You’d better like mud: Dirty Duo race report

North Vancouver’s Dirty Duo (www.dirtyduo.com) presented by Mountain Madness (www.mountainmadness.ca) holds a special place in my heart. It was my first trail race. I was a road runner, but during this race in 2004 I fell in love with trail running and specifically with the technical, muddy, slick single-track that defines Vancouver’s infamous North Shore. At the time I was concerned that I’d be out of my element, instead I bonded with the unfamiliar mess of rocks and roots that I now consider my backyard. I currently live within a kilometre of this trail network and have spent countless hours playing in this wonderfully varied and always beautiful terrain.

Last weekend, March 10th, I geared up and did the Dirty Duo for my 5th time. Rather than bore people with a race report about my race, I want to explain what makes the Dirty Duo unique and amazing, not just for me, but for many others as well.

So, what is the Dirty Duo and why is it so great? The quick answer: it is quintessential North Shore! What does that even mean? If you’re from the North Shore, or already love playing in the trail network, you know the answers already. If not, well here are five reasons:

1) Mountain biking and trail running: the Dirty Duo is THE event that brings together the two predominant and extremely overlapped, populations who use and maintain the trails – mountain bikers and trail runners (no offence to hikers and dog-walkers!). While I’m biased and use the trails predominantly for running, the North Shore is internationally renowned for its mountain biking. Over the years it has been the subject of many bike magazine covers. You don’t have to look far to see how well mountain bikers and trail runners get along. I live with a mountain biker, and I’m pretty sure if our dog could choose, he’d rather ride a bike. The race recognizes this friendly relationship, and common love of the trails by offering categories for runners (15k, 25k and 50k), mountain bikers (30k), relay racers (25k run and 30k bike), and solo racers (in which one crazy person does both the running and cycling events!).

2) Mud, roots, rocks, puddles, mist, moss and ferns! It is always muddy, slippery, and brilliantly green, usually drizzly, and often slushy in parts. Even if it has been brilliantly sunny leading up to the event, on the day of the event, it is almost always overcast and/or drizzling. This is the North Shore at its finest and exactly why runners and mountain bikers love playing here. Though the trails look brilliant under bluebird skies, they are truly at their best when it is moody and magical.

3) Lynn Canyon, the Baden Powell, Bridal Path, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin! This event weaves and winds through lower Seymour and manages to include all of the trails that are synonymous with this area. If you want to see maps and /or elevation profiles for each of the courses, go here: http://www.dirtyduo.com/raceinfo.asp?page=description. What is missing from these is a description of what to expect: Climbs, technical descents, and undulating terrain, all of which tests a different set of muscles. There is never a time to recover on the Dirty Duo, and it has something for everyone to love and to hate. While I personally find that the steady climbs (3k and 1000 ft at one point) destroy me, there are those who thrive on hills, but will likely be beat up by the technical descents. There are also false flats to make legs feel like lead, and undulating technical terrain to test those tiny stabilizers.

4) March! C’mon it’s early March – still officially winter! The trails are runnable and rideable! In fact, trail runners and mountain bikers can attack the North Shore’s lower trails year round! This is an early race however, and is a solid kick in the butt and honest measure of fitness and mental grit to use while planning the remainder of the racing year.

5) Organization and community. This year, I noticed another amazing thing. Previously, I have always participated as the runner on a relay team, which has meant an 8am start with the other relay runners, ultra-runners and solo participants. There is something blissfully satisfying about being finished a gruelling event when others have yet to begin. This time however, I did the 25k run only, which started at 10am. While I missed being part of team, I appreciated seeing just how well organized the event is. Much of the credit goes to the Race Director, Heather MacDonald, and the tireless volunteers, but credit also goes to the users of the North Shore trails. The timing is such that I was out there as the relay runners were returning and relay bikers were starting at varying times. Ultra runners were out racing, and Saturday hikers and runners were out and about with their dogs. I witnessed a display of trail etiquette at its best. Despite fatigue and very technical single track, runners gave way to faster bikers, and hikers held on to their dogs and cheered with enthusiasm as racers went by. It was inspirational.

The Dirty Duo packages the North Shore trails with something for everyone (as long as you like mud)! I would highly recommend that anyone who would like a fun tasting menu of the North Shore trails do this race, or simply run the course for fun. You will love it! You will hate it! Regardless, I predict that you will want to do it again!

Sasha Brown is a trail runner from North Vancouver. She is also The North Face Canadian trail ambassador for British Columbia. You can find her at www.playwithabandon.ca.