Continuing in the recent tradition of mountain-running themed articles on the site, I thought I'd report on the latest 5 Peaks race out here on the West Coast. The 5 Peaks races are a series of mountain races that tackle some of the hardest courses in their respective regions. For those who are wondering, the relative difficulties of courses can be estimated by looking at the winner's time per km. If it's over 7 minutes, you're doing something pretty hard.
The latest race here was the Buntzen Lake race. This was the last in the 5 Peaks series, and the most dreaded- at least by me, who is new to this particular race series. All summer long, I'd been hearing hushed whispers about Buntzen Lake and how hard it was. Buntzen Lake is slightly northeast of Vancouver proper, and lies beside Indian Arm, although at a higher elevation. The park surrounding it contains several difficult ridgelines. The particular ridgeline this race traversed is known as the Diez Vistas (Ten Views) trail, on account of its ten panoramic views. Views can generally be correlated with climbs, and this trail is no exception.
The race started out on a flat beside the lake. Adding to my fears about the difficulty of the race, the lead pack started out relaxed and slow. We gradually moved into some hills, climbing towards the back end of the lake. Near the turn-around, and the beginning of the climb up the ridge-line, the lead pack of six split up. From this point on, I figured it would be pretty hard, so I worked hard to catch the 4th place runner, and stayed on his heels up the start of the ridge.
The climb up the ridge involved the use of hands in many places; it was a steep unforgiving haul up rock, dirt and mud, through puddles, and incorporated all the challenges of mountain running. My faithful guide slowly got away from me, and I was alone in this old old forest of hanging moss. Since I had no idea where I was, I decided to count the Vista's I began coming across. This came to an abrupt end when I almost came to an abrupt end- I nearly fell 200 feet off a particularly sheer Vista that the trail popped out on and then doubled back into the woods.
The run up on the ridge was basically everything that is good about mountain running. It was technically challenging, requiring constant mindfulness, but not quite so slow that the heart rate would decrease. It was medium-hard to see where the trail kept going, requiring a sharp eye to look ahead as well as down on the ground. It was hilly and steep, with gullies and logs and trees and roots and everything in between.
The run off the ridge was undoubtedly the hardest race descent I have ever made. Hands and feet were again required. After an initial cliff-like descent, the trail compacted into very tight, steep switchbacks. I saw the 4th-place man again, and almost caught him before we hit a flatter stretch.
I was almost off the hill, and onto the 500m flat before the end, when the 6th place guy ripped past me. I didn't hear him coming, and my legs didn't want to answer back after the descent. I finished 6th in 1:25 or thereabouts, about 4 minutes behind the leader.
Buntzen Lake was a terrific mountain run- great course, good competition, etc. That three of the top six finishers required medical attention following the race was a good initial indication of the difficulty of the course- the girl who came in later with blood dripping off both her ripped-up knees confirmed it. Everyone had a good time, though, even the guy who finished after all the awards were presented and cars were leaving the parking lot he had to run through.
Until next time, see you on the trails, and remember: if your feet aren't touching the ground, you can't get tripped by a root. Or a rock. Or whatever… never mind.