I’d been running through the dense vegetation of an Aspen forest without much sign of life for almost an hour now. Tufts of matted grass trail-side occasionally grabbed my foot threatening to take me down. I try calculating how long until I’m out of the woods through a carbohydrate depletion mind fog. I figure another ten minutes. Suddenly something large starts crashing through the brush towards me. It’s black, it’s big, it stands up… I brace for the worst… a blond pony tail whips through the air. Thank goodness! It’s a woman in black Spandex picking mushrooms and not a bear! A couple minutes later and I’m behind the finish line of the Moose Mountain Marathon eating homemade soup and scraping the dried remains of an energy gel from my shirt, shorts, and legs.
The Moose Mountain Marathon in Kananaskis Country starts and finishes in the West Bragg recreational area (45 minutes outside Calgary Alberta). Close to 150 runners participate in the three distances (16km, 29km, and 42km). The 16km (10mi) course is the most popular distance and also the least scenic. The 16km route takes you through the Aspen forest of the Telephone Trail where you spend most of your time looking at your feet, dodging mud holes, climbing through cattle fences, and being frightened by Spandex wearing mushroom pickers. The 29km (18mi) is the most scenic, it’s basically one big hill race with a 1000m (3200ft) gain / loss. The 29km route takes you along the Moose Road Trail, Moose Packers Trail, to Moose Mountain Trail, and then back. At about the 10km mark you break through the tree line and continue to run the next 8km surrounded by spectacular panoramic views. The 42km (26mi) option combines the 29km route and most of the 16km route. The elevation gain for the 42km distance is somewhere in the ballpark of 1700m (5500ft), the highest point around 2300m (7500ft), and the actual distance closer to 40km than 42km. It’s a great course and event. I will definitely run it again.
My race plan going into this event was progressively conservative – in the Powderface 42 I targeting an 80% max heart rate, this time I targeted a marginally higher rate of 83%. Things went well, I took the climbs at my own pace, worked through a couple side stitches in the first half, and legs felt good on the descents (likely the results of weekly trail running). Coming through the 27km aid station I was told that the guy ahead of me had a 5 minute lead. So.. I took my time, ate some party mix (there’s nothing better than cheezies and chips on the run), had a couple drinks, took a quick pit stop in the woods, then back on the trail. The final portion of the run was through the overgrown Telephone Trail where it’s hard to look at anything but your feet – let alone know if someone or something is closing in on you. After crossing the finish line I was surprised to learn that I had narrowed the gap to 70 seconds. If I had known we were that close I would’ve run harder! I finished with my 83% goal. Here’s my track.