Seeking the Peak of Grouse 2014: A Post-Race Analysis

The 11th annual Seek the Peak trail running race took place on June 15, 2014.  There were nearly 500 solo participants and another 300 relay or team participants.  This was the fourth time that I decided to throw my body into this event.   Last year I skipped it because I felt I wasn’t ready for its physical demands, which some believe are grueling: sixteen kilometers with a 4100 foot climb from Ambleside Park in North Vancouver to the top of Grouse Mountain.

Seek the Peak 2014 Finish

Alfred finishing Seek the Peak 2014 – photo Caroline S.

Armed with 2010’s 2:24 hr time and the top times in age group of around 1:35hr I have been motivated to at least achieve a sub two hour time.  Ever since I stopped competing in Biathlon I have felt that I have more potential and a talent for endurance events. With proper training I could achieve some top 10 finishes in my age group.

Post-Race Analysis

When looking for improvement it is important to take a deeper look at each event, even when goals are achieved. Some say success leaves foot prints!  While I missed the sub two hour goal this race was still a big success.

Stage 1 is a very gradual uphill which gives participants the opportunity to go fast to bank a little time, but risk using up all their glycogen stores. My goal was to push the pace a little bit and finish under 15 minutes, a time I met in 14:43.

Stage 2 keeps going uphill, but also has some good turns and fun downhills.  Although,  I quickly found out though that my training runs were not quite on the same trails my feet were still quick and I was sure footed.  This stage takes racers further along the Capilano River past the fish hatchery to emerge in the park near the damn by climbing up a long set of stairs.  Taking a slightly more conservative approach I reached Nancy Green Way while passing several people on those stairs.

Nancy Green Way is 1.6 kilometers of boring pavement pounding which ends at the  start of the Grouse Grind. This section takes more mental energy than physical.  The aim was to complete the road section in under 10 minutes, which I came very close to doing.

Stage 3 is the Grouse Grind which I predicted a time of 48 minutes. The strategy for this stage is just to keep the legs moving while repeating “one step at a time.”  It was grueling and at times I wasn’t sure if my legs would take me to the top. The left ankle strain of last year did not rear its ugly head either which was a big concern.  Final time for the Grouse Grind was 47:36.

If you haven’t been training hills stage 4 will fill you with dread! It did my first year and it started with a severe left calf spasm which left me hobbling.  This time around my strategy was 30 speedy steps followed by 30 fast walking steps. With a grade nearly 16% to the chairlift there was glory in reaching the final turnaround which also meant it was all downhill from there.

The gravel road down is bumpy and slippery when wet. Zigzagging down racers need to be careful to not run into anyone coming up on their left.  This year I felt the most sure on my feet I have in the several years during that section.

Finally the last few meters are almost flat but slightly downhill and the finish line was in sight! Time to turn on the jets. Well as best as I could! Out of breathed I cross the line in 2:01:10, 8% off my goal time and a personal course record. Looking up as I neared the finish line I saw 2:01:10.  This good enough for a top 100 overall and 21/80 in the male 30-39 year old group, which I have two years left in.

See the full Training Peaks File.

Planning for Seek the Peak 2015

Overall the race plan was executed very well. The call of a 1:55 is still out there for me to achieve and it isn’t that far away. It requires a fitness improvement of 13% in one year. Challenging? Yes. Do able? Yes.

What are the take home lessons?

  • Keep fit from September to February – maintain the capacity to run 16 km
  • Start the main plan February 1st instead of February 28th
  • Increase leg strength and leg power – start training for power earlier
  • Incorporate more Pace Zone 4 (tempo) and Pace Zone 6 (threshold) into the training plan with longer intervals
  • Hills, Hills, Hills

 

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Getting a Foothold on Road Running in Vancouver

The first time my feet hit the pavement to go running on the road is always tenuous. Perhaps it is the memory of having knee pain for nearly ten years while running but not while cross country skiing. I proved to myself long ago by running one marathon and several half marathons that I can run easily without knee pain.

Each season begins with six to eight weeks building up to a confident 60 min treadmill run as well as two to three days of lower body strength training to build durability. The concept of using the treadmill to run on first is that if something does go sideways it easier to stop instead of being stuck somewhere on the road and needing to hobble back.

On Friday the sun was shinning with clear skies that gave way to a good view of the Vancouver mountains.  It was time for the rubber to hit the road.  The Stanley Park Seawall is a fairly flat run with a beautiful of view of the city for all runners and walkers.  There were many dogs and owners traveling the same route as I (some dogs were running their owners).

Setting the Running Goal

This run was primarily about seeing how my legs felt running along pavement instead of rubber under my feet.  There was a nice breeze to start from just in front of the Vancouver Convention Center.  The 4.0 miles (6.4 km) tempo run set to be a series of four intervals at 5 minutes at a 7:30 min/mile pace with  2 minute rest periods at a 10:00 min/mile pace with a 5 minute warm-up and cool-down on either side.

Getting the Feeling of Running Faster

With fresh legs I started the first interval right on pace before I heard someone gradually catching up with me. Time push the pace! Legs turnover more quickly and breathing rate kept pace. Beep, beep, beep ended the interval. Looking down at the watch face the pace was 6:30 min/mile. Just a little faster than planned. As my legs slowed down she passed me wearing a “Ran Van” long sleeve shirt; she is probably training for the Vancouver Marathon in a few weeks.

The turnaround at mile two happened to be Deadman’s Island. A nice landmark for future runs.  Paces for subsequent  intervals gradually slowed down indicating fatigue.  The positive side is that the recovery pace was around 9:00 – 10:00 min/mile, which was a goal set in February.

Run Analysis – Training Plan Adaptations

First outing on the road went very well. There was no knee pain and my energy stayed fairly high for the rest of the day. Although  a race pace of 7:30 min/mile is just at my anaerobic threshold heart rate of 170 bpm and not sustainable, it is comfortable. Training is on track but, the next tempo runs need to have longer intervals and/or be longer runs.

Now that spring is here have you started to run on the road more frequently?

Photo credit – Ted McGrath via Flikr