Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Years Eve Long Run: Getting Lost on Vancouver Island

On top of Seymour Hill

Going for a run in a new location is always exciting and really increases your love of trail running, and this New Years Eve run was no different. Although I have been living on the Island for over three years now I still haven't even began to explore all the trail systems and parks even a few miles from my house. One area I haven't spent much time is Thetis Lake Regional Park. The park is wildly popular among residents because of its beautiful trail system, scenery, and more likely its appeal to dog walkers. It also hosts trail races like the extremely popular Gunner Shaw 10K and the Stewart Mountain 10 miler. It is amazing that I haven't run this park but one other time, with its amazing trails and rich cross-country race history. In the end, the main reason I haven't spent much time there is I don't like driving to a run if I can reach a similar type of run easily from my doorstep, I don't like paying for parking (May-September), and lastly I am not a huge fan of trails populated with dog walkers. I don't mind running around dogs on most trails but sometimes really popular trails get so choked with our canine friends it can really slow you down or prevent you from ever really reaching that flow state that can be so fickle to achieve.

That being said I decided it was time to give the park a try as my last run of the year. I went early enough in the morning that I figured the majority of dog walkers would still be avoiding the morning chill. I chose a course to run that followed closely to the Stewart Mountain Course with the exception of me running a smaller knoll called Seymour Hill first, and then also running to the summit of Scafe Hill as well as Stewart Mountain. The trail system is honestly straight forward and well marked so as to why I had such a hard time navigating this run is beyond me. Granted I haven't spent much time there before, and the main route has no fewer than 15 forks in the trail, but in the end I think I was just so busy enjoying the run that I wasn't paying much attention to what I was doing, but I am getting ahead of myself.

I started the run at a nice slow chug up the south side of Seymour. My blood began pumping and I quickly warmed up in the rays of the winter sun. I was in awe at how many cars were in the parking lot but the majority of people walk the main trail around the lake, so I had Seymour all to myself. The views of Thetis were absolutely beautiful and I was able to do one of my favorite things on the island which is glide along the tops of the hills over the moss covered rocks with amazing vistas all around me. After taking a photo or two at the top I began my descent and after a mile of beautiful twisting, turning, descending, single track I met up with the main trail that ribbons around the shore of Thetis Lake.

I knew that I needed to stay left near the shore a certain distance and avoid several right hand turns until I reached the correct right that led me north towards Stewart Mountain. The problem was in my attempt to hug the lake I took the trail that heads due south along a peninsula between the upper and lower Thetis Lakes and after a mile on that found myself literally back to where I parked. No Problem I thought I will just head north along the west shore of the lake and eventually meet back up with my main route to the north. In all, this wrong turn cost me several miles, but the trails were so amazing and the weather so perfect I just considered it a privilege to explore a few extra miles of trails.

I then began to probe my way toward the northwest end of the lake to find my main route to Stewart Mountain. I was unsure which trail I needed to take because I strayed from my original route that I had planned on running. So I found myself literally running every off-shoot trail I could find. I would run it until it dead-ended into a road, parking lot, race car track, or gravel pit. I was a bit frustrated to be honest but the trails were amazing and I had them to myself because I was away from the main lake. Eventually I found the correct trail after literally running every wrong trail in it's entirety. I thought it is a good thing I like to run long distances because otherwise I would be spent before I ever made it to the north bound trail that takes me to Stewart Mountain (which should have only taken about 25-30 minutes to reach).

I ran over streams, and puddles, and through trails with water pouring down them. I ran past old rusty cars and by old water tanks. It was a ton of fun to explore and every corner was new which is why I love running new areas so much. I finally reached Stewart Mountain an hour later than I had originally planned. At that point I realized I packed zero fuel and only had water and I could use a calorie or two going into the climb but pushed myself and thought it was good fat burning training. At one point I saw an overgrown trail that appeared to be a shortcut and would shorten my climb by quite a bit and so I took it. Within a minute I found myself chin deep in ferns and soggy grass. I stepped in a puddle that went up to my knee and finally broke through to the main trail after quite a battle with the brush, and while I was in the bush I donated my maps to the undergrowth. Finally I made the summit. It wasn't by any means a spectacular summit but it felt nice to lay down and I enjoyed the solitude and peace that comes from going further than anyone else is willing to go. I snapped a few photos, and took some footage, got a large swig out of the water bladder and headed back.

The way down was uneventful and now that I had a feel for the area I ran straight back to my car even without my maps that apparently didn't help anyways. What a great run and way to end 2011. I finished up the week with about 40 miles and felt really happy with each of my runs.

At the bottom of this post is the video I made of the run with another great song by Seven Mary Three. Feel free to laugh as I get lost, take shortcuts that don't pan out, and end up losing my maps (I know my wife sure had a good laugh at my expense). The video is in high definition so toggle to 1080 P before viewing to get a better picture!

Seymour Hill Ascent

Seymour hill

Thetis Lake

Running the Mossy Rocks

On the Summit of Stewart Mountain


Tim said...

Great post, VERY BEAUTIFUL terrain for sure. Sounds like a very adventurous run and you are right, anytime you try something new, even if it doesn't always go according to plan, can make a very rewarding experience. The beauty which the island holds is truly a treasure and I suspect when the time comes for you to leave, will be a very hard time for you.

You are starting to crank some serious mileage. 40 miles in one week is VERY impressive, I haven't ran those kind of miles since September!

Tim said...

Just barely noticed your arm warmers on the pic where you are relaxing on Stewart Mountain. How do you like them???