Finlayson Arm 53km Race Report 2017

Finlayson Arm 53km Ultra Race Report - Saturday September 9th, Victoria, BC

Gorgeous mountain scenery on technical, but very runnable single track trails

Beauty single track trails through old growth forests!

Gunnera in Queen Elizabeth Park

Visiting Vancouver

I was in Vancouver to help my eldest son, William, get settled in first year university. Of course I biked and ran around Vancouver the week before at a very easy pace checking out the sights including:

  • Granville Island with it's boutiques
  • UBC Campus getting to know the beautiful campus where my eldest will live
  • Pacific Spirit Regional Park with it's old, huge fir trees
  • Queen Elizabeth Park with it's stunning flower garden in an old Quarry at it's center
  • Biking to North Vancouver, up the Capilano River and Park, and then hiking up the Grouse Grind.

My Brother's First Ultra

After Vancouver I took the ferry over to Victoria to visit my brother and his family (Dennis, Amaiah, and Kali) Dennis and I had signed up for the Finlayson Ultra in the spring as he wanted to "get back in shape" and run his first ultra. I enjoyed giving feedback to him during his training from all the "lessons" I have learned, often painfully, over the last three years of long trail running. You bonked - how much did you eat? Hmmm! Cramping up? Oh you need 10x that quantity of electrolytes!!!

The ultra we had signed up for, Finlayson Arm, is a tough ultra with over 3000m of elevation gain and winning times of ~ 6 hours. Dennis lives nearby and had been training on the trails however - it helps to have your first ultra on home course!

Flat Steven - all ready to go

Before the Race - hamstring injury

One month ago at the MEC half-marathon in Gatineau Park I got a level 1 hamstring strain on my left leg. I managed to get into see Steve Wasteneys for ART massage a few times and it had been slowly healing. Running with Leonard the I2P 50km set it back a week, but there was no way I wasn't going to pace my thirteen year old on his first ultra (see Living Without Fear after Heart Surgery ).

I could run at a pace of about 1:30/km slower than normal and the left hamstring was tight so I wasn't sure whether I would be able to complete the Finlayson ultra. However, I could hike up hills without problems as my hike up the very steep Grouse Grind showed and there was a lot of climbing on this course.

It is a small world as I ended up running with Freya Wasteneys, a relative of Steve Wasteneys, on the 50km for at least half an hour!!!

The Start

At 6:30 as we were picking up our bibs the last of the 100km runners were finishing their first loop after starting at 5pm and running through the night. Gave energy to all of the 50km runners cheering them on!

The hundred plus runners started up the dirt road uphill through the campground with a fast group taking off ahead. Over the first few clicks we covered rolling paths and single track trails. I could hear a few of the runners breathing hard and thought to myself "zone 3 effort - not sustainable - make sure you don't do that". It is easy to get caught up in the energy of the start and run much faster than one should up hills you will be walking a couple of hours later.

I quickly got into a comfortable, relaxed, agile, running stride that I maintained for hours - the most fun I have ever had in an ultra. I was passed on the up hills in the first few clicks as I wanted to keep save my energy and legs, but re passed many on the downhills. I started with Dennis but it was clear he didn't have the same fitness as he was breathing harder and he wisely backed off the pace and let others pass (many of whom he passed later on)

Technical Trail - what type?

I saw a funny description of types of technical trails from those who had run the MEC Mont Tremblant trail run earlier this summer. These trails were fun technical single track with a dirt path most of the time around trees and rocks and over a few roots. They are what makes trail running so much fun! Especially when running with so many smooth trail runners at the same speed :) I have worked on my running form this summer, using my core more and less push back of the arms. The improved technique definitely helped me on these trails!

Climbing to the top of Mount Finlayson

Climbing and views!

That was when we weren't walking up steep hills!! Mt. Finlayson is over 400m of climb over less than 2km, twice as steep and up as Wolf trail! The views at the top looking over Victoria and water made it well worth the effort and justified a few extra steps of walking *grin*. Finlayson was not the only mountain we climbed as we topped over Mount Work twice just before and after the midway point. At this point I saw my brother running smoothly and we gave each other high five's. One advantage of an out and back course. Over the next 10 minutes or so with my brain working at top speed (incredible how the brain works during an ultra) I managed to figure out he was only 30 minutes behind and was pumped for him.

It rained lightly most of the day starting when we did. By the afternoon the views up top were gone, however the other sights made up for it:

  • large fir trees with fern undergrowth on steep slopes
  • peeling orange bark arbutus trees
  • meandering trails.


I started at half an hour in popping shot blocks every 7 min and drinking my drink mix with electrolytes as needed. The stations were a welcome sight where I scarfed down whatever appealed to me most: salted potatoes, pb jam sandwich sections, watermelon, oranges. The volunteers were amazing cheering us on and refilling water bottles, including the ever difficult screwing a cap back on :) For this ultra I tried something new and carried an extra 250ml soft flask with my hydration concentrate with enough for 3L of drink and a total of 7g of sodium, 360 calories and other electrolytes which I added to one of my two 500ml water flasks at each aid station. Caramel and salt are irresistible to me so I had no problem grabbing those gels for out on the trail. Instead of eating the 100 calorie gels all at once I ate a bit every 10 minutes or so.


I have had fairly bad leg cramps during marathons and ultras before and within two hours in I could feel the familiar ache so I took one of the SweatSalts high in magnesium and sodium. I have found magnesium to be highly effective in the past for me and my friends and it made the difference once again. I ended up taking, I believe, four of these capsules throughout the event and so thankfully did not leg cramp once despite the significant elevation change. Other contributing factors were the cooler weather, and tying my shoe laces much looser than for the North Face Ontario 50km at Blue Mountain.

Low Point and Finishing high

Up until 45km or so I was almost always running with someone else - it helps so much, and trail runners are so friendly and supportive as I realized in the last stretch running by myself! No ultra is exactly the listed distance, and this event was no exception. At about, what I realize was about 1km from the finish, running alone and 51km on my GPS I started swearing aloud thinking I had gone the wrong way and was heading back up Mt Finlayson for the 2nd time. I had seen on one post a distance of 50.5km and started doubting whether I had gone the correct way. My left knee had started to hurt on the downhills at about 40km, likely as a result of my recovering hamstring. Running on that sore knee didn't help but seeing a walker who assured me that I was indeed going the correct direction made my spirits soar to make the final push to the finish where I pulled off a cartwheel and collected my finishers beer glass. I finished in 8:10 - my slowest ~50km yet but the hilliest and one of my favourites.

Dennis's finish

I was over at the massage table awaiting a small fix to help me to walk somewhat normally when I heard my bro's name being called as he finished. I am so proud of my little bro as he really rocked his first ultra and finished only 35 minutes after me, pretty much holding even on the way back. As per most people who try an ultra he seems already addicted and is talking about how he will train for his next one :)

Me, niece Kali and brother Dennis in Victoria