The Golden Ultra Day 1: A vertical kilometre (in other words, short race, LOTS of UP!)

LIMG_0675Here’s my report on the Golden Ultra – one of my two goal ultramarathon races for the second half of 2015. (The other is Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (KAEM), which Dave and I are leaving for in a few weeks). Both are multi-day staged ultramarathons but, outside of that, they are completely different. The Golden Ultra is three days, with a huge amount of elevation gain and loss. KAEM is seven days, relatively flat, and in the desert – so sand in your shoes (and blistering) and self-supported. In other words, you have to carry all of your food and sleeping gear for the week – so we will be “running” (or perhaps a fair bit of walking!) with packs around 20-25 pounds in weight. Training for the two races is, of course, really different too. I outlined some of my Golden Ultra training plan a few weeks ago (basically lots of mountain hikes!), and here is my report on the race – first Day 1, other days coming soon.

The Golden Ultra’s three race days consisted of:

Day 1 (the Blood) – 5 km, but with over 1000 m vertical gain

Day 2 (the Sweat) – classic 55 km mountain ultramarathon (2700 m vertical gain and loss along the way)

Day 3 (the Tears) – a 20 km trail run on rolling, relatively flat, trails (total 400 m vertical gain and drop)

Day 1 start. Photo: Bruno Long/Golden Ultra

Day 1 start. Photo: Bruno Long/Golden Ultra

Sixty seven racers lined up at the start line for the vertical kilometre, at Kicking Horse Resort. Fifty one of them intended to race all three days of the Golden Ultra. This stage would be short – under an hour for the winners, and less than an hour and a half for most of the field. For the multi-day racers, though, the aim was to leave some juice in the legs for tomorrow’s big day: 55 km with 2700 m up AND down.

The day was cool and overcast – threatening rain, but not raining yet. Hard to know how to dress. It was chilly here at the bottom. No doubt it be a lot colder, and probably windy, too, at the top. On the other hand, the relentless uphill route would generate a lot of body heat. I chill easily, and tend to overdress for races, so I decided to try going light. I shouldn’t be much more than an hour. I just hoped that there wouldn’t be a long wait at the top for the gondola ride back down.

I wore a light long-sleeved shirt and compression shorts, no jacket. I was surprised to see how many people were wearing packs at the start line. Many were carrying water for this short race, but I suspect some were just carrying warm clothes to have at the top.

Starting out, just above the resort.

Starting out, just above the resort.

I also chose to use one pole. This race would be pure up, with an average gradient of 23%, and I intended to use my arms (and save my quads) as much as possible. I had planned on eating a handful of potato chips right before the start, to get some carbs and electrolytes in – but I had accidentally eaten half the bag! Oops. So my mouth felt pretty salty – but other than that, I felt really good.

The start line was right outside the doors of the Kicking Horse Resort, so most of us could walk straight out from our rooms. We shivered only a few moments before the countdown, and then we were off!

But still a LOOONNGG way to go up!

But still a LOOONNGG way to go up!

We had maybe 30 m of flat before the climbing started. The first section was on a wide gravel track, which was great for the competitors to get sorted out. The route curved to the left ahead, so I could see the field spreading ahead, led by Jorge Maravilla in a bright turquoise jacket. I was comforted to see that even he transitioned to a hike once the going got steep.
I had trained well for hills, and settled into a good steady pace for the uphill. I was more than halfway down the pack, but no one was passing me, and the people near me were breathing much harder than I was. A good sign! A light drizzle started to fall. The chips pig-out wasn’t sitting so well with me though… my mouth felt thick and salty, and I was now wishing that I had brought water after all.

But surprise! Thirty three minutes in there was small aid station. One quick gulp of water washed the salt down, and I was fine. From here we veered left, off the uphill gravel track we had been on, and now on to a very steep and rough grassy slope following along underneath the gondola route. It was very very steep and hard to get secure footing, so poles definitely gave a great advantage from here on. I was still feeling absolutely great, and it was here that I started reeling the people in.

Photo of me! Courtesy of Golden Ultra.

Photo of me! Courtesy of Golden Ultra.

Another 20 or so minutes later we broke out to a clearing and veered to the right,up some steep stone steps, now following the rocky ridgeline to the right of the gondola. This section of the route was absolutely beautiful! The steps were made of big irregular slabs of the pink quartzite that this whole mountain is made of. They took us up up up, winding between the stunted coniferous trees that peppered the ridge.

The finish line.

The finish line.

By now I’d passed a big pack of people. The next pack was far ahead, and I had little hope of catching them, so I just kept chugging up at my own pace (as Adam Chase put it to me later, “at that speed where you are just on the edge of uncomfortable”). The drizzle had stopped below, but now tiny snowflakes blew and danced around me. My thin shirt didn’t protect me from the wind at all. My hands were very cold but my core temperature was good: I just couldn’t stop.

And suddenly I crested a rocky outcropping and there I was – flags, the announcer, spectators cheering! And the gondola was right there alongside – no need for racers to chill down waiting for anything. I grabbed a slice of watermelon, shared a few congratulatory high-fives with other racers, and hopped into the gondola for my ride back down – and an impressive overview of the route that I had just climbed.

View from the gondola, of racers still on the course.

View from the gondola, of racers still on the course.

Jorge didn’t manage to maintain his lead. “Everyone ahead of me had poles,” he said. It was his first vertical kilometre, and he ended up placing second in his category and fifth overall. I found the ranking system for The Golden Ultra a bit peculiar – with an “Open” category for M and F under-40 racers, and a “Masters” category for those over 40 – but no “overall” ranking. I was very pleased with my time of 1:15:35. Top male was 49:05 (Geoffrey Richards, Kimberley BC) and top female 56:59 (Ailsa MacDonald, St. Albert AB, 56:59). First woman in my “Masters” class finished in 1:05:39, and I was fourth in my class! Feeling GREAT and ready for Day 2 – all my hills training this summer had definitely paid off.

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