Monday, June 30, 2008

Monday Blog #3 KUSAM Race Report

I had a race like no other at the 2008 Kusam Klimb in Sayward! This turned out to be a true race in every sense of the word as I battled neck and neck with this Dirt Diva, Michelle Steele of Ladysmith (seen below beside me at the race start) for at least 13kms in a full out on for the gory warned it is a loooong story...


*Note the gushing blood and the terrible hip drop indicated serious fatigue-500m from the finish line*

It is the morning after the 2008 Kusam Klimb and I am piecing together the clips of race tales that are drifting through my head. As if two years of abuse weren't enough I have found myself once again recovering and reminiscing in Sayward, BC at the Fisherboy Park Campground. Following is my personal account of the 2008 Kusam Klimb. Warning: Tales may appear larger than they actually are.

320 Racers - The largest start to date in the race's 5 year history. As always, the majority of town turned out to volunteer and show their support. In reality this event is probably the most entertainment the town gets in a year.

8:00am Race Start. I had been out for an easy warm up on the race course with 2 other guys who stayed out a bit a bit too much longer. I returned to the start line only to hear the 60 second countdown had begun-yikes- good timing. I whipped off my second layer, grabbed my gloves, had a sip of e-load and GO! we were off only to pass the 2 warm up guys on their way back to the start line. Ooops.

8:11am. 11 minutes into the race and the fast trekking had already begun. As always the crowd thinned and the bottleneck was relieved quickly as the climb arched upward. I watched helplessly at this point as 1-2-3-4 women hiked on away from me. In my back pocket I knew I had the wild downhill runner card but as Kenny said: 'You gotta know when to hold em...Know when to run..."

Up ahead I could see Michelle Steele of Ladysmith in bright red stomping hard out of my sights. I though if I could just keep her in my sights then I could beat her on the downhill race. But...alas...she was quickly long gone. Sigh...I had to remind myself to race my own race and let her go.

The klimb never gets easier. Seriously I was wondering if I had done any training at all while dragging my wasted burning body up that mountain. Calves burning. Hamstrings under unimaginable tension. Gluteals searing with the strain. The first part of the climb is too steep to run but not steep enough to scramble using your arms for support. And so the burning continued and the breathing rate entered uncharted waters. I started to feel a bit dizzy and had a hard time getting in enough air so I took the pace back a notch and worked to calm myself down and find a more realistic pace.

The scramble up to 3000 feet was much the same-with the addition of some unprecedented views! It was a beautiful clear sky day and we had a few opportunities to see the vast depths of the Valley below...over my shoulder that is...

The snowline began slightly later this year and when it arrived we were offered greasy, slippery, slushy snow. This in contrast to last years cold temps which made for fast icy conditions in the alpine. Slip, slide, slosh, repeat. My mini-pace group of Greg Young and 3 young guys made it's way across the snowy ridge and merrily down the other side towards the alpine lake. As soon as the first section of downhill began I slid my way past girls #3 & 4...2 more ahead I thought.

The lake marked the start of the final climb to the summit-also known as the wall. This vertical snow climb boasts a 500m elevation gain and required a strong kickstep to create a personal stairway to so-called heaven. No other option but to claw at the snow with all fours to win the battle of one step up one step back.

As we made our way up the footsteps of the final ascent, I glanced at my watch to check in on my progress compared with last years time and GASP "I only have 6 minutes to make it to the top to beat last years time!" Pathetic. I know. But I had one goal for this years race- beat my time to the summit. For 2 straight years I have made the summit in exactly 2hours zero minutes. You would think in a 2 hour climb that one could shave off 5 minutes with training and experience. But no, not I. There is some strange attraction I have to two hours on a weird subconscious level. That or I am not training correctly! I was desperate to break the pattern in a hurry and quickly running out of time. "You can't go by time Sarah- every year is different", Greg reasoned. "But I have to TRY!" I cried in desperation. I made one last ditch effort to kick up the intensity but only managed a few powersteps before the burning over came my legs again. The 2 men appeared like angels gazing from above. Dressed in fluorescent yellow shirts, these volunteers marked CP2 and the official race summit. I pulled myself up to standing and looked at my watch...1:59:23!! Hurray! My arms shot up to the sky and I threw my head back in triumph! Around me, racers were standing, resting, eating and going through their packs- enjoying the opportunity to rest. CP's are not rest stops for me. Instead they are opportunities to pass other racers and so I just kept on running...Up and over the other side never looking back.

Later, I learned that there is a panoramic and stunningly beautiful view of the valley below this CP. 3 years, 3 summits and I never though to look over my shoulder or stop and check out the view. Moron. I will just have to go back next year.

Over the top and straight down the other side. This year the soft snow formed into a perfect bum shoot and the 2km snow descent turned into a full on luge minus the luge and the helmet. Armed only with a pair of old MEC biking gloves and shorts I ripped down the snow covered mountain side in a random series of haphazard moves: Piked on my back...Sitting up crazy carpet-style using my heels as brakes...Shooting the duck so to speak...Rappelling backwards...and Spinning 360s completely out of control. Looking back and knowing where I am sore today, this 2.5km section did much of the damage. A bruised rear end and trashed bicep/forearm tell the tale today. Seriously out of control. Serious snow rash. Seriously fun. whooohooo!

The snow conditions made for a faster descent and Greg and I reached the old growth forest and logging road in speedy time. 2:20 into it and we were onto the road legs. Smack Smack Smack- the hard downhill double track began and we enjoyed the valley vista below us. I was keeping an eye out for Michelle when I spotted her red shirt 500m below. And so the chase began. Within a km I was upon her as she paused for a critical moment to take a drink at CP3. "Hi Michelle!" I sang in my friendliest racer voice. "Hi Sarah!" she sang back. A few race stories were exchanged as we switched positions and I slowly broke away from her on the downhill road. Girl #2 and then there was only 1 left to catch!

I ran as hard as I possibly could down the steep doubletrack sections- easily reaching max effort and leaning into every step with arm pumping strides. My only hope of beating michelle was by creating a gap before the descent flattened out. I knew I could outrun her on the steeps but I also knew that she could match me on the flats and flat out kick my ass on any climb. Every stride counted. I had passed at least 10 people on the descent and even Greg fell behind me with painful cramps. The kms ticked by and I focused on maintaining a full out high speed cadence and basically sprinted for at least 9kms. At one point I came across a few km markers on the logging road and my pace clocked in at 3:50min kms - very fast for me after running for 2.5hours hard. Gotta love downhilling for setting PRs!

The surrounding forest changed slightly and bright green grass sprouted up alongside the old grown in logging road. The descent lessened in severity and I found myself in the middle of the infamous 'X-Ditch Culvert' leg. A quick glance over my shoulder confirmed my worst fear- Michelle was 50m behind me! A crazed smile came over my lips as I laughed at the situation. All my sprinting and hard work had proven worthless! She had managed to catch me on the flats! A steep descent began once again and this proved to be very timely as I took off again at a full gallop.

Kusam Klimbers always seem to grumble about those 'flippin X-Ditches'. I don't really see the big deal - you just take a few steep steps down and then back up every 200 metres or so. It was at this precise moment when I was thinking this precise thought when I took the hardest bail of my running career. CRASH. SPLASH. And WHAT the HELL just happened there? One second I was stepping through a ditch with grace and speed (uhuh) and the next I was literally face down in the ditch.

My body seized then relaxed and I felt for a moment that I might give up the race. For an instant I felt as if I was 8 years old and scraped up on the pavement after a rollerskate crash. If my mom had been standing there I swear I would have cried. (I am not sure why i am telling you THIS). I was completely beat down exhausted and this sudden break in my rhythm was threatening to break my mind. Then I remembered where I was and shot a glance over my shoulder expecting to see Michelle bearing down on me. But no one was there.

A bolt of energy in the form of pure hope supercharged my body and I was up out of the creek and running flat out once again. Pain seared through my muscles as they were forced back into action. Every muscle pulled hard on bone and threatened to cramp. Every hard point including my hands and knees burned hot from the crash landing onto blast rock. " I hope I'm not bleeding." A quick rapid body survey showed mixed results. Hands: skin hanging off, bruised but no blood. Knees: bleeding bright red down my shins. Eewww.

Wounded but not broken I pushed on trying to drain my tank before the finish line. I was joyously surprised to see that they had built a ladder up the bank of the final river x-ing for this years race. What a pleasant surprise and one that prevented an ugly scene of mud and root scrambling on the final leg.

2km to go!! CP 5 cheered me on... There were no splashes in the creek behind me. There was 2km of downhill ahead of me and I felt as if I was in the clear to take 2nd place with the gap I had on Michelle. Then the cramps started. My calves clenched in random patterns and threatened to all out seize up. 'No no no puleeeease not now!' I pleaded with my gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. It was too much and my right calf completely locked up and forced me to stop, massage and whisper kind words to it. Over my shoulder and there SHE WAS coming out of the bushes right on top of me...Michelle! Crap I have no choice but to run through this pain. And some how I did it. Some how the cramping held off just enough to allow me to run again. Somehow I hauled down the final hill which opened up onto a steep country road. Past cheering squads of locals on front porches I ran. Past cows in the field I ran. I had not seen another racer other than Michelle in nearly 5kms but I knew where I was and what was coming next...

The final CP and a hairpin turn to the finish came into view below me. There I could see Mary Ann and Susan cheering me on as they had recognized me. Beyond the CP was the cruelest part of the entire race- a 500 m flat stretch of road leading to the finish line. I felt the weight of the world hit me as gravity re entered my solar system and the decline came to a brutal and sudden stop. Please don't let her catch me on the flats. Please be far enough ahead. And suddenly a joyous surprise:: Brad was at the corner cheering me on to the finish! He jumped in and ran the final 1/2 k beside me. "Come on come on...You gotta push it!" Desperate I begged to know if she was gaining on me. "Well she aint slowin down " he warned. With that I pulled out the reserves and gave it everything I had. All my energy went to my legs. But man I could barely make them go any faster! A cheering supporter clapped me on from the side of the road and informed me " 50 m to go and she is 25m behind you- Go Hard!". And so I did. I managed to hold my tiny lead and take 2nd place in 3:15:23. 7 seconds ahead of Michelle. WOW What a race! That was the best competition I have ever had. Hugs, Kisses, Photos with blood soaked knees, Bagels and a soak in the creek.
Photos and results...
Till 2009.


Karen said...

Dude! That gave me goosebumps just reading it, I can't imagine how great you must feel. Way to go!

Sarah said...

Glad you enjoyed my tales...I enjoyed reliving the race...crazy as it may sound:)
Missed you at the final chicks-enjoy a break from your classes and hopefully we can play together sometime this summer! Hiking clinic Tuesday nights?

Korky said...

Great report! Sarah you are a true hero!!

Cindy said...

Love it, Love It, Love it!!!!!!

Indigo Eve said...

I love reading your race reports Sarah - your writing is so vibrant!

Anonymous said...

Looks like a fun run! Great pictures...did you take them?