After 2 years running our local awesome trail race, my running partner and I decided to branch out and try another trail race in the province. It is a 3 hour drive from home so we made a girl’s weekend of it. We didn’t know anyone who had ran the race previously nor did either of us know the area so we were going into it incredibly blind. All we knew was that there was a 12.5k loop that you ran 1, 2, or 4 loops depending on your distance (only 1 loop for us please), it was ran on narrow single track and wider cross country ski trails, 4 big hills that made up most of the elevation change was ran in the first half of the race and headphones were strictly prohibited and enforced. Having ran our local race with crazy narrow single track and headphones not being prohibited and the challenge of trying to safely pass someone on those trails when they can’t hear you, I was ecstatic, to say the least, of this rule. I am a huge fan of listening to music on my road runs but find trail running requires a lot of care and attention so I never run with music on the trails.
The weather forecast was looking cold and windy. With wind blowing off the lake, it could be chilly so although I had a kit game plan in place I threw in extra clothes so a last minute change could be made if needed. We woke up to -4C, with a high of -3C, and winds 20-30kph, so windchill was at -10C 😬. Last minute changes were made, warmer clothes and a new running toque purchased the day before were donned and we hit the road.
We got to the race plenty early, as planned, checked in and had time to kill and body parts to freeze while waiting to run. There was limited space in the visitor centre but we all crammed in waiting for orientation. Finally we all had to go outside, get our race debrief with the visual aids to help us all figure out the trails to follow (there are many in this area but the race director did a phenomenal job marking the course and educating us on how to follow it). 5 minute countdown, mad dash to the portapotties, outer layers peeled off, buff pulled up over chin, racing chip attached around ankle, watches and phones started, we’re in the chute but at the very back. Not knowing the course or the other runners we thought that was ok .... rookie mistake!
First hill, narrow single track, we’re walking stuck behind a long steady string of walkers, which is ok because it is so bloody cold and windy it is a good warm up for the muscles. Unfortunately, we’re warming up nicely, ready to run through some very pretty, but narrow forested trail but nobody in this group is showing any signs of running soon. My running partner, who is an absolute beast in the hills back home is amazing at reading the line and getting politely around people so I have her pass me and we’re off - “Excuse me, can we pass as soon as it’s possible? Pardon me...passing in the left/right....Coming up on your left/right; Thank you” - pass the first group of 6, the next group of 6-8, get past a few more pairs and finally we’re spread out from the others and can power through.
My running partner has been struggling with her knee and her IT band for the last 3 weeks so this was supposed to be an “exploration” run, take our time, enjoy the scenery, take lots of pictures but she’s loving the hills and feeling great so she’s off and I’m doing my best to keep pace. The track is frozen hard pack littered with a full bed of leaves and surprisingly slick. We slip/slide down the first hill and now understand the suggestion for eye protection and gloves. Grabbing onto a branch as you’re flying down the hill, sling shotting around the corner is SO FREAKING FUN!!! This trail is a blast, even when I got distracted by someone slipping on a rock and end up hitting my head on a low hanging branch knocking my toque off my head. Pride is the only thing that’s hurt and I’ve now been schooled to watch the branches. This trail is so aptly named, the amount of Deadfall to climb over, climb under, duck around is amazing!
We move onto some wider track, then back into some narrow windy hilly track again and repeat for a total of 4 hills before we reach the aid station at about 6.5k with a warm up shack. No need for the warm up, but will gladly take some water and an orange slice. The table is full of chips, chocolate, gummies, bananas, oranges - you gotta love trail running aid stations! I’m not risking tummy upset so skip most but grabbed a package of peanut M&Ms, just in case 😉.
The last half is undulating hills along the top of the hills through some meadow which reminds me of the type of trails I enjoy snowmobiling on. It is fun but all the hills has wreaked havoc on my partner’s IT band and knee. She feels good at a walk but has pain with running so we’ve adopted a new plan - run for a km, stop and stretch it out and run some more. It worked for a bit but by 11k she was done running (or so she claimed). I’m on the terrain that I excel at and can run forever. She’s feeling bad so sends me on my way to kill that last 1 1/2 km. I didn’t want to leave her but she insisted. At this point we had met up with the runners on the 5k loop (we start and finish on the same paths but branch off to 2 different loops) so knew passing could get to be a challenge if we’re stopping/starting because the runner numbers are up again so I run a few feet, feel guilty, turn around and ask if she’s sure and she tells me to go so I’m off and in my glory!
We’re on the final downhill and it is even more fun than the beginning. Again I’m up, around, under logs, ducking, weaving from branches and feeling so strong. Suddenly I’m out of the trees, running the ditch beside the road turn the corner and the finishers chute is right there. Final sprint! That’s it! But, but, but I want to run more! I feel so good! I know my partner will be coming in so I run back to the car, grab her wool blanket so she can wrap up and as I’m running back she already passed through the chute! She was less than 5 minutes behind me so there was no way she walked the final stretch. Nope! She couldn’t resist running that final set of trails .... they were irresistible!
We took our requisite bling pics, hobbled her over to the car, put our outer layers on and hit the line for the post race meal - beef on a bun or pulled pork, baked beans, coleslaw 😋. So good!
Will we do it again? Definitely! Will we hope for warmer weather? You betcha! Will we get warmer weather? Who knows; doesn’t matter though because we’ll be all in! Will we step up to the next level and run 2 loops for 25k? Not likely; neither of us like repetition but time will tell. We’ll register after we run our local trail race and make a final decision then. Apparently, each year the race director changes the route to run it the opposite direction to the previous year and changes which trails are ran. No 2 years are the same! Sweet!
I’m not great at leaving it all out on the course and always end with way too much gas in the tank, so will need to work on pushing myself more on race day! This was also my first race using a race chip on a Velcro band. I wore it on my ankle, as I saw most of the 25kers doing but it got irritating after about 4k (darn boney ankles) so I will need to research that a bit before next year.
All in all, a great experience, a great girl’s getaway and I got some awesome extreme winter running gear during our shopping spree the day before race day! -20C? Whatever, I’m set!