The Canadian Death Race

The Canadian Death Race

The Canadian Death Race in Grande Cache, Alberta has a long storied history stretching over 20 amazing years. I was curious to find out what it was all about based on accounts from friends who had completed the race. Also I had been a five time veteran of Death Race director Brian Gallant's Sinister 7 race in the Crowsnest Pass. I knew that besides being heinously difficult it would be well organized so it was time to check it out!

With 125 km (77 miles) and a cumulative elevation gain of 5,181 metres (17,000 feet) in a 24 hour time limit, I knew this was nothing to take for granted. Sure it's not 100 miles, but given the location of the race - Grand Cache Alberta, you would be hard pressed to find more rugged mountainous terrain in any race.

Divided into 5 legs, the race ascends and descends 3 major mountains, Flood Mountain, Grande Mountain and Mount Hamel. All three of these peaks are above 1,800 metres (6,000 feet) above sea level with the highest point on top of Mount Hamel being 2,129 metres (6,986 feet) ASL. Bring your best lungs and red blood cells to this one because the air is thinner up there.

The legs although traversing remote mountain wilderness have a nice way of coming back to civilization so you can lick your wounds, get support, fresh clothes or shoes, calories and fluids before heading back into that wilderness. The start and finish are also in the same location which makes crewing a little easier.

Feel a little unsure about this adventure? There is also a trail marathon event that lets you experience some of the course and get your feet wet before coming back for the full adventure.

The town of Grande Cache is friendly and the people very welcoming of this insane weekend and I think take tremendous delight in seeing us come to play and suffer in their back yard! 

Then there are the other racers. It's the people who count and some of the most wonderful tough, resilient, giving people I've ever met make up the "usual suspects" list at this event. They can be seen at other ultra races with sometimes ominous names like Sinister 7, Black Spur, River's Edge, Lost Soul, etc. They are like family thanks to mutually overcoming adversity, but also just because they are wonderful people!

Race Day

Leg 3

I set out on 3 with my heart buoyed a little by the brief interlude of sun. I wasn't sure how long it would last but I was happy. 

This leg is fairly benign as it doesn't have much vertical change and follows the Smoky River. I mean it has some elevation for sure but with it's net loss it feels like a break after the horrors of leg 2. 

This year (2019) there had been some sections that were a little washed out from a super wet summer and as a result we ran the side of the road for a section along the highway. I didn't mind at all and took the breather before the Hamel assault to try and recharge.

Upon reaching the end of 3, I met up with Angie Z who was waiting for Hiro and helping crew me as well and she was a welcome sight. She is so experienced at crewing that she knew precisely what to say and do and how to keep my tired brain on the proper script.

Hiro had arrived shortly and we regrouped to prepare for the assault on Mount Hamel. This meant packing up lots of calories, my wind and rain proof jacket and headlamp and other assorted safety gear. Being close to supper time meant eating a lot of calories to prepare.

Leg 4

At the bottom of leg 4 it was a nice balmy temperature for Grande Cache of something like 15 C as Hiro and I departed for the Hamel assault. What we found was a switchback filled with mud and lush vegetation. This part went on seemingly forever as we kept climbing. 

After a relentless forest climb we opened out to a clearing and a road. This gravel road continued to climb. The views were getting more amazing around every bend.At one point I was flowing along so I looked back at one point and Hiro was not there. Given his experience I was sure he was fine though and continued upwards. It was so great seeing him later on getting his washer at the summit!

Eventually above the trees the final switchback appeared and as I went ever higher, the wind gradually picked up and the temperature gradually fell. I reached my wind-proof jacket out from the pack and put it on.

On one of the last switchbacks right at the summit I looked out to the west at the surrounding mountains just as the sun was about to set. I think that was the most epic view of the race. It definitely made my day to see clear skies and a beautiful orange sunset from the summit.

On the summit, it had to have been sub-zero wind-chill and the wind was so powerful that it buffeted me several times off the trail. Some of the small pin flags marking the course were shredded down to a pin with a ragged edge of plastic where a flag once was. 

Then came the sick joke played on all of us of going out along a ridge to pick up a washer and bring it back to the marshals! Nice one! I put my head down and pushed into the gusting high winds as dirt caked my face sticking to the sweat. I smiled at the absurdity of the whole affair.

After passing the prayer flags and stopping momentarily to remember those who were lost and contemplate the meaning of them, it was off down the other side of the mountain. 

I noticed immediately that my energy came up higher than it had been. This as partly because of the fact I like to run the downhills but also because the trail was rocky but dry and it was considerably less windy and cold.

After a really long descent and back into the trees, I came upon the next cruel joke... The Ambler Loop! I had filled my stomach with salty hot broth and some other calories from the amazing aid station so there was that small grace, but then we were directed out towards this swampy loop that was psychologically trying I found. Not sure why, but it got to me.

After Ambler came the Beaver Dam road. This was not steep but went on for a super long time. I think that may have been because of the level of fatigue I had at that point. This road would take us close to the end of 4 and the 100km mark. I made a conscious effort to just keep one foot after the other going.

After reaching the end of 4 and the 100 km mark, I pulled into the checkpoint. If you run any of the Sinister Sports events you will find that Solo runners are treated like rock stars and the cheers that went up when I arrived were truly heartwarming.

To my surprise Steve Bridson (my Ontario Ultra buddy) was there and happily provided me the support I needed. Steve was crewing our friend Grant Monette and it was great seeing him there.

After fuelling and getting sortedI got an ominous reminder about the remote wilderness aspect of the race from a course marshal. We were being warned that it was a good idea to go out on the last leg #5 with other runners. There had been cougars reported stalking runners out there so it was best to travel in numbers. No argument here, I made some friends quickly and got ready to head out for the final 25 km.

Leg 5

The money leg that takes us home was going to start with a cautious run with bear whistles out and eyes peeled. It was about 8 km into the leg that we heard distant yells "hey cougar!!!" which was a warning from runners ahead on the trail that they had a sighting. They continued to make a lot of noise to scare them off and we continued with occasional loud blows of our whistles.

This single track leg was actually quite pretty in the night and featured a narrow rock gap to squeeze through prior to arriving at the river. 

I can't remember but I think it was about 10km into the leg that I felt what seemed like a bee sting in my left knee during one of the descents. I couldn't figure out what it was, but the pain got worse and spread down the outside muscle of my shin. 

We had finally reached the river and the boatman of the dead! With a blacked out face and outstretched hand the figure stood silently to allow only those who had kept their precious coin without losing it along the course of the race thus far. I jokingly gave the outstretched hand 5 and the figure just shook it's supernatural head. Just kidding... Here is your coin.

After passing the boatman at the river's edge, my leg was so painful that the boatmen had to help me get the leg over the side of the boat and get in. After a freezing super fast, short trip we were on the other side! 

What followed was more forest and more hills and more fun! My leg was very grumpy with me but I ignored it, embraced the suffering and went on. 

As the very first light came into the forest I was almost at the road. A road that takes us, uphill of course, to the neighbourhood where we climb up to the main street and the community centre to finish. I was hurting but so over it that I sped up and ended up running quickly into the chute and finish arch... It was done. 

In the end I looked at the clock and had finished 125 km (77.7 miles) and climbed 5,181 metres (17,000 feet) of vertical crossing 3 mountains and dealing with the most heinous muddy conditions possible. It was technical, the weather varied considerably and it was every bit as trying as a similar 100 mile race.

A short time later Hiro came in and we stood there smiling and swapping war stories holding our craft beers with our times stamped on them and our immense belt buckles! What an incredible feeling of accomplishment and relief. As much as it's about enjoying the journey there is nothing like the feeling at the finish.

It was great to see Angie, Monique, Brandy, Sherri and all the others at the finish and also great to hang out and watch the kids race. 

All in all I have to give kudos to race director Brian Gallant and his entire team of volunteers who make it so incredible. It was a super well executed event and I'll be back next year for the Sinister Triple! (Sinister 7, Death Race and Black Spur!)

Without Whom

I have to say thank you to Angie and Hiro for hosting me in Edmonton, driving me to Grande Cache with them and all the fun stuff we did in Edmonton. Thanks Angie and Sherri for helping me at the transfers. Thanks for being such great friends.

Thanks to Jim Chernichen for the lift back to Edmonton.

Thanks to Sherri and Dennis for meeting us in Edmonton for such a great dinner. 

Thanks to Sarah and Brian Gallant & team for these amazing races. 

Great to hang out with Debbie and Brian Wallace and what a great dinner we concocted!

Thanks to Steve Bridson for being there for me at leg 4/5 checkpoint.

Grant Monette pulled off a heroic OTL finish refusing to quit and I have so much respect for you buddy!

Links

Canadian Death Race Web: https://www.canadiandeathrace.com/

Quite an Experience

As is usually the case when you try a race for the first time there is a mixture of excitement and a little apprehension when you show up at the start. In my case I know I'm going to be out there for a long time as in all day through the night. Upon seeing the weather patterns in Grande Cache and having had a disastrous bout of trench foot at Sinister 7 race a month earlier, the apprehension seemed to be winning out. 

I looked over at my friend Hiro and he looked as unflappable as ever. Looking at Hiro is to look at a man who has had so many rodeos that none of the bulls scare him anymore. It's like a quiet confidence he has that I was trying to emulate.

Leg 1

Before I had too much time to ruminate on these thoughts, it was go time. Just like that we were off and running and being cheered on by the amazing Grande Cache supporters lining the first road section. I felt like it was a good thing to provide some sort of spectacle to the local folks who happily gave us a venue to come out and play. 

Before long after descending a section of road we were into the forest for the first taste of muddy trail. While leg 1 is a relatively benign one without too many serious changes in elevation, it made up with it by throwing puddle after puddle at us. They were deep and wide, leaving us with the option of just running right through or trying to skirt them and falling in potentially. I chose a combination of these and arrived relatively unscathed at the transfer point a little faster than I probably should have at 1:56, emerging from the trees to follow the rail track into the transfer. 

Leg 2

Heading out on 2 it occurred to me that now the race was going to bare it's teeth and show us some nasty climbs. This was a warm up climb at first with a steady road climb that seemed to never end. Before long it changed to trail and steepness. 

The trail became quite steep on the climb to the top of Mt. Flood switching back many times through the treed sections, emerging to an open area and a checkpoint. The volunteers were yelling "welcome to Flood" as we arrived and I could see what they were so enthusiastic about, the view! It was the first high vantage point of many and definitely afforded a great view of the valley and everything below.

Lest I become too Euphoric, the race dropped us roughly 1,300 feet into Washy Creek and immediately the next insane climbing began. This was the part that took us to the summit of Grande Mountain.

I should mention that this leg has some of the most technical and heinous terrain in the race. Names like Slugfest and Stairway to Hell leave little to the imagination. Stairway to Hell was basically a river of vertical mud to climb. It's a sick sadistic leg that made me smile thinking how ridiculous it really was!

Getting back to the subject of Grande Mountain, it followed some really muddy sections but opened up near the top with an amazing view looking across at other mountains near the summit. It was a gravel road that provided a brief respite form the mud and technical trail. Following that climb, the summit of Grande to me was even more spectacular than Flood had been.

After enjoying the views and the fact that rain had held off, it followed inevitably that it would rain on the descent. Of course it was no ordinary descent either. Powerline exceeded the tales of terror I'd heard for sure. People were falling ahead of me onto their butts and then sliding as if on some giant slip and slide. It was literally so slippery in the muddy trail and slick grass that anything less than shoes with giant cleats and you would be sliding potentially a long way on your butt.

I was so happy about my shoes having helped negotiate Powerline without falling that I counted my blessings and ran the grassy embankment beside the road back to the neighbourhood leading to the end of 2 which was the starting area.

This checkpoint being the race central was fully stocked with what I needed and I was happy to see Sherri Donohue there who helped me get the broth in and food. I sat there just long enough to take in the food and some dry clothes just as the weather started to clear up a little.

Niagara Falls International Marathon

The Falls!

In all my years of running marathons and all sorts of other distances, I had never run the Niagara Falls International Marathon. It's been on my radar ever since high school when back in my graduating year of 1981, my cross country and track coach Dave Knox ran a 2:23 in what was then called the Niagara Skyline Marathon. So when race directors Diane Chesla and Henri Ragetlie asked me to come down and run it there was no way i was saying no thanks!

The concept is pretty awesome because it highlights our long lasting friendship with our American neighbours to the south. The race starts in the USA in Buffalo and ends on the Canadian side in Niagara Falls directly in front of the Horseshoe Falls. When else do you get to cross the border on foot without stopping, no questions asked?

As much as Niagara Falls itself has dramatically changed since the mini vacations I took there with my parents as a youth, some things remain the same. The crazy haunted house carnival they call Clifton Hill has not changed much with it's flashing lights, barrel over the falls, believe it or not atmosphere! It's a Vegas like carnival with rolller coasters, go carts, mixed with restaurants, hotels, everything you can think of on one crazy strip. 

As far as what changed is concerned, the skyline which used to be dominated by two observation towers is now rows of hotel towers of a similar height. Gone are most of the low to the ground motels with pools, replaced by casino hotel towers. It's the Vegas of Canada.

It's a beautiful city where the business is tourism centred around one of the natural wonders of the world, the falls!

The Expo

Many races feature expos. These are usually quite similar from city to city and you could walk into the expo in one city and not be able to tell which city you are in! They typically consist of vendors of everything running related and of course other races have a booth as well.

Where Niagara Falls International's expo differs is in the ideas that go beyond the basic vendor booth format. Yes there are vendors of many things and races, but race director Diane Chesla added workshops, speakers and interactive yoga and massage to the mix. 

I attended some of the speaking sessions which gave wonderful advice on injury prevention, a debate on various diets and running, conditioning, and the amazing keynote speaker Ray Zahab! Ray has traveled the world running every desert on the planet, Siberia, Antarctica, and all the cold deserts too. His hour flashed by quickly and at the end I found myself compelled to join him on one of these extreme adventure.

As a vegan ultra runner I was very happy with some of the food options at the expo and then I discovered a vegan food expo right next door! Awesome! 

Another feature you might not see at other ones was clearing customs! When I picked up my bib I had to pre-clear Canadian customs to allow the continuous non-stop run back into Canada from the USA. This was efficient and friendly.

To sum up the expo, great mix of vendors of running products and some not exclusive to running such as organic jams, and CBD oil! The added workshops, speakers, debates and art pieces present gave it a flavour unique to this event. Well done Diane!

The Race

After a weekend well spent so far, it was race day! I had laid out my flat runner in the hotel the night before and all I had to do was stagger out of bed and put it on bib and all! I'm not a morning person.

I ate a small carb loaded breakfast, got my coffee and drank a litre of water. The time had come to jump on the bus and shuffle off to Buffalo! 

At the border the busses stopped at a processing centre because although we were pre-cleared back into Canada, we still hadn't cleared our way into the USA! After quickly showing our passport, no questions asked we were ushered back onto the bus to continue to Buffalo.

My seat mate on the bus was a woman named Mercedes who was looking for a marathon finish for it's inspiration as well as it's ability to take you to new heights emotionally, physically and mentally. I really enjoyed the conversation and when we arrived in Buffalo at the starting line I vowed to wait for her and see how she made out. I told her to run as fast as a Mercedes! 

At the starting line we reached our assigned time corrals and yet more conversations ensued in the friendly mix of Canadians and Americans. After the anthem was sung, some energizing music began and the gun went! Just like that we were off.

The Course

The course at first was a tour of some nice residential areas in Buffalo. The crowds were cheering us on and I felt that not too many people were annoyed with any sort of delay caused by our passing by. 

We ran out onto a parkway and headed for the bridge! Look out Fort Erie here we come! I had never crossed without a visit to the customs booth and at least stopping to answer one or two questions. We ran the bridge which presented one of the only "hills" in the entire course. It certainly has potential to be a super fast course.

Soon after we took a turnaround that later afforded us a great view of the Buffalo skyline across the lake. After doubling back on our path we were able to cheer the outbound runners on as we returned.

This led to parkway section which parallels the Niagara river which ultimately leads to a plunge over the falls! This is a long section, but very pretty with the river view, nice neighbourhoods and several tiny bridges that cross the small rivers and canals that feed the Niagara River.

The aid stations along this section are staffed with the most amazing supportive people. I never felt in the middle of nowhere. It was like every few km I got another cheering section! 

After this long river following section came a downhill to the finish.

My Race Report Video

Links

Niagara Falls International Marathon: https://niagarafallsmarathon.com/landing-page/ 

My Active Lifetime Youtube Channel: https://bit.ly/32Ct7xJ

The Finish

After a wonderful downhill that lasted for over a mile, you round the bend to the sound of thunderous water from the Horseshoe Falls as well as a lot of cheering and music!

I had not really gone into the race with goals but can comfortably run a 3:40 just on residual fitness from running ultras. However I was propelled along by the enthusiasm and taking photos and videos to the point where I lost all sense of pace and ran far too fast for the first three quarters of the race. I ran 1:44 half, 2:58 for 35 km then realized how hot and exhausted I was and dialled that back in a hurry. I would highly recommend that anyone running this race stick to their goal pace because it is a fast course that propels you along!

At the finish there was a good amount of bananas, oranges, muffins, electrolyte and water drinks, massage and of course the cooling mist from the falls descending and cooling! What an atmosphere!

I recovered and hung our with my friend David Wise who had really done well with a 3:28. It was really great hanging out with a fellow plant based athlete and always an interesting conversation.

After some time had passed I moved over to the finish line to wait for my new friend Mercedes whom I had met on the bus to Buffalo. I began to get concerned then heard "Mercedes Martinez" come over the PA system and there the was! So good to see people complete a marathon. Everyone is really only racing themselves. So many reasons and so many goals and I give full kudos to all who undertake the distance. She was emotional in a positive way and I was honoured to be part of the experience Congratulations Mercedes!

Epilogue

The medal was quite nicely designed and the results and photos were available not too long after. This is a really well organized event with lots of scenery, positive encouraging crowds, art installations along the course, all the nutrition and hydration products you ever need and you finish in a cooling mist from one of the largest waterfalls in the world!

The expo was engaging with more than just swag and products. It had useful presentations, speakers, debates and interactive things like yoga and massage. Oh and it's very own customs clearance department!

I will be back for sure.

Ultra Africa Run 2017

Introduction

I always find it amazing how sometimes a few short days, hours or even minutes can imprint in your memory so intensely and other days and weeks go by and it feels like nothing has changed.  Time is so relative.  These past few weeks I know will stay with me for a lifetime.

The adventure I signed up for was my first self-supported race and my first time in Mozambique. It was the creation of canal aventure. Five days, 220 km, 3600 meters of positive elevation gain and self-supported, through the beautiful beaches and tracks of Mozambique.

The week leading up to leaving for Mozambique I had this persistent low grade nausea and restless nervousness. The floodgates of self-doubt had opened and I was overwhelmed by all the last minute anxious thoughts, I haven't trained enough, I don't want to leave home for so long, why did I spend all this money, what if I get lost, what if I get attacked, what if I suffer every day, what if I can't my gear through customs, what if they decline my entry visa, and so on.  

"It takes courage to endure the sharp pains of self-discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives" Marianne Williamson

Despite all the self doubt, I said my goodbyes and I left home the afternoon of Oct 30 and arrived at my final destination of Maputo, Mozambique Nov 1 in the afternoon. It was a 40+ hour journey.  In the last few months I have been really have been focused on trying to stay in the present, meditating more and assuming the best case scenario in every situation. It's amazing how much these practices help with my anxiety. Although it was a long journey, everything was seamless and I arrived in good spirits at the hotel.

The hotel was listed $$$ place to stay in my Mozambique: Lonely Planet Guide. If you know me I only stay at $ accommodations.  It was recommended by the race and the crew and other competitors would be staying there as well.  To simplify logistics I decided to stay there too, and after such a long journey I was happy to have the comforts of a western style hotel. The first night I just had a shower and dinner and went to bed early.

The next morning after breakfast I was going to set out to do some sightseeing and then Rafael, a fellow competitor from Germany spotted me in the hotel lobby. I guess a white girl in running shorts was easy to assume I was part of the race. He offered to go for a walk with me and I was happy to have the company.  We went for a 2 hour walk around Maputo. It is quite a modern city and I found it less chaotic then Moshi. It is the capital, so most people seemed well dressed and stylish.  There were the typical street vendors, but no one was very aggressive and there wasn't anybody begging in the streets. Of course we talked running and the race.  This is when I started to learn how experienced and accomplished some of the other competitors were. Former UTMB  winner Marco Olmo, four of the competitors had published books (including Rafael) about their adventures in running, one of the female competitors had done TDS, Tor de Geants and 4 deserts, Atacama crossing, all this year!! One of the other female competitors had run across America, Europe and Siberia!!  Oh and Takeo a runner from Japan, had a whole film crew following him. Usually my anxiety dissipates when I actually get to the race, but learning all of this, it just got worse! Serious imposter syndrome!

Then we started talking gear and pack weight and I became even more anxious that I had made the wrong choices and my pack was too heavy etc.  Rafael was very positive and encouraging and he even commented on my walking style and said he could see how strong of a walker I was.  I agreed and told him I hoped this would help me because I couldn't see running a lot of the miles and hoped my walking would save my race.  We parted ways and I went about distracting myself with pool and free WiFi.

New Friends

That afternoon I met Brian who is from South Africa and was helping out with the race. This was great because he was fluent in English and beer drinking and didn't want to talk about running. So I finally started to relax as we joked and talked about travel, politics, family and his love of Celene Dion.  Later I met Andrea and went for dinner with her and Rafael. This was her second self-supported race, she had completed the 4 deserts Namibia race earlier this year (this made her infinetly more qualified than myself) .  She was a part of Rafael's Little Desert Runners Club, an online club that helps runners new to multi-day self supported races. I wished I had found something like that before the race.  We made fast friends and I took in any advice she and  Rafael offered.

Nhambavale Lodge

The next morning we took a six hour bus ride to the lodge where we would start the race. I was pretty quiet, the other competitors seem to know each other and there were many different languages being spoken. I was the only competitor whose first language was English. I silently cursed my entitled North American background of being mostly unilingual. When you have limited language it's hard to get past small talk.  We arrived at the Nhambavale Lodge in the afternoon. It is this picturesque place with traditional huts on the shores of a beautiful lake. It was hard to remember we were not just on vacation.

Kuzuko

We were assigned roommates and I was assigned Kuzuko from Japan.  There were many blessings on this adventure. But this was truly one of them.  Kuzuko is 64 and is probably half my height and maybe weighs 100lbs.  She has the biggest smile and her spirit is amazing.  I speak zero Japenese but Kuzuko tries really hard with English and we soon figured out a way to communicate with each other.  She has kids the same age as me and has been doing long distance running for over 30 years and has run across continents. She is the most humble, gentle and kind person.  We became fast friends, she made me feel at ease and my anxiety started to lessen. 

Final Preparations

The next morning after breakfast, Rafael, Andrea and I went for a short 3 k run to shake out our legs and get a look at the terrain.  After that was gear and medical check. Rafael kindly stopped by my hut and helped me get rid of extra weight. I got rid of a ton of gels and all of my medical stuff and half of my fire starter. My pack ended up weighing in a 7.7 kg without water. Far better than the 10kg it was before.  I hoped I wouldn't regret anything I left behind.

Day 1:  Nhambavale Lodge to Kanda 35 km 657 m ascent.

It was a simple breakfast of cereal and coffee, last minute check of my pack, pics with the competitors and last minute bathroom break and we were ready to go at 8 am.  My plan was to go super conservative and make sure I looked after myself.  The first 2.5 km were sandy rolling double track.  I took it easy and walked any climbs and then we were over the sand dunes and on the beach.  I am more of a mountain girl than beach girl, but this beach was breathtaking.  The sky was so blue and the water was turquoise and crystal clear.  To the left were sand dunes.  This section was 19 km and there were no houses or resorts, we would see the occasional fishermen.  Thankfully the tide was out so this section was quite runnable.  I found myself in 11th place.  I ran conservatively and passed three runners before we left the beach. I was feeling good and stuck to my plan of drinking each km, gel every 5 km and salt tab every hour.  There was a breeze on the beach, but once we turned off you could feel the heat and it was getting later in the day.  I stuck with my plan of walking the uphills and if the sandy track was using up too much energy to run then I would walk for a bit.  After check point #2 I caught up to Ita.  She said she was a bit tired ( no wonder, she was the competitor that had done TDS, TDG and Atacama).  She said she was good so I carried on.  Along this section we ran past our first villages and everyone was friendly.  At 30 km I stopped and bought a soda. Jerome the Race Director had said we were allowed to stop and by a cold drink if we wanted as it would give us an opportunity to engage with the locals. The last 5 km were hot with sandy rolling track. I knew I was second female and so I took my time and finished around 4.5 hours. I arrived at camp to find out I was only 5 minutes behind Rafael and Andrea (the first place female).  I felt good, I didn't feel like I pushed too hard.

There were lots of kids to greet us at camp. I got set to make sure I got my recovery drink into me and ate my salted cashews. I then observed the other competitors and followed their example of resting.  I organized my gear and tried to stay off my feet. That afternoon, many locals stopped by to observe us, we sang and danced with the kids.  It was awesome.  This is really why I wanted to come back to Africa, it is amazing to be able to spend time with the local people and see villages and schools where tourists don't usually go.  Even when your hot and tired it is impossible not to have your spirits lifted by the laughter of the kids.

The evenings are short. I cooked my dinner early and choked back the tasteless backpacker meal, drank more water, meditated and went to sleep by 7 pm.  I had survived my first day!!

Day 2:  Kanda-Quissico 39 km 716 m ascent

I woke up early around 4 am. I took the time to meditate and then got ready packing up and cooking breakfast.  I was ready to go by 6 am, but we weren't starting till 7 am.  So I rested, I watched the village come to life, kids walking to school, women going to get water or carry materials to town, young boys taking cattle somewhere, and then we were off at 7 am.  I felt ok, my legs weren't sore at all, my back now that was a different story.  Finishing well the first day, my goals had slightly changed from merely surviving to maybe trying to stay second female or to try and win a stage.  I still knew I had a lot kilometers ahead so I started off conservative again. Today was mostly sandy dirt track and we ran through many villages to start. I passed a few runners and stopped to take a few pics with locals.  After checkpoint # 1 I felt a little low and was worried about how many more kilometers I had to go. I took a gel and decided to use my i-pod. The combination of the sugar and music was amazing, all the sudden I was smiling to myself and the kilometers were clicking by. I caught up to Rafael and Andrea and kept going.  Running faster I was a little worried I would miss a marker. So I stopped a few times to double check. Rafael caught me at the 30 km I tried to keep up to him but he was too fast so I slowed down to my pace again. After 30+ km of similar looking terrain, we were treated to solid dirt road with a crazy view of this beautiful lake and palm trees, like a postcard. I was running well till the last 5 km, the hot sandy track started again, I could feel myself losing motivation, again I stopped and got a Coke from a stand and rolled into camp around 5 hours and 9 minutes. Ita from Italy had taken the lead as first female. My time was good enough again for second female and seventh overall.

Camp was a surprise, we were on the lake! That meant swimming! I went down to the lake with Steven a French competitor and told him in my awful Franglais that if we saw snakes I would be jumping on top of him. But there was nothing scary there. It was pristine, clear water and white sand. I just floated and felt on top of the world. After, was reality check, my feet were getting some blisters and I had lost a flip flop (dammit), now I'd have to wear my running shoes around camp. On the bright side though, it was a few less grams that I would have to carry. Dr Bruno helped me out with my feet.

Dr Bruno became such a good friend to me.  He reminded a bit of a great teacher I had in high school, Mr Fischer. He kind of had that same quiet but encouraging attitude of having higher expectations for you than you do yourself. Once he knew I could speak French, there was no going back to English, he let me struggle to find my words and even if I was speaking Franglais he would answer always in French.  He was accomplished ultra runner in his own right. He competed in the first Marathon des Sables among many other ultra adventures. A cervical fracture while skiing in the mountains prevented him from running competitively anymore.  He has since been the medical director on 34 ultra trail adventures all over the world.  He was so knowledgeable and looked after the competitors so well.

One of best things about these adventures is the simplicity, there is no distraction of the internet, work, family and other obligations. Routines are simple, recovery, foot care, cook, eat, drink, sort gear, go to sleep. Smile and play with the kids and chat to other runners in between.

Day 3 (The long day) Quissico to Lac Poelela 51 km 803 ascent

After two days there was only a few minutes separating the top 3 female competitors.  I was hoping to be conservative again and maybe catch the leader Ita later in the day.  This did not work out.  She put a gap of almost 50 minutes on me. Her strength and ability are really amazing.  I started out the same as always, this was probably the worst day for my back, I was getting these sharp stabbing pains in my shoulders and upper back and my feet were starting to hurt.  I caught up to Andrea early and we ran into check point one together.  I took some Aleve, knowing the risk but hoping to only take it the one time.  My back settled down and I continued to run with Andrea.  It was so great to have the company because this was going to be a long day.  We enjoyed the kids and stopped to take some pictures and video at the local school, shortly after that I got a little ahead of Andrea.  I was running by myself and suffering a bit, thinking how hot and tired I was and I still 25 km to go. Then I heard the sound of a giggle.  I turned around and there was this beautiful girl probably in her early twenties named Iza. She was in a blouse, skirt and flip flops and she was running with me.  This instantly lifted my spirits and we ran the next mile or so together.  We shared few words, but running and smiles are universal.  She stopped when we met up with her friends I thanked her and kept going. I rolled in check point # 2 at 30 km in good shape.

Then I saw that Julen the current second place competitor from Spain, sitting on the ground looking hot and exhausted.  I quickly learned he was not injured but maybe just overheated? He had been walking a lot and he didn't want to do the race like that. Andrea came in just behind me.  Andrea, Bruno, Jerome and I convinced him to keep going. I was ready first so I left and he and Andrea left just after me.  There's a saying if you want to feel better or worse in an Ultra just wait 10 minutes. Just minutes after leaving the checkpoint I started feeling hot and tired and lamenting to myself how long these next 21 km were going to take.  Julen quickly caught me on a long hot dusty uphill and I was happy to see he decided to stay in the race.  The next few kilometers were solitary, no smiling villagers, no little kids to run with me and although near by I couldn't see Julen or Andrea. I tried to stay focused on looking after myself in the heat and lost all interest in trying to catch Ita the female leader.  Even after a few kilometers when I came to the next village it was hard to run fast enough to satisfy the kids who wanted to run with me.  I came to a stand and bought a COLD Coke.  (This in itself seemed miraculous) .  In Tanzania I never found anything that was cold.  The sugar rush hit and I was running, I caught up to Julen again and came into check point # 3 just ahead of him.  This checkpoint was on the beach and the water looked so inviting.  I decided to go for a swim, best decision, I could feel my core temperature lower and I was renewed. I left the checkpoint behind Julen and ahead of Andrea. We were warned the next 10 km were hard and they did not disappoint.  It is really hard to run on soft sand, and while the scenery was gorgeous these last 10 km grinded away at me and I hiked most of them.  Finishing hot and exhausted around 7.5 hours second female and eight overall and having no idea how I was going to recover enough to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.

Camping on a beach is kind of like having sex on a beach. It seems kind of romantic but all you do is end up with sand in places you don't want, this meant even in my dinner.  Plus the water was blocked by large vegetation and not the easiest to get to, so most of us didn't swim.  It was later in the day and my feet were getting worse, Dr Bruno helped me again get them sorted. I struggled with starting a fire and thankful Ramon and Raul from Argentina and Chile were able to help me yet again with getting a fire going.  They speak about as much English as I do Spanish but we figured it out.  Hanging out with the South American runners and listening to them speak Spanish made me really homesick and miss Frank even more.  I had drank at least 6 liters of water and hadn't peed since 7 am.  I really wanted to go to sleep so I thought I would try to pee before bed.  I tried and then found I was peeing blood, my heart sank, I remembered the Aleve I had taken earlier (did I take or one or two?), how I still felt overheated and I was nervous this was the start of something ominous.  I went and told Dr. Bruno, and again was thankful for his experience as runner and not just a Dr.  He was unfazed by my revelation and said it had happened to him at MDS and other races and that stress of running can sometimes cause hematuria, he told me it was a common problem and not to worry about it and to stop with damn NSAIDS.  He said my kidneys would be fine and go drink more.  Were only allotted 8 liters a day of water, today because it was the long day we got an extra 1.5 liters.  I went and chugged the rest of my water and waited impatiently for the urge to pee.  It was now 8 pm and I finally I had the urge to pee, by the light of my headlamp I could see it was clear, success!

Day 4 Lac Poelela to Cambula 47 km and 807 m ascent

I didn't know if I could take another day of heat and the universe heard me, I woke up to glorious rain! I can't even say how much joy that gave me.  It's never fun to try and get ready or stand around in the rain but I didn't care! The rain didn't take away my foot pain though, when I put my shoes on they hurt and felt too small. My feet were starting to swell, why didn't I buy shoes a half size bigger!  We started with a few kilometers on tarmac (the only in the race), but I was slow and stayed behind.  Most of the tract was pretty runnable but it took me almost an hour to kind of wake up and find my legs.  I finally caught up to Andrea and we ran and chatted for the next several kilometers.  The track was packed down and it was nice not to fight with the sand.  It was a little frustrating because I could've run a faster pace but it was day 4 and my feet were hurting constantly and so I kept to a pretty conservative pace and the highs were getting more and more spread out.   After checkpoint # 2 I caught up with Giuseppe from Italy. I got a little bit of ahead of him and I had to pee, awesome, I had never had to pee yet during the race, I must be doing a good job of being hydrated, yay me.  Then I look down and blood again, dammit. I tried not to let it bother me and kept focus on drinking. I got to a cross roads and some kids were playing with the marker, I thought no problem, I will pull out my map.... fuck. No map, it must have fallen out when I stopped to pee. I ask the kids which way the marker was they assured me it was pointed to the left and I could see footprints so I headed down the path.  But, I was too unsure, plus I am not in the greatest shape with the sore feet and peeing blood so I don't want to get lost on top of it. I waited for Giusppe and he had also lost his map also but reassured me that all the front runners shoe prints were there so we stuck together until the next marker and then  I kept going at my pace.  These next kilo-meters were hard mentally. I was kind of over being distracted by the scenery and people.  It was like at the end of a 100 miler, I couldn't think a lot and focused on one foot in front of the other and one kilometre at a time. Four kilometres from the finish Dino (our photographer) and Brian had a surprise checkpoint with Fanta, I took a swig and their encouragement propelled me on to the finish.  I was about 6.5 hours, second female and eighth  overall.

It was still raining at camp, so there was the added challenge of drying out gear and finding dry firewood.  Raul the fire king had no trouble getting a fire going and I was so grateful. I ate my backpacker pasta and it didn't taste half bad.  My feet were super painful and getting swollen and I wasn't sure how well the last day was going to go for me.  Andrea found my missing map, she had also found it day 3 (my map angel).

Day 5 Campula to Jangamo 47 km 507 meters ascent

It was probably my worst night sleep, I couldn't find a comfortable position and were up at 330.  I was done fighting with the fire and skipped my oatmeal and coffee and ate a protein bar (not the best decision). I got rid of anything non mandatory and kept my calories to a minimum. Its the Last Day, just 47 km between me and a swim in the ocean, beer, shower and wifi!! I thought the last day might be like the last miles in an ultra where you get a boost in energy because you can smell the finish line, not so much.  The first hour was miserable although my body was tired I wasn't having any major problems, but my mind was the challenge of day 5. Other runners, kids, music, nothing was getting me out of my funk. I kept moving forward and hoping my mood would change, it did for a bit.  After check point #1 I started moving a bit better and passing a few runners.  I ran through a pretty village and the people were smiling and waving and I looked at all the women in the field with their babies and watched them working hard and reminded myself to be grateful.  I was feeling better once I got to checkpoint # 2 and thought, OK, last 19 km and it is on this beautiful beach and the sand is runnable, let's go! But no, everything was resisting, my mind was kind of miserable, my feet hurt, my knees hurt and my watch died.  The kilometres seemed endless and even though I didn't want to walk I couldn't make it more than 5 or 10 minutes without a walk break.   Andrea was close to me, but I just kept going with my run/walk pace.  Finally I saw our photographer Dino, he snapped a few pics of me and than ran and chatted a bit with me, my mood improved and he said I had 4 km to go.  Then I saw Brian, I was close to tears, I was so tired and done with this run, he tried to cheer me up by saying the first round is on him and promised me it was only 3 km to go.  The beach seemed endless and yet I couldn't see the fucking finish line, where was it!?  I waited for Andrea and I said if the finish line is not around the next corner I am going to cry and walk to the finish, fuck it.  She laughed and reassured me it had to be around the next corner and sure enough we saw some buildings and the race vehicles, and just like that our pace quickened and we were joyous again.  We crossed the finish line together, instant relief and happiness washed over me, celebratory hugs from Bruno, Jerome and Rafael.  Damien had Coke and fresh Coconut water still in the coconut ready for us, amazing. Then I go down to the water, the same water I stared at for the last 19 km, the same water where we started 200 + kilometres ago.  I go in and let the waves crash over me and I laugh and float and go with the flow of the waves. 

I just ran 220 km in Mozambique!  How lucky I am I? So grateful for this life! Now where is the beer!?

By the Pool.

Race Start

Kuzuko

The Lodge

Day 1

Day 2 - Dr. Bruno Thomas

Day 3 - Iza

Day 3 - Beautiful Views

Seen from the race

On the Beach

Stride Inside 6 Hour Indoor Track Race

Introduction

My first race of 2018 ended up being an indoor track race. With Canadian winters being as harsh as they are for runners I thought that the relative comfort of running indoors would be a welcome relief from the bitter cold and slippery conditions.

Having met the race director Jeff Rowthorn at a 50K trail race in October 2017 I started hearing the buzz around this event and was intrigued. When I found out that he and his wonderful partner in crime Heather Borsellino had dedicated this run to ShelterSafe, an organization that supports shelters for abused women and their kids across Canada I went from intrigued to registered. I thought that it would be a nice follow-up to my 55K run on my 55th birthday in December 2017 which raised about $900 for our local shelter My Friend's House. ShelterSafe was the same cause with a larger scope.

I have to say that Heather and Jeff are two of the nicest people you could ask for as race directors. Their passion for running shows and the event had all the amenities that ultra runners expect. Since they are regulars at Ontario Ultra Series events, everything was like "old home week" as all the familiar faces of close friends were in attendance.

The event featured 1 hour, 3 hour and 6 hour races with the object being to run as many laps as you can in that amount of time. There can be no DNF, just some amount of laps run so no pressure at all! 

Need a washroom break? Aid station? No problem! You are never more than 100 metres from either facility. The aid station was well stocked with every type of salty and/or sweet snack you need and water or electrolyte drinks in abundance. Showers were also available for after the run.

Overall very well organized and while I wished I was outside on a trail, I was happy to be inside on this cold January 6th day socializing for 6 hours with good friends as we went in circles!

6 Hour Kickoff

I know I'm in good company with the other crazies in choosing 6 hours but it was cool to see others I knew coming off injury had a shorter time option. And of course the 1 and 3 hour events were different beasts altogether because people were absolutely killing it pace wise! My hat is off to all the athletes in all the events.

I started off knowing I needed to take it easy because it's tempting to run faster than you should on such a flat perfect surface. Of course I ignored my inner coach and went too fast for about the first 80 laps. It just felt so good and I could hang out with friends doing the 1 or 3 hour. So a little slap on the wrist from self coach ensued. Since I had run 55 km just a couple of weeks before to celebrate my 55th birthday, there was no way I'd be fresh enough to hold that pace!

 

Mid Section

Having gone out way too enthusiastically and starting to feel my achilles giving me grief I showed at least a little common sense (It's rare) and adjusted the pace down accordingly. 

It's the part of an ultra where you normally are in the middle of the woods and can be alone for many hours. Not here! I really enjoyed catching up with friends Steven H, Steven P, Grant M, Kristina J, Robin B, Patrick M, Hans M, Michelle T, Ken N etc.

It really started to become tough because of the constant turning. In my high school track career the most I'd done was 16 laps of a 200 metre indoor track to complete a 3,000M event. In this 6 hour span I ended up with 258 laps of a 214 metre track. This was madness! Although we changed direction every 1.5 hours I personally found that my achilles tendons and calf muscles were finding the cornering again and again challenging. But... We are ultra runners and suffering is all part of it.

Last 58 Laps

After the first 200 laps I started realizing that I might only get as far as about 55 km in 6 hours which would be a lot slower than my 55k birthday run in 5:05 which was outdoors on road. I realized I'd have to walk off some niggling calf cramps around this point in time.

Being a fun run and social I now decided it was a good idea to walk about 10 laps. Lucky for me I found Michelle Tanner, someone I find inspiring because she did the Haliburton 50 miler while pregnant! And so I had such a great conversation with her while I walked off my cramps and totally forgot the pain.

It was down to the last half hour! I had been trying really hard with my problem achilles to compartmentalize the clock into segments to make it seem ok somehow. In distance based races I usually compartmentalize it into distance segments. I make deals with myself like to hold the pace for just the next 10K and see how I feel then. When I get to the end of that 10K segment I make another deal. In this way you can trick yourself into maintaining pace! With this event it was hold that pace for half an hour and take another trip to the aid station room for fuel from our friend "Tanker" and back out. 

The best feeling in the world was to see that I was within the last half hour. Soccer and ultimate frisbee teams had come and gone over the course of 6 hours and still we were there, running in circles!

Crossing the line at the last practical lap within 6 hours it was quite a fist bumping back slapping moment where we got our cool Stride Inside medals. My ultimate supporter Susan was there to congratulate me. She is a great cheerleader and although she confessed to going out to a coffee place to do a couple of hours of her accounting work, I know she was there in spirit for the whole 6 hours. I mean running can be a great spectator sport, but not for 6 hours really!

I was glad I did it and had a lot of fun. I probably killed my right achilles from the turning and not running on trails but these things happen to all of us from time to time. It's all back to normal now and I'm looking forward to the trail racing season of 2018!

My Results

Nick Brindisi
13th place overall/10th male
258 laps of the 214 metre track completed in 6 hours
55.2 km

Finishers receive a great singlet with the logo and a medal.

Medal!

Running in Circles!

From the spectator's Balcony

Keep on keeping on!

2019 Race Information

Date January 5, 2019
Time 9am (1hr & 6hr) 10:30am (3hr)
Location Royal Distributing Athletic Performance Centre - Guelph, ON
Distances 1 hour, 3 hour, 6 hour

Description This race is based on a professional indoor track. This event is family friendly and we encourage both walkers and runners to take part. There will be music and food available to participants along with product and gear representatives.

Race Kits & Medals Race kits will have a multitude of goodies including a custom race tank. Finishers will receive a custom race medal.

This race will support Women's Shelters Canada and its website sheltersafe.ca in its efforts to provide safety, hope, and support for abused women and their children.

Information about this race and others: www.happytrailsracing.com/races

Running in Kenya

Introduction

As a race director and lifelong runner who coaches Kenyan athletes remotely it has always been a dream of mine to run in Kenya. There is something very compelling about going to the country that has the reputation of being home to the fastest humans on the planet. In May of 2017 through some twists of fate my opportunity to go finally came.

I was asked to produce a website promoting run tourism for runners from North America to participate in the Mully Half Marathon, a race designed to raise funds for the Mully Children's Family. These funds provide housing, food, medical care, clothing and an education to thousands of orphans and street kids. It seemed only fitting that I would participate in the race to find out what we were promoting.

Beyond the first week with the children of the Mully Children's Family I was able to travel 350 kilometres north of Nairobi to Nandi county to run with elite athletes I know in the towns of Kapsabet and Eldoret. These towns are located in the hilly country at 6,600 feet and above, which partly explains the incredible cardio capacity of these amazing runners.

Mully Half Marathon - Ndalani Kenya

During my time at the Mully Children's Family facility in Ndalani Kenya I was privileged to have been able to meet hundreds of children of all ages. I spoke to them at assembly and was able to run with them.

My message was simple. Running can be a way of life and a way to stay healthy over the course of their entire lives. This is quite a new concept for a lot of Kenyans who train to win and to be the fastest at all costs. They feel that their livelihood and all opportunity is entered around this idea and often give up running in their 30's if they don't become the next world champion. That idea is reinforced by the fact that there are generally no participation medals in most races - only top 3! I wanted to say that it's a great metaphor for life and not to be discouraged and give it up.

On the second last day of my stay at the Mully Children's Family facility we were transported by land rover out to the start of the race in nearby Yatta. The dew was still evaporating as we drove the dirt road out to the highway past roadside stands selling all sorts of goods.

Upon arriving at the starting line the other Canadian runners Ross and Bernie from Calgary and I were surprised that they were still taking roadside registrations and had large lineups. The banner was still being strung across the road and the race marshals, members of the Kenyan police were present in large groups. They were all armed with automatic weapons so I doubt any drivers would cut off any runners or cause any other sort of nuisance.

We were quite a novel addition to the race as the only 3 Mzungus (white men) participating. Kenyan national TV (NTV) was quick to interview us to ask about our goals and what the race was raising funds towards. In fact it was the exact opposite of North American races where there is a lead pack that invariably includes Kenyans that breaks away. Instead it was a large pack of very fast Kenyans leaving the 3 Canadians in the dust!

The heat that day was nearly unbearable as Yatta is nearly on the equator so the sun was almost directly above us. Heat from above combined with the heat reflecting back up off the road cooked us. This was compounded by the fact that the start time had slipped by nearly three hours! We had hoped to start before the sun had gotten very high, but the race day registrations had taken longer than expected. This is why most races in other parts of the world have pre-registration with online registration and payment. Be prepared if you do race in Kenya to pay cash or using your phone with the MPesa app. There might not be pre-registration!

The Race

Oh that heat! At home I'm capable of something close to a 1:30 half marathon and maybe I'd take a sip of water half way so that I can keep the pace up. This was definitely not the case in Ndalani/Yatta that morning. As the race time had slipped and the equatorial sun crept higher, the pavement got to blast furnace status.

I started at what I thought was a reasonable half marathon pace like I normally would. The bulk of the race of super quick Kenyans receded ahead and I settled down into a pace I thought I could sustain, being careful to take water whenever it was offered.

About 10K in I had climbed a couple of hills and was completely soaked through! I had also used 3 bottles of water in just 10K! Be prepared because in Kenya most races have no electrolyte drink along the route at all, just warm bottled water. Most elite Kenyans will not take water in a half marathon anyway, but some did on this day given the temperatures.

At 15K I passed a very fast looking young Kenyan who was sitting in the ditch with his head between his knees. I stopped to ask if he was alright and he insisted he was. Since he looked like he had heat stroke I gave him an unopened bottle of water I'd been handed and a couple of guys on a motorbike arrived to look after him.

Moving right along, a couple of things over the last 6K struck me as odd. One was that the race had no cones or barriers so that you really had to be careful to watch for cars and trucks whizzing by. The other thing was whenever I passed a crowd who had come out to see the race from a small village they seemed completely astonished! They must have been completely astonished and wondered who the 50 something white guy with grey hair was! As I passed them, some yelled out "Mzungu! Go Mzungu!" and others laughed outright. I really didn't take it as an insult because I'm quite certain the laughs were the type of laugh you get when you catch someone completely off guard. After all, not many Kenyans in their 50's or even 40's are competing at running or even running at all. This is something I'd like to change for the sake of their long term health.

At the 20th kilometre I reached the place on the highway where the race turned onto a dirt road for the last 1.1 km. I had consumed 8 bottles of water and looked like I had been swimming due to the sweat. I'd never been so happy to be close to the finish line.

At the finish a nice finish tape had been strung across for me as the first Mzungu to finish. I had actually beaten some Kenyans much to my surprise as well given my slow 1:57 time. I truly felt like a celebrity although I know it was really just that Kenyans are very hospitable welcoming people for the most part.

After Race Activities

Another way that running is different in Kenya is that it is revered and celebrated the way Americans celebrate football or how Germans celebrate soccer. In Canada or the US after a race, there may be a modest medal presentation for the top 3 in various age groups, but the vast majority of runners get a participation medal. In Kenya it's medals for the top 3 only. It's is the dream of every young Kenyan to win at running. The podium is all they are shooting for. Success can mean travel, sponsorship, scholarships, in short a better life for them and their family.

At the finish line my friend Edinah Rotich was there to make sure I didn't drop from heat stroke and to get me to the massage area where a young therapist worked on my calf and achilles area which had only recently recovered from injury. Edinah is a top volleyball player on the Kenyan national team and an ambassador for clean sport/anti-doping as well as a guard to the first lady! I was in good company.

After my massage I was ushered over to a large rectangular area that was surrounded by open tenting with seating underneath. We were afforded VIP seating near the race officials and the man himself, Dr. Charles Mulli! There were speeches, choirs, presentations of every kind. For me personally the honour reached it's peak when I was asked to present the medals and bouquets of flowers to the top 3 finishers in the half marathon who had run under 62 minutes!

When the ceremony which was attended by hundreds of people was finished we were invited by Dr. Mulli to a big barbecue meal to cap off an amazing event and day. Although there was some meat at the table, I kept to my vegan diet. It's quite easy to do in Kenya with the fried greens, ugali, corn, rice, potatoes and other vegetables in abundance.

During the ride back from the race I reflected on how lucky we were and the generous, loving character of the Kenyan people. I was made to feel welcome despite being from a different place and having a different colour & customs etc. I think a lot of other cultures could take a cue from Kenyan culture when it comes to not only accepting the differences of others, but celebrating them! I will always have a special place in my heart for my Kenyan friends and they are welcome here any time.

Takeaways

  • When in Kenya always stay hydrated by drinking a lot of water
  • Expect race plans to change including details such as start time
  • Arrive early but be prepared with shade or at least a good hat for waiting
  • Sun protection is key
  • Stay alert and watch for passing traffic and don't wear headphones!
  • Follow instructions given by course marshals

Morning trip to the starting line.

Picking up the race bib.

Kenyan runners at the starting line.

Ross, Me, Edinah, Kenyan runner, Bernie - Start

Finishing like a winner despite being near the back!

The youth leaders of Mully Children's Family.

A massage and shade!

Kenyan choir at the medal ceremony.

Sinister 7 – 2016 Third Time is the Charm!

Sinister 7 - 100 miles/161 Kilometres - 19,000 feet/5,791 metres Vertical Climb - 30 hour time limit.

In July 2016 after 2 failed attempts I finally finished this race which truly lives up to it's Sinister name. More than just a race this was a 2 week trip of epic proportions with my friend Marc. It was a reunion with my western ultra running family. These are the crazy people who run these races and crew the people who do. Before I tell my story I have to thank my friends Marc for being a true friend and great traveling companion, Sherri for the best crewing ever, and Hiro for booking the hotel room at the race a year in advance so I would have to enter again!

Leg 1

On the morning of July 9th, 2016 a crowd of runners from all over Canada, the USA and other parts of the world gathered on the main street of Blairmore Alberta for the start of the Sinister 7 race.

The race is 161 kilometres of rugged trail that is separated into 7 legs that take runners to remote parts of the Crowsnest Pass, looping back towards relative civilization in places. It's wild, it's wilderness and runners had better come prepared. As race director Brian Gallant will tell you "this race will beat you up!"

While the majority of runners are on teams of up to 7 runners there is a solo contingent of 216 entries for 2016 who toed the line ever optimistic of their chances of success. I can say from personal experience that you have to remain optimistic and humble in the face of this thing because it did beat me up twice before in 2013 and 2014 resulting in my only 2 DNF's in my life. I was in good company though because in this year's edition only 61 of the 216 starters would finish this gruelling race.

We set off on leg 1 to the cheers of quite a few supporters who lined the streets leading out of Blairmore and quickly ended up running a grassy ditch that led us out to the Frank Slide. The Frank Slide is a rock slide that took out an entire village and is an ominous reminder of the power of nature.

After climbing through Bellevue and Hillcrest I climbed around the back side of the slide and eventually ducked into the forest enjoying the morning run and trying to put the concept of how much further I had to go out of my mind. IT's always good to break it down and concentrate on things one leg at a time.

Before long I was at the end of leg 1 ahead of schedule and feeling super fresh. That was a good thing because after a brief pit stop to fuel up and fill my water bottles it was on to Leg 2 which is challenging and in my mind good to put behind me quickly to stay ahead on time.

So far so good! Cheering and support at the transfer point and I keep on moving as quickly as possible onto leg 2.

Marc - Truly a great guy and running friend

Sherri - The best crew ever!

Leg 2

On leg 2 I had a sense of Deja vu and strangely a sense of relief. The preliminaries were over and you really feel like it's all business from here.

I ran without any undue fatigue and had cheerful conversations with other runners. Unlike the previous two attempts I climbed the switchbacks up to some tremendous views faster and more comfortably than ever before. 

From there the gritty sections came on with the wild ride down the quad busting switchback descent taking me down to cross the river that flows into Blairmore. With the water levels low this year, I was able to cross the tiny bridge they had put in place and keep my feet dry and therefore free of blisters!

3:59.04 and done 2 legs! That made me feel super happy.

 

Leg 2 - Feeling fresh!

Leg 2 - running with Tara

Leg 3

Leg 3 is the "make or break" leg for a lot of solo runners. In previous years it's been unseasonably hot and humid even at the top of the climbs. It is a 1,357 metre climbing 31.4 km, rugged beast. 

I think the race director, Brian Gallant summed it up best:
Also known as "Satan's Sack", Leg 3 is dry, hot, and exposed. This leg of the Sinister 7 has the second most elevation gain and distance. In return, you are rewarded with stunning views of the mountains atop the Continental Divide! This leg crosses through the haunting remains of the 2003 Lost Creek fire where one feels as though they are on another planet. After passing the burn scar, runners once again climb back into Blairmore for the start of leg 4.

Fully fuelled I climbed out of the transfer and descended into the valley that leads to the more rugged section once used in an episode of Mantracker. If you like running on a combination of single track mixed with washed out ATV trails, this is for you. 

With the temperature being more comfortable this year I reached the point where I had struggled to maintain a running pace last time and managed to continue running! When I reached the 2nd aid station 2/3rds of the way through I actually felt amazing for the first time ever. 

Leaving the aid station and continuing over the top I ran the rugged descent towards the climb out of Satan's Sack. this climb tests everyone as it's super steep and seems to go on forever. At the top of it the reward is a super beautiful panoramic view of the mountains on the other side of the highway. 

Having made that climb and still feeling great I ran down towards the 2/3 transfer for my 2nd visit to take fuel to prepare for leg 4.

I had survived leg 3 in 5:07 (9:05 elapsed) and done 3 legs and 68 km. It may not seem to be such a fast time but when I considered the elevation and the rough nature of the trails I was happy. No time to waste as leg 4 was beckoning.

 

Leg 3 - Hotter but bearable

Leg 3 - Alpine meadows seen through a steamy iPhone lens

Leg 4

Leg 4 hits you smack in the face with a chin scraper! A steep climb up a ski hill reminded me that although leg 3's climb was behind me, there was a whole lot of race left.

Having done the climb it opened up into an area that used to be densely forested but was now open due to some logging which afforded yet more views previously unavailable. this section landed me back at the aid station that is also part of leg 3.

After that aid station I took stock of urinary output and it was good. Not so dark and more volume. These are important health indicators in 100 mile races. This fact bode well for the coming long cross country section of leg 4.

During the rolling cross country section I was hours ahead of previous years and feeling pretty good for the first half of it but of course that changed. Ah the stomach, the bane of any ultra runner's existence! My stomach began realizing how much gel I'd stuffed in there along with the real food, and boatloads of fluids. I had become queasy like previous years near the 89 km mark of the race. Just past half and worried about how it would affect me was not the place I wanted to be. 

I pulled into the checkpoint at the end of leg 4 and was met by my friend Sherri who was crewing her friend Colin and a few others. She had mobilized her own crew of people and before I knew it I was being re-clothed, fresh socks being put on, and fed!

I knew that despite my stomach feeling a little off I'd need calories so I took broth and some potatoes. The mistake I made was the meatballs. My head was not working right at that point and despite normally being 100% plant based I took some. What followed can only be described as the most selective throw-up ever. Only the meatballs returned so my vegetarianism was maintained!

Leg 4 was done in 3:20:36 (12:20 elapsed) and done 4 legs and approximately 89 km. With my jacket on I pressed into leg 5 in full daylight still ahead of schedule on track for 24 to 25 hours.

 

Leg 4 - Leaving transfer 2/3 out on leg 4

Leg 4 - Unbelievable beauty in the afternoon

Leg 5

Leg 5 was probably one of my hardest although none easy! My stomach had declared it's intentions to stop digesting food and water. Without these 2 ingredients it's impossible to continue. 

The absolute best part was meeting up with Colin and Monique and sharing leg 5. Colin is a very determined person who embraces the suffering and stays positive regardless! Monique has a smile that no amount of suffering can erase. Her positivity is infectious! With their company I was able to stagger through to the 2nd aid station on 5 where the amazing staff there fed me raw ginger! 

Reaching the end of leg 5, the ginger had completely turned my stomach back on and I felt positively energized and hopeful that I'd be ok. I met Marc at transfer 5/6 and with his help got salty soup into me for leg 6. His encouragement was amazing and I suited up with 2 jacket and glove layers for leg 6 and near freezing temperatures.

Leg 5 was done in about 6 hours (18:20 elapsed) and done 4 legs and approximately 117 km. I had reached my furthest yet at this race.

 

Leg 5 - Queasy stomach but great company!

Leg 5 - Setting out on leg 6 into the dark but smiling

Leg 6

 

I was officially into uncharted territory on this my 3rd attempt. Leg 6 didn't disappoint in delivering some punishment with a brutal climb off the get-go. The climb had all sorts of creeks crossing it with uneven rocks and for the first time I was running with soaked feet. 

Through the forest canopy I could see billions of stars in the alpine night. Other than the stars, my entire world was described within the cone of light from my headlamp. This was a feeling of total meditative peace and I didn't mind being completely alone. 

After many rolling hills I had come to a clearing and saw the first hints of dawn on and a slightly brightening sky. This was barely perceptible and it's a good thing because I really didn't want to see the climb that everyone talks about on leg 6. It is one of the worst climbs in the race because it comes at a point where you are mentally and physically exhausted from running all day and night. 

I emerged at the highest point on the course and a band of pink on the horizon had developed. With no trees around I had a stunning view of Crowsnest Mountain and the 7 Sisters and a bunch of mountains on the west side of the valley I was about to drop into. These mountains were bathed in fiery orange and red colour from the sunrise. I was in tears because it was so beautiful and because I realized with certainty that I would finish this race no matter what!

I ran as fast as my body could take me downhill and on towards the valley and it's rolling hills and herds of friendly cows! One foot in front of the other and press on was my mantra. I had a lot of soreness but nothing that could stop me running and making decent time. 

I ran into the aid station at transfer 5/6 and Sherri was there again offering all manner of support. I said I'd been fantasizing about a giant coke with ice all night because all that heavy breathing in the climbs had made my throat so dry that my tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. Taking my jacket layers and serving up copious quantities of coke Sherri again showed her big heart and amazing crew skills. I let her know where I thought Colin and Monique were on course and proceeded out on leg 7!

Leg 6 was done in about 7:25 hours 25:45 elapsed) approximately 151 km with 10k to go. 

 

Leg 6 - The beauty of dawn!

Leg 6 - The highest point in the race

Leg 6 - A hasty selfie at dawn

Leg 7 to the finish!

This was absolutely the most enjoyable leg for me. Lots of solo runners talk about how the last leg was soul destroying but perhaps because of the sugar and caffeine in that coke I was enjoying it. 

It started with guess what - another brutal climb up Wedge Mountain. I just pretended it was Blue Mountain ski resort back home and got it done as quickly as possible.

The climb led into some rolling technical single track and then into a big switchback descent that leads to the finish at the community centre in Coleman. I have no idea how, but I was ripping the downhills as if it was still yesterday morning. I normally love descending but I was surprised to be moving fast enough for a 9th place for leg 7 in 1:35.

I emerged from the forest and smelled the finish. After a short run down a road it turned into the only pavement since the start in Blairmore. At this point I just hung on and ran as fast as I could. Upon passing a runner with only blocks to go he began chasing me! 160 km and 1 to go and an actual footrace was on. I still can't believe I was still actually running at this point but absolutely ecstatic.

Rounding the last turn and into the parking area and the finish arch I was again pretty emotional. This was partly because it had taken 2 successful failures before I got to the finish line. But mostly it was because of the wonderful people in this and other races that truly make this sport amazing.

There are friendships that form quickly and solidly born out of ultra running. It must be something about sharing the pain and the challenge that makes this so. Although I find that the sport attracts some pretty solid people with big hearts. The whole mentality is about helping each other succeed against some sobering odds. 

Leg 7 was done in about 1:35 and the full race in 27:29 which was inscribed on the bottle of "Sinner" red wine along with my name and bib number. That plus the medal are very nice mementos of the race but insignificant compared to the company of the friends who all went through this event as participants, volunteers or crew.

I'll never be the fastest runner in these events but I do so very much enjoy the challenge and I've realized that no matter what I'll finish eventually. I would encourage anyone out there runner or not to apply this thinking to life. Never settle for ordinary and try again and again until you reach your dreams.

Thanks to Brian Gallant and his huge team of volunteers for putting on a very challenging event in the wilderness with professionalism. I would heartily recommend this race either as a solo runner or on a relay team. It will always be special to me. I highly recommend this race! Visit Website: sinister7.com

Lastly I have to thank my friend Peter Taylor for making me believe I could do this thing. 

Leg 7 - Brief recovery walk at the top of Wedge

Leg 7 - Finishing!

Finish - No better feeling of accomplishment!

Sinner wine!

100 mile dirt tan!

Stonesthrow Cafe in Blairmore a day after.

92.2 km Running Weekend!

The year 2016 threw a slight curve my way when the first weekend in May ended up being the 1st of May. A really excellent trail race I love to run called Pick your Poison which is usually a weekend before the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon ended up being the day before the marathon! This left me with the dilemma of either missing the 50K trail race or missing the marathon which really wasn't an option. I do the website for the Toronto Marathon and the race director is my partner in the Collingwood Half Marathon. My entry was free and I wouldn't miss race weekend. So of course I had to do the races back to back to use them as a training weekend.

After posting my intention to run two significant races back to back on Facebook, my ultra running friend Bert Starke took notice. Within about 2 minutes he had decided that he was in for this crazy adventure as well! Bert, a paramedic in Calgary, Alberta was going to be visiting family in Montreal and Ottawa anyway so decided it would be worth the drive to meet me for these races.

The Race Expo & Reception
In order to promote the Collingwood Half Marathon, I worked at a booth Friday at the Toronto Marathon expo. Bert happily jumped in to help greeting all sorts of runners from all over the world.

Later that evening we were guests of the race director's reception where I had a chance to catch up with everyone including my Kenyan elite athletes that I coach and several other race directors and organizers.

After the reception it was off to bed for us to wake up early for the drive to Horseshoe Valley for the Pick your Poison trail race. My son Tom was primed and ready to take over the booth for us Saturday.

Pick your Poison
The Pick your Poison trail race is aptly named because you can pick 12.5 km, 25 km or 50km by doing 1, 2 or 4 laps of the course. The course is located at a private ski club and is incredibly hilly, technical, and can include some late spring corn snow.

This year we had the driest conditions I remember, pleasant warm sunshine and no corn snow! I had thought I'd have my new PR on the course but it was not to be. On leg 4 about 43 km into the race I develop severe groin cramps as well as calf cramps. This resulted in my 5:20 target time being turned into a 5:55 cramp walk off. I persisted though and finished the race.

As for Bert, he had a super fast race finishing in just under 5:15 with none of the cramp issues. His Icebug shoes with the tiny spikes were basically overkill as the course served up amazing conditions.

Pick your Poison is one of the Ontario Ultra Series races and certainly deserves your attention. You will be pleased with the organization of the event with well stocked aid tables, 3 of which are on course. The friendly crowd of runners and volunteers feels like family. Race director Adam Hill who is an excellent ultra runner himself really cares and puts on an excellent event.

Bert and I hurried back to Toronto to get a good night's sleep and some carbs to prepare for the marathon in the morning!

For more information about Pick your Poison visit: http://www.outrace.ca

The Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon
Morning had come very quickly for Bert and I as we woke to a persistent rain and cold conditions in Toronto. We managed to drag ourselves out of bed, consume some carb and load up for the shuttle bus to the starting line.

Our intention was to simply use the race as a training run for our 100 mile race coming in July as well as afford an opportunity for me to give Bert a tour of Toronto on foot. The Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon is by far the most scenic marathon with the most historical landmarks in Toronto. As long as we came in under 4 hours we really had no pressure.

We also ran into my friends Yvonne and Marie who were also out braving the elements to finish yet another marathon. Camaraderie is one of the beautiful aspects of running!

We arrived at the starting line where I met up with one of the women I coach (Natalie). Nat was feeling the nerves of race morning and hoping to hit my A goal time of 3:30. I calmed her nerves and let her get into the mental zone and concentrate on what she had to accomplish.

Bert and I were feeling surprisingly fresh considering we had finished a 50k trail race a mere 17 hours earlier. We went out and began thoroughly enjoying the race with the enthusiastic supporters cheering us along despite the rain for most of the course. It is really quite touching when so many people brave the elements to stand in the rain and cheer.

We had a few highs and lows where pace would increase then decrease. I continued my travelogue of the city for Bert naming such landmarks as Casa Loma, the Rosedale Valley, St. Lawrence Market, the waterfront etc. We continued this banter and enjoyed the light misting rain until all hell broke loose!

We were 8 km from the finish coming back from the Humberview Park turnaround running into a crazy wind with gusts that threatened to blow our running hats off. The temperature had dropped and the rain intensified to the point where it seemed like we have gone swimming in our running clothes. At that point it became a simple matter of trading the suffering out on the course for a feeling of just wanting to get it over with. Our pace had actually picked up in those last kilometres as a result.

With 500 metres to go the cheering had become deafening! Not only the enthusiastic students working the hydration tables, but the general public at Ontario Place had swelled to the point where it was a roar. Bert had said thank you so many times along the way because it was such an uplifting race and he was so happy to be there. We rounded the last turn and crossed the timing mat with our hands in the air celebrating putting 50k of trail and 42.2k of road behind us within 24 hours! the 92.2k weekend was in the books.

As for my athlete Natalie, she nailed my assigned A time within 24 seconds! 3:30 was hers and she could not be more happy. I could not be more proud!

After the race our core temperatures plummeted and we immediately headed to the medical tent where the nurses assessed us and wrapped us in hospital blankets and hugs near the heaters.

After a shuttle ride back to the Hilton we had the best hot showers ever in our lives. We parted ways as Bert drove to Ottawa to his sister's place and my son Tom and I drove home to Collingwood but not without a stop first!

The Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon is highly recommended for it's fast downhill course, it's scenic quality and historical landmarks. It really is a running tour of Toronto! For more information visit: www.torontomarathon.com

Ugali the Kenyan Wonder Fuel
Heading home after the marathon my son Tom and I stopped at Sammy Chumba's for the traditional Kenyan staple dish of Ugali.

Sammy was 2nd place with a 2:23 time last year at Toronto Marathon and was on pace to win this year but sadly developed some calf cramps due to the cold weather which was not something he is used to.

Ugali is made with corn flour some salt and water. It's boiled to form a solid cake and is often served with vegetable stew and meat when available. As a no meat athlete I was happy to eat the Ugali and vegetables.

Conclusion
This sort of weekend is certainly not the usual thing for most runners. In fact most marathoners taper for a week or two before the event to come into it fresh. Could Bert and I have run the marathon half an hour faster? Sure! But in this case it was more about solid back to back runs to prepare for 100 miles. It's the sort of quality training that must be done to survive that distance.

We will definitely have another crazy weekend like this but until then, I'll see Bert again in July as we run the Sinister 7 100 mile trail race in the Crowsnest Pass Alberta.

Got a race story you would like to tell? Please email info@myactivelifetime.com to feature it here!

Toronto Marathon Expo & Race Director's Reception

Pick Your Poison 50K Trail Race

Muddy, Salty Legs Post Race

Toronto Marathon Start

Cold Wet Final 8K

Nick & Bert after 92.2K Finish

With Ephraim Mwaura

Ugali with Sammy Chumba

Visiting my sponsor 2XU

Running the Rideau Trail from Kingston to Ottawa

The Big Idea

A few weeks ago I was cheerfully enjoying the kind of easy running that comes after a long hard season in which I ran 6 ultra trail races. This restful time was soon shattered when my friend Noel Paine posted an idea on Facebook about doing something epic to celebrate his 40th birthday. That something was to run the Rideau Trail from end to end starting in Kingston and ending in Ottawa where he lives. 

After a careful period of consideration (about 1 minute) I messaged Noel offering to run it with him. But wait you say...I'm supposed to be enjoying the off-season and recovering for the next training cycle. The idea of running this multi-day run just seemed too compelling and I knew I had to do it. 

Our first plans were based on Noel's idea to run all the trail bits which add up to 327 km and the audacious part was the idea of attempting the fastest known time. In the end this was not to be but we ultra runners are eternal optimists or else we would not even start half the events we enter.

And so after much consultation, planning (mostly Noel's) and building our war chests of gear and nutrition we were off and running with a date set and crews selected and committed. Perhaps we should have been committed. 

I suggested that we might accept pledges towards the Canadian Cancer Society as well to truly put the icing on the cake. This was done and it ultimately resulted in over $1,000 raised!

It was time for the talk to end and the action to begin!

Day 1 - Thursday October 29th

After arriving in Kingston from Collingwood, we met up with Noel, his wife Stéphanie and father-in-law Jacques. We transferred some bags and food containers and headed to city hall to begin.

After some hugs and well wishes and the mandatory photos we set out into the dark city streets heading west towards my son's St. Lawrence College where we turned north to head for the trail and to cross under the 401 highway.

The K&P Railway trail is dead straight and is the former trackbed of a long defunct railway that once transported Sir John A. MacDonald! With the brisk crosswind and the visual image of running through a tunnel of trees towards a black hole it was quite spooky and we wondered if the ghost of Sir John A. MacDonald might make an appearance. It was counterintuitive to run away from the light and security of Kingston into the darkness and the unknown trail.

The darkness did throw us off at one point where we mistook a side trail for a place we thought we had to turn. Having committed to that trail and not wanting to go back, we continued by road checking our position by the hydro lines and other landmarks.

Other than stopping occasionally to check our map and waypoints we continued at a fairly brisk pace putting 40 kilometres behind us that first evening from 8:30 till about 12:30. This placed us in the tiny town of Sydenham at our white van with the futon in the back parked at a lumber yard at the end of a skinny part of a lake.

The quick meal and change to dry clothes removed the chill that comes after running and sweating. We settled into the futon for a quick 4 hour nap. A long day awaited us on the Friday but we still felt confident.

Day 2 - Friday October 30th

We piled out of the van after having a nice Oatmeal breakfast and loading up our running packs. Our initial pace was fast walking for a good distance to warm up the legs for the trail running to come. The nearly full moon and stars were amazing as we moved briskly to stay warm.

Around the Gould Lake trail system entrance we stopped to take on water and fuel and use the washrooms. From this point we began some serious trail running. the terrain was technical but nothing crazy at first. Although we seemingly took an extra loop of 10k we were still feeling strong and in good spirits.

After Gould we passed North Otter Lake, Buck Lake and crossed over some huge domes of rock that culminated in a view from the top of telescope hill. The trail meandered quite a bit causing us to be turning south, then east, then north again then east then south. We felt like we were definitely going a long way, certainly longer than you could by road.

The trail at this stage became more hilly and challenging with some mud and water in places before breaking out at the road somewhere around a place called Bedford Mills. We ate peanut butter and honey sandwiches and boiled eggs and whatever else we could take in. Calories were needed and I felt constantly hungry due to the running.

We ran down the road to the next trail entrance full of fuel and carrying our packs full of food and water. We headed into more technical single track that soon gave way to some long country back roads suitable for ATV's. This was going to be a long leg. It wasn't until the evening that we realized just how long!

We came upon sections of pure swamp in which the main trail road was completely flooded with no way around. We had no choice but to wade through water over the ankles for about 200 metres. This was the beginning of trouble as the water was the beginning of blisters.

In the late afternoon after checking the maps and thinking we were not too far from breaking out to road again I stopped near a beautiful lake as the lowering sun made a beautiful light and cast shadows of trees on the orange leafy trails. Noel had gone ahead as I took photos of this beautiful moment and paused to take on drink and to have a bio break. By the time I started moving again he was gone along with maps and waypoints. I was not yet too concerned because I believed we would be out of the woods soon.

Later again in the afternoon I noticed that the sun was setting a little faster than I'd like it to. Noel must have been way ahead on the trail because the forest was deadly silent. I kept running as fast as I dared on the rough terrain obscured by leaves, constantly looking for the ubiquitous orange arrows that marked the trail. It turned and turned and climbed and descended in a seemingly never-ending procession. Although it was very pretty and quite impressive, my mind would not relax as I started wondering if the trail would ever end.

At the point where the sun went down it was getting dark in the forest and I wasn't thinking straight. I stopped to eat my last calories and drink the last of my water, put on my headlamp and jacket and take stock. My iPhone was down to 5% so I put it on airplane mode to make it last in case I needed an emergency call. I began slowly running from orange arrow to orange arrow searching with the beam of my headlamp and often having to backtrack since the trail was totally obscured by leaves.

After what seemed like hours of this I came to a stretch after crossing a river where the trail went dead straight. I saw no orange arrows for about half a kilometre but remembered I was looking for a road. All of a sudden the trail dead ended and there was the orange arrow turned on it's side pointing hard right! I had reached the road.

The road was long and I was beginning to question myself and if it was the right road. I ran as fast as I could until I spotted a light in the distance! It was Noel's headlamp! The relief was so intense and I was happy to get in the car and eat pizza!

We decided to call it quits for the night as we were on the doorstep of Perth and a wonderful couple Noel had contacted to ask about the trail had offered their house to us! Actually not just their house but everything in it and we could bring our crew too!

Arriving at the house our hosts Jack and Johanne Tannett had left a series of notes on where the food was, the showers, beds and everything else! They had left us home made soup and fresh baked biscuits. A note on the fridge said help yourself to anything you find useful. That hot shower felt like no other shower ever. Delicious and followed by the sleep of the dead I knew we would be in good shape for another long day in the morning.

Day 3 - Saturday October 31st

The morning started cold with a -5 C temperature and frost on the ground. Our hosts provided coffee and oatmeal and a last minute briefing about how to avoid a couple of trail vortex areas on the way to Port Elmsley. It's not that we don't like trail, but more that we had a very specific timeline we had to keep in order to return to our day jobs! What this meant was running the shoulder of the highway to speed up our progress.

We began our warmup walk through the beautiful town of Perth which reminded us of an English town with it's stone work style of older buildings downtown. A river runs straight through the middle of town. 

On the way to Port Elmsley we were talking about how these towns are able to exist and what drives them. Where do people work? What motivates them? It wasn't long before we had some answers as we ran past a huge 3M factory. Perhaps tape was being made in there.

I found that my right achilles had tightened right up to excruciating level and that I was developing large blisters under the ball of the foot and the toes from having wet feet the previous day. This was going to be an agonizing day. We ran at a decent pace through Port Elmsley and on to Smith's Falls where the trail became interesting.

Following the orange triangles and the turn by turn instructions we ended up on the wrong side of the canal and went around a large park only to find we were right back where we started from but an hour late! Yes the Rideau trail run had officially been reclassified "the Rideau Trail Experience!" Sort of like a cover band rather than a concert by the real band.

Arriving at the van it seemed they were a little concerned as to what took us so long. Susan and Tom in the car and Jacques and Mark in the van were troopers for putting up with what must have been a boring weekend of waiting around. We could not have done it without them!

Freshly fuelled we set out again for periods of running and walking before heading into the trail again. The trail here was quite flooded and barely passable. Straight as an arrow and fairly uninteresting we elected to rejoin roads connecting with towns like Merrickville and Andrewsville along the way. These little hamlets were getting prepared for the trick or treating to follow. It was not only Noel's 40th birthday but it was Halloween too!

We came upon a small town where we crossed an old wooden decked iron bridge over the Rideau River. This town of Burritt's Rapids meant to us that we were making good progress towards our goal.

Just past Burritt's Rapids my blisters became nearly unbearable. It was on a super long straight section of road running on the shoulder and at sunset when we had put on our headlamps that I had to get in the van to look after my blisters. Upon removing my shoes they inflated like balloons. Jacques pulled out the first aid kit and I took out the scissors and cut holes in the blisters to drain them. After covering them with second skin patches they felt so much better. At this point we were so close to where we had to be for the night that we decided to stop. 

While sitting there patching my feet, we stopped and Noel came running up to the van super fast. I was thinking wow where did that energy come from? The man was positively crushing km's. Then he showed us chocolate and when asked where he got it we found out he went trick or treating! Yes dressed up as an ultra runner he was able to coax some chocolate from a nice Vietnamese couple. 

The search for a place to crash with showers was our next task. Jacques found one hotel that was cheap but was so dirty he wouldn't dare subject us to it. The other was expensive and fully booked. So Jacques had a light come on over his head and generously offered to drive us to his place in Hull since we were only 27 km from our finish line!

The hot showers and food were superb and again we slept like zombies! This was another oasis in the run to help us recharge for yet another day of pain. Noel Paine was to have his turn with pain in the morning.

Day 4 - Sunday November 1st - End Game

Sunday we woke up at Jacque's place and I was full of energy and ready to rock our last 27 km with my feet feeling a lot better. I don't know if Noel realized how bad his shin was feeling at that point but it was about to cause him grief.

We set out in the van for the point we left off the previous night. Along the way we picked up Noel's friend Bridget Roussy and headed on to the starting point. Piling out of the van we began a warmup walk. At this point Noel realized that his shin had swollen up and that running was nearly impossible without complete agony. The good news was that the pain was tolerable if he speed walked and Noel is a super fast walker setting a pace that equals a jog for most people. 

About 5 km into the last run we were joined by my friend Marc Pelosse. It was great to see him again and awesome to have his encouragement as we left the countryside and started seeing suburban landscapes instead. We knew Ottawa was coming up soon!

After bidding goodbye to Marc we had about 10K to go as we passed the ominously named experimental farm and continued into the urban neighbourhoods of Ottawa. With the kind of pain Noel was in we thought it better to take the most direct route. 

After winding our way through the streets we were finally in striking distance of the goal. We saw the monument to those who served and made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. I felt quite emotional at this point thinking about what that monument means especially seeing how wonderfully the guards went about their duty.

In this area there is a set of stairs down to the side of the canal which we ran down and then it was a couple of hundred metres to the trailhead sign! Noel and I broke into a faster run and he let out some primal screams that must have had the Sunday trail walkers wondering what could be wrong with this man! I was emotional yet not seriously so because I could stop laughing at Noel's grunting and laughing because it just felt amazing.

Our welcoming committee was load and happy having commandeered a now useless election sign to use as a welcoming sign. Noel was reunited with Stéphanie and his tiny daughter who was asleep in her stroller blissfully. It was a very touching moment for me to see this reunion of Noel with his family. Stéphanie had brought her extended family as well and they were so amazing. It really made for a beautiful finish. 

I had at that moment realized not only what a bad-ass Noel was for fighting through the pain, but that I had a new friend for life. You can't go through this kind of weekend without becoming good friends. People had no idea we had only met in person for the first time on the Thursday night! I think people thought we had been friends for years. Running is such a great sport because it seems to attract really nice people. That statement definitely held true on this Rideau Trail Experience!

 

Without Whom - Special Thanks

Noel and I would like to thank all the people and companies that made this possible.

  • Jacques "Almost There" Seguin
  • Stéphanie "Amazing" Seguin
  • Mark "Pepsi Warmer" Theriault
  • Bridget "There till the end" Roussy
  • Susan & Thomas Brindisi
  • Marc Pelosse
  • Claude "The Van Man"
  • Grandma "What can I do Instead?"
  • Leanne "Social Media" Richardson
  • Rideau Trail Association
  • Bruce "End to End" Watts
  • Jack & Johanne Tannett
  • Allison Mowat
  • Jason "Shower" Silver
  • Tyler "HOKA" Chara
  • David "NB" Korrell
  • The Running Goat
  • Bill "Trail Advice" Murdoch
  • Derrick "Ultra" Spafford

Some Birthday fun courtesy of Leanne "Social Media" Richardson!

Thanks to our Sponsors!

Noel

  • Muscle Milk Canada
  • New Balance Canada
  • Polar Canada

Nick

  • 2XU XTRM, 2XU Canada
  • Clif
  • Toronto Marathon

Links

Rideau Trail Association: rideautrail.org

Ontario Trails Council: ontariotrails.on.ca

Noel's Blog: A 258-Kilometre 2.5-day Birthday run Adventure | No Paine No Gain "a van to follow me, a friend (Nick Brindisi)(Collingwood half-marathon race director) to run with and maps, binders, gear, food and family and..."

Canadian Cancer Society

With the generous donations of our friends & family we were able to raise $1,050 towards cancer research! It's not too late to donate using the link below.

Click to donate to Canadian Cancer Society!

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