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

 

How to Complete a Distance Running Race with Confidence and Speed

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While competing in biathlon and cross country skiing I found a distinct advantage of being able to preview the course a few days before and event. This built confidence and enabled us to develop a strategy for each section of it.  Luckily the trail running route for Seek the Peak is in my backyard (well close to it) so I can run it as often as I like. It has nearly been two years since I ran the trails from Ambleside Park to Grouse Mountain in West Vancouver so the details are a little hazy.

Getting the  Pace and Distance Training Device to Work

After two  years of letting my Garmin Forerunner 305 sit idle in a drawer because I thought it wouldn’t synchronize with my computer anymore I decided to try again. When the original error occurred even technical support personnel suggested I send it in and might be repaired or even better buy a new one. I was elated that after a few software downloads and installations it synchronized!

Being able to now use a training device with GPS (navigation), heart rate and pace makes the data geek in me grin cheek to cheek! More data to pour over.

Finding Stage 1 of Seek the Peak

Although it was a little chilly and looked like it was going to rain it was time to get running. Sunday’s goal was to navigate through the first two stages of Seek the Peak and test the pace. Stage one begins at Field F in Ambleside Park  then travels around Park Royal mall, along the Capilano River to finish under Highway 1. Easy to find.   After setting Field F as the first navigation point my feet started with a slow run.

The bridge was reached an a quick 18 minutes while l still felt fresh. This was the end of stage one and the start of stage two.At each landmark or change of direction I set running navigation points for future reference.

Getting Slightly Lost A Few Times

Stage 2 is not quite as straight forward. The first section is fairly fast with a gradual uphill. There is a sharp right turn  where the trail goes downhill past the Capilano Suspension Bridge, but close by you can also go straight or up to the left uphill. This bit is a lot of fun and the feet can move fast. Be quick and light footed around the roots.

Keep following the Capilano Pacific Trail through a series of ups and downs and bridges that are slippery when wet. The right on the Shinglebolt trail was a little confusing. While trail directions are clear the names of the trails were not always obvious.

There is signage for an observation deck with a short trail that merges with the main one. Stay left and the observation place will be on the right. Eventually Shinglebolt transitions to Coho Loop. The trail gets a bit gnarly. Look out for a metal bridge crossing directly over a big blue pipe. Cross over it to wind up towards a series of stairs, yes stairs. My confidence started to falter after the stairs. I couldn’t really remember where to go next.

Instead of keeping left along Pacific Palisades I went right instead which brought me into a big parking lot. Crossing the parking lot I  met up with the trail I should have been on. This then continued to climb up to an opening into Cleveland Park.

Grinding Out the Last Mile on Nancy Greene Way

The last mile made me nearly stop in 2010. It is a lot less exciting than the previous sections or even the next – Grouse Grind! Sing “the ants go marching one by one…” to stay motivated and keep plodding along. I kept looking down at my watch trying to keep the pace under 10:00 min/mile instead it averaged 13:27 min/mile at 172 bpm.

Finishing Stages 1 and 2

Maintaining a  consistent pace is more challenging when you don’t know where you are going. The lack of confidence slows you down. The data has some blank spots where the timer was stopped while I entered navigation points.  It looks like it took around 1:08 hour for 5.28 miles. Next time I run this path I will be able move more quickly and more easily monitor my energy output.

Legs felt fresh, energized and even and a spring in their step for the first 30-45 minutes. A good sign since the previous longest run was for the just over an hour on flat treadmill! However, the last 20 minutes my thighs started to burn and they lacked power to push off up Nancy Greene.  Time to do longer tempo intervals and more hills.

Click to see the full training session.

Run with Confidence and Speed

Running route before a running race increases confidence and pace on race day. It will be easier to find your way with hundreds if not thousands of people as well as course markers on event day. You will run faster and know how much to push your speed to finish with nothing left in the tank.

Getting Back to Preparing for Seek the Peak

A couple of weeks ago I was at the Canada Marketing Summit where I met some of this blog’s followers.  They mentioned that they enjoyed the posts about training for the Grouse Grind, so I thought it was time to provide more thoughts on the subject.

Last year was almost write off for participating in the Grind. Seek the Peak and the Grouse Grind Mountain Run were out of the picture instead finding and preparing a new space for my business took all my energy and time. Now settled, I am able to direct more attention towards staying physically fit.

Grouse Grind

Preparing for Seek the Peak 2014

For those unfamiliar with this race it rises 4100 feet and transverses 16 kilometers from Ambleside Park in West Vancouver to the top of Grouse Mountain and back down to the chalet. This event is a fundraiser for ReThink Breast Cancer; it can be completed solo or as a relay.  It is a fun spring challenge which I completed three times from 2010 to 2012. An uncompleted goal is to finish in under two hours.  Each year the course was slightly different due to trail construction or snow at the top.

 

Seek the Peak Results 2010 to 2012

Year  Stage 1  Stage 2  Stage 3  Stage 4  Total
2010  0:20:49  0:43:25  0:53:12  0:26:49  2:24:14
2011  0:16:49  0:36:03  0:47:08  0:22:19  2:02:18
2012  0:26:53  0:29:22  0:48:10  0:24:48  2:09:12

 Setting Goals for 2014

Three completions gives me some trends to work from.  Previous training data on Training Peaks shows me what training I was doing and how fit I was to accomplish  these times. My memory enables me to replay how I was feeling on each part of the terrain.

Stage 1

The first stage is fairly flat and is a quick 3.5km jog behind Park Royal, along the Capilano River to just under the bridge. 2011 was my fastest year while  in 2012 I wasn’t confident in my fitness so I started out too slowly.

Goal: 0:16:00 min at 4:34 min/km – start further up to the front and go out faster.

Stage 2

This 6 km stage undulates through the forest, often with downhills, stairs and flat sections. There are places to pass or be passed. It is an opportunity to have a little fun and move more quickly. Two years it opened up into a the Capilano River Regional park before heading up Nancy Green Way the other year it went over the dam itself.   In 2010 the road heading up to the Grind was literally a grind! In 2011 I made sure run on that road often so that my body and brain was very familiar with it.  The fastest year, 2012 I made sure to set a specific pace on my GPS and heart rate monitor.

Goal: 0:29:00 min at 4:50 min/km – keep a fast past in the forest and be steady on the road.

Stage 3

Ah, the Grouse Grind! It will probably be about 20% slower than the best Grind time for the year.  The challenge is getting an appropriate number of ascents in due to the fact that it opens in late May or even one year it was June 12th! Opening day depends on how clear the trail is from the previous winter. Five climbs seem to be the right number for me. In 2010 my left calf cramped about three quarters they way up which seriously hampered stage 4.

Goal:  47:00 min, season opening Grind time of 40 minutes. Be light and quick on my feet.

STAGE 4

Cresting over the top of the Grind doesn’t mean the end is near, just nearer! There is a little bit of rest as the trail winds past the maintenance yard before the last ascent. Many participants walk up the wide dirt road because of how steep it is and how tired they are. As other pass going the other way it is clear that the home stretch isn’t far away.

Going downhill  after this last climb safely, but fast is a challenge due the gravel.  In 2010 and 2011 it ended at the chalet, but in 2012 the course was changed to end somewhere differently. My preparations were foiled because I didn’t have a clue as to how much further I needed to go so I slowed down to conserve energy.

If the ability to run the course can be incorporated into the training plan do all stages. Run the stages a single sections and as bricks of multiple sections without completing the whole thing will help you gauge and adjust your training but also help you familiarize you with the route. Grouse Mountain runs weekly training sessions on Wednesday nights.

Goal: 0:22:00 min

Total:  1:54 hr 

Seek the Peak Training

Now time for a plan! I started training at the end of February. It started with building base distance and strength then eight weeks (now) out continue with resistance training two to three times per week, but transition to two sessions of power and move to more single leg exercises. The other days would remain for high aerobic or threshold runs on the course.

Strength goals are to be able to deadlift 1.5 times body weight and front squat 1 times body weight each for 5 repetitions. These targets are important so that my tendons and ligaments are able to support the running. Strength training has been proven to assist with improving running economy (so less energy is required). I am up to body weight with the deadlift and getting closer on the front squats. Long runs have progressed from easy 20-30 minutes to just over six miles with several types of intervals including high aerobic and threshold to build endurance and speed.  

The distances will continue to build up in 5-10% increments to 9.5 miles. Then more emphasis will be placed on going faster for longer. Some of the runs will also be on the course (hopefully the Grouse Grind too!).

Find out more about Seek the Peak.

Reliable information on strength training: Poliquin Group

Need more training guidance? Please contact me at Lifemoves

Are you training for Seek the Peak? Please share your thoughts.