The Vancouver 100 is a double Kneeknacker, twice along the Baden-Powell trail following the Kneeknacker race course, from Deep Cove to Nelson Canyon and back, with a bit of bonus road running at the beginning to round up the distance. That’s 100km through some of the gnarliest, not very runner-friendly, technical trails with nearly 5000m of elevation gain and loss. I’ve never run a 100k before, let alone a 50 miler or anything near this distance. But the Van 100, a Club Fat Ass event was on my birthday weekend and I had nothing else better to do than to spend a day in the woods. I figured 30 miles out and 30 miles back, along the BP “Birthday Party” trail would be a good way to celebrate turning 30. This isn’t really a race, more of a fun event. Most people running were using this as a long training run for another ultra-race later in the summer.
A few days earlier, I enjoyed thinking about these three questions on the registration form.
Nobody would accuse me of over-training for the Vancouver 100. I spent all winter skiing and I started easing back into running sometime in mid-April, when the ski days were much spaced out and I figured I should get a bit more fitness before a nine-day ski traverse in early May. I finished that ski traverse, with a new level of tolerance for suffering after long days of heavy packs, hot weather and challenging snow conditions, including some mono-skiing and waist deep postholing. My favourite workout is the Donut Run. I run from either Lynn Valley or Cleveland Dam to Deep Cove, roughly one donut for every 12km, a good motivator. One of these donut runs, usually lasting three hours or less, turned into a five hour run from Cleveland to Deep Cove. I worked an aid station in my workout, stopping at Alex and Maddy’s place for two hours part way through to sit around and do nothing. Note to self: limit time at aid stations, as awesome as they are.
I did a few more after-work runs from my house, up the gradual incline of the Mosquito Creek trail and then up the Grouse Grind or BCMC a few times. Probably the best training, was a two and half day fast packing along 128km of the Sunshine Coast trail over the May long weekend. There’s nothing like slogging a long distance with a pack to build up the big hiking muscles. And finally, on what was a very hot June weekend, I did two back to back long runs. Saturday was a 48km run from Lynn Valley to Horseshoe Bay, followed by a Sunday run from Nelson Canyon to Cleveland Dam. I was happy with my “ultra” pace on those runs. I proceeded to spend the rest of the week doing some important liquid carbo-loading.
Finishing my run with a swim in Whyte Lake. I couldn’t help but wonder if the people in the middle of the lake with a cooler of beer and inflatable boats knew something about hot summer days that I didn’t.
As you can tell from reading below, I mostly run to eat. I try my best to time and finish my runs somewhere with good food. In this case, it was happy hour at Olive and Anchor in Horseshoe Bay.
On Friday night, I drove out to Nelson Canyon and cached two Gatorade bottles under a rock. Hopefully, I would remember where they were. Then I drove to Cleveland Dam and parked my car on Nancy Green Way and took the bus home. The car would be my aid station, 1/4 of the way in, and then 3/4 of the way. I left a change of clothes, a cooler full of various food and coke and Gatorade and extra shoes and socks, the usual stuff.
I caught a ride with Doris and Avery (thanks guys!) to Deep Cove to make the 5:00am start time. This means a 3:45am alarm. I hoped I could finish the run before midnight to catch the last bus out of Deep Cove and home. Wishful thinking? We sat in the car, as the first raindrops began to fall. The forecast called for 10mm rain on Saturday morning and drying out by the afternoon with possible late afternoon sunshine.
Hiding inside the car.
What have I signed up for? Both repeat offenders, Doris finished in 2014 and Avery stopped at Cypress in 2015 when his “legs stopped working.” A sub-20 hour run was our goal this year.
How do I do this running thing? Step 1. Figure out how to wear your pack. Step 2. Left foot forward. Step 3. Right foot forward. Step 4. Repeat.
We joined the other crazy people, 25-30 others, a mix of veterans and first-timers like me, at the start line (a fire hydrant on Panorama Drive). We jogged along to the end of the road to add enough distance for 100km, turned around and jogged back to the start of the Baden Powell trail, when I bumped into Dave. He started earlier at 3am from Lynn Valley, hoping to catch the mass start. Unlike other years since the inaugural run in 2005, participants this year and last could complete the 100km distance in segments or full, on any dates up to the race cutoff of 4pm, at the Narrows Pub in North Van. There were runners finishing just as we started, having started on Friday morning. The woods were filled with runners on their Van 100 attempt. Throughout the day I wondered where everybody had started from, as you could do out and back’s from Cleveland Dam or start from at the other end from Nelson Canyon.
My plan for the day was pretty simple, run the flats, hike the uphills and mostly run the downhills with some downhill walking breaks for the long descents at Eagle Bluffs and Hollyburn Chute. I thought I had a good idea of the BP trail, but nothing is marked for this “race.” I quickly fell behind running on the flat road, slowly worked my way up to Quarry Rock as the drizzle turned into steady rain. I have no hope of ever catching anybody on the downhills, but I seemed to be good at catching up to people on the climbs. I could see Matt and others just ahead of me when I pulled onto Old Buck. I quickly lost them again heading down the Seymour Grind. Going off route is inevitable over 100km of marked but unflagged trails and I managed to go right past the log at the top of the Grind, dropping down some steep switchbacks towards Forever After, a nearby mountain bike trail. I retraced my steps and found Avery and Jeremy going the right direction. I ran with Avery for a bit and we passed a few other runners going out to Deep Cove, including Dikesh, Brown Dude in the Forest, wearing a fashionable and functional Cheetos bag. He would later finish in 33:37, usurping the previous winner of the Best-Value prize in the Van 100. I lost Avery climbing out of the Seymour River and once again I was jogging by myself.
I didn’t see anybody else until I caught up to Ran climbing up above Mountain Highway. We have run together before in the Kneeknacker races and training runs, but I had a hard time recognizing him without his trademark plaid shirt. We would end up running together for most of the way. I usually run bymself when I “train,” but it was nice to have somebody else at a similar pace to go along with today. This was Ran’s second V100. Last year, he finished in just over 17 hours but endured stomach problems on the Black Mountain climb, which made the race an unpleasant experience. 17 hours sounded fast but I thought I could hold the current pace. The conditions were hot and dry last year in contrast to this year’s 10C temperature and rain. It was still pouring rain when I reached Cleveland Dam, 4 hours in, 1/4 of the way done. I decided to change my shoes, switching to a dry pair of shoes that didn’t have holes in them. I switched into my Dynafit Felines, which turned out to be a good shoe for the wet and slippery conditions on the next 50km. Without a crew, I also crammed as much food as I could into my pack for the next section. Potatoes, chips, m&m’s, oreos, bananas, pretzels….
I caught up to Ran again up in the British Properties, chatting with Sammy and Kim (the two-course record holders, 13:40 and 16:29), neither of whom were running today but out of offer encouragement for all the crazies. I took my time climbing up the Hollyburn Chute, the first major climb of the day and good time to slow down and enjoy the pace. On the cross-country ski trail, I caught up to Matt, who was not having the best morning due to stomach issues. We ran up to the Hollyburn junction together. Somewhere behind us, was Lindsay, getting lost on the wrong trail and running the Vancouver 110 instead.
I thought I might take a photo here and there, but my phone stayed inside a ziplock bag inside my pack for most of the day while it was raining out. This was on the Hollyburn Chute just before passing these runners.
The Hollyburn section was slow going today. We passed Craig who was coming from the other direction. Nasty was the only word he had to describe the Black Mountain section and Eagle Bluff rock slabs. The trail along the flank of Hollyburn was slow going, muddy puddles, patches of snow, creek crossings, and slippery roots. I wish I took a photo of all the mud but my fingers were too wet to use my phone. I was just walking most of the trail and then we caught up to Randy. Randy won the inaugural back to back Kneeknacker, “the Double,” the 96km distance in 2005. We popped into the Cypress ski area, where Ran’s wife and daughter were hiding from the rain underneath a small roof with a cooler full of deliciousness. Not one to turn down food, I gladly accept some watermelon and potato. Thanks!
I walked up the Black Mountain switchbacks, cramming more food down. You might have mistaken the conditions for a rainy October run as we jogged through the damp June-ary conditions on the Black Mountain plateau. Muddy puddles were everywhere, completely different from the bone dry conditions last weekend. Back on track, Lindsay passed us below Black Mountain and he was long gone by the time we popped out into the bluffs. It was ping-pong ball conditions higher up, but the fog was just breaking and there was a view of Howe Sound and West Vancouver straight below us. We passed Gary who was slower descending the wet rocks. It was no joke today and I was having to have my grippy shoes on. This was only my second time ever going down in this direction. I figured out last weekend it was hard to run until below the boulder fields, so I was happy to hike down in the wet conditions.
Last weekend, it was so warm that I jumped into Whyte Lake to cool off. This time, I was still wearing my rain jacket all the way to the parking lot as the morning showers eased off. Gary and Mike caught up and all four of us jogged into the parking lot at about the same time. 7:45 for the first half, a little faster than I expected. Lindsay was just getting ready to go back up. I wasn’t planning to stop as I still had a lot of food left in my pack. But Ran’s crew was just too awesome. We sat down, and I amazed myself when I basically inhaled two slices of cheese pizza without any effort. That talent must be from all those years of hiking in the mountains with alpine sandwiches and calzones for lunch and dinner. And more watermelon and then some chicken broth. Thanks everybody!
Mmm pizza. Thank you!
Ran at Nelson Canyon parking lot
I was hoping that I would have enough energy to get through the second half of the course. I started walking out at 8:10. Sitting around eating pizza is fun, but eventually, you have to get up and start going uphill again. Lindsay was way ahead now but I could see Gary just ahead, still jogging up the hills. The rest of the Van 100 runners were just coming down through the forest now. I passed Gary in the creek and I just tried to go uphill without using too much energy. Luckily, I love going uphill so it wasn’t too hard to slow down and just breathe lightly as I eased my way up the boulder fields and up on Eagle Bluffs, this time with a better view. Mike was just behind me now and Ran not too far back. It was cold and wet again through Black Mountain, the jacket came back on, through the mud and down to the switchbacks. The climb went well but I had to slow down and stop running down to save the legs. I haven’t done a lot of downhill running this year. I came into Cypress at 10 hours.
A break at Eagle Bluff to enjoy the view.
Running by myself, I moved slowly through the rooty and wet mess around Hollyburn Mountain. The sun came out on the cross-country ski trails. I warmed up and trotted along, down into the Hollyburn Chute. The section to Cleveland Dam went well, only my second time running it this year and I didn’t even miss a turnoff. All the junctions going this direction are almost muscle memory by now. I ran across Cleveland Dam, 75km done, 12 hours down.
There was a MEC trail race today too, and I saw them again 8 hours later from the morning, now dismantling their aid-station. Meanwhile, Matt was taking care of all the Van 100 runners with a pop-up aid station with delicious soup. Thanks, Matt! I walked over to my car and changed my shoes again. There is a lot of walking on a day like today. The top of my left foot was starting to rub and I tried to tape it, but it would bother me for the rest of the run. When I took off my shoes, in the Deep Cove parking lot, it looked like I had stepped in glass and then patched everything up in moleskin and tape, minus the blood.
Time to change shoes. Not the most efficient transition, but it’s not really a race.
My personal aid station at Cleveland Dam. Coke, gatorade, bacon, avocado, potatoes, orange, extra bladder. I ended up pouring coke in my 1.5L bladder and ran with that for the last 25km.
Ran and Mike were pulling into Cleveland Dam just as I left. Lindsay was blasting away, no longer getting lost, over ten minutes ahead at this point. Sometimes I can run fast between Grouse and Lynn Valley, but all the side hilling roots were starting to take a toll on my left ankle which was bothering me now. In the Kneeknacker races, traversing the lower slopes of Fromme is where I always get passed by people who can actually run downhill and the trails become less technical. The back half of the course is always frustrating to me, running across Cleveland Dam, running the Varley trail, any time it’s flat. So it was no surprise when I saw Ran right behind me. He had a rougher time going back up Black, but found his downhill gear and was now taking off. I couldn’t run any faster, only occasionally catching back up on the uphills. He was at full speed going along the Varley trail. So was I, or at least at fast as you can run with tired legs with 85kms in them. Once again, Ran’s team was waiting for us. Another slice of cheese pizza washed down with the flat coke in my hydration pack. Ultra running is all about eating.
Lynn Valley aid station with Ran
Finally suffering as expected, 85km into the run.
I was not expecting this run to turn into a race when I woke up in the morning. Now it was a race against the sunset. It would be nice to finish with daylight to spare. Heading up to the Seymour Grind, Ran was running all the boardwalks and little hills by now. I’ve suffered pretty hard in the past two Kneeknackers through this last section, with cramped legs, unable to run anything with the slightest gradient. I told myself I’ve felt worse here, that I felt way better today and continued to chase Ran up to the top of the Seymour grind, which felt shorter than normal today.
Ran crossing the Seymour Bridge
In all my previous races when I run into Deep Cove, I’m almost always in some kind of pain. Some people might enjoy the hike out to Quarry Rock, but this popular spot is always associated with prolonged torture to me. True to form, I was a suffering a little bit here. Ran had taken off at the top of the Seymour Grind and I was trying my hardest to keep a good downhill pace going. I thought Mike was close behind too so I couldn’t get lazy even if I wanted to. On the plus side, there was only one group hiking out to Quarry Rock. It’s rare to run this section of trail without anybody around.
The gas tank was completely empty and I crossed the finish line, the fire hydrant, at 16:21, four minutes behind Ran and 45 minutes behind Lindsay. I was happy that I essentially ran steady 2 hour splits for all the sections, plus a bit of time spent eating and changing shoes at the 1/4 mark, 1/2 way and 3/4 mark. The pacing was good, nutrition was good and I had alot of fun doing it. The headlamp only came out momentarily on the Quarry Rock trail when I wondered if it was dark enough to need it yet.
It was past 9pm and Honey’s Donut was long closed, my go-to spot for post-running sugar. But I had a strawberry-rhubarb pie waiting for me, part of my last minute race preparations on Friday night. Maddy showed up with beer and we celebrated my birthday with me limping around the grass, then going for a swim and finally sitting on the pavement drinking beers and eating pie. I felt old and sore, mostly in my ankles, as I laid in bed the next morning. I guess that’s what happens when you run a 100k. Anybody want to join me next year?
V100 Pie and carbo-recovery.
Ok, there was very little suffering today, just lots of smiling and sugary food. The details of my food consumed today resemble the shopping list for a six year old birthday party.
Doris. She ran the entire course in sandals! Thanks for the fun birthday party celebration.
Avery. Way to go!