Race Review: Vancouver Island Trail Running Series Race #1 – Cobble Hill

I wasn’t planning on actually running much of the hilly 12 km short course at the first race in the Vancouver Island Trail Running Series (VITRS) this past Saturday since I haven’t been running much lately and wasn’t feeling good this past week, but I couldn’t help myself after I started to descend after the first of many steep climbs.

The course follows a fun network of hiking and mountain biking trails around Cobble Hill, and I LOVE running on twisty-turny downhills that aren’t too steep. Once I get into that downhill flow on the trails — you know the kind when you expertly navigate every rock and root with minimal effort and feel like you could run forever — I can’t be stopped.

The Cobble Hill race, held on Saturday, April 8, was the first event in the VITRS. It featured a long course (18km) and a short course (12km), as well as a kid’s race. Even though the weather was rather gloomy, there was a great turn out at this sold out race.

VITRS had the best coffee in Victoria (Bows X Arrows) on hand to keep everyone warm and fired up!

Frontrunners was on hand as well in case you needed to buy a last-minute hydration pack!

Before the race, I huddled under a tent out of the rain with IRONMAN coach Lindsey from TriStars and her hubby, explaining my race day plan to take it easy. I don’t think Lindsey believed me for a second.

As soon as we lined up at the starting line and the race began, I was flying up the first hill, unexpectedly feeling strong. I ran 80% of the way up the first big climb, walking only when everyone else in front of me was. I didn’t notice much of the course at this point, but I remember the trail being too narrow to pass people as much as I wanted.

Start of the short course event

Once we got to the summit of the first hill, I was flying down and trying to politely sneak past as many people as I could (but secretly wanting everyone to get out of the way because I was in the zone and didn’t want to slow down). After a long decent and some undulation, there were another series of climbs and descents: some with nice vistas that would have been a treat on a sunny day, some that featured epic mud or water hazards, and some that involved a bit of controlled falling as opposed to downhill running.

Nice vista of Cobble Hill/Shawnigan Lake area near the last descent

Trail shoe washing/calf cooling station

Course views

There was one aid station on the course for the short course participants at about the 6K mark. I didn’t bother to stop as I brought a handheld water bottle with me.

Aid station at the half way point

After the halfway point, I walked most of the steeper climbs but ran a good portion of the rest of the course. By this point the crowds had thinned and I was on my own for awhile, which was nice. It was only near the last decent where a few women I had passed earlier caught up to me. Of course, my competitive spirit kicked in and I unnecessarily picked up the pace for the last kilometre, running full-out to the finish line.

I finished in 1:41, which was better than I had expected to do! I was right in the middle of the pack for my age group.

One of the things I love most about small local races compared to larger and more flashy events is seeing familiar faces from your running community and making new connections. I mean, sure — it’s great to get branded race swag and get fired up from the large crowds, but for me it’s all about the atmosphere, the people, the quality of the course, how well it’s marked and the amazingness of the volunteers. Also, the post-race food, which is always better at small local trail races.

Post-race pancakes, eggs, whipped cream and candy!

Overall, the first race in the VITRS met and exceeded all of my expectations.

Bri’s Race Rating
(Out of five stars)

Course: ☆☆☆☆☆
Terrain: ☆☆☆☆☆
Views: ☆☆☆☆
Food: ☆☆☆☆☆
Volunteers: ☆☆☆☆☆
Swag: ☆☆☆
Organization: ☆☆☆☆☆
Atmosphere: ☆☆☆☆☆

There are still five races to go this year, and all in places I’ve never been before (well, except for the Victoria race on June 10 as that course is still TBD, but I betcha it will be on familiar trails). Next up is Mt. Tzouhalem in Duncan on May 6, which is staged out of the beautiful Providence Farm property. Apparently  this course climbs steadily for the first half until gravity gets a hold of you for a fast, flowy second half back to the finish, which sounds right up my alley!

Have you ever done a trail race? Do you plan to run at any of the VITRS events?