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Canadian Mountain Running Championships 2018

Canadian Mountain Running Championships 2018

By: Matt & Emily Setlack

This post will outline Matt and Emily's experience at the Canadian Mountain Running Championships at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort near Golden, BC on Saturday 09 June 2018. Matt's race experience is followed by Emily's race experience below. 

Most photos in this blog were captured by Sean Nielsen


We started our epic 9 hour drive from the desolate, remote northern reaches of Alberta (i.e. Cold Lake) and drove to Calgary Thursday night. It was 867 km each way (1,734 km total - that's farther than driving from London, England to Warsaw, Poland!). We were lucky to be able to stay at Matt Travaglini's home. He was extremely generous to give up his home and allow us to stay there overnight. Thank you so much Matt! On Friday 08 June 2018, we continued the trip to Golden, BC. Thankfully, Golden was on the same time as Alberta even though it is in BC and most of BC is an hour behind AB time. To be honest, the 18 hours of driving to and from the race was more challenging than the race itself! Imagine sitting in a chair (even a LazyBoy recliner) for 9 hours straight. I think the word for this is "stress position". 

Race Day (Saturday 09 June 2018)

The race started at 10 am so we woke up around 7 am, had a bite to eat and went down to the start line to pick up our race numbers at 8:30 am. We thought it would only take 5-10 minutes but it ended up taking closer to 30 minutes. Matt then started his warm-up late and only got in 25 minutes versus the 35 minutes that he usually likes. He ran on the treadmill in the Glacier Lodge (at the bottom of the ski hill about 10m from the start line) and this worked perfectly.

The Course

This year, the Canadian Mountain Running Championships were on an "up-only" course meaning that we started at the base of Kicking Horse ski hill and ran to the Eagle's Eye restaurant at the top of the hill. The restaurant is at an elevation of 2,350m (7,700 feet). The distance was 10 to 11 km with 1,205m of ascent and 135m of descent.

Approximately half of the course was on single track mountain bike trails that zig-zagged their way up the hill. The trail was mostly dirt and almost all the turns were steeply banked at what felt like 45 degrees. Magi Scallion and her team at Golden Ultra did a great job making this a true mountain race with a lot of challenging twists and turns.

Course Profile

Matt's Race

Standing at the start line, I was getting a little concerned as the competition looked extremely strong. There were many strong mountain runners that I knew personally there including Matt Travaglini, Allan Brett, Gareth Hadfield (these were the top 3 at Cdn Mtn Nats in 2017). 

Race Start - Photo by Sean N (@seanielsen)

The pace went out a little slower than I was expecting. This was likely due to the number of experienced mountain runners on the start line. I thought it would go out extremely fast with the single track that was to be expected on the course. Initially, I was around 10th after the first 100-200m then slowly moved up to 6th. I was behind a couple guys and I could see Gareth and Matt T pulling away from the us (opening up a 20-30m gap) so I surged ahead of them as soon as I could and moved into 3rd. I heard a few runners behind me but after about 5-10 minutes, their breathing faded away (even though Kris will claim that he was in fact within striking distance of me the entire race).

I was then passed by Karl on the major downhill section about 3.5km into the race. I was being very conservative on the slippy/muddy/grassy downhill as I was wearing New Balance 1400V6 road racing flats. I thought, "the last thing I need is to fall and hurt myself this early in the race". As Karl passed me, I did not take him as seriously as I should have. I didn't know who he was and had never heard of him before. Because I did not know who he was, I thought that I would easily catch back up to him. I could not have been more wrong as Karl ended up winning the race and proved that he is a world class mountain runner.

All of a sudden, I felt like I was completely alone. I am extremely happy that the race volunteers marked the course very well as there were a number of times that I was not even sure I was on course but then I saw the orange arrows on the ground and knew I was on course. I ran by myself for the majority of the race.

About 2/3rd into the race, I heard someone come up behind me and run immediately behind me for what felt like 15 to 20 minutes. It was Kris Swanson. I wondered why he was running behind me for so long instead of just passing me. We slinkied a bit (I would pull away on the flat/downhill sections and he would catch up on the steeper uphills). Eventually, Kris passed me and slowly opened up a gap. It was the most bizarre thing to be passed in a mountain race going uphill because everything happens in slow motion. We were probably running 6:00/km to 7:00/km and the closure rate was super slow. I approached this mountain race more as half marathon rather than a 10km road race as the elapsed race time was very similar to my half marathon time. I ran up almost the entire course with the exception of some sections of the course that were very steep. On these sections, it was actually faster to walk/power hike than run. I made the mistake of simply walking up these short sections rather than power hiking up them with my hands on my knees. Kris did not make the same mistake. 

Matt Setlack - Photo by Sean N (@seanielsen)

Matt Setlack - Photo by Sean N (@seanielsen)

As I was running, I kept telling myself to keep running forward no matter how challenging it may be. My endurance and recovery time during this race felt very good, which is likely due to the distance I have been running over the past couple months.

Another thought that crossed my mind was, "maybe I should have done at least one mountain run (or even hill run) in the past 9 months". Unfortunately, Cold Lake is one of the flattest places on the North American continent so instead of running vertical, I ran A LOT of horizontal (867 km in the month of May 2018, to be exact). According to my Strava training log, while training in Cold Lake, it takes me about two weeks (and 400km of running) to run the same elevation gain that I covered in 1:11:58 at this race. You may notice that the majority of the top athletes in mountain races seem to come from places with easy access to the mountains. I don't think this is by accident. Maybe I should get into the sport of running across frozen lakes in the winter time?

Once we got onto the service road at the very top (2-3 km before the finish), I slowly closed the gap on Kris. However, on the switch-backing service road, you could easily see all of your competitors and all of your competitors could easily see you. This was completely opposite while running on the single track forest trails that were shrouded in cloud and I could not see any other runners. I crossed the finish line feeling pretty winded and ended up finishing 5th overall. I was happy with my performance but I could have been much happier with my placing. The Men's Overall Results are below. Note that Matt T finished 3rd overall at the Vancouver Sun Run 10km on 22 Apr 2018 in a time of 29:49 and Karl Augsten finished 18th in a time of 31:06 at the same race.

Open Men Mtn Run Nats 2018.png
Men Podium Nats 2018.JPG

Emily's Race

I am a "flatlander", I live on the Saskatchewan/Alberta border so I knew this race was going to be painful. Matt and I have spent a bit of time travelling in the mountains so I have a good idea how to move efficiently but it had been a while since we actually ran in the mountains.

One of things I love most about Mountain Racing is the community surrounding it. I love the people that I get to meet at races, and always love catching up with friends at races.  I am not sure how others felt, but I felt a sense of camaraderie as we all tackled something challenging. I just looked through some of Sean Neilsen's photos from the the race and it confirms my notion that we were all probably questioning WHY we paid to run UP a mountain. One can't help but notice the puzzled expressions as we anticipate what is about to be over an hour of pain. The photo below was taken by Sean Nelson (@seanielsen). 

I signed up for this race as I just wanted to get into a race that allowed me to focus on the process, not the outcome.  In

March, I represented Canada at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Valencia, Spain. I felt a bit bummed and unmotivated training following this race and was in a bit of a "running slump" for a few weeks following the race. I worked so hard and performed below my expectations. The Canadian Mountain Running Championships  would provide a really great opportunity to focus on the basics-- "run hard, make it hurt, do the best you can". One of the things that separates Mountain Racing from Road Racing is that you don't have to push yourself to get to the "dark place", it's inevitable, it's a question of when.  As I climbed up a very steep section of the course. My breathing and heart rate felt like it was "through the roof", similar to how I might feel in the final 50m "sprint" (I can't sprint) of a race. Not sure how one paces themselves in a mountain race, it's going to hurt climbing up a mountain whether I run fast, steady or slow. I went with the rapid burn. 

Emily Setlack - Photo by Sean N (@seanielsen)

The course was far more challenging than I had aniticipated. In the past, it was along the service road leading up Kicking Horse ski hill. Sure footing, smooth steep inclines--perfect for a road runner that doesn't have much expericene on technical terrain. This year's course was the flip side of that. At one point I was using my hands to pull myself up a very steep section of the course. I really enjoyed the simple process of movement with one goal in mind: push yourself. No time to chase, no place to go after--just move as fast as you can to get up to the top of the mountain. As the relentless climbing continued, I could feel the air getting cooler and thinner at 9km into the race it was approximately 6,500 feet. Matt and I have spent a bit of time climbing and running in the mountains (however, not recently) so I knew that the best way to get up the mountain quicker was to KEEP MOVING, use any small declines to accelerate and pick up the pace on the smaller uphill sections. Towards the end, we passed over some snow covered sections of the trail, I felt  like a panda on skates frantically trying to move fast while sinking into the snow--it was ugly but so much fun.

Emily Setlack - Photo by Sean N (@seanielsen)

Emily Setlack - Photo by Sean N (@seanielsen)

As I reached the 9km mark I was happy to get off of the single track routes that involved roots, mud, snow and rocks. The gravel road gave me mental relief, I felt better as I could get into a bit of rhythm and was more familiar with the predictable feeling of putting one foot in front of the other without having to dodge roots and large rocks. At this point, the guy (Geoff Michalak) I spent most of the race running with put a few meters on me. I tried to distract him (and myself) from the pain and told him to "look right, look right, check out that beatuful view" he laughed as I think he thought I was trying to distract him and deek past. No hope, he finished strong and put 8 seconds on me in the final 400m, haha. The views at this point of the race were spectacular and seeing the finsih line was nice but it seemed to take a really long time and considerable amount of pain to get there. Having Matt cheer for me was so nice, it made my heart warm to look over and see him running beside me cheering for me to push up the final stretch of the Kicking Horse ski hill.

I ended up wining in a very strong field of talented women. The Women's Overall Results are below.

Open Women Mtn Run Nats 2018.png
Women Podium Nats 2018.JPG


We hung around at the top of the hill for a while before heading back down to the bottom for the awards at 1 pm. That afternoon/evening, we all went out for drinks and pizza at the Whitetooth Brewery in downtown Golden. It was a hoot and we had a really good time.

Thank You

Race Organizers - Big thanks to the team at Golden Ultra including Magi Scallion who put so much work into making this race possible for all of us. From registration to course marking and awards--you guys crushed it, thank-you

PC:Sean Nielsen 

PC:Sean Nielsen 

The Lamberts - The Lamberts have been a fixture in the Canadian Mountain Running Community since it started. If it were not for them, perhaps these events would not even happen. They generously donated prize money for the top three men and women and are there most years to cheer everyone on. Thank-you.

Matt Travaglini - Thank you for allowing us to stay in your home. We greatly appreciate this kind gesture.

Andrew Craig - Thank you for allowing us to stay at your place at Kicking Horse. It was the perfect place to stay as it was about 10m from the start line.