Athlete’s Corner: Knee Knacker Interviews
This Saturday July 12, 2014, many of the top BC runners will be lining up on some of their favourite North Shore trails. The Knee Knackering North Shore Trail Run (or Knee Knacker for short) takes runners from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove all along the Baden-Powell Trail for 8,000 feet of vertical climb and a matching 8,000 of descent for officially 30 miles of incredibly technical trails.
The race is hugely popular with almost 400 entrants competing for 200 spots in each year’s lottery. The competitive fields go deep, so it would be impossible to try to predict a winner. Instead, we have two Vancouver-based runners, Chloe Gendron and Jeff Pelletier who spoke with some of the top contenders for the women’s and men’s races. Click on their names to see the original interviews on their respective blogs.
When: Saturday July 12, 2014, 6am start
Where: Vancouver’s North Shore Mountains from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove
Distance/Elevation: 30 miles, 8,000 feet of vertical climb and 8,000 feet of descent
Time limit: 10 hours
Number of participants: 200 max (by lottery)
Women’s Race: Sam Drove, Kathy McKay and Kim Magnus.
How long have you been an ultra-trail runner and how did you get into it?
Sam: I have always been a very athletic person. I grew up on the North Shore playing pretty much every sport under the sun and spending time roaming around on the local mountains. Eventually, I gravitated toward soccer and played for 4 years at college in Florida. I have always run trails, and have spent more and more time running over the past few years. My first 50k was the Dirty Duo a few years ago, and I have raced in a couple more ultras since.
Kathy: My relationship with trails started in my last year of high school (along the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario) and quickly turned to love when I went to University at SFU on Burnaby Mountain. Although I loved the trails, it took several years of mountain biking and off-road triathlons before I did my first ultra (Tenderfoot Boogie) in 2010.
Kim: With only one Knee Knacker under my belt as the longest run ever, I’ve got some miles ahead of me before I’d call myself an “ultra” runner. I played recreational team sports (volleyball, basketball) and did some track when I was younger. Then, I moved to Vancouver and loved the hiking. I started running, did a marathon and ran well. I hit the trails in 2012 with NSA (North Shore Athletics) for the Mountain Madness Phantom Run. I actually don’t know why I decided to do this. The main reason I trail run, despite the scrapes and getting lost, is because I’ve met the most incredible people through this sport. At all levels, everyone has this sense of pure bliss in nature and exploration.
How many times have you done Knee Knacker, and what would be an ideal finish time for you?
Sam: This will be my first time doing the KK. To be honest, I’m not sure about finish times. I am going to try and stick to my plan and hopefully things fall into place and the day ends up feeling like a success.
Kathy: Once, in 2011, I finished in 6h20. I had such a fun time, and look forward to doing it again. This year, I’d be thrilled with 6h30, with a negative split and finish feeling good. It’s such an amazing course, with amazing organizers, amazing fans, and amazing participants. Definitely a day where anything can happen!
Kim: This is my second. I said that I wouldn’t do it again … though entered the lottery on the last day. Then on lottery night, I suddenly had to get in or the world would end. Last year was an absolute wonderful hell. I enjoyed it, but was injured and the inexperience made the last half super hard. Plus I rolled my ankle in the last 2k, sidelining me for 2 months. Main goal is to feel good: I want to enjoy it and feel powerful at the finish line. In 2013, I finished in 5h43. Hoping for the same or better.
How did you prepare up to now, is KK a goal race for you?
Sam: The KK is a goal race for me this year. It’s something I have always wanted to participate in so I am excited to get the chance. I ran Diez Vista earlier in the spring and Survival of the Fittest as a warm-up for the season. I am feeling pretty good about my training so far. I have been able to cover most of the Baden Powell Trail in the past few weeks, so there should be no surprises.
Kathy: I hoped to make KK a goal race this year, but school, work and other commitments changed that plan for me slightly. As a result I’m about a month behind on training. It will be a different kind of goal now. I tend to start too quickly in races and die off, so one of my goals for KK is to stay calm and run a negative split. I’m building-up for Squamish50 (50/50), so my second goal is to eat, drink and pace myself so I can train the day after KK.
Kim: Last year was my first KK and trail ultra, so I diligently made it to all the training runs (until I fell and smashed my face and knees two weeks before the race). This year, I haven’t been as married to the KK specific runs – only because I have wonderful people and spectacular trails to also train on – and want to avoid Baden Powell Trailburnout before race day. KK is not a goal race, although I’d obviously like to do well. My taper begins Sunday (June 29) as I’m also preparing for Squamish50 (50mile) – which I’m completely terrified of.
What is your strategy for the race?
Sam: This terrain is what I love to run on. Lots of technical trail up and down mountains. I am not entirely sure how fast other folks will be, so I’ll wait for race day for that. My main goal is to just take things as they come and enjoy the experience. For me, making sure my nutrition is consistent throughout the race is always a challenge. I don’t have a crew out with me, just a lot of moral support from family and friends.
Kathy: I aim to hold back and hit Cleveland Dam at 3h20, and drink/eat 25% more than usual, see how that sets me up for the next day’s run. I can’t wait to try out my new La Sportiva Bushidos, especially in the fun downhills.
Kim: There are a few things. First, the standard list that Martin (my boyfriend) tells me when I leave the house on weekend mornings:
- Don’t fall
- Don’t get lost
- Don’t hurt yourself
- Don’t hurt others
- Don’t get chased by a bear
- ****HAVE FUN****
Plus: A good taper. Fuel well before, during, after (food, salt, hydration). Don’t start out too fast….but not too slow either. I do better uphill than downhill – so I’ll charge up and meekly trot down. I’m trialling new shoes right now – La Sportiva Bushido.
Men’s Race: Oliver Utting, Graeme Wilson and Mike Murphy
How long have you been an ultra-runner and how did you get into it?
Oliver: I think about 8 years, I started with 5 Peaks races and other local trail races. I felt like I needed a change from road racing, although I still enjoy road racing too.
Graeme: I completed my first ultra in May of this year, the Sun Mountain 50 miler… so officially, I’ve been an ultra-runner for hmmm, what’s that, about two months now? I attempted a few ultras last year, but didn’t quite make it to the finish line (Knee Knacker and Meet Your Maker 50 miler).
I started running later in life, in my 30’s, and seemed to gravitate toward the road marathon distance straight away. After quite a few years of this, I found that I was starting to lack enthusiasm for the road scene, particularly the constant required awareness of absolute pace times during training and racing. I had tried a few local trail races over the years while I was running on the road and just loved everything about them. I thought that a switch to trail racing would breathe new life into my running – and it did. It just so happened that just around the time I was considering switching to trail running that I started training with my current training partner, Oliver Utting, and he was a big advocate for ultra-running, so he strong-armed me into the ultra-running scene.
Mike: My first Ultra was the 2012 Meet Your Maker in Whistler. In hindsight, I was quite underprepared for that race. Thankfully, I didn’t really know what I was getting in to, so I didn’t worry too much about it beforehand. Up to that point in time I had really been a jack-of-all-trades, competing in a wide variety of events: triathlon, mtb, cyclocross, running (road and a bit of trail), swimming, bmx… Having been in a wide variety of race situations, I felt confident that i could adapt on the day and at least make it to the finish. Since MYM50 though, I’ve been hooked. My main focus now is on trail running and trail ultras.
How many times have you done Knee Knacker?
Oliver: I have started the Knee Knacker 5 times and finished 4 times. I have been 2nd twice, as well as 3rd and 4th.
Graeme: I have run the Knee Knacker once, last year – well 7/8ths of it anyways. I remember telling my wife after the race that I’d never run the race again. I didn’t quite say it as nicely as that though.
Mike: Last year was my first crack at the Knee Knacker [2nd place]. Maybe five or six years ago, I remember thinking how nuts people were to want to run from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove. Hearing stories from friends who raced it, it sounded like a really tough and punishing course. Little did i realize that ‘tough and punishing’ would become my fuel and motivation.
How have you prepared this year and have you done anything differently than in the past?
Oliver: The majority of my mid-week running is on the way to work, usually with a bike ride the other direction. I still train like a road racer so have been doing things like hill intervals at SFU up Nicole’s, tempos up the TransCanada trail at SFU, marathon pace runs, and 4-5 hr runs the North Shore – Ok, road racers don’t do the latter. My volume is pretty low compared to other ultra runners I think. I train a lot with Graeme Wilson and every time I think I have run a lot, it turns out that he has run more than me. If I get 70 to 80 miles in a week of running that is a pretty good week for me. I did my first 50 miler this year, so I am hoping that will help with the endurance for 50 km.
Graeme: The most important thing I’ve learned, particularly for a race like the Knee Knacker, is the rule specificity. I made the mistake last year of doing easy longish runs on technical trails, and almost all of my hard training on trails (almost groomed paths) with good footing. That didn’t prepare me very well for extended length hard running on technical trails. I think that to maximize your potential on the Knee Knacker course, you’ve got to do at least some of your hard workouts on the race course, or on trails that are similar to the key sections found in the race. Whether doing short or long hill intervals, or extended duration tempo efforts, I think it is important to incorporate harder workouts on terrain that provides for constant variation of stride length and lateral movement while running hard while in a fatigued state. Having said that, I still believe it is important to get in once every 10 to 14 days, a solid extended duration tempo, or tempo interval workout either on flat ground or on long uphill road or trail stretches with good footing.
Mike: By the middle of last year, it became obvious that my running volume couldn’t back up my desire. I barely survived the Knee Knacker. I hurt my knee in the race (how appropriate), and I struggled with that injury for the following 2 months. I just didn’t want to back off, and my knee took a long time to heal up. The big difference for me this year is that I have upped my running volume. Specifically, quality long runs in the 4-8 hr range. Besides that, my training is fairly similar to past years. I have always done a lot of cross training and strength work, and continue to do so. I’m really big on a ‘funnel’ approach to my training: a lot of variety when a race is still months away, but then slowly becoming more and more specific (to the physiological demands of the event) as the race gets closer.
Do you have any specific goals for the race?
Oliver: More than most other events, the Knee Knacker is a personal battle so I would like to beat my personal best time (4:57:56). The terrain is so hard you really have to run your own race and not worry about everyone else. So I don’t really have a place goal. Of course, I would like to win but if I run a good race for me then I will be happy.
Graeme: To be honest, I feel a little weird talking about specific results, seeing that I had a DNF result last year. For me, it is all about the fun of racing others, and I hope to be in the mix with the leaders coming down into Panorama Park come race day.
Mike: I feel like I ran a really smart race last year and that I was able to leave everything I had out on course. I did make mistakes, but I did a great job of working through them. I’m sure everyone racing knows that it’s a roller-coaster out there (emotionally, physically, and gravitationally). You just need to keep working, smooth out the highs and lows, and get through the rough spots. I would really like to be able to duplicate my focus and effort from last year, but obviously skip the hard crash I took on Hollyburn. I will have my best performance if I am able to slightly negative split the course; running quicker from the dam to Deep Cove, than from Horseshoe Bay to the dam. So to get to the answer, my goal for the race is to be disciplined and to focus on that process (neg split). Hopefully that will get me to the finish slightly quicker than last year.
Any tips for other runners doing Knee Knacker for their first time?
Oliver: Don’t start too hard, eat lots, drink even more, and don’t give up. And watch your step!
Graeme: A conservative effort over the first half of the course will very likely pay huge dividends on the second half. Check out the 2010 Knee Knacker results and look up Ellie Greenwood’s split times. No explanation needed.
Mike: My advice for any first time Knee Knacker is to get out on course before race day. Specifically, the first half. Knowing what you are in for while going up Black Mtn, and pacing yourself appropriately, will make the rest of your day so much more enjoyable!
Best of luck to everyone who “Won the Lottery”.
Chloe Gendron will be participating in this year’s Knee Knacker for the third time. You can follow her blog at www.chloelongstride.blogspot.ca
Jeff Pelletier participated in last year’s Knee Knacker. You can follow his blog and see his photography and videography at www.jeffpelletier.com