Race report: Happy Trails Falling Water trail marathon 2019

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!

Pre-race with Kristi and Mike, Katherine and Paul. [Photo by Alasdair]

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)!

Note the shape of the Bruce Trail main trail (the solid red line) – it’s a U shape, but we ran it as a figure 8 (follow the km markers below to see the race route).

The Race!

Missing from picture: KM 2, 3, 4.

KM 1-6.5

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).

Yes, we went straight up a ski run. Most people walked.

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.

First few steps into the race and we are looking fresh! [Photo by Sue Sitki]

From the very beginning, Kris and I walked the steep hills, and ran the rest. Mostly.

Finishing the first 6.5k out and back section. [Photo by Alasdair]

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.

KM 6.5-15

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).

[Photo by Sue Sitki]

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.

Delicious spread at aid station #2/#5, run by the Beaver Valley Bruce Trail Club.

KM 15-23

Towards the end of this next section of the race, we came upon the very pretty Hoggs Falls, as well as aid station #3.

Running down to Hoggs Falls [Photo by Sue Sitki]

It was around 17C and a beautiful fall-like day for a long run. Did I mention the hills? They were never-ending!

Hoggs Falls

KM 23-31

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!

At the 31k mark at Eugenia Falls (still smiling!). [Photo by Alasdair]

Over and over again we ran through such pretty forests. At one point, there was a house at the top of a waterfall.

Another pretty little waterfall. This was the very bottom, but at the very top there was a house!

KM 31-37

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.)

For perspective… we ran right by that white tower waaaaaaay in the distance.

KM 37-42.2

Before we reached aid station #5, we got to do the 1.5k road climb again. Alasdair was once again waiting for us.

Stuffing our faces at aid station #5! All the food. And Oreos to go! [Photo by Alasdair]

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!

Flowers from Alasdair at the finish line for Kris and I! [Photo by a Bruce Trail volunteer]

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!

With my flowers, cool compass medal, and custom Falling Water Bruce Trail patch designed by the Beaver Valley Bruce Trail Club. [Photo by Alasdair]
To add to my section end-to-end badges!

This race also had the best race medals – a compass! Pictures by Sue Sitki.

I was so glad to be done climbing those hills!

Elevation (in metres) over distance (in kilometres) – more than 1500m (5000 feet of elevation gain and loss over the course of the race)

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!!

Race stats

  • Time: 7:38:38
  • Pace: 11 min 16 seconds/km
  • Unofficial race distance: my watch said 40.67k
  • Place: Tied for 54th/68
Post-swim muffins (from Alasdair).
We all made it to the finish line! Kristi, Mike, me, Katherine, and Paul.

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