Sky Pilot: Some Serious Ups and Downs

The inaugural Coast Mountain Trail Series SKY PILOT race was a huge success this last weekend. The weather was amazing, and the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola seemed like it was custom made to be a race venue. Combined, the short (12k) and the long (18k) races sold out with 220 racers in total. Add in the volunteers and a lot of families and friends up to cheer, and the atmosphere was amazing.

In the weeks leading up to the race, I had been getting all the course construction updates from my good friend Will. Will, Eric, and JF (all Squamish locals) played big parts in the construction of the race route. From the descriptions and stories I was hearing, the route they were putting together was going to be absolutely amazing.

But...one of the big unknowns with any new trail, is how it will stand up to some heavy rain; which is exactly what happened a couple days out from the event. Given what the water did to some of the VERY technical sections, Gary and Geoff (RDs) had to make the call to slightly amend the long (18km) course. Without a doubt, it was the right move. I love technical, steep, exposed trails...but even I wouldn't have been comfortable racing some of the original route with water on it. That's not to say that the course we ran wasn't technical though, it was for sure. We essentially did an out-and-back at the far end, as opposed to the original larger technical loop, before returning back towards the start/finish.

I was pretty sure that the day was going to turn into a battle between myself and my friend Silas. And as expected, when Gary sent us off, Silas and I went to the front. The part that I really didn't see coming though, was that when the trail turned steep (up) at about the 1km mark, my legs felt like they were filled with concrete. I had nothing...and Silas easily pulled away. We hadn't even been running for five minutes and I was already swearing! I don't remember ever having to have 'the talk' with myself  so early in a race. It was painfully obvious that I had to really be careful about how I tackled the course. I had to keep a controlled constant effort, no going anaerobic, or it would just turn into a slow and not-so-fun hike.

SUFFERING!

SUFFERING!

I felt like I was in slow-mo, and It was not pretty. By the time I got to the top of the first climb (only 2.5km in), Silas looked strong up ahead and he had already put about 30 seconds on me. I was starting to get my head back in the game though:  I just kept telling myself it was a long way to go yet...control my effort...be patient. After a short loop around the top,  the course then turned back on itself as we descended the same way that we had just come up...which meant 2-way traffic. Gary's instructions on this section were that the uphill runners had the right-of-way, so I was keeping a couple steps off to the right of the flagged route to give the trail to oncoming runners. The rock sections were amazingly grippy, so I was comfortable moving at a quick pace. With my eyes down though, I somehow went off course. I had lost the pink flagging, and was I confused. I didn't know which direction the route actually went, so I couldn't cut directly over to it. I had to back track up the steep rocks to where I had missed a left turn.

UGGGHHHH! Not what I needed. I just threw away about 30 seconds, but it was totally my own fault.

Heading into the Aid Station for the first time. (photo by Carol Green)

Heading into the Aid Station for the first time. (photo by Carol Green)

Back on track and givin'er, I hit the 4k intersection about a minute down on Silas. I was mad at myself, and I notched up my effort to try and claw back some time. Over the next 3km of gradual climbing (less than 15 minutes) I slowly caught back up to him. I managed to pull back the full minute, and I took the lead. But had I done it too quickly??

We ran together for the next bit, until the trail turned steep again at the big rock field. My legs just had nothing, and Silas pulled away from me...again! There was nothing I could do. I had to keep my effort under my redline, and hope that I could reel him back in again later. This section of the race course was absolutely amazing. It was technical and hard and fun...and some great terrain to suffer on. I can't wait to get back up there and explore some of the original race route.

Silas was ahead, as we climbed for another good 20 minutes before hitting the second turn around, which again included a very short loop before retracing our steps back down. As I started the loop, Silas was coming back. By my math he had about 1:00 lead on me, but thankfully the trail was essentially all down hill to the finish. The first bit of the descent is really technical, and I had made a promise to myself before the race that I would stay within my 'safe zone' while in the big/loose rock sections. I didn't want to end the summer with another injury from wiping out, and those rock fields could do some real damage at speed!

Photo by Mayo Jordanov

Photo by Mayo Jordanov

The gap between us was roughly the same (1:00) as I exited the rocks and hit the trail again, but I was determined to start fighting my way back. I was pinning it...really flying down the rocky/baby-head creek bed section. I was feeling fast and smooth again, and I knew I was making up time. With about 3k to go I hit the aid station...my friend Solana (volunteering at the AS) let me know that the gap was down to 30 seconds

Keep focussed Mike! You can close this down!

With 2k to go , I saw Silas ahead. I knew then that I would catch him. Just how much of a price was I going to pay though...

We were about 500m from the finish and I had closed to within a few metres. I was totally red-lined. He took a look over his shoulder and accelerated to hold me off! I couldn't close the slight gap to him as we bombed down a hill, turned right, and hit the final 100m. I tried SOOO hard to kick up the last hill to the line, but Silas had another gear and pulled away for the win.

In all honesty, I was initially a bit disappointed with 2nd place after fighting so hard.  With some time to reflect on my entire race though, I am really proud of how I never gave up. Silas was just stronger. I didn't have the legs that I was hoping for, but that's racing; some times you have it, sometimes the other guy does! I squeezed every single drop of energy and speed that I had out of my body. The back and forth that Silas and I had out there was amazing; It's the type of race that both of us love....a real fight. It brought out the best that I had in me, and I never would have been able to dig so deep without Silas to chase. .

What a great way to end the summer: a really hard/technical race, with a great group people, and on a beautiful day. I really enjoyed hanging out afterwards. As per usual with the Coast Mountain Trail Series, there were tons of smiles and funny stories as runners finished. 

Family at the finish (thats me with the beat up legs and mouthful of water)

Family at the finish (thats me with the beat up legs and mouthful of water)

When I look back at my 2014 race calendar, I have been going non-stop since January. On paper, it definitely looks like I have earned some down-time now. What's kinda messed up though, is that my down-time is really just a change in focus. I don't respond well (physically or mentally) to time off, but I do feel that switching to a cycling focus for the next couple months is a mental shift that I need. Getting my ass kicked on a Cyclocross bike sounds pretty fun right now. Plus, I have been the absolute worst Steed Cycles team member this year, so It's time I stepped up. I know I shouldn't be so excited about racing twice next weekend, but with the right perspective it's very low stress. My goal for CX season is simple: suffer!  My current fitness profile (i.e. highly aerobic running, and very little anaerobic conditioning) means I will be getting worked over! Knowing that though, takes the pressure off: I don't start at the front and I'm not going to win. All I need to do is mix it up with the guys around me and have fun! Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy (as my girls would say).

Don't get the wrong idea though...I'm not taking a holiday from running, just running races. I am racing The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica in January. It's a six day stage race, covering about 240km...it will be a big one for me! I will start to put in some big base miles in October/November, and may even jump in to a couple of XC (running) races.