I have always been one to have that tendency to park at the back of a parking lot. There is less driving around trying to find that “perfect” parking spot. Parking closer to the exit, it is often quicker, less stressful and more convenient getting out. And besides, a little extra walking does not hurt anyone.
So on the morning of July 13th, 2019 when I went to Blue Mountain Resort for my bib pickup before my Salomon Summit 700 race, I decided to park in the very first parking lot off the main drag. I parked there for my two previous Blue Mountain races that I ran in 2016 and 2017 with The North Face Endurance Challenge. The parking lot was very quiet, and it was a nice, easy, quiet, scenic half a kilometer stroll to the start line at The Village at Blue Mountain, where the races were held.
I parked my Prius and walked on over and arrived at the village square at 6:45 am, which is shortly after the 6:30 bib pickup. And the place was completely deserted. No tents set up. No start/finish line corrals. Nothing! Did I not have the right day? I don’t have media on my phone, so I have no way of checking. Just then I spot three athletic looking young adults who also appeared to be just as perplexed. We asked each other if “we were looking for the race”. When we all discovered we were, we all introduced ourselves. I was introduced to Brendan, Liz and Everhard. Brendan did a quick check on his phone and learned the bib pick up and race start was actually still over another kilometer away at Blue Mountain Inn. When Brendan learned where my car was, he generously offered me a ride in his truck. My Prius was parked in its’ own happy location, and I gladly accepted.
I registered for the Salomon Summit 700 for its’ longest distance of 21k way back in early 2019. It has been a very interesting year. After my retirement from Busch Systems I was hoping to run at least a couple long distance ultras leading up to the Monarch Ultra run in September. But it has been the complete opposite. In my six years running, this year is the least I have ever run. I am so fortunate with injuries, so I can’t complain. This year however I have been nursing some plantar fasciitis on the right foot. The 3rd time I have had it (though the 1st time while running), and each time on the same foot.
After my Barrie Half, I took off an entire month from running to let the foot heal. And these past 2 weeks I have done 4 slow paced runs, but only totalling 20k. Walking is okay (except when I get out of bed in the morning), and running still does aggravate my foot somewhat. So after my final run three days before the race I decided to transfer my registration to the 10 kilometer distance. For my blog posts here, I do spend a lot of time on the course taking photos, and was afraid of not making the two hard cut-offs on the 21k. With the 10k , if I needed to, I could just walk the 10k and have enough time to finish in the 3.5 hours allowed to finish. My ultimate goal is to get more healthy before my stage of 107 kilometers for the Monarch Ultra on September 22nd.
Before my run I met up with a runner friend named Becky. It was such a pleasant surprise to see her there. I first met her earlier this year as she accompanied a friend at the OUTRace Spring Warmup and then as she volunteered at Pick Your Poison. Ever smiling, you would never know that behind that beaming, radiant smile there would be a lot of physical discomfort. To help address the chronic nerve pain she had been experiencing, last winter she had a discectomy performed on her to remove an L5 S1 massive extrusion on her back. To work hard through rehab, start all over in training, and make it to the start line of what could very well be one of the toughest 21k races (which sees well in excess of 3,000 feet of elevation gain, plus loss) in all of Central and Eastern Canada is nothing short of remarkable. She was such an inspiration to me to see her there.
I cheered Becky and all the 21k runners as they started their race, and during my one hour wait before my 10k, I did a walk/light run back to my car to loosen me up (which ended up being a 3.6k round trip). At my car I put on some bug spray (particularly for ticks), some suntan lotion, and drank some coconut water for hydration. Then soon I was back at the start line for the countdown of my 10k. It was so good to be back on a trail race. My last trail race was way back in April at Pick Your Poison.
Not knowing how my foot was going to behave, I positioned myself at the start near the very back of the pack. Thinking of my friend Becky who started at the back in the 21k, it got me thinking of the struggles, hurdles and battles for many runners just to make it to the start line. Every runner has their own story. During my 10k, much of the trails I recognised from running the 50k Endurance Challenge in 2016, and the 50 Mile Endurance Challenge in 2017. And there is that one hill that Summit 700 gets its’ name from. The iconic 700 foot single track, technical climb that is chip timed. And the runner who climbs it the fastest is awarded “Queen or King of the Mountain”.
There is very little of the course that is flat. There was one section at the top of Blue Mountain that was smooth, flat and very runnable. No rocks, no roots, and I picked up the pace. A few seconds later I felt myself becoming airborne and came down quite hard. My foot had caught on a section of wire fencing that was flat on the trail. Nearby runners checked to see if I was okay. At 61, falling makes me extremely nervous. Fortunately I landed on dirt, and not rocks and was able to get up, shake it off and keep going.
For one who is used to running much longer trail races, this 10k race went by incredibly fast. And the foot, though a little tender by the end of the race, held up amazing. Which made a world of difference for me. Before I knew it, I was running through the chute and across the finish line to the cheering of spectators and I was presented my finishers medal. My Suunto had tracked 480 metres (or 1574 feet) of elevation gain plus loss over the 10k. It was a tough course, and I felt very, very happy to finish.
I then stretched and walked around, all the while congratulating many other finishers. While making my rounds I spotted my new friends Brendan and Liz (Liz was cheering Brendan on during his race). They were so excited to see I had come in, inquiring how I made out. After I mentioned my results, I asked Brendan about his race. He so modestly mentioned “that he finished 4th”. Looking up the results later at home, I learned that there were 215 runners in the 21k, and Brendan burned up those 21k of mostly technical single track, and with over 3,000 feet of elevation in 1:55:47. The 1st four finishers in the 21k were quite close together, and the next runner after Brendan came in nine minutes later. I so love the humbleness of the running community. Brendan came in an amazing 4th overall, but he was so much more interested in how my run went.
There were still a lot of runners from the 6k, 10k and 21k out on the course, so I decided to sit on the bank opposite the finishing corral and cheer the runners on as they finished. I cheered all the runners that stood on the podium during the award ceremony. After the award ceremony the spectators really thinned out. With no sign of my friend Becky, I decided to walk straight up the ski hill to where it interrupts the course, and cheer her and any other runners that came by.
A quite a few runners went by on that section of trail. Twelve, fifteen or even more, I’m not entirely sure how many there was. But I could see the weariness, the exhaustion on each of their individual faces. And as I clapped and cheered saying “you are doing amazing”, smiles and words of “thank you” were spoken to me. I have been in the receiving end of this many, many times, and I know how big of a boost those simple words of encouragement can be.
There were three more runners coming down, and as I was cheering, one of the ladies mentioned that “they were the last”. The two ladies were sweepers, and a gentleman named John was the final runner. John is 62 years old, and made it through those two hard cut-off times and was now fighting with every ounce of energy he could pull up from within himself to make it to the finish in his 21k. While the race course continued to wind its’ way around, I went straight back down the steep ski hill I came up to cheer John at the finish line. I ended up being the only spectator left right at the finish line. As I started cheering for John as he came in, the announcer, the two course sweepers, and photographer (in between photographs) all joined in. I had just ever so briefly met him, but it was very emotionally moving for me to witness John cross that finish line. For me, I never ended up running that 21k distance that I was hoping to. But at the finish line, through a runner around the same age as me, I felt the pain, the struggle and then the triumph of “Going the Full Distance”. It was an extremely beautiful ending to a very special day! And P.S. My friend Becky did finish, back surgery and all. She must have snuck by as I was climbing the ski hill to cheer on all the remaining runners out on the course. And Becky went the full 21k distance and had an absolutely great day out there! 🙂