As the days approached for this race the nerves really began to sink in. I'm not really sure what sane individual, specifically one who just started running in June of this year, would sign up for this. The options were 25k, 50k, or a 50k relay; nothing less and nothing in between. Thankfully I knew I was going into this with some familiar faces - if I was going into this alone I definitely would've been in my bed with the sheets over my head hiding from the running world when the race was supposed to start. It didn't help that about a week before the race I received an update email and part of it made me cringe - "NEW RULE headsets - hosting the 50k Canadian National ACU Championship race we have made it a rule that no runners or walkers can wear any headsets or earphones. Everyone needs to be aware of runners passing on the race course. No Exception!" This definitely put the idea of hiding in bed as an option back at the forefront of my mind.
As far as I know the race has always been held at Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area in Paris, Ontario, and it definitely is a beautiful place for a trail run. It was very easy to get to since the race website had directions posted for each possible direction you could come in, it just didn't help that my friend Laura and I are somewhat directionally challenged. Nevertheless, we found it and headed in to the park. Everything was very organized and there were volunteers stationed everywhere pointing you in the right direction. We arrived earlier than we expected so we decided to head over to pick up our kits and then come back to the car.
We went into the main tent, which was set up in an organized fashion - bib/race kit pick up was split up into sections depending on your bib number and you went from there.
The Race Kit included an issue of iRun, flyers for upcoming races, epsom salts, and various snacks (Shreddies, a Vector bar, a fruits and grain bun, and a gel). I smirked when I saw the epsom salts and pointed them out to Laura, but when I got home I couldn't have been happier that I had them. It was a genius idea! The only downer was that there was no shirt included in the kit, but it's alright since Laura and I found some really cool ones to pick up after the race.
The race kit also included a really nice registration gift - the below duffle bag! :)
So now that the fun part was over it was time to get race ready!
There were opening ceremonies held outside that begun at 0900 and went right up until the 50k started at 0930. The ceremonies began with the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada (RHFC) with the marching of the Pipes and Drum Band, immediately following was the customary raising of the flags. There were a few speeches afterwards, and before you knew it they were calling all the 50k runners to the starting line; there goes a knot brewing in my stomach. 25k runners were called to the starting line shortly after and I recall thinking "why am I doing this?" 0940 and the 25k group was off.
Let me just mention that it was cold. The ground was wet and muddy, so it had either rained the night before or this morning, it wasn't awful but I wouldn't say it was a beautiful day.
This race course is nothing I could ever explain, it's a one of a kind. You see the course map and you can tell what the distance looks like and that a 25k participant has to run it twice, you just don't see the fun stuff that a runner or walker would experience on the course. The terrain at certain portions are ones that are not the easiest especially with the weather conditions we had. It was slippery, muddy, there were roots of trees sticking out, uneven surfaces on hills, and parts where if you weren't quick enough your shoes probably would've been swallowed by the mud. There was even a hill towards the end of the race that people refer to as "The Wall" and I must say when I first saw it I thought it was a joke. It is definitely a course that will challenge your will and strength - anyone who has completed this run is a very powerful and determined individual, runners and walkers alike. The people that finish this course in record times, they're champions and my hat goes off to them.
As difficult as this course was for me and numerous people out there I have to say that the camaraderie was phenomenal. People were constantly encouraging each other, whether it was a fresh 50k relay runner or 50k runner on their third lap passing by. The support was great, and I'm not sure if I would've finished without it. Oh, and to the lady that shared her purple Gatorade with Laura, we are both forever grateful!
I did something funky to my ankle around the 7k mark, so I knew my goal of completing it in roughly 3 hours was going out the window. After running the course the first time through, ankle issue or not, that goal probably would've been bumped to 3.5 hours anyway. Regardless, I did it; I can definitely say before June I didn't think I'd be anywhere near something like this ever. I couldn't have been happier to finish, after all thats the only way to get your medal; mine is something I am going to treasure always.
Laura and I went to change into dry clothes and then it was off to lunch! The food was delicious and the spread was the best I've seen up until this point. Shout out to St. Jacob's Catering for the delicious meal!
After lunch we decided to check out the Expo - vendors included My Next Race, New Balance, Nike, and more. Laura and I picked up some really cool Run for the Toad shirts that had the names of all of the participants on the back, even ours!
This really was an amazing experience and something I feel every runner should go out and do at least once - it really puts you in a zone and you'll really see what you're made out of.