The Golden Ultra Day 2: A 55 km mountain ultramarathon with 2700 m cumulative gain/loss

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Photo: Bruno Long/Golden Ultra

I woke up Saturday morning feeling amazing! I had got plenty of sleep – which is rare on multi-day races – and my legs felt great in spite of the previous day’s big uphill. My summer spent climbing mountains around my Vancouver Island home was really paying off. Today I would find out if my downhill training was also sufficient, as the 55 km route was basically one big mountain climb: starting in the town of Golden at 785 m, hitting the summit at 2365 m at our 31k mark, then descending over 1500 m back to town.

A few days previous, the forecast was for rain, but luckily that had mellowed to a total expected precipitation of only 3 mm for the day, with expected temperatures at town-level of around 8C. Of course things can change quickly in the mountains – but that had me make a last-minute decision to not carry my rain jacket after all, and just take a light nylon shell instead. Jacket, hat and gloves were all required gear: all things that I think any of us would have carried on this route anyway, required or not.

That's me, with two other local racers, starting out and still in forest. Photo: Bruno Long/GoldenUltra

That’s me, with two other local racers, starting out and still in forest. Photo: Bruno Long/GoldenUltra

Three of the three-day racers who had run the previous day chose to DNS, so the field was now down to 48 attempting the full distance. It was just getting light in Spirit Square, downtown Golden, as we headed out: first for 3 or so km down the road alongside the river, then veering left to start the climb through the forest.

There were a fair few locals in the field, but the rest of us had no idea of what to expect from the route. What a surprise to find that we were rising along the lip of a spectacular canyon! Its irregular lip was on our immediate left – a completely jagged and eroding edge, and from there a 500 m (1500’) dropto the rushing river below. Don’t stumble! Signs warned that this was sensitive mountain goat habitat – I sure wished I had time to hang out here with my binoculars. But the race clock was ticking… I snapped some pix and kept going.

Climbing along the lip of the canyon.

Climbing along the lip of the canyon.

Very quick stop to appreciate the view...

Very quick stop to appreciate the view…

And this is the view! It's a long way down...

And this is the view! It’s a long way down…

The 22 km aid station - not too cold yet.

The 22 km aid station – not too cold yet.

I climbed for a while with a nurse named Jen from Golden- nice to have someone to chat to as we plodded upward. I was faster uphill than her, which gave me the opportunity to get a bit ahead of her and then stop to take pictures (nice when I can actually have people in my photos!) It got colder and windier as we ascended, now along a forested ridgeline, and I soon stopped to rug up, very glad that I had chosen a thick fleece toque for my required-gear hat.

Climbing with Jen.

Climbing with Jen.

The terrain got rougher and rockier, and by around 1pm Jen and I were in the clouds. You’ve all been there, you know the routine when climbing a new mountain: :this one has got to be the real summit.” Around the third false summit, nearly 2pm, Jen said “We’re gonna be tight to make the aid station cut-off.”

What?? I hadn’t even looked at the cut-off times because I had just assumed I wouldn’t be chasing them! “Yes,” she said, “It’s a 6:30 hour cut-off to Aid Station #2”- which was around the 33 km mark. We were 6:20 into the race, and we could actually see some figures silhouetted in the fog at the next summit (which, hopefully, was the real one). I pushed hard – do NOT want to be DQ’d up here! – trying to balance the need for not generating too much lactic acid in my quads as I ascended with the need not to miss the cut-off.

Another false summit. No way to know how much further...

Another false summit. No way to know how much further…

And here I am - finally on the real summit! Photo: Bruno Long/Golden Ultra

And here I am – finally on the real summit! Photo: Bruno Long/Golden Ultra

And we made it! And there was a race volunteer up there with both bad news – the aid station is another 2 km ahead – and good news – it’s an 8-hour cut-off. We still had an hour and a half! (“Oops, sorry!” laughed Jen!). This was at least the actual summit. From here, we followed a very narrow, rocky (and somewhat scary) ridgeline. Jen was much faster than me on that type of terrain. I caught her momentarily when I made the aid station, but then didn’t see her again for the rest of the day.

Here's the view looking back from the 33k aid station - the summit I was on and the ridgeline coming down. LOTS of descending still to go.

Here’s the view looking back from the 33k aid station – the summit I was on and the ridgeline coming down. LOTS of descending still to go.

Running down (I walked a lot of this stuff, rocks were slippery and wet and it would be a long way to fall!) Photo: William Eaton/Golden Ultra

Running down (I walked a lot of this stuff, rocks were slippery and wet and it would be a long way to fall!) Photo: William Eaton/Golden Ultra

I was very cold when I hit the aid station – which was the top of the same gondola we had finished at yesterday. My core temperature was actually totally fine, but my hands were cold to the point of barely being able to use them. I needed to eat, but I knew that I could not stand still or I would chill instantly.

Fortunately, there was a little room there, toasty warm, where we could sit to eat! There were two racers already in there recovering from mild hypothermia, and the safety director looked at me, worried, when I entered, asking me all the proper questions to assure that I was OK and not in need of aid. One of the racers was still very cold, unsure if she would continue or not, and the safety director was monitoring her, taking her pulse. The other racer gradually warmed up, and he headed out as I ate.

Love this pic, of a runner on that exposed ridgeline. Photo: Bruno Long/Golden Ultra

Love this pic, of a runner on that exposed ridgeline. Photo: Bruno Long/Golden Ultra

I spent maybe ten minutes in there, eating as many chips and pretzels and drinking as much water as I could stuff in. The icy wind shocked me when I stepped back out – had I really been running in such cold? But I knew that I would be losing altitude very quickly from here, so I started to run. Down rocks, then eventually down a switchbacking gravel path below the gondola, down down down to the resort we had started at yesterday, then through the parking lot (waved on by race volunteers cheering us on and directing us) and into the forest and down and more down.

Later that night, at dinner, everyone I talked to agreed that this section – between the aid station at 33 km up top, and the next aid station at 44 km, was much longer than 11 km! (I think several km longer). But the terrain was pretty fast – some mud at lower levels, nothing too bad.

And then abruptly I emerged at the same bridge where we had crossed over the Kicking Horse River that morning: just 3 road km and I would be done! I still had pretty good running legs (well, maybe “jogging” is the better word here). A local woman on a bike rode with me and encouraged me the last 500 m, pointing out the finish tent (I thought I was much further out) and motivating me to pick up the pace for the finish – and, to lots of cheering, I made it in.

Today's winner,Jorge Maravilla, up on the ridgeline. Photo: William Eaton/Golden Ultra

Today’s winner,Jorge Maravilla, up on the ridgeline. Photo: William Eaton/Golden Ultra

It was the multi-day racers who killed it today! In all four categories, multi-day racers took top place, finishing ahead of runners who were “only” doing today’s 55k. Notable were the two Open category (under-40) winners.

California’s Jorge Maravilla tore the course to shreds, finishing in an incredible 5:53:37. “It was hard,” he told me. “I’ve never done a race with so much vert.” And the women’s winner, Ailsa MacDonald of St. Albert, AB, put out an equally impressive performance, finishing in 6:18:33 to take second overall! Apparently Ailsa is new to trails, currently making the switch from running road marathons – so I think we will be hearing a lot more about her! Full Day 2 results can be found at https://timing.zone4.ca/results/21166f7b-91f4-8d83-c871-2d7caa6d1559/.

There’s nothing like that feeling when you cross the finish line after a tough race and the tears well up just a bit in your eyes. But no time to dwell on that – I was a good hour longer than I had expected, finishing in 11:25 (cut-off was 12 hours!). Time to get warm clothes on, enjoy dinner with my fellow runners at the adjacent Island restaurant, then get back up the hill to sleep before tomorrow’s final stage

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