If you know me at all, you know that I love to take pictures! But when I run, I don’t have quick access to my camera (read: phone) – in particular when I’m running with a small backpack and the phone is in it (as opposed to in a waist belt).
Loops on the back mean that the chest strap just feeds through it. I wondered if it would bounce as I ran, but it wasn’t a problem at all. After testing it out, I decided to make a new, slightly wider one, so that it would be easier to put the phone into it.
It’s done and ready to go. Bring on the Bruce Trail!
With COVID-19 resulting in the cancellation of events and races left, right and centre, the orienteering community has found a way to keep people active in the outdoors!
If you’re looking for a super fun way to challenge your brain and body while discovering new places, keep reading!
Orienteering is an activity for everyone – walkers, runners, kids, families, seniors, and uber-competitive high performance athletes. You don’t need any special skills!
Pre-COVID-19, people would meet at a specific location at a specific time, register, get a map, plan their route, chat with others, and then take part in a race, in urban areas, forests, and in secluded wilderness areas (on foot, bike, canoe, etc.). Clearly this isn’t possible during COVID-19 restrictions.
Instead, clubs like Don’t Get Lost and Orienteering Ottawa have switched gears, offering orienteering opportunities for people to do on their own schedule, solo or as a family, as long as you have a smartphone or a smart watch.
If you live in proximity to Hamilton/Burlington, Oakville, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Niagara, London and Barrie, Don’t Get Lost has orienteering opportunities for you! (I can’t speak to the events run by Orienteering Ottawa, as I live too far away to have taken part.)
Don’t Get Lost X-league
I have been participating in X-league races for a few years now, and am thankful that races are still possible COVID-19 style. The premise is simple.
You register online.
You print the map at home.
You download the MapRun F app.
You go to the map start/finish location on your own with your map (no compass required!).
You walk or run the course on a mix of city streets and parks and trails within the allotted time limit (usually 40-60 minutes), while the MapRun F app does it’s thing in the background. COVID-19 style, there’s no orange/white flag to find. Your phone will beep when you’ve “found” the control.
You instantly see your results.
You go home.
If you want, you can connect with others in a Facebook group.
You can’t even get lost, because you can look on the app to see where you are if you’re not sure. Another bonus – these races are very inexpensive! Some are FREE to try right now!
If you’re into all things data, you can look at the results of everyone who did the race. You can see:
You can even see everyone moving in “real time” – i.e. as if everyone started at the same time, their dots move and you can see who went where and how quickly. Below is a snapshot of the animation showing everyone moving at once. You can watch a snapshot of just your route, or of any combination of people.
You can even see if anyone ran off the map. Below, you’ll see someone went for a long swim (!) and someone else ran across the railroad tracks (!). Both very unlikely – probably GPS confusion!
I’ve now completed 6 sections of the Bruce Trail (there are 9)!
What’s the Bruce Trail? According to the Bruce Trail Conservancy website, the Bruce Trail is “Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath. Running along the Niagara Escarpment in southern Ontario from Niagara to Tobermory, the Bruce Trail spans more than 890 km of main Trail and over 400 km of associated side trails.”
Started the Blue Mountains section: October 19, 2019
Finished the Blue Mountains section: December 8, 2019
October 19, 2019 – 20th Sideroad/Prince of Wales Road to Lavender cemetery – 18 km (with Kris)
October 27, 2019 – Lavender cemetery to Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area – 22.1 km (with Kris)
November 30, 2019 – Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area to Nottawasaga Lookout Provincial Nature Reserve – 21.4 km (with Kris)
December 8, 2019 – Nottawasaga Lookout Provincial Nature Reserve to Maple Lane in Ravenna – 25.2 km (with Kris)
# runs: 4
# solo runs: 0
# runs with my husband Alasdair: 0
# runs with friends: 4 (Kris)
shortest run: 18 km
longest run: 25.2 km
average length of run: 21.7 km
Prettiest sunrise: The sunrise was so pretty that I had to pull over and take a picture. This was just a couple of kilometres from our end point for the run, where we met to leave one car – not too far from Maple Lane in Ravenna.
Wildlife sightings: A missed blaze and an accidental short trek off-trail near the Nottawasaga Bluffs meant that my friend Kris and I were led right to a Barred Owl! It was my first time seeing one in the wild (though I have heard many while backcountry camping), and first time ever seeing an owl while I was running (or walking!) – once I saw one while in a moving vehicle. It was beautiful, and had a huge wingspan. Sadly, we couldn’t get too close for a picture, but I promise you, the owl is in the picture!
Most non-running fun/neat finds: Not far from one of the ski lifts at Blue Mountain we found a rope swing, which just begged to be used!
Best natural art: I spotted this on the side of the road as we ran by on a very windy day!
This year’s Don’t Get Lost Raid the Hammer was to be my first time doing the “full” Raid – in previous years, I have always done the “half”. It was also the first time that Rebecca and I would race with Heidi (in preparation for Wilderness Traverse 2020). However, Rebecca was sick on race morning, so our team of 3 became a team of 2, which meant we weren’t able to do the full Raid and be included in the official results. We had two options: 1) full Raid (unranked), or 2) half Raid (ranked). We chose #1!
We picked up our race maps at St. Ann Catholic Elementary School in Hamilton (3 of 4 maps – one would be given out during the race), and planned our route. Given that I ran the Happy Trails The Beav 25k trail race the day before, we planned to run as smart a race as we could, nailing the navigation to make up for my tired legs!
When the race began, Heidi and I took off in different directions. In the Matrix, teammates could stick together or split up to find the 10 checkpoints (A to I). This section could be done at the beginning of the race, at the end of the race, or a mix of the two. We planned to do it at the beginning. We decided that Heidi would do the 4 controls north of Wilson Street, and I would do the 6 to the south, with slightly less running. At these checkpoints, we had to answer a question about the feature that was there (e.g. number on hydro pole, name of person on bench). With the exception of the first one, where I ended up on the wrong side of the creek to start with, I found all of these easily. No compass was required. I was hoping to beat Heidi to our meeting point so that I could rest briefly, but she beat me by less than a minute!
After running along the Bruce Trail over Highway 403, we were onto map 2.
Game of Thorns (CP1 to CP2)
In this section, we needed our compass, and an ability to scour a forest for “a distinct tree”. We found the controls, but none of the trees jumped out at us!
Blackout (CP3 to CP8)
In this section, trails were removed from the map, but we were able to use some anyway to find the controls. Our navigation continued to be bang on!
Gnarly Run and Photo Shoot (CP9)
It was a 3k run along the Bruce Trail to Sherman Falls, where we would be photographed with our teammates (instead of inserting our SI stick into an SI reader).
Dundas Valley Traverse I (CP10 to CP11)
From here we headed into the Dundas Valley Conservation Area, where we found CP10 and then CP11 (the aid station). We each had to show that we were carrying a whistle and an emergency blanket, and then we were given map 4. We grabbed some of the snacks at the aid station, and then studied the map briefly to decide which 5 of the 7 controls we wanted to get.
Scramble (CP12 to CP 18)
We opted for 18 and then 15, which were just off a main trail down steep hills. From there we ran along trails for a short while before crossing a log over a creek. While we managed to stay dry, we found out after the race that at least one person went for an unintentional swim here!
We climbed yet another steep hill to find 14 – in fact, this entire map involved lots of ups and downs. My tired legs were slow on the uphills!
From the time we hit 17 until almost the end of the race, we kept running into the same team at the controls, though we would choose different routes and yet still arrive almost at the same time.
After control 12 we looked for the least steep part of the hill to climb down to the creek, and then climbed up the hills on the other side. We then followed a trail all the way back to the aid station. We handed in our hand-punched map, ate some more aid station goodies, and then went back to map 3.
Map 3 (continued)
Dundas Valley Traverse II (CP20 to 24)
To get to CP 20, we opted to run a longer distance along trails, because bushwhacking directly there would have involved significant ups and downs, and more potential to get lost. From there, we again set out on trails, but planned to bushwhack a couple of times on our way to CP 21, down a steep hill, through a creek, up the steep bank on the other side, and then later, following a contour line and keeping a creek in sight. It worked!
Then it was a trail run to the “brawn” or “brain” section, where we had to choose which CP22 to do (climb all the way up the hill for an easy to find control, or half way up for a harder to find one). We chose the latter.
At this point, we knew that we had just 2 more controls to find before a 2k run to the finish line.
After CP23, we spotted the race photographer at CP24, and then it was a final push to the finish line!
Unfortunately, the 2k run back was a net uphill. My legs were pretty tired at this point, 26k into the race, so I had to take some walking breaks!
But after 5 hours, 2 minutes and 55 seconds, Heidi and I crossed the finish line! We had covered 28k, and 1400m of elevation gain.
We worked really well together, and our navigation was near perfect! It was super fun! I’m looking forward to racing with Heidi again. And look out Tree Huggers, we’re coming for you!!
After the race, it was time for some well deserved food! Yum!
Placing: Unranked, since we were a team of 2, but had we been a team of 3 females, we would have been 2nd! Woot!
To avoid my right knee acting up (which I’ve been doing physio for since the Falling Water marathon), I set a blanket down in the gravel parking lot and rolled my quad out, then used a massage ball on my IT band.
This race starts and ends at Hilton Falls Conservation Area in Milton. It’s a mixture of Bruce Trail, Bruce Trail side trails, and other trails just outside the conservation area. There is single track trail, double track, mud, and very technical rocky terrain, with potentially lethal drop-offs (not quite as dramatic as that sounds)!
In fact, this year’s race occurred during the legal bow hunt and shotgun hunt, so pre-race we were warned that if we were wearing a hat with antlers on it, we might want to remove it!
Rebecca and I decided to run the race together. Neither of us wanted to go too hard knowing that we had another race the next day!
After a bit of a conga line at the start of the race (climbing the biggest hill of the entire course), runners spread out quite quickly, and Rebecca and I were running alone at times. At 4.5k we hit the first aid station, and at 8k the second. There were lots of sweet and salty snacks, water, Skratch, and other drinks. From here we set out on a 9k loop on the Beaver Dam trail.
Such a pretty forest! The fallen leaves made rocks and roots hard to spot, but we managed to stay upright.
Somewhere around 10k, Rebecca began pulling away from me. It was getting harder and harder to keep up. I could see her ahead for quite a while, but eventually, I lost her.
One of my favourite parts of the course is the single track section in this loop, which looks like it would be super fun to ride!
When I returned to the aid station at the end of the 9k loop (and 17k into the race), Rebecca was there waiting for me.
At some point I accidentally kicked a rock and my calf very briefly cramped.
We ran the rest of the race together. At the final aid station (also the 4.5k aid station), volunteers were making s’mores on a campfire for runners, but at that point I just wanted to keep running. I would have loved one after the race though!
As one runner said near the end of the race, “hardest 3k ever”. It’s amazing how far one kilometre can seem when your legs are tired and you just want to be done! In this section, my right calf started cramping off and on.
In the last 500m of the race, we climbed a stile.
We were so close to the finish line! My left calf decided to start cramping too, but my right calf went crazy in the last 200-300m. I managed to continue running and hit the finish line in 3:13:55, a little more than a minute faster than the 2018 race.
The post-race cup of noodle soup went down nicely!
I was relieved to not have knee issues during the race. I felt it briefly at 14k, and that was pretty much it!
I’ve now completed 5 sections of the Bruce Trail (there are 9)!
What’s the Bruce Trail? According to the Bruce Trail Conservancy website, the Bruce Trail is “Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath. Running along the Niagara Escarpment in southern Ontario from Niagara to Tobermory, the Bruce Trail spans more than 890 km of main Trail and over 400 km of associated side trails.”
Started the Dufferin Hi-Land section: June 3, 2019
Finished the Dufferin Hi-Land section: October 19, 2019
June 3, 2019 – Hockley Road to Highway 89 – 25k (solo)
June 29, 2019 – Highway 89 to 20 Sideroad/Prince of Wales Road – 27.4k (with Kris)
October 19, 2019 – 20 Sideroad/Prince of Wales Road to 2k north of the Mulmur-Nottawasaga Townline parking and back to the parking by the cemetary – 18k (with Kris)
# runs: 3
# solo runs: 1
# runs with my husband Alasdair: 0
# runs with friends: 2 (Kris!)
shortest run: 18k
longest run: 27.4k
average length of run: 21.1k
Perfect running conditions: On June 3 the ground was almost completely dry, there were no bugs, the sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and the temperature was a comfortable 15C or so!
Wrong turns: My friend Kris and I were clearly too engrossed in conversation to follow the blazes. We missed trail turns a couple of times, running a little more than we needed to!
Best post-run cooling station: The little waterfall at 20 Sideroad/Prince of Wales Road! We doused our faces with cold water. So refreshing.
Most gorgeous fall colours: Starting around 8 AM, it was around -2C on October 19 at 20 Sideroad/Prince of Wales Road. The frost just added to the beautiful fall colours!
Wildlife sightings: The most memorable wildlife sighting in this section of the Bruce Trail was a Great Crested Flycatcher – I had no idea what kind of bird it was when I spotted it, but found out through some google searching. I also sought confirmation from other members of the Bruce Trail Facebook group.
Single vehicle run: My husband dropped me just south of Hockley Valley and then parked at my end point just south of Boyne Valley Provincial Park, and then while I ran 25k, he biked and then ran, with me picking him up at his end point. Most of the time, my runs have involved a running companion and 2 cars.
If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a 24-hour adventure race, volunteer at race headquarters (HQ) all weekend and you’ll see the good, the bad, and the ugly, not to mention the hilarious, inspiring, and satisfying! I had the pleasure of doing just that at Wilderness Traverse in 2018, a race which saw teams of 3 or 4 cover 150k of terrain by trekking, biking, and canoeing. Some teams chose to swim on the trek section, and at least one racer in as little clothing as possible (he wore only the race bib – on the bottom!).
While I was at race HQ all weekend, I was able to follow along with the racers by “watching the dots” on the computer screen (each team had a GPS tracker), and by getting news from volunteers around the course (50 volunteers in total, and 48 teams racing), which included pictures of teams as they passed by.
Along with a few other savvy ladies, we provided race assistance and play by play commentary and updates as the race progressed, keeping friends and loved ones at home (and in some cases around the race course) up to date on what was happening. It was exhausting but super fun.
It was fascinating to see the logistics of a race like this, which is described on the website as “one of the toughest team-based endurance challenges around and simply reaching the finish line is a massive achievement”.
Race Director Bob Miller has a whole team of volunteers helping to make this race a reality.
I love volunteering at races (see my post on why you, too should volunteer), and I figured that spending time at Wilderness Traverse would be a great way to prepare for my own eventual attempt at racing it!
I decided to do it again in 2019, this time manning a remote checkpoint in the Haliburton Highlands Water Trails, which the teams would arrive at by foot.
My friend and future Wilderness Traverse teammate Heidi agreed to come with me. On the Friday night, we volunteered at race registration.
I took team photos, and Heidi gathered interesting tidbits from each team. We slept in our tent in a park across the road from the Dorset Recreation Centre (race HQ), and after breakfast on race morning, we watched the 8 AM start of the race.
Then we set out for our remote campsite (Checkpoint/CP 16) on Upper Crane Lake, with one little stop on the way to set out CP 15 (anyone remember CP 15?!).
We parked my van at an old logging road, took a compass bearing and headed south-east towards Three Brothers Lake. For some reason, it never occurred to me to pack trail running shoes for the weekend, so I bushwhacked in the only shoes I had with me – my sandals! It took us far longer than we expected it to, and we did it during broad daylight. Most teams would do this trekking section in the dark. We were hot, and despite having put bug repellent on, we were getting eating alive!!
We eventually found the blue ribbon that Bob had said would mark the spot where the checkpoint should go… but it was on the ground, not attached to a tree! Luckily, it hadn’t blown away. We hung the flag and SI reader and then headed back to the van.
We drove to the Bentshoe Lake access point, carried the canoe and all our gear across the road, loaded up the boat, and set out! This was Heidi’s very first backcountry canoe trip. We had 4 big packs with us, way more than I would normally take on a canoe trip – but we were carrying lots and lots of treats for the racers! We counted this as our first Wilderness Traverse training session together – Heidi portaged a canoe for the first time!
Based on Bob’s estimates, we knew that the lead team wouldn’t reach our checkpoint until at least 10 PM, and that teams would continue to arrive until 8 AM! Of course, this meant that we too would be staying up all night! We decided not to bring a tent with us – we wouldn’t have time to sleep! We did bring our sleeping bags in case we got cold.
We paddled to the portage into Lower Crane Lake, and then after a short portage, paddled through that lake into Upper Crane Lake and to our campsite. We had our lunch, swam, and gathered tons of wood so that we could keep a fire going all night long.
At some point, another volunteer paddled by in his canoe. I can’t remember now where he was stationed during the race.
We had great cell service at our campsite, so we were able to use the race apps to follow the progress of all the teams, and to communicate with race HQ. We had dinner, and were treated to the most gorgeous sunset!
We decided to try to have a nap. We had set up our thermarests and sleeping bags and settled in! I set an alarm so that we weren’t asleep when the racers arrived! When my alarm went off (I hadn’t fallen asleep), I checked where the teams were, and re-set my alarm. At some point, I did fall asleep, because my alarm woke me up, and when I checked where the teams were, I thought, “Oh no!” I got up quickly and woke Heidi up. She had been out cold and started speaking to me in German (I don’t speak German!). I thought the first team would be there any minute, but it actually took quite a while. We lit our campfire, set out all the goodies (cookies, candies, and s’mores fixings!), and waited with baited breath! Well, we might have also eaten our fair share of the treats as a matter of quality control while we waited.
We heard many owls calling to one another while we waited for teams to arrive.
At one point, we freaked ourselves out when we saw a bright light through the woods in a direction that no team should be arriving at our checkpoint from. We wondered who was in the woods behind our campsite. We couldn’t hear anything. It was unnerving. Eventually, the light got bigger, and higher, and we realized it was… the moon!!!
Eventually (after midnight!), we heard voices and spotted headlamps coming down a hill across the lake from us. And then we made out French accents. As they got closer, we heard them discussing whether they were going to swim. They did. It was incredibly cool (and exciting!) to see them swimming across the lake, a distance of probably 25m or so. They made their way through the woods to us, inserted their SI stick into the SI reader, and took off! No idle chatter or food for them. We were a little disappointed but we understood. They were on a mission! The next team wouldn’t arrive for more than an hour.
Speaking of disappointment, when we learned that only the teams on the full course would reach our checkpoint, we wished that our checkpoint was earlier on in the race course. While there were 45 teams registered, we knew that the majority of teams would be pushed onto short courses (due to not making certain time cut-offs).
The next team arrived more than an hour later. And then, as the hours passed, the teams ate more and spent slightly more time at our checkpoint. It was really interesting to see their route choices. Some came to us from the south, and some from the north. Some chose to swim, but the majority didn’t. At least one team overshot our campsite, and then eventually returned.
We made sure that for each team’s approach, we had a good fire going, so that if they were wet and cold, they could warm up.
There were a few teams in particular that I hoped to see, because I knew people on them. Before the race started I had heard Kelly from Spinning out of Control say that she’d love a coffee on course. And then I found out that Heidi had packed a bit of instant coffee. When we discovered that Sunday was Kelly’s birthday (the race started on Saturday), I knew we had to have a coffee ready for her arrival! I had been watching their dot all day and night, with my friend John also on the team. And then we saw on the race Facebook page that they had been redirected to a short course (and wouldn’t reach our checkpoint after all). I was so disappointed! But then we saw their dot move… and it continued to come closer to us. And then, around 6 AM, they got close, and we could hear John’s laugh.
When they arrived at our site, not only did we get to wish Kelly a happy birthday, but we got to give her a mug of hot coffee! She was very appreciative.
After munching on some snacks, they headed out. We wished them well and hoped they would make it to the finish line (they did!).
The sun came up and teams were still arriving at CP 16. Over the course of the night we heard how much trouble some teams had finding CP 15, the one we set out (and the one they visited before coming to us). We weren’t surprised!
We had so much food that we encouraged teams to take some with them, more so as the last few teams came through. One was completely out of food, so they were very grateful.
We did make s’mores for some teams, and one racer even made one for himself. I hand fed another racer whose hands were too dirty (you’re welcome Chris L!).
In the end, I think we had 12 teams come through our checkpoint.
When the last team left our campsite, we packed up our things, and waited until we were told by race HQ that we could leave. We set out for CP 15 to collect the flag and SI reader, this time by canoe. We had trouble finding the place we intended to leave the canoe, trouble finding the path we wanted, and after a while of seemingly getting nowhere (or getting nowhere fast!) , we wondered whether it would have been better to just park at the logging road and get to CP 15 the same way we had originally put it out. But it was too late by then. It seemed to take forever, with us having to add distance to avoid climbing and descending super steep hills. We made it there, eventually! And then we headed back to the canoe, paddled to the takeout, and loaded up the van.
We went back to race HQ, dropped off the flags and SI readers, had some post-race food, and drove home!
We had so much fun at CP 16.
In 2020, Heidi, Rebecca and I will be at the start line to take on Wilderness Traverse ourselves!
Have you ever let a food sensitivity or food allergy stop you from going on a backcountry trip? Did you give up on the idea because you thought it would be too hard to manage? With careful planning, backcountry camping with dietary restrictions is completely doable!
In 2018, I did a 5-day
canoe trip at Algonquin Provincial Park with a paddling partner with Celiac
disease. Jen has to be super vigilant about everything she eats, avoiding foods
that contain gluten, or those that may have been cross contaminated with it. We
had never canoe-tripped together before, and I had never canoe-tripped with
anyone with a food sensitivity or food allergy before (just with picky kids!).
I knew that I would have to be careful in prepping and packing food, but I also
knew that we could plan a menu that would work for our nutritional needs,
personal tastes, and food restrictions!
Planning the Menu
Jen and I worked out our menu over email. We agreed to share lunches, dinners, and evening snacks, but to pack our own breakfasts and morning/afternoon snacks (except for gluten free pancakes one morning, with bacon and lots of maple syrup). We made lists of the types of foods we like to eat while camping, and settled on those that would be easy to make gluten-free for both of us (e.g. use gluten-free pasta), or easy to modify to be gluten-free for Jen (e.g. we brought both gluten free wraps and regular wraps to hold our carrot raisin peanut pepper salad).
Carrot raisin peanut pepper salad in wraps
Pepperettes, cheese sticks, bannock
Dehydrated tomato and toasted almond
spread, cheese, dehydrated veggies, bread/bagel
Peanut butter, nuts, seeds and dehydrated fruit
in a wrap
Crackers, dehydrated hummus, dehydrated fruit
Dehydrated quinoa spinach soup with bannock
Pasta with dehydrated veggies, sauce, bacon,
Egg, bacon, dehydrated veggies, dehydrated
salsa, cheese in a wrap
Pizza with pepperoni, cheese, dehydrated sauce
and veggies on a wrap
Chocolate cake to celebrate Algonquin’s 125th
Chocolate pudding with toppings (peanuts,
Food Preparation/Packing at Home
Since I’m not used to making
food for someone with Celiac disease, I had to be really careful to read the
ingredients on everything I bought and used to prepare our food. Jen would tell
you that I texted her many times – either from the grocery store with a picture
of the ingredient list of a product – or from home, asking whether she could
eat something! I didn’t want to take any chances and make her sick.
I also made sure to
use a clean chopping board, clean utensils etc., and not something that I had
just used with food that had gluten in it (e.g. my wrap). I also wrapped my
gluten-containing foods separately from the ones that we would share.
Precautions at Camp
At camp, we made sure
to keep my gluten-containing food separate, and to prepare Jen’s food first, so
that we didn’t accidentally touch a serving spoon to my food and
cross-contaminate hers (e.g. we didn’t want to spread peanut butter onto my
wrap first, and then use the same spoon to spread it onto hers).
I’m no gluten-free
expert, but I will say this: we were able to find alternatives to
gluten-containing foods, the meals we had were super delicious, and I didn’t
for one second feel that the food on this trip was lacking compared to what I
would eat on canoe trips with friends who are not Celiac!
Just plan, be careful,
and get out there!
We had so much fun that we did it again in 2019. Here’s our menu from this summer.
Like a crazy person I jumped at the chance to run the inaugural Happy Trails Falling Water trail marathon in the Beaver Valley section of the Bruce Trail. Who wouldn’t want to tackle a ridiculously hilly race course that the organizers very clearly cautioned was not for beginners? Not only did I sign myself up, but I quickly convinced my husband and several other friends to as well (two of whom signed their husbands up – one without his knowledge, the other with a little arm twisting). The 80 race slots were sold out within 6 hours!
From the race website: “This course is not meant for beginners. Although there are not any specific qualifying standards for this event, runners should definitely have experience running on trails. The course is rocky, rooty, and very hilly. Your feet will probably get wet and aid stations will be further apart than our other events, due to the challenging terrain. Although it is a “marathon”, it is not a Boston Qualifier and if that irritates you, this probably isn’t the race for you! Seriously, this race is tough. There will be waterfalls, steep climbs, and incredible views. The scenery will make the challenge worth it!” And this, so true: “You will laugh, you will cry, you will probably say you are never running again, and then you will go online and register for another race. Sound familiar?”
I was looking forward to running this race with friends I’ve made through Twitter. Social media has its pros and cons, but I’ve met some great people through it. I finally got the chance to meet Katherine at this race, as well as her husband Paul. Trail runners are awesome!
This marathon would also allow me to cover more of the Bruce Trail in my end to end project!
Alasdair and I arrived at the Beaver Valley Ski Club with lots of time for me to pick up my race kit (race bib, protein bar, and awesome running socks) and chat with other runners. Unfortunately calf and Achilles issues this summer meant that Alasdair hadn’t been able to train for the race, so he was going to cheer for me instead.
With only one portapotty for everyone, I found myself ducking into the bushes several times before the race began. This was my only complaint about the entire race – need more toilets!
After a short pre-race briefing, we all headed to the start line. My other Twitter friend Kris and I found each other, and when the race began, we stuck together. We hadn’t planned this pre-race, but it worked out great. We’ve run together previously on the Bruce Trail. I had forgotten that this was Kris’ first marathon. It was my first in 7 years (and very first trail marathon)!
The race began with a 6.5k out and back section, starting in the Beaver Valley Ski Club parking lot and heading straight up a ski hill north on the Bruce Trail main trail towards Tobermory (the left side of the U).
The hill shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone – in fact, before I even signed up for the race I knew it would feature 5,000 feet (1,550 metres) of elevation gain and elevation loss. And yet I still signed up for it.
From the very beginning, Kris and I walked the steep hills, and ran the rest. Mostly.
When we returned to the start area, I made a quick pitstop in the portapotty, and then Kris and I headed for aid station #1.
While most of the race was on the Bruce Trail main trail (31k) – marked with white blazes, the rest was on side trails – marked with blue blazes. The course was also marked with flagging tape, and while Kris and I managed to stay on course the whole time, others went off course (one person at least 4 times, but I’m not telling).
During this race, I found that concentrating on running from one aid station to the next helped to break such a long race into more manageable chunks. We hit aid station #1 at around the 8 km mark. At each one, I added water to my camelbak when needed, and munched on fruit, as well as sweet and salty snacks. I was carrying quite a bit of food in my camelbak, but only ate a single energy ball all race. I preferred the aid station food.
This section of the race featured a 1.5k climb up a gravel road. Lucky us, we would get to do it again later in the race!
We were rewarded at the end of this long climb with the best aid station, #2 (we would visit it later as aid station #5), which was run by the Beaver Valley Bruce Trail club (such enthusiasm!). And as we were enjoying the spread (including homemade blueberry muffins – yum!), Alasdair showed up to cheer us on! Once we left the aid station, I craved watermelon until we returned.
Towards the end of this next section of the race, we came upon the very pretty Hoggs Falls, as well as aid station #3.
It was around 17C and a beautiful fall-like day for a long run. Did I mention the hills? They were never-ending!
With only 68 runners starting the race, Kris and I ran many kilometres of this race alone. However, I don’t think we were ever the only runners at an aid station. We did pass a few runners later on in the race, and were concerned about one woman who Kris thought went off course. She later caught up to us, and sure enough, when she started running into higher brush, she realized she must have gone the wrong way! Another guy would have continued off course had Kris not yelled ahead to him!
In this section, we reached Eugenia Falls and aid station #4. Alasdair met us here too! By this point, we were at 31k and my right knee was really unhappy. The front of my knee on the downhills, and the back pretty much all the time. I had felt the front of the knee a few times since June (though never so bad), but the back was new!
Over and over again we ran through such pretty forests. At one point, there was a house at the top of a waterfall.
When the volunteers at aid station #4 (at 31k) told us that we had 6k to go to the next aid station, and then only 5k more to the finish, I was relieved. While this was a trail “marathon”, we didn’t know what the actual distance of the race would be. I hoped it wouldn’t be too much longer than 42.2k! (It’s not like a road race where you set the start and finish lines exactly where you want to get the correct distance.)
Before we reached aid station #5, we got to do the 1.5k road climb again. Alasdair was once again waiting for us.
While my knee meant that our pace was slowing, and I wondered whether I was doing damage to my knee, I also knew I would make it to the finish line. Towards the end I couldn’t even take advantage of the downhills – the front of my knee hurt too much!
Remember that ski hill we ran up to start the race? Well we had to run down it at the end. From there we did a little loop through the parking lot/grass, and at the finish line, Alasdair presented Kris and I with flowers!
Jeff (one of the race organizers) presented us with medals and very cool Bruce Trail badges that the Beaver Valley section volunteers designed for us!
This race also had the best race medals – a compass! Pictures by Sue Sitki.
I was so glad to be done climbing those hills!
After the race, Kris and I jumped into the creek for a short time – it was cold!! Alasdair and I stayed to watch our friends finish (Mike finished before us), and then we headed home.
What a race. It was fun to run it with Kris. I know I did better than I would have had I run it on my own. You can bet I’ll be back. (I’m well on the road to recovery, back to running again and doing physio for my knee – tightness, not a worrisome injury).
Thank you Happy Trails and all the volunteers for another great race!!