It was Friday September 24th, and the day before my Salomon Summit 700 trail race at Blue Mountain, Canada. The strangest words spilled out of my mouth as I shared with my wife. “I have no desire to run this”. Though I ran some relay sections for the Monarch Ultra in the fall of 2019, in Canada and Mexico, the last actual timed race was this very Salomon 700 event held in July 2019. That year (like any race) there was crowds of people, and a mass group start.
It was a great experience, so once again I signed up for it in 2020, taking advantage of the early bird pricing in January 2020. The race was to held only a week after the grueling 56km Limberlost Challenge, so I opted for just the 10k. Then COVID hit in March 2020, as we know shut everything down. Both Limberlost Challenge and the Summit 700 were deferred to July 2021. In July of this year, my Summit 700 was once again deferred to September 25th, and the Limberlost Challenge went virtual. I ended up running the 100 kilometer virtual distance that was offered.
The past 18 months, I just haven’t been around very many people. During that time, I had only run with another runner once. That was 11 months ago for a couple hours in Copeland Forest. The most I have driven in my little Prius in the past 18 months was 35km. That was only twice. I have become very mindful to avoid taking unnecessary trips. Both to help prevent the spread of COVID and to help our environment.
Through email updates I learned the organizers of the Summit 700 put some quite stringent Covid-19 transmission mitigation measures in place. This put my mind at ease. Runners needed to show proof of full vaccination, plus fill out a pre-screening. Masks were required at the starting area. No food was to be offered at the aid stations or finish line, and it was bring your own hydration packs and bottles. No disposable cups given out (which is a big hooray for the environment). Right from my 1st race in 2013, I was appalled by the amount of disposable cup litter. More and more trail races are going “cup less”. Which is tremendous. Also at Summit 700 there was no mass start. Instead each runner was to book a 10 minute start interval. Within that 10 minute interval, a runner would start every 30 seconds. The 1st set of runners in the 10k were to start from 12:30-12:40. I chose 1:50-2:00. There were far more time slots available near the end. Which means a much less crowded race course. Besides, I’m a mid-pack runner anyways.
The afternoon before the race I received an email from the directors that there was going to be a change in the course because of the unprecedented rainfall from the precious few days. All big climbs and descents were removed. The elevation was what drew me to this race, so yes I was a bit disappointed. But I totally understood the decision. The three main reasons for the decision was the safety of the runners & volunteers, the inability to safely remove injured runners from the course, and the environmental damage inflicted by hundreds of runners on the less well-draining areas. The revised course was 11 kilometers and consisted of 2×5.5 kilometer loops at the top of the mountain along the escarpment edge on some better draining trails.
In 2017 I ran the 50 mile North Face Endurance Challenge held at this same venue of Blue Mountain. The night before the race, the course experienced torrential rainfall. With a 5am start the next morning for the 50 mile distance there was just no opportunity to change plans on the route. And the race went on. The course is tough in good conditions, but with all the mud it was brutal. Lots of injured runners, others didn’t make the cut offs, while others simply just gave up. In fact 35% of those who started the 50 mile distance did not finish. The logistics of getting injured runners off the course with all that mud would have been brutal. What I have heard however, was that organizers did do an incredible job under the circumstances. That was the last year the North Face ran the Endurance Challenge in the Blue Mountains. After 4 years of running it, they pulled it from Blue Mountain in 2017. I have often wondered if the headaches from such a muddy, injury filled race was what prompted their decision.
Have driven only 35 kilometers in the past 18 months, I really wasn’t up to driving 65 kilometers to run 11 kilometers on the escarpment edge. There would be some nice views though I’m sure. In the end I did decide to go. Bib pickup was extremely well organized and flawless. Then back in my Prius and up the mountain on the Scenic Caves Road. Very cautiously went by several cyclists grinding their way up the mountain. Also past a bike painted white 15 feet off the road. A sad visual reminder of a cyclist who lost his or her life at that very spot. I am very “old school”, with no media on my phone and still a road map kind of guy. But I found the parking lot where we were to meet with no problem.
I arrived an hour early. The starting line wasn’t visible from the parking lot, but was said to be a 2-3 minute walk along a trail. I went and checked it out. Took a photo of a runner heading out on his 30 second interval. And another photo of the finish line chute, which was at the top of an extremely steep climb. Seeing that there were in fact hills involved made me very pleased. It was likely going to be a very fun course after all.
In the email information prior to the race, runners are encouraged not to linger at the starting area until it is their time to run. So I headed back to the car. Drank some coffee I had brought with me. And ate a granola bar. Fifteen minutes before my start window there was a few drops of rain on the windshield. Five minutes later, as I started to make my way to the start line the rain got harder. I went back to my car and grabbed a rain jacket I always keep in the car. By then it was pouring. It was a cool 11 degrees Celsius.
At my 1:50 start window there was 8 runners ducked under a canopy, trying to keep out of the deluge for at least a couple of minutes. One guy was kind to take a picture of me using my 15 year old Blackberry. He was so fascinated by that ancient relic. I let the other 7 go on ahead for their 30 second intervals. Just hoping the rain would miraculously ease up. But that was not to be.
The marshal gave me the nod. And I was off. I soon caught up to a runner who had circled ahead of me for the start of her 2nd loop. She was running very cautiously. It was pouring rain, the trail was slippery with some deep puddles. Besides, there wasn’t anywhere safe to pass, so I stayed back. A bit further on it opened up to a dirt driveway type trail. I went by the runner, mentioned she was doing great.
The race course reentered some forest and started dropping down the mountain. It was very steep, and in the heavy rain was treacherously slippery. Even with my trail shoes I went sliding. When I came to a stop I pulled out my old Blackberry to take some pictures. I was having a hard time seeing in the rain, but I could make out this same lady really struggling getting down that steep trail.
When she caught up to me we did some small talk, and I asked if she wanted to run together with me. And she said yes. The ladies name was Karin. She has only been running for 3 months. None of her training was anything like this. This was her 1st race. And what a race it was. What put Karin in a huge disadvantage as she did not have trail shoes. The course was so slippery for her. But she was doing incredibly amazing. I didn’t do a whole lot except just be there with her for support. She did this race all herself.
It was raining so hard the trail in places turned into a stream. For a 6 year old child this would have been a dream. As a 63 year old, I made the most of it and splashed my way along. It didn’t really take long for that 1st 5.5 kilometer loop to finish. Karin finished her race. A job well done on an extremely challenging course. And I looped around for my 2nd loop.
During my second loop the rain changed from a torrential downpour rain to a heavy, steady rain. I stopped a few more times to take some more photos. Either I missed seeing it on the 1st loop, or it wasn’t there, but I noticed an ATV with a trailer with a stretcher on the back. No one was around. My concern was there was an injured runner out there. But I never saw anyone. It wasn’t long before I came up to that last steep climb, through the chute to my finish. The race ended up being just the challenge I was after. It was a fun race. And a bit of a pleasant surprise learning I finished 2nd place out of 4 male runners in my age group.
A big thank you to director, Bob Miller for his amazing leadership in organizing this race under challenging circumstances. And the volunteers who served at bib pickup, plus those who braved it out it the pouring rain were amazing. I’m so glad I chose the 1:50 time window. I got to run a race course I will never forget. The runners who started at 12:30 were the unfortunate ones. They never got to run the course in such a torrential downpour, and experience the extreme elements. Plus I got to run with another amazing human being. Only the 2nd runner I have run with since March 2020.
As things continue to open up I have a feeling I’ll be running with more and more runners again as time goes on. Which I am very excited about. In fact 3 days after my Summit 700 race, another runner friend named Samantha and myself started a run get together for the 1st time. It has been something we have been casually talking about starting in our village for several months. We were not sure what kind of response we would get. There were 5 in total including Samantha and myself. Everyone really seemed to enjoy themselves running and connecting with the others. The emphasis is on social support, enthusiasm and camaraderie. The run will continue to meet every Tuesday at 6:00 at the church in my village of Hillsdale. Social distancing is required. Thank you for taking the time to read.🏃♀️ 🏃
Have you ever been in a race where you were not at all psyched up for? But it turned out amazing.
Do you prefer running alone or in a group?