Knee Knacker 2013, The 25th installment - Nightmare Training, but DREAM race!

Cheers to the KKNSTR – the 25th Anniversary!

(Our 5th wedding anniversary occured while in B.C. for the KKNSTR. Above: Lauren and I at U Brew on Clark Street - bottling with Ean and Linda Leigh)

Somehow I have a knack (pardon the pun) for running B.C. trail races that are on big anniversary dates. STORMY 100m in 2010 comes to mind as an example. This year I was lucky enough to land a spot in the lottery for the 25th running of the K.K.N.S.T.R. 30-miler along the entirety of the Baden-Powell trail. I won’t forget the lottery drawing night, as I was sitting in a bar in St. Louis (traveling for work) with my good friend and fellow runner, Bert Dorazio. Bert couldn’t understand why I was glued to my smart phone that evening so I had to explain about the race and the lottery. Bert knew I was fond of B.C. and the world class trails above the shores of North Vancouver (not to mention its fine Citizens!) – needless to say we were both PUMPED to see my name drawn while the Facebook feeds were coming out from the race committee as they pulled names from the hat back up in North Vancouver.

The truth is, the Knee-Knacker is really a “locals” race in B.C. Very few folks from the states or elsewhere (as a percentage of participants) run it. Even still, western Canada is home to some of the most talented and swift trail hounds you’ll find anywhere, so the race is as competitive as they come. I had no intentions of showing up in B.C. to compete with anyone but myself, which is how I usually approach a race. I knew the 4,000ft climb in the 1st 6 miles of the race would be all of the competition I would need. To be clear here, having your name drawn and to be invited to run the Knee-Knacker is a distinct honour and I was thrilled to become a part of the field!

The spring season this year reveals I’ve been in school full-time for nearly a year and a half, transitioning in a move from Tampa, FL to Nashville, TN (to take on a new job), and trying to squeeze in training here and there to ensure I don’t DNF at K.K.N.S.T.R. I’ve run several ultras in the last few years and some might think I’m being modest by saying I was hoping not to DNF. However, when you train on about 30 miles per week in the flat lands of central and southern Florida you’re going to have your work cut out for you in a BIG way on the Baden-Powell trail. It boasts 30 miles from the start at Horseshoe Bay to the finish at Deep Cove while forcing over 8,000ft of vertical ascent and 8,000ft of vertical descent. Needless to say, 16,000ft of climbing and bombing the downhill trails can wreck even the fittest runners if they mismanage their race.

A special luxury for me, besides running in the race, would be having Lauren along with me for the experience. She’s always my lucky charm! We arrived in Seattle on Thursday afternoon, then stayed in South Surrey just across the U.S./Canada border with our friends, the Hawke family. I enjoyed a nice afternoon shakeout run with Ferg and his son, Carter. Lauren and I subsequently enjoyed an excellent pizza for dinner from Bucky’s with Cheryl, Connie, Carter and Ferg. Ferg and Carter would need the fuel, as they were leaving Friday for Death Valley to crew contender David Goggins in the Badwater 135 starting Monday – enjoy the heat fellas! Meanwhile, the weather in B.C. was shaping up to be something special – 70’s and sunny, which would hold for our entire trip in the Pacific NW – gorgeous!

Friday we departed South Surrey and were bound for Vancouver to meet Ean Jackson and his lovely Mom, Linda-Leigh, at West Coast U Brew. Ean had ordered up about 50 liters of special IPA for the 25th running of the K.K.N.S.T.R. It also happened to coincide with Lauren and my 5th wedding anniversary, so we shared a small glass of IPA and proceeded with helping bottle the batch with Ean and Linda-Leigh. What a nice treat for our anniversary!

We proceeded to North Vancouver to catch up with Sibylle and ensure we had a mellow evening so Ean and I could be fresh for the race. Ean would be attempting his TWENTY-FIRST Knee-Knacker and a finish ahead of friend and fellow competitor, Paul Cubbon, would net Ean +1 bottles of fine single malt scotch – Ean would need more than his beauty sleep to best Paul in the morning! In typical Ean fashion, there was no training involved in preparing for the race. Par for the course, indeed. A surprise visit from Mr. David Crerar was most welcome and we enjoyed a pint, reminisced about David’s sub-24 hour WSER 100 finish (which I helped crew a couple of years ago), and discussed the shellacking the Baden-Powell was sure to put on me the following day. The way Ean and David talked about Eagle Bluffs I would have bet that I would need ropes and a helmet to ascend Black Mountain! Alas, these two are known for the occasional yarn spin to work someone up over nothing. Then again, they have also been known to snuggle in the woods together overnight and hopping rides out of the back country the following morning with North Shore Rescue (by helicopter) to ensure their survival – so you never really know. We were in bed no later than 10pm local time, which was helpful because we needed to be out of the house by 5:15am the following morning to ensure we were on time for the 6am start.

Lauren was volunteering at Cleveland Dam, the half-way point, where she assisted aid-station Captain Sibylle and fellow volley and friend, Kristie Congram. It would be a nice chance for them all to catch up and an opportunity to see me through the halfway point on my way to Deep Cove (hopefully!). Lauren drove Ean and I to the start (thanks hun!) and saw us off at 6am sharp. The run was ON, and the long climb up to Black Mountain began.


7.5 mile mark for 1st Quarter: 1:46:51

The initial climb, roughly 6 miles, goes from about sea level to 4,000ft. It’s a wicked beast of a vertical ascent that the fastest competitors can tackle in about 1hr 20minutes. For a flatlander like myself it took about 1hr 46minutes. It was a shuffle and a lot of hard work, but the payoff view at Eagle Bluffs, a little below Black Mountain’s peak, was TREMENDOUS. At 3,000ft+ we runners could see our breath and a North Shore Rescue helicopter buzzed closely overhead to allow a film crew to document this epic 25th annual event. A few times up the climb I was a little bogged down by other runners, but rather than get frustrated I decided it was best not to try to pass for fear of going out too fast, not to mention falling to my death off of Black Mountain’s multiple scree and boulder fields! ;-) 4,000ft of 8,000ft tackled, then I moved on to the more “runnable” course down trail…

15 mile mark for 2nd Quarter: 1:21:35 (cumulative total approximately 3:08)

The 2nd quarter of the race is a net descent into Cypress bowl, then on to Cleveland Dam at the half-way point. This is always the fastest leg for most runners. I enjoyed the drop off of Black Mountain, but the log road was just steep enough that this flatlander wasn’t confident enough to let it rip. I wanted to save a little for later because the “easier” second half still boasts 1,000’s more feet of climbing. Getting sucked into the idea that I was really going to hammer it out there didn’t seem like a good strategy. I was enjoying the cruise and working hard to ensure I WASN’T working hard until after half-way. While the fastest runners, like Gary Robbins, can blister this section in just under 1 hour, I felt happy with 1:21 knowing I had quads left for use on some technical climbs and descents much later in the race. Very useful indeed!

I caught up with Lauren, Sibylle, and Kriste at the half point in about 3:08. Not blazing, but probably a smart pace. Lauren and I had discussed that 3 to 3.5 hours seemed sane, so I was right on the money and felt good. I really like to use Carbo Pro for long runs and races, and it kept me steadily energized. I also took advantage of Thermolytes to keep the electrolytes in check. I really hadn’t been using much of anything but water on my very short training runs and was very happy with how well these two products helped me manage my race. Not a single cramp nor lull in engery for the 30 miles - NAILED IT on this day, thanks Ferg! Lauren was ready for me with a 600 calorie shot of Carbo Pro at the half, so I chugged that and hit the road to climb out of Cleveland Dam, across the base of the Grouse Grind, and on to Q3 of the race. Great help there at Cleveland Dam – NICE JOB vollies!

Q3 – Let’s Race! 22.5 mile mark for Q3: 1:36:32

You can get lulled into thinking you’re in great shape coming out of Cleveland Dam, only to find that your climbers had better be intact. It’s a little bit of a grind coming out of there and a roller coaster ride through Q3 and Q4 to the finish. There’s more than plenty of climbing to keep you honest. Q3 was pretty slow for me, but I was still biding my time. I briefly caught up to local runner Jeff Trigg, only to be dropped like a bad habit by him as the Baden-Powell pulled us up and down the lower base of Mount Fromme. Always good to see and “talk” to Jeff. I was really huffing and puffing and guessed I wouldn’t see him again, but I had just enough in reserve that Q4 was a strong one for me.

Q4 – the final 7.5 miles: 1:34:49

I’m actually quite proud of this 4th and final quarter time. It’s nothing like the leaders, but I was probably in the top-20 4th quarter times for the day. My legs felt really good (all things considered) and I pushed it a little more for the rest of the way. The Seymour Grind was feeling pretty epic and I probably passed at least 5 or 6 runners on that climb. I felt good enough at the top that I though “the hell with it, I’m going for it from here on in!”. I usually get passed by a person or two in the back half of my races because I go out too damned fast. Turns out, the frustrating grind early in the race (courtesy of Black Mountain) was just the medicine I needed to have something left at the end. I shaved a lot of time on the home stretch. When I popped out onto a dirt road a course marshal said “it’s pretty much all downhill from here!”. I was skeptical and asked “really?!?”. They were being honest and that was a boost for me. I went with what I had and cruised well all the way into the park at Deep Cove. When I bounced out onto the sidewalk entering the park I could “smell the barn”. The scene was sunny and crowd was thick with excitement. About 100 yards from the finish I heard the announcer call my name and I was hoping like hell he didn’t call out another name immediately following mine! Fortunately, no one tailed me that close and I came across in a total time of 6:19:46. Not horrible for a 1st timer and on FL training. I’m quite happy with the result. Moreover, I feel really privileged to have been a part of the 25th anniversary of this “knargley” and technical dream race. I’d recommend it to anyone and I’ll definitely attempt it again someday.

Special thanks to Lauren for coming along for this one! Also, thanks to Ean and Sibylle for hosting us. Ferg and Cheryl were equally kind and we’re very glad to have caught up with ALL of our PAC NW friends – there are just getting to be too many of you to name, but you know who you are! Great job Kelsey, Wendy, and the entire K.K.N.S.T.R. staff/volunteer crew. AMAZINGLY well done. Congrats to our friend, Gary Robbins on the WIN in a stunning time of 4:41:28, flirting CLOSELY with a course record! Congrats as well to Ean Jackson on his 21st Knee Knacker finish!

Hope to see you all again very soon in B.C. Feel free to hit us up in our new hometown of NASHVILLE, TN if you’re around. I’m optimistic that Nashville, although still nothing like B.C., has plenty of hills and trails to enjoy in comparison to sunny and flat Florida. Hopefully I’ll come back to the north shore mountains with some better tuning to enjoy another go at the Baden-Powell in the not too distant future.

All the best,