grouse mountain

At only 2km, my ascent of Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, BC, is the shortest distance I logged this year. But the “Grouse Grind” as the locals call it was one of my toughest workouts in a long time.

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Grouse Mountain sits just north of Vancouver where I spent part of my summer vacation. The Grind rises up through the forest- over 2000 feet of steady climbing- and tops off at a skiing center. The trail is so narrow and so steep that it’s a one way journey and you must ride the gondola back down.

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We joined our Canadian cousins for the hike and started on a trail that wound through dense forest. I wanted to test myself and see what kind of pace I could hold but since this was a family activity I volunteered to bring up the rear. It turned out to be a good strategy because the trail immediately steepened and became increasingly rocky.

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As we started to climb, our path was a combination of boulders and tree roots. Most steps were irregular and I needed to look down constantly to avoid slipping. My son Alex and cousin Glen vanished up the trail and while I wanted to hike with them I hung back and walked with Ruby and Ryan. Despite the shade and cool temperature we were all dripping with sweat and breathing hard. We reached a sign that marked the one-quarter mark and said that this was the last chance to turn around. We all thought we were at least halfway up and it was a discouraging blow to the team’s morale.

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We continued and the Grind became rockier and steeper. Stopping to rest and drink water was a mixed blessing because we were guaranteed to meet some of the largest and hungriest mosquitoes I’ve ever seen. When we made the 2/3 mark, Ruby waved me ahead and said we could meet at the top. Not that it mattered; I continued to slog my way up trying not to trip over the roots and boulders.

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The forest canopy held until the last few yards and when the trees cleared I saw the ski lodge ahead of me and realized I’d made it to the top. Fifteen minutes later, Ruby and Ryan emerged from the forest and our party reunited to enjoy the view from atop Grouse Mountain.

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After recovering with some group photos and water, we lined up to take the tram back down the mountain. A panoramic view of Vancouver rewarded us with Victoria island in the distance. While it took an hour to hike up, the ride down was over in minutes.

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Postscript: my calves ached for a week after completing the Grouse Grind. I discovered some new muscles that live somewhere between my calves and ankles. My traversal of so much vertical terrain was paid for in pain but if I ever return to Vancouver I will repeat the grind. I ran into a runner on my hike who was training for the annual race. He wanted to break 25 minutes for a 2k distance. That does not seem too difficult but trust me, it is.

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the hills are alive 10k

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As I lined up at the start for the Hills Are Alive 10K,  I was looser than I’ve ever been for a race. I had just returned from a two week vacation, I did not have a goal in mind, and I was running with my son Alex who recently joined his high school cross country team. I wanted to enjoy the day and have fun.

This was my third time running. In 2010 I ran my very first 10K here and ran again in 2011. Any race with “hills” in its name that takes place in a city with “hills” in its name was going to be a challenge and today’s race did not disappoint:

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In addition to the elevation changes, the Hills 10K follows horseback riding trails that are uneven, gravelly, and liberally covered with manure. There are two tunnels along the way that get pitch black in the middle, and conditions were hot and dusty. A worthy test indeed.

At the same time, it is a very pretty race. It’s hard to imagine a 10K in the middle of Los Angeles that feels like it belongs out in the country.

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After the first half mile, the trail establishes itself and winds its way through the city of Rolling Hills.

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After 5.5 miles of up and down terrain, the route loops back for a final downhill sprint to the finish.

Back to the race. As the starter counted down from 10 seconds, Alex and I shared a quick fist bump and readied ourselves. When the starting horn sounded, I tried to find some open space to avoid the dust but the path was already narrow. After the first quarter mile I was clear and tried to find a comfortable stride. I felt slow and decided to maintain my opening pace while enjoying the experience. When my watch beeped at mile one I was running at 7:06- way too fast. I needed to slow down and the approaching hills were ready to help me.

We hit the first tunnel and as it got darker I tried to maintain my stride while avoiding rocks and potholes. I felt like I was running and tip-toeing at the same time. I made it through unscathed and returned to the trails.

Miles two and three were up and down, but mostly up. I settled into what felt like a steady effort since the hills prevented me from holding an even pace. During my previous two races, the ascents destroyed me and left me gasping as I headed downhill. But today, I felt more composed and as I crested each new hill I was able to accelerate on the descent. After three miles I felt like I was in a groove and decided to maintain my effort for the rest of the race.

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The second half ended up being some of my best running ever. I focused on my effort, pace be damned. I did not realize until later that I held a solid 7:10 pace and finished with a negative split and course record. As I caught my breath, Alex crossed the finish line and it was even more rewarding watching him race. After water and orange slices we were ready to head home, tired but satisfied with our results.

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This was a great race for me. I conquered a tough course and built confidence for my goal 10K in October. After so many positive-split 10Ks it was awesome to experience a negative-split. Over the next six weeks I’ll be focusing on the Manhattan Beach 10K and training optimistically. I learned that running for fun can be really fun. I want to remember this lesson when I take on a longer distance like the half or full marathon.