It had been 3 years since the last running of the Happy Trails Rugged Raccoon 25k Night Trail Race, but when I parked my car at Wildwood Conservation Area and headed over to pick up my race kit right next to Wildwood Lake, I remembered how beautiful the race venue was. At 7:30 pm, my friend Kris and I would be running clockwise around the lake, starting in daylight and ending in the dark.
The race began and we set off together. Unfortunately it didn’t take long for me to get a side stitch, which bothered me for a couple of kilometres. I told Kris not to let me slow her down – she had a spring in her step – so she got further and further ahead of me.
I hit the first aid station at around 4.5k, but I didn’t stop. Shortly after this point my side stitches were gone.
At the pre-race briefing we learned that the course was less muddy than in 2019 (phew!), and that there was less mud in the 2nd half of the course. As I ran I remembered bits of the route, but I had only been to the conservation area once before, so much of it felt new to me.
I was on the lookout for owls, but never did see or hear one. I did hear lots of spring peepers though, as well as a woodpecker, and Kris saw deer.
At the 2nd aid station around 9k I grabbed a cookie and kept running. At this point the course follows a road for a short time before going back into the forest on the far side of the lake. I remembered having to put my headlamp on at this point in 2019, but this time there was still lots of light left. I also remembered in 2019 that I could see headlamps on the far side of the lake – not this time! I made it my goal to try to get to 15k before turning my headlamp on. At the 3rd aid station around 14k, I grabbed another cookie and kept running. The light was starting to fade but I was still able to see.
And then just before 15k I noticed headlamps in the forest ahead of me. I finally turned mine on at 15k, and within 200-300 metres I kicked a root and fell into a mud puddle! Ha! It was a soft landing and I was not hurt, so I got up and kept going!
I found that I ran much of the race alone, even more so during the 2nd half when runners were more spaced out.
Approaching the 4th and final aid station I knew there would be hot cheese quesadillas, but I wasn’t quite sure I would feel like one when I got there! It’s not something I would normally eat when running. But I decided to have a piece, it was delicious, and my stomach didn’t complain!
It was at the nearly 22k mark that I started wondering whether I had gone off course. I wasn’t sure which way the trail went through the forest. The route had been very well marked with pin flags up until this point, but I realized I hadn’t seen any in a while. I knew not to run more than 100m without seeing a flag… so I turned around in the dark forest, and ran back the way I had come from… I texted Kris, who I hadn’t seen for quite some time.
I ran back and forth. It didn’t make sense. I ran back and forth again. And then I spotted a pin flag, flat on the ground! It must have been trampled by runners. I was still on course – yay!
I felt much better knowing that I wasn’t lost! And I thought it was pretty funny that *I* was texting *Kris* with navigational issues, as she’s the one who tends to take wrong turns! In any case, I made it to the finish line, where Kris was waiting for me. Jeff Rowthorn, Race Director, said, “Had a fall?” (I was covered in mud!) and then offered me a bar of soap!
I was glad to be done! Thanks Happy Trails for another great race.
Getting to the start line of The Flurry 8k Snowshoe Race was a victory in itself, given my Superman dive while skating just a month before. I did a short test run three days before the race and didn’t feel the injured muscles near my ribs, and while my legs were tight the next couple of days for lack of run practice, I declared myself ready to race! This would be my first time on snowshoes this winter, my first snowshoe race in two years, and just my second run in a month – what could go wrong?! Oh, and it was predicted to feel like -19 degrees Celsius with the wind. My goals were to make it to the finish line and to have fun in the process.
I arrived at the race site at Marydale Park in Mount Hope (Hamilton) to discover that one of the Happy Trails volunteers lives on my street – small world! I picked up my race kit (a big, awesome mug, a buff, and my race bib) and went back to my car to get organized. I immediately realized that I was under-dressed (unusual for me!), but thankfully I had a Happy Trails hoodie with me for after the race that I decided to wear while racing. I got my snowshoes on and wondered where everyone was, since there were only a few people outside. Turns out they were inside for the pre-race briefing, which I almost missed.
We were incredibly fortunate that a recent snowfall had blanketed the race course with the perfect amount of snow – not too little, and not too much! We would be running 2 laps of a 4k course, which included a loop and an out and back section.
I tried to position myself well back of the start line, but people kept lining up behind me. Oh well, they would soon find out that they would have to pass me! With a very laid-back 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 countdown, we were off!
Almost immediately I was doubting my ability to run 8k on snowshoes! After running a loop around a field, we hit the full force of the wind and blowing snow head-on! Wow! While I felt like I should be running faster through the windy sections to get out of them sooner, I ended up slowing down and sometimes walking. In fact the entire race was a run/walk combo for me.
Before the race began, I wondered how visible the course flags would be given the blowing snow. I need not have worried. I could easily spot the flags, and in fact the easiest thing to do was to follow the people who had gone before me and the tracks they left behind! I entered the forest – so pretty – and felt that I was slowing people down. I told the runners behind me to let me know if they wanted to pass. It didn’t take long before I had to pull over anyway – snow was clumping under my snowshoes. Unfortunately, over the course of the race I had to stop and kick my snowshoes against trees between 10 and 20 times! Please send your tips my way. I used ski wax on my snowshoes before the race, but it seemed to have no effect. I didn’t notice anyone stopping as often as I did.
It was really nice to see some familiar faces at the race (Lisa, Mauro, Steve), and to be able to cheer for one another too. Trail runners are a friendly bunch!
During the out and back section of the course I stepped into the deeper snow to the side of the tramped down path to allow faster people running towards me to pass. In fact the race winner finished before I finished my first loop!
By the second loop runners were much more spread out, though I did run parts with two women named Mary and Andrée (nice to meet you!). Having run the first lap I knew I could run it again. I counted down the kilometres and looked for owls as I ran. Of course.
There were a few non-racers walking on the trail, but none of them wanted to take my place! At the out and back turnaround I spotted a car in the ditch with a police car nearby. The winds were quite ferocious and snow drifts fast accumulating with blowing snow. Thankfully there was protection from the wind in the forest.
The 4k race was set to start 1 hour after the 8k race, and I wondered if I would be passed by a 4k runner before I finished – I was.
At the finish line (I made it!) I was presented with a giant-sized medal! Then I went inside for some hot soup and hot chocolate. Happy Trails is very eco-conscious, encouraging runners to use re-usable cups and bowls, and providing compostable options as well. I used my awesome new mug for soup, then rinsed it out so I could have hot chocolate before heading home.
It was a challenging race, but I’m glad I healed in time to be able to do it!
Time: 1:17:09 (9:39 min/km)
Placing women 45-49: 2/4
Placing all women: 14/24
Placing all runners: 35/46
Thank you Happy Trails for another great race, and Sue Sitki for your amazing photos!
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.
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!
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!
Then after control 33, we had to climb a metal fence to get onto a sidewalk.
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!
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!
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.”
Started the Beaver Valley section: September 14, 2019
Finished the Beaver Valley section: October 31, 2020
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)
# 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
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!
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!
Something I’ll remember this section for: the elevation changes! Up, down, up, down, and repeat.
Progress so far: I was surprised to discover that I am now about 3/4 of the way along the trail!
Reading the course description for the 5 Peaks Rattlesnake Point Enduro Course (12.7k), I had visions of non-stop rocks, roots and hills. Thankfully, it didn’t turn out quite like that!
After arriving at Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area in Milton and picking up my race kit, I sat in my van and read for a little bit. But I was so tired, I decided to nap in the back! I’ve never done that pre-race before. I was afraid that I would sleep through my 2 alarms, but thankfully I didn’t. However, when I woke up, there were no fewer than 40 people in line for the portapotties! In fact, by the time I got through the line-up (the 2nd time), I had missed the wave 4 start I was planning to join. It didn’t matter – the race organizers were trying to spread people out to avoid bottlenecks on the trail, so I just started in the next wave (we were supposed to choose a wave based on our 5k time).
The race began and we set out on the grass, then on a trail which turned into a rocky, root-covered disaster waiting to happen. You definitely had to pay attention to every step. Runners were clumped up for a while, but eventually everyone spread out.
Having given blood 5 days prior to the race, I wasn’t expecting too much of my cardio. My plan was to just “run” rather than “race”. I was tempted a few times to stop and take pictures of the pretty views, but opted not to.
I enjoyed the variety of the route, which included boardwalk, single-track, hills, and of course plenty of rocks and roots. I only kicked one, so I fared well. There were sections that were quite steep, and some that were too rocky to run up (in my opinion!).
At one point, after power-walking my way up a steep, very rocky section, I caught another runner and passed him, at which point he said, “What, did you take an escalator up or something?!”
For a while I ran and chatted with another runner, but eventually passed her. There were a couple of aid stations on the course, but I was carrying my own water so I didn’t need to stop. The 5 Peaks series is now cup free, so you have to carry something if you want water at the aid stations. Some runners carried very small reusable cups.
In the end, I finished the 12.4k course (according to my Garmin) in a time of 1:34:37, or 7:27 min/km.
In the line-up for food, I heard a runner ask the volunteers if they had any mustard. “For your orange?” one asked? Nope – he said it was good for lactic acid build-up and he just eats it on his own! That was a new one for me!
Time: 1:34:37 (7:27 min/km)
Women 40-49: 29/64
All women: 64/165
All runners: 196/324
This was a really well organized and run race – I’ll be back!
Before I started orienteering I never would have run through the forest at night in the dark by myself! But a couple of years of practice doing short weeknight races, and despite – or perhaps because of – the occasional scurrying sound or glowing eyes, I have become less frightened of things that go bump in the night (or maybe more tolerant). So when I saw that Happy Trails was putting on the inaugural Rugged Raccoon 25k night trail race, I didn’t hesitate before registering.
I arrived at Wildwood Conservation Area in St. Mary’s with plenty of time to pick up my race bib (and whistle!), very cool race top, change into running clothes (I had come from basketball spectating), and chat with other runners.
Just before 7:30 PM, we had a short pre-race meeting.
And then, the race began! I wasn’t sure how long I would be able to run before I needed my headlamp. This was a pretty small race, with only 92 runners in the 25k distance (there were also 5k and 10k races). Runners were given the option of starting an hour earlier if they didn’t think they could finish within the 3 1/2 hour time limit, so less than 92 people started at once.
The race began on park roads, but we quickly hit the trail, and once there, the crowd had already dispersed and I was running with a very small pack of runners. The trail would go all the way around the lake! The course was very well marked. Only a few times during the race I wondered which way to go, but I quickly figured it out.
My approach to this race was to take it 5k at a time, or essentially 1 aid station at a time! The four aid stations would be fully stocked with all kinds of yummy goodies, but sadly, my stomach had been feeling “off” since the day before the race, so I wasn’t able to take advantage of any of it! Not the quesadillas, not the ramen noodles, not the pancakes! I decided to stick to my Endurance Tap (maple syrup). Given the paucity of food I ate the day of the race, it’s amazing I made it to the start line!
I ran with my waist belt so I had my own water with me. I didn’t expect to drink a lot, but wanted to be able to drink whenever I wanted to. The first aid station was just before the 5k mark, but I had no need to stop there – I just threw out my Endurance Tap garbage as I went by.
The trail was quite pretty, with lots of ups and downs, and even more MUD! Wow was it ever muddy. We were encouraged to run right through it to avoid widening the trail or damaging it. I was glad to have tied my trail shoes tightly – the mud threatened to suck them right off my feet!
Just before I got to the 10k aid station, the sun was really beginning to set and the sky was looking very pretty. I debated getting my phone out to take a picture, but decided my legs wouldn’t be happy to have to start running again!
This aid station was fun – the volunteers were playing music and were very enthusiastic! Once again, I ran straight by it, just dropping my garbage. At this point, I crossed a bridge over the lake, and as I entered the forest again, I wondered how much longer I would be able to manage without my headlamp. It was in this section too that I caught the last glimpse of another runner for quite some time. Turns out just after 11k, I turned my light on, worried that I was going to trip on a root or a rock.
In the back of my mind I kept telling myself that the last 5k would be the easiest, or so we were told. I would believe it when I saw it. As it got darker out, I was able to see headlamps bobbing in the distance across the lake, from where I had come from – that was quite neat. I heard some noises in the woods around me in this section too, but never did see anything.
I could hear people at the 15k aid station before I could see it, but eventually I caught a glimpse of a headlamp in the distance. As the volunteers spotted mine, they cheered for me. Once again, I dropped my garbage there and kept going. At some point, someone in the woods having a campfire told me I was doing a great a job.
As my legs got more tired, it became harder and harder to run through the mud – it took more effort to pull my feet out of the sticky, deep mud! Thankfully though, I managed to stay upright! Even though it was pitch dark at this point, it was very easy to follow the race route, because there were glowing markers hanging from trees.
It was around 16k that I finally saw another runner when I overtook two women walking. I knew that my friend David would be at the 20k aid station, and I knew that when I hit that one, I would be on the home stretch! I walked a bit more in this section, sometimes on hills that at the beginning of the race I would have run! I reached the aid station, and had a small glass of Skratch (sport hydration). It was so good. David helped me safely cross the road, and I was on my way to the finish! I was relieved to discover that this last bit was indeed the easiest part of the course. There was less elevation gain, less roots and rocks, and flat park road at the end too. I passed another couple of runners here, but couldn’t quite catch one that I could see up ahead of me (let’s be honest – I didn’t even try!).
I was only slightly disappointed as I approached the finish line that the race course was only 24k – I was happy to be nearing the end! As I ran down the finishing chute, which was lined with lights, I had great cheers from other runners who had already finished, and from others who were volunteering or were there with other runners. It was a great way to finish!
After watching a few more runners finish, I changed into dry, warm clothes, grabbed my mug, and went in search of hot chocolate. It seems it was all gone, but I made myself a mug of chamomile tea, and thoroughly enjoyed it as I drove home. I also ate one plain pancake before I left, and then nothing until the next day (I was not hungry). So glad my stomach is finally back to normal!
This was a great race and I look forward to doing it again next year! Thank you Happy Trails!
As a friend said to me the other day, “Do too many trail and adventure races and you will never go back to the road”. I’m most definitely hooked. I did my very first pure trail race in the spring of 2017, the Sulphur Springs 10k (as opposed to an adventure race with a trail running component, or an orienteering race in the woods). Then this spring I stepped it up and did the 5 Peaks Kelso trail half marathon. So when I searched for a fall trail race, The Beav 25k trail race at Hilton Falls Conservation Area put on by Happy Trails Racing looked enticing! Good thing I registered when I did, because this brand new race sold out long before race day!
I hadn’t been to Hilton Falls in years, so I did a couple of my training runs there. The rest were on the Bruce Trail in the Dundas to Burlington area – varied terrain, but lots of hills and challenging rocky uneven ground. I figured it would be great training for Hilton Falls.
On race morning there was snow and ice on the ground, and a temperature of -13C with the windchill. I worried that if I had to stop and walk I would freeze dressed as I normally would for running at that temperature, so I added another layer.
I knew 5-10 people running the race, so I was pretty sure I would see some friendly faces as I ran.
At 9:30 AM the race began. It wasn’t too long before I was on a single track trail, going the pace of the person directly in front of me. It was a slow pace, no faster than a walk at times, and I heard one woman comment, “I could do this pace!” This big pack of runners continued pretty much until we climbed the steepest part of the course, and then things spread out. At this point, I was already overheating so I took my extra layer off. I should have dressed as I always do in that temperature! I ran for a couple of km’s with triathlon friends, then continued on my own.
I was careful as I ran over rocks and bridges, because icy conditions had “wipe-out” written all over the place. Amazingly I stayed upright and only kicked one root or rock the entire race!
I hit the first aid station at 4.5k, and the second just before 8k. They were well stocked with cookies and salty goodies of all kinds. I loved the reusable cups for water, which I made use of to wash down my Endurance Tap. I grabbed a small handful of M&Ms and learned the hard way that they are a bit hard to get through without water – I felt like I had chocolate and candy coating stuck in my teeth for a while! At this point, runners headed off for 9k of trails before returning to the same aid station.
Photos by Chris L, fan extraordinaire:
During some parts of the race, there was 2-way traffic, so I got to see many of the people I knew in the race, and many other familiar faces that I have seen at other races. I’ve never been in a race where so many people said, “way to go!”, “great job!”, “nice work!” etc. Trail runners are very friendly and encouraging people! I even got a mid-race high five from a random runner.
At times I was running completely alone – I couldn’t see a soul ahead of me, or hear anyone behind me. It was very peaceful and pretty in the forest.
Just before I hit the aid station after the 9k loop (and after about 17k of running), I had another Endurance Tap, and washed it down with water. I decided to try my first ever mid-race pickle. I grabbed a few chips, chatted with a volunteer and Jeff one of the race directors, who told us that the “worst was behind us” (except for what was in front of us). I headed out, running for a few km’s with a man whose name I didn’t get.
I liked that the race felt like it was split into different segments. Mentally it was easier to deal with 25k this way.
After I left the aid station, I knew I would reach another one in just a few more km’s. At 20k my stomach was very unhappy for a short time, so sadly when I reached the last aid station, I opted out of eating a s’more prepared by the awesome volunteers at a fire near the falls. I continued running after grabbing some water, and it wasn’t long before my stomach was fine again.
My hamstrings and calves were starting to feel a little bit tight, but I wasn’t concerned.
At around 24k or so, I had to climb a stile (ladder over a fence). I played it safe by descending it backwards on the other side of the fence! Then I ran the final few hundred metres to the finish line, crossing in a time of 3:15:13.
I had a great first 25k trail race experience. I even ran a little faster than I expected to. The race was super well organized, the course was very well marked, and the volunteers (standing around in the cold for us) were fantastic!
Thank you Happy Trails Racing. I’ll be back!
My teammate Rebecca and I had so much fun at last year‘s Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race that we knew we wanted to do it again. We signed up to tackle the Suntrail course for a 2nd time, which is a 4k paddle, 16k mountain bike leg, and 6k trail run.
On Friday night we registered at the arena, filled out waivers, put stickers on our gear, and left our bikes and bags with bike gear (helmet, shoes, food) with volunteers. We stopped at the bike draw table to be sure we had a chance to win (even though I won last year!). The check-in process was well organized.
This year, we decided to camp at race central, Bluewater Park in Wiarton, Ontario. We checked in at the office and headed for our campsite, one of just 10 or so tent sites in the park (the rest are for trailers or are for seasonal trailer campers). We were more than a little shocked to discover the size of our site – it was tiny! It was clearly marked as being between 2 trees that had to be about 8 feet apart (see picture). It was a rectangle, with enough room for my vehicle (parked over the fire pit), a picnic table, and tent. On the other side of the hedge was the road. A nice man named Dave from Winnipeg was camped to our right – he would be doing the Buff long course. Unfortunately, our neighbours to the left arrived around 10:30 PM, immediately started a fire (with a big POOF! and a “Did you see that?”), set up their tent, ordered pizza delivery, and then proceeded to keep me awake until 1:30 AM when they eventually called it a night. Lesson learned: ear cancelling headphones or super duper earplugs!
Despite the rough night, it was awesome to be able to just pack up our sleeping stuff and tent and drive for 2 minutes to get to the race site. We brought the canoe and paddling gear to the water, and then had lots of time to relax before the race started. Having done the race before, I had almost no pre-race nerves (there’s always the worry of mechanical failure – especially on the bike!). I got to meet a woman named Kris and her race partner, who were racing for the first time, inspired by my blog post of last year’s race (how cool is that?!).
After the pre-race briefing, where participants were told that it was never too late to decide that the race, or any part of it, was beyond their abilities, Rebecca and I got ready for our 10:20 AM start. We would begin after the solo kayak men and solo kayak women.
Because we were in the water 20 minutes or so before the race started, we were getting blown by the wind away from the starting area and had to keep correcting and paddling back. We were amazed that one man was doing the race in a row boat! One team jokingly asked us if we wanted to switch paddles (we had kayak paddles while theirs were canoe paddles).
The race began and off we went! We were hoping that the bow seat (and Rebecca!) stayed put this time. For Storm the Trent the tightening mechanism wasn’t working, and I forgot to do anything about it before RockstAR. My husband helped and we thought we had the problem solved… and, as it turns out, we did! There was quite a bit of congestion for the first section of the paddle, where we headed perpendicular to our main route of travel. One boat in particular kept coming quite close, as they seemed to be having trouble steering. Once we turned around the buoy near the marina we headed for a big white building in the distance, and things spread out. We counted only 6-8 boats in front of us, which was an improvement from last year! From that point on, no one passed us, and we eventually passed one canoe. My biggest problem was continually sliding off my seat. I was kneeling, with my butt just on the edge of my seat. But far too frequently I had to stop paddling to shift back onto my seat. Towards the end of the paddle I decided to sit, and had no more issues. Rebecca noted that I seemed to have more power while sitting too. At times the wind made it a bit hard to stay on course, but we never got off course too much. As we got closer to the end of the paddle, we passed a few of the solo kayak women who started 10 minutes before us. One poor woman thought I was telling her to move over when I was only telling Rebecca to paddle on one side – oops! We apologized! We jumped out of the canoe at the shore, and very quickly volunteers grabbed the canoe and carried it away for us. We left our lifejackets and all our gear in it, and started running for the transition zone where we would find our bikes.
I popped into the portapotty, then met Rebecca at our bikes. They were really easy to find, because volunteers told each racer or team exactly which rack to go to. I had an energy bar, put my helmet and cycling shoes on, and we headed out.
Having ridden this course once before, we were much more confident this year. Not only were we riding our own bikes (last year we rode rentals), but we had more experience mountain biking. The course is a mixture of double track trails, single track trails, grassy field, and gravel road. We passed quite a few people at the beginning, with Rebecca in front and me in behind the entire way. Riding through a few sections of the course, we remembered walking them last year! There were only 2 spots that we briefly unclipped and walked, either around a tight corner or up a hill (where we had lost speed and the ground was very rocky). The ride definitely seemed easier. Last year, while riding on the single track section that has lots of tight twists, turns, ups and downs, a team passed us and we said that we couldn’t imagine being clipped in. One rider said, “I can’t imagine not being clipped in!” And this year? We were clipped in! My goal for the ride was to drink my entire bottle of gatorade, but I had to carefully time my sips – there was no way I was riding one-handed through rocky, hilly, twisty or turny sections! I managed to do it – it was a hot day and I didn’t want to get dehydrated. We noticed that no female teams passed us on the bike.
Back in the transition zone we left our bikes, helmets and bike shoes, and put on our running shoes and hats. I made a quick trip to the portapotty, and we headed out on the run. The run course is a mixture of pavement, Bruce Trail, and paved park path at the end. The Bruce Trail in this section includes dirt path, very rocky path, weedy field, stiles to climb over, and steep circular stairs to descend. I was fighting a side stitch for part of the run, but managed to keep it in check. I had a gel just after we started running, and one in the last 3km. We were wearing camelbaks so we had lots of water.
Again, we noticed that no teams of females passed us on the run. We passed solo female racers and some solo males and male teams. At one point, a couple of guys were following us, and we took a wrong turn – we missed the trail going to the right, but didn’t get very far (10m?). After we got back on the trail, Rebecca said to me that the guys didn’t know the name of the team they were following (Define “Lost”)!
There were a couple of aid stations on the run – at the last one, which was just before the descent down the steep stairs, I grabbed 2 cups of water and poured them on my head. Felt so good! Rebecca tried to get me to speed up once we hit the pavement, but I wasn’t having much success!
We reached the park, passed our campsite, and 2:31:22 after starting, we crossed the finish line! We weren’t sure how we had placed, but we felt that the race had gone better than the year before (turns out we were about 11 minutes faster). We were pretty sure that we were faster on the canoe and biking sections (we were).
I downed several cups of water, then heard someone call my name. I looked up and didn’t recognize the guy at all. Turns out he and his race partner (John and Amy from Ireland) had read my blog post about last year’s race 3 times on the way to the race, and learned everything they needed to know. Thanks for saying hi!!
Rebecca and I went for a dip in the lake, changed into dry clothes, had a free massage courtesy of Bayshore Physical Therapy in Owen Sound, and had awesome lamb burgers from the farm providing post-race food for racers. We watched other racers finish (and while standing there had a non-fish sushi roll with wasabi and ginger offered by a friend of a friend – so yummy and my first ever post-race sushi!), then drove over to the arena a block or so away and loaded our bikes and paddling gear into my vehicle, and the canoe on top. We walked to Northern Confections for a drink – I had a deliciously sweet Chaisicle (iced drink). We headed back to the race site to watch more racers finish.
We looked up the race stats, and found that we had finished in 3rd place out of 10 female teams. Woohoo! We chatted with other racers until the awards ceremony, including our new friend Dave from the campground. And we heard about the crazy waves in the long course race – a few people flipped their boats, some more than once! And one guy from the long course race apparently forgot to pack his running shoes into his bag to be transported to the transition zone. No worries – he ran 8k in socks along the Bruce Trail until volunteers could get him his shoes. And yes, he was on the podium!
As 3rd place winners, Rebecca and I received a bag of coffee each from Northern Convections, and were able to choose a prize from the prize table. I chose a bottle of Nikwak (the wash-in fabric waterproofer), likely donated by Suntrail Source for Adventure. We had our picture taken on the podium, and then stuck around until the bike draw.
On the podium in 3rd place! [Photo by Dave]
Winners for other prizes were called by team number and then name, so when the draw was made for the bike (courtesy of Bikeface Cycling in Owen Sound), they called 208 – our team number! And then, Rebecca! Yes! I won last year, and Rebecca this year. A Devinci Jackson mountain bike. Crazy! Our friend John said to me, “I want to be on YOUR team next year!”
Once again, we had a super fun time participating in this race. We’ll be back next year!! Thank you Peninsula Adventure Sports Association!
Stats (all times approximate except for total time – I was a little slow hitting my watch button sometimes!):
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The night before the 5 Peaks Kelso trail 1/2 marathon, a wicked wind storm blew through the area with winds over 100 km/h, making me wonder whether we would be racing at all! Halton Parks had closed all of their parks during the storm, including Kelso, and I wasn’t sure they would be open in time for the race. But on race morning, it seemed that it was all systems go!
I arrived at Kelso with lots of time to pick up my race kit (including very nice 5 Peaks winter toque) and get myself organized.
There was a short pre-race briefing, where we found out that the course had been changed slightly due to downed trees, and that others had been removed, while still more may require us to climb over them.
There were just over 100 runners in the 1/2 marathon, and when the race began, we all started at once (no waves). This was my first trail 1/2, and just my second trail race (I did the Sulphur Springs 10k last May). With my legs still tired from the Paris to Ancaster 73k race just 6 days prior to the Kelso race, I wasn’t quite sure how they would do!
The race starts with a climb up a ski hill, which also included the most mud we’d see on the course. I ran the beginning, but on the steepest parts, many of us walked.
Once at the top, the route followed many of the mountain biking trails through the woods, dirt covered, with some more technical rock and root covered sections. While the pre-race briefing included the statement that the trails are “mostly flat” on top, my legs would disagree!
The course was quite pretty, and well marked with tiny flags. At one point, I very briefly went off course, but quickly realized my error – I hadn’t been watching the flags! At the beginning of the race, I was in a small pack of runners, but as time went on, I lost the pack and ran near just a few runners. This was a “no waste event”, so runners needed to carry their own cups or water bottles. Aid stations had water to fill them up, as well as some cookies and gummy-type chews.
Near the 4k mark I kicked something and went flying, falling on my butt, but thankfully I wasn’t injured. Because of downed trees, there were sections where we really did have to climb over big tree trunks.
Near 12k, I was passed by the leaders, who were just 2k from the finish line. The course wasn’t a 2-loop course, but we did run some sections twice. I continued to get passed as I descended the “Snakes and Ladders” trail, stepping off the trail briefly to let the speedsters pass (the trail would be super fun on a mountain bike!). After descending the ski hill, I had to climb it again! My legs were most definitely tired! At times I wondered how I would run 21k.
Somewhere in the last 5k I stopped briefly at an aid station, really hoping they had oranges – they didn’t, but they did have an orange flavoured chew. I ate it, though I hate anything orange flavour other than oranges!
I passed an injured runner who had 2 other runners with him. I asked if someone had gone for help, and they replied that help was on the way.
In the last several kilometres I walked more of the uphills than I did earlier in the course. I hit the finish line and was very glad to be done! What a tough course. I’d like to try it again on rested legs.
Post-race I got the oranges I was craving! There were also bagels, bananas, cookies, and maybe more. This race was really well organized and run. I will definitely try another 5 Peaks race.
I went into the Sulphur Springs 10k with low expectations for my performance, given that it was my very first trail race, and I hadn’t exactly been training for it! I’ve been focussed on half ironman training, and other than one 3k trail run along the Bruce Trail in the middle of my weekly long run, my trail running has been limited to running through the woods looking for controls as part of my participation in a weekly orienteering program for adults that started in March (Don’t Get Lost Next).
Alasdair and I arrived at Morgan Firestone Arena in Ancaster in plenty of time to pick up our race kits and stand in long lineups for toilets quite a few times! The Sulphur Springs Trail Race had 10k, 25k, 50k, 50 mile, 100 mile, 100 mile relay and 200 mile races (yes, 200 miles!). All races were run on the pretty trails of the Dundas Valley Conservation Area.
With a broken thumb and potentially cracked rib, Alasdair would be running but not racing, being careful so that he didn’t fall.
Our race was the last to start – at 8:15 AM, the race began! I had looked at the course maps before the race, and was convinced that the 10k race was 2 loops of a 5k course. We would be spending the majority of the race running the Headwaters Trail.
The first bit was a fairly steep downhill on Martin Road, and then we turned onto a trail past 4 or 5 photographers with massive camouflaged lenses taking pictures of (or standing around waiting for) birds. The trails were fairly wide in most places, allowing multiple runners to run beside one another. In some places, runners were going in both directions. There was mud – and sometimes, lots of it! Some runners were stepping gingerly in the mud, but I just ran through it! I didn’t want to lose time on the downhill or flat bits. I figured I’d be walking some of the hills later.
My plan was to run at a pace that I thought I could maintain for the entire 10k, with the exception of the steepest hills. I thought I would run them on the first loop, and likely have to walk some on the second. I also decided not to look at my watch, mainly so that I didn’t get discouraged. And since there were no kilometre markers on the course, the time wouldn’t tell me anything anyway!
I decided to power walk the steepest of the hills, and to start running once I reached the top.
At some point, there was a woman just ahead of me with a cyclist to her left trying to pass. I told her to watch out, and after thanking me, she said, “You’re amazing!” “I’m amazing?!” I replied, “You’re 2 feet ahead of me!” From that point on, we ran together. I usually run alone, but it was really nice to have someone to pass the time and distance with. We chatted and running seemed easier! It turns out my new running friend is named Carolyn. I think I convinced her that there were 2 loops, and we kept running, wondering why we hadn’t reached the end of the first loop yet. We started to think that we had made a wrong turn and were on the 25k/50k course. We didn’t see any 10k bibs. We decided to just keep running. Carolyn had never run further than 10k, so she was in for an adventure if we were off course! A little later, I looked behind me and 2 women had 10k bibs on. I said that I couldn’t believe we hadn’t run 5k yet. I looked at my watch: 52 minutes! There’s no way we hadn’t run 5k – it didn’t feel like we were running slowly. One of the women told us that we had already run 8.2k and that there weren’t 2 loops! I wasn’t totally convinced, and I told Carolyn that if it is 2 loops (and we had somehow run further than we should have) that I wasn’t going out for a 2nd loop! There were spectators cheering as we kept going, telling us that we were almost there. It wasn’t until I saw Alasdair with his medal on that I believed we were nearing the finish line!
And then just like that, we were done!
I looked at my watch, and though I had forgotten to stop it, I knew that we had finished in under 62 minutes. I was shocked. I had figured that worst case scenario it would take me 90 minutes. I really thought that the hills would slow me down.
I chatted briefly with my friend Mauro, and then found Alasdair and grabbed some post-race food (a banana, some trail mix, and a very salty yummy vegan peanut butter cookie from the Johnny Blonde food truck). We chatted with Carolyn and her son Isaiah for a bit (he ran too), stayed for the awards, and then left. Alasdair’s goal for next year is to beat the 10 year old girl who beat him by less than a minute.
Time: 1:01:10 (6:07 min/km)
Women 40-49: 17/55
All women: 60/174
All runners: 116/275
I did way better than expected (17th in my age group is amazing for me), and still think that the course must have been a little short.
Here’s a pic of the race swag: t-shirt, race buff, medal and sticker.
I will definitely do this race again. It was well organized and in such a beautiful area. I really enjoyed running without a real time goal, and without paying attention to the time as I went. I’ll have to find some other trail races…