My 10 favourite things to do while car camping at Driftwood Provincial Park

Driftwood Provincial Park is a little gem! The first time I camped there, my son was almost 3, and my daughter 11 months old. My husband and I decided to try a short camping trip, and then visit our friends in Deep River. We loved the park! Driftwood is on Highway 17, about 1 1/2 hours east of North Bay, and 2 1/2 hours northwest of Ottawa. It lies on the Ottawa River. After visiting many times, I’ve drafted a list of my 10 favourite things to do while car camping at Driftwood Provincial Park.

1. Go for a hike along the Oak Highland Trails or Chevrier Creek Trails

Neither trail is too demanding, but the Oak Highlands Trails give a panoramic view of the Ottawa River.

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2. Explore the Ottawa River shoreline by canoe

When the weather is good and the river calm, we love to paddle along the Ottawa River shoreline looking for creatures like beavers.

3. Hike the Barron Canyon Trail at Algonquin Provincial Park

The drive to the Barron Canyon Trail (accessed from the east side of the park 11 km north of the Sand Lake Gate) is about 1 1/2 hours from Driftwood. The hike itself is short – it’s just a 1.5 km loop trail – but the views are spectacular! Make the drive worthwhile and visit High Falls while you’re in the area (see below)!

4. Swim and play at the water slide at High Falls at Algonquin Provincial Park

We love playing at High Falls! It’s a natural water slide that is easily accessible and super fun! You can hike there via a short trail (3 to 4 km) on the Barron Canyon Road about 250 m west of the Brigham Lake Parking Lot, or you can take the longer route and hike along the Eastern Pines Hiking Trail from the Achray access point.

There’s a rope to help you get out of the water and back up onto the rock.

Tip: don’t wear your favourite shorts or bathing suit – sliding down the rock could tear the material! I’m speaking from experience.

5. Go to Deep River for ice cream

Sadly the dairy is no longer operating, but you can still get ice cream in Deep River, a small town about 30 minutes south-east of the park!

6. Swim from our campsite to the island

Our favourite campsites are in the 39-41 range, and just off the campsite there is an island that we love to swim to. It may be 100m or more away, but with life jackets and calm water, it’s manageable for kids!

Sunrise on Driftwood Bay

The island!

7. Admire the beauty of the Ottawa River

You can’t beat sitting in a chair and staring out at the Ottawa River. We’ve seen some spectacular storms come across the river… hitting us with a flash flood, hail, and wild thunderstorms!

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8. Hike the Brent Crater Trail at Algonquin Provincial Park

The Brent Crater Trail is a 2.0 km loop near the Cedar Lake – Brent Access Point of Algonquin Provincial Park. From the park website: “[It] allows scenic views and exploration of the Brent meteorite crater, one of the world’s most famous fossil meteorite craters. Visitors can descend into the present floor of the crater before looping back to the observation tower overlooking the crater rim. The observation tower can also be accessed by a small parking lot off the Brent Road at km 32.” Apparently the crater formed 450 million years ago!

9. Visit the Canadian Clock Museum in Deep River

The Canadian Clock Museum is way more interesting than it sounds! On the front lawn there is even a clock that tells time using your body and the shadow you cast.

Tip: Call ahead! The museum is not open every day!

10. Snack on blueberries while hiking through the park

Who can resist a few fresh blueberries while hiking through the forest?

Picking wild blueberries

 

If you’re interested in other Ontario Parks, here are my tips for Grundy Lake, Lake Superior, and Sleeping Giant:

My 10 favourite things to do while car camping at Grundy Lake Provincial Park

My 10 favourite things to do while car camping at Lake Superior Provincial Park

My 10 favourite things to do while car camping at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

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Race report: Grimsby 10k 2018

“Now that’s a throw-away sweater if I’ve ever seen one!” said another runner to my husband before the Subaru of Hamilton and Niagara Running Series Grimsby 10k. “It’s been a throw-away sweater for about 8 years!” he replied. (I think he’s emotionally attached to it.)

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Pre-race with Alasdair and his (no way!) “throw away” sweater.

This would be our 3rd time running the Grimsby 10k, though the 1st year we had signed up for the half marathon, but because it was so cold, they turned it into a 10k.

We picked up our race kit at Grimsby Secondary School and had lots of time to kill before the race.

We watched the 3k race start just before ours, and then it was our turn to run. I wasn’t sure what pace I would manage, but figured I could aim for the same pace as the Robbie Burns 8k a few weeks before (a 5:42 min/km pace).

My 1st kilometre was at a 5:25 min pace. At about the 2 km mark the race route reaches Christie St., which runs over the Queen Elizabeth Way. As I reached the intersection, a police officer directing traffic said to the driver of a car, “I don’t know if it’s a case of ‘monkey see, monkey do’, but I’ve never seen so many people drive on the wrong side of the road!” He was annoyed. They were driving in the lane for oncoming traffic. I heard the runners around me laugh.

For a while I was chasing a boy (maybe 10 or 12?) and a woman, but spent the 2nd half of the race chasing a woman who gradually got further and further ahead.

My 5k split was around 27 minutes, with my pace holding around the 5:35 mark.

The weather was fantastic and the ground was dry. The sun was out, and there was little wind! At one point, the race route gets close to Lake Ontario, but mostly it’s through residential neighbourhoods.

I felt myself slowing a bit, but not much.

I crossed the finish line in 56:14, good for 3rd place in my age group (women 40-44). It wasn’t a PB for me, but I was happy with my race (even more so because I spent the entire day before downhill skiing!).

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Done!

Alasdair and I picked up post-race food (huge muffin, banana, veggie chips, juice box), and then waited for the awards ceremony. It was the weirdest thing – hardly anyone was clapping or cheering when people were called up. Mostly it was just Alasdair and I plus one other guy!

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On the stage.

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I wouldn’t be on the podium at a bigger race, but I’ll take it!

Race results

  • Time: 56:14 (5:38 min/km)
  • Women 40-44: 3/10
  • Women: 20/72
  • All runners: 52/120

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Trip report: 1st time staying in a yurt, at Algonquin Provincial Park in February 2018

Until this year, my winter camping experiences had all involved a tent, with no heat other than a hot water bottle at bedtime! But last fall I decided to book a yurt at Algonquin Provincial Park – Mew Lake – for a weekend of fat biking and snowshoe running!

I’m now sold on yurts for winter camping. It wasn’t even that cold while we were at Algonquin (-5C to -10C), but it was so nice to be able to get out of the cold, to be warm at night (I was actually too warm in my -20C sleeping bag), and to be able to hang my clothes up and dry them overnight!

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Yurt on site 54.

The yurts at Algonquin have an electric heater (you can’t control the temperature), and sleep 6, with 2 bunk beds each sleeping 1 on top and 2 on the bottom. There is also a small table and 6 chairs, a shelf over the table, and 1 electrical outlet (well, 2 plugs but one is used by the fluorescent light).

There were 3 of us in the yurt, so we had plenty of room for all of our stuff.

On Friday night, my friend Rebecca and I took the fat bikes we had borrowed from Algonquin Outfitters out for a test ride. Our plan was to ride part of the Old Railway Bike Trail, but we had trouble getting any traction in the snow (despite fat bikes being made for snow!). When we reached the Old Railway Bike Trail, it was time to turn back – the sun would be setting soon. We were treated to an amazing sunset as we rode through the old Mew Lake airfield.

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Mew Lake airfield at sunset.

The only other time I had ridden a fat bike was last summer, also at Algonquin.

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Mew Lake airfield at sunset.

When we got back to the yurt, our friend Kristin told us that our traction problem was the result of having too much air in our tires! The next morning, we let a whole bunch of air out of the tires, and she was right – we were able to ride!

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Well-fed turkey (not by us) at our campsite.

We headed for Huntsville and the Muskoka Winter Bike Festival fat bike race (which I wrote about here – so much fun!).

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Bikes ready for the fat bike race.

After the race, we headed back to Algonquin and our yurt. I went out for a short snowshoe run, and was treated to a very pretty, quiet, calm forest. I didn’t see a soul – just animal footprints.

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On our last morning, the 3 of us headed out for a bike ride on the Old Railway Bike Trail. This time, we made it to the trail quite quickly, and actually got to ride the trail. We headed west toward Cache Lake.

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Old Railway Bike Trail.

Once again, we saw no one, but did see animal tracks of all kinds. It was quite fun to ride the same trail that I had ridden last summer in the winter.

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Old Railway Bike Trail.

Sadly, after our ride it was time to head home.

I won’t be giving up tenting in the winter, but I’ll definitely stay in a yurt again!

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Race report: Muskoka Winter Bike Festival fat bike race (my first!)

Less than a week before heading to Algonquin Provincial Park to stay in a yurt with 2 friends so that we could spend the weekend fat biking and snowshoeing, I stumbled upon the Muskoka Winter Bike Festival 11k fat bike race, and decided to register! Who cares that I had never ridden a fat bike in the winter, or that my only experience fat biking was last summer at Algonquin? I would have Friday to try out fat biking in the snow before Saturday’s race!

My friend Rebecca and I took the bikes that we had borrowed from Algonquin Outfitters out for a test spin on Friday night at Algonquin, and spin we did! We had some serious issues getting any traction, and spent 90 frustrating minutes not going very far. We later learned from our friend Kristin that we had too much air in our fat bike tires! We let a whole bunch of air out, and Saturday morning did another test spin – success! We would be able to ride the bikes after all.

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We headed for Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, found the race site and registration table, picked up our race bibs and hand warmers, and after attaching the race bibs to our bikes, we were ready to go. Since there was no building nearby and lots of time before the 2 PM start, we headed back for the main building to relax until just before the race was to begin. I did catch the 1 PM race start for the experienced racers, because I had forgotten my water bottle in my vehicle at the race location and had gone back for it. It was then that I heard that the “newbie” race would be quite a bit shorter than 11k. The race organizers made the executive decision to ensure that us newbies had a fun race experience. In fact, part of the 11k course that we weren’t going to ride had a hill so steep that only 1 of the experienced riders made it up (and won a prize for doing so).

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Algonquin Outfitters was one of the event sponsors.

Our race course was to be 3 laps of a heart-shaped course. Just before the race began, we had a very short pre-race meeting while everyone was lined up at the start line. There appeared to be about 20-30 people in the race – men, women, and a couple of kids.

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My ride!

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Kristin and I before the race.

And then, the race began! Kristin, Rebecca and I had lined up near the back of the pack, so there was some congestion at the start.

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At the start of the race. [Photo credit: Andy Zeltkalns]

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[Photo credit: Andy Zeltkalns]

As I discovered on the first lap, there were hills on this course! I managed to ride up them without stopping, though I did wonder whether I would spin out on the steepest bits (I didn’t). There was one sloped spot (higher on the left, lower on the right) that I approached from the right on the first lap, but that resulted in me sliding into deep snow and having to put my foot down. On the second lap, I intended to ride it further to the left (higher up) but there was another rider beside me so I couldn’t, and again I had to restart. It took my 3rd and final lap to perfect that spot, to ride far left (high) and be able to pass through the section without sliding down or crashing as others did!

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[Photo credit: Andy Zeltkalns]

I was chasing another woman on the first lap, and passed her toward the end of the second lap. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to hold her off for the third lap. I figured I was probably slowing down, but she may have been as well. With less than 100m to go on the last lap, I passed another woman. I wasn’t sure if any others had been ahead of me. It’s hard to tell when you’re riding multiple laps. I was surprised to see that the big inflatable arch was gone – I thought that it was the finish line.

So I stopped (rather than ride into the spectators), confused, and wondered if maybe I had to go back onto the course to finish somewhere else. I asked someone, who clarified that no, I was done, and that they had written my bib number down (they were checking us off as we finished each lap – it was a race with manual timing, not timing chips). According to my watch it took around 28 minutes.

The race was hard work but super fun!

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Rebecca and I after the race.

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Rebecca, Kristin and I after the race.

After the race, we were treated to some delicious chili – with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and bacon as toppings! There was also hot chocolate with chocolate bits and whip cream to add on top. Yum! And for others, there was beer.

During the awards ceremony I won a $50 gift certificate for Algonquin Outfitters, but I don’t know if it was a random draw prize, or because I did well in the race. I was congratulated on a great race for a new racer when I got my prize. There are no results posted on the race website, so who knows? I did follow up with the race organizers, and apparently I was 9th out of 31 newbie racers, but I’m not sure how I placed compared to the women in the race.

In any case, it was a fun race and I hope to be back next year!

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Race report: Stars W.A.R. (Winter Adventure Race) – snowshoe orienteering race

Picture this: You’re standing in the forest with a steep downhill in front of you, the ground is snow-covered, there are trees all over the place, you are wearing snowshoes, and you need to get to the bottom of the hill – the faster, the better. Do you carefully pick your way down the slope, bracing yourself against trees as you go, or do you throw caution to the wind and slide down the hill on your butt?

This is just one of the scenarios I faced in this year’s Stars W.A.R. (Winter Adventure Race), held at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park. Last year’s race was super fun, so I was looking forward to the 2018 edition.

With snow in the forecast, Anne and I left early, but the drive wasn’t bad and we arrived a few minutes before registration was to begin. A pre-race email from the Stars Orienteering Club told us that the course would be challenging and we would need time to plan our route. At registration we received a map, an instruction sheet, and a pair of socks!

Anne and I sat down to plan our strategy. Because the map covered a large area, and there were 30 controls, we had to decide which part of the map to focus on. We decided that we would definitely try to get the controls that would get us bonus points (“dog bones” – get specific ones one after the other with no other controls in between and receive a bonus of 40 points). There were 3 sets of these, so that would mean 120 bonus points.

Controls ranged in value: 20, 30, 40, or 50 points depending on their difficulty.

There were many trails on the map, but we had no idea if they would be visible, given the amount of snow in the area. It made pre-race planning a little tough. We knew that the snowmobile trails would be easy to find, but we weren’t allow to run on them – we could only cross them. However, they would help us to figure out where we were.

We highlighted our tentative route on the map, including controls that we might have time for but wouldn’t know for sure until we were racing. We knew that we may turn back before hitting a couple of the controls, but we might be able to pick up a few more on our way back to the finish. It would all depend on how well we were doing, and how much time it was taking us.

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Ready to go!

This would be Anne’s first time running on snowshoes, so we went outside a few minutes early to get her set up.

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Tools of the trade.

I wondered if I was overdressed for the -2 or -3C weather, but only time would tell.

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At the start line (and the finish control).

At 10:30 AM, the race began, with Anne and I chasing the leaders to the approved road crossing spot. Our plan was to go for controls 45, 44, 37, 132/131 (bonus), 41/42 (bonus), 31/32 (bonus), 140, potentially 33, and then 34, potential 147 and 148, then head back toward the finishing, getting 134 and others in that section of the map if we had time (this never happens).

You would think that it would be hard to get lost going to the very first control, which was just over 100m from the road, but that’s exactly what happened. We were following people, but also following our compass bearing. We reached the steep hill that I previously mentioned, but when we didn’t find the control as soon as we expected to, we stopped (along with other teams!), re-evaluated, tried to figure out if we had gone too far left or too far right, and then eventually decided to backtrack a bit and head further west. We found it!

After the first control, things got a lot better. Because many trails were not visible under the snow cover, we found ourselves using contour lines a lot to figure out where we were. It was excellent practice! Anne and I made a great team. With her super eyesight she spotted some of the controls way away – I would never have seen them that far away without her pointing them out. Oh to be 15!

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[Photo credit: Stars Orienteering Club]

We found every control we looked for, and did end up adding 33, but after 34, we realized that we would not have time to get 147 and 148, so we headed back for the permitted road crossing spot, running in the woods parallel to the road (we weren’t supposed to run along the road) until we were able to cross over. Anne was getting tired, and needed to take more and more walking breaks. My legs were tired from the 6.7k snowshoe race I had done the day before. Running on snowshoes is exhausting! We did pick up 2 more controls on our way back, both relatively easy to find. By this point in the race, other racers has beaten down tracks to the control, so once we were pointed in the right direction, it was pretty easy to just follow the tracks and find the control! We hit the finish line after 2:32:44, receiving a penalty of -30 points for being late.

We were treated to a yummy box of pizza per team, plus cold drinks, cookies, and hot chocolate.

Anne and I were both surprised to hear that we had placed 2nd out of 7 female teams!

I had a great time racing and will definitely be back! Thanks Stars!

Race results

  • Time: 2:32:44
  • Points: 550 (after losing 30 for being almost 3 minutes late)
  • Women’s teams: 2/7
  • Overall teams: 12/27

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Race Report: Dion Winter Goose Chase Snowshoe Race

I had such fun at my very first snowshoe race last year, a 4k snowshoe run followed by a 4k road run, that I was eager to do another one. The Dion Winter Goose Chase Snowshoe Race is part of a series of races put on by Spafford Health and Adventure. The rest of the races are in Eastern Ontario, but this one is held at Shades Mills Conservation Area in Cambridge, Ontario.

Participants were warned that the venue would be almost entirely an outdoor venue, with race kit pick-up (and washrooms) in a small building. I arrived with plenty of time to register and chat with other racers, staying warm in the last few minutes before the race inside a friend’s car (not everyone could fit in the building, and it was -8 C or so out, colder with the wind).

 

 

This race was advertised as 7 km, but during the pre-race briefing at the (frozen) water’s edge it was announced that the course was approximately 6.7 km. The guy beside me swore when he heard that – he thought it was only 5k!

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During the briefing, we were introduced to the Goose and Gander, the female and male racers who we would be chasing. The idea is that last year’s winners become this year’s targets.

With a countdown of 3-2-1 the race was on! Thankfully, it had snowed in the days leading up to the race just enough to make it a snowshoe race and not a trail run. The week before the race, an email from the race organizers warned us that the trails were all icy and spikes may be required on our shoes. It certainly wasn’t tough slogging in deep snow on race day, but it was a snowshoe race – yay!

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[Photo credit: Jason Mota]

The course was really well marked with little flags, arrows, and volunteers (from the Cambridge Harriers Running Club) at key intersections. At the beginning, things were rather congested, but it didn’t take long for racers to spread out. I never did see the Goose or Gander. For a while I was chasing a little guy named Seth, who was being encouraged by his dad running ahead of him. At one point I told him that he couldn’t slow down, he was my pacer!

This was a fairly hilly course (I’d love to see the elevation profile), with the most significant climb being the very last climb of the race! This was the only one that I partially walked. I forced myself to run all the hills before then, because once I start walking hills, I give myself permission to walk all of them and give up on running them!

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I stopped during the race to take one picture.

For a good part of the race, I was running on my own, just barely able to see people in the distance ahead of me. It was very peaceful in the forest. I had no idea how far I had run, because I don’t have a GPS watch, and gauging my speed when running on snowshoes is tough. I estimated that I was running 8 minute kilometres.

I started to hear cheering from the finish line, so I knew that I couldn’t be too far away. Eventually I reached the second last turn before the finish and was told that I was almost there.

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Picture by Kristin

With just a hundred metres or so to go, I spotted Kristin and John and heard them cheering for me. I crossed the finish line in 53:47, a pace of 8:02 min/km if the course was 6.7 km, and 7:55 min/km if the course was 6.8 km as the results show. It’s pretty exhausting running on snowshoes! I’m happy with how my race went.

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Afterwards, we were treated to a super delicious pancake breakfast! The pancakes were accompanied by fresh strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, a berry sauce, chocolate chips, Nutella, whip cream, maple syrup and maybe more! Yum. There was also coffee.

After eating I went out to the bonfire and enjoyed the heat for a few minutes before changing into dry clothes. I stayed for the awards (Seth my early race pace setter won snowshoes as a draw prize – he was pretty excited!) and then headed home.

It was a great morning! (I even got to meet Deirdre, who I connected with on Twitter quite a while ago but had yet to meet. Hi Deirdre!)

Thanks for the fantastic race!

Race results

  • Time: 53:47
  • Women 40-49: 10/23
  • Placing: 40/85 overall

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Race report: Robbie Burns 8k 2018

This year’s Robbie Burns 8k would be my third attempt at the distance. I wasn’t aiming for a PB – in fact, I was planning to just “run” it, not “race” it. But it’s hard not to get swept up in the enthusiasm and optimism of other runners at the starting line of a race!

Alasdair and I arrived at Burlington Central High School in plenty of time to get our race bibs, visit the washroom multiple times, and listen to the Halton Police pipe and drum band play some songs.

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Pre-race

At this race, the band stands on either side of the hallway and runners walk through them to go outside to the start line.

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Halton Police pipe and drum band

Before going outside, I overheard two women talking about a dream one of them had had the night before: during the race her friend was driving her along the race route, and when she told him that she was cheating, he replied, “It’s not cheating if I’m driving your race pace!”

Once we got outside, Alasdair went for a short warm up run, and I stretched my calves. We lined up at the start line, but I decided to drop back so as not to get in the way of faster runners. Ed Whitlock‘s son Clive gave the countdown in his honour, and the race began! As soon as I heard that Canadian Olympic marathoner Krista Duchene would be racing, I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t win – but only because I would be racing in a kilt (I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be)!

As soon as I started running, I realized that my legs were already tired – from moving lots of boxes and doing far too many squats in the process the day before! Good thing I planned to treat this race as a training run.

I was expecting to run 7 minute kilometres, because I am still recovering from plantar fasciitis in my left foot, and was at the tail end of a cold. When – right off the bat – I felt like I was working hard, I decided I’d be happy to finish in 56 minutes.

And then I reached the 1 km marker, looked at my watch, and saw 5:41 – no wonder the effort felt high! I hadn’t run that pace since August or earlier. My foot felt fine, but my cardio and legs were feeling it.

According to RunKeeper on my phone, my pace continued as follows:

  • 2nd kilometre: 5:33
  • 3rd kilometre: 5:39
  • 4th kilometre: 5:46
  • 5th kilometre: 5:42

I wasn’t looking at my phone as I ran, but I did check my watch at every kilometre marker. I was surprised that I was managing to hold that pace. It was after 5k (which I reached around 28 minutes) that I started to slow down a bit. It was also in this section that there seemed to be some noticeable inclines (but really, the race is quite flat).

Near the end I was hoping that I could finish in under 46 minutes, but my “sprint” to the finish had me cross the line at 46:02 according to the race clock. I was slightly disappointed. Later when I saw my official time, I realized that of course I finished in less time than that, because that was the “gun” time, not the time I actually crossed the starting line. As expected, I did not win the race. Krista Duchene won my age category, while Victoria Coates, reigning Canadian 10,000m champion, was the first female finisher (in a time of 27:31).

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Done! [Photo credit: Robbie Burns 8k official photo]

In the last few hundred metres I heard a few people cheer for me by name, including Alasdair (what I heard was “Way to go bud!” but I’m certain that’s not what he said).

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Post-race

After the race, I found Alasdair, and we went inside to grab our things (there was a baggage check) and some post-race food, including a bowl of hot oatmeal. Yum. We stayed for the awards, and while we didn’t participate in the costume contest this year, we did participate in the “voting by applause” for those who got up on stage.

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This guy was one of 4 costume winners.

If you’re ever in need of fitness motivation, go watch a running race (or a triathlon), and stay for the awards. Watch the athletes in the oldest age groups be recognized for their accomplishments. At this year’s race, there were 2 incredible men in the 80+ category, one of whom beat me! They helped each other up the stairs and onto the stage!

Thank you Burlington Runners for another great race!

Stats:

  • Time: 45:47 (5:43 min/km)
  • Women 40-44: 21/53
  • All women: 185/393
  • All 8k runners: 449/775

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