A few weeks ago while planning a trip to Golden, BC, for my mother in law’s 70th birthday, I googled something along the lines of “Golden trail running” and discovered that the Golden Ultra at Kicking Horse ski resort was to be held the weekend that we were there.
The three-day event is made up of a vertical k, a 60k ultra, and a 20k race over the course of 3 days. While I didn’t have the time to step away and race a 60k (nor the fitness, at the moment), I impulsively registered for the vertical K.
This masochistic race format is common in Europe, but a relative rarity in North America. The ideal vertical K covers 1000 meters of climbing (3280′) in the shortest distance possible. At the Golden Ultra, this means a start at the base of the Gondola with a direct climb to the summit straight up roads, ski runs, and singletrack.
The field at the start was divided. Most runners wore ultra vests and looked like they were there to complete the run and carve one notch in the three-day event book. A smaller subset clustered near the line carried nothing but poles and looked serious. I felt a bit out of my league, not having trained or thought much about the race.
At the gun, the lead pack went out at a good clip up the dirt road. I vowed to hang into the front ten at the very least, and kept a smooth pace as as the course transitioned from dirt road into running up a slick, grassy hill. Here the lead pack, led by Eric Carter, started to move away. It was now or never, so I made an effort to hang up the first incline steep enough to slow the field to a hike.
Coming out of the first field we hit a dirt road. In this format, a dirt road sucks, because though your lungs are exploding, it’s runnable, so you must run it. The road made a few switchbacks and the three runners in the lead started to move apart. Reaching the “aid station”/checkpoint at around 20 minutes in, the course turned straight up the ski run called Show Off that runs below the gondola. The terrain was steep, slick, and clumpy, and the sheer pitch started to play to my strengths, which include grunting up steep hills and stubbornly hovering right on my aerobic threshold.
Leaning hard into the poles, I began making up ground and passed a few runners, moving into 7th with two more in sight. Cresting Show Off, we transitioned to the final thousand feet up CPR ridge, a rocky singletrack that alternated blocky rock stairs with short sprints of flat-ish trail. I spent my last motes of extra energy up this stretch, passing two more runners as my calves hovered on the brink of cramping. I spent the final hundred feet of vertical being chased but cruised in the final stretch to the finish holding my place, to the sound of Taylor’s yelling and her mother rattling a cow bell.
I finished in what I thought was 5th, but later found to be 4th in the official results, missing the podium by about 1 minute behind a strong trio of runners. All four of us broke the old course record of 49:32, and Eric Carter flattened it with a time of 45:37.
Overall, I was really psyched to put out a strong effort, and moreover to feel strong throughout the race and hold a climbing pace of about 4220 ft/hr. My legs definitely still had some of the fitness that I built running up hills in Utah, and I didn’t feel the altitude too much. The format plays to my strengths, and I think that I perform better in a sufferfest like this compared to, as Ethan put it, “pure runner weenies”.
Still, I could have raced better. My self doubt told me that I shouldn’t go out with the lead pack because there was no way that I could hang. When I later realized that I potentially could hang, I’d lost touch with the lead pack and had slightly too big a gap to close. Lesson learned.
Support Mountain Lessons and get the lightest folding poles around with the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z poles. I don’t know how I’ve gone so long running in the mountains without these.