Race review: Vancouver Island Trail Running Series race #2: Mt. Tzouhalem

I don’t think I’ve ever been so unprepared for a race as I was for Mt. Tzouhalem, the second race in Vancouver Island Trail Running Series.

Not in a physical, that-took-a-huge-toll-on-my-body-and-mind-and-I-almost-died kind of way, but in a I-don’t-even-know-what-race-I’m-running kind of way.

Usually when I have a race or event I get everything packed the night before: I decide what I’m going to wear, lay out my running clothes, pack gels or a banana and water, pack a spare change of clothes, and charge my Garmin.

On Saturday, I looked up where I was supposed to be about 2 hours before the race started (I knew it was in Duncan but I didn’t know where), got changed out of my pajamas and into running gear about 30 minutes before I had to leave, threw some stuff in a bag (but not my Garmin because it was almost dead), decided to grab my handheld water bottle last minute even though I thought I was only running 7 km, and headed out the door.

I arrived at Providence Farm in Duncan—which is a beautiful spot, by the way—about an hour before the race was scheduled to start. When I checked in, I discovered I was still registered for the long course distance of 13 km instead of the short course distance of 7 km. I thought I had switched, but I forgot to confirm. Oops! 

Providence Farm in Duncan, BC

Oh well, I thought. Even though I’ve only run four times in the last three weeks (two 5Ks and a few 15 minute treadmill runs), my fitness level is still pretty good thanks to the combined HIIT and strength training workouts I’ve been doing a three times a week over the past four months. I decided to just do the 13 km race, which started 15 minutes earlier than the short course—and meant I had to bust my butt back to my car to drop off my stuff and stand in an agonizingly long line for the women’s bathroom to make it to the starting line by 10:45 am.

The long course took us out across the rolling fields of Providence Farm and almost immediately straight up Mt. Tzouhalem. As soon as there was an incline on the forested trail, I hiked with everyone else for the next few kilometres. It was hard, but not too hard—the trail followed some gradual switchbacks with only a handful of really steep quad-busting and rock-scrambling climbs.

Start of the steep climb at Mt. Tzouhalem

I stopped a few times for photos, as the vistas out over the Cowichan valley were stunning.

Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, a fellow VITRS racing team ambassador was ahead of me for most of the race, and took this photo for me at the summit.

Mt. Tzouhalem was originally named “Shkewetsen” (meaning “basking” or “warming in the sun”) by the local First Nations. This cross was placed by the Knights of Columbus in the late 1980s.

(Thanks Lisa!)

Once we reached the summit, we followed a fun and flowy downhill course for a few kilometres that travelled out of the forest canopy in to clear-cut areas and back again. I was stuck in a long line of runners for a while on the downhill (which is mostly single track), but didn’t mind as I knew best to take it easy. I wasn’t as well prepared as last time, and I didn’t have my Garmin with me so I had no idea how long I’d been running and how much farther I had to go.

More views

When a few runners broke free to pass, I followed so I could glide down the fun switchbacks on the mountain bike trails along with them. After another kilometre or so of downhill, us speedy downhill runners put enough space in between us that I found myself solo when I reached another uphill climb. At that point I realized I hadn’t seen an aid station of any kind, although there were volunteers dotted along the course at random intervals. Was I only half way in? Did I somehow miss it?

I came upon another runner and asked her what her Garmin said. She said we were just over 10K in, and also thought it was odd there was no aid station. I was glad I decided to grab my handheld water bottle at the last minute!

Just as I passed the Garmin-wearing runner and started another descent, I came upon the fully stocked aid station. I’m not sure if there was only one to serve both the long and short course or if there were supposed to be two, but with only 3 km to go and ¼ bottle of water left, I decided to just continue on to the finish.

The last few kilometres of the course was a steeper downhill followed by another small climb before descending back down to Providence Farm. I finished in 2:03 and didn’t feel tired or sore at all.

Finish line!

Because I had only anticipated running for an hour, I didn’t stick around long after the race to enjoy the post-race spread. They were cooking up grilled cheese sandwiches, which looked delicious even though I can’t eat cheese.

Post race eats!

Grilled cheese and donuts!

I had to hit up Costco on the way home and needed sustenance, so I found a raw vegan food place in Duncan and inhaled a beet/kale/acai recovery smoothie and a big-ass salad.

So glad I found this place! Power House Foods in Duncan, I’ll be back!

The next race in the Vancouver Island Trail Running Series race is on June 10 at Royal Roads on a yet-to-be-announced course. I’ll be doing that one for sure, and seeing as I had so much fun and no issues at all doing the long course at this race, I’ll most likely be lining up to go long again—but coming a little more prepared this time 🙂

Bri’s Race Rating
(Out of five stars)

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

Verdict: Overall, a fun, flowy and well-marked course that was hard, but not too hard. Amazing trails, incredible vistas, excellent post-race food spread and lots of variety in the terrain. Aside from the lack of women’s bathrooms (two of the four stalls available were out-of-order) and aid station too close to the finish, I loved this event and will be back!