By Rob McWilliam and Larry Duguay

Trail running, with its extra demands on runners, tends to attract those who are looking for a challenge. Trail running and cross-country events actually pride themselves on the level of adversity that they contain.

The Equinox Marathon held in Fairbanks each September advertises the fact that The Ultimate Guide to Marathons ranks it as the fourth toughest in North America (and what could compare with Pike’s Peak where participants start a 6295 feet elevation, run up 7815 Feet, then turn and run back down the same narrow rocky trails). The Yukon River Trail Marathon organizers take quiet pride in the fact that our event is tougher than Equinox (based on comparative times in the two events for local runners). But when it comes to bragging rights for ‘toughness’ it definitely loses out to some of the incredible ultras that local runners are participating in this summer.

Several local runners have registered for the Canadian Death Race in Alberta in August and we hope to be able to report on their triumph afterwards. Three local runners, Rick Janowicz, Ken Sylvestre and Rob McWilliam just completed the Knee Knackering North Shore 30-Mile Trail Run in North Vancouver.

The Knee Knacker bills itself as Canada’s toughest trail race, and after participating I would enthusiastically endorse their claim.

It starts with a short sprint down the Freeway on-ramp by Horseshoe Bay, and then back up the same road. For the novice it is puzzling why all these runners are pushing the pace so hard at the beginning of a 50-km race. The answer quickly becomes apparent; a traffic jam at the start of the actual Badden-Powell Trail where runners are forced onto a single lane track. From that point there is a 4000 Ft. climb over the next 5 km to the top of Black Mountain, including a few sections through scree and boulders that are better described as climbing rather than running. Into the alpine area with its creeks, ponds and peat bogs to finally reach the summit of Black Mountain and the end of the first challenge. The wild descent down ski runs to the Cyprus Ski Lodge presented its own hazards. Janet Green, who many local runners know, won the prestigious ‘most knackered’ award, which honours the most beat up runner, on that section when she took the first of several major falls.

Back up Hollyburn Mountain over extremely rough terrain with roots, rocks, and collapsing log bridges all contributing to the difficulty. Then a pleasant section along Hollyburn cross country ski trails before plunging into the Hollyburn ‘chute’ where you needed to be part Kamikaze to try to run the trail at any speed. Across the top of British Properties, with brief glimpses of civilization, and finally to Cleveland Dam: the half way point.

At this point most runners had been on their feet for more time than it would take them to complete an average marathon, and it took an emotional toll to realize that there was still the second half and hours to go to get to Deep Cove. In case the psychological of just being at the half way point wasn’t enough the organizers threw in an immediate 1600 Ft. climb along the Grouse Grind trail before branching off on to the Badden-Powell Trail again. This and several subsequent sections of old growth forest contained a maze of trails that made getting lost a constant reality. Fortunately runners were helping each other and if a veteran saw someone heading down the wrong path they would quickly provide advise. Usually accompanied by a comment about when they had made a similar wrong turn in a previous race. Even the winner, Keith Wakelin (5:21.42), who had run the race eight times, still managed to briefly get lost.