This has been a summer of trails for me in one form or another. July offered mountain hiking and orienteering in Alberta – a post is in the works about that wonderful trip. There were also hilly runs on dirt cottage lanes surrounding our Quebec cabin. In fact, I am hard pressed to think of the last time I ran on pavement, though I have made a couple of trips to the local high school gravel track.
August is now entirely about trail running. It is also possible that it is my time to have a mid-life crisis, though in a wonderful way. Right now I have no desire to play it safe; I want to try new things, challenge my perception of my personal boundaries and enjoy whatever the moment brings. Perhaps that is why the week before the MEC trail race earlier this month I changed my entry from the 20k race to the 31k race. My theory was that since there was a 50k taking place, the volunteers would not be waiting just for me to finish in order to go home. I had never done such distance on trails, nor had I ever done so much elevation change. For perspective, according to Garmin Connect, there was 548m of gain, compared to 87m at Around the Bay – which is considered a hilly road course! Needless to say I was sloooooow, but thoroughly enjoyed myself.
This past weekend I took part in the i2P trail race, also in Gatineau Park. My mid-life crisis need to push the boundaries continued. When I originally signed up it was for the 23k. Of course once I had done the 31k MEC race it seemed to make sense to change it to 36k. Then I thought why not do the 10k with my 11-year-old on the Saturday as a “warm up” for the long Sunday run? And finally, if I was doing 36, really, why not go for the 50? Yep, that is the way my brain is working these days!
So Saturday morning the whole family was up at 5 am to head to the race. Mike and Evan were registered for the 12.5 more technical course and Luke and I did the rolling hills and wide tracks of the 10k. Luke and I hiked the bigger hills and kept a fairly steady pace throughout the rest of the course. Running with Luke was a pure pleasure – if I can maintain half of his positive attitude throughout a run I will be doing well. He was shocked when we were approaching the end, he said it didn’t feel that long at all. Honestly, when I was 11 years old I think I just would have cried if someone had made me run for an hour! The first thing he said when we picked up our dog tags was, “That was so fun!”
Shortly after, Mike crossed the finish, having run an excellent pace on the 12.5 course. And then Evan finished, a big grin on his face too. As expected, he loved the technical parts of the trail. What a great family event!
Sunday I was up again and ready for a long run. Despite being able to see the Gatineau Hills from my living room window, it is a long drive to get to a bridge to cross into Quebec and then on to the race site. As the drive continued the sky darkened and right about when I parked the car the rain started to come down. I have heard a few trail runners say rainy days are actually the best, it seemed this would be the day to test that theory out.
This was a mostly self-supported race, though water was offered at the start line (which you stopped at to check in 2 times on the 50k course) and at 3 other locations. The parking was very close to the start, which meant you could keep any extra supplies in your car where they stayed nice and dry. The 50k involved three legs; a 23k out and back, a 12.5 loop and a final out and back that had my Garmin showing a total of 51.8k. The first leg was made of wide paths, rolling hills and a couple of steep climbs if I remember correctly. The second loop had a technical section that was quite the mixture of mud, water and rock. Let’s just say I did rather a lot of hiking in that section as my technical skill are still minimal at best. The final leg was non-technical, though I did far more hiking than running in this section. Overall, it was the perfect course for someone new to trail ultras. And by the way – rain is wonderful while trail running! I stayed cool, there were no bugs and the sound of the rain in the trees was beautiful.
What will stick with me from this run was the pure joy I felt throughout, even when things were hurting. I can’t tell you how many times I caught myself grinning. Sure, to anyone passing it might have looked more like a grimace, but honestly, it was a smile. Listening to the loons on the lake or the falling rain on the leaves, how can you not smile? Or at 46k when the song that came on my iPod was k.d. lang’s version of “Hallelujah”; how can you not be thankful for both the opportunity for such an experience and for your body’s ability to carry you through to the end, regardless of pace.
When I tell people I did a 50k race they are in shock. But I will let you in on a secret – a 50k trail ultra is so much more fun than a marathon! It is expected that you will walk sometimes, maybe even, like me, a lot of the time! You will probably chat with some great people who can share some amazing ultra experiences with you. I loved it when a fellow runner told me that at 47 I was still approaching my prime in endurance running!
In trail running you do not have to look at your watch if you don’t want to. In fact, for both the i2P race and the MEC race I did not look at my watch before 20k, and after that only a couple of times. You aren’t going to run even splits. You are not going to be able to predict your pace. At first that is a little scary. Then it just becomes freeing. The trail and the weather will guide your pace, you simply work with them. I also find that I am so much more “in the moment”on a long trail run. With the exception of the last two km, when I was past 50k, I never once counted how many kms I had left to go. It just didn’t really matter. I knew I would just keep going until I was done. I also lose all sense of time. I honestly had no idea how long I was out there until I finished. How often in this crazy life of schedules, appointments, commitments and conflicts do you get a chance to forget about the time? Of course what helped with that was the race’s very generous time cut-off, for which I am very thankful as I am sure a number of other runners were too. This race just had such a comfortable and easy-going vibe, it is already on my list of runs to do next year.
Early this year I said my goal was to do my first 50k so I signed up for Run for the Toad, to be held on October 1st. I never would have guessed that the Toad will in fact become my third ultra. I now have the Niagara 50k (run on pavement) and the i2P 50k (on trail) under my belt. Those two races, along with pacing for the Ottawa Marathon, have been the highlights of my running this year. There is always a part of me that wishes I was a faster runner, but the fact is I have found joy in the long, slow run. Sometimes you have to take the path that life leads you to. 🙂
For more information on the wonderful organization i2P, check out http://i2prun.com/what.html
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