Race Recap: 5 Peaks Championship at Albion Hills - Strictly for the Hardcore!

Another 5 Peaks Trail Run in the bag!  The final race of the season is also the Southern Ontario Championship for all those who acquired points in the series during the season, but it also has a nice ‘Everyone is a Champion’ open event.  It took place at Albion Hills.

Due to the pre-Hurricane Sandy weather, I think the organizers cancelled a lot of the extras that made April’s Season Opener so attractive - there were no kids races, exhibitors, etc. (not that I blame them), but the main event was on like Voltron.

Racers all gathered under the only real shelter available - a roofed picnic area.  I had expected rain, but the icy wind made the weather extra nasty - getting right into the thick of the crowd was the only option.  I found I was dressed a little warmer than some - I saw plenty of shorts!  Sign #1 that trail running is masochistic.
One of the race directors, Erin Sheard, announced the course would be 9km (it had been described as being 7-9km; that big a variability might seem intimidating, but since you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get in terms of terrain, it’s good to be trained for something beyond the maximum).  I groaned inwardly, as I had been somewhat hopeful that I could just get the thing over with as soon as possible and get home, dry and warm.  She went on to explain that some of the early feedback they had gotten showed that some people felt that Albion Hills would not be ‘technical enough’ terrain wise, so they had done their best to compensate i.e. through the length, and also, according to her, the weather.  Sign #2 that trail running is masochistic.

They divided up the crowd into four waves: 1.) Competitive Men (i.e. shooting for a podium finish) 2.) Competive Women 3.) Age Group Competitors (looking for a top 3 in their age group) 4.) Average Joes/Everyone Else.  Definitely Wave #4 for me... due to work schedule and injury I hadn't been killing it in training, and I was not confident.

Waves 1 through 3 went off about 3-5 minutes apart, then it was our turn.  Racers were asked to seed themselves according to their own estimation of their relative speed; always important, because so much of the course is too narrow for passing, and it should be kept to a minimum.  Off we went!

I slid in some mud within the first 100m, so that was my warning.  The wet terrain (not to mention fallen leaves and mud) made for slippery conditions, but not only did I not take any serious falls (only once - I had to put my hands down on the ground, but didn’t leave my feet), I didn’t see anyone else do so either.  Obviously a course like this has a lot of ups and downs, but I was still surprised to notice that my lungs were burning early on.  I checked my pace and it was slower than 7 min/km closer to 8 or even 9 for most of the time.  I was already almost 3km in before I thought to check my heart rate instead of my pace - 90% maximum.  Oops.

I still got the first 3km (i.e. the first third of the race) done without thinking I had been too aggressive, and I settled in for the middle third.  I had opted for a baseball-style hat which I never wear because I think it makes me look like a dork, but it was a better choice than my winter hat I use for winter running: I was warm soon enough, and the baseball brim kept rain out of my eyes and face.  In fact, I hardly felt wet at all, as long as I was running.

Somewhere near the 5km mark, I noticed I was doing more stepping on/over obstacles rather than leaping or bounding over them.  There just wasn’t enough ‘spring in my step’ and though I was able to keep moving, it lost the dynamic appeal for me.  I’d been doing more strength training lately, so it was a little unexpected, but maybe I didn’t have enough pre-race calories, or my cardio capacity should have been better.

The 5km area was just a crazy web criss-crossing the same ridge; in a road race, seeing other racers coming your way means a turnaround is near and you may be reaching a significant milestone (like the halfway or at least quarter-way point), but here, it just got confusing and disheartening: “I’m just going to keep seeing this same ridge again and again from slightly different angles!”.  Still, the mountain bike trail based course offered a lot of fun, especially on downhills.  I found myself banking into turns as if I was on a roller coaster!

I heard some complaints afterwards that the last aid station was not where it was supposed to be (it was supposed to be at 5km, it might have been closer to 3km).  I was wearing my Salomon hydration pack, so I didn’t really notice.

Near the end of the middle third, I stopped to take off my hat for a bit.  I noticed I was struggling more and more to keep a pace, and I realized I was overheating.  Some cool raindrops on my scalp was enough for me to put the hat back on and pick up the pace.  Obviously I was more tired than ever before, but after about the 7.5km mark, I realized the course was taking us back, and from the noise levels, I must be close to the finish.   I started to pour it on, and had another racer within site and made it my mission to catch her.  The last marshal said “Get in there!” or something like that, and it was good encouragement... I was getting really close, and it was going to be a tough call as to wheter I would catch her or not.  Suddenly, we both cried out “WHOA!” because we both hit the same patch of slippery mud at the same time and did a little surfing.  The last 10m of running switched to a kind of tentative ‘walk on eggshells’ stride and she finished the race just in front of me.  We shared a low five and went to get our recovery food.

Another finisher crosses the line!

I was smiling from the fun I’d just had and my smile would only widen as I helped myself to watermelon, bananas, cookies, bagels (with jam, cream cheese or Nutella available). The best thing I saw though... was JELLY BEANS!

They're under the jube-jubes... you can't trick me!

Once the high (and warmth) of having finished the race was wearing off, I looked to figure out if the race kits/swag would be handed out. Some people asked and were told "soon". I think they wanted everyone to finish, and hand out all the awards at the same time as the finisher packages. I'm sorry to say, I lost patience; I had dry clothes in the car, but not a rain jacket to stay that way should I decide to walk back to the race site. Once I found myself shivering, I headed back to the car, changed, then drove away. This is my only real criticism of the race, making it hard to get the swag, but I understand that they don't exactly have a ton volunteers to handle this kind of thing.  

I'll happily do this series again next year!

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