I made the decision that I was not going to spend any time taking photos on the course of this year’s Pick Your Poison Trail Run. It was 7 days, or the Saturday prior to my 50k and I went to the very forest reserve to get in my last trail run in before the race. My plan was park at a parking lot on the back side of the forest closer to my home, and I would run some other trails until I connected with the trails in Copeland Forest the race would be held at. I have done this a handful of times before. However this time the snow was so heavy and deep from a spring snowstorm that dumped 21 inches the previous weekend I could not even manage to make it as far as the race course trails. Covering a mere 8 kilometers in 2 hours in the deep, heavy wet snow, I returned to my car feeling exhausted and very defeated. How on earth am I ever going to complete a 50 kilometer race the next weekend in under 8 hours?
Never I had I been in race that I was looking forward to so badly, and at the same time dreading so badly. With the snow conditions, I had no idea what the outcome was going to be. This was the same event that I had signed up for as a 25k 2 years ago. Running with my niece Caron (who was running the 50k), near the end of my 25k I decided to go the distance with her, despite the longest I had trained for that year was 15k. Crossing that finish line after my 4th loop was sheer euphoria. And to make it even sweeter, race director Heather kindly bumped my registration distance into a 50k. I was “officially” an ultrarunner.
This race course is so very dear to my heart. With the start line only 10 kilometers from my house, it is a “backyard” event. I grew up on a farm only 5 kilometers from the start line. After the death of my very dear dad 45 years ago when I was 15, I took to hiking as a mental and emotional release. My favourite place of refuge was the Copeland Forest and I would enter it several times a year either through where the present Cathedral Pines subdivision is on the top of the big hill on the east side of Horseshoe Valley, or where Pick Your Poison Trail One Aid Station 2 was set up, at the edge of the present Settlers Ghost Golf Course. Things change, such as neighboring subdivisions and golf courses being built, but the beauty of the Copeland Forest has been timeless. For me Copeland Forest has been my place of healing and refuge for the past four decades. In fact, in the early 1980’s some of my dates with the lovely lady who would become my wife were in this forest reserve. It was a part of me, and only natural to take her there.
The Pick Your Poison Trail Run this year in 2018 was coming into it’s 10 year anniversary with a promise this year was going to be EPIC. It is always the 1st race of the season of OUTrace (Ontario Ultra and Trail Racing Series). It has become one of the most popular trail races and ultramarathons in Ontario. For many runners this race is their favourite trail race in Ontario. The 12.5k distance sold out in January, followed by the 25k and 50k in February (which is over 2 months before the actual event). As a runner it is always a privilege and honour to participate in this event.
With these trail races and ultras you never know what to expect on race day. Conditions on the same course can widely vary from one year to the next. Last year 2 weeks prior to Pick Your Poison, the trails were bare and dry and my niece and I were doing some serious training together in Copeland Forest to get ready for our 50k. This year we had a very cool spring leaving a lot of snow still on the trails. This did not bother me that much because I had been getting out each week trail running in the snow and loved it. That was until the big storm hit. And with a weather forecast of 4C with rain and wet snow for race day, there then became a haunting fear that this could be my 1st DNF (Did Not Finish).
Seeing so many familiar faces on race day had a calming effect on me. I love being instantly known and recognised by race directors Adam and Heather on that 1st name basis, and as well by many volunteers. And I love being recognised by some other runners on the course, after a brief connection from other races. And meeting new runners is what makes these events so very special. From a young millennial around my daughters age who came up beside me and ran with me for several kilometers, to David, an extremely gifted 53 year old runner who ran with me the last few kilometers and was using the Pick Your Poison race as a training run for his 1st 100 miler at the end of May at Sulphur Springs. It is those other runners you connect with on race day that make the day so special and memorable.
I really appreciated the etiquette of the handful of elite runners who were lapping me while I was on my 3rd lap. With only 50k runners remaining on the course, there were long stretches where you don’t see any other runners. In the peaceful quietness of the forest I could hear elites coming, and I would step aside as they would go by me. They would thank me as they went by, ease up after going by and looking back ask if I was doing okay. When I acknowledged that I was doing great, they regained their fast pace and soon were out of sight.
The race volunteers were nothing short of awesome. Aid Station #1 was described on the Pick Your Poison Trail Run Facebook Page as being put “On a patch of dry land in middle of a glacier. The volunteers happily stayed there all day helping “coach” the runners up that first big climb and fueling them up for the next leg of their journey”. I got hugs at this aid station, and they worked together to refill my hydration pack without having me remove it. Aid Station #2 is set up on a very cold windswept corner. The volunteers are always so warm and welcoming after runners endure some brutal, gut wrenching climbs. Race director Heather’s mom is always a wonderful familiar face at Aid Station #2, as well as Dawn, an accomplished 100 mile runner in some very high profile events such as Sinister 7 Ultra. At this aid station I was offered a homemade almond butter, honey treat on my 3rd loop. It was not on the table, but was pulled out from behind the table. And breaking every rule of not trying new things on race day, I took one. Boy, was it ever good. I nibbled on it all the way back to Aid Station #3 at the start/finish.
Aid Station #3 was just a few feet past the start/finish timing crew. Lap times are hand scored by the timing crew. Not only do this crew heartily cheer me on going into my next loop, they record my bib with my times. They also have one of toughest jobs out there. It is when they had to inform the runners who did not complete 3 loops under 6 hours that their day is finished. I paced short distances with 2 different runners (and possibly more) who did not make the cutoff on race day. They were very strong runners that I have a lot of respect for. It is a very challenging course and DNF’s (did not finish) honestly can happen to anyone. So much respect for each and every runner out there.
One of the most welcoming faces at Aid Station #3 was a guy named Chad who I 1st met 5 years ago when he was working at Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC). I was extremely new to running back then, and had registered for a half marathon as a 55 year old through my work. My 1st run I could not make 1 kilometer, and I hated it. How on earth am I ever going to manage a 21.1 kilometer half marathon? MEC had a course one evening called “Barefoot Running”. Being very naïve, because of the “running” part I registered for it, but it did not answer any questions. After the 1 hour course I started to share my questions and concerns with the instructor. She said she could not help me, but said there might be someone who can. “His name is Chad. He is a marathon runner”. I thought wow, I had never met a marathon runner before. She brought me over to talk with Chad (probably grateful to get rid of me) and I bombarded him with my million and one questions and concerns. His demeanour was so calm and collected. He reassured me that my fears and anxieties with this half marathon was normal. He also reassured me that hating running was a process. He said it might not be the next run, or the run after that, but it will get better. Just don’t give up. He shared some tips on training up to that half marathon, and believed in me, a frightened 55 year old, that I could do this. Chad went out of his way for me, he invested over a half hour of his time for me, and never once tried to sell me anything. He played such a huge part to not have me give up, when I wanted to so badly. And I crossed that finish line of that half marathon later that fall a changed person.
Seeing Chad’s calm demeanour at Pick Your Poison once again calmed my race anxieties. I just knew everything was going to be okay. And once again Chad went out of his way to get me through my 7th Ultra in just over 2 years at the 2018 Pick Your Poison. My personal goal was to make this Ultra my 1st one of going paper cup-less. I had my hydration pack for my water, but neglected to plan it out out how to go about electrolytes without using paper cups. Using an empty drinking bottle I had in my drop-bag, I had Chad put in enough Tailwind to keep me going for the next 12.5 kilometers. When I came in after my 2nd loop, Chad had my bottle refilled with the Tailwind electrolytes and placed it back in my drop bag, saving me valuable time on each loop.
With some warm temperature help from Mother Nature, and an amazing trail crew headed by race director Adam, they made this course into the most exciting course I have ever been on. There was a little bit of everything out there, and it was very challenging, but boy was it ever fun. Fortunately I kept ahead of the cutoff times throughout the day, so I was able to stop from time to time and take some photos. The course has never seen this much snow before on race day, and who knows may never again.
I ran those last few kilometers with David Mosier, my new running friend who is training for his 100 miler. Then I eased up coming down coming down the snowy ski hill on my final loop, and let David go on ahead. I was so overwhelmed with gratefulness of how far I have come in my running journey, and everyone who has been a part of that journey. I could never have done it alone. There was one more stop I needed to make before that long anticipated finish line. This time it wasn’t for a photo. There was a gentleman a few years older than me who stood all day alone on the side of that cold, exposed ski hill cheering runners on. I wanted to thank him and give him a hug. Then it was a bit more downhill, and a quick dash to the finish to claim those coveted Pick Your Poison X Anniversary finisher socks. What an EPIC day. Thank you everyone for running with me. Happy 10th Anniversary Pick Your Poison Trail Run! I am so looking forward to many more races to come! 🙂
Race Results from Zone4.ca In the male 50k you will find me at 48th…7:30:20.7
For what it is worth, here is my race data from my Suunto. Unfortunately I forgot to turn it off until 30 minutes after the race. (I had my post race meal, and then cheered on other runners coming in, and then realized my watch was still running…lol). My 2018 Pick Your Poison Movescount.