Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Getting Over It: Knee Knacker 2014

Feeling Amazing as I crest Eagle Bluff at 7am - Photo Credit: Herman Kwong
It's been three days since Knee Knacker and my feelings of discontent have seriously grown. At first I was somewhat fine with it. As Race Director Kelsy Trigg described it, I was" happy with my effort but not my time". Going into this years Knee Knacker, I was very open about my goal of 5 hours and 30 minutes or less.

You may know, or may have guessed by this point, that I didn't come through. At first, a few stats made me feel better about the day. Stats like:
  • Last year my time of 6:02 would've have been 25th place, this year it was 10th.
  • Temperature averages were 5 degrees higher than any other year in the races 26 years
  • Only 9 runners finished this years race in under six hours
  • Mean finish times were 30 minutes slower than last year (7:51 in 2014, 7:21 in 2013)
  • I was 10th place among a crowd of very talented athletes
As I said, I planned and trained for a 5:30 finish and I'm still convinced I was prepared for that, but
Down the Chute-Photo Credit Pat Malaviarachchi
Salomon Teammate Munny - Credit:VFK
once I'd started to climb Nancy Green Way, after the half way point, my heart wasn't so happy anymore. I knew I'd come through Cleveland Dam in a healthy time of 2:45 and it was exactly where I needed to be for the finish time I'd planned.  Nancy Green wasn't so bad but the moment I started back into the Baden Powell trail at lower Grouse, I knew I was in trouble. I'd climbed Black well (picture above), but felt clumsy and was missing that light, dancy feeling coming down the Hollyburn Chute and across the British Properties and this is where it caught up to me.

Strange things go through your head when a race isn't going to plan. I know the final quarters of this race very well and I began calculating the times I needed to run to make my goal and at my current pace and feeling, it was not going to happen. I knew it. Crossing lower Fromme I became even more clumsy with three near falls in which my hands just barely stayed off the ground. Every step was a  battle and the segments I was setting in my mind to run were getting shorter and shorter. My mind was thinking about my next race already, the Squamish 50k, and whether or not I wanted to run it. I was coming up with reasons not to run it. I was so low I was questioning whether or not I wanted to be a runner at all. And of course I thought about quitting the race all together. Coming into Mountain Highway I heard bag pipes but could've cared less. I saw my wife, daughter and crew (James and Mariah), who were the reason I kept moving between aid stations. After draining a coconut water, grabbing some more gels and liquid, I headed toward the 3/4 mark and my stomach started in. The last thing I needed at this point was another reason to quit but I rolled across the red carpet aid station and down Lynn Canyon. With no bounce in my step and the sudden realization that I wasn't going to make 5:30, I was in hell. Running flat hurt. Running/walking up hurt. And running down hurt. I just wanted to lay down but I pushed through to Hyannis where I sponged off, ate a freezie and had my daughter remind me to "run with a happy heart". Easier said than done at that point but I tried. My wife looked me in the eyes and said, "you got this". It wasn't until I was about 50 meters up the trail that I realized she wasn't talking about a 5:30 finish. She was talking about any finish. I must've looked like death here and given off every kind of vibe but the happy heart vibe. At the bottom of the Seymour Grind came my first dry heave. Perhaps I was sick from the realization that I was now fighting for a sub 6-hour finish. The 5:30 was long gone. Any kind of PB under 5:40 was gone. I was fighting for a time goal 30 minutes shy of the expectations I'd been holding for the last three months. The only chance I'd have was to make sure I had the energy to fight the final section so I ripped the top off a gel, put it in my mouth and... that poor gel got part way down my throat and was immediately ejected to the forest floor. PUKE! I couldn't eat and at the same time looked back to see Scott Comeau coming up the Grind behind me. And he seemed to be moving fast. I knew I was in tenth and I didn't want that taken from me.  It's all I had. Him passing me would've been déja vu as I passed Scott in the same condition at Sun Mountain back in May. With no food in me and a belly full of water, I powered down to Old Buck and down Baden Powell to Quarry Rock. I swore I heard Scott's foot steps behind me but no way was I going to look. If he was there, the anxiety would've ended me. What seemed like an endless fight through day hikers to beat the 6 hour mark, I was joined by my beautiful, future-runner daughter to finish in 6:02.
Look at that stride. First smile in 10 miles for me.

In recent days I've tried desperately to come terms with a result of 6:02. It's a great result on that course and I know that. Especially when conditions were as extreme as they were. It simply was not what I expected of myself and I truly believed I was going to make it in 5:30.

The Positives: 
  1. I was too sick to eat all my gels and I have some left over for next time.
  2. I was 10th place.
  3. I finished!
  4. I climbed well through Black Mountain
  5.  I wasn't extremely sick following.
  6. I got to see my friends finish.
  7. I took away a few lessons and tips for Squamish in August
  8. And most importantly, I finished with my smiling, happy daughter to put it all into perspective. "Run with a Happy Heart, Daddy".
From here I take a week long hiatus from running, lay low, and then get back into some intensity maintenance before Squamish 50k on August 12th.  Perhaps I should run a bit in the heat too or I may see a repeat of last Saturday. Somewhere in there my wife and I plan to have another baby too. Will it mess up the training? Probably, but let's keep things in perspective. 

To finish I'd like to thank the entire Knee Knacker community. This race is not just a run put on by a committee of keen people. Each year it is more and more evident that it is a community icon. What other event exists in which people fight for volunteer positions? How many races have you run with a bagpiper in the forest or black tie service on a mountain? Thank you to every single person who put hands on Knee Knacker this year whether they ran, smiled as we passed, cheered, cut oranges and watermelon, flagged trails, served food or ripped banquet tickets. So much goes into this event and the happiness and joy it brings to everyone is second to none. I am so very proud to say I have run Knee Knacker six times and even more proud to be a member of the organizing committee. Mostly I am proud to be part of the community that Knee Knacker has become.