photos by Scott Robarts
On Friday September 20th I completed the Whistler Alpine Meadows Ascent Race. Looking at the stats you think, “a race under 6km? I got this! Easy peasey”. Then you look at the ascent. 1,200m, that’s 3,938ft up Blackcomb Mountain. Gulp.
RACE ROUTE & STRATEGY
The race starts at Merlin's at the base of the Blackcomb Gondola in beautiful Whistler, BC. It then follows the Blackcomb Ascent Trail straight up the mountain to the Rendezvous Lodge at an elevation of 1,860m.
I had mentally broken down the race into two sections
1. Base to mid-station (2.9km and ~550m elevation gain)
2. Mid-station to Rendezvous Lodge (3.0km and ~610m elevation gain)
I’d only done the first half of this race course back in June and it took me 50 minutes. My goal for this race was to keep chill on the first half, take 50 minutes to get to mid-station and then an additional 1hr 10 minutes to get from mid-station to the top (based on my best Grouse Grind time of the season). Goal time 2 hours total for the race.
The morning of the race I was very pleased at the 12pm start time. It gave me lots of time to get up, eat a leisurely breakfast and calmly prepare for the task ahead. Or so I thought. I was about to leave for the start line when I realized:
1. There was mould growing in the tube of my hydration vest and
2. The zipper wouldn't zip up on my hydration vest
Okay people, this is where we say “don’t try anything new on race day” and “part of training is training with all the gear & food you’ll use on race day”. These are things I know, yet, I thought they were not applicable to me. I had decided at the last minute to pack my winter hydration vest which I hadn’t used since, well, winter and therefore, I ended up with a few problems.
Solution to #1 - My trusty mate lent me his 2L bladder from his mountain biking kit. It didn’t fit my pack well but at least I wouldn’t get dehydrated during the race.
Solution to #2 - Body glide to the rescue! My hydration vest is old and I refuse to retire it since I wore it during a marathon in Antarctica. I’ve been using lead from a lead pencil to lubricate the zipper so it will zip. Since I had not packed a pencil up to Whistler, I used body glide to lubricate the zipper and then hoped I wouldn’t have to take the pack off during the race.
I’m all set, but now I might be late for the race so I jog to the start line of the race.
3, 2, 1 AND THEY ARE OFF…
Within a minute of starting we’re on a path in the forest heading up Blackcomb Mountain. It’s a beautiful trail, hard packed and non-technical, that takes us up the mountain.
I’m taking it easy and conserving my energy for the second half of the race. I get to mid-station in 53 minutes. I’m a little disappointed that it’s 3 minutes past my goal time. But there’s nothing I can do about that. I focus on the second half and keep telling myself I’m going to finish the second half in 1:10. (Note: I later check my stats from training and it had taken me 58 minutes to complete the first section in June, not 50 minutes, so a time of 53 minutes ain’t that bad).
Every once in a while the trail leaves the forest and we get a beautiful view of the valley below and Whistler Mountain on our right. It’s exciting to see how high we’ve climbed.
On one clear section above mid-station, I look back and see a racer in a pickle costume emerging from the forest. I think it’s the race sweep. A pickle is chasing me up the mountain.
On big climbs,I find it easier to mark my progress by checking my watch for my altitude, and not distance completed. I set my watch to display current altitude, knowing that the finish line is at 1,860m. The metres continue to tick over; 1,500, 1,550, higher and higher.
My watch hits 1,800m, at this point it’s time to go as fast as I can. I can’t see the finish yet, but it’s close. I pop out over a hill and a volunteer points the way to the finish line, it’s not far and it’s runnable. I high five the volunteer and run to the finish line. (Thank you Coast Mountain Trail Series for the runnable finish line as there is nothing worse than an uphill finish line - I’m looking at you BMO Vancouver Marathon).
I cross the finish line at 2:02.
LESSONS LEARNED and notes for next time
1. Poles - Next time I will train with poles. The terrain was more hard packed than I expected and poles would help me set a faster cadence to get myself up that mountain. I primarily trained on the Grouse Grind for this race. While the Grind is great for elevation training, the Grind trail is significantly different than the Blackcomb Ascent Trail. The Grind is all stairs, the Blackcomb Ascent Trail is hard packed. Next time I will add in weekly training sessions on Old Buck in North Vancouver with poles.
2. Train with the gear you’re going to use on race day - Next time I’ll train with all the gear I’ll use on race day and hopefully avoid the morning of panic to change water bladders etc.
Will there be a next time?
Heck yeah! Can’t wait for the Whistler Ascent Race in 2020 when I finish in under 2 hours.