Continuing the Tradition at my 7th Gunner Shaw Cross-Country Run

The Gunner Shaw is a very special race for me: in 2010 it was my first ever 10k. It is also a race that makes me feel like a kid again: there is nothing more playful than running through mud puddles!

About the Race

Date & Time: First Saturday of December at 11am.
Price: One of the most affordable 10Ks out there at just $25, with special discounts for Youth, Senior and BC Athletics Members!
Getting There: Jericho Beach, Vancouver. It is accessible by bus if taking public transit, but it is quite the walk from the stop so I would recommend sharing a ride with friends. There is plenty of parking available near the start area.
Type of race: Cross-Country/Trail 5k and 10k (2 loops)
Package pickup: You have the choice of going to a Running Room store for early bib pickup or to pick up your bib on race day. There was a little bit of a lineup for last-minute registrations, but less for package pickup.
Facilities: There are not many trail races out there that give you the option to change yourself and take hot showers in a clubhouse after the race. This is one of them, which makes it perfect for people new to trail racing.
Post-race food: real food! The race ends at lunchtime, so it's great that it includes a full meal! Pizza, soup, chips, hot drinks, bagels, fruits, energy bars, etc. It is impossible to leave this race hungry. Also, nothing tastes better than hot soup after running through freezing water.

How it Went

I must admit I came to this race with minimal training. After my half-marathon, the weather started getting colder and wetter. I stopped run-commuting and had only one serious running workout per week. I  did some cross-training, but the actual running was quite minimal. Still, I felt in good shape enough to run the 5k safely. 

The West Van Run Crew had quite a big showing this year, including a few first-timers. I met up with them in the registration area and then again outside where we joked about the course and its "dangers" while doing some dynamic warm-up moves. I then left the group to do a few 10-second strides at the start line (a key part of my warmup when I lack the time to go for a pre-race jog).

The race started fast. We dashed through the grass for a few seconds and then faced a knee-high pile of dirt that had never been there in previous years. One man joked that we can now officially say that we ran in "shitty" conditions after stepping in what seemed to be fertilizer. We then ran a very short section on the pavement before moving to the grass. There, we had to step or jump over a few sandbags that were also there for the first time this year. As we passed next to the start line again friends and volunteers cheered us on and took pictures.

After a few minutes on gravel, we moved on to the toughest terrain of the race: the beach. That's where I really felt my lack of training as I slowed down to a pace that was more of a shuffle than actual running. I moved towards the water to run on wet sand as I was told to do a few years ago by an experienced Gunner Shaw runner, but it barely helped. Misa Ko, another runner from the Crew, seemed barely affected by the soft ground and flew passed me and a few other runners at that point. "Go, Misa, go!", I shouted. As we climbed back out of the sand, I could hear many sighs of relief, but the race was far from over. We ran towards a small creek that I decided to jump over, at the risk of slipping on the muddy grass when landing on the other side. After that, it was all grass, gravel, mud, and a few hills. The hills were short, but steep and slippery thanks to mud and big maple leaves.

After one final downhill, I started hearing splashing sounds as I approached the infamous GUNNER SHAW PUDDLE. The "puddle" is a flooded paved path with water from the pond next to it. Depending on the years, the depth of the water can go from ankle-deep to knee-deep. This year, it was at the deepest and coldest I ever got to run through. I felt pretty excited and let my inner-child out as I pranced through the muddy waters with a big smile on my face.

Picture by Seann Sheriland
As I got out of the waters, my feet and calves were numb. At that point, Tanja of the West Van Run Crew had caught up with me. It was nice to see a friendly face and we exchanged smiles, but the competitor in me also did not want to go down one more spot in the results. As we approached a narrow path with overgrown thorny bushes, I sped up to move back in front. This section is the most treacherous section of the race. The grass had been turned into slippery mud with hidden roots and mud holes. Last year, I made the mistake of stepping in a puddle without knowing how deep it would be and ended up knee deep in mud with my hands on the ground. This time, I made sure to avoid all puddles and to warn my teammate behind of all the various obstacles. We both came out of the bushes unharmed, and as I got onto the grass field, I started sprinting towards the finish line. Tanja did not follow me: she was actually about to start her second loop!

At the finish line, Samantha and Misa of the Crew were there to cheer for me. As, I tried to slow down to celebrate with them, I slipped and fell on my bum. Apparently, they told me, I was not the only one to finish the race like that. I rushed to the changing room and showers, where I got to evaluate the muddy damage.

Yes, this is just mud... Next time I will wear black.
I learned from experience to bring a full change of clothes (socks, shoes, and underwear included) and was glad I did. It felt great to then be able to go to the clubhouse to eat and socialize in dry and clean clothes.

There was plenty of food for all the runners and, because I went there straight from the finish line I even found some seating. Tomato soup had never tasted as good as after this race. When the awards ceremony started, I got to cheer for a few fellow West Van Run Crew members like Shannon Banal, Samantha, and Misa who finished on the podium. I myself was very happy with a time more than 20% faster than last year and a 4th place finish in the 20-39 age category for the 5k.