In May of 2018, Canadian Simon Whitfield, winner of the very first Olympic gold medal in triathlon at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, drew my name in a Triathlon Canada contest – I won a trisuit designed by Indigenous artist Carey Newman (or Hayalthkin’geme)! Unfortunately, the trisuit didn’t arrive before I managed to compete in 11 triathlons in 2018! But this meant that I got to start the 2019 season with a new look.
Little did I know what people would think of me in that suit…
Alasdair and I arrived at the Welland International Flatwater Centre with lots of time to go through registration, prep our stuff in transition, and head for the water. Since this race has a closed bike course which we had to ride 5 times, swim waves were very spread out to avoid congestion on the bike course. This meant that I started 50 minutes after Alasdair. Because of this, we wouldn’t see each other out on the race course at all (at least not while we were both racing).
I was the first person to rack a bike in the 258 to 278 bib number range, so I decided to pick the prime spot – closest to the bike out so I had to run as little as possible with my bike. I usually avoid that spot because it’s where the most competitive athletes go. Pretty sure my bike doesn’t look like it belongs!
The next person to arrive said to me, “Are you going to Lausanne?” At least I knew that this was the site of the 2019 triathlon world championships. “OMG no!” I replied. “I just won this suit!” In case you hadn’t noticed, it says PATERSON and CAN on the front and back. Later, I was asked at which race I had qualified. Clearly I can no longer blend into the crowd! The suit is a conversation starter.
Given that I have barely been swimming, and am a slow swimmer to start with, I wasn’t expecting too much of the swim. It was pretty congested at the start, and later I had to twice stop briefly to adjust my goggles, but then things settled down. On the last stretch of the swim I was able to follow the guy lines for the rowing markers, not needing to lift my head to sight.
The key for this bike course would be to not lose count of the number of laps I had done. Five was the magic number! Each lap would have two 180 degree turns. I was happy with how my ride was going, passing quite a few riders as I went along. I played leapfrog with another woman for much of the race, eventually leaving her behind. My watch was telling me that I was averaging over 30 km/h. The long run to start and end the bike segment, as well as a disparity in the distance (I had over 20k on my watch) dropped me below that. In any case, it was a great ride! Since Alasdair was done the race by the time I finished my bike, he was able to get some pictures of me racing.
I headed out on the 2 loop run course, which is on a paved path. I was pleasantly surprised with my legs, because even though they were still recovering from my 14 hour adventure race a week before, they let me run at a pretty good pace!
And just like that, my first triathlon of 2019 was done!
750m Swim: 19:02 (2:32 min/100m)
20k Bike: 41:39.5 (28.81 km/h)
5k Run: 26:43.5 (5:20 min/km)
Placing women 45-49: 11/23
Placing all women: 84/216
Placing all athletes: 250/477
As we were leaving to go home, a woman in the transition zone mentioned to Alasdair and I that she had lost her keys. “I found them!” I told her. I explained that while running my bike to the mount line during the race, I ran past a set of keys. I yelled at a spectator, who ignored me. I saw a volunteer further along and told him – he quickly ran towards them. She was so relieved, and wondered what the chances were of her mentioning it to us, and of me having found them! In any case, we left knowing that she would be able to find her way home.
Race for 12-14 hours by canoe, mountain bike and on foot with a 4 AM in-the-dark race start? Why not?! I’m not sure how my race partner Rebecca and I learned about the South Coast Adventure Race (SCAR) in Amherstburg, Ontario, but when I heard that this year’s race was going to be a longer, 12-14 hour championship edition, I was even more intrigued. We are hoping to compete in the 24 hour Wilderness Traverse adventure race in 2020, and thought this would be a perfect step up to that race from the shorter (4 to 6+ hour) races that we’ve done so far. So, we registered!
Race weekend arrived, and we headed for Holiday Beach in Amherstburg where we would be camping the night before, and the night after, the race. We were the first to set up our campsite. We organized all of our race clothes, gear and food. Then while cooking our dinner, another female team of 2 arrived and set up camp next to us. They would feature heavily in our race!
Next we headed to Mettawas Parks in Kingsville, where we dropped off our mountain bikes and my canoe.
We picked up our race kits, posed for pre-race photos, and headed for the mandatory pre-race briefing at the Kingsville arena.
We soon learned that there were 6 race maps – one huge main map (no way we could carry that around with us as is!), and 5 additional maps. Before we left the arena, we had planned our route for the race, and set it out on each of the maps using highlighters. Some of the race course would be a mandatory route, and other parts we could decide for ourselves – starting in the dark was a factor in our planning, because it would still be dark when we reached the first trekking section (the race was to start on bicycles). We headed back to our campsite, where we set about trimming the huge map with the tiny scissors from our mandatory first aid kit. We thought it would be easier to fold the map to fit it into our map bag if it was as small as possible! Thankfully we noticed that we had cut the map scale off, so we wrote it onto the map.
With our alarms set for 2 AM (!), we headed straight for bed. Sadly, I had trouble falling asleep, and in the end had less than an hour of sleep before my alarm went off. We got dressed for the race, ate our breakfast in my van, and then headed for the Essex Region Conservation Area Demonstration Farm next to Holiday Beach, where we would board busses to take us to the start line. We left our kayak paddles and transition area gear bin too, which had paddling gear and extra food. We would visit the transition area 3 times during the early parts of the race.
Before the race could even start we had a little adventure. We were on the 3rd and last school bus, which was following the ones in front of it. When the first one made a wrong turn, all three busses ended up having to back up and turn a sharp corner backwards – in the dark. Rebecca and I were in the very back row, so had front row seats to the many point turn. Where exactly were the wheel wells, and would we fall into the ditch? Our new friends sitting in the row ahead of us yelled directions to the driver (who asked for help). Quite the start to the day! The bus eventually made the turn, and we made it to the race start, albeit slightly later than expected! The race actually started around 4:30 AM, not 4 as planned.
Note: all distances are approximate. CP 1/2, 3, 4/6, 5 and CP I were manned (with volunteers) and also had SI readers. The others simply had SI readers to insert our SI cards into.
Bike leg #1: start to CP 1 (8k)
The race began in the dark, so with flashing lights on the front and backs of our bikes, and headlamps on our heads, we set out on the Chrysler Canada Greenway, a gravel trail that was pretty flat, heading for transition area 1 where we would drop our bikes and start the first trekking leg. We didn’t need to do any navigation, because we just followed the riders in front of us. When Rebecca and I weren’t riding side by side, we would call back to each other to make sure we were still close. It wasn’t too long before we reached CP 1 at Camp Cedarwin, a Scout camp.
Run leg #1: CP A-H (14k)
We dropped our bikes, changed into our running shoes, and headed north through the Scout camp and back onto the Chrysler Canada Greenway. From here, teams could decide the order in which they collected the 8 mandatory checkpoints. We decided to go in a counter-clockwise route, heading first for the ones that we thought would be easier to find in the dark. We left the ones in the swampy area (where the navigation looked trickier) until later, when the sun would have risen!
We found CP H at the end of a laneway, then headed into the woods. We ran into friends on 2 different teams looking for CP F, and together, we found it. We followed the creek to the East to find CP G, then turned back and followed the same creek past CP F, through thorns that grabbed us, and all the way to CP E. It was somewhere in this section that I rolled my ankle, but thankfully I was able to continue! Also in this part of the race, the sun came up and we turned our headlamps off.
Following the creek towards the road, we caught up with a couple of other teams, and bushwhacked our way through together. At one point, I detached another racer’s sock from a fence. After a short road section, we were back into the woods, and facing the first real test of our navigation skills. Our plan was to avoid crossing the marshy areas as much as possible, because we thought these crossings would be slow and difficult. Our plan was to follow the creek as much as we could. We took a bearing and set off. It was at this point that we first noticed the “helmet guys”. They were doing the trek while still wearing their bicycle helmets, possibly because their headlamps were affixed to them. In any case, we worked with these 2 guys to find CP C and CP D, crossing the creek, bushwhacking and being stung by stinging nettles with them. Someone from another team whipped out vinegar, saying it took the sting away. We soldiered on. Just before reaching CP D, someone on another team said to me in an Australian accent, “You’ve got a mozzie on your forehead!” I had heard the the term mozzie before, but never had someone said that to me in real life.
After CP D the helmet guys headed a different way, so we continued alone to find CP A. I started doubting our plan when I wasn’t sure we’d be able to figure out exactly where we needed to cut down the hill toward the checkpoint. We debated backtracking and tackling it a different way, but in the end decided to continue. It was here that we then met the helmet guys again. With them we reached a creek that we needed to cross (about 6 feet wide?), but it wasn’t clear how deep it was. I went down the steep bank first, quickly discovering that it was much deeper than we thought. The water went up to my chest, but it was cool and refreshing! The others followed me across, one of the helmet guys falling in up to his neck. Once on the other side, it didn’t take long to find the checkpoint.
Rebecca and I headed back the same way, and heard another team saying that they wanted to stay dry. CP B was a quick, easy find, after which we made our way back to the transition area at the Scout camp. I think it was here that we found out we were now in 20th place overall. We had passed a couple of teams.
Paddle #1: CP I + CP 2 (9k)
We put on our lifejackets, had a snack, grabbed our paddles, knee pads, bailer/rope and walked a couple hundred metres to the canoe start (the race crew had moved the canoes from Mettawas Park to the Scout camp).
With a small craft advisory in place for Lake Erie due to high wind and water levels, the paddle course was changed in the week leading up to the race. Instead of paddling on Lake Erie, we paddled from the Scout camp along Cedar Creek towards Lake Erie. There was quite a bit of wind on the way out to CP I, so much so that at times Rebecca and I both paddled only on the right side, with her doing wide sweeps at the bow to keep the canoe straight.
We got to see some of our friends on the paddle, as they made their way back from CP I. Thankfully, the return paddle wasn’t as tough. Near the end, we encountered a couple of teams of very inexperienced paddlers. One team couldn’t keep the canoe straight, both of the paddlers switching their canoe paddles from the left side to the right and back again (randomly). We wondered how they would manage once they hit the wind. A racer on another team didn’t know how to hold the canoe paddle, so I told him to put one hand on top – he thanked me!
When we reached the end of the paddle, we were amazed that we didn’t even have to do anything with my canoe – volunteers took it away for us! We were pleasantly surprised to hear that we were 22/57 teams coming out of the water.
Bike leg #2: CP 3 (23k) + CP J-K bike drop (21k)
We jumped back on our bikes and headed for CP 3, which we found easily by following the Chrysler Canada Greenway and then various roads. We were way ahead of the 2 PM cutoff (if you didn’t make it there in time, you were put onto a shorter course, skipping some sections of the full course). We were told by volunteers checking teams off a list that we were the 2nd female team of 2. What?! The 3rd place team arrived just after us.
But this is where things fell apart! We rode along an old abandoned rail line, which was very rocky but rideable, but when we left it, the roads didn’t make sense, and eventually, we had no idea where we were (not all roads on the race maps were labelled). We weren’t the only ones! It took a while, but we eventually found ourselves back on our planned route – phew. At the time, it felt like we added a lot of distance and time, but looking at the map after the race, it looks like we only added about 3k.
Run leg #2: CP J-K (3k)
We left our bikes at the bike drop, and headed off on our 2nd trek section. We ran along a path until we hit a culvert, took a bearing and headed into the woods for CP K. It was closer than we expected. We followed the creek to CP J, then I took another bearing and we headed back to the first trail we were running on. Our navigation was good in this section, and we were back on track. Phew!
Bike leg #3: CP 4 (11k) + CP L (11 1/2k) + CP 5 (3 1/2k)
We hopped back on our bikes and headed along roads to CP4, which we had to reach by the 2 PM cut-off (we were there with lots of time to spare). We had a quick chat with the volunteer here, a Masters student who gave up her whole day to be there for us. Thank you to all the amazing volunteers! Then we rode the Rotary Centennial Trail (around a huge cemetery) and then a paved trail along the Herb Gray Parkway. We ran into friends on this trail too, making their way from CP 5 to CP 6. They were flying! These were great paths to ride on. We opted to go for CP L on our way to CP 5 (you could do it after if you wanted to), so we left the trail and took a dirt path into the woods behind some houses and quickly found the control. We made our way onto the paved trail again, and arrived at CP 5 at Malden Park. Here we would have two completely different activities to complete: 1) a trek relay, and 2) a bike time trial.
Run leg #3 (relay): CP N (2k) + CP M (2k) + CP O (2k)
The relay legs had to be done one at a time. We decided that I would do two legs, so I set off along a paved trail for CP M. I passed the trail I had intended to take, not believing it was the right one (it was essentially a mowed grass path). But when I reached a paved trail, I knew I had gone too far. So I took that trail, and decided to get CP N instead. I ran back to Rebecca (the shorter way), and got to relax for a few minutes and eat while she ran to CP O. I even got to use a proper bathroom with flushing toilets and a sink.
When she returned, I headed out again, this time taking a shorter way to CP M. I met a man who was nowhere near where he thought he was, so I told him he could follow me back to CP 5 if he wanted to so that he could start again. He did. This was where we saw the lead female team of 2 head for CP 6.
Bike leg #4: time trial (5k) + CP6 (14k) + bike drop (13k)
I had never done a bike time trial before (essentially, a race against the clock with one team starting at a time), let alone one after we had already been racing for 10 hours!! Before we started I asked how long it took the fastest team so far, and found out it was 11 minutes. This was somewhat comforting, knowing that we wouldn’t be doing a 1 hour time trial! We followed the painted arrows on the ground, over gravel, dirt, grass, up and down hills, around tight corners, through long grass, and right past a deer and lots of bunnies. We weren’t exactly racing! I found this section fun (it was as close to “real” mountain biking as we got that day), but was relieved to be done it 17 minutes later.
We made our way to CP 6, which was also CP 4 (the one with the Masters student). She confirmed that we were still the 2nd place female team of 2.
Run leg #4: N/A
Given the time, it was looking unlikely that we would make it through the run leg and be able to bike to finish by the 6 PM cutoff. In fact, when we reached the bike drop for the last trek section, we were told that we should bike straight to the finish. I asked how long it was taking teams to do the trek, and the volunteer said on average about 30 minutes, and that many teams weren’t finding all of the controls.
I was disappointed not to be able to do the trek section, but relieved to know that we would be done sooner!
Bike leg #5: to finish line (15k)
We continued on our bikes, 15k that seemed to take forever. By this point, my back had gotten tight and my knee was complaining. Rebecca was having her own issues. A female team of 2 went whizzing by, and we thought, what the heck?! Where did they come from and how can they have so much energy? We talked to them later, when they told us it was their first (and probably last) race like this – that they had missed lots of checkpoints.
We finally reached Holiday Beach and made our way to the finish line. We finished in 13 hours and 46 minutes, just 14 minutes under the 14 hour time cut-off. We had paddled around 9k, run 21k and biked 125k!
It was definitely the hardest race I’ve ever done. Amazing though what one can do on less than an hour of sleep!
In the end, Rebecca and I ended up winning the team of 2 females category, because the team that was ahead of us was overtime. So even though they found all of the checkpoints (including the ones on the last trek that we didn’t do), we finished ahead of them. It feels a bit strange, but that’s apparently how adventure racing works.
SCAR was very well organized and the volunteers were great. There was lots of post-race food, and even vegetarian options.
Canoes and paddling gear/transition bins and bags were waiting for us at the race finish, having been transported there by race volunteers. I even got a race shuttle to where my van was parked. Rebecca and I had had visions of having to get back on our bikes and ride to get the van.
I’ve now completed 4 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.”
April 22, 2019 – Silver Creek Conservation Area to Forks of the Credit – 22.9k (solo)
May 12, 2019 – Forks of the Credit to Finnerty Sideroad – 22.7k
May 18, 2019 – Finnerty Sideroad to Hockley Road – 27.3k (solo)
June 3, 2019 – Hockley Road to Highway 89 – 25k (solo)
# runs: 4
# solo runs: 3
# runs with my husband Alasdair: 0 (but we did leapfrog each other on the trail!)
# runs with friends: 1 (Laura!)
shortest run: 22.7k
longest run: 27.3k
average length of run: 24.5k
Spring flowers: In this section I first saw spring flowers on the trail.
Most hilly: My run from Finnerty Sideroad to Hockley Road was most definitely the hilliest part! Lots of stairs too.
Scariest moment: The few seconds it took me to fall hard on both knees. And then I had to run another 10k!
Wildlife sightings: Scarlet Tanager, Great Crested Flycatcher, porcupine, hairy coo!
Favourite run: My run from just south of Hockley Valley to just south of Boyne Valley Provincial Park – 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. I scared 4 turkey vultures out of the woods, and couldn’t identify a large animal that ran off the trail into the woods later – maybe a turkey. I saw a Great Crested Flycatcher (had never heard of one before that day), and then finished the Caledon section of the trail!
Most memorable encounter with other hikers/runners: I met Christopher L from the Bruce Trail Facebook group, who is also working on completing the entire trail from south to north. I had seen his posts on the group, then he recognized me one day on the trail just south of Hockley Valley. Plus we randomly colour coordinated outfits, so there’s that too.
Neat finds: Cheltenham Badlands – represents geological processes that have occurred over the last 450 million years
Roads: The Caledon section of the trail had a lot of road running. I’d rather be in the woods, but the road made for easier running.
Green: This section brought the end of snow and the beginnings of new growth in the forest!
Reading the course description for the 5 Peaks Rattlesnake Point Enduro Course (12.7k), I had visions of non-stop rocks, roots and hills. Thankfully, it didn’t turn out quite like that!
After arriving at Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area in Milton and picking up my race kit, I sat in my van and read for a little bit. But I was so tired, I decided to nap in the back! I’ve never done that pre-race before. I was afraid that I would sleep through my 2 alarms, but thankfully I didn’t. However, when I woke up, there were no fewer than 40 people in line for the portapotties! In fact, by the time I got through the line-up (the 2nd time), I had missed the wave 4 start I was planning to join. It didn’t matter – the race organizers were trying to spread people out to avoid bottlenecks on the trail, so I just started in the next wave (we were supposed to choose a wave based on our 5k time).
The race began and we set out on the grass, then on a trail which turned into a rocky, root-covered disaster waiting to happen. You definitely had to pay attention to every step. Runners were clumped up for a while, but eventually everyone spread out.
Having given blood 5 days prior to the race, I wasn’t expecting too much of my cardio. My plan was to just “run” rather than “race”. I was tempted a few times to stop and take pictures of the pretty views, but opted not to.
I enjoyed the variety of the route, which included boardwalk, single-track, hills, and of course plenty of rocks and roots. I only kicked one, so I fared well. There were sections that were quite steep, and some that were too rocky to run up (in my opinion!).
At one point, after power-walking my way up a steep, very rocky section, I caught another runner and passed him, at which point he said, “What, did you take an escalator up or something?!”
For a while I ran and chatted with another runner, but eventually passed her. There were a couple of aid stations on the course, but I was carrying my own water so I didn’t need to stop. The 5 Peaks series is now cup free, so you have to carry something if you want water at the aid stations. Some runners carried very small reusable cups.
In the end, I finished the 12.4k course (according to my Garmin) in a time of 1:34:37, or 7:27 min/km.
In the line-up for food, I heard a runner ask the volunteers if they had any mustard. “For your orange?” one asked? Nope – he said it was good for lactic acid build-up and he just eats it on his own! That was a new one for me!
Time: 1:34:37 (7:27 min/km)
Women 40-49: 29/64
All women: 64/165
All runners: 196/324
This was a really well organized and run race – I’ll be back!
After a great first experience doing Storm the Trent Trek in Haliburton in 2018, my race partner Rebecca and I decided to do Storm the Trent Trek Elite this year – i.e. the long version!
On race morning we dropped our bikes off at Glebe Park, my canoe off at Head Lake Park downtown Haliburton, and then we headed for A.J. LaRue Arena to check in.
We signed waivers, got our race maps and race instructions, grabbed a couple of chairs, and set about planning our route.
There were 19 checkpoints, which we would find by canoeing, running, biking, and then running again. Some of the checkpoints would have volunteers at them, and other would be un-manned. At all of them, we would have to check in with our SI stick. Some of the course would be a marked route or mandatory route, and for the rest of it we had to make our own route.
After reading through the instructions and figuring out how the race would play out, we had time to chat with other racers, eat, and head upstairs for the pre-race briefing.
Then it was time to walk a few blocks to Head Lake Park for the start of the race! We hit the water and waited with everyone else for a few minutes until the race began.
We knew that we wouldn’t be the fastest boat out there, and that we would be able to follow the other canoes and kayaks – and that’s just what we did. About 15 minutes after the race started, it began to rain… and then pour! Thankfully, it wasn’t very windy so the paddling wasn’t difficult! We reached the floating checkpoint 1 (CP1) in about 35 minutes, with just a few boats arriving after us. In addition to using the SI stick, we had to yell our team number to volunteers on shore so they could check us off their list. Rebecca was the keeper of the SI stick for this race.
Then we headed back for Head Lake Park! We actually made it back in less time than it took us to get there – a negative split! Woot!
Canoe time: 1:08:53 (according to my watch)for 8k
Back out of the water I had to keep taking breaks carrying the canoe with Rebecca. I figured out later that my paddling gloves were the problem – I had no grip!
We left the canoe in the transition area, checked in at CP2, made a portapotty pitstop, and headed on foot to Glebe Park. Rebecca was very cold at the start of the run (we were soaked)! We ran 2-3k to the park, checked in at CP3, and then headed into the woods to look for CP22, 23, 24, and 25. For this section, we had to switch maps from the main race map to Supplemental Map #1. This section is where things went haywire! Right away we got confused with the trails we saw in front of us and the trails on the map – we couldn’t match them up. We were looking for a snowmobile trail, which we thought would be wider and obvious, but it most definitely wasn’t! We actually scrapped our plan to find CP23, 24, and 25 first on a looped trail, and instead followed people to what we eventually figured out would be CP22 – we knew there must be something there if they were going that way! It was once we reached CP22 that we knew for sure where we were.
Unfortunately, this didn’t really help! We bushwhacked through the forest and across 2 trails, thinking we knew where we were. But things still didn’t make sense to us, and we eventually ended up pretty much back at our starting place at Glebe Park. We headed out – again – and finally got ourselves onto the loop where we would find CP23, 24, and 25. It was incredibly muddy on parts of the trek section.
Once we found these 3 checkpoints, we headed back for Glebe Park, thinking we were retracing our route. But we encountered a rope across the trail and knew right away that we hadn’t been there before. However, we weren’t alone, running into another team doing the same race as us, and a couple of guys doing the shorter Trek race solo.
Turns out our route back was more efficient. Comparing our actual route versus the course map and our highlighted intended route, I can totally see now that we went straight through the red rectangular PRIVATE PROPERTY out of bounds section. Yikes. That was not our intent. Clearly, we were confused!! And analyzing our route now, I can see that our return route was on the snowmobile trail that we were so desperately seeking at the beginning of the trek! We ran much further than we needed to.
Run time: 2:23:44 for 13.6k
We checked back in at CP3, and then headed for our bikes. We ate while getting ourselves organized, putting our bike shoes, gloves and helmets on, and strapping our trail shoes to our camelbaks.
Then we headed out for the first part of the bike course, an out and back in search of CP30, 31, and 4. Just after CP30 we encountered the first flooded dirt road, but this year, we decided to ride straight through it. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time. I couldn’t see beneath the water’s surface, so I was taken down by a rock that knocked me off balance.
Not too much further along, an even deeper section of flooded road awaited us! Picture a fairly narrow, gravel, pot-holed, small and big rock-strewn road with a couple of feet of water on it. Now imagine trying to ride your bike through it. The trick for me was to ride as steadily as I could in my granny gear and not slow down. But it was a bumpy, unpredictable ride and once again, I fell over! Another racer caught up to Rebecca and I shortly after this section and asked, “Which of you swam?” Me, me, that was all me. I may also have yelped. On the bright side, the water cleaned my bike.
We continued on to a hydrocut, which we had to ride along (or push our bikes along due to mud), up, down, and up again. We headed back to the main trail and rode it a short distance to CP4.
We rode back to Glebe Park, through the “lakes” (I stayed upright! It was easier to see under the water on the way back – at least somewhat!), and back to CP3.
Then we hit the road section of the bike course, which had no shortage of hills! It was in this section that we started to pick off other teams (we are road riders after all!).
Eventually, we reached the ATV trail where we would find CP50. This is where we slowed to a snail’s pace, as the incredible amount of mud forced us to walk and push our bikes through it. At one point, I sunk into the mud half-way up my calf! We pushed our bikes for kilometres! The crazy mud sections were separated by some rideable trail and later gravel road sections.
We reached CP5, where a volunteer assured us that we had seen the worst of the mud, and that the road would be way better. Sadly, she was wrong. I started looking at my watch and realizing for the first time that we may not reach CP6 in time to meet the cut-off to be allowed to do the final trek section at Sir Sam’s Ski Resort.
Riding along a gravel road, it seemed to be taking forever to reach CP32. At two separate points I got cold on the bike – it was pouring rain, and on the (very few!) big downhills, the breeze chilled me to the bone! Eventually, we reached the intersection where I thought the checkpoint would be, but there was a woman off her bike who had apparently “almost crashed” (she had no brakes left), and when I mentioned the checkpoint she and her partner said it wasn’t at that intersection. We continued on our bikes, but we should not have listened to them! Again, it seemed to be taking forever to find the checkpoint. Eventually, we reached an intersection marked on the map (Bushwolf and Angel) and it was at that point I realized that we had missed it. It was at the earlier intersection!
We continued on in search of CP33, which would be somewhere along a MTB trail at Sir Sam’s, but we would have to ride the trail to find it. We ended up “riding” it with 2 girls in the shorter Trek course… if you can call it riding. Once again, it was incredibly muddy. Had it been dry, it would have been very fun to ride – it was twisty, turny, and full of little ups and down. Instead, we could ride for a few pedal strokes and then we had to walk again! We found the checkpoint, and then headed for CP6, reaching it about 15 minutes over the cut-off, so we were directed to run to the finish line rather than do the last trek section. Had we done the trek, we would have drawn the location of CP40, 41, 42 and 43 on our Supplemental Map #2 (from a master map at CP6), then climbed and descended the ski hill to find them.
I was disappointed not to make the cut-off, but relieved at the same time to be done!
Bike time: 4:29:52 for 44.2k
In the end, we crossed the finish line in 8:15:24, in 2nd place out of 2 teams of 2 females. The other team found all the checkpoints and finished in 8:37.
I had a great time – despite the mud – and look forward to taking on the race again!!
Before I started orienteering I never would have run through the forest at night in the dark by myself! But a couple of years of practice doing short weeknight races, and despite – or perhaps because of – the occasional scurrying sound or glowing eyes, I have become less frightened of things that go bump in the night (or maybe more tolerant). So when I saw that Happy Trails was putting on the inaugural Rugged Raccoon 25k night trail race, I didn’t hesitate before registering.
I arrived at Wildwood Conservation Area in St. Mary’s with plenty of time to pick up my race bib (and whistle!), very cool race top, change into running clothes (I had come from basketball spectating), and chat with other runners.
Just before 7:30 PM, we had a short pre-race meeting.
And then, the race began! I wasn’t sure how long I would be able to run before I needed my headlamp. This was a pretty small race, with only 92 runners in the 25k distance (there were also 5k and 10k races). Runners were given the option of starting an hour earlier if they didn’t think they could finish within the 3 1/2 hour time limit, so less than 92 people started at once.
The race began on park roads, but we quickly hit the trail, and once there, the crowd had already dispersed and I was running with a very small pack of runners. The trail would go all the way around the lake! The course was very well marked. Only a few times during the race I wondered which way to go, but I quickly figured it out.
My approach to this race was to take it 5k at a time, or essentially 1 aid station at a time! The four aid stations would be fully stocked with all kinds of yummy goodies, but sadly, my stomach had been feeling “off” since the day before the race, so I wasn’t able to take advantage of any of it! Not the quesadillas, not the ramen noodles, not the pancakes! I decided to stick to my Endurance Tap (maple syrup). Given the paucity of food I ate the day of the race, it’s amazing I made it to the start line!
I ran with my waist belt so I had my own water with me. I didn’t expect to drink a lot, but wanted to be able to drink whenever I wanted to. The first aid station was just before the 5k mark, but I had no need to stop there – I just threw out my Endurance Tap garbage as I went by.
The trail was quite pretty, with lots of ups and downs, and even more MUD! Wow was it ever muddy. We were encouraged to run right through it to avoid widening the trail or damaging it. I was glad to have tied my trail shoes tightly – the mud threatened to suck them right off my feet!
Just before I got to the 10k aid station, the sun was really beginning to set and the sky was looking very pretty. I debated getting my phone out to take a picture, but decided my legs wouldn’t be happy to have to start running again!
This aid station was fun – the volunteers were playing music and were very enthusiastic! Once again, I ran straight by it, just dropping my garbage. At this point, I crossed a bridge over the lake, and as I entered the forest again, I wondered how much longer I would be able to manage without my headlamp. It was in this section too that I caught the last glimpse of another runner for quite some time. Turns out just after 11k, I turned my light on, worried that I was going to trip on a root or a rock.
In the back of my mind I kept telling myself that the last 5k would be the easiest, or so we were told. I would believe it when I saw it. As it got darker out, I was able to see headlamps bobbing in the distance across the lake, from where I had come from – that was quite neat. I heard some noises in the woods around me in this section too, but never did see anything.
I could hear people at the 15k aid station before I could see it, but eventually I caught a glimpse of a headlamp in the distance. As the volunteers spotted mine, they cheered for me. Once again, I dropped my garbage there and kept going. At some point, someone in the woods having a campfire told me I was doing a great a job.
As my legs got more tired, it became harder and harder to run through the mud – it took more effort to pull my feet out of the sticky, deep mud! Thankfully though, I managed to stay upright! Even though it was pitch dark at this point, it was very easy to follow the race route, because there were glowing markers hanging from trees.
It was around 16k that I finally saw another runner when I overtook two women walking. I knew that my friend David would be at the 20k aid station, and I knew that when I hit that one, I would be on the home stretch! I walked a bit more in this section, sometimes on hills that at the beginning of the race I would have run! I reached the aid station, and had a small glass of Skratch (sport hydration). It was so good. David helped me safely cross the road, and I was on my way to the finish! I was relieved to discover that this last bit was indeed the easiest part of the course. There was less elevation gain, less roots and rocks, and flat park road at the end too. I passed another couple of runners here, but couldn’t quite catch one that I could see up ahead of me (let’s be honest – I didn’t even try!).
I was only slightly disappointed as I approached the finish line that the race course was only 24k – I was happy to be nearing the end! As I ran down the finishing chute, which was lined with lights, I had great cheers from other runners who had already finished, and from others who were volunteering or were there with other runners. It was a great way to finish!
After watching a few more runners finish, I changed into dry, warm clothes, grabbed my mug, and went in search of hot chocolate. It seems it was all gone, but I made myself a mug of chamomile tea, and thoroughly enjoyed it as I drove home. I also ate one plain pancake before I left, and then nothing until the next day (I was not hungry). So glad my stomach is finally back to normal!
This was a great race and I look forward to doing it again next year! Thank you Happy Trails!
This was to be my 2nd time riding the Paris to Ancaster 70k race (2018 edition here), in weather that a few days beforehand promised a little bit of everything, from rain and snow to wind. But on race day the clouds cleared and the forecast was a high of 11C with not a lot of wind. Perfect for a spring bike race!
After parking my vehicle at Ancaster High School, I made a last minute decision to ditch my thicker gloves, then rode my bike across the street to the Morgan Firestone Arena, where I handed it over to volunteers loading bikes onto trucks for transportation to the start line. I walked away from the truck and immediately realized that I probably shouldn’t have left my race nutrition in the crossbar pouch, because it has a habit of opening up and emptying… but I optimistically decided that I would be fine, because even if I lost that food, I had more in my hand to eat before the race, and there would be food on course.
I found a seat on the school bus around 7:30 AM, then felt a tap on my shoulder – it was Erik, who I met last year at the Steaming Nostril 65k. He invited me to sit with him, which meant that I had someone to pass the time with before our 10:30 AM race start!
It was a little chilly at Green Lane Sports Complex in Paris while we passed the time, but once the clouds lifted, it warmed up a bit! I was dressed to ride, not stand around. I was relieved to find that my race nutrition stayed put during the drive to Paris.
We made a new friend – Kevin – who was riding the 70k for the first time (years ago he did the race when it was 60k).
Finally, it was time to head to the start line!
We were in the 4th and final wave, also affectionately known as the party wave. When the gun sounded, we took off! The actual race route varies slightly each year depending on weather, land permissions, and the condition of the roads, and the 70k distance is approximate!
What follows is a general description of my race, including the type of terrain ridden and very approximate distances (looking at my Garmin map data, which marks every 5k of distance). Some of the race course is on private land, so please do not ride this course without knowing which parts are which!
KM 0-10 – Green Lane Sports Complex to the Cambridge to Paris Trail
I’m not used to riding in packs, so I was careful at the beginning not to get caught up in tight traffic. There was a crash off to the left just 100-200m into the race, with several riders going down. Hopefully they were uninjured and able to continue!
A short ride on gravel roads led to the double track Cambridge to Paris Trail, which runs along the Grand River. Because it is so early in the race, it can be quite congested with lots of passing going on. I found that people were pretty good about signalling their intent to pass (with hand gestures or verbal cues), and even polite about letting others pass. I rode on the right hand side of the path, road or trail for the entire race except when I was passing. I found it quite frustrating at times when people rode on the left or side by side preventing passing. In any case, this was a pretty part of the course.
KM 10-24 – Road, with a short farm lane section (I think)
Leaving the trail was the first time I saw people getting off their bikes and walking. I rode up the loose gravel hill and continued along a farm laneway.
Around 15k I had an Endurance Tap gel.
KM 24-25 – Muddy farm
At this point we turned off the road into a farm, and through a farmer’s field. “You’re going to like this!” is what I heard. This was the first real section of mud, and my strategy was to follow the rider in front of me – she seemed to be handling the mud just fine, so I figured if she could do it, I could too. And then she unclipped and starting walking, but I continued. I got pretty hot in this section, thinking I was overdressed!
KM 25-27 – Road
I can’t remember anything remarkable about this section.
KM 27-29 – Muddy lane
As soon as I turned onto this muddy lane I remembered it from last year, and was determined to ride straight through the inevitable mud again this year! Many people were walking, but I put my bike into the granny gear and pedalled as hard as I could. Slow down too much and I knew I would lose traction and topple over! I had a death grip on my handlebars, and I kept yelling again, “Coming through!” so those walking didn’t block me by stepping in front of me. A woman behind me started cheering for me, saying “spin! spin!” and “go! go! go!” and I don’t remember what else. At one point I asked her if I should spin as fast as possible and she said “yes!” and “as straight as possible!” It was exhausting pushing hard through that mud, but super rewarding to make it all the way through! Once we got onto the road I thanked her for cheering me on and she said that she was cheering as much for herself as for me!
KM 29-32 – Road to Harrisburg aid station
I pulled into the Harrisburg aid station after 1 hour 30 minutes, which was 10 minutes faster than last year. I quickly used a portapotty, topped up my water bottle, ran into Erik (who beat me there), ate a cookie and a banana, and got back on my bike.
KM 32 – 35 – A rail trail (including alternate route)
Erik reminded me that shortly after leaving the aid station, we would hit a backlog of riders on a rail trail type path, because the course leaves the trail and heads down a steep hill to the road. As I got close to this spot, sure enough, people were bunched up and walking. Another rider that I know from adventure racing (Anne) came up behind me and was clearly wanting to ride it (“I have a mountain bike” she said.). Then I saw a sign that said ALTERNATE ROUTE, and something about having to ride down the steep hill or walk down the hill on the other side of the bridge (I don’t think the sign actually said all that!). Anne went for the steep, muddy, curvy downhill ride and so did I! We got ahead of quite a few (walking) riders by doing that. I had to unclip at the very bottom when I reached a couple of huge boulders, but then I was on my way again!
KM 35 – 40 – Road
It was in this road section that another rider pointed out to me that my key was falling out of my back pocket! What a disaster that would have been! So thankful that he noticed it and told me!
KM 40 – 41 – Muddy lane
I found this next muddy lane more rideable this year, but I nearly took another rider down when a rut in the thick gooey mud swung me right and nearly into the path of another rider. I yelled “sorry! sorry! sorry!” but he was thankfully able to avoid me and we both stayed upright. PHEW! I also had to unclip quickly at one point when a rider fell right in front of me – I thought I too was going down!
KM 41 – 56 – Road (with a 1k section of rail trail)
The next section was quite boring, but I was still feeling good! I think it was in this section that I discovered I had lost two gels from my crossbar pouch. I had another one.
KM 56 – 64 – Hamilton to Brantford Rail Trail
Once I turned onto the rail trail, I felt like I was in home territory. The majority of my pre-race training rides included this part of the rail trail.
At 58k I reached another aid station (on the trail), which I considered riding straight past but decided to stop for. I ate a cookie and some super yummy oranges slices, then headed out once again. I felt like I got a 2nd wind and felt strong heading into the last part of the race.
KM 64 – 65 – Road
Once I left the rail trail, there was a short road section until we reached Highway 52, where I had to wait with other riders for a couple of minutes (less than 5) before the police stopped the traffic for us. This was the only time during the race where I had to wait for traffic. At this point I heard someone say that there were 1.6 km to go, which I knew was wrong, so I told him and others that based on what the people at the last aid station said, we had about 8k to go!
KM 65 – 66 – Mineral Springs Mud Chute
I don’t think it’s quite possible to understand the two mud chutes in this race until you try to ride them. I’m sure the riders at the very front of the pack can make their way through them, but by the time 2,500 or more riders go through before me, they are quite unrideable! The vast majority of people around me walked down the mud chute, though some – like me – made a valiant attempt at the start. I managed to go for a short ways before I fell over onto my left side. And then I walked. Many people carried their bikes to keep them out of the worst of the mud, but my bike is far too heavy to do that. So I tried to keep it as far to the side of the mud chute as I could.
I knew that my parents would be waiting for me at the bottom, and sure enough, they were! However, I came through so much earlier than expected that they nearly missed me.
There was no lineup at the power wash station, so a volunteer did a quick clean of my bike and I was on my way again.
KM 66 – 67.5 – Road and jujube
On Powerline Road there were a few volunteers handing out jujubes, so I grabbed a couple and in trying to chew the first one cracked my jaw something fierce!
KM 67.5 – 68 – Powerline Road Mud Chute
And then it was time for the second of the mud chutes. This one I didn’t even attempt to ride. What a mess! Thick, goopy mud!
KM 68 – 70 – Trail and Mineral Springs Road
I cleaned some mud and debris off my bike, and as soon as I could, I got back on my bike and started to ride. I think this section was a little different this year, because I don’t remember riding Mineral Springs Road around the hairpin turns last year. I may be wrong!
KM 70 – 71.7 – Martin Road and the Martin Road hill
And then, I reached Martin Road, which would take me to the finish line. I was determined to make it up the steepest part of the hill just before the finish, but I did unclip near the beginning to avoid wiping out in a big puddle, and then again when going up a very steep short section – people were walking and I was afraid I wouldn’t have the speed or traction to get up it.
I hit the Martin Road hill, and while almost everyone around me was walking, there was one woman riding ahead of me, so I focussed on making it to the top without colliding with her!
We got lots of cheers (she had her own cheering section), and amazingly, I didn’t find it as hard as I expected (reaching it after more than 71k of cycling!), and when I hit that finish line, I felt like I could have kept going. Woot!
I finished the race a whopping 42 minutes faster than last year. Yes, I rode 73k last year versus 71.7 km this year, but I was still way faster!!
I’m really happy with how my race went!
After putting my super muddy bike back into my vehicle, I stood in the longest line ever for post-race food, but it moved surprisingly quickly! I took the food to my parents’ place, and after refueling, I soaked in their hot tub. Lucky me!