Kansas Rails-to-Trails Fall Ultra Extravaganza (Oct 28)


I’ve been thinking about a lot about my race and working on getting this blog report written and posted. I feel as though that I can’t find the right words to express all my thoughts and feelings, BUT I do hope that this somewhat captures a bit of my experience at the Kansas Rails-to-Trails Fall Ultra Extravaganza in Ottawa, Kansas.

Each race, whether considered good or bad, is unique in its own way. Even from year-to-year the same race can be entirely different. I respect the training that goes into each one and always want to walk away with a smile. This race has a special place in my heart. It brought together all the things this trip down to Kansas has meant to me. First and foremost I’m here to be with Phil. We had come off a great summer of training and exploring trails mostly in Dundas Valley and Caledon, often driving longer distances than we were running. After Phil left for his extended work assignment, I continued training on those trails, but it wasn’t the same driving alone and knowing that I wouldn’t see him around the next corner. This really played with my emotions, my thoughts and attitude and sometimes I even found myself ignoring the beauty of the trails that would usually pull me in. Despite these emotions, running was still a constant and kept me in a routine. So to be able to see him at the start, at each of the aid stations and then to see him waiting for me at the finish was so special. I could always hear his cowbell and cheering voice in the distance before I could even see him or the aid station.

This race also marked the end of a season of hard work and I was thrilled to be able to race and put into play everything that I had been learning through the guidance of my amazing coach, Derrick Spafford. It’s been a journey and one which I’ve learned and grown from so much both as a person and as a runner.

My “little” brother, James, also helped me to become a better and stronger climber, which in turn built strength for running. James has a knack for interpreting the climbing routes and problems for me and also calls me out when I’m being a lazy climber 🙂  He’s been helping us with keeping an eye on things back home and we appreciate him greatly.

HUGE thank-you to Phil, Derrick and James for being patient with me, having confidence in me when I didn’t and always seeing the good in things. Yes, I had my moments of mini melt-downs and yet you guys stuck it through with me. I also appreciated all the support and encouraging words from many friends back home, you all inspire me to do my best.


Okay, let’s get on with the race… just a warning this is LONG post. Read it if you wish or just enjoy the photos 🙂

This race was on the radar for a while as a possible goal race, but as with all my races this year I only signed up a couple of weeks before race weekend. I had done all the training, but needed that extra little push to sign up and really glad that I did.

The race was in Ottawa, KS about a 2.5 hours drive from Wichita where Phil is currently living. We decided to make it a weekend getaway and started our mini-road trip up to Ottawa on Friday. Part of our drive was along the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway – a beautiful drive with panoramic views of the Flint Hills and Tall Grass Prairies which are a rich golden colour this time of year. It was one super windy day though (but better Friday than on race day).

A highlight was the little town of Cottonwood Falls that we just happened to come across during a brief stop to take photos. Phil commented that it looked like it was frozen in time, with its old buildings and artifacts, the uneven cobblestone road and an old court house taking prominence at the top of the street. We learnt from some local residents that the Chase County Courthouse is the oldest working courthouse west of the Mississippi. We grabbed a small bite at the Grand Central Hotel & Grill, another historic site and then hit the road. We passed through a few more little historical towns. As we got closer to Ottawa, the landscape started to change. We noticed a lot more trees, rolling fields and farms; it felt like we were driving through the countryside back home.


Chase County Courthouse – Cottonwood Falls, a quaint town captured in time

We checked in at the Super 8 in Ottawa and then headed to Celebration Hall, the start line for the races, for race kit pickup and pasta dinner. Then it was early to bed.

Day before

Checking out the start/finish line right outside Celebration Hall on a gorgeous evening

Race day

The big decision on race morning was what to wear. We had been warned that the weather in Kansas constantly changes so to check it and then check it again and again. As the day approached I had noticed that the nice warm weather might be changing and by Friday the first frost warning of the season had been issued. Race morning was -4C with a little bit of wind. Long sleeves, a toque and light gloves were perfect. The 100 milers started at 6 am and 50 milers at 7 am, both in the dark. It was daylight when my race started at 8 am and the weather was sunny with not a cloud in the sky. There were about 30 people in each of the events. I do like these smaller races. It was quite relaxed at the start line with some chatter while we waited for the count down.


50 K-ers listening to RD Carolyn Robinson – small group, eh?

The first section was an out and back from the starting area on a paved path, then we headed south on the Prairie Spirit Rail Trail. The trail is a converted rail line that stretched from Ottawa south to Iola; the 100 milers were running the entire length of the trail and back. The trail parallels I59, except for a short section of road that connects the trail and goes around the ramp to the Interstate (we were cautioned to NOT go up the ramp). There were also several sections where the trail crossed some rural gravel roads; I had to wait for cars to pass a couple of times and then run through the clouds of dust that were stirred up from the roads. The front runners were a group of 7 people who went out in a pack. I lost sight of them at around 8 km. My goal at this point was to not let their pace dictate mine, which I was aiming to keep at over 6 min/km until at least the first manned aid station.


Front runners on the out & back section. The gentleman in kilt in the previous photo was the overall winner, but not in this photo. He must have been running behind this group early in the race. The 2nd place male is in black (his first ultra) and the 1st place female (and new KS state 50K record holder) is to the far right in yellow.


And then me…

I was now running alone. There was no one in sight ahead of me and I could no longer hear the chit chat of those behind me. The only people I saw were supporters who were following their runners and I came across them a few times at the road crossings. They were a lot of fun!

I was running quite comfortably and really enjoying the scenery and trying to figure out what these big round green brainy-looking things were laying along the side of the trail.

IMG_3941Side note: About a week later, I saw the same things during a hike and put it out to FB and IG. I have learnt that they are fruit (also known as hedge apple or bodark) from the Osage-orange tree.


Princeton – Aid station at 18 km

As I started to approach the first manned aid station, my pace picked up a bit… I made a bee-line to the restroom 🙂  Phil made sure that I was checked in and out with the volunteers and was busy telling me that the first group of runners passed through about 10-12 minutes ahead of me (they had spread out a bit) and that I was the 3rd female and 8th overall at this point. I was ready to keep going. My legs were still feeling pretty fresh so I decided to pick up the pace and see what would happen. I was still running alone. For this next stretch to Richmond, I ran based on effort and just kept an eye on the distance. Pace wise, I was pretty sure that I was slightly ahead of my pace chart that I had tucked away in my pocket.


The lovely Prairie Spirit Rail Trail – Princeton to Richmond

Richmond – Aid station at 28 km and turnaround

I passed couple of 50 milers on this stretch between Princeton and Richmond, and as I approached the aid station I finally saw some other 50K runners. The faster ones were returning and still looking nice and strong. I made it through the turnaround as the 2nd female and 6th overall. I was still running based on effort versus pace.


Approaching Richmond and turnaround

On the return, it was so much fun to see the other runners as we cheered for each other and getting some high fives! One lady was running with her dog, who was overly excited to run at the beginning, but when I saw them, the dog had lost some interest in running and seemed to be more curious about what was possibly lurking on the sides of the trail (oh boy). I felt myself slowing down a bit as I approached the next aid station (back to Princeton) and some of my existing aches were starting to flare up.

Princeton – Aid station at 38 km 

I was so happy to make to the aid station and see Phil. I was in pain, but I knew that I just needed to keep moving. This was my only brief walk. I checked in and out, still holding on to 2nd female and 6th place. Oh, I never did find out what they were serving at the aid stations and the unique item at each station will remain a secret. I carried enough fuel (lots of gels and chews, and S!Caps) to keep me going. This last stretch to the finish was the toughest. I made sure to keep up on fueling and took another S!Cap, checked my form, shortened my cadence, all the things I’d been learning and practicing, and just kept looking and moving forward. With what I think was about 8 km to go, I could now see a couple of runners in the distance. I was determined to catch up to them. I went to take one more gel and as I reached into my pocket it fell out and dropped to the ground… crap. I carefully reached down to pick it up and thankfully didn’t cramp.

Finish line

I could now hear the interstate, which meant it was the final stretch. The finish line was at Celebration Hall which was accessed by taking short turnoff from the trail down a dirt path. I knew the turn-off had to be approaching, but it was hard to see. Fortunately, I could hear a cowbell in the distance and as I approached I could see that it was Phil!!  He told me later that he was trying to ring the bell as loud as he could when he spotted me through his mega-zoom camera lens and hoped that it would help me know that I was close to finishing. I crossed the finish and the RD presented me with a Finisher’s belt buckle and sticker. She told me that I was the 2nd female and 4th overall. Wow! I also hadn’t checked my time or pace since the first aid station, so I was pleased when I saw the time on the clock. I was so happy!



Back in the Celebration Hall, I got to see and chat with the other runners. They joked around with me and told me that they were surprised to see me so soon after the turnaround. That was nice of them.  Lots of cheers as more runners entered the Hall.  There were 4 Kansas state records broken that day across all events with some pretty fast times.


OMG Cinnamon Roll

The post race food was just as good as the pre-race meal. We had a spread of breakfast foods including homemade cinnamon rolls made in-house right at the Hall – OMG they were good!

This was an amazing race experience from my inquiry to the RD back in March right to the end. Thank you to RD Carolyn Robinson and her amazing team of volunteers. It’s going to be one I’ll remember for a while. Like I said at the beginning, this race was special in many ways!

Post-race fun

We spent the rest of our weekend getaway visiting Kansas City, MO. It was a contrast to Wichita where most things are flat. The street were hilly, which provided for some great lookout points. For dinner and post-race celebratory meal, we went to the famous Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que. Anthony Bourdain says this is one of the restaurants you need to go to before you die. The line up was out the door and then snaked through the restaurant, but worth the wait even on some very sore legs.

Photo (L to R) – top row – Behind the WWI memorial | overlooking Kansas City | Country Club Plaza; middle row – J C Nichols Memorial Fountain | old tower part of the Cheesecake Factory building | Union Station; bottom row – WWI memorial & museum | photo exhibit at memorial | ceiling inside Union Station

Love it when the day and weekend ends with a gorgeous sunset.


Now to just relax and reminisce and enjoy some downtime.  Just keep looking for those sunset moments… no one is the same.


Rotary Park Trail, Sudbury

My work allows me to visit different parts of Ontario and this past week I spent a few days in Sudbury. I have been to the outskirts, usually to fill up on gas when camping, but never have visited the city. Our flight from Billy Bishop airport was slightly delayed so it was already starting to get dark when we took off. It was neat to see the city from above with all the lights, but it quickly turned to darkness as we got further away from Toronto, with the occasional glow of smaller towns. Unfortunately, this meant that we wouldn’t be able to see the lovely Canadian shield on our approach to Sudbury.

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Over the city

One of the things I really enjoy when in a new place is to explore by foot as it allows me to stop and mingle and discover places and things that might be missed when whizzing by in a car (I didn’t have much of choice this time as I was without a car anyway). Sudbury has its regions and getting from one to the other by foot was a bit far, so I was limited to exploring the area where my hotel was situated in New Sudbury (north-east of downtown). This area is relatively new and very commercial with lots of outlets and big box stores. My client told me that like much of Sudbury, all this development involved extensive blasting of rock which is very costly. So unfortunately, I was only able to admire the remnants along the side of the roads and perimeters of buildings, which was still quite impressive.

Before I had left, I did some research and discovered the Rotary Park Trail, which is a part of Greater Sudbury trail system known as the Rainbow Routes. This 3 km trail is intended to provide people with an alternative non-motorized route from downtown to New Sudbury. I walked from my hotel around the box stores, which added some distance, but was safer as there was only a narrow shoulder along the busy 4-lane road and then was rerouted due to construction in the residential area. The planned 2.5 km quickly became closer to 4 km. The access to Adanac Ski Hill, near the start of the trail, is off Beatrice Cres. using a short path between a couple of houses, with the driveway a few houses down. I wandered around, chatted with a couple of locals walking their adorable dogs, and then found the trail head. The start of the trail ran along the perimeter of the base of the ski hill and then paralleled Junction Creek with beautiful birch trees lining one side.

Along the trail was a series of story boards telling the story of Samuel the Blanding’s turtle, “Samuel’s Most Important Message,” a children’s book written by Frank Glew from Kitchener. The story is about a Blanding’s turtle living in an urban environment and the impact of human activities on nature. Part way through the story, I came to a set of metal staircases that led to a lookout over New Sudbury Conversation Area. Lovely views! Unfortunately with the shorter days, it quickly became dusk and out came the fierce mosquitoes, so I had short-cut the trail and make my way back to the hotel. The rest of Samuel’s story and trail will have to wait for another day.

My flight back was also delayed, however this time it was just dusk so we were able to see the contrast of the lovely rocks, lakes, rivers and forests to the city views.


When I get another chance to visit Sudbury, I hope that I can explore more the southern part below downtown Sudbury, specifically around Ramsey Lake and Lake Laurentian Conservation Area.

Training at Kanapolis State Park, Kansas

Diane and I spent the summer trying out new trail running venues almost every weekend. I am happy to report that even though I am now on flight test assignment in Wichita, I was able to continue with this tradition. I started by Googling the various trail race locations and I eventually found a great article from the Wichita Eagle (May 2016) that is titled  Five great hiking trails within two hours of Wichita.  This article proved to be a great resource and my first stop yesterday (Aug 27) was at Kanapolis State Park. Kanapolis is about a 1.5 hour drive from NW Wichita and is close to Salina (I’ll be visiting Salina again in a few weeks, but for other reasons). Kanapolis State Park is home to the  Rockin K Trail Race which is held in early April. This race consists of a 50-miler and a trail marathon.

The drive north toward Salina was a nice trip on I-135 and was pretty uneventful until I ran into a huge line of thunderstorms that created some pretty strong winds and heavy rain. On the drive up there, I made two mistakes:

  1. I forgot my map at home and relied on my Blackberry’s GPS map. This is usually OK, but when you enter an area with no cell service, you keep the origin and current location points, but lose all the map data.
  2. Once I lost the map data, I inadvertently passed by turn off the main paved road that was to lead me to the park office. Once I missed my turn I turned around and came back a bit, turning into a gravel road that I thought might lead to the park. Well, as it turned out, this gravel road led me out into the middle of the prairie, miles from anywhere and without cell service. On top of that, the heavy rains had made the gravel road very soft and it was some white-knuckle driving on that little detour! The road was so soft that my tires actually left ruts and I was afraid to stop for fear that I would get stuck in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully, I eventually found a safe place to turn around and I made my way back to the main road. The lesson learned there is not to venture into remote areas all by myself.

Once I eventually made it to the park office, I checked in and paid my $5 day visitor fee. When I asked about trail run recommendations, they suggested to head to Trailhead C and to the Buffalo Track Canyon area. I was warned however that if I kept on the orange trail loop I would be facing some fairly deep water crossings. When I asked what “fairly deep” meant, I was told to expect water up to chest level. Yikes! Thankfully, they also gave me an option that would avoid the deepest crossing and return via the purple trail.


View of Trailhead C


I started out on the trails and was faced with a bit of a climb and right away started to notice how sand the soil was. It was almost a pale orange/red colour. The scenery was beautiful and thankfully, the temperature was only about 70 deg F.

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Start of trail was quite beautiful

The downside of all the heavy rainfall was that the trails themselves were actually quite greasy and it took a lot of effort just to just stay upright.

Eventually, I made it to the water crossing. Thankfully, I avoided the deep one, but even this one came up well past my brand new trail shoes. Getting across was easy, but scrambling up the opposite bank was challenging due to the mud.


Christening some new trail shoes!


Water crossing area


Got to see some sunflowers!


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Interesting geology

Unfortunately, I picked a day when the trails weren’t their most runnable, but it was still an amazing experience. I hope to head back here at least a couple more times before the race next spring. Looking forward to sharing this place with Diane. Oh, and before I forget, here is a list of wildlife spotted during this run:

  1. Great blue heron
  2. White-tailed deer
  3. Wild turkeys
  4. Hawks … and assorted other birds






MEC Ottawa Race 4 – Gatineau (Aug 6)

MEC Ottawa Race 4 consisted of four events: 50 km, 30 km, 20 km and 10 km. It was located in Gatineau Park at Camp Fortune. It worked out well for us because Diane happened to be in Ottawa for the week leading up to the race. Diane registered for the 30k and I registered for the 20k. The weekend started with a long drive by myself up to Ottawa. The 401 was closed around Port Hope, so I elected to take the more scenic route along Hwy 7. It was a long drive and in spite of the long weekend traffic, I managed to make it to Holiday Inn in about 5 hours and 20 minutes. We had a nice dinner at Lone Star next to the hotel and headed straight to bed.

On Saturday morning we drove to downtown Ottawa and parked underground at city hall (a bargain at $2 for the entire day). We took a nice walk over to Bank St for some shopping at Sports 4 and then headed off to Bier Markt on Sparks St for lunch. After lunch we spent some time wandering around the locks at the foot of the Rideau Canal and headed over to Byward Market, including the cafe that was made famous by President Obama’s visit. Remeber the Obama cookies?


Trudeau Cookies


Rideau Canal and Ottawa River


On Sunday morning we woke up bright and early and drove to Camp Fortune. It is a ski resort in the winter and in the summer it serves outdoor adventure seekers with activities such as mountain biking, trail running and zip-lining. The 30k race started with the 50k group at 7:45. The racers headed up the ski hill and did a loop around Camp Fortune before they headed out on the main course. I waved at Diane as she ran by the start line and she saw me too and waved back.


Start line at Camp Fortune


Start of the 50k and 30k races



Camp Fortune Chalet


Racers at the start

My race started 15 minutes later at 8:00. It was a long climb out up along the ski hills for the first 3 km until the first aid station. I met my goal of not crashing during the first km of the race and managed to fall on my face at 1.5 km. One of my fellow racers consoled me by saying that she almost fell over during the group stretching and warm-up at the start line. I wasn’t in bad shape after all. I just had some scrapes on my knee and my elbow was bleeding a bit. It’s funny because we had actually freaked ourselves out a bit by looking at the course elevation map with all the hills and steep grades, but in the end, the course ended up being way more run-able than we thought. There were indeed a lot of steep climbs and descents along the Gatineau ridge line, but there was also a lot of time spent on gravel camp roads. The organizers had to do some last-minute re-routing of the course due to heavy rains and erosion leading up to race day.


From about 5km to 9km it was a long, steady downhill into a valley. I was even fortunate enough to make a friend during that part of the course. Andrew and I stayed in front of or behind one another for about 4km and then we just struck up a conversation and raced side-by-side for about 30 minutes. We chatted about trail races and he offered me some beef jerky somewhere around aid station #2. Chatting with Andrew, I learned about a fall race in Quebec called the Mad Trapper. That is definitely something I will  need to check out next year.  The other thing that I noticed was that Andrew had some fly paper stuck to the top of his cap. There were no deer flies this day because it was a bit too cool but Andrew said that he runs Gatineau frequently and was saying that he would not have hesitated to forfeit his $20 entry fee if the bugs were going to be bad.

Diane actually thought she was lost on the course and even contemplated turning back at one point. It just happened that the course markers were a long ways apart at that point. She says she had a lot of fun and really enjoyed the climbs. In the end, Diane finished second in her age group.


Happy to be at the finish!

For me, it was a solid run and at the end I felt way better than I did after the Albion Grind. The main difference was that it was a cooler day and the fact that I managed my nutrition much better. I stuck to my plan and took my first gel at the 50 minute mark and then had some more gels/chews at 30-minute intervals after that. The other thing that seemed to work was that I took two electrolyte capsules per hour (S!Caps).

The nice thing about finishing the race earlier than anticipated was that we got an early start on the long drive home. We took the 401 home and stopped-off at a couple of craft breweries in Kingston. First stop was at Riverhead Brewing Company which is just south of the 401. We first visited Riverhead on Canada Day about a month ago and we really enjoyed their Tropical IPA. The second stop was a small place near Bath called MacKinnion Brothers Brewing Company. We first learned about MacKinnon from Diane’s coach Derrick Spafford. It was a bit out of the way, but it was a gem and a great example of a small local business. They have a small shed where the sampling and bottling occurs and I was pleased to learn that they grow the hops right there on the farm.


MacKinnon Bros. Brewing Co.


Brewing area and outside seating


Tractor seats for bar stools


Barn and kegs


Diane finds a new friend


Gorgeous brewing setup inside the shed

It turns out that MacKinnon Bros. has their own outdoor music festival next weekend. It would have been great to attend, but won’t be possible since it is a bit far to venture away on my last weekend at home before moving to Wichita for a 9-month work assignment.

All-in-all, it was a great weekend and adds to our year of exploring eastern Ontario. The trail races and snowshoe races have been a really good excuse to get out and explore.



Albion Grind

This was the first year for a new trail race. The Albion Grind is an add-on to the Saturday 5 Peaks race at Albion Hills Conservation Area. The Saturday race was a big event with about 700 runners competing in 7k and 14k distances. The Sunday event was a much smaller, more relaxed affair with just over a hundred runners competing in half marathon, 3 hour and 6 hour events (plus some relays).

We chose to run the 3 hour event that gave us a chance to run as many laps as possible within three hours. It was a 7 km course, but only an integer number of laps could count toward your finish.  In some ways, it was a bit of a strange setup because the half and the 3 hr are virtually the same race since most people in the 3 hr will complete three laps anyways.

Last Sunday we actually went to Albion to try our hand at navigating the course. Diane managed to get lost and her Garmin trace looked like an ant colony with paths going out in every possible direction (see below)


Diane’s ant colony training run pre-race on July 16

Today was much better and they had the course well-marked with flags and directional arrows.  In spite of the course being marked with orange flags, I did see at least three people having to backtrack onto the course. I think the problem was that there were big white permanent arrows marking the various trails that at some points conflicted with the Albion Grind route. As long as you followed the instructions to keep the orange flags on your left, navigation was a breeze.


Image courtesy Sue Sitki http://www.suesitkiphoto.com/


Image courtesy Sue Sitki http://www.suesitkiphoto.com/

At the start, there were  lot of people who sprinted to get ahead because the single track started within the first 400m. The first single track portion was not terribly steep, but it was a long, gradual climb. The first aid station was at the 2km mark, but there was no need to stop there on the first loop. After crossing the bridge into the North trails, it was a steep climb with more sections of windy single track. A long wide trail led back down the hill to the aid station. The aid station was well-stocked with water, Gatorade, Coke, cookies, PB&J sandwiches, boiled potatoes, gummies and M&M’s. I soon named it the Mandarin of the Bush.


Image courtesy Sue Sitki (http://www.suesitkiphoto.com)

After the aid station, there was a long, steep uphill, followed by a steady descent past the splash pad and to the finish. I usually stopped at the 2nd aid station (pictured above) and fueled up with Coke and boiled potatoes.

Diane signed up for this race for fun because she wanted to get back into some races and to try a timed course for the first time. We’d been trying out various trails every weekend so far this summer, but it was nice to get out in the company of some like-minded people and enjoy the sense of competition. She went in with a relaxed attitude to have fun and to get in a longer training run, but it was a bonus that things held together and she ran a strong race. Diane and her coach had discussed running the first lap at a ‘comfortable’ pace, but she made an instinctual decision to start out a bit faster and take a bit of a risk. By the time the second and third lap came around she was pushing hard and running by feel, but not really knowing how well she was doing. She finished the first three laps in about 2:26 and decided to continue on with a fourth lap since it was too early to stop the training run. As she got within earshot of the finish line on the fourth lap, she could hear that the award ceremonies were starting. It was a good thing that she made it to the finish before the ceremonies concluded because she ended up getting the third place award for females. As it turns out, all of the top three finishers completed three laps and Diane was the only one to continue for a fourth lap.


Image courtesy Sue Sitki http://www.suesitkiphoto.com/



Image courtesy Sue Sitki http://www.suesitkiphoto.com/

Memories from the race:

  • getting compliments on my Creemore Vertical Challenge shirt that is now a collector’s item
  • Diane rounding a sharp corner and almost colliding with the photographer
  • encouragement from the aid station volunteers
  • nice race swag, but what are we going to do with these growlers?


Glen Major Forest

What a glorious day! This past Saturday was the perfect day to be outdoors to soak up some springtime sun. We hit the trails fairly early this morning at Glen Major Forest in Durham (and a bit through Walkers Woods). The first portion of the trail leading from the parking lot is crushed gravel and then it changes to dirt trails that meander through the forest and some open areas. There was a nice mixture of wide sections and single track and lots of rolling hills. Everywhere I looked it was so green! And the sounds…. silence! Okay, there were the occasional squirrels and chipmunks scurrying through the bush.

I came across a couple of other runners and some mountain bikers, including a large group of 15 or so bikers who were a part of an organized trip – they had Canada 150 signs mounted on the front of their bikes.

I’m not very familiar with these trails; the last time I was there was in the winter snowshoeing. The main trails are marked but there are many side trails that can make it a bit confusing. I crossed over to Walkers Woods and thought that I could circle back but the trail connected to a trail along private property (different from what the map indicated) so I back tracked and tried a different route. This time I was sure I was headed in the wrong direction so I checked the compass on my phone. Sure enough I was headed in the opposite direction, so I back tracked again and caught up with the Trans Canada Trail which led me back to my car. All of the trails connect and lead back to a road or parking lot, so it’s not really possible to get lost.

I was impressed with how well maintained the trails were and not much in way of garbage! I saw maybe one beer can and something shined at one point, but not much else.

And what would a trip to Durham be without a visit to Hy-Hope Farms. We sat out on their deck and had an early lunch, while looking out all the way to Lake Ontario. Spectacular view!


A great day to be outdoors!

Flashback Fridays – Fond Memories of Comrades 2015 “Up-Run”

With Comrades 2017 less than two days away we thought it time to look back on some great memories from two years ago.


As soon as we got off the plane in Durban, we knew we were in for something big.


On race day it wasn’t long after Phil’s catered roadside breakfast in Kloof that the front-runners came through. Note that the winner was not in this pack.


Hot afternoon along Umlaas Road


Diane and Nadia pulling into the Complete Marathons support station at Umlaas Road. They didn’t have time to stay for the Braii.


Finally made it to the finish at the cricket field in Pietermaritzburg. Who would have thought that only minutes later I was carrying Diane into the world’s largest mobile medical facility (outside of a warzone)? …. a rather dramatic way to get re-hydrated.


Safari time

Sulphur Springs Trail Race

This was our second year at Sulphur Springs Trail Race in Ancaster. Last year was about 30 deg C, but yesterday turned out to be a beautiful overcast day of about 15 deg. It was a special race this year because they added 100 km and 200 mile distances.


Start/finish line

The trail starts with a long descent into the Dundas Valley and consists of a big 20 km loop through the conservation area. Diane and I ran the 10 km race which is just a partial loop, but the 200 milers started on Thursday at noon and had 72 hours to complete 16 laps.


Course Map

On Thursday when the race started, it rained all afternoon and by the time we got there on Saturday the course had only partially dried up. There were still some mucky sections … nothing like the mud-fest at Limberlost last year, but just enough cover your shoes and the lower half of your body.

Diane was quite happy that she was able to drop down from the 25 k race at the last minute. It gave here a chance get back on the trails and run a short enough distance that she could push herself a bit. She started out somewhat cautiously in the first half, but caught her stride, ending with a sprint to the finish.


The other benefit of going to an Ontario Ultra and Trail Series race was that we got to see some familiar faces. Diane got to meet up with some friends from the Thornhill RR that were running their first trail race (and ultra). She may even have some new running partners now. We also saw Ziya who as running his first ultra. The funny part was when we met up with Filomena, who was the sister of one of the Stoney Creek runners we met on the Mudcat race course two weeks ago (she somehow recognized me from my blog post). Last, but not least, we saw Vertical Pierre from the Creemore Vertical Challenge.


First Trail Race (and ultra)


Vertical Pierre fuels up

The side benefit of running the 10 k was that it gave us time to volunteer for a while in the afternoon and then go and shoot some race photos. All in all it was a great day!.


Christie Lake Photo Walk

Christie Lake-20170522-2-2

Christie Lake is one of Hamilton’s conservation areas which we visited for the first time during the recent May long weekend. This day the parking was plentiful, but I expect that it gets quite busy in the warmer summer months. We decided to explore the trail that goes around the lake about 5.6 km. There are side trails as well as an adventure trail that leads to Webster and Tew Falls and further into Dundas Valley, but we’ll save those for another outing. The first part of the trail passes through a frisbee golf course and then becomes a comfortable dirt trail with just a few sections of rolling hills. We walked the trail clockwise with glimpses of the lake on one side and a variety of vegetation along both sides of the trail. Particularly beautiful this time of year were the Trilliums displayed in whites and purples.

On this photo walk, I was learning about aperture and experimenting with a 50mm lens. We took quite a few photos and have found a few favourites to share.

What a great way to explore a new park/trail.  Next time we will run the trail.

Mudcat Marathon

This was the first year ever for the Mudcat Marathon. I came across this race while searching for a spring marathon. I was a bit tired of big city road races and this race looked very appealing to me. It takes place in Haldimand County and is located in the town of Dunnville. Dunnville is located at the delta of the Grand River, along the shores of Lake Erie. I must admit, prior to this weekend, I had never been to Dunnville before. We often go to Port Dover for a nice Perch dinner, or to Niagara, but have never really ventured much in between. I am very familiar with the Grand River, having grown up near Cambridge and my dad even used to sit on the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA). So I finally took the plunge and registered .. less than a week before the race. I had been following along with updates on their Facebook page and Race Director Sheryl was always quick to answer any questions I posted.


Based on lessons learned from previous marathons, I actually printed out a race map to carry with me. I even went as far as creating my own turn-by-turn directions. This lesson is based on the fact that at many marathons, you can’t count on the route markers, water stations etc.. to still be there if you are one of the lucky ones at the back of the pack. As it turned out, this was not an issue as all major decision point along the route were well-marked and even manned by smiling and friendly volunteers.

Race Expo and Pasta Dinner

We were fortunate enough to be able to take the afternoon off on Friday, so we made the drive to Dunnville and attended the race expo and pasta dinner. Since I was so late registering for the race, we weren’t able to get accommodations in Dunnville so we ended up staying at the Best Western in Welland (it was only about 30 minutes away). The race expo was nice and the kit pickup was efficient. I even bought a race hat as a souvenir.

The pasta dinner was amazing. They had spaghetti with sauce, salad, rolls and pies for dessert. This was a great way to kick off the weekend. After the pasta dinner, we took a drive and checked out the starting point for the race at Knight’s Beach Resort.


Race Day

It was an early start on Saturday. We had to get up at about 4:15 in order to get ready and leave for Dunnville at 5am. In the end we got off to a bit of a late start and didn’t leave until closer to 5:30. Fortunately, the rain showers that had been predicted all week held off and it had the looks of a great day. It was about 10 deg C in the morning and reached about 16 or so in the afternoon. We arrived at the Lions Park at about 6am and I boarded the shuttle bus to Knight’s Beach.


Shuttle bus to Knight’s Beach


They had many departure times to the start

After getting dropped off at Knight’s beach it was a short wait until race start. They had us waiting inside the restaurant and games room. It was a nice, comfortable place to stage the race start and there were even nice indoor washrooms. At the race briefing, RD Sheryl mentioned that she had envisioned having 50 people at this inaugural marathon, but in reality it looked closer to 150. The actual race start began with a simple countdown from ten to one and then we were off.

The Race

The first 4 km of the course was a tour along the Lake Erie shoreline. It was a flat, winding road past some pretty cottages. I noticed that some of the homes were starting to adorn themselves for Canada’s birthday celebration and I was impressed by a cute fieldstone house with a massive Canada 150 banner.

After turning north, we spent some time cruising along some rural roads. Some were paved, but most were gravel and although they had the access points along the route blocked off, there was little traffic at 7am anyways. Along Olivet Road we ran past Mt. Olivet United Church where there was an amazing aroma from the lilacs in full bloom. There were water stations every three kilometers, where we were greeted by happy, smiling volunteers in blue t-shirts. Some of the other interesting sites along the first leg of the race was a huge solar farm. It was filled with massive panels pointing up at the sky. In contrast, we were also in the shadow of an array of wind turbines. Thankfully it was a calm morning and the blades were stationary.

At around 14km, we turned up River Road and got to see our first glimpses of the Grand River. There were lots of rolling hills along this part of the route and this is where I saw the first bit of traffic since the start. I might have seen about half a dozen cars along River Road, but they stayed well clear of the runners. At around 17.5 km, I was greeted by Diane waving at the side of the road. I don’t know how she managed, but she navigated by herself all over Haldimand County to follow me along during the race. This was no small feat since she had to find parallel routes to travel since the race course was technically closed to traffic. Then there was the Grand River itself, where the only places to cross were near the finish in Dunnville and at the halfway point in Cayuga.


Diane stops at Timmies to plan her driving route


Diane gets to see her runner for the first time

Once we reached Cayuga, we crossed the bridge over the Grand River and headed back down the other side to the finish in Dunnville. In my head I had the idea that the turn in Cayuga marked the beginning of the final home stretch. I suppose this is technically true, but that final stretch along County  17 and Highway 3 was 21 km long. Diane met me a second time in Cayuga and she ran along with me for a few kilometers before heading back to the car. At every stop along the way she had a chance to chat with the volunteers and she was impressed by how warm and friendly everyone was.


Finally made it to Cayuga!


Made it to the half way mark and time for  walk break

Along the way between Cayuga and Dunnville we got to meet up with some crazy people. Diane and I got passed by a couple of ladies and the one instantly took a liking to Diane since they were both similar in stature (she may have even been shorter than Diane). They seemed to be part of some running group from Stony Creek and they had matching t-shirts and even a support crew at the side of the road that gave us some oranges and apples. Some while later I also got passed by Joe from the Stoney Creek group. He had his own cheering section as well as a minivan with his daughter and grandkids would pop up from time to time. Joe asked the question “… why the hell are we doing this?” My only answer was “… because of how great it will feel after we have finished this damn race”. At that point Joe had a simple goal which was to get to the finish and find a place to sit down. I must admit that I too contemplated sitting down for a break a few times, but I knew that if I did I would never be able to get up again. We did have some comic relief when we passed by a mailbox and I pointed out the family name ‘Barnfart’ ….. it doesn’t seem quite as funny now as it did 30 km into a marathon. At around 31 km I was met by Diane again and this time she handed my a bottle of Coke. By that point, it was nice to get some sugar in me. I drank about half of it between 31 km and 35 km, then put it away. When I pulled it out again at 38 km, the rest of the Coke had gone flat, but it was a godsend at that point because I am not sure my stomach could have handled the carbonation. The other trick I played on myself was that it was really a 40 km race. I knew that about 40 – 41km , I would see the giant ‘Muddy the Mudcat’ statue and the run to the finish at 42.2 km would be about the same as I would have to walk to get back to the car anyways. Diane met me at around 40 km and she ran me in to the finish.


Almost there!


I was not hallucinating … there really was a giant catfish.

After crossing the finish line I was given my medal and got a great big hug from RD Sheryl. I am surprised she wanted to touch me at that point because I was all sweaty and salt-stained, but it sure felt great.


Earned this medal!


Got to pose with my personal race crew.

After getting the medal, my first question was ‘where do I go to use this complimentary drink ticket affixed to the bottom of my race bib?’ The first volunteer didn’t know, but she sent me over the gentleman handing out the post-race goodie bags. He was wearing an Optimist Club shirt an coincidentally, the drinks were being served just down the street (within sight) at the local Optimist Club. This was a big deal to me since from about 30 km onward, all I could think about was the nice, cold beer I was going to have after I finished the race. We just snuck in under the wire because when we got to the Optimist Club, they were already cleaning the place up and loading the remaining cases of beer into the back of a van. Thankfully, they popped one open for me and let us sit down inside the hall for a while to relax.


One of the best-tasting beers ever


The inaugural Mudcat Marathon was an amazing race experience. On a personal note, I was testing the theory that it is better to enter a marathon slightly under-trained, yet structurally sound versus being over-trained. Thus did prove to be true since my longest run in training was Around the Bay at 30 km and since then I have been undergoing some physiotherapy to deal with some hip and back issues. I have now discovered the joys of a lacrosse ball and a foam roller.

Other than that, I can truly say that it was amazing to see Race Director Sheryl and the team pull together as a community and to host such an amazing event. I am proud to say that I completed the very first Mudcat Marathon and hope to return again next year.