Raid the Hammer 2020

In a year when most races were cancelled due to COVID-19, it was exciting that Don’t Get Lost was still able to go ahead with Raid the Hammer.

This year’s race shirt.

The weather even cooperated with a forecasted temperature of 20 degrees Celsius – in November! This meant that teams were able to comfortably sit outside (some brought lawn chairs, others blankets!) to plan their routes. Normally, there would be an indoor venue, but not this year. Instead, we got the great outdoors and some portapotties.

At race registration masks were required, and only one teammate picked up race maps and handed over “declaration of health” forms for each teammate.

There was map 1, map 2, map 3, race instructions and a map bag for each teammate. The race instructions provided more details for each control (e.g. stream junction, ruin, ditch, tunnel entrance, vegetation boundary, fence end, thicket), and whether we were looking for a traditional orienteering flag, a ribbon, a feature (e.g. a sign) or a virtual control.

Heidi, Rebecca and I would be racing together for the first time. We sat on a blanket wearing masks and planned our race route, slightly overwhelmed at the sheer number of controls to find (44)! For each control, we talked about options for going from one to the next – e.g. follow a trail, or take a bearing and bushwhack. Heidi is our chief navigator (and fitness “machine”, as Rebecca put it)!

The race started at Bernie Arbour Memorial Stadium in East Hamilton, on top of the escarpment. But looking at the race maps, we knew we would be climbing down, and up, and down, and up some more before returning to the finish.

This race featured staggered start times to reduce the number of people at the start, and the number of people teams would meet at controls (it worked!). In addition, instead of hand touching a flag or ribbon at a control, we used a free app called Map Run F, which based on GPS location knew that we had found a control.

We were ready to start our race around 9 AM, so with our watches and phones ready to go, we headed for the start control.

Map 1: controls 1 to 6

This part of the course had us descend the escarpment, run through King’s Forest Golf Course, and climb the escarpment again, at one point searching for a control in an area of the map that the trails had been removed from (for the added challenge). I had my first fall of the race early on (those darn tripping hazards hidden under leaves!). In this section we encountered a group of mountain bikers, who we then saw again a couple more times later in the race – as they noted, we went the “direct route”!

Map 2: controls 6 to 14

Moving onto map 2 we felt like we were making progress! In this section of the race, we ran on the Bruce Trail for a while towards Felker’s Falls. We left control 7 at around the same time as a team of 3 guys, and while they were running faster, we arrived at control 8 sooner – it’s not all about speed! We made the better route decision (which they acknowledged!). We didn’t change our planned route much during the race, but we did follow a different vegetation boundary from 9 to 10 (the northern one) and cut some distance off that way. We were looking in the wrong thicket for 10 but didn’t waste too much time before we figured that out. Just before control 14 I wiped out again, falling hard! After control 14 it was time to move to map 3!

Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost – control 11.

Map 3: controls 14 to 25

We missed a small, leaf-covered trail to control 15, and once we saw how close we were getting to Albion Falls, we confirmed that we had indeed run too far. We had to backtrack a bit and climb up the escarpment, then down again. In fact the course planner suspected many people would make this exact error. Part of this map also involved a section called “run the line”, in which we had to follow the route outlined through a residential area to find controls that were not indicated on the map (“virtual controls”). Two involved sets of stairs (because, why not climb some more?!). We were getting close to being done with map 3 for good! We just had to find a couple of controls at Battlefield Park (including a monument at the top of – you guessed it – a set of stairs) and then a couple more along trails before we went back to map 2. My watch, which was running Map Run G – the app for Garmin watches that connects with the Map Run F phone app, went crazy when we passed control 14 again and then quickly reached 25. It started buzzing over and over again, registering that we kept finding 14 and 25. The app clearly thought I was running back and forth between the controls:

25, 25, 14, 14, 14, 25, 14, 25, 14, 25, 14, 25

Thankfully, as long as you visit the controls in the right order (13, 14, 15… 25…) it’s okay if you visit them again.

Map 2 (again): controls 25 to 37

We were relieved to be done with map 3, because it meant we were getting closer to the finish line! Control 27 was a manned checkpoint, where each team was checked off a list (it would help in the case of a team not being finished by the course cut-off time). In this section of the race, we had the option to travel through a tunnel, or climb up and over the road. We chose the tunnel route. Heidi slipped on wet concrete getting down to the tunnel (but did not fall), yelled, and the sound and echo in the tunnel was crazy!

Control 31.

Then after control 33, we had to climb a metal fence to get onto a sidewalk.

At control 35.

After a few more controls that we accessed via trails, we switched back to map 1 and left map 2 for good!

Map 1 (again): controls 37 to the 44 and the finish

After control 37, we were back at King’s Forest Golf Course. Part of this section involved a couple of controls in the section of the map that had the trails removed. Despite there being no trails on the map, we were partly able to use trails in real life to find the controls. From there we had to climb the escarpment again, do a little more compass work, and then from control 44, head to the finish line!

Another creek crossing.

It’s safe to say we were all relieved to be done! It was super fun, but exhausting. We covered 27.5 km in 5 hours and 9 minutes. The three of us worked well together, and our navigation was nearly spot on!

Another great race!

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What it’s like to orienteer during COVID-19

Thankfully, orienteering is a sport that lends itself to COVID-19 restrictions. It’s outdoors, and really easy to stay away from other people – in particular when you can run a course any day or time you chose!

Join me for a 60 second overview of orienteering during these crazy times: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSXwFM1V/

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Running the Bruce Trail End to End: Beaver Valley Section

I’ve now completed 7 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.”

Such pretty creeks and waterfalls in this section.

BEAVER VALLEY SECTION

Started the Beaver Valley section: September 14, 2019

Finished the Beaver Valley section: October 31, 2020

Run details

September 14, 2019 – Beaver Valley Ski Club to Beaver Valley Ski Club as part of the Happy Trails Falling Water marathon – covered Wodehouse Karst to Grey County Road 13 – 42k (with Kris)

September 19, 2020 – Maple Lane in Ravenna to Kolapore Grey County Road 2 – 24k (with Kris)

October 3, 2020 – Kolapore Grey County Road 2 to Grey County Road 13 – 30k (with Kris)

October 17, 2020 – Wodehouse Karst Management Area to Webwood Falls Nature Reserve – 25k (with Kris)

October 31, 2020 – Webwood Falls Nature Reserve to Walter’s Falls side trail – 24k (with Kris)

Unique “stepped” creek.

Run stats

  • # runs: 5
  • # solo runs: 0
  • # runs with my husband Alasdair: 0
  • # runs with friends: 5 (Kris!)
  • shortest run: 24k
  • longest run: 42k
  • average length of run: 29k

Run highlights

Most difficult day: The most difficult day was definitely the day my friend Kris and I covered 42k of road and trail as part of the Happy Trails Falling Water marathon. We ran (and walked!) about 31k of the main trail that day, with the rest of the race being on side trails. It was our first time racing together, and a first trail marathon for each of us. Read all about it and see pictures here.

Wildlife encounters: Other than cows, horses, birds, squirrels and dogs, we spotted a grouse in this section. And speaking of cows, we climbed a stile into a farmer’s field and were immediately approached by a very vocal cow who didn’t seem too happy to see us walking through the field. We had the cows approaching from the left and an electric fence on the right. Some kind words and a steady pace got us to the stile at the other end of the field!

One annoyed cow!

Coolest plant matter: fungi galore!

Favourite part of this section (which is one of my favourite sections so far): the waterfalls! I loved stumbling across so many unexpected cute little waterfalls, almost all of which we got to enjoy completely on our own.

Fall splendour: I covered this section entirely in the fall, with some of the lookouts providing amazing views of changing tree colours.

Some tiny flowers were still holding on for dear life…in the frost.

Best trail snack: a pear on the forest floor!

Yum.

Something I’ll remember this section for: the elevation changes! Up, down, up, down, and repeat.

Thank you volunteers for keeping us safe!

Progress so far: I was surprised to discover that I am now about 3/4 of the way along the trail!

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Race report: The Beav 25k trail race 2019

The 2019 edition of The Beav 25k trail race put on by Happy Trails kicked off a big weekend of racing for me, with a 25-30k adventure race on the schedule for the next day (Don’t Get Lost Raid the Hammer).

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.

Pre-race with Rebecca.

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!

[Photo by Sue Sitki Photography]

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.

[Photo by Sue Sitki photography]

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.

Awesome race hoodie and race medal.

The post-race cup of noodle soup went down nicely!

Race course starting and ending at Hilton Falls Conservation Area.

I was relieved to not have knee issues during the race. I felt it briefly at 14k, and that was pretty much it!

Thank you Happy Trails for another great race!

Race stats:

  • Time: 3:13:55
  • Placing women 40-59: 17/66
  • Placing all women: 26/90
  • Placing all runners: 75/162

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Running the Bruce Trail End to End: Dufferin Hi-Land Section

I’ve now completed 5 sections of the Bruce Trail (there are 9)!

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

DUFFERIN HI-LAND SECTION

Started the Dufferin Hi-Land section: June 3, 2019

Finished the Dufferin Hi-Land section: October 19, 2019

Lush green of a June forest.

Run details

June 3, 2019 – Hockley Road to Highway 89 – 25k (solo)

June 29, 2019 – Highway 89 to 20 Sideroad/Prince of Wales Road – 27.4k (with Kris)

October 19, 2019 – 20 Sideroad/Prince of Wales Road to 2k north of the Mulmur-Nottawasaga Townline parking and back to the parking by the cemetary – 18k (with Kris)

Climbing a stile.

Run stats

  • # runs: 3
  • # solo runs: 1
  • # runs with my husband Alasdair: 0
  • # runs with friends: 2 (Kris!)
  • shortest run: 18k
  • longest run: 27.4k
  • average length of run: 21.1k

Run highlights

Perfect running conditions: On June 3 the ground was almost completely dry, there were no bugs, the sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and the temperature was a comfortable 15C or so!

Wrong turns: My friend Kris and I were clearly too engrossed in conversation to follow the blazes. We missed trail turns a couple of times, running a little more than we needed to!

Pretty valley!

Best post-run cooling station: The little waterfall at 20 Sideroad/Prince of Wales Road! We doused our faces with cold water. So refreshing. 

Most gorgeous fall colours: Starting around 8 AM, it was around -2C on October 19 at 20 Sideroad/Prince of Wales Road. The frost just added to the beautiful fall colours!

Love those fall colours!

Wildlife sightings: The most memorable wildlife sighting in this section of the Bruce Trail was a Great Crested Flycatcher – I had no idea what kind of bird it was when I spotted it, but found out through some google searching. I also sought confirmation from other members of the Bruce Trail Facebook group.

Great Crested Flycatcher!

Single vehicle run: My husband dropped me just south of Hockley Valley and then parked at my end point just south of Boyne Valley Provincial Park, and then while I ran 25k, he biked and then ran, with me picking him up at his end point. Most of the time, my runs have involved a running companion and 2 cars.

Neat finds:  A Bruce Trail log book!

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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: Happy Trails Tally in the Valley Gong Show trail 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!

The gong [Photo by Sue Sitki Photography]

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.

Pre-race with the gong

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!?

[Photo by Sue Sitki Photography]

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.

[Photo by Sue Sitki Photography]

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!!

Neat race. I’ll be back!

Race splits

  • 47:44
  • 48:42
  • 51:42
  • 55:06
Race swag! Awesome tiny whistle, buff, and t-shirt.

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Running the Bruce Trail End to End: Caledon Hills Section

I’ve now completed 4 sections of the Bruce Trail (there are 9)!

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

Taking a well-deserved snack break on a stile.

CALEDON SECTION

Started the Caledon section: April 22, 2019

Finished the Caledon section: June 3, 2019

Run details

April 22, 2019 – Silver Creek Conservation Area to Forks of the Credit – 22.9k (solo)

May 12, 2019 – Forks of the Credit to Finnerty Sideroad – 22.7k

May 18, 2019 – Finnerty Sideroad to Hockley Road – 27.3k (solo)

June 3, 2019 – Hockley Road to Highway 89 – 25k (solo)

Run stats

  • # runs: 4
  • # solo runs: 3
  • # runs with my husband Alasdair: 0 (but we did leapfrog each other on the trail!)
  • # runs with friends: 1 (Laura!)
  • shortest run: 22.7k
  • longest run: 27.3k
  • average length of run: 24.5k
With Laura!

Run highlights

Spring flowers: In this section I first saw spring flowers on the trail.

Most hilly: My run from Finnerty Sideroad to Hockley Road was most definitely the hilliest part! Lots of stairs too.

Scariest moment: The few seconds it took me to fall hard on both knees. And then I had to run another 10k!

Great Crested Flycatcher (a new bird for me!)

Wildlife sightings: Scarlet Tanager, Great Crested Flycatcher, porcupine, hairy coo!

Porcupine – my first on the trail!

Favourite run: My run from just south of Hockley Valley to just south of Boyne Valley Provincial Park – the ground was almost completely dry, there were no bugs, the sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and the temperature was a comfortable 15C or so. I scared 4 turkey vultures out of the woods, and couldn’t identify a large animal that ran off the trail into the woods later – maybe a turkey. I saw a Great Crested Flycatcher (had never heard of one before that day), and then finished the Caledon section of the trail!

Most memorable encounter with other hikers/runners: I met Christopher L from the Bruce Trail Facebook group, who is also working on completing the entire trail from south to north. I had seen his posts on the group, then he recognized me one day on the trail just south of Hockley Valley. Plus we randomly colour coordinated outfits, so there’s that too.

Christopher L!

Neat finds:  Cheltenham Badlands – represents geological processes that have occurred over the last 450 million years

Roads: The Caledon section of the trail had a lot of road running. I’d rather be in the woods, but the road made for easier running.

Green: This section brought the end of snow and the beginnings of new growth in the forest!

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Race report: Storm the Trent Trek Elite 2019

After a great first experience doing Storm the Trent Trek in Haliburton in 2018, my race partner Rebecca and I decided to do Storm the Trent Trek Elite this year – i.e. the long version!

On race morning we dropped our bikes off at Glebe Park, my canoe off at Head Lake Park downtown Haliburton, and then we headed for A.J. LaRue Arena to check in.

We signed waivers, got our race maps and race instructions, grabbed a couple of chairs, and set about planning our route.

There were 19 checkpoints, which we would find by canoeing, running, biking, and then running again. Some of the checkpoints would have volunteers at them, and other would be un-manned. At all of them, we would have to check in with our SI stick. Some of the course would be a marked route or mandatory route, and for the rest of it we had to make our own route.

Canoe and paddle gear ready to go – as the sun rises.

After reading through the instructions and figuring out how the race would play out, we had time to chat with other racers, eat, and head upstairs for the pre-race briefing.

Race planning done.

Then it was time to walk a few blocks to Head Lake Park for the start of the race! We hit the water and waited with everyone else for a few minutes until the race began.

Just about go time!

We knew that we wouldn’t be the fastest boat out there, and that we would be able to follow the other canoes and kayaks – and that’s just what we did. About 15 minutes after the race started, it began to rain… and then pour! Thankfully, it wasn’t very windy so the paddling wasn’t difficult! We reached the floating checkpoint 1 (CP1) in about 35 minutes, with just a few boats arriving after us. In addition to using the SI stick, we had to yell our team number to volunteers on shore so they could check us off their list. Rebecca was the keeper of the SI stick for this race.

Then we headed back for Head Lake Park! We actually made it back in less time than it took us to get there – a negative split! Woot!

Canoe time: 1:08:53 (according to my watch) for 8k

Back out of the water I had to keep taking breaks carrying the canoe with Rebecca. I figured out later that my paddling gloves were the problem – I had no grip!

We left the canoe in the transition area, checked in at CP2, made a portapotty pitstop, and headed on foot to Glebe Park. Rebecca was very cold at the start of the run (we were soaked)! We ran 2-3k to the park, checked in at CP3, and then headed into the woods to look for CP22, 23, 24, and 25. For this section, we had to switch maps from the main race map to Supplemental Map #1. This section is where things went haywire! Right away we got confused with the trails we saw in front of us and the trails on the map – we couldn’t match them up. We were looking for a snowmobile trail, which we thought would be wider and obvious, but it most definitely wasn’t! We actually scrapped our plan to find CP23, 24, and 25 first on a looped trail, and instead followed people to what we eventually figured out would be CP22 – we knew there must be something there if they were going that way! It was once we reached CP22 that we knew for sure where we were.

Unfortunately, this didn’t really help! We bushwhacked through the forest and across 2 trails, thinking we knew where we were. But things still didn’t make sense to us, and we eventually ended up pretty much back at our starting place at Glebe Park. We headed out – again – and finally got ourselves onto the loop where we would find CP23, 24, and 25. It was incredibly muddy on parts of the trek section.

Once we found these 3 checkpoints, we headed back for Glebe Park, thinking we were retracing our route. But we encountered a rope across the trail and knew right away that we hadn’t been there before. However, we weren’t alone, running into another team doing the same race as us, and a couple of guys doing the shorter Trek race solo.

Intended route in orange highlighting. Note the big red OUT OF BOUNDS areas…
Now note our path straight through the OUT OF BOUNDS area (the upside down U-shape in the middle of the picture).

Turns out our route back was more efficient. Comparing our actual route versus the course map and our highlighted intended route, I can totally see now that we went straight through the red rectangular PRIVATE PROPERTY out of bounds section. Yikes. That was not our intent. Clearly, we were confused!! And analyzing our route now, I can see that our return route was on the snowmobile trail that we were so desperately seeking at the beginning of the trek! We ran much further than we needed to.

Run time: 2:23:44 for 13.6k

We checked back in at CP3, and then headed for our bikes. We ate while getting ourselves organized, putting our bike shoes, gloves and helmets on, and strapping our trail shoes to our camelbaks.

Then we headed out for the first part of the bike course, an out and back in search of CP30, 31, and 4. Just after CP30 we encountered the first flooded dirt road, but this year, we decided to ride straight through it. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time. I couldn’t see beneath the water’s surface, so I was taken down by a rock that knocked me off balance.

Not too much further along, an even deeper section of flooded road awaited us! Picture a fairly narrow, gravel, pot-holed, small and big rock-strewn road with a couple of feet of water on it. Now imagine trying to ride your bike through it. The trick for me was to ride as steadily as I could in my granny gear and not slow down. But it was a bumpy, unpredictable ride and once again, I fell over! Another racer caught up to Rebecca and I shortly after this section and asked, “Which of you swam?” Me, me, that was all me. I may also have yelped. On the bright side, the water cleaned my bike.

We continued on to a hydrocut, which we had to ride along (or push our bikes along due to mud), up, down, and up again. We headed back to the main trail and rode it a short distance to CP4.

Riding into checkpoint 4. [Official race photo]
Checking into checkpoint 4. [Official race photo]

We rode back to Glebe Park, through the “lakes” (I stayed upright! It was easier to see under the water on the way back – at least somewhat!), and back to CP3.

Then we hit the road section of the bike course, which had no shortage of hills! It was in this section that we started to pick off other teams (we are road riders after all!).

Eventually, we reached the ATV trail where we would find CP50. This is where we slowed to a snail’s pace, as the incredible amount of mud forced us to walk and push our bikes through it. At one point, I sunk into the mud half-way up my calf! We pushed our bikes for kilometres! The crazy mud sections were separated by some rideable trail and later gravel road sections.

We reached CP5, where a volunteer assured us that we had seen the worst of the mud, and that the road would be way better. Sadly, she was wrong. I started looking at my watch and realizing for the first time that we may not reach CP6 in time to meet the cut-off to be allowed to do the final trek section at Sir Sam’s Ski Resort.

Riding along a gravel road, it seemed to be taking forever to reach CP32. At two separate points I got cold on the bike – it was pouring rain, and on the (very few!) big downhills, the breeze chilled me to the bone! Eventually, we reached the intersection where I thought the checkpoint would be, but there was a woman off her bike who had apparently “almost crashed” (she had no brakes left), and when I mentioned the checkpoint she and her partner said it wasn’t at that intersection. We continued on our bikes, but we should not have listened to them! Again, it seemed to be taking forever to find the checkpoint. Eventually, we reached an intersection marked on the map (Bushwolf and Angel) and it was at that point I realized that we had missed it. It was at the earlier intersection!

We continued on in search of CP33, which would be somewhere along a MTB trail at Sir Sam’s, but we would have to ride the trail to find it. We ended up “riding” it with 2 girls in the shorter Trek course… if you can call it riding. Once again, it was incredibly muddy. Had it been dry, it would have been very fun to ride – it was twisty, turny, and full of little ups and down. Instead, we could ride for a few pedal strokes and then we had to walk again! We found the checkpoint, and then headed for CP6, reaching it about 15 minutes over the cut-off, so we were directed to run to the finish line rather than do the last trek section. Had we done the trek, we would have drawn the location of CP40, 41, 42 and 43 on our Supplemental Map #2 (from a master map at CP6), then climbed and descended the ski hill to find them.

I was disappointed not to make the cut-off, but relieved at the same time to be done!

Bike time: 4:29:52 for 44.2k

Done!

In the end, we crossed the finish line in 8:15:24, in 2nd place out of 2 teams of 2 females. The other team found all the checkpoints and finished in 8:37.

I had a great time – despite the mud – and look forward to taking on the race again!!

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Race report: Inaugural Rugged Raccoon 25k night trail race 2019

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.

Last minute instructions. [Photo by Sue Sitki]
Putting my phone away for the last time. [Photo by Sue Sitki]

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!

The clockwise route around Wildwood Lake.

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!

[Photo by Sue Sitki]

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!

There was mud.

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!

Race results:

  • Time: 3:08:05 (7:32 min/km)
  • Placing women 40-49: 3/3
  • Placing all women: 15/45
  • Placing all runners: 50/92

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