Posted by: Karen | March 6, 2005

Fish Creek 8k XC – Long

I had a most excellent adventure in the mud yesterday! Warning: it often takes me longer to write these things than it does to run them, but I hope I can draw you into my experience and have you enjoy it with me.

I stashed a small pack for my daughter in the van and actually remembered to bring everything I might possibly need for my race. Yaktrax, mitts, shorts, long sleeves, short sleeves, hat, spare change of everything, race fee, dessert, bowl, plate, cup, spoon, etc. I was feeling pretty good by the time we picked up Dawn and we headed south on the Deerfoot freeway. We got there in plenty of time to register and hedge back and forth over how much skin to cover and how much traction to wear on our feet.

The sun was shining, a very gentle warm breeze blew, and it was at least 13C/55F. I decided on a short sleeved shirt, leggings and Yaktrax over my old trail shoes. I could have changed into shorts and been fine, but I was already in my leggings and was too lazy/nervous/distracted to go into contortions in the van. I kept an old long sleeved t-shirt on to keep warm until just before the start.

The race started late – I think there was some difficulty in getting the course marshals into place. I had Little Miss Explorer all ready for her kids’ race on time, but by the time they finally lined up some kids, she’d wandered away. It took me a minute to coax her back to the start area, but by that time the kids were half way through their kilometer, so she cheered them in, instead.

The mild weather of the last few weeks had melted much of the snow and ice in the Fish Creek valley, leaving ice-filled trails, slick mud, lots of soft, damp ground, and a few unavoidable puddles. Funny, I don’t remember the race director mentioning puddles in describing the course. He said something about one or two “slight changes in elevation”, where the experienced XC racers all chuckled knowingly. We were repeatedly warned about ice, ice, and more dangerous, slippery ice.

One of the best things about running towards the back of the pack yesterday was that all the fast runners’ spikes chewed up the melting ice nicely, giving lots of grit for my Yaktrax to dig into. We started off on a grassy plain and the orange flags quickly led us to a winding, treed, slippery north slope, down into the creek valley. Once down we padded along a trails of slush, mud and trampled grass, over/around some big fallen trees.

There were three deep puddles within the first 15 minutes, all had big chunks of ice floating in them. I don’t know how solid they looked before the first racers got to them, but it was clear to me I would not be running with dry feet for long. The first one was a couple of steps long and there might have been a muddy way around if we’d taken the time to look, but the runner in front of me, Leah, charged right through with a chilled exclamation (Oooh!!), and I followed right after, with the same surprised sound.

We’d plunged in right past our ankles, and the frigid water was quite “refreshing” as it flooded our hot, sweaty feet. The next two puddles were progressively deeper and longer, the last one taking at least 4-5 of my short strides, and up to the tops of my calves. It was a challenge to keep my balance in the puddles, as some of the ice chunks got caught under foot and the ground on the bottom was hard and uneven. Gush, squish, glish, went my feet for the next 5 minutes.

Leah and I leapfrogged through the valley, one or the other stopping to re-tie a shoe lace or adjust a warping ice cleat. I remembered Leah from January’s Nose Creek race, where we managed a heartily competitive pace in comparison to each other in much colder weather. I wanted a walk break, but knew I’d be walking up the “changes in elevation” later in the race, and wanted to put as much running time in as I could on the “flat”. I saw lots of prints in the mud, and wondered how the fast runners managed their balance in the squishy stuff. I stuck mostly to the gritty ice and trampled grass where I could – it gave a more solid rebound.

We gasped up two sunny, steep cliffs on the other side of the valley, interspersed with running through more mud, ice, slush and small puddles in the valley in between. We had some great views of the valley from the cliffs, when we took the time to look. Sometimes we were able to see one other runner in the distance ahead of us, but mostly we were on our own, diligently following the flags through twists and turns.

The downhills were mercifully gradual compared to the steep upward. On the second down hill I saw one flag near the top, and then as I gleefully galloped on the broad shale path towards the bottom I got a sinking feeling… no more flags. Where did they go? Well, I was NOT going back up that hill to find out! We ended up at a small park restaurant where some friendly girls eating huge ice cream cones mentioned seeing some orange flags over to the west. A busking guitar player confirmed this when he pointed out Alan, a volunteer dressed in bright red, further down the shale path.

Mmmm. Ice Cream.

I’m thinking we found a wee short cut, because once we re-joined the course we were closer to the guy we’d been trailing most of the race. We’d been out more than 50 minutes by now and were getting good and tired, but still kept up a strong pace. Leah’s tibia, an old injury, was bothering her, as her doctor had taken away her orthotics. Along more twisty paths by the creek, over a bridge (that we’d run under, on solid ice, last year), and up, up, up a very steep, long, melting-snowy-muddy north slope back up out of the valley.

Once out on top Leah and I kept walking to catch our breath, and then I pointed out the finish line to her, maybe 150 meters away. Leah’s tibia was causing her pain, but when I challenged her to a “make a show” of our finish, she was game. At first she was all for letting me lead her in, but I egged her on and we ramped up our form for an exciting sprint. She joyfully zipped around me in the last second and there were cheers all round. Dawn snapped a fantastic photo right at the end – I’m shouting “LEAH!”
Leah zipping past me. Go Leah!
Lots of high-fiving and back-slapping at the clock and Derek says to me “What a great way to end the season, eh!” Yep. That XC had everything a trail runner could ask for. Great course, great challenges, great weather, great company, great finish!



  1. 55F! Nice warm weather. Can’t wait till it comes our way. Sounds like a really cool race. I think I would have just stopped right there at the icecream. Running in trails and getting lost would have just done me in, and with temptation staring me in the face, I would have caved easily.

    So this ends the winter season? Now the summer stuff starts?

  2. Oh my gosh that sounds like SO much fun! I want to run a race like that. Mmmmm…ice cream.

  3. What a great performance – and a great report! Thanks for taking us along on the ride with you! You rick!

  4. I just love that picture!

  5. great race report, karen! that’s a great photo to add to your collection. and, yup, you told the story to make me feel like i was there. makes me eager to get out on the trails again. congratulations on a fun race!

  6. This is Robert S. from Tacoma, Wa. I read your report on the PA list. Enjoyed it and these pictures.
    Looks like both of you had a great time.

  7. THAT is FABULOUS pic!!! I LOVE it! She doesn’t look like her tibia (or ANYTHING ELSE) is hurting! And I love that smile!!! Way to go, Calgary Gal! So this one is the last one of the series…already? (Yeah…I’ll bet it doesn’t feel that way to YOU, eh?)


  8. That is just a great picture!!!


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