Location: Whistler, BC ♦ Distance: 55km ♦ Elevation: 3350m
I registered for this race moments after registration opened and long before realizing it was 2 weekends after the Finlayson Arm 50km. Either way I figured it would be an amazing race full of views, climbs, and cursing Gary Robbins. My predictions were spot on.
At the finish line I was telling Gary how I unexpectedly spent the first half thanking him, he knows people usually save this for when the race is done. To be clear I thanked him at the finish line as well, but there were a few kilometers where I thought maybe I wouldn’t this time around…But what I was telling him at the finish line was that his mandatory gear list really saved my butt. I would not have been well prepared and it would have been a dark start, with cold hands and frozen ears. Thankfully he was way ahead of my summer time mindset and had a headlamp, gloves, and toque or buff on the mandatory gear list.
The race started off in the dark with a beautiful 3 or 4km gentle warm up. Then we headed up. We kept going up, reaching alpine meadows and glacial views. We started to cross paths with the 25km racers heading the opposite way. I was fortunate to spend most of the climb with a fellow local runner – Tara who made this time fly. We chatted away and the kilometers passed smoothly. After a long climb the trail led to the epic helicopter aid station. Yes, there was a helicopter that delivered supplies to the bottom of a glacier for us! It was incredible. Look closely in the photo and you will see the people at the aid station and runners spread out on the trail.
From here there was a nice descent for us in the 55km before we headed across more boulders and up a thin rock shoot (below). Then we were in the clear for the time being. We ran down, all the way down to the elevation we started at. Essentially at this point half of the elevation gain was done.
As you can probably piece together, that meant we had to do the other half of the elevation gain. Right back up a parallel trail towards the same alpine level helicopter supported aid station. This trail, despite the steep climbing, was beautiful. I had a few dark moments when I realized where we were headed and how high I had to climb again. I really mentally struggled with pushing myself up and out from the aid station, with about 15km to go and 1 steep wall in front of me, I knew it was close, but I felt like a slug. Thankfully Brian (the race photographer) knows where runners will need a reason to smile and he was right at the top of the climb.
Regardless of where my head and legs went I kept moving and switched into relentless forward progress mode…leaving no room for other thoughts, because at this point, any thoughts that came in kind of sucked. So onward. As I ventured back up over the wall and back tracked through the alpine meadows I stayed focused on the beautiful sights around me and others that would come. Getting back into the forest was such a relief, this section looks like it is right out from a Dr. Seuss story (I guess he got that stuff from somewhere!) with green old man’s beard covering the trees.
The final descent was fun and intimidating. Knowing the finish line was near, but still peering down to Whistler village from what looked like a long long long ways away it was hard to imagine that I could reach the bottom in the distance I had left. I moved on and kept reaching my legs forward down the steep trails. When I reached the road and found a familiar face (ATRC representing–thanks Trevor!!) it was a total refresher that helped gear me up for the final few kilometers to the finish.
Crossing that finish line I was pumped on finishing this race and happy to have felt strong most of the way. I practically jumped for joy (mostly on the inside because I probably would have fallen down if I did jump) when Gary told me I was the 3rd place female. My first ever podium finish in an ultra, 2 weeks after a 5th place finish at Finlayson Arm. I finished the race in a time of 8:03, just 8 minutes behind my Finalyson arm time with an extra kilometer or two on this course!
The post race part was spectacular, with enthusiastic announcements and cheers for each runner coming in. There was a delicious BBQ, free massages, and excellent company. I look forward to next year, even now that I know what it feels like to go up and over that mountain twice.