It was called “The Snowstorm of the Decade”. Heavy snowfall combined with gale force winds had created blizzard conditions. I had only a short window of time to get to my pickup before darkness set in. If I failed to reach it before darkness the chances of finding it in this storm would pretty much be nil. I would be lost, stranded and most likely perish in the elements.
Fighting through exhaustion I kept pushing on, running against the biting wind all the while searching for hydro poles and roadside trees through the blinding snow to make sure I was still on the road. Pushing on, fearing I was running out of time before nightfall, I caught the outline of a vehicle covered in snow. Coming alongside it, it was such a relief to discover it was indeed my pickup, my 1966 GMC half ton. It was the very same pickup I grew up with on the farm. I slumped over the tailgate exhausted.
Strangely enough standing beside the pickup was the outline of a young lady with dark, wavy black hair. She was wearing a long black winter coat. Despite everything covered in snow, there was not a flake of snow on her which really puzzled me. When she saw me standing there she called out, “Carl, I haven’t seen you in so long. How have you been?” I recognized her voice first, and then as she came over and gave me a hug I recognized her face. She was Andie MacDowell, exactly as she appeared as “Rita” in the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day”. How she knew me so well I had no idea, and I didn’t dare ask questions. As she gave me another hug and said, “It is so good to see you again” I muttered out “Thanks” walked over to the driver’s door, opened the door and jumped in the truck.
The truck had that very distinct “farm smell” that I recalled so vividly from the days of my childhood, a mixture of barn smells and earth smells of being driven through the fields. As I started the pickup, and before I could protest Andie reached in and grabbed the snowbrush saying “Let me clean off your truck.” My mind was spinning. Perhaps from running to exhaustion in the storm I had become delusional. I needed to ask questions, but where do I start. When Andie opened the door again to return the brush the questions spilled out, “Who are you? How did you get here? How do you know me?” Andie replied “Never mind any of that, you need to get out of here before dark. Now go!”
I jammed the long standard gearshift into gear. Ahead of me stood a steep hill that I needed to climb in order to reach the highway. Picking up speed I changed to 2nd, then 3rd gears as I hit the bottom of the hill. The windshield wipers was frantically trying to keep the windshield free of snow. The engine was roaring as then truck pawed it’s way up the hill with rear tires wildly spinning. I was pounding my fist on the steering wheel (as if this would make it go faster). “Come on truck, you got to do this”. In what seemed like several minutes the truck eventually reached the top. Keeping the momentum going, through the blinding snow I turned a hard right onto the highway and was met with a loud, long blast of a transport truck air horn. It had me jumping out of my skin, and within a split second the truck blasted recklessly past me at highway speeds through that blinding snow. It had missed me by mere inches.
I woke out of my dream in a cold clammy sweat. My heart was racing wildly. The entire air around me was filled with a deafening roar. I was not in my bed, and I had no idea where I was. I definitely was not in my bed at home. Perhaps I was still dreaming, but everything seemed so real. Through the darkness I reached to the side and felt damp tent fabric, and only just over a foot above me more tent fabric. I was in a sleeping bag in my backpackers tent. But why? And where was I?
That dream I had was so vivid, but I had no idea where it came from. The transport truck part was easy. Driving on the 401 Highway at 105kph earlier that day I was following a transport truck by a (much too close) couple of car lengths. But I couldn’t ease up because a mere inches from my rear bumper was the grill of another transport truck going the same 105kph. Looking to my left my view was just in front of the 1st of 4 rear axles of another transport truck, going the same speed as me, 105kph. If I had to brake at all that truck behind me would be right into my back seat. And I definitely was NOT going to surrender those two car spaces in front to me. If traffic did slow quickly I could swerve out of the way and into the ditch. In what took several kilometers the truck beside me gained ground enough to pass, and the truck behind in turn went by me giving me a bit more breathing room.
As far as the rest of the dream goes I have no clue. The snowstorm. Our old beat up pickup from the farm which I have not thought about in decades. And Andie MacDowell. I assure my wife I am not infatuated with her. I enjoyed her role in the movie “Ground Hog Day” (which I have not seen in years). And I didn’t even know what her real life name was. Honestly! I had to Google it.
My mind was scrambling trying to piece things together. Then through the darkness the light finally came on in my brain. I was camping in Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area the night before my 50k trail race called “Run For The Toad“. Now getting my bearings I reached for my phone to check the time. It was 4:00am. I had been sleeping two hours. Before that, sleep had eluded me as extremely strong winds was pummelling my tent. And the deafening roar that I was currently hearing was a downpour of rain outside.
My mind was in overdrive as I thought about those 50 kilometers of trail running that lay before me. Was the rain going to stop? And even if it did stop, what conditions would the trails be in? Even as I lay there, with my 58 year old 6 foot 4 frame cramped up in this tiny tent, I was questioning myself why I actually grabbed the smallest tent I own for my overnighter.
It took me a good part of two hours to finally drift back to sleep, only to be woken at 6:15 by a conservation camp all terrain vehicle as it was revving it’s engine while roaring past just a few feet from my tent. It was still dark, but I decided I might as well get up and freshen up before the big race.
The “Run For The Toad”, once a small local race has massively grown in popularity. Now in it’s 15th year it has become Canada’s largest trail race and is a destination race for many runners across North America. It has a cap and it sells out very quickly each year. Canadian Running Magazine has listed this race as one of “Canada’s 10 Must-Do Trail Races“.
Crazy dreams aside I can easily see why. It is such a well organized event. And despite all the rain we got the night before, the trails were in incredibly great shape. The evening before the race I was spending some alone quiet time by Pinehurst Lake where the start and finish line was, and a man approached me inquiring if I was running the next day. He ended up being George Sarson. George soon introduced me to his wife Peggy, who together are race directors for the entire event. They were so personable, and in this contact where I felt so welcomed I can see why people say they have such a great race experience “running the toad”.
The next morning I met up with Jess Heroux. Jess was that inspiring man I wrote about at The Creemore Vertical Challenge who had a stroke and yet continues to run these very challenging races. We hung out together for a least an hour, including taking in the opening ceremonies together. As we were running different distances, when the announcement came for my 50k we parted and I made my way to the start line.
At the start line I met up with Kristi, a fellow blogger and Twitter follower. Kristi put “the bug in my ear” regarding this race and it was so wonderful to finally meet her and her husband Michael that weekend at Run For The Toad. (Michael is also a runner and was running the 25k for this event).
It was not before long an actual cannon was fired, signalling the beginning of the race. Spectators had lined the edge of the course for the 1st couple hundred metres or so. The start had a “big city marathon” feel to it with the race expo, the opening ceremony and the huge number of spectators present.
Soon it was digging deep on a course that I discovered was deceivingly tough. The 50k has 4 loops of 12.5 kilometers each. I had walked 10 kilometers of those 12.5 kilometers the previous day (and was taking pictures of the course). There wasn’t the monster hills like at The North Face. There wasn’t the obstacles or technical terrain like at Pick Your Poison. The trails I would actually describe as “groomed”.
What the course did have was a LOT of short steep hills mixed in with many long gradual hills. The course was a constant up and down. As the race wore on, these very hills began to beat me up and wear me down. There was hardly any flat ground at all here.
Aid stations were well stocked and the volunteers were friendly and very personable. By the time I was on my 3rd loop most of them knew exactly what my preferences were.
As with other races I loved meeting and conversing with other runners on the course. There was the musician who commutes to Toronto each day from Kitchener. Running was his release. There was the lady who completed the Haliburton Highland 100 Miler just a few weeks before. Still feeling the effects of that 100 miler (161k’s), she said she was struggling with this race.
I ran with Jess for a couple of kilometers. He was completing the 1st of his 2 loops, and I was finishing the 2nd of my 4 loops. Am always so amazed with Jess’s will and determination.
Closing in towards the end of the race, I ran for about a half a kilometer with Canadian running legend Joe Cleary. Joe was a chain smoker turned runner and at age 45 ran his 1st half marathon. Since then he has completed 537 full marathon distance and longer races (and still counting). With about 2k to go Joe pulled ahead and he finished about a minute ahead of me.
Every trail race is so different, so I don’t put too much emphases on personal bests, and I don’t set a goal before a race. It was only when I arrived home and looked up my time I found out I beat my previous best 50k by 37 minutes. It was very nice to find this out.
Back in the big tent I was treated to an AMAZING meal that included raw veggies, Asian slaw, Greek Penne salad, quinoa salad, barbeque lemon ginger chicken breast and fresh fruits and pies. I am always appreciative of any post race food for my recovery. But this was such a pleasant surprise from the usual post race menu of regular city marathons I have run which is typically a bagel, a banana and a yogurt.
It was one more night in the campground (thankfully no crazy dreams), and then back on the highway heading home. Fortunately it was early Sunday morning and traffic was much lighter this time around.
Thank you for taking the time to read! 🙂