Race Reports

The Algonquin Crossing

Shortly after confirming that I would be working in Algonquin for the summer, the idea to run clear across the park, from gate to gate on Highway 60, was at the front of my mind.  It was a rather ambitious goal, considering my time off from running, but I felt like I had to conquer it. 

During my time at Tanamakoon, I must have driven that highway a couple dozen times, and I just wanted to have that experience of taking it all in at a slower, running speed. 

I tried to coordinate plans to do the run with a couple friends from Ottawa, but when things didn’t line up, I knew if I was going to do it, it would be a solo effort.  After toughing it out at the Limberlost Challenge, midway through July, I thought my best chance would be to make the crossing during our time off work, at the end of July. 

My plans for the run were changing up until just a day or two before, when I decided I would head out from the East Gate on Saturday morning, and run to the West Gate.  My mother was driving up that afternoon, and would be able to pick me up at the West Gate on her way through to the cottage we were staying at in Whitney, on the east side of the park. 

Steph and her dad drove me out to the East Gate, early that morning, before heading down the highway in search of some moose.  Steph had yet to see one and was determined to spot one before she left the park.  I started on my run, which I expected would take me around five or so hours. 

About an hour later, I saw John’s truck coming back towards me.  They pulled over to tell me that they had found a big bull moose just a few kilometers up the road and wanted to know if I wanted a lift to go see it before it left.  As tempting as it was, I decided to stick to my run, since I was getting into a bit of a groove.  I definitely found the roads to be much better for my hips than the trails at Limberlost.  The big hills were not even that bad, taking them on one step at a time. 

An hour or so later, they drove past again.  This time they had a big bottle of water for me to fill my CamelBak with.  I was feeling good and just wanted to keep going.  The scenery was amazing, but one thing I didn’t count on while running, was seeing the amount of litter on the side of the highway. 

After a few hours, my memory started to get a little fuzzy.  I remember somebody parked on the other side of the road, seemingly lost.  I walked over to see if I could help, and sure enough I got them pointed in the right direction.  Before they took off, I asked them if they had any water I could drink, since I was close to running out.  They didn’t have any water, but they offered me a ginger ale, since they didn’t want to share their beer.   The ginger ale helped to pick me back up a bit, and I continued running, with less than 20k to go. 

Around the 11k (to go) marker, I saw my mom’s car coming towards me.  She pulled over to see how I was.  I filled up my water and told my mom that I was a little behind schedule.  I suggested she drive up to the Portage Store to grab some lunch and then meet me back at the West Gate in just over an hour. 

I struggled over the last few kilometers with the dehydration getting worse and the effects of running all those hills starting to add up.  Once I saw the visitor’s centre, I knew I was there and finished the last few hundred meters with a bit of a kick. 

I only had to wait about five or ten minutes before my mom arrived.  She had even got me a take-out order of lunch!  She got my favourite item from their menu, a Ham and Cheese Toastie with Sweet Potato Fries!!!  I have to say though, after a few bites, I had a hard time getting my stomach settled.  I picked away at the food as we drove back across the park towards Whitney. 

After arriving at the cottage, I got all cleaned up, and spent most of what was left of the day just relaxing and enjoying the time all together with family. 

What my mom didn’t know, was that my brother had hidden the engagement ring I had bought in Strathroy, in the glove box of her car.  I had planned on proposing to Stephanie that evening, as the sun was setting over the water.

Since we were having a good time visiting with our parents, I didn’t try and force anything to happen.  Steph and I ended up paddling a canoe during the sunset as her dad sat in the middle of the boat, attempting to catch a fish longer than four inches in length (unsuccessfully).  I wasn’t sure if I would get my chance or not. 

Once it was got late and we were all planning on heading to bed, I told Steph that I really needed to do a bit of yoga to stretch out after the run and I would love for her to join me.  After a short practice in our room, we did a guided meditation together. 

I had the ring all set.  Steph’s eyes were closed, focusing on her meditation.  This is when I sprang the big question!  Stephanie couldn’t have been more surprised and excited.  Surprisingly, I was not even that nervous; I was more excited than anything. 

Of course, once that happened, we had to go downstairs to tell my mother.  She was just about to go to bed, and was thrilled when she heard the news.  Then we walked across the road, to the cottage to tell Steph’s family.  They had been waiting up, because I had mentioned to John earlier that weekend that I was planning on proposing once I had the ring.  He just didn’t know when. 

After a couple important phone calls, we all returned to bed.  We had all had a long day, and I was ready for sleep.  Stephanie had a hard time containing her excitement and was awake most of the night, waiting to be able to call all of her friends first thing in the morning.   

The Limberlost Challenge

It was a hard decision to make, when I thought about running the 2011 edition of the Limberlost Challenge (TLC).  I really enjoyed the race in 2010, and I was starting to miss the time spent with the other “crazy” ultra runners of the Ontario Ultra Series.  TLC was taking place during my first weekend off work during the summer and I was going to be in the area regardless of whether I ran or not. 

I knew that I was not in the type of shape to be running competitively, but that with shear will and determination, I knew I was capable of doing the distance.  I had planned on keeping up my running while working at Tanamakoon, but realistically, I was only able to get in a handful of 5-10k runs in during the evenings. 

I made the decision to sign up for the 42k distance, only about a week before the race.  I knew that running the 56k was not a good idea considering my lack of training.  I was excited to see all the regulars again, but nervous about how my body would hold up. 

Stephanie and I arrived at the venue on Friday afternoon and were able to set up the tent and get our selves organized.  It was a much more enjoyable experience than last year, since we had lots of time and were in no rush.  After chatting with a few of the other runners, we decided to head into Huntsville to get some dinner. 

Unexpectedly, we decided to dine at the restaurant inside the Zellers.  It brought back fond memories of when I was a kid and would go with my mom during back to school shopping trips.  The food was actually really good and since we were the only two people in the dining room, our service was impeccable.  We also shared one of the best chocolate milkshakes I have ever tasted.  It was obvious, based on my indulgent meal choices, that I wouldn’t be breaking any records the next day.

After returning to our little campsite, I prepared all my things for the race. We were able to socialize and chat with many of the other runners and then once it was dark, Stephanie and I went back to our tent and soon fell asleep.

I felt pretty good on race morning.  I had a light breakfast consisting of a ham and cheese sandwich and some yogurt.  It was great to see all the people that I had gotten to know so well in 2010.  I was asked several times where I had been hiding out.  I was also really happy to have Stephanie there to cheer me on and be my support crew! 

The race started after a few announcements and I settled into a pretty conservative pace.  I was able to meet a few new runners and have some chitchat before getting into some of the tougher parts of the course. 

Once everyone became spread out, and I was running mainly solo, so I turned on my iPod and started listening to an audiobook about Buddhism.  It was very interesting and found that while I run, I can focus really well on the content, as well as the course.  I find it a very productive way to learn and get exercise at the same time. 

It wasn’t long into the first lap (the course is a 14k loop, done three times for the 42k) that I started to feel my hip bothering me.  I knew that this was a possibility, so I just slowed down and tried not to push it too hard.  It didn’t get much worse until part way through the second lap. 

When it came to make the decision whether to keep going for the third lap, I figured that it wasn’t getting much worse as I was moving, so I might as well finish the race. 

The third lap was very difficult, mostly because of the pain in my hip.  I tried not to dwell on it too much, and just keep myself moving.  The last few kilometers were a real struggle.  I was able to finish the audiobook during the first two and a half laps and so switching to some upbeat music helped to keep me going.  For the last 10 or 15 minutes, I turned the iPod onto my Rage Against the Machine playlist to help drive me in to the finish line.  It worked brilliantly!!!  I was able to pick it up a bit at the end, and cross the line in just over five and a half hours. 

As soon as I stopped for a few minutes, the pain became much more evident.  I knew it was going to be a slow and sore recovery.  I took a quick dip in the nearby lake to wash/cool off, which also helped to ease the pain a little. 

We only had a short drive to the motel where we were staying, and so the rest of the day was spent purely relaxing and enjoying the peace and quite of Algonquin. 

After a few days of pain in my hips and lower back, and a fair bit of Advil and Robaxicet, I was feeling okay again and tried to get back into the habit of going for my short jogs after work. 

I started to realize that maybe it’s the trails, with their uneven and unpredictable surfaces that have such an impact on my hips.  I have decided to test out this theory by going for a long run along Highway 60 during the intersession break from camp and see how my body reacts to that.      

© Brian Groot 2020