Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Athlete's Corner: Adventure run

The Sunshine Coast Trail

Matt Barry, Graham Perkins, and Alexa Laidlaw set out to run the Sunshine Coast Trail from Sarah Point to Saltery Bay in one go (110 miles) last weekend.

Chloé: Tell us more about this trail and why you chose to do it at this time of year?
Matt: This was all Graham’s baby. He pitched the idea to Alexa and then I just sort of shoe-horned my way into it. To be completely honest, I had no idea this trail even existed before Graham had mentioned wanting to run it. I think it may have been at VIMFF this year that the idea popped into his head after a chat with current FKT (fastest known time) holder Ean Jackson and trail builder Eagle Walz. I didn’t know where it started or finished, or anything else about it. All it took was hearing there was 110 miles of trail I hadn’t touched yet, and I was onboard.

We chose this weekend because the three of us are doing Rainshadow Running’s Sun Mountain 50, in one distance or another, and I wanted to be somewhat fresh again in time for that.  That, and Graham is leaving for Nepal almost immediately after Sun Mountain. 

As far as what I know about the trail now, is that it is absolutely beautiful. It wasn’t very far in that we had almost unconsciously made the decision to slow things down and soak in as much of the trail as we could.            

Graham and Alexa packing ...

Chloé: What was the plan in terms of the logistics, and now knowing what you know, would you plan anything differently?
Matt: We headed over the day before to stash some gear, and then drive up the 4x4 road to Sarah Point, get some sleep, and then hit the trail in the morning.
It looked like it would be smart to break the trail into four sections. The first leg would be from Sarah Point to the bridge that crosses Powell River, which is about 50km in. The trail basically spits you out into the parking lot of a pub called the shingle mill. We cached some gear just before that point, with the intention of grabbing it, reloading with some food, change of clothes, and then hitting the pub for some refreshments.

Dealing with Cut Blocks

“Aid Station 2” was somewhere near the 95km mark where the trail crosses a logging road. There we decided to set up a tent with some sleeping bags and clean clothes, cache some food in a bin, and use that as a spot to take a quick nap if we needed.  We then left Graham's car down at the Dixon road crossing, which would be around the 135 km mark, to serve as aid station 3. Then that was it until the finish, with the assumption that either one person would end up dropping at that point, and take the car to the finish, or we’d just hitch hike back to the car.

Aid Station #2

Chloé: How did you work as a team, like, what different skill sets did you each count on would benefit this adventure run?
Matt: If there is one thing I had to pull out of the whole adventure, it’s that I found two other people I can be with on a trail for 40 hours and never have the smile leave my face. Even as time went on and the jokes got darker, and darker, we were all pretty much laughing the whole time. The only person who had ran longer than 10 hours was Graham, and he was basically our skipper through the whole thing, except for when he kept missing switchbacks. Graham bestowed a lot of knowledge on us on how to deal with endurance running, the versatility of butter, and the irresistible powers of the trail robe.

Graham thinking this is good training for Barkley Marathon ...

Chloé: What were the highlights, what went well, what did you enjoy most?
Matt: The first 50k of this trail went, to the second, according to plan. The trail was clear of blow downs and overgrowth, and it mostly lacked cut blocks and logging road. It was perfect. 

Hard to pick any specific highlight as the whole time we were either joking, laughing, eating, or just appreciating how beautiful those forests are. If it had to pick one, about 23 hours into the run we dropped down from Tin Hat Mountain. We hopped on the logging road, (as per Ean Jackson’s route, and not actually summiting Tin Hat) and headed to where the trail picks up again. It was probably about 5 in the morning and the sun was starting to come up, and Graham started picking the pace up a bit. We were eventually just hammering this descent, and somewhere in that strava file is a little burst of a 5:00/km pace 23 hours into a run!  The final moment of joy was that first beer after finishing.

Chloé: What were the low points and what was going on?
Matt: At about 60k in, my right knee bailed on me. It’s the second time this year I’ve experienced this. The last time was when I was sweeping Orcas Island 50 km.  That time, it went away as soon as I had a chance to open things up to catch the next last runner. I assume it’s from running at a much slower pace, with a lot more gear on my back. Problem was that we weren’t all of a sudden going to start running at race pace. I pretty much knew I wasn’t going to finish the whole trail at that point, but that didn’t end up being a factor anyway. I wouldn’t say it was a low point, because that’s when we got to Confederation Lake. Someone had left a fire going while they were out on the lake and we must have hung out there for a good 10 minutes around the fire.

One moment that was particularly heartbreaking was realizing that the tent we had dropped wasn’t really where we thought it was. We had left it up near Lewis Lake at an earlier junction almost 3k from where we thought we left it. 3k has never felt so far away.  It didn’t really seem to shake Graham all that much, but I had a real hard time pushing through that point. It all seems really silly in hindsight, but at the time it was tough.  I’m pretty sure that’s the only moment that would classify as a low point, one in which I still don’t find very funny. I’m sure the humor will bubble up one day.

Somewhere here is a trail marker ...

The last kilometre marker, Matt was ready for it!

Chloé: How would you sum up your trip, and what’s next?
Matt: This was all uncharted waters for me, having never ran farther than 50 miles. It’s a different beast in that 20-30 hour zone. I loved it, maybe because of the people I was with or because the trail, or any trail for that distance, forces you to feel humbled.  I don’t think it’ll be too long before we are back on the Sunshine Coast Trail. The Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society have done an amazing job building an incredible trail, although it was maybe a little too early in the year to try to run the whole thing. There was still a good amount of snow on some of the peaks, and a lot of overgrowth and blow downs. We made the wise decision to pack it in after 135 km, as a storm was coming in and there was still one more peak (the aptly renamed ‘Mt. Bad Idea’) to hit over the next 45km.  It was almost all type 1 fun out there! There won’t be one tear shed by any of us for not finishing the trail as we had such a ridiculous, hilarious, adventure out there. 

Graham standing in the shadow of Mt. Bad Idea
on the way home (with snow at the top from the night before)

As for what’s next, I’m the only one out of the three of us that still feels sore. I’m resting up for the rest of the week, and then getting back out there! We’ll all be at Sun Mountain in a few weeks. After that, Alexa is running Knee Knacker and Squamish 50, Graham will continue his madness at Fat Dog, and I’ll be running Cascade Crest 100.


  1. Great job! Given all of the improvements to the trail, the FKT is soft so you have to go back and break 40 hours. =;-)

    IMHO, best opportunities are when days are long and snow is gone (late June, July, early Aug).

    Here are some resources you might find helpful:

    And here's some historical footage:

    Hard to believe it's been 10 years!