What is Meet the Minotaur???
I must have been asked this question 50 times during the lead up to this race (which was in its inaugural year). I didn’t know anything more about the event than what was posted on the website, so my answers were pretty vague. I knew it was off-trail, that the route was a secret, and that there would be plenty of climbing. I’d been out with the race directors on a couple of runs so I had an idea of what kind of bushwhacking they preferred. Mainly, the most direct line possible.
I was excited for the adventure side of this race. I love long steep climbs, I enjoy bushwhacking, and I found the “mystery” of the course to be intriguing. I wasn’t so keen on the competitive side of this event. I felt a lot of pressure (completely self-imposed) to do well. I was the poster athlete on the Meet the Minotaur website, and Icebug was the primary sponsor of the event. Plus, I feel like I have a reputation as a tough mountain chick, and I didn’t want to let that reputation down. There was no entrants list to give me an idea of who my competition was, but I knew that the local athletes would be very strong. I had gone out with a Meet the Minotaur training run back in May, and I had been impressed with how strong all of the runners were.
The night before …
Arielle and I gave a slide show presentation on our Spray Valley 10 adventure during package pick up. We talked for about 45 minutes, describing the ups and downs of our adventure and answering any questions. If I wasn’t feeling enough pressure before, I sure was now!
We followed up our talk with pizza and beer at one of the local restaurants. I always drink beer before my races and getting back into my carb-loading routine had a calming effect. I couldn’t control the competition, all I could do was take care of myself and see what would happen.
Race morning …
Race start wasn’t until 10am, with a mandatory pre-race meeting at 9am. I normally stop eating 3 hours before a race to prevent any stomach issues. Since most races start at 6am this means I will wake up at 3am to slam back a Clif bar or two before going back to bed. With the 10am start, I was able to have a normal breakfast! I have decided that I am a big fan of late race starts.
The mandatory meeting covered all the relevant race information for the day. Since this race was entirely off-trail there were more items to go over than in a typical race: helmets were mandatory from checkpoints 2-4 (there would be signs), gloves were highly recommended for the entire race, if you don’t see a flag you’re off-course, don’t kick rocks down on other runners etc. They also added a fun twist to the course where you would have a choice of which route you would want to take. One route might be tougher but more direct, and the other route easier but longer. They called these options “labyrinths.” Lastly, there was no food or water on the course. If you accepted aid from a race volunteer then you would be recorded as a DNF. Aid from other racers was allowed and encouraged.
Race start …
The race began with about 10 metres of flat before we hit a steep slope up through the bush. Essentially it was like running into a wall. My friend Arielle got a video of it and it’s hilarious! Racers were pushing on each other’s backs to try to boost them up the hill.
The course was a little backed up for the first few minutes as racers settled into their pace. I tried to be patient and not expend too much energy passing people. The race would probably take around 4 hours, I couldn’t afford to redline from the beginning. I took the shortcut through the woods at the first labyrinth as the bushwhacking didn’t look super dense, the other option was to go around on a trail. I was following a couple of other guys, so I was able to just concentrate on my feet while they looked ahead for flags.
The two branches of the labyrinth joined back up and I found myself running in a group of local guys and a lady named Christine who I had heard rumours of being a very strong mountain athlete. I decided that I would try to stick with her for as long as possible.
I wasn’t paying much attention to the flags, assuming the runners around me were doing that job for me. Suddenly we realized we were not on route. We had been power hiking up a steep slope, but the race route had taken a sharp right at the base of the hill. We quickly got back on course, losing only a couple of minutes and adding 20 or 30 metres of climbing to our race. After that mishap I was paranoid about getting off route, and I didn’t trust anyone to find it for me. With no trail to follow you couldn’t just put your head down and run, you had to constantly be scanning ahead.
I wasn’t wearing a watch of any kind so I was fueling by feel. Drinking when I wanted and eating as much as I felt I could handle. We reached the first checkpoint, and I had already eaten 3 sour dinos and an Oreo. The volunteer told us our time – it was only 36 minutes into the run! I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that much so early in race, but I was working hard and I was worried about bonking. Thankfully my stomach seemed to be handling the food just fine.
Helmets were mandatory after checkpoint 1 due to rockfall hazard. I stopped to put mine on, but Christine had been wearing hers from the start so she passed by me. The route turned up a steep, grassy mountain slope. You could see runners snaking up the slope for what seemed like forever! I gave myself a pep talk – this was my opportunity, and now was my chance to start catching the other ladies.
I focused on small, quick steps; trying to be as efficient as possible. The climb became a grind and I began to pass competitors. Christine was ahead but I could see that I was reeling her in. Halfway up the slope I finally passed her and I made sure to keep up the pace. I didn’t want her to try to tag along as I wasn’t sure how long I could sustain this effort level. Another lady was further up the hill, but she looked tired; taking large steps and resting for a second between each one. I caught up to her just before the top. At this point I didn’t know how many more ladies were in front of me, but I was running scared, terrified of being caught from behind.
The route plummeted down a scree slope before turning straight back up a very steep and rocky slope. I pushed hard, but half way up the hill I had to pause for a few seconds. My body was hurting and I needed to give my glutes a break. I allowed myself a brief look back to see if any ladies were on my tail. I didn’t think I saw any, but couldn’t be 100% sure since everyone was wearing helmets.
The climb continued and I put my head down as I pushed up towards the saddle. Whenever I looked up the sun was shining right in my face and all I could see was the silhouette of a volunteer waiting at the top, so I aimed for the silhouette.
The silhouette turned out to be Ian (one of the Race Directors) and he pointed across the valley to the next section of course. There was a steep scree run down, a long traverse, and then a grueling climb back up to another saddle. Once you leave checkpoint 3 there is no turning back, as there was no way you would want to climb back up that scree slope. I downed a Honey Stinger gel and threw myself down the scree slope. The run down was super fun!
I felt so slow during the traverse across the mountain. It was a lot of side sloping, something I try to avoid when I’m out scrambling on my own since I find it tedious. I was leading a group of guys, but none of them seemed to want to pass. It was impossible to push hard on this part of the route, mostly because I was too focused on trying to stay upright and on course. After what felt like forever we began a steep grind up a scree slope to another col. The climb was hot and relentless. My glutes and lower back were letting me know that they wanted to be done, so I ate some Sour Dinos and drank more water in an attempt to get them to shut up. That seemed to do the trick as the second half of the climb felt much better.
We reached the top of the grind and now it was time to follow some fixed ropes down a small cliff band before our final descent. The scrambler in me loved this section and I found myself wishing there was more of it. The rock was solid, and the rope was mostly unnecessary, but it was good reassurance if you weren’t used to this type of terrain. The rope section was followed by our last scree run of the day. Wheee!
I was excited to run downhill, and I was hoping to push hard to the finish, but that wasn’t to be. The scree run was followed by a bushwhacking traverse with very tricky footing. I couldn’t run this section without feeling like I was going to break my ankles, so I just hiked as fast as I could. Several guys passed me, apparently traversing is a weakness I need to work on. With so many guys passing me I kept thinking that the ladies were going to catch up to me too, but that never happened. I found myself in no-man’s land, with nobody to see in either direction.
There was a 2nd labyrinth – up and over, or contour around. I chose the most direct line, up and over the hill. From there the course angled back to the first checkpoint and I knew I was getting close to the finish. With no racers to follow I found myself taking extra care to stay on route, following the flags but never able to really open up my stride for fear of missing one. (There were flags every few metres, I really shouldn’t have been so paranoid).
I passed my friends Arielle and Jessie who were hiking part of the course as I raced back to the finish. They let me know I was first female and now I knew it was my race to lose, so long as I could stay upright and not get lost.
I crossed the finish line in 3:20, exhausted and happy. I felt like I been able to sustain a good effort throughout the race, and I hadn’t imploded under the weight of my self-imposed expectations.
After the race we hung out for a few hours. There was kombucha, a barbecue with hot dogs and corn on the cob, baked treats from the Stone’s Throw Café, fruit and chips. It was a great atmosphere to sit and cheer on the other runners as they came in.
I’d highly recommend Meet the Minotaur to anyone who is curious about it. I loved the challenge of this event; the secret route, the steep climbs, the exhilarating scree runs, and even the tedious, side-sloping traverses. Next year there will be a new course, and I’m sure it will be even better.
Here’s an awesome video of this year’s event.
- To the Meet the Minotaur organizers – Andrew, Erin, Ian, Susan and everybody else behind the scenes. This was the most fun I’ve ever had at a race.
- To Icebug – for supplying me with shoes for all my mountain adventures.
- To my husband Matt – for enabling my serious mountain addiction.
- To Arielle – for being such an awesome adventure partner and for pushing me to have more confidence in my own ability.
Happy Trails and I will see you all next year for the 2nd annual MTM!