Saturday, July 13, 2013

Knee Knacker 2013

The Knee Knacker is a bit of a iconic race on the West Coast of Canada, especially amongst the trail running community. First run in 1989, it takes place on the Baden Powell trail which is one the most technical and challenging trails in Canada. Starting at Horseshoe Bay and finishing in Deep Cove, the race covers 30 miles and over 16,000ft of elevation change (hence the name of the race). The race has a 10 hour cut off for anyone struggling to finish but a surprisingly high finish rate of 97%. However, it's getting to the start line that proves more difficult as the attrition rate is quite high due to injury and illness.  Getting a start place is not that easy either, you have to put your name into a lottery and then hope that you name is picked out of the hat. I was lucky, I got in on the first time of trying. The race organizers do an amazing job and put together a schedule of training runs for the race participants in the weeks leading up to race day.  These vary in distance and take place on the the actual race course, so come race day you have covered all of the race course and know what to expect

The race started at 6.00am. I only managed to a couple of hours sleep the night before due to pre race nerves and also my noisy neighbors. However, I felt excited and raring to go as I chatted with my Pacific Road Runner buddies on the start line.  Not having run a Ultra Marathon before and also due to the nature of the course, my plan was to take it steady for the first half of the race and hopefully have some energy left in the tank for the second half.  Especially as the first part of the course was the biggest climb of the race, almost 4,000ft straight up Black Mountain. The weather was perfect, clear blue sky but nice and cool. As we set off I felt calm and confident. The climb up Black Mountain proved to be grueling and everyone was very relieved to get to the top.  I managed to get there in 1 hour 45 minutes.  A quick look back at the fantastic view of Vancouver and the Pacific Ocean and then on to the first check point at Cypress bowl.  Virtually all the snow has melted at the top of the mountain but there was some standing water and muddy areas which meant that there were mosquitoes galore.  I was swallowing lots of them but more annoyingly getting a few in my eyes.  As I entered the Cypress bowl aid station, I saw a few of my PRR buddies as they were volunteering at this station.  I clocked my time to be 1 hour 58mins.  A few chips (crisps), yams and a drink of some flat coke later, I was off running again.   
Some more climbing and then the first downhill section arrived down the Holyburn chute. Bliss after so much climbing, I could relax a little and cruise for a while. Not too much mind, there were lots of potential hazards like boulders, roots and logs just waiting for runners to trip over on their speedy descents.  I did have a few stumbles but no falls.  The course descended further and took us through a residential area called the British Properties in West Vancouver, some of the most expensive real estate in all of Canada. After navigating though the narrow paths and across a few streets, I arrived at Cleveland Dam which is the halfway point.  This was a major aid station and time to refill my hydration pack with water, grab some food and take in all the support from the volunteers and supporters.  My time was 3 hours 30 mins. The third quarter of the race starts with a steep climb up a road busy with traffic going to Grouse Mountain.  Some brave souls run up this hill but it was power hiking for me, not too much power either. It was hot too, not having the shelter from the sun that the trees offers on the trails.  Then it was back onto the trail and another difficult uphill and technical section to navigate.  However, I was on auto pilot by this stage, the biggest climb was over and now it was just digging in and getting it done, section by section.  I knew that at the top of this climb that there was a nice runnable section that leads toward Lynn Canyon which is also the three quarter mark and another aid station.
I was trying hard to manage my nutrition during the race. I decided to take gels/bars every 30 mins if possible. I wanted to avoid the peaks and troughs of energy that I had suffered on some of the longer training runs. I had managed it pretty well in the race so far but I was starting to get sick of the gels. I was feeling pretty good and passing a few runners along this stage, I could see that the course was taking it toll on a few people.  I caught and passed my PRR buddy Terry who was having a tough time.  I felt for him as there was still a long ways to go but he's a tough customer and I knew he would make it to the end.  However, he had bet me a beer that he would beat me to the finish, so I was pleased to win that bet.  The other guy in this wager was Bill, he was still ahead of me and so I was determined to do my best to catch him too.

Then I arrived at the Lynn Canyon aid station and the three quarter mark.  My time was 5 hours 20mins.  I could feel my some cramping in my legs as I approached this station, so I had took a salt tablet and I also stuffed a few yams dipped in salt into my mouth too.  Then it was off for the final quarter of the course. One last big climb up the Seymour grind and then it was mainly downhill to the finish at Deep Cove.  Normally the Seymour grind is not too bad but not today.  I was shattered and struggling big time. I decided to try and take my mind off it by eating an energy bar but I was so tired I could hardly chew.  I must have looked a right state, staggering up the climb with bits of half chewed energy bar falling out of my mouth!
Eventually I made it - just!. Then it was a long downhill section over loose stones. Suddenly my legs felt OK again, probably mentally more than physically, but I was running fast and passing a few more runners. As I got to the final aid station, I asked if they had seen Bill and was told that he was just a couple of minutes ahead. 

The last section of the course is mainly downhill but is very technical and has lots of extra little climbs and bridges to cross.  There are also lots of hikers with children and dogs making their way up the trail to a popular look out point.  So a tricky and sometimes frustrating section.  However, very close to the finish and the adrenaline was pumping through my veins, I was flying.  Suddenly I was jumping over rocks and leaping down the drop offs.  Then I could hear the sound of the finishing line commentator through the PA system.  People were stopping to move out of the way, clapping and shouting words of encouragement.  I could feel waves of emotion and a few tears were welling up.  A few more minutes as I was clear of the trees and out of the trail.

The sunlight hit me and I was on the road, a few steps and then the path that leads to the finish line. I could see the ocean and the people waiting as I sprinted toward the end. I crossed the line in a time of 7 hours 11 minutes.  It was an amazing feeling to complete such a huge physical and mental challenge.  I was elated and also relieved at the same time. No sooner had I crossed the line than I had grabbed by drop bag and gone straight down to the beach, stripped down to my shorts and waded in for a swim. Absolute heaven, a swim never felt so good! It turned out that Bill had finished 3 minutes ahead of me, so enjoyed a well earned beer later that day. What an amazing experience this race is. An incredible course, brilliant race organizers, wonderful volunteers and support and such a unity of amazing people.  So glad I had the chance to participate.  Thank you!

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Knee Knacker 2013

The Knee Knacker is a bit of a iconic race on the West Coast of Canada, especially amongst the trail running community. First run in 1989,...