Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Start on the gong: Salt Spring trail running is born

I was definitely pumped to be in second place five minutes into Saturday’s inaugural Salt Spring Trail Runners race at Channel Ridge.

“So this is what it feels like to be at the front the pack,” I thought.

In most races, a crew of elite athletes are off to a sprint and out of sight within seconds of the start pistol. Those runners are usually long gone before I even pass the start line.

The absence of any pack to speak of on Saturday should have been the first sign something was amiss. Racers sprawled in a loose procession along the course’s opening kilometre. Karl Otto, who would go on to complete the course in a course-record setting 44:33, was still only 30 metres ahead and there wasn’t a sole in site on the twisting course behind me.

Then the climbing began.

Otto cruised ahead. The well-conditioned flitted into their rightful positions. I contemplated hitting the wall.

On the eight-kilometre course’s nastiest uphill segment, an aching back shifted my focus from burning thighs. I welcomed the change.

“How are you doing?” asked another racer, gliding past at a steady jog.

“My lower back is seizing up like a clam. How about you?” I responded, somehow.

“I feel like I’m going to barf up my heart.”

Dave Melanson and a group of trail runners dreamed up the Salt Spring Trail Runners series to promote outdoor activity and an appreciation of the island’s natural spaces. I checked the website. Heart barfing, back spasms and metaphysical crisis weren’t part of the package.

It was all downhill from around the six-kilometre mark. Two kilometres of knee-jarring feel-it-in-your-molars downhill through mud, rock and rain. This, I was told after the race, is when you can really compensate for all those precious minutes lost on the uphills. I’m grateful to have kept it together long enough to see the colourful prayer flag-festooned finish line, where pain and suffering quickly transformed into elation with a high five from Melanson and race director Peter Oro — yes, they actually high fived every participant.

The euphoria spread as more racers gathered at the finish. The rain grew heavier but the hugs, smiles, raffle prizes and temporary shelters helped make it all worthwhile.

Seventy-two trail runners lined up in the rain for race’s “start gong.” All crossed the finish line and no injuries — heart-related or otherwise — were reported. The race pulled in 120 pounds of goods and $100 for the Salt Spring Food Bank.

“We are overwhelmed with gratitude and pride for the island and its excited cry for more,” Melanson said.

Nearly five minutes after Otto’s rocket-fueled finish, Molly Black grabbed second spot in 49:20. Rick Laing followed soon after to claim third place.