was hard, so I spent a lot of the race pulling together my thoughts to let the uphills and climbs be hard, because that was not something I would be able to avoid, or even want to. I just needed to accept it and enjoy the challenges in a different way. Being an out and back I can see how it is easy to get caught up in each downhill on the way out, knowing you will see it again but in the opposite direction. Once I was able to get the rest of my thoughts out of my head I was in a good groove with breathing deeply, relaxing, and letting climbs hurt. In turn, I was able to then cruise downhill much more joyfully.
Mt. Work is another climb from sea level up to 450m. We went up and over, then back again. Thankfully this out and back section started and ended with the most entertaining aid station! There were cow bells tied up throughout the forest for what seemed like forever, bringing noise and a refreshing novelty to this section.
On the way back rather than going up Mt. Finlayson we went around, but it seriously felt like we went almost the whole way back up. I did not remember the climb up to the trail that wraps around it being such a big climb! We took a different trail back through to the finish line (rather than heading back onto Arbutus Ridge). On this new trail I somehow found the power to pretend every little hill was the last one, then one more last one, and one more…I was running and fully knowingly tricking myself. It is funny what happens when you have been out there for almost 8 hours. I found a really playful head space on roughly the last 5km, knowing the end was near and reminding myself that running is play time and it should feel like it.
The finish line at Finalyson Arm was energized, with Myke (RD) giving the finish line hugs and the field was filled with friends and trail family. This race finished off as every great does (when parks allow), with beer, massage tables, and food! I indulged in all three.
Finalyson Arm was a tough course, with beautiful views of the ocean and forest. The aid stations, support crews along the way, and finish line party exemplified the trail running community perfectly. Next year there will be a 25km option again, 53km, and a new 100km (or maybe 106) course, just incase you want to see the course twice!