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!
- Muscle Milk Canada
- New Balance Canada
- Polar Canada
- 2XU XTRM, 2XU Canada
- Toronto Marathon
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.