An Eastbournian Abroad with Ashley McMillan: Events, thrills, spills and looking toward Canada Day!

Where do I start this week…? It was a race weekend for me with a real test as I start my foray into serious trail racing with a big bang… a couple of them actually!

It was the re-emergence of a 25 (ish) kms trail race here in Whistler known as ‘Comfortably Numb’. In running quarters around BC, it is known as a real west coast classic, meaning it is rough, tough, super technical and very challenging for a host of reasons. It’s a single track trail originally crafted as a mountain bike trail, but well utilised for this test each year.

Apart from always fancying a physical challenge, I’d long decided to make a serious investment into the world of trail racing as this is where much of the coverage and sponsorship seems to be these days. I may be a good road runner, but having the skill and the guile on super technical trails is another thing altogether, something that I was well aware of before toeing the start line.

As expected, I took up the immediate starting hill pushing the lead, but it wasn’t long before I hit the real single track and a slightly unmarked entrance left me stalling and looking for the right turn, long enough for three runners to shoot by. I turned and took after them. I soon found the initial few miles of testing hills was good to spread the field apart nicely, but then came the real flow of the course. Uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill – all over loose rock, mud and countless roots crying for you to trip or slip over them.

This was when the real skills of those more technically experienced and well versed downhill trail runnners came to the fore. The ebb and flow saw me exchanging positions on a regular basis as I was passed by these fearless ‘mountain goats’ as they flew over everything down below and I re-caught them once again on the oh-too short ‘flat’ terrain and the uphill sections. “You’re way too fast on the flat” remarked one competitor. “There isn’t anywhere near enough of it though!” was my retort! It was already very apparent at this point that my road speed wasn’t sufficient to make up for my shortcomings on the more technical downhill sections – although I’m no slouch on these sections myself.

As the race wore on I slipped and tripped and cursed myself as I began to grow increasing frustrated with not being able to ‘open up’ and really run at anyone. Despite all this, it was hard not to accept this is simply a stunning course with scenery to die for.

It’s been revered by hundreds of mountain bikers for years as they push and grind their way through the course often taking as long as 5-6 hours to complete (yes, it is faster to run!). I think my finest moment was as I was throwing myself over a rolling rock face and looking for a firm footing to dance off ‘all fleet-footed’, that my eye was court by a race photographer perched ready for the shot.

We’ll blame him, but for whatever reason, tired legs, lack of concentration, etc, I fell – no lurched actually, propelled by my own bodyweight toward the ground just in front of the snapshot moment. Typical! Oomph…the wind right out of my sails, but not quite the first time this race or week, but I certainly would have appreciated staying down for a minute or so to re-group and check for all working parts.

The photographer was having none of this. “You’re flying (no pun intended by him). You’re in 5/6th…for now” Obviously my cue to get up and get on with things as I swallowed by battered pride. Dazed and hurt I pushed on but sorely needing a moment or two to recover. Closer and closer to the end of the trail, the roots had all but disappeared and were replaced by rocks and boulders and were a lot easier to run, albeit that the repercussions were a bit higher. I dearly wanted to put my foot down, open the tank and show the rest of these trail runners my speed, but I was made to wait until the final kilometre or so.

Finally I landed on some ‘buff’ trail that I could really run and not a moment too soon. I pushed hard, not wanting to finish with too much left and feeling like I could have given a lot more a lot earlier. Unfortunately the end came too soon and as I sprinted over the line I made up some time on my rivals, but knew that it was my lack of experience that really hurt me.

I missed seeing all the bears I was told of later on. They were clearly around me apparently, but I was so focused on my footing (yes, despite the few trips and spills) that I was perhaps in little danger of sighting them I guess. Great day though and I’m itching to run more trails like this. Fortunately I’ll get my chance as I have a 50 km race in 5/6 weeks followed by an 80 km charity race to raise money for kids cancer a couple of weeks later. Can’t wait, but will leave me little time to train, train, and train.

Aside from my own events this past weekend, there was another ‘new’ event in town. It was the inaugural Long board championship, using the natural setting of the roads alongside Whistler’s Olympic Sliding Centre. This event seemed to bring in a lot of new faces and most definitely ‘different characters’ into town. These racers flying down the roads, clad in their leathers and reaching speeds of up to around 100 km/h are the epitome of cool in their world and some of these competitors were far spread as they heralded from near and far for this weekend. This had to be a success in everyone’s eyes and I for one expect to see this become an annual event and the popularity grow and grow.

To look forward, the town will see its numbers drastically swell again this weekend as July 1st is Canada Day. Heartily celebrated by all and this year will see a long, long weekend from Friday to Monday as Canada meets America as July 4th rolls into the same weekend. People will revel (read – booze themselves stupid no doubt) and take the excuse of the elongated break from work to escape. Why wouldn’t they?

I would and actually intend to get down to the city for some of their infamous firework celebrations around their beaches. What remains to be seen though is what reports of debauchery comes from within Whistler. I’m sure the RCMP will ramp up their visual force around our walls, but hopefully this will pass as a long, but peacefully joyous weekend that will encourage visitors to come back time and time again.

So as I write this after yet another 20 mile training day, I can expect more of the same in the coming weeks. Hopefully, this coming weekend will find us all refreshed and relaxed and maybe, just maybe even our very own Andrew Murray will step away from Wimbledon victorious. Maybe the best we can hope for is sun, strawberries and good entertainment? Not such a bad weekend?!