When Ian Weir stepped up to the start line of the Reckless Raven ultra on Sunday, the longest run he’d done was 55 kilometres – completed on the course with fellow competitor David Eikelboom.
After eight hours, 58 minutes and five seconds, Weir had a new long run record: 80 kilometres and could claim the solo course record at the inaugural ultra race.
The change in mileage didn’t affect Weir, an adventure racer, who’d been conscious of increasing his running miles carefully each week.
With the race atmosphere, more people on the trail and Weir’s competitive spirit, his body filled in the gaps.
“Your body is able to do more on race day,” he said.
Before the race, he’d been able to run about 80 per cent of the course with Eikelboom, who, three months prior had convinced Weir in a coffee shop to sign up for the race.
They had raced each other once before: at the Haines Beerfest 10K in 2016.
Eikelboom, who many had considered a favourite going into the race, had never raced an ultra distance before, preferring instead the half and marathon distances both on the road and the trail.
He and Weir trained at least once a week together after their coffee shop meeting.
They had a gentleman’s agreement for the start of the race – neither one would push too hard off the start, instead working together to conserve energy on some of the taxing sections of trail.
If it eventually became a race between Eikelboom and Weir, “then anything would go,” said Weir.
Eikelboom set the pace from the start and everyone matched him.
At the creek crossing early on in Raven’s Ridge, Eikelboom shot across the knee-high channel.
He had scoped it out before. “I knew you could charge your way across and not break a leg,” he said.
Haeckl Hill was the first major vertical challenge for the runners. It was also an exercise in energy management: stay moving but keep a balance between walking and running up the singletrack.
The lead group had dwindled to three: Eikelboom, Weir and another local favourite, Dominic Bradford.
Bradford, feeling good after the hill, continued to push the pace.
The first clue that Eikelboom’s race might not go as planned started to emerge on Sumanik Ridge.
“I didn’t recover from the hill the way I expected I would,” he said. He thought maybe he needed to hydrate or eat more. But the Gu’s he’d trained with weren’t going into his body as they should.
He pushed on.
The top group passed the halfway point together. Bradford was a little ways back managing some cramping as Weir and Eikelboom got their drop bags.
Inside were resupply items for the second half of the race.
For Weir they included gels, protein bars, apples, oranges and more fluid.
He had also packed a second pair of running shoes that he’d planned to change into.
But as others got their fuel and stayed in their shoes, Weir felt the pressure to keep going. He left the runner reinforcements behind.
With 26 miles still to go, Weir and Eikelboom began to poke holes in their gentleman’s agreement. They tested each other, taking turns pulling away, only to be reeled in again.
But at the bottom of Fish Lake, the lead that Eikelboom had built on Weir over the downhill evaporated. Eikelboom was taking a walk break when Weir breezed by.
“Ian passed me like I was standing still,” said Eikelboom.
He wouldn’t see Weir until the finish line.
But Eikelboom’s race was just starting to get hard.
As each man set out on his own, the comforts of having another creature’s presence left a chasm for the mind to fill.
For Eikelboom, the crux came at the top of Knuckle Ridge.
He wasn’t able to hike the route the way he normally could. He thought maybe he would be walking to the finish.
With 25K left, it would be a long walk, he bargained with himself.
He thought about his family.
Finally, he bartered with himself that he could walk the uphills, but was going to run the downhills.
Eikelboom finished the race in nine hours, 15 minutes and 45 seconds. He placed third, behind Bradford who passed him after Knuckle Ridge.
Weir, meanwhile, was battling his own head as the miles dragged on.
“It felt like forever,” he said of the last 30 kilometres.
The goal was just to keep his feet moving.
Weir did just enough to win, securing the first solo course record at the Reckless Raven ultra. Bradford crossed the line about seven minutes later, with a final time of nine hours, five minutes and 19 seconds.
The first runner across the line, Dave Brook, was part of a relay team. Along with Brian Horton, the duo claimed first place in the relay category with a time of eight hours, 30 minutes and 41 seconds.
The top female soloist was Allison Thompson, who finished in nine hours, 38 minutes and 59 seconds.
As Weir dunked himself into an ice bath behind the finish, runners continued to roll in.
Of the 35 runners and 25 teams that started, six soloists and two teams scratched. One runner finished after the cutoff.
Race organizer Virginia Sarrazin said she was pleased with how the race went.
“It’s really encouraging,” she said.
The Conspiracy of Ravens – the race organizers – are having a debrief meeting shortly.
The preliminary feedback has been positive, said Sarrazin.
Her goals with the course – to help people discover more trails and push them to their limits – were met.
“I think everyone is pretty excited to see it happen again,” she said. “Now, it’s deflagging time.”