Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Royal LePage Comox Valley Snow to Surf Relay

Hello runners and readers,
I know this is a bit of a delayed write up of a great even which took place on the first of May.  After running the Sun Run, I had a slight foot injury which was plaguing me for the whole week after.  After a week of rest and two very uncomfortable training sessions the pain started to disappear.  I had planned on going to the TC 10k in Victoria to compete as I was not fully satisfied with my result from the Sun Run.  There was only one problem to that plan.  I did not have the money to pay for travel food and accommodation.  My team mate Kevin told me about the elite hosting plan which would help athletes with the funding for travel race fees and accommodation.  "Great!" I thought.  "Problem solved."  I wrote an email to the race director asking for what could potentially have helped me get there and back.  The response was such, she was only willing to give me a free entry.  As much as I appreciated it, I was still up the creek without any paddles.  I was also very upset that the race director for the massive BMO Vancouver Marathon would not offer me a comp entry into the 8k race even after placing 2nd last year.  I wanted to be near my team mates who were racing the marathon so I figured heck, I'm just going to pay the outrageous $45 late fee to enter the race which I wanted to have revenge on from last year.  I could not afford that either, but I hate being around a race and not racing.  The week went by and I attended the Race expo as a volunteer for the BC Athletics booth.  I could feel the excitement building as everyone had come to the end of their tiring training journey in preparation for this race.  It was Friday before the race and I had just published my last blog entry.  I guess it got a bit of attention because on my Facebook wall was an outstanding offer.  Simon Driver had written to me to ask if I would like to have an all expenses paid trip to the island for a relay called Snow to surf.  I was excited for the opportunity.  I regularly would not consider an event like this because I always thought of these events as more "for fun".  Plus it would not be fitted to my running resume.  I had some turmoil about what to do as I was seriously low on cash and had already spent that money on a race which I couldn't even run in now.  I knew it was all expenses paid but I was worried about the small incurring costs along the way such as food and what not.  After talking it over with a few of my friends the decision was unanimous.  I was going to the island!

             After some research and a stern message telling me to be on my "A game" from Simon, I realized that this relay was pretty darn serious.  There were teams from all over the country and some very accomplished athletes in each field of the race.  The race starts out with down hill ski racers running up a 400 meter section of Mt. Washington to the very top.  They then strap into their skis and race down to the bottom where they hand of the wrist band to cross country skiers.  The next leg was my leg and it is the first running leg.  After that there is one more running leg who hands off to the mountain biker.  The mountain biker hands off to a kayaker who then passes off to a road cyclist.  The last leg is raced in canoes they get out run up the beach and ring a bell.  The team which I was called out for was the Westerly Hotel Brian McLean Team Banzai.  They had won for several years in a row and were renowned for their "ringers".  For those who don't know, a ringer is some one who is called in who is usually not from the local area but naturally able to compete in their sport to a very high level.  I remember not liking ringer teams because I thought it was a bit unfair.  In this event there were teams from all over the country so I figured it was OK.  Plus I didn't mind because I was on the winning team!  We had some serious athletes on our team and I was honored to be among them.  I met our team captain Bill Brett at the ferry terminal in Lion's bay and I was surprised when I saw him.  I was expecting some super lean elite type athlete.  When I saw him I said in my mind, "That's my team mate?"  He was around 5'11", barrel chested and probably pushing close to 220lbs.  I couldn't believe he was going to be on the same team until I saw him in his element.  He was the front man for the canoe section and his strength is what pulled the canoe to victory for the last few years.  We ended up at the Westerly Hotel in Courtney for our team meeting that night and I got to meet all the other members of the team.  Everyone else looked the part except for the other paddler.  He was pushing 70.  I wasn't worried about him after hearing about some of his recent accomplishments as a paddler.  I was super stoked to see Sean Chester.  He was the other runner and I knew him to be a damn good one.  I have raced against Sean a few times this year and last and he has always given me a really good run for my money.  After dinner (which I had to pay for) and a short run along the river/ocean, and the Canucks game it was off to bed.  I was happy to be afforded a lovely hotel room right on the river at the Westerly Hotel. 

Race morning came early as we were meeting at 6:30 for breakfast in the hotel.  It was a lovely spread which I was unfortunately not able to fully indulge on because of the race.  We got our race packages and were briefed on how the day was going to unfold and who was going in what cars etc.  After breakfast we traveled up the mountain to where the race started.  It was a stunning clear blue bird day.  It was great to finally get to see what Mt. Washington looked like as I had yet to go there.  Too bad I didn't have time for a ski because the snow was perfect especially for Nordic.  There were a lot of recreational teams in costume as well as all the elites in their racing attire.  Our skier made it down the mountain in second place but had a tumble and ended up leaving our skate skier in third place out of the transition.  He quickly passed the person in front of him being such a talented and avid skier and held the gap skillfully on the skier ahead of him.  At this time I knew there was less than 18 minutes to get to the hand off where I would start my run so I was scrambling to find my team mates.  This would be the most severe and costly mistake of the whole race.  It was my first time ever doing this so I had no idea what to expect.  There was some confusion over where the skier had left his clothes and I couldn't seem to find anyone.  I finally found Bill Brett our team captain and got his keys and ran down to the vehicle to grab my race kit where the second car was luckily waiting for me.  We raced down the hill as I threw on my other shoes and Icebreaker race singlet with my number on it.  There were a substantial amount of cars already down at the transition so we pulled over at the nearest spot.  I jumped out and ran down the road passing cars frantically looking for the spot I needed to be.  As I neared the transition I could hear people shouting "45!, 45!" I knew I was on team 45 and ran to the voices.  I could see my team mate waiting there. "Yikes!" I exclaimed, "How long have you been here?"  David said "About two minutes.  Their runner is two minutes ahead of you, Go Go Go!!"  As he handed me the wrist band I sprinted out of there like a bat outta hell.  There were a few steps I took where my foot punched through the snow causing me to stumble.  As I hit the road there was a slight incline before the descent began.  There was so much panic in my system as I thought about the guy in front of me and how if I didn't catch him I could cost the team the victory.  Once on the down slope I opened up my stride and focused on my form and technique.  I knew it was only 8.5km and all down hill so I really poured it on knowing that gravity would allow me to carry more speed for the distance.  I wish I had had time to start my watch because I know this would certainly be a PB for the distance.  I felt like a gazelle as I flew down the road.  The snow walls started to shrink as I descended and I could see the beautiful view unfold in front of me and I enjoyed one brief moment of serenity.  There were cars fleeting down the mountain some honked and the competitors mostly did not.  I caught a glimpse of the runner ahead and knew I could probably catch him.  He was a long way up and I could not see him through the bendy sections.  I looked down to see his footprints in the dirt on the side of the road.  I knew he was wearing Brooks Cascadias which were a heavy trail shoe and as I spaced out his stride I could tell that I was taking a half step more per stride than he was and at this point I knew I had him.  I dug even harder and struggled to keep my form in tact as the grade got steeper.  My team mates were now along side of me in the chase vehicle and I could see the competition along this straight section had gotten a lot closer to me since the last time I had seen him.   It was now for the final 1.5km push and to close that illusive two minute gap.  I was hungry and love to chase so I dug as hard as I could.  The hand off was just ahead and I could now see it.  I was closing and breathing hard and I know the guy in front of me knew I was right on his tail because I could feel him surge. 100 meters to go I poured on the nitrous and got him just on the line.  Our transition was smoother as Sean and I did a running hand off so Sean got away first.  Whew!! I did it.  Now it was up to the rest of my team to hold and grow the gap.  After a two second stretch I jumped into the van and we were off again.  Sean looked good and strong as he led the way down the rest of the mountain.  The runner behind him was from team Canmore as I had learned.  He was not nearly as graceful as Sean was and I knew he wouldn't be able to hold on for long.  We went down to where the run mountain bike transition was and waited For Sean to arrive.  The last section of the run was on a logging road and was pretty rocky.  As Sean rounded the last corner he stumbled on some rocks and his tired legs weren't able to keep him up.  He went down and slid across the gravel road on his hands and butt.  As the crowd exclaimed with ooooh's and ahhhhhhh's I helped him up and encouraged him to boogie on to the exchange which was about 100 meters away.  He was clearly hurt and upset about his new running gloves which now had holes in them as well as his Harriers jersey.   I didn't know the extent of his injury until after the race when he showed us his butt cheek completely red and raw and one deep cut on his palm. Ouch!! He's such a nice guy, I wish that never happened to him but it makes for a good story.  Of course we couldn't have had any flawless legs of this race.  Sean had made up about a minute and ten seconds on his leg so we were now in much better shape.  The mountain bike leg of the race was fairly uneventful as we were on the road and they were in the trails.  We lost a small bit of time on this leg and we saw our guy come in to the transition to the kayak.  Our kayak transition was flawless and our guy was off in record time.  We made up some more time here as the Canmore team was floundering with their boat before they went off.  The road bike was a flawless leg and he kept the gap very well.  On to the canoe.  You may think of a canoe as just the ole' clunker that you used to beat around the lake or river on.  The canoe that our team was using was nothing short of a world class racing canoe with adjustable seats and a carbon fiber construction. It was super sleek and very impressive.  My teammates had a slight confusion as to the way they got in the water. They did it differently this year which created a slight time loss but no biggie as we were still in the lead.  Before they entered the water I was driving the chase van to the finish line to await the final outcome and was surprisingly the first one of our team mates to arrive.  There was such a gong show on the roads after we went through as there were over 160 teams with 9 team mates per team so I'm sure they just got caught up in the mix.  I was standing on the pier in beautiful Comox when I could see them off in the distance.  The tide was super low so they had to paddle much farther than usual.  As they came out of the ocean bound river into the ocean I could see the Canmore team behind them and it looked as though they were making up ground very quickly.  They did however have the current on their side as they crept up on our boys.  They were both now out in open water and it looked as though one of my guys was standing up in the boat.  If you had seen this canoe you would see how impossible this would be without tipping it.  They had run into a sand bar and were beached!! Oh no!  They both got out and had to carry the boat towards the shore (as the rules stated) in order to clear the sand bar.  This cost them precious time as the next team crept up on them.  From the distance that I was away it was very difficult to see how close they were.  After a day's worth of racing it was too close for comfort.  I watched helplessly from the pier as they crept closer.  I knew they were close enough to hear me now so I let out a giant cheer.  I was pleased to know now that I had not cost them the race with my late start and came to congratulate them as we rang the bell for victory.

        The hard work was now over and it was time to head to the beer gardens to celebrate the days events.  It was certainly a lot of fun doing the race and now time for some more fun in liquid form.  The ice cold beer tasted very good and we were given a few free beer tickets.  We browsed around and checked out all the other competitors and party goers and waited for the beer garden to fill up.  Some of them took hours to come in after us so we had a few beers into us by the time the awards got under way.  The awards were a beautiful glass plate which was engraved and a giant gold chocolate medal.  There were also two giant trophies which we got to have our name on.  After the awards we went to the local pub for a group dinner.  It was a beautiful patio with a massive panoramic view of the mountains and ocean.  I had a spinach and chicken breast salad which was delicious.  We had a lot of laughs and I got the nick name "Two minute Dave" for missing the hand off by two minutes.  After dinner we were hoping to find a killer after party but no luck.  We had a nice tour around the town and headed back to the hotel for a swim, hot tub and a sauna.  None the less a great way to end the night.  Sleep came easy and morning welcomed us with the breakfast we weren't fully able to enjoy before the race.  After that it was back to the ferry for the trip home.  Great new friends and a stellar experience. Glad I went.

Here are some videos that show the event:
Photos will be posted when I get back to BC.

Things I hate: Even though it was supposed to be all inclusive, I was on my own for a lot more of the cost than I had expected.
Things I love: Being a part of the winning team