Gatineau Park Trail Race

It's been a while since I've written a post here. In fact, I haven't written anything since my adventures in Boston. I needed a bit of a break from running. That was the plan, anyways. While I seriously scaled back my running, I didn't phase it out all together. After all, I do love it. So what have I been up to? Well, it's summer, so we've been cottaging a lot. Katie and I have also been playing coed 2's beach volleyball together, which is really fun. And in June, Katie decided that she wanted to give the half marathon another shot, so we signed up for the Army Run in September and I've been helping her train. This will be her 4th half marathon and she's looking for a personal best. We've been training a few days a week together and it's going pretty well, despite the insane heat we've been having in Ottawa. We've never actually run a race together and I'm so excited to share that with her. More on this in the coming weeks...

As we've started running more lately, I've been getting that familiar itch. The race itch. As much as I love training for marathons - the struggle of a 30km long run, the quiet morning speed workouts, the self inflicted pain of hill training - racing is still my favourite thing to do. So last week when I stumbled upon an 11.6km trail race in Gatineau Park, I jumped on it. The race was hosted by MEC, the 4th in their 5 race series, and was held at Camp Fortune, a small ski hill only 20 minutes form downtown Ottawa. The event also featured a 20km, 30km and 50km races, but knowing that I wasn't in a full training cycle, I opted for the 11.6. I didn't really know what kind of shape I was in or how hilly and tough the course would be. But I did know that I could give the 11.6 a good effort and run it competitively. So I signed up not really knowing what to expect from myself. 

I showed up early Sunday morning. It was sunny and cool, but it was warming up quickly.  I lined up with a friend from work and a few hundred other trail running enthusiasts for what was sure to be a challenge. My goals for the day: run competitively. Hold a steady pace. Have fun. The last thing I wanted was to crash and burn on those trails. Remember, this was a trail race, not a road race. Winding, rolling hills through the trees. Dirt and gravel paths with hazardous obstacles like tree roots and rocks. 

As the horn went off, I flew out of the gates with a 3:50 pace through the first half kilometre...until we hit the first hill. Oh man, it was steep. I was able to pass a few guys, and then we hit another hill. Then another one. Each one steeper and longer than the last. The loose gravel on the trails didn't help either. As we completed the first set of hills, we exited the woods for a short stint on the paved parkway, which was slightly uphill, but even enough for me to try to catch my breath and work into a manageable pace. I had hit those early hills pretty hard, and they hit me right back. My heart rate was through the roof. Before I knew it, we were back in the woods, faced with nastier hills. Oh my god. Some of these climbs were really steep, with my pace declining to as slow as 6:24 at times. As I crested each hill, I regained some time on the downhills, but my heart rate was still out of this world. I was on struggle street. A couple of guys passed me. I was feeling sorry for myself.

Eventually, the course started the "flatten out". There were still some rolling hills, and even a couple of big climbs, but it didn't seem as brutal as it was early on. I worked my way into a steady, quick pace and was able to regain my breath and bring my heart rate down to normal. I passed one guy. Then two more. Then the guy ahead of me tripped on a root and face planted. "You okay, dude?" I shouted as I ran by. He swore, got up and responded "Yeah yeah yeah!".

As I reached kilometre 8, the field had spread out and I was pretty much alone out there. As I turned each corner, I caught a brief glimpse of the guy ahead of me. He was within sight, but seemingly unreachable. I peeked back over my should a few times and there was no one in sight. My pace was strong, consistently under 4:20, despite the continued rolling hills. I was pretty sure I was in the top ten, which gave a extra gas to keep pushing to the finish. As I reached kilometre ten, the trail became extremely narrow. The course took a sharp right hand turn which turned into a steep downhill. The path was rugged, filled with rocks and roots. And then I heard some footsteps. As I took another sharp corner, I caught a glimpse of a guy flying down the path towards me. "Shit" I thought to myself, "this guy is flying". The course was really difficult at this point, with a ton of sharp turns and sudden downhills. I was moving pretty quickly, holding a pace under 4 minutes. 

As we emerged from the trees, the trail flattened out and we were on the final stretch towards the finish. I could still hear him. He was right behind me. I was lazer-focused on that finish line and I wasn't going to let him pass me.  I threw up the hardest surge I could and held him off as I crossed the finish line. According to my Garmin data, I had a 2:53 pace on that final stretch. Woah. I don't think I've ever recorded a pace that fast.

Exhausted, I came to a stop and keeled over on the grass trying to catch my breath. That was freaking intense. I turned around and high-fived my competitor, Ian, who finished only 4 seconds behind me. Great race, Ian. Thanks for the push!

When it was all said on done, I finished in 50:13, which placed me 4th overall out of 265 racers and 1st in my category of men 20-29.

Yeah, this one felt good. It was competitive, I showed myself that I still had hill strength and speed, and most of all, I had an absolute blast. Looking forward to taking on the Army Run with Katie in just over a month.