Sunday July 17th 2016, I ran the Blue Mountain Endurance Challenge Half-Marathon which post-race I found out was a short course of 20.4K instead of 21.1K. Even last year was slightly off but in the other direction with 21.4K which was a tad long but with that being said GPS is a mess out there on the forested trails so I’m sure it was fine which I’m finding common with technical trail races. This event is a lot different from my usual point to point road race on a street between two curbs. Instead I was on and around the beautiful Blue Mountain ski resort all over the hills and through the forests. I hit literally every terrain: grass, dirt, mid, wood chip trail, rocks, bridges, wooden stairs, ladder, country pebble road and straight up pavement. With a hard effort last year that left me trotting into the finish line for 3rd place I really wanted to work on improving on that. Even though I’m out of my comfort zone out there I always look forward to challenging myself here. Geared by my sponsors in my new sharp-looking Skechers Performance Canada race kit paired with GOrun 4 shoes and CEP ultralight compression socks. Fueled pre-race by Nuun active hydration tablet in water to make fruit punch flavor drink, at start and then every 40 minutes during with Endurance Tap maple gels x3 and post-race of Picky Bar in cookie dough flavor for carbs & protein.
Alright so here’s briefly how the race went down: First of all I didn’t even get to do a warm up because the long drive up of 2 hours left me with little time but I was ok with letting the first few kilometers loosen me up anyways. So the gun went off and I tucked in behind the 3 guys that lead. My watch was still set to 30 second intervals from my shakeout strides the day before so I spent the first minute fixing my watch settings which was a little awkward trying not to trip while staring at my wrist. For the first 5K it was fairly “easy” compared to what was to come as it was just single track switch back trails through a forest. For this I just tucked in behind the leader and cruised comfortably. Then we turned a corner and the next 1K was straight up a gravel country road which would be the steepest climb of the race. Immediately I took the lead and surged without looking back.
At the top of the hill I climbed over a fence with a ladder and continued on for the next 5K through soft dirt trail. This was my favorite part as I was able to get into a steady groove and rolled fastest enough to gap myself pretty well from the others. However, my excitement distracted me from a tricky turn that caused me to take the wrong trail. The course was marked roughly every 50m with colored ribbons and the Half-Marathon had yellow ones. Somehow I missed one and being stubborn and not allowing myself believe I was not on course I kept going until eventually meeting back up with the two guys that were behind me. The next 5K featured a short unexpected river crossing as it wasn’t there last year, a steep sprint down a cliff that I saw the lead cyclist slip down (but everything was ok) and of course more trails. I lead with the next guy a few hundred meters back always in sight. This guy was Jesse Bruce, a well-known obstacle course competitor based out of Toronto and I know him personally from when we competed against each other in college cross-country.
The last 5K was when we really tackled the most of the ski parks uphill fun. I counted 5 of them with a 6th being a huge I’ll say double diamond type downhill. Each of the uphill Jesse would close the gap on me a bit each time. We are two completely opposite body builds and neither of us are real trail focused athletes so it got interesting out there. I would fly on the trail and flat sections and he would be a beast and grind the mountain climbs. I finally got passed by him on one of the uphill while I was “fast-walking with hands on my knees” just trying to keep moving. Unfortunately the pass happened in the middle of all these uphill and there was very little flat sections left for me to gain ground back. Finally I hit that humongous downhill and could see Jesse halfway down and thought if I’m going to close the gap it’s now or never. I let my legs go loose and flop down the hill trying not to trip or roll over and tumble my way down like one of those cheese wheels. At the bottom it was a sharp right and the finish was just around the corner but I was coming up on 20K when I was expecting still another kilometer or so to make it a full Half-Marathon (21.1K) distance. Therefore, even though I flew down that big hill I still left some more in the tank for one more last kick which never came.
I crossed the line in 1:31:52 in 2nd place overall for 20.4K (official distance) just 40 seconds back from the winner and 40 seconds ahead of the buy behind me. I’m still happy with this even though the course was slightly different from last year I ran it 10x smarter and my result was strong coming from a skinny little road runner as myself with no muscle what so ever for the inclines of the event. Last year my legs and especially feet were so beaten up that I couldn’t walk for about a week but this year I can already tell that other than some delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) I’ll be ok to get back into training. I went for cool down with the 3rd place overall guy that finished 40 seconds back from me and our run went from just a jog around the block to 3K to 6K because we were feeling so good. Maybe it’s the relief of going from intense verticals to flat streets to made me excited to keep running longer. When we got back to the Blue Mountain Village we were invited on stage greeted by Dean Karnazes to receive our bag of North Face goodies. Dean is famous for running 350 miles in just over 80 hours without sleep among other ultra distance accomplishments. He even remembered me from last year which was super cool but unfortunately I lost him in the crowd before I remembered to get another picture with him.
One last thing to give you an idea of how tough this race is: Lets pretend I kept racing for another 700m to make it a perfect 21.1K trail half-marathon I would finish roughly with a time of 1:34:30 around 4:30/k pace. My current road half-marathon personal best is 1:10:19 which is 3:20/k. Therefore, covering the same distance this trail race was about 25 minutes harder from the various obstacles and intense terrain I came across. In the end this race was strictly about placing and I did move up one spot from last year and if this trend keeps going then next year can be a big win for me but only time will tell.
Next up on the racing calendar, I have a unique distanced race at Durham Quarter-Marathon (10.55K) in 6 days this Saturday and then my much-anticipated event of the year at ENDURrun Ultimate (160K, 7 stages, 8 days) starting in 3 weekends. Following that I’ll continue with my half-marathon training but with more focus as I’m looking on running a big PB in the fall at Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon with a few tune-up races 3+ weeks out. 🙂
Location | Blue Mountain Resort – Blue Mountains, Ontario
Event | Endurance Challenge Half-Marathon
Distance | 20.4K (short course)
Time | 1:31:52
Pace | 4:30/k
Overall Place | 2nd/311
Age Place (20-24) | 1st/22
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2015 = half-marathon
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Robert Brouillette 😀