Craving outdoor time? Here’s a super fun way to challenge your brain and body while discovering new places!

With COVID-19 resulting in the cancellation of events and races left, right and centre, the orienteering community has found a way to keep people active in the outdoors!

If you’re looking for a super fun way to challenge your brain and body while discovering new places, keep reading!

Bayfront Park, Hamilton.

Orienteering is an activity for everyone – walkers, runners, kids, families, seniors, and uber-competitive high performance athletes. You don’t need any special skills!

Pre-COVID-19, people would meet at a specific location at a specific time, register, get a map, plan their route, chat with others, and then take part in a race, in urban areas, forests, and in secluded wilderness areas (on foot, bike, canoe, etc.). Clearly this isn’t possible during COVID-19 restrictions.

Instead, clubs like Don’t Get Lost and Orienteering Ottawa have switched gears, offering orienteering opportunities for people to do on their own schedule, solo or as a family, as long as you have a smartphone or a smart watch.

Racing along the Bruce Trail

If you live in proximity to Hamilton/Burlington, Oakville, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Niagara, London and Barrie, Don’t Get Lost has orienteering opportunities for you! (I can’t speak to the events run by Orienteering Ottawa, as I live too far away to have taken part.)

Pretty waterfall along the course.

Don’t Get Lost X-league

I have been participating in X-league races for a few years now, and am thankful that races are still possible COVID-19 style. The premise is simple.

  • You register online.
  • You print the map at home.
  • You download the MapRun F app.
  • You go to the map start/finish location on your own with your map (no compass required!).
  • You walk or run the course on a mix of city streets and parks and trails within the allotted time limit (usually 40-60 minutes), while the MapRun F app does it’s thing in the background. COVID-19 style, there’s no orange/white flag to find. Your phone will beep when you’ve “found” the control.
  • You instantly see your results.
  • You go home.
  • If you want, you can connect with others in a Facebook group.

You can’t even get lost, because you can look on the app to see where you are if you’re not sure. Another bonus – these races are very inexpensive! Some are FREE to try right now!

If you’re into all things data, you can look at the results of everyone who did the race. You can see:

  • route taken
  • time taken
  • distance run
  • points earned

You can even see everyone moving in “real time” – i.e. as if everyone started at the same time, their dots move and you can see who went where and how quickly. Below is a snapshot of the animation showing everyone moving at once. You can watch a snapshot of just your route, or of any combination of people.

You can even see if anyone ran off the map. Below, you’ll see someone went for a long swim (!) and someone else ran across the railroad tracks (!). Both very unlikely – probably GPS confusion!

To learn more, check out the X-league page for all the details!

These races are a great way to try orienteering for the very first time, or to keep working on your navigation skills.

In addition to X-league races, Don’t Get Lost is also holding a few other races this summer. You can check them out on their website.

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Running the Bruce Trail End to End: Blue Mountains Section

I’ve now completed 6 sections of the Bruce Trail (there are 9)!

What’s the Bruce Trail? According to the Bruce Trail Conservancy website, the Bruce Trail is “Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath. Running along the Niagara Escarpment in southern Ontario from Niagara to Tobermory, the Bruce Trail spans more than 890 km of main Trail and over 400 km of associated side trails.”

The forest felt a little spooky on this wet, overcast day.
Giant puffball.

BLUE MOUNTAINS SECTION

Started the Blue Mountains section: October 19, 2019

Finished the Blue Mountains section: December 8, 2019

Run details

October 19, 2019 – 20th Sideroad/Prince of Wales Road to Lavender cemetery – 18 km (with Kris)

October 27, 2019 – Lavender cemetery to Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area – 22.1 km (with Kris)

November 30, 2019 – Nottawasaga Bluffs Conservation Area to Nottawasaga Lookout Provincial Nature Reserve – 21.4 km (with Kris)

December 8, 2019 – Nottawasaga Lookout Provincial Nature Reserve to Maple Lane in Ravenna – 25.2 km (with Kris)

Run stats

  • # runs: 4
  • # solo runs: 0
  • # runs with my husband Alasdair: 0
  • # runs with friends: 4 (Kris)
  • shortest run: 18 km
  • longest run: 25.2 km
  • average length of run: 21.7 km

Run highlights

Near the Nottawasaga Lookout Provincial Nature Reserve

Prettiest sunrise: The sunrise was so pretty that I had to pull over and take a picture. This was just a couple of kilometres from our end point for the run, where we met to leave one car – not too far from Maple Lane in Ravenna.

Barred owl in the centre of the picture (see brown blob!).

Wildlife sightings: A missed blaze and an accidental short trek off-trail near the Nottawasaga Bluffs meant that my friend Kris and I were led right to a Barred Owl! It was my first time seeing one in the wild (though I have heard many while backcountry camping), and first time ever seeing an owl while I was running (or walking!) – once I saw one while in a moving vehicle. It was beautiful, and had a huge wingspan. Sadly, we couldn’t get too close for a picture, but I promise you, the owl is in the picture! 

Whee!

Most non-running fun/neat finds: Not far from one of the ski lifts at Blue Mountain we found a rope swing, which just begged to be used!

Best natural art: I spotted this on the side of the road as we ran by on a very windy day!

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Race report: Raid the Hammer 2019

This year’s Don’t Get Lost Raid the Hammer was to be my first time doing the “full” Raid – in previous years, I have always done the “half”. It was also the first time that Rebecca and I would race with Heidi (in preparation for Wilderness Traverse 2020). However, Rebecca was sick on race morning, so our team of 3 became a team of 2, which meant we weren’t able to do the full Raid and be included in the official results. We had two options: 1) full Raid (unranked), or 2) half Raid (ranked). We chose #1!

We picked up our race maps at St. Ann Catholic Elementary School in Hamilton (3 of 4 maps – one would be given out during the race), and planned our route. Given that I ran the Happy Trails The Beav 25k trail race the day before, we planned to run as smart a race as we could, nailing the navigation to make up for my tired legs!

Pre-race with Heidi.

Map 1

Matrix

When the race began, Heidi and I took off in different directions. In the Matrix, teammates could stick together or split up to find the 10 checkpoints (A to I). This section could be done at the beginning of the race, at the end of the race, or a mix of the two. We planned to do it at the beginning. We decided that Heidi would do the 4 controls north of Wilson Street, and I would do the 6 to the south, with slightly less running. At these checkpoints, we had to answer a question about the feature that was there (e.g. number on hydro pole, name of person on bench). With the exception of the first one, where I ended up on the wrong side of the creek to start with, I found all of these easily. No compass was required. I was hoping to beat Heidi to our meeting point so that I could rest briefly, but she beat me by less than a minute!

After running along the Bruce Trail over Highway 403, we were onto map 2.

Maps 1 and 2 (of 4).

Map 2

Game of Thorns (CP1 to CP2)

In this section, we needed our compass, and an ability to scour a forest for “a distinct tree”. We found the controls, but none of the trees jumped out at us!

Blackout (CP3 to CP8)

In this section, trails were removed from the map, but we were able to use some anyway to find the controls. Our navigation continued to be bang on!

Maps 3 and 4 (of 4).

Map 3

Gnarly Run and Photo Shoot (CP9)

It was a 3k run along the Bruce Trail to Sherman Falls, where we would be photographed with our teammates (instead of inserting our SI stick into an SI reader).

A very springy bridge, which felt super wonky when 2 people ran on it at the same time!
At Sherman Falls.

Dundas Valley Traverse I (CP10 to CP11)

From here we headed into the Dundas Valley Conservation Area, where we found CP10 and then CP11 (the aid station). We each had to show that we were carrying a whistle and an emergency blanket, and then we were given map 4. We grabbed some of the snacks at the aid station, and then studied the map briefly to decide which 5 of the 7 controls we wanted to get.

Map 4

Scramble (CP12 to CP 18)

We opted for 18 and then 15, which were just off a main trail down steep hills. From there we ran along trails for a short while before crossing a log over a creek. While we managed to stay dry, we found out after the race that at least one person went for an unintentional swim here!

We climbed yet another steep hill to find 14 – in fact, this entire map involved lots of ups and downs. My tired legs were slow on the uphills!

From the time we hit 17 until almost the end of the race, we kept running into the same team at the controls, though we would choose different routes and yet still arrive almost at the same time.

After control 12 we looked for the least steep part of the hill to climb down to the creek, and then climbed up the hills on the other side. We then followed a trail all the way back to the aid station. We handed in our hand-punched map, ate some more aid station goodies, and then went back to map 3.

Map 3 (continued)

Dundas Valley Traverse II (CP20 to 24)

To get to CP 20, we opted to run a longer distance along trails, because bushwhacking directly there would have involved significant ups and downs, and more potential to get lost. From there, we again set out on trails, but planned to bushwhack a couple of times on our way to CP 21, down a steep hill, through a creek, up the steep bank on the other side, and then later, following a contour line and keeping a creek in sight. It worked!

Then it was a trail run to the “brawn” or “brain” section, where we had to choose which CP22 to do (climb all the way up the hill for an easy to find control, or half way up for a harder to find one). We chose the latter.

At this point, we knew that we had just 2 more controls to find before a 2k run to the finish line.

After CP23, we spotted the race photographer at CP24, and then it was a final push to the finish line!

Heidi making sure I’m still with her!
At this point, I had covered 51k in about the last 28 hours.
Just a 2k run left!

Unfortunately, the 2k run back was a net uphill. My legs were pretty tired at this point, 26k into the race, so I had to take some walking breaks!

But after 5 hours, 2 minutes and 55 seconds, Heidi and I crossed the finish line! We had covered 28k, and 1400m of elevation gain.

Post-race!

We worked really well together, and our navigation was near perfect! It was super fun! I’m looking forward to racing with Heidi again. And look out Tree Huggers, we’re coming for you!!

Our race route – 28k through Ancaster.

After the race, it was time for some well deserved food! Yum!

Delicious post-race food from Johnny Blonde food truck.

Race results:

  • Time: 5:02:55
  • Placing: Unranked, since we were a team of 2, but had we been a team of 3 females, we would have been 2nd! Woot!

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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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Race report: Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race Long Course 2019

“Let the waters of Georgian Bay be calm.” In the months, days and weeks leading up to the Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race, my longest solo race to date, this was my biggest hope for race morning. I knew that if I could get through the 16k kayak, I should be able to complete the rest of the race (a 32k mountain bike ride, 8k trail run, 24k mountain bike ride, and then 16k trail run) within the 12 hour time limit. It wouldn’t be easy, but I thought it was doable (after doing some math with the time cut-offs), even though this would be my first time racing the long course (I did the short course in 2017 and 2018 in a team of 2 females). I might be chasing the time cut-offs, but I was hopeful that I could do it. This was my main goal for the day – finish within the 12 hour time limit.

The 2018 edition of the long course race saw many kayaks flipping in choppy waters. And while I did get kayak training in before the race, none of it involved big waves. Given that I used to whitewater kayak, big waves shouldn’t really scare me, but I wasn’t quite sure how well I’d do climbing back into a kayak in the middle of Georgian Bay!

Friday night race check-in and gear drop

Here I am front right with my bike checking in with 2 volunteers.

On the Friday night, I went through the check-in process at the Wiarton arena, picking up my race kit in the process (which included a race buff, a pair of compression socks, and race stickers to put on various stuff). I verified with volunteers that I had the mandatory gear, left my bike to be loaded onto a truck, and left the kayak I would be using (which belonged to the friend of a friend) and most paddling gear to be transported to the race start.

First time camping right on the Bruce Trail! See the white blazes on the tree. That’s Georgian Bay in the background.

Saturday – race day!

My race day 4 AM alarm was a rude awakening after a very short sleep in my tent. Loud non-racing neighbours at the Bluewater Park Campground in Wiarton (where the race would end) kept me awake, despite me wearing earplugs. Lesson learned. My 5 minute walk to the arena and busses didn’t make up for my lack of sleep!

Just before 5 AM – and before the sun was up – I boarded a school bus with my kayak paddle and lots of other racers!

Once at the race site, I was relieved to see that the water didn’t look too bad at all! No whitecaps! I was feeling better about the paddle segment already.

Sun rising on Georgian Bay.

I found a bush to pee in, and then got in a lineup for the sole portapotty when I learned there was one (it was still dark when we arrived and I didn’t see it). I was in the line when race organizers told us to start unloading the kayaks from the trailers. I didn’t leave the line! Later I found my kayak at the water’s edge, got everything organized, put my PFD on, and then listened to the pre-race briefing. We were told – in no uncertain terms – that we could face bears, snakes, and steep cliffs during the race, and that no one was making us do the race! We could skip the paddle and hop on our bikes when the first racers started biking. We could quit the race at any time.

16k kayak

When it was time to get into the kayaks, racer #41 helped me by holding the kayak while I got in, and then pushing me out into deeper water. Thank you again!

I’m on the far left.

I chatted with other racers while we waited for the race to start. Somehow I ended up waiting near the front of all the racers, which wasn’t where I wanted to be! I knew I wouldn’t be one of the faster paddlers. Thankfully, I managed to drop back a bit before the race began.

I’m on far left on the bottom.

On the count of “3, 2, 1, risk!” (no kidding), the race began, and I managed to avoid the bumper boats going on around me. Apparently one boat did flip, but I didn’t know that until I saw a picture after the race.

The kayak leg started with a 3k paddle to a volunteer standing on a dock where we had to call out our bib #. Next we paddled another 5k to the turnaround point.

Love this pic of me paddling as the sun was rising!

At times on the 1st half of the paddle I had trouble keeping the boat straight, having to continually paddle only on one side. When I made the turn at the half-way point (after around 1 hour 2 minutes), I thought, “Wow! It’s easier going this way.” But it didn’t take long to realize I was wrong. While the kayak tracked better on the way back, I was actually paddling into the wind. I was tiring and my butt fell asleep, so the 2nd half of the paddle was actually harder! I was also so thirsty, but didn’t want to stop paddling to take a sip from my water bottle. I did drink eventually. At times there were pretty big waves coming from multiple directions at once. I tried to straighten my legs and shift around, but nothing could fix my numb butt!

There were 10 or so kayaks behind me, including at least one tandem. I paddled back to the volunteer on the dock, and then with 3k to go, I headed for the take-out. This part seemed to take forever. I was so ready to be done the paddle. By this time, I also really had to pee!

After a total of around 2 hours and 25 minutes, I was done the paddle. The awesome volunteers held the boat while I got out, then took it away, making sure I had whatever I needed from it (I had to grab my mandatory gear, which included my first aid kit).

Getting gear out of the kayak while a volunteer holds it.

In transition I used the portapotty, ate, put my bike shoes and helmet on, put my paddling gear in “Bag A” (which would be transported to the finish line), grabbed food from Bag A and put it in my bike frame bag, and set out for my first ride of the day!

32k mountain bike leg

The bike started out okay, on a country road. But before long, we turned into a trail. From there the ride was a mix of road (paved and gravel) and trail, with the most technical riding I’ve ever done. There were rocks, roots, logs, mud, steep hills, and combinations of these things all at once. Not too far into the ride I realized I was carrying too much water in my camelbak (too heavy!), so I stopped and dumped some out. Much better. For most of this leg, I felt like I was riding alone. At times I could see someone ahead of me or behind me, which was reassuring when I wasn’t sure I was going the right way and I spotted another racer ahead (or someone followed me).

At one point, I noticed that the quick release on my rear tire was loose, so I tightened it. Later, on the last, steepest descent, which I was walking my bike down, I heard a noise, and noticed that my rear wheel wasn’t turning. I lifted the back of my bike up, and the wheel fell off!! Thankfully, it happened while I was walking my bike. I tried to get the wheel back into place but wasn’t having any luck. Thankfully, another racer appeared at the top of the hill, and very graciously stopped to help me (THANK YOU AGAIN!!!). Two others stopped and helped too, racer #57 and someone I knew, Anne. I was very lucky to have help.

After we all started moving again, the other woman (not Anne) said that she didn’t think we would meet the cut-off to be able to do the first run segment. I was surprised, because it felt like I had been doing really well. But the technical nature of the ride meant that it had taken me a while to do it – around 2 hours and 25 minutes!

I reached the transition area before the cut-off, but one of the race organizers told me that to maximize my chance of completing the entire course, he recommended that I shorten the first run from 8k to 4k (or to whatever I wanted). He said that the time cut-offs get more and more aggressive as the race goes on. I understood that the second ride was more technical, so I decided that it would be better to put any extra time I had into the ride rather than into an 8k run.

Before setting out on the run, I ate food from my Bag B, drank gatorade set up at a little table, and topped up the water bottle on my bike (which I added a Nuun tablet to).

4k trail run

So I set out to run 2k in and 2k out. It was on the Bruce Trail, which had ups and downs and twists and turns. I walked the steepest hills, and arrived back at the transition area well before the cut-off for the next mountain bike leg (the run took me around 46 minutes). I packed by Bag B into a van, so that it would be waiting for me at the next transition area.

24k mountain bike leg

I was a little concerned about this second bike leg, given that it was supposedly going to be even more technical! However, it didn’t turn out like that at all. Plus, I rode more aggressively and got off my bike less. I’m still not experienced (or confident!) enough on my mountain bike to know what it can handle, and what I can handle! But I tried to stay clipped in as much as I possibly could. On one of the trail sections that had lots of small rocks that I had to manoeuvre around, I made a tight turn and to my horror spotted a garter snake right in my path. Unfortunately, I rode right over it. “Oh, buddy!” I said. I hope he survived, but I couldn’t turn back to look or I’d crash my bike!

Somewhere near the end I was sure I had gone the wrong way. I hadn’t seen race markers for a while (the course was very well marked), though I didn’t want to turn around because I would have to go back up a steep hill… I wanted to be sure I was off course. Then I spotted 2 volunteers and was so relieved!! I have to say that the race volunteers, from those at race registration to those on the course were amazing!! Thank you everyone!!

In this bike leg, I passed 2 dogs off leash – thankfully they left me alone, but one racer wasn’t so lucky. I heard at the next transition that one of the dogs had bitten his tire! Once again, I arrived with lots of time to spare before the cut-off. I had some more food, applied more sunscreen, and set out for the finish line! This bike leg took me around 1 hour 50 minutes.

16k trail run leg

I was not familiar with the first 9k of this run segment, but had run the final 7k twice before as part of the short course race. I asked one of the organizers at the transition area what to expect, and he gave me a run-down. It turns out the 16k was a mix of Bruce Trail and side trail, road, farmer’s field, and circular stairs. Much of it runs along the edge of the escarpment overlooking Georgian Bay. There was a net downhill, but lots of little ups and downs. It was also in the last few km’s along the Bruce Trail that I encountered the most non-racers I saw all day.

My 16k “run” was a run/walk mix.

Unfortunately, for the last 30 minutes or more of the run, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had to pee, despite stopping to pee several times! It was rather annoying.

It turns out my fastest km on this run segment was the last (it was on a paved road and then a path past my tent in Bluewater Park). My legs felt good – my cardio was the limiting factor. This run leg took me nearly 2 1/2 hours.

After 10 hours 20 minutes and 43.3 seconds, I crossed the finish line!

Done!

I was relieved to be done, and so happy with how my race went. I didn’t care that I ran 4k less than I was supposed to, and that officially I would be disqualified from the race. I felt that I had made the right decision in the moment, to shorten the run to make sure I wasn’t stopped later in the course and not permitted to continue. Maybe if I had run the 8k I would have made the cut-offs, but who knows?

It was a tough race, but I’ll be back. I’m looking forward to completing the full course.

Thanks Kelly for the pic!

After a veggie burger and chocolate milk, I watched the rest of the awards (they had started before I finished the race), and then headed over to the arena to get my gear, which had been transported from various points on the race course. I had initially planned to camp again that night, but given my horrible sleep pre-race, I decided to drive home where I knew I would be undisturbed.

Thank you Peninsula Adventure Sports Association for an awesome race!!

Race results

The winner finished in 6 hours and 32 minutes. The winning female finished in 8 hours and 5 minutes. Only 5 of 11 women finished the full course. See below for more stats!

  • # racers who started the race: 67
  • # racers who finished the race: 54
  • # racers who were disqualified (including me): 11
  • # racers who did not finish: 2
  • # women who started the race: 11
  • # women who finished the race: 5
  • # women who were disqualified (including me): 6

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Race report: SCAR Championship 2019

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.

Sometimes adventure racing looks like this.

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).

My canoe is the yellow one in front. [Official race photo]

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.

Rebecca in the bow.

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.

Paddle done.

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.

Enjoying the short break!

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.

Thank you for a great race! We’ll be back.

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