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  • Meg Cuthbert

Finlayson Arm 28-Kilometre Race Report

Photo: Matt Cecill Visuals

The Finlayson Arm Race Series is a weekend-long trail running event. The weekend is basically a festival for people interested in great trails, physical endurance and a bit of pain.

This was my first year participating in the event, so I started with the shortest distance, the 28-kilometre route. The 28 has an elevation of 1,341 metres (4,400 feet), the trail goes right up the side of Mount Finlayson — a 400-metre climb of its own. The route is extremely well marked, and the path is a mix single and double track, with a minor section of pavement. The route’s terrain is mostly soft dirt with a few parts of more gnarly and rocky surfaces. As it is the end of the summer, the soil is quite dry, which makes for a powdery and occasionally slippery run.

Within the first kilometre there is a river crossing as if to say, ‘if you can’t handle getting your feet wet, you really shouldn’t be here.’ But once your shoes are sopping, the next six-ish kilometres are pretty tame. It's a nice single-track trail winding up and down with nothing too extreme, which is good because the pack is still reasonably tight at this point and passing opportunities are limited.

Once you’re good and warm, you start the Mount Finlayson climb. It’s a fairly aggressive trek up the face of the mountain. As I was ascending a woman walking her dog called out, “remember your fuel, this is your recovery!”

Yeah, right, climbing (what feels like) an 80-degree incline is your recovery . . . it’s that kind of event.

That being said, I enjoyed the climb. At times you need to use your hands to pull yourself up the open rock faces, and at the top, you’re treated with almost 360-degree views and the knowledge that you’ve covered nearly a third of your climbing already.

The descent winds through the woods and over to the first aid station at 11-kilometres. The station has a load of food and beverage options, but the race is cupless, so you need to pack a collapsible cup (I got mine for $3 at a local sporting good store).

From the aid station, you enter Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, where you run out and back 10-kilometres to the aid station. Parts of the trail have incredible views of the Finlayson Arm and the Saanich Inlet. I’d call it breathtaking, but you’re already out of breath.

Five kilometres in and you reach the turnaround point and start the run home. I like the way this race is laid out in sections, it was good for my mental game to break it up into stages, 5-kilometres to the turnaround, 5-kilometres back to the aid station, 6.5-kilometre to the finish line. It made everything feel very manageable.

Then, like a gift from the gods, you see a sign saying you’re only 5-kilometres from the finish line. I ran those last five with a dopey smile I couldn’t wipe off my face. After 23-kilometres of trail running, I was still genuinely enjoying myself on this route. Although about a kilometre later I took a hard corner on the slick, dry soil and totally bailed. Luckily I had such a good mixture of adrenaline and endorphins that I barely felt the fall and bounced right back up to keep running. It wasn’t until the end of the race that I realized that half my body was covered in dirt, and I had blood oozing from the scrapes on my leg.

What I love about this event (besides the obvious great views and free beer at the finish line) is the community. Trail runners are so damn supportive of each other. Maybe it’s because there aren’t very many spectators as you head into the forest, the participants have to also be the spectators and cheer for each other. It makes for a nice run knowing that this group of crazy strangers has your back as much as you have theirs.



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