Meet the Minotaur is a 15-20 km long, fantastic and unique mountain adventure experience that combines trail running and obstacle course racing in the high alpine of the ruggedly beautiful Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. The course changes every year and the specific location and route is kept secret until race day so that no one is able to train on the course. You can generally expect to traverse over mountains and ridges, ascent steep climbs, descent on loose scree, and bushwhack into the remote wilderness. As the race directors state on their website, Meet the Minotaur “is not a trail running race, it’s not a sky running race, it’s not an adventure race, it’s not an obstacle course race. It’s a chance to find out what you’re really made of.” It also means that you do NOT need to be a runner, as there is very little flat running and thus, you could (fast) hike the course. However, having some technical mountain skills is essential! Luckily, there are Meet the Minotaur training groups in Crowsnest Pass and the Kananaskis area where you can meet fellow adventurers and learn/brush up on your mountain skills (check them out on facebook and Instagram). This is also how I first heard about the race in 2018.
As I have taken advantage of the Meet the Minotaur group runs since I arrived in Canada to explore some new mountains and meet cool people, I was already on-board the hype train for the Meet the Minotaur, but due to my race entrance bankruptcy, this event had to wait until 2020. But then the race director Andrew Fairhurst convinced me to throw my sensible hat out of the window (yet again) and do an impromptu sign-up a few days before the event. I was excited for the adventure side of the race but did not plan on being competitive as I had focused my training on Squamish 50 miler 2 weeks later.
Heading down to Crowsnest pass the day prior to the race to pick up the race package, I also personally got to meet Andrew and his wife, Erin. As usual being the most unorganised, Adrien and I still had to figure accommodation…that’s when a volunteer that I can now proudly call my friend offered us to stay with her. Thank you so much, Anna! You’re a star! And thanks to Andrew who lend me a helmet. Yes, you need a helmet, or as Andrew lovely calls it, a brain bucket and gloves for the race! We were lucky and unlucky on that day – we got a puncture in a tire when heading to a trail for a shake-out run, and the spare tire, well, the spare tire was leaking as well. Lols. But small towns are great for these kinds of emergencies (although I strongly believe it’s a Canadian trait to be incredibly friendly, helpful and simply awesome) – people know people, know people! In short, someone fixed both tires on his day off, so we were able to get to the race location and eventually back to Calgary (insert happy dance GIF). Ok, enough of personal escapades and back to the fun stuff!
Race start was at a very civilized 10 am (much to my liking), with a mandatory pre-race briefing at 9:15 am. I’m very much a fan of late race starts as you get to sleep longer and have breakfast at a reasonable time (and digest) prior to the race (extra kudos from me ;). The pre-race meeting covered important race information: helmets had to be worn throughout the entire race, at each check point you had to stamp your time card, don’t kick rocks down on fellow runners, there is no food or water along the course (you have to be self-sufficient), etc. There is also another fun twist of this event to be mentioned, the so-called labyrinths. There are options along the route where you can choose which route to follow – one route might be tougher/steeper but more direct/shorter, while the other route might be easier but longer. It’s your choice!
The 2019 Meet the Minotaur covered 2250 metres of elevation gain over 19.5 km, mainly in two major ascents. The course definitely gets the legs burning, and tests grit and resilience but is tons of fun! This year there was also a half version, the Minitaur which included 13 km and 1100 metres of elevation gain (still a pretty damn good burner). Toeing the start line with previous year winner Anna Koevoet and the woman who introduced me to all this crazy mountain stuff Joana Ford, I knew it would be a fun and strong race. While chatting to Patrick and Adrien, I missed the start signal – lols. We got 10 metres or so of flat running to warm up before hitting steep slopes straight up through the bush. The course was a little packed for the first few minutes, but racers quickly settled into their pace (forced by the elements) and things loosened up. Anna was leading from the start – fast and furious – with Joana in the chase. I decided to stick to my plan of “not racing, not redlining, but enjoying the course”. Joana decided to slow the pace down as well and so we ran together for a few kms and chatted about keeping it mellow (whatever that means pushing up steep slopes). Having run and trained with Joana over the last year, I know how incredibly strong and experienced she is in the alpine, on technical terrain, and steep loose scree descents (fan-girling ;). And just a week prior to the race, she set the first female FKT on the Livingston Traverse with Arielle Fitzgerald, who by the way, won this year’s Minitaur outright (Bam!). Thus, my plan was to stick with Joana for as long as I could.
The first labyrinth apparently gave the option of bushwhacking or going around on a trail. I completely missed the signs (I must have concentrated hard on my feet and trying not to trip over) and simply followed Joana and some guys in front onto the trail. While I did not pay attention, staying on course and navigating is not really a concern as the course is really well flagged. However, with no trail to follow, you can’t just put your head down and run, but have to constantly be scanning ahead and look out for flags.
Feeling comfortable with runnable trail, I decided to jog-run and take the lead, knowing that Joana would catch me on the steep ups and downs. Rolling over the top of the first climb and through checkpoint 1, I took a second to take in the beautiful views before dropping back down through meadows, bushes, and rocks to checkpoint 2. I somehow made my way down the steep slope, holding on to any trees and branches I could find, while apologising to them (;-)). Checkpoint 2 was where you could cut the course short to the Minitaur distance – I briefly got tempted, already thinking of coke and food. The next ascent was a longer one, over steep, grassy mountain slopes that turned into rocky boulders. You could see runners snaking up the slope for miles. I spotted Patrick and Adrien ahead and got jealous as I knew that they were bantering and shit-chatting (without me!). Lols. The climb became a grind, but I somewhat enjoyed taking one step at a time and feeling the effort that felt very sustainable. I could see a silhouette of a volunteer waiting at the top and aimed for that. And to my surprise, Joana hadn’t caught me yet.
Then came my favourite part of the course – the ridge. The section up to the peak was fantastic! A bit of easy scrambling, climbing up and down some rock steps, and exposure with views onto Crowsnest mountain. Reaching checkpoint 3, I could see that Adrien was waiting for me a bit below and of course, shouting to hurry up. The route descended down some fun loose screw and along a runnable ridge/saddle. We cruised across the ridge to checkpoint 4 together. I looked back a few times to check on Joana. She wasn’t far behind and I knew that she would try something if the opportunity arises. But I didn’t really care as I just enjoyed running with friends in this beautiful area way too much and also did not want to hurt myself prior to Squamish. So, I shouted at Joana to hurry up and catch me. And she would in proper Joana style. Lols! The course dropped down steeply after checkpoint 4 and I knew that this was not my kind of downhill. There were some scree sections that I loved but most of it was just that terrible scree where the rocks were big enough you couldn’t just surf them but not big enough to trust that they’d stay in place when stepping or jumping on them. I was trying to keep moving efficiently but it wasn’t my jam. And then there is always that one rock you hit straight with your ankle – ouch! Joana’s moment had come – she kamikaze downhilled, fell, got back up and pushed on. She was trying to make sure I would not try to tag along, and I didn’t. We both know our strengths – she had to go for it on this technical downhill while I hoped for another runnable section to catch her. But it did not come…
Joana took first female in 4:15:26 and it made me incredibly happy. No one else should overtake me like that than she who showed me the ropes. I happily jumped onto the second place in 4:16:22 followed by Anna in 4:41:18. The post-race vibes were fantastic as well, celebrating with kombucha, a taco bar (!!!), and fruit and chips while hanging around in the sun chatting to people and hearing their stories. A huge thank you to the race organizers and all the wonderful volunteers on course and behind the scenes. I highly recommend Meet The Minotaur to anyone who is curious and likes a challenge! I’ll certainly be back to battle the elements (and Joana ;))!