TrailStoke – Bigger Mountains, Bigger Pain

by Max on July 30, 2014

Nick Elson and I were locked in a heated battle. We’d just passed through aid station 4 and he’d opened up another 1 minute gap on me after I’d just gotten done closing the first gap he’d gained on a technical, scrambly and steep climb up toward the peak of Mt. MacKenzie. I was just about done after having already climbed over 10000ft up and down Revelstoke Mountain Resort and now just had the long decent back down to the lodge left.

Beauty in all it's Glory

We were in Revelstoke, BC for the first TrailStoke event, the only Ultra event in the Canadian 5Peaks race series. Being three weeks post Western States my only obligation in heading up north was to be on the speaker panel the night before the race. After getting there on a clear day and seeing the towering mountains looming over Revelstoke I figured I would run the course easy just to get out and see some of the scenery. I still wasn’t feeling 100% after Western and didn’t know how it was going to feel taking on a demanding 50k at that point.

Downtown Revelstoke

Pre-race Briefing. That's a lot of people.

The beginning of a whole lotta pain

A flat 8 miler the day before didn’t feel too bad until I hit a few little hills in it. It was a nice day out and my legs were coming around but didn’t feel like they were quite there yet. The morning of was relaxed and it’s always nice preparing for a race with not expectations. If a big group of guys hauled off the start line I’d just settle in and be out for a nice run up a very big mountain. But, that didn’t happen that way. When the horn sounded we all jumped out of the gate a bit more conservative than I’d expected. There was a relay event going off at the same time and two of them were out front for awhile but the main ultra pack caught up pretty quickly once we headed up the climb. I was in the lead pack and feeling rather comfortable. No one was pushing the pace so I was able to keep it relaxed and in control on the way up. It was about a 9 mile, 4000ft climb up to what I thought would be the top and the first aid station.
This is the first time I think I’ve ever had an all out sprint in the middle of a 50k. A prime was set up for this first aid station and when we topped out I ended up well ahead of 2nd, but the aid station was downhill about 1/4mi from the top down a dirt road. As we neared the aid station the dude in 2nd began his charge as quietly as possible but I knew what was coming. Checking over my shoulder several times I could tell he was getting closer and was about to make a break for it. When he was about 20m from me he started his all out sprint and I made mine. Lucky for me I still had some leg speed. Turned out later that he was one of the relay guys, he got to stop, I had another 22 miles.

Alpine meadows

Continuing on I actually figured it was going to be a walk in the park…or an easy jog in the mountains. I was dropping the other ultra guys in the race pretty fast. We headed out into the unknown. From the ski hill we traversed through the off beaten track through a swamp, up a technical scree covered pitch, and high alpine meadows. Everything I’d read online was about getting up the ski hill then having some beautiful high alpine ridgeline running. Not on this course. They got everything right except for the running part. It was beautiful with clouds swirling, we were in the midst of a gentle storm with showers here and there. It gave the mountain a certain mystique since we couldn’t define where we were in relation to anything around us. We just continued to climb. At least another 2500ft. With the rough terrain I was relegated to hiking. I started to take in the beauty of the alpine. Meadows, grasses, wildflowers, and rocks.

Starting the pain train

Boom, Hit's you like a wall! Wait, it is a wall.

Still Climbing

That’s when, out of the fog, Nick Elson crept up on me. I could see him down below on the ridgeline I’d just come up. He was moving well and gaining on me pretty fast. He caught me at about half way at the turnaround. We both came up on a pile of flags and just stopped. There was supposed to be a person at the turn around but this was clearly where the course ended. Nothing beyond. We decided that was it and turned to head back down the mountain. The technical downhill was no easier than it was on the way up but I stayed as close to Nick as possible. Through the more runnable sections I would creep up on his heels, through the technical hiking sections he would gain some ground on me. As I descended down the treacherous loose rock the only thing I could think to myself was that this wasn’t so much of an ankle turning course, this was like a broken bones type of course.

Nick gaining ground.

Trail? What trail?

One more big hike up to 2200m and just a shade below the summit of Mt MacKenzie Nick gapped me pretty good as I started to struggle after so much vertical. We hit aid station three then we had about 3 miles of downhill dirt road. Hallelujah! Open it up baby! I’d caught back up by aid 4, another little off road stretch and he opened back up another little gap. Dang it! Ok, more road to the finish. I closed back down on him and took the lead for the final time. I didn’t gap him quite as fast as I would have liked and now was hurting pretty good. Any little uphill would send minor cramps down my calves so I had to stay diligent in gauging my efforts on any uneven terrain.

Nick pouring on the pain.

That jacket saved me.

The final two miles was a steep off-road pitch straight down a ski slope then a winding and fun little singletrack right into the finish. I managed to hold him off and came in just 40sec in front to one of the most scenic finishes I’ve ever raced toward. It was pretty amazing as the photos will show and it was an epic adventure.

Finish Line View

I was surprised to feel pretty decent throughout but only 3 weeks after Western I definitely dug myself into the pain cave and back into a recovery hole. Was it worth it, yeah, probably. It hurt but to win the first ever TrailStoke is pretty cool.

5Peaks Racing is trying to make TrailStoke a premier mountain ultra event with weekend festivities and what not. It’s a SkyRunner Series Race with a great after party, dinner and live band too. In their first year they attracted about 270 people up to the off-the-beaten-path resort location and managed to put on a great event. That’s a lot of nutty people running a brutal 50k course in the middle of nowhere. Good on ya 5Peaks. Thanks to Amy and Magi all the whole crew for having me up and putting up with me for the weekend. I even got to cruise around in this: The 5Peaks Mobile.

5Peaks Mobile

This is a race that is going to become one of those classic mountain races, an epic adventure course. There are some amazing mountains to explore up there with some very wild lands. It’s going to be fun to see what else our northern neighbors can cook up. The whole weekend I couldn’t help but stare across the valley at Mount Begbie and just hear it beckoning, calling my name. Next time Begbie, next time.

Mt Begbie

More to Explore

Gear (thanks to all for the support):
MHW Ultra Refueler Shorts
MHW Way2Cool Singlet
Montrail Fluidflex II
MHW Ghost Whisperer Jacket – This thing saved me. Such an essential mountain piece.
MHW Arm Warmers
MHW Race Vest
MHW Trucker Hat
Rudy Project Rydon II
Swiftwick Aspire One Socks
GU Cherry Lime Roctane

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