It had been 3 years since the last running of the Happy Trails Rugged Raccoon 25k Night Trail Race, but when I parked my car at Wildwood Conservation Area and headed over to pick up my race kit right next to Wildwood Lake, I remembered how beautiful the race venue was. At 7:30 pm, my friend Kris and I would be running clockwise around the lake, starting in daylight and ending in the dark.
The race began and we set off together. Unfortunately it didn’t take long for me to get a side stitch, which bothered me for a couple of kilometres. I told Kris not to let me slow her down – she had a spring in her step – so she got further and further ahead of me.
I hit the first aid station at around 4.5k, but I didn’t stop. Shortly after this point my side stitches were gone.
At the pre-race briefing we learned that the course was less muddy than in 2019 (phew!), and that there was less mud in the 2nd half of the course. As I ran I remembered bits of the route, but I had only been to the conservation area once before, so much of it felt new to me.
I was on the lookout for owls, but never did see or hear one. I did hear lots of spring peepers though, as well as a woodpecker, and Kris saw deer.
At the 2nd aid station around 9k I grabbed a cookie and kept running. At this point the course follows a road for a short time before going back into the forest on the far side of the lake. I remembered having to put my headlamp on at this point in 2019, but this time there was still lots of light left. I also remembered in 2019 that I could see headlamps on the far side of the lake – not this time! I made it my goal to try to get to 15k before turning my headlamp on. At the 3rd aid station around 14k, I grabbed another cookie and kept running. The light was starting to fade but I was still able to see.
And then just before 15k I noticed headlamps in the forest ahead of me. I finally turned mine on at 15k, and within 200-300 metres I kicked a root and fell into a mud puddle! Ha! It was a soft landing and I was not hurt, so I got up and kept going!
I found that I ran much of the race alone, even more so during the 2nd half when runners were more spaced out.
Approaching the 4th and final aid station I knew there would be hot cheese quesadillas, but I wasn’t quite sure I would feel like one when I got there! It’s not something I would normally eat when running. But I decided to have a piece, it was delicious, and my stomach didn’t complain!
It was at the nearly 22k mark that I started wondering whether I had gone off course. I wasn’t sure which way the trail went through the forest. The route had been very well marked with pin flags up until this point, but I realized I hadn’t seen any in a while. I knew not to run more than 100m without seeing a flag… so I turned around in the dark forest, and ran back the way I had come from… I texted Kris, who I hadn’t seen for quite some time.
I ran back and forth. It didn’t make sense. I ran back and forth again. And then I spotted a pin flag, flat on the ground! It must have been trampled by runners. I was still on course – yay!
I felt much better knowing that I wasn’t lost! And I thought it was pretty funny that *I* was texting *Kris* with navigational issues, as she’s the one who tends to take wrong turns! In any case, I made it to the finish line, where Kris was waiting for me. Jeff Rowthorn, Race Director, said, “Had a fall?” (I was covered in mud!) and then offered me a bar of soap!
I was glad to be done! Thanks Happy Trails for another great race.
Getting to the start line of The Flurry 8k Snowshoe Race was a victory in itself, given my Superman dive while skating just a month before. I did a short test run three days before the race and didn’t feel the injured muscles near my ribs, and while my legs were tight the next couple of days for lack of run practice, I declared myself ready to race! This would be my first time on snowshoes this winter, my first snowshoe race in two years, and just my second run in a month – what could go wrong?! Oh, and it was predicted to feel like -19 degrees Celsius with the wind. My goals were to make it to the finish line and to have fun in the process.
I arrived at the race site at Marydale Park in Mount Hope (Hamilton) to discover that one of the Happy Trails volunteers lives on my street – small world! I picked up my race kit (a big, awesome mug, a buff, and my race bib) and went back to my car to get organized. I immediately realized that I was under-dressed (unusual for me!), but thankfully I had a Happy Trails hoodie with me for after the race that I decided to wear while racing. I got my snowshoes on and wondered where everyone was, since there were only a few people outside. Turns out they were inside for the pre-race briefing, which I almost missed.
We were incredibly fortunate that a recent snowfall had blanketed the race course with the perfect amount of snow – not too little, and not too much! We would be running 2 laps of a 4k course, which included a loop and an out and back section.
I tried to position myself well back of the start line, but people kept lining up behind me. Oh well, they would soon find out that they would have to pass me! With a very laid-back 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 countdown, we were off!
Almost immediately I was doubting my ability to run 8k on snowshoes! After running a loop around a field, we hit the full force of the wind and blowing snow head-on! Wow! While I felt like I should be running faster through the windy sections to get out of them sooner, I ended up slowing down and sometimes walking. In fact the entire race was a run/walk combo for me.
Before the race began, I wondered how visible the course flags would be given the blowing snow. I need not have worried. I could easily spot the flags, and in fact the easiest thing to do was to follow the people who had gone before me and the tracks they left behind! I entered the forest – so pretty – and felt that I was slowing people down. I told the runners behind me to let me know if they wanted to pass. It didn’t take long before I had to pull over anyway – snow was clumping under my snowshoes. Unfortunately, over the course of the race I had to stop and kick my snowshoes against trees between 10 and 20 times! Please send your tips my way. I used ski wax on my snowshoes before the race, but it seemed to have no effect. I didn’t notice anyone stopping as often as I did.
It was really nice to see some familiar faces at the race (Lisa, Mauro, Steve), and to be able to cheer for one another too. Trail runners are a friendly bunch!
During the out and back section of the course I stepped into the deeper snow to the side of the tramped down path to allow faster people running towards me to pass. In fact the race winner finished before I finished my first loop!
By the second loop runners were much more spread out, though I did run parts with two women named Mary and Andrée (nice to meet you!). Having run the first lap I knew I could run it again. I counted down the kilometres and looked for owls as I ran. Of course.
There were a few non-racers walking on the trail, but none of them wanted to take my place! At the out and back turnaround I spotted a car in the ditch with a police car nearby. The winds were quite ferocious and snow drifts fast accumulating with blowing snow. Thankfully there was protection from the wind in the forest.
The 4k race was set to start 1 hour after the 8k race, and I wondered if I would be passed by a 4k runner before I finished – I was.
At the finish line (I made it!) I was presented with a giant-sized medal! Then I went inside for some hot soup and hot chocolate. Happy Trails is very eco-conscious, encouraging runners to use re-usable cups and bowls, and providing compostable options as well. I used my awesome new mug for soup, then rinsed it out so I could have hot chocolate before heading home.
It was a challenging race, but I’m glad I healed in time to be able to do it!
Time: 1:17:09 (9:39 min/km)
Placing women 45-49: 2/4
Placing all women: 14/24
Placing all runners: 35/46
Thank you Happy Trails for another great race, and Sue Sitki for your amazing photos!
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!
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!!
When I first heard about the Gong Show at the Happy Trails Tally in the Valley trail races at Dundas Valley Conservation Area, I thought it was a pretty neat concept – run a 7k loop at the sound of the gong, and continue to run the same 7k loop every hour on the hour as long as you can complete the loop within the hour. The last one still running after 24 hours wins – or if there is more than 1 runner to start the final loop after 23 hours, the first runner to complete the final loop will be the winner. Essentially, run for 23 hours and then sprint the last loop – crazy!
My plan was to get a long training run in, and to hopefully run 4 loops within the time limit. This was also the goal of Rebecca and her friend Victoria.
I had never run this 7k loop before , so all I knew was that it was hilly, and that 2k would be a slight downhill along the Brantford to Hamilton rail trail. This made it a little hard to estimate a pace that I could comfortably run it, while having time to rest between loops and not tiring my legs out too quickly. I should also mention that it was a very hot and humid day!
At the same time as the Gong Show, other races would be going on – a 7k race, and 6, 12 and 24 hour races!
The race began, and about 40 people in the Gong Show and many others in the other races started running. There was congestion right away as we climbed a hill, but then runners spread out over the next kilometre or so.
I walked the steep hills, and ran the rest. It was definitely hilly and hot, but thankfully there weren’t any bugs biting. I finished that 1st loop with 12 minutes to spare. I had a freezie, water and electrolyte, used the portapotty, tried to wash salt out of my eyes and then waited in the tent where Gong Show runners had to be when the gong was struck – or you’re out!
The gong sounded, and we were off again! This time, it was obvious who was doing the Gong Show, since we all started running together. There was even a guy wearing a rhinoceros costume (raising money for conservation). Did I mention it was hot out!?
On the 2nd loop, I appreciated the few cooler areas of the forest much more, as the day’s temperature continued to climb. I finished the 2nd loop with 11 minutes to spare, spending my time as I had after the 1st loop, and eating some watermelon and energy balls from the aid tent. The freezies were the best!
During the race I met Chantal Demers, who I learned is the current record holder for the Fastest Known Time for covering the entire Bruce Trail (for women): 12 days, 15 hours and 14 minutes (which she did in 2017)!!! Amazing! She would go on to win the Gong Show.
On the 3rd loop, I slowed slightly, finishing with about 8 minutes to spare. I knew that I had just one more loop to go. I couldn’t imagine doing that for 24 hours! I enjoyed yet another freezie, downed water and electroyte, and relaxed for a couple of minutes before heading out again.
I started the 4th loop knowing that I could complete 7k, even if I had to walk! It had been several weeks since I had run more than 21k, but I knew I could run 28. The hills seemed steeper and longer on this last loop. In the end, I finished the 4th loop with just under 5 minutes to spare. Had I been running longer distances lately (and not been worried about hurting myself before some upcoming big races), I know I could have done another loop within the hour.
But 28k was enough for me that day! After the race I had my 4th freezie of the day (!), as well as a few salty treats from the aid station. I guzzled water and after sitting in the shade for a while to cool off, I headed out. Both Rebecca and Victoria completed 4 laps too.
Kudos to the runners who made it much further than me, and to those who won!!
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!
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!
I haven’t been doing much road running lately, and I most definitely haven’t been working on speed, so I wasn’t sure what to expect of myself in this 10k race. I also spent more than an hour the night before orienteering in the woods in Hamilton near Albion Falls, climbing some pretty steep hills!
But the race began and I somehow ran a 5:18 first kilometre, which is likely a first for me! It’s the result of running in a pack at the start of a race, feeling good and not looking at my watch until I hit the 1k marker. No, I didn’t keep that pace up for the next 9k.
I spent pretty much the entire race chasing a boy (who I would later learn was 10) and his father, but was never quite able to stay with them. I finished my first 5k in 27:40, but slowed down in the second half (as usual!). I also spent the second half chasing a man who had used me as a pace setter in the first half. I wasn’t able to stay with him either, but we did congratulate each other at the finish line!
I was just 18 seconds off last year’s time – I’ll take it!
Five days before the 3rd annual Dion Winter Goose Chase 7k Snowshoe Race, we finally had enough snow for me to get out on my snowshoes for the first time this winter! And very quickly, I remembered just how much more difficult it is to run with snowshoes compared to running without them.
The race is held at Shades Mills Conservation Area in Cambridge. There is a very small building for race registration, post-race food, and bathrooms – the number of participants is limited because of the venue size.
After a few trips to the bathroom, I got myself and my gear organized in the car, and then put my snowshoes on. A few people around me were strapping snowshoes on for the very first time – many people rented them from the race for just $10 (great way to try them out without investing in your own pair!). I gave a few people advice on where your foot should sit, how to tell the left snowshoe from the right one (mine are not interchangeable), and how to go uphill while wearing them.
We all headed down to the beach just before the 10:30 AM race start.
After a short pre-race briefing, the race began, and we all started chasing the goose and gander (last year’s female and male race winners). To be honest I completely forgot about them once the race began.
I loved seeing the chunks of snow flying in the air off the backs of runners’ snowshoes (see pic above). My plan was to run as much as I could, but to walk the steep uphills. I remembered from last year’s race that the biggest hill was at the very end!
By the time we crossed the beach and entered the woods, runners had spread out. In most parts of the race course, which followed trails through the conservation area, the path was wide enough to allow passing. I remember just one place where we were all running on tramped down trail with much deeper snow on the sides, so whoever was on my tail waited until we got out of that section to pass me.
I used the runners in front of me as pace setters, trying not to let them get away (but many did anyway). I followed a friend named Ted for a while, then when he stopped to adjust his snowshoes I had to find a new target to chase. I passed other friends Mauro and Lisa (who I met during an orienteering race!), and then didn’t see anyone I knew until the race was done.
It wasn’t too long into the race before I first encountered snow clumping on the cleats of my snowshoes. This tends to happen when the temperature warms up and the snow gets sticky. Clumped snow makes it feel like I’m running on top of a small ball, and my ankles don’t like it at all. I had to continually kick my foot hard into the ground to knock the clumps off. I didn’t see anyone else having the same issues – I wonder if, as a friend suggested, it might be the very aggressive cleat on the Atlas Run snowshoe that causes the problem. I may rent Dion snowshoes next year to try them out.
The course was described in the pre-race briefing as rolling hills – make no mistake, it’s a hilly course! It is also very pretty. We were lucky that there was enough snow for snowshoes, given our winter so far.
The course was very well marked, and the race volunteers were great, ensuring at key intersections that runners went the right way. After the last big hill, which is also the longest (one of those hills that just seems to go on and on and on), I could start to hear people cheering at the finish line.
For the last couple of kilometres, I had the same guy behind me, and I kept wondering when he would pass me. After this hill? Around this corner? On the straightaway to the finish? Nope, he never did.
I hit the finish line in 54:37, for an average pace of 8:28 min/km. I was happy with how my race had gone, despite the snow clumping.
Just past the finish line was a fire, which I enjoyed for a few minutes.
I changed into dry clothes in my car, and then headed inside for the best post-race food anywhere – a gourmet pancake breakfast! Not 1, not 2, but 3 types of pancakes (regular, gluten-free, and vegan!), blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, bananas, chocolate chips, Nutella, whip cream, fruit sauce, butter, maple syrup and maybe more! Coffee, hot chocolate, and tea too. What a spread put on by the Cambridge Harriers running club! Thank you!
Once again, I really enjoyed myself . Thank you Lisa and Greg for another great race. See you next year!
Random runner to me as I walked into Burlington Central High School, wearing my kilt with bare legs, at -8 degrees Celsius feeling like -17C with the windchill: “You are brave!” “Or crazy!” I replied. “Or something!” she said.
I was a little surprised that I didn’t see anyone else with a kilt and bare legs before the race. I only spotted two teenagers wearing shorts. I briefly questioned whether I was indeed crazy, but I quickly dismissed that idea. Or at least satisfied myself that while my legs were going to be cold, they would be fine!
After picking up my race bib and plaid pants, I had lots of time to join one bathroom lineup after another, listen to the bagpipers, and then head for the start line. Alasdair would be cheering me on from the sidelines this year.
With a bit of snow having fallen overnight, the ground was slushy and slippery in places. Given the footing, I wasn’t quite sure how long it would take me to run the 8k. I told Alasdair that I’d be somewhere between 45 and 50 minutes. I didn’t really have any specific time goals for this race.
The race began, and as expected, the ground was slushy in places. Until the crowd thinned out, it was hard to pass people without stepping off the beaten path and into the slush. I think I was 2k in before I had space to run wherever I wanted to, meaning that at times I weaved as I went where the better pavement was!
I know this course quite well, with the majority of it being flat.
There are a few slight inclines, but really only one hill, between 6k and 7k. Was it ever windy along Lakeshore Rd. when we reached the downtown businesses! There was blowing snow (and blowing kilts!). I like this section of the course the least – I’m not sure why, but it might be the hill!
I spotted Alasdair in the last 500m of the race, where I opted to run on the sidewalk part of the time, because it was clearer than the road (with the exception of the very snowy sideroads that I had to cross).
I rounded the last corner and pushed as hard as I could. In the end I crossed the finish line in 46:17.7, good for 24/87 women 40-44! I was super happy with my race.
Believe it or not, my legs were just fine!
We headed inside, where I had a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of hot chocolate, watched the awards, and then headed out.
Thank you Burlington Runners for another great race!