I was really excited to race Meet the Minotaur this year. I was healthy, there was no smoke, and I was eager to test myself on some true mountain terrain. Admittedly, I hadn’t specifically trained for Meet the Minotaur. While I had lots of mountain time in my legs, I had done zero high intensity training and I worried the race would be too short for my diesel engine. I also had just put in a big effort with the LRT the previous week, and it was likely that I still had deep lingering fatigue in my legs. I didn’t give these detractors a lot of thought, and instead I lined up on the start line intent on racing hard and having fun.
I knew several of the racers this year, and we were in mid-conversation standing on the startline when the race suddenly started and the runners surged ahead. I was eager to push myself hard on this race course and I definitely started out too fast. I followed last year’s winner Anna Koevoet as the pin flags led us through a non-trail section of forest. There was plenty of deadfall and several of the runners were running along stepping on top of the logs. I’m paranoid of logs snapping and getting a stick through the leg (I’ve seen it happen) so I was the odd one out, stepping between the logs and practicing my hurdling skills. I kept up okay, but I think my strategy was a little less efficient.
It soon became apparent that the opening pace was way too quick if this was going to be a 4hr+ race. I was only 20 minutes in and already feeling hot, nauseous and light-headed. My campmate Melody had decided to pull out of the race earlier that morning because she wasn’t feeling well and I wondered if I was also coming down with something. I slowed down to a walk and let racers pass me. Svenja caught up and jogged with me for a bit before moving ahead and I resisted the urge to give chase. If I wanted to do well in this race I needed to get my effort level under control.
I began to feel better and I slowly started to up the effort level. I was running my own race now and I felt much better for it. I began to pass people back. I was feeling good and everyone I was passing sounded like they were working very hard. We were were climbing up a very steep slope to the unofficially named “Fish Peak”, and I enjoyed getting into my element. At some point I passed Anna (I can’t remember when) but I knew it would be difficult to catch Svenja. She is an experienced distance runner and over the last couple of years her mountain running skills have greatly improved.
At the top of Fish Peak I passed by Abi who was volunteering, and Susan one of the RDs who was manning Checkpoint 1. Now it was time for a very steep descent and I let myself run with joy, passing a few guys until I lost the flags and had to come to a screeching stop. The runners behind me caught up, and then one of them saw a flag and we were off again. This happened a few times on the descent (I learned later that some sheep had been eating the flags), and I definitely lost a few minutes on this section. This was also some of the steepest descending I’ve ever seen on a Minotaur course and I laughed to myself, thinking Ian must have been responsible for designing this section of the course. We descended into the brush and I worked together with another runner, Jeff, to navigate the course. Two pairs of eyes were definitely better than one and I enjoyed the company. Before we knew it we were at checkpoint #2 and headed up our second big climb of the day.
Jeff initially passed me on the climb, but soon I found my legs and I caught back up to him, passing several other racers as well. I could see Svenja far ahead, but she appeared to be moving effortlessly and I couldn’t make up any ground. I didn’t have the power in my legs that I’m used to on steep climbs and I couldn’t help but think I might be feeling some residual fatigue from the LRT. I thought back to all the scrambles Svenja and I had done together, of all the times I had waited for her as she learned to move more efficiently on steep terrain. I berated myself for teaching her too well! Honestly though, it was super cool to see her kicking ass and I began to feel comfortable with the idea of second place.
We gained the ridge heading up to the summit of Deadman Pass Peak where Ian was hanging out, monitoring a particularly exposed section of the route. He egged me on, telling me I could catch Svenja on the descent. I seem to be very susceptible to external encouragement and I took his words to heart. I kept Svenja insight for the rest of the climb and then worked on reeling her in as we descended the mountain. I don’t think I made up any ground on her with this initial descent and I wondered if I should even bother. Then the course turned onto a delicious ridgeline and we were able to cruise down the mountain with a full stride. I let my legs go, and was surprised to find that my legs were very happy to run. Svenja was still well ahead but I felt that I was moving quickly and I knew that I had to be making up ground on her.
For the last several minutes I had been running neck and neck with my new friend Pascal. Pascal and I reached the last checkpoint just as Adrien and Svenja were taking off on the final descent back to the finish line. Pascal reached the checkpoint before me so I had to wait as he took a few more seconds than I would have liked to punch his card. Svenja was running away while I was waiting for the hole punch and I was impatient. I punched my card as quickly as possible and took off, running around Adrien as he jokingly put his arms out to stop me. I said a quick hi to Svenja, but I was intent on passing and putting as much distance between us as possible. I knew that if there was any road running during the final kilometres that she would catch me. I needed a buffer.
I ran as hard as I dared, creating a bit of a gap, and then slowing down because of fatigue, and also because I was out of water. Pascal caught back up to me and we worked together spotting flags through the deadfall as we worked our way back to the finish line. The race organizers were a bit cruel on this section, we could have returned to the road and ran the last mile back to the finish but instead they made us bushwhack through the forest. This worked to my advantage as I think if we’d had any more running Svenja would have caught me and we might have had a sprint finish. As it was, I managed to hang on for the win with barely a minute to spare.
After the race all of us hung out at the finish line for a few hours, drinking kombucha, eating tacos and cheering on runners. I think Svenja and I are both looking forward to a rematch next year. Meet the Minotaur is truly a unique event – if you have any interest at all, I highly recommend you sign up. I promise it will be unlike any other race you’ve ever done.
- Check out Svenja’s race report here, to hear her perspective of our battle on the Minotaur course.