Runner: Coach Jennifer Kozak
Race Date: 10/07/2023
Location: Kelowna, BC, Canada
Results: Overall: 43 GP: 14 // 5:40:11
3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?
- The PACE Trail Run community: P.A.C.E – Positive Attitude Changes Everything – truly lives up to its name! Despite this being my first PACE race, everyone was welcoming, the volunteers were amazing, and the RD, Rene, was spectacular! While I haven’t done any larger trail running events, I have to imagine that this race has more of a grassroots feel. Rene hand makes each finisher medal in her pottery workshop, awards the top runners with home made jam, and greets each and every finisher with a hug at the finish line. In addition, during the race briefing she is clear that if you stop to help another runner and sacrifice your own race (i.e., a trail angel), you will be rewarded a free entry into another PACE event. This race is all about community!
- The course: This race takes place around the Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park, a popular spot for mountain biking. The course had a little bit of everything, flowy single track both on the ups and the downs, short sections of fire road, technical downhill sections, four creek crossings, and an almost scramble to the finish.
- The scenery: This race takes place over Canadian Thanksgiving and the weather was PERFECT! The start of the race was a chilly 6 C (43 F), but got to highs of around 22 C (72 F). The race starts through the forest and it was gorgeous with all the trees changing color. At one point all you could see were yellows and oranges! After the initial climb, you were treated to sweeping views of Okanagan Lake. The final section of the race is along the valley floor and again, very beautiful with the trees changing colors. I honestly can’t imagine a more perfect day to run this race.
Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you
The final 2km was interesting. It seemed like they needed to end the race so they cut the trail straight up a grassy hill (almost on all fours, scrambling) to short cut over to the finishing area! After 39 km (~24 miles) already ran, this was tough!
Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?
Nothing weird! Everything was amazing! Perhaps the weirdest (but most wonderful) thing was a volunteer dressed as a moose a few km into the race giving out high fives!
Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?
This was my first trail marathon. I’ve completed a couple of trail half marathons in the past, and I was looking forward to seeing how a longer trail race felt. Going in, I didn’t have any time goal. My usual goal for first time distances (on both road and trail) is to finish the run wanting to sign up for the next! That said, I was secretly hoping to finish in around 6 hours.
The first mile is a descent along the road that leads you out of the parking lot and into the trail network. As with most runners, I probably ran this first downhill mile too fast! After you enter the park, you have a long ascent up to the next aid station at around 10 km (6.2 miles) with approximately 550m (1800ft) of gain. Here is where I told myself to take it easy, and power hike the uphills, and run the flatter sections. At this point I made some trail friends! Having someone to chat with (and remind each other to eat) was phenomenal and passed the time to the first aid station very quickly. The next descent took us down that full 1800 ft we had just climbed. It wasn’t wildly technical, but had a lot of rock gardens typical of mountain biking trails. Here it also became exposed to the sun and it had started to heat up. The next ascent (550m/1800ft) was also exposed to the sun mostly and at this point, blisters had opened up on both heels. I tried to ignore it and luckily, the pain seemed to go away after a few more miles.
By the time the next aid station rolled around (around 20km/13 miles) I was still feeling very strong! After leaving this aid station though the mountain biking trail began to become more technical, and not long after I had to stop to figure out my first ever leg cramps. I had practiced with salt tabs in training runs and my stomach did not agree with them, but for this race I decided it might be a good idea to have SOME sort of electrolyte on hand. I packed (but didn’t anticipate using) a SIS gel + electrolyte. When the cramps came on, I downed this gel. After stretching out for about 30 seconds, I was ready to roll! From there, it was a very technical descent through a DARK forest (I had trouble seeing even though I wasn’t wearing sunglasses), some creek crossings (dunked my hat a few times), and the insane uphill at the end (oh right, I had blisters)! On the final transition from the uphill to a fire road that takes you to the finish, the cramps came back. After stretching them out for a minute, I was able to finish the run and get my hug!
I was also ecstatic to see that I had beat my projected finish time by 20 minutes! I had a very good build up to this race training wise, and felt ready to tackle it. Though, overall, I attribute my feeling good throughout most of the race to fueling. I brought most of my own fuel (8 gels in total), but relied on the aid station for water and electrolyte refills and a couple slices of watermelon. I did not feel depleted of energy at all over the course of the race.
Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner
I’d recommend wearing some lightweight gaiters to cover the tops of the shoes. On the exposed sections it can get quite sandy and it would be ideal not have that dumping into your shoe. Same goes for in the forest as well, the loamy trails were so squishy at points it resembled sand.
Perhaps next time I would rely more on fuel from the aid stations. They were very well stocked and if you are good with Hammer, you probably don’t need to pack much.
Lessons you learned that will help you next time around
I must be wiser about shoe choice! I 100% attribute my blisters to a poor shoe selection (though I had practiced some long runs with them). I’m already looking forward to a race where this does NOT happen.
I may consider practicing with salt/electrolyte tablets again. I did not expect the cramping and glad I had that electrolyte gel in my bag even if it was added as an afterthought or a “just in case”. I may also need to force myself to take in more liquid during the first 10km (6.2 miles). I drank little during that first section because it was forest covered and “cold”.
Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race
Definitely to expect that 2km scramble at the end of the race up to the finish area. It was mentally easier I feel knowing it was coming. I feel like being surprised by it would take a mental toll. Also, this is a public area and so you need to be aware that you’ll likely cross paths with mountain bikers and hikers.
Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?
Beautiful! Fall foliage and sweeping lake views. The course seemed to have a little bit of everything!
Difficulty – Is it a tough course?
The long course is approximately 42 km (26 miles) with about 1320 m (4330 ft) of elevation gain (though my watch put it at closer to 5000 ft). There is also a 21 km course, a 11 km course, and a kids run. I would say that this is a moderately difficult course, but that most of the trail (aside from the last 2 km) is considered “runnable”. There are sections of more technical downhill, and the creek crossings, but nothing crazy.
Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?
PACE is a well-oiled machine! This was obvious right at package pick up where we were in and out of there in about 5 minutes even though there was a line forming. Race day check-in was smooth and the briefing and race started right on time. Most importantly, there was never a line for the porta potties. The course was also very well marked with intersections/turns clearly marked and flags all along the course. If I autopiloted and wondered if I had taken a wrong turn, I only had to wait for 1 minute before the next flag came up. Aid stations were very well stocked and the volunteers were very friendly and helpful.
Competition – Is there a strong field?
There are some VERY fit and fast runners taking part in these races! So, yes, I would say they are competitive. That said though, with a finishing group of only about 81 in the full marathon, the field isn’t super deep.
Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.
It was easy to sign up for this race. I signed up well in advance, but it didn’t technically sell out until approximately one month before the race. We had also forgot to book lodging but we found a nice AirBnB available and close to the race only a few weeks out. While I wouldn’t wait until the last minute to sign up, you certainly don’t have to be ready one year in advance. They do have a Quadzilla option (where racers who complete one run from four of PACE’s races are put in a draw for an entry to the TransRockies Run and the TransAlpine Run) so runners who sign up for this get priority registration.
Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?
Perfectly stocked aid stations! They had Hammer gels and electrolyte drink, water, chips, pretzels, pickles, watermelon…among other things I’m sure I didn’t notice. Volunteers were super helpful in filling bottles, helping apply anti-chafe gel, and helping runners get the nutrition they needed.
Weather and typical race conditions
As mentioned above, this was the perfect fall weather. It was chilly at the start, and very warm at the end. I wore a windbreaker that ended up being removed around 30 minutes in, though I think next time I would wear small gloves as my hands were numb up until around 60 mins. When speaking with a local who had run this race multiple times, he mentioned that the weather for this race always seems to be perfect!
Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?
There was no required gear for this race though they recommended an emergency blanket and first aid gear. I liked the gaiters I wore as they kept a lot of dust out of my shoes. I’d highly recommend a hat as it got quite warm out in the sun.
Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?
There was really only 1-2 great spots for spectators unless your friends/family were up for a bit if a hike! There were spectators at the 2nd and 3rd aid stations as they were placed along road access before you tucked into the trails again. Finally, along the final stretch of road some spectators walked out a ways to cheer their runners along the final stretch.
How’s the Swag?
The bag received at package pick up contained a Hammer gel, Hammer electrolyte tabs (one tube), a long sleeve cotton Wandering Moose T-shirt, and 0.5 lbs of their home roasted espresso beans. Finishers received a hand made medal created by RD Rene, and the top runners received some homemade jam. Maybe the best finisher treat was the hand made (and roasted in ovens brought right to the finish line) pizza! Those who were gluten free could choose curry and rice.
The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?
5/5 stars! I highly recommend this race (and have heard amazing things about the other races in the PACE series as well). If you are in BC and able to support them, you won’t be disappointed!