Trailstoke, the first ever Skyrunning event in western Canada took place in Revelstoke, BC this past Saturday July 19, 2014. Organized by the 5 Peaks racing series the event brought together a mix of solo and relay racers challenging themselves against a serious mountain course, totaling approximately 48km with 3000m of total climbing (original 60km distance was shortened due to weather). The race website touted the race as “one of the most challenging ultras in the world”.
To add to the hype, the race was also the Canadian Long Distance Mountain Running Championship with entries available to the top
Canadian male and female finishers for the North American Championships at the Pikes Peak Marathon in Colorado. Thus it wasn’t surprising to see a strong contingent of Canadian elite mountain runners toe the starting line. Even guest speaker and elite runner Max King from the United States added to the mix.
The race began with a bit of uncertainty due to the weather, bear activity and course re-routing. The original 60km route had been revised with an estimated 53km distance the night before, but eventual heavy rain, sleet and sketchy ridge snow pack reduced it further to approximately 48km in the end. As with most ultras not too many racers seemed fazed by this reduction in distance, perhaps a welcome relief to some.
The course was mainly as predicted, a long slow climb at the beginning moving into some decent views, ridge running, forest trails and then a wild decent on forest roads. The views would have been more spectacular had it not been for the incoming rain/sleet, which had most of us grabbing our jackets for the majority of the race. One killer feature of the course was a relentless 300m+ climb at km 27 in the middle of the so-called ‘ridge running’ section of the course. The terrain was extremely varied including forest roads, single track, ridge scrambling, swamps and even up the ski hill a few places. Many runners clearly described it as a ‘mountain course’ with a large proportion of hiking for those outside the front of the pack.
The finish line excitement did not disappoint with a few extremely close finishes considering the long distance of the event. First off was the challenge between American elite Max King and Canadian Nick Elson. Nick was nipping at Max’s heels for most of the race and it came down to the final downhill stretch of trail before the finish line where Max was able to hold a mere 40 sec lead to take first place overall and Nick claiming top Canadian. The race for first place female was easily won by Anne-Marie Madden; however Deb Russell and Michelle Katchur Roberts almost had a photo finish for second and third place with Deb narrowly eclipsing Michelle in the final stretch by only 4 seconds! There’s a great photo of the finish on the 5 Peaks Facebook page. In the relay race Laura Bestow (see photo at top) finished up the fastest relay team, Thundergun Express, which also included Justin Hains and Chessa Adsit-Morris.
Overall the race was an excellent introduction for western Canadian trail runners to a true mountain race, apparently typical of the Skyrunning events in Europe. Despite the weather and difficult course there were a total of 130 solo and 28 relay teams finishers. The volunteers were amazing with some standing out in the cold rain for hours. Aid stations were extremely well stocked despite pre-race warnings some would need helicopter drops and be limited. I even saw pizza and some pretty gourmet looking baked goods among the usual gels, chips, oranges, etc..
Race organizers’ vision for the event was a full weekend of events, including Friday night speakers panel, Saturday night party/awards/live-music and Sunday 5 Peaks Revy event with 5k and 10k races. Initially this bumped up the race entry cost until a ‘race only’ entry option was made available for those not wanting to pay for all the extras. It appeared this strategy bumped up the number of entrants; however it did create a bit of a two-tiered atmosphere at the event. It’s definitely a difficult balancing point for the race organizers who are looking to build a culture of mountain and Skyrunning in Canada by going beyond just the race event while still catering to a large number of runners who simply just want the race event itself with no extras. At present, 2015 online registration includes only one registration option. Yet, despite these challenges, the race did seem to exert a sense of the growing culture of mountain / trail / ultra running in Canada. For example, the Friday night elite speakers panel (Adam Campbell, Melanie Bernier and Max King) was well-attended, with knowledgable questions from the audience and a sense of understanding of the accomplishments of the speakers. The challenge and apparent vision by the race organizers is to continue to build that distinctive culture of mountain running in Canada, a culture that serves to inspire and attract so many in Europe, yet is still in its infancy in Canada. However, whether it was your first ever finish of a mountain ultra race, listening to Adam Campbell’s Hardrock 100 stories, or Canadian Nick Elson running side-by-side with American elite Max King for virtually the whole race, the weekend provided many reasons for all of us to be inspired by this growing culture and sport of mountain running in Canada. Overall race results can be found here: http://www.webscorer.com/race?raceid=25498.
~Jonathan Schmidt is a trail runner in Okotoks, Alberta and founder of TrailRunning Canada.