Play With the Challenge – Hanes Valley Women’s FKT Attempt

We’ve all been in a situation where the going got TOUGH. What did you think in that moment?

For me, tough moments sneak up from behind. They often show up as being annoyed, or angry, maybe swearing at the terrain or myself, or tripping and falling on the ground. If I don’t catch that this is happening, it can often quickly progress to a situation where things are actually bad– I stop eating, or stop thinking about my goal, or the worst of all, I stop believing that I can achieve my goal. Often, I’m thinking I’m doing way worse than I actually am– and I beat myself up for no reason! This happens in running, and in learning Computer Science, too. It’s weird, because before these big challenges present themselves, I say I’m ready. In fact, I actively seek them out by signing up for experiences that will challenge me– ultras, computer science, start-ups. But the willingness to experience the tough doesn’t always translate to a capability to deal with it. It’s hard to be ready, because it can show up in so many forms, and I often find I’ve only prepared specifically for a few of the possible forms…

This past weekend, I had a run that showed me a glimpse of how to handle this.

Julien and I wanted to see how fast we could run the Hanes Valley Loop, a classic local run in North Vancouver. Gary Robbins had set a blistering fast time as the FKT, but there was no women’s FKT published. This was all Julien’s idea. I was hesitant, however. I had run Hanes Valley three other times and I knew it would be a huge endeavour to try and run it fast. When the route isn’t HURT-like, it’s going up a scree field or down a mountain biking trail. (Well, there is an easy beginning…!) But Julien knows how to stroke my competitive desires, so obviously this was happening. He loves uphill, and I love downhill, so it meant that we would be constantly uncomfortable.

I’m usually feeling strong when the trail gets technical, so I was looking forward to flying over some roots and rocks. But as soon as we passed Norvan Falls over the bridge, I felt like an awkward giraffe on the trail. I couldn’t predict where the trail would twist and turn, I couldn’t get into a rhythym, I even fell flat on my stomach at one point. I became very frustrated, expecting this trail to be my sweet spot.

I should have known that things were still going just great when we made it to the helicopter pad in Hanes Valley after 1 hour fifteen minutes. But instead, it was still this strange asshole part of my brain commanding me, telling me I wasn’t doing great. I scampered up the scree field trying to make up time, and of course, went way up the wrong side of the valley. Julien kept calling at me to come left, but I waited way too long, and now I was separated by a huge 20-foot bush from the correct side, with no flagging in sight. In this moment, I let myself get a bit more frustrated, as my efforts to hustle thus far seemed effectively pointless. In the past, I might have gotten angry and canned the effort. But as we walked down the scree back to where we left the flagging, I realized I could embrace this new, greater challenge. The getting lost was done, and all we could do now was make the best of it, and try to make up for it on the rest of the route. I apologized to Julien for being crazy, which was step one.


It was perfect timing to remain positive, as just when we found the flagging again, we saw a huge chunk of the bushes move and shake, about 10 meters away– where we just were! We both knew right away, this had to be a bear! Immediately we rushed as far left on the scree as we could, and climbed straight up. When we topped out from the scree field, a couple of hikers were watching our supposed “hiking fast right at the bear” from above.

In the end, the run did turn out great, as we made up for the detours with a smooth run through Crown Pass to the top of Grouse, down Mountain Highway, and down the winding Fromme trails. If I had let myself get too angry at my mistakes, it would have killed a great run! For now in this fleeting moment, it’s a current women’s fastest time–3h 45m 21s.

For those of you who want to run it for yourself, I found this Hanes Loop RunGo route really helpful on the last trails through Fromme. (I made this route from Gary Robbin’s GPS file from his run.) However, you need to keep your head up through the scree field… a) because of bears, and b) because since it’s more of a route without taking “turns”, RunGo didn’t give me directions up there. Hence the hiking straight up the wrong way, with my head down. Also, make sure you’ve got all the backcountry essentials. Since this is a major North Shore Search and Rescue spot, I always carry multiple navigation aids, (I carried RunGo, plus photos of my paper map on two fully-charged phones) a great jacket, food, water, and an emergency kit which has a mini turtle light, and basic first aid supplies.

If you want to run this fast, (and you should! You can do it!) my advice is to win with wisdom… essentially, to not get off track in the scree. You could also consider skipping the Grouse chalet. We stopped to refill water there, but if you wanted to skip that then you could cut about 2km off through the resort, plus the time to refill water. Here’s the link on Strava with all the stats from my run.

This was a day when I was able to play with the challenge. Definitely one to remember and re-produce!

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