Saturday, September 27, 2014

Race Report: Sky Pilot 18km

Photo by Scott Roberts

Date: Sunday, Sept 21st, 2014
Distance: 12.5km and 18km
Location: Sea to Sky Gondola, Squamish, BC
Full results and photos (here)

About a month ago, I volunteered to join Eric Carter’s crew to help cut and clear “Plan A” of the Sky Pilot long course. It was only a glimpse, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how much fun and terror this race was going to be. Beyond excited.

Then, a few things happened out of the organizers’ control. They were quick to adapt and draw-up an excellent “Plan B”. Still excited.

The week of the race, a rain deluge affected the course’s safety. And “Plan C” was now in effect. Less excited, but trusting it would be challenging enough.

And it did not disappoint. I enjoyed the entire course so much, likely because I was prepared for this type of terrain, with all my hiking and scrambling as of late (see: last post).

Sea-to-Sky Gondola platform area. Gary's pre-race briefing.
Awards with Gary's parents, happy with 3rd place. Photo by Scott Roberts

Much was said during and after the race, how great it all was, including: the course design, the marking, the marshalling, and the racer communications through-out. We were well-warned along with a hefty waiver sign-off. There are many people to acknowledge for this successful event (for better details read blogs: Mike Murphy, Tom Craik).

Nearly perfect

Oddly, I mixed my electrolyte drink too strong and it was making me gag. My legs were starting to cramp, so I took many salt pills and gels to remedy. But without water to wash it down, the cramping persisted. I ran steady and smoothly on the first section of the course, passing many on the climbs and holding my position on the descents. I followed one guy off course down the “sticky rocks” section. We both realised pretty quickly because there were no flags and because it got overly sketchy.

My body goaded me to hammer hard. But having no knowledge of the new “Plan C” course, and mindful that returning cramps could finish my race, I was forced to keep my pace in check. At the aid station going up into the second double-back section, I didn’t realize this was THE aid station where RD Gary had insisted in the pre-race briefing that we stop there, and fill-up with a mandatory 2L of liquids. My pack was already full, since I wasn’t drinking my nasty electrolyte mixture. So, idiot, it didn’t register that I could simply exchange the sweet-swill for fresh water. Instead, I ran past the aid station in a dumb fury.

After my first tumble, feeling a bit crampy. Photo by Mayo Jordanov

Anne-Marie Madden, mountain goddess. We could be twins ;-) Photo by Mayo Jordanov

Up up and up it went. I picked-off more runners and tagged-on to Astrid and another fellow. We chatted in our triad, comfortably sauntering through the boulder field. Then my calf seized and I hit the ground in a flash. The fellow quickly grabbed my ankle and pulled my leg straight, then yanked me upright. Astrid gave me a sip of her water, there off we went. Silas, The Murph, Anne-Marie, with Tom in chase all ran by, so we figured the turnaround to be somewhat near.

Astrid said she’d be cautious on the boulders’ descent, inviting me to step ahead. I thanked them both and enthusiastically jetted off. (Later, I was very sorry to hear that this fellow badly gashed his leg in the boulder field and that Astrid sacrificed her race to provide him aid, then in turn tumbled and punctured her leg.)

When I fall, I fall so far. When I fall, I fall so hard

Unaware of the drama behind me, I pushed hard in the technical trying to gain where I was apt, knowing Astrid would be stronger in the final runnable Ks. I was in second place and all was well, anticipating the aid station and water within reach. Except ... both legs seized under me. I flew and bounced as if thrown out of a speeding train. I wriggled like a fish in a net trying to take control of my limbs. Pat Malavi and Mike Thomas ran by “are you alright?”. Shock and frustration erected me, I shuffled to the aid station, yelling “liquids!! I need liquids, I’m DYING here!!”.

The water saved me, the adrenaline carried me into Gary’s famous finishers’ hug. “I loved it so much!!!” I said, then the cramps took-over. 

Gary feeding me electrolyte pills, medics wringing seized muscles. Photo by Scott Roberts

"Yup, it's a pebble". Photo by Scott Roberts

Turns-out cramping and crashing (repeatedly) takes a toll. I’m banged-up and slow to recover. Taking it easy until Hallow’sEve Half.

Looking forward to next year’s "Plan Awesome" Sky Pilot!!

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