Finlayson Arm 28km

I found out about this race while browsing ultrasignup late one night. After looking at the elevation profile and seeing the steep climb up Mt Finlayson I knew I had to do some version of the race. The distances available 28, 50, 100km. 50km is the same course as the 28km but has a further 11km out and back to make up the 50km. 100km is two laps of the 50km course. In theory I was going to be doing Squamish 50mi three weeks before Finlayson (this didn’t happen but that’s another story). Thinking that I wouldn’t be able to recover in time for a longer race I chose to do the 28km. Celia and Dave also entered the 28km.

Unfortunately Celia had to go back to NZ so couldn’t come to the race. This was especially unfortunate when Coastline Endurance, who put on the race, posted a photo of Celia and why she was looking forward to the race. The race was on Saturday on Vancouver Island. Dave and I headed north on Saturday morning and went for a run at Oyster Dome. This is probably a bit heavy for a shake out but hey, why waste a good Saturday. We then commenced our travelling north Ballingham ritual of going to Aslan for lunch, then Primer for Coffee, and the REI to get whatever someone forgot. We continued across the border and got on the ferry at Tsawwassen across to Vancouver island. We were camping at the race event center so had a bite to eat in Victoria before heading out to Goldstream park. Pro tip if you are coming from Victoria and arriving after the dark, the turn into the group camp is about 10m after the brightly lit “Ice cream mountain.” By this time it was getting a bit late and dark so we just found a spot, there was plenty of space, and set up our tents for a good night’s sleep.

The race started at a gentlemen’s hour of 8 am. I like to get my coffee and breakfast down about 2 hours before the race, so the alarm was set for 5:45. I had my breakfast and got my race nutrition sorted. I decided to take my pack with one bottle. I chose this over a hand held as it kept my hands free for the climb. To aid the decision the night before my right shoulder had become quite sore unexpectedly so I didn’t want the extra weight of a hand held bugging me throughout the race. Nutrition wise I chose to take 3 chews (100 calories), a serving of tailwind (100 calories) and 6 gels (600 calories). I chose to go mainly gels so that I could use the race as a practice for my stomach. I also planned to go pretty hard for the whole race so didn’t want to be chewing for an extended period. Some ginger and a nuun tablet also went in the pack to help combat cramp toward the end of the race if needed.

Dave and I headed to start line and after the pre race briefing and a few final words of encouragement it was time to head off. Pretty much my only move of the race (spoilers!) came about 400m in. I was tucked in at around 6th and as we got onto the single track I put a quick burst on to pop up to 3rd to try hang on to the leaders. Early on in the course there are some steep downhill stairs and a rocky river crossing under the highway, so I wanted to stay in touch and not get stuck in any traffic caused by these obstacles. The leaders put on a pretty prestigious pace. I kept them in sight for about 2km before they pulled away from the pace I was willing to put out at this stage of the race. The first section of the race 7km in the valley at the southern end of Finlayson Arm. There are some grunty climbs but they are quite short. Underfoot it was pretty technical for the most part and you had to pay close attention to where your feet were falling. After about 6km the course crosses back under the highway, this time through a dark culvert where I found myself hoping there would not be a loose rock I couldn’t see. Once you reach the light at the end of the tunnel there is about 1km of flat gravel nature trail which is a nice break from the technical opening to the race. I used this non technical trail to open up my stride and get a decent pace on. I felt like I was moving well and when I checked my heart rate it was lower than expected, however I was happy to let it sit there for a couple of minutes before beginning the ascent up Mt Finlayson.

Mt Finlayson is the main climb on the course gaining 400m in 1.7km for an average grade of 23%. To add to the difficulty parts of the climb are quite scrambly and you will find your self using arms a lot on the ascent. As we broke through the treeline the views started to open up and the climb was more over slabs of rock than rough ground. I had to dig deep to find a smile for the photographer Matt near the top! We descended down the other side of Mt Finlayson losing about half the elevation gain. There is a short road section before the aid station. By this point I had had the 3 chews and a gel. I put the tailwind sachet into my bottle before the aid station so I just needed to fill up with water. The next section is out the turn around and back to the aid station along the ridge line, a total of about 11km. There weren’t any large long climbs in this section but it was quite rolling and still had a decent amount of total elevation change. There were spots where you broke out of the trees for great views of Finlayson Arm. I was still sitting in 3rd and looking forward to using the turning around to get a good bead on how far back I was. I have my watch face setup with distance, heart rate and time. When I saw the runner I just checked the time and the location, such that I could check the time when I got back there to get the difference. 1st ended up being four minutes ahead and 2nd two minutes behind. There were a surprising number of supporters at the turn around and it was nice to pick up some of their energy. To confirm you made it to the turn around you are given half a playing card which you have to carry carefully back to the finish to prove you did the whole course. I tucked the card into my race vest, hoping that sweat wouldn’t reduce to crumbles.

Just before getting my card at the turn around

On the return back along the ridge I was passing runners heading out. It’s always good to provide and receive encouragement in these situations. Most rad outfit goes to a guy wearing tights with a really bright but not fluro pattern, and chewing a grass straw. Might need to sure up your race nutrition buddy! I was pushing a bit harder now to try catch a place. People were telling me that I could catch 2nd. I wasn’t sure how they were so sure of this, I guess he may have looked a bit less cheery than I. Before coming back out the aid station the trail is a bit wider and has a gradual gradient for a few hundred meters. As I came up this bit of track I caught sight of 2nd place and moved past him.I had what would be my last gel going into the aid station, and then had my bottle filled with electrolyte. I planned to just push the last 5km to the finish and didn’t think I would need any more calories. We were back on the road back to Mt Finlayson, so I used this to pick up the cadence and get some speed on. As we got back on the trails I kept trying to push but started cramping with about 4km to go. At this point I thought that we were going back down the way we came up, so with the cramping I was a bit worried that I would be slowed down. Luckily we didn’t go back down that way and instead had a fairly smooth descent on a different trail. I had some crystallized ginger and electrolyte caps to try and help with the cramps, along with sipping the electrolyte from my bottle. These seemed to have good effect and I could keep moving without any large cramps setting in. I thought it would be a pretty cruisy couple of km’s to the finish from the bottom of Mt Finlayson similar to the “Nature trail” we had been on earlier. This wasn’t the case and the trail was more of a real trail with some roots and other minor obstacles. I just kept nibbling some ginger and being careful of my foot fall so that I didn’t need to make any unexpected movements. Before long I could hear the event center and then was in the finish chute. I ended up in 2nd place, two minutes behind 1st and three minutes off the course record. It was quite a fast race this year with 1st and 2nd place times being in the top 3 fastest times on the course.

Finish line stoke PC: @coastline.endurance
Course profile with heart rate overlay. Strava isn’t clever enough to give a secondary axis for HR.

Overall it was a really cool race. The course is tough but quite varied and overall very enjoyable. If you want to check it out there is also a 100km and 50km option which start on Friday and Saturday respectively. The event center was pumping, with great food, lively music and a really awesome finish line commentator, “Pump those arms and the legs will follow” was the catchphrase of the day! I’d recommend putting this on your calendar for 2018 if you haven’t run it before!



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