When Kathy, the race director of the new trail race series North of 89 verbally gave us group of runners course directions for the OUTrace Spring Warm Up Fun Run, it all seemed pretty straight forward. At all the road junctions turn left. Except when you get on County Road 9, it is then a right turn. There will be 4 stakes with pink surveyors ribbon at those road junctions. All the trail running sections we will be following the Bruce Trail, which are marked by white blazes.
The last and only time I ran this Spring Warm Up for the Ontario Ultra and Trail Running Series (OUTrace) was 2019. Because of COVID, this was the last time it was held. That year, directions was never a concern for me. Because I was personally running with OUTrace director and friend Pierre Marcoux. Otherwise known as “Vertical Pierre”, named for his extreme elevations he worked in to his race courses. Pierre is the mastermind behind drawing up this same Spring Warm Up course we run on each year. On their website, the course is described as “A 13K loop on country roads and the Bruce Trail. Warning: There is an annoying flat section from 3k to 4k. Run as many laps as you wish before the unofficial 3:00 PM cutoff”.
I had such a fun time catching up with Pierre. During my 1st loop we caught up with 82 year old ultrarunning legend Hans Maier. We finished that 1st loop together. Pierre finished running one loop as planned, and well into my 2nd loop I came across another legend. Seventy two year old Ron Gehl was lost around 100 meters off the trail. Saw him pacing back and forth as he was trying to locate a trail marker and I called him over. So Ron and I finished the 2nd loop together. So much has happened since that fun run in 2019. Not only with COVID, but in 2020 Pierre lost his beloved wife Lee Anne Cohen to lung cancer. Ironically she had never touched a cigarette in her life. Lee Anne holds the woman’s age 60-64 Canadian 100 mile record. The 2023 Spring Warm Up was to be held in memory of Lee Anne.
With my 50k Pick Your Poison on Saturday, all I felt I should run was one loop. I really struggled to justify the 56 kilometer drive each way for a mere 13 kilometer run. Even more so knowing April 22nd, the day Spring Warm Up was held, was Earth Day. I kept putting off registering. Looking at the participant list I was wondering if there were any runners I might know. Maybe that would justify the drive. There was Crystal. We got to know each other through our blogs. And I got to meet her for the 1st time at the Creemore Vertical Challenge. This was my 1st ever trail race, and we ran the entire 25k distance together in 2015. She was such a skilled runner. The last time I saw Crystal was at the 2019 Spring Warm Up. It would be so neat to see her again.
Also on the list was Michelle. I discovered in 2021 that I’d be running with her in the final 50k of the 1800 kilometer Monarch Ultra as it finished off in Barrie. I hadn’t met Michelle yet up to that point. I’m very much a “plodder” with my running. Looking at Michelle’s race history, I was very anxious wondering if I would hold her back. It ended up that we were very compatible as running partners. I had such a fun time running the 50k with Michelle. The last time I saw Michelle was in 2021. I would love to see her again.
There was another runner on the participant list that I hadn’t met. But I follow her on Twitter. I have a deep respect for her discipline in training, her humility/kindness towards others and her massive accomplishments in ultrarunning. Her name is Marylou Corino. I have looked up to her so much over the years. She has deeply inspired me on my running journey. Marylou has completed many iconic races including Western States (last year), the 500 kilometer Vol State and twice the Badwater 135. That race is known as the “world’s toughest footrace”, and involves running 135 miles across Death Valley in July. If I were to meet her, she would be the 3rd elite runner on an international level who has really inspired me that I have met in person. The other two elite runners are Ray Zahab and Dean Karnazes. Even though the weather forecast showed 100% chance of rain on run day, I registered for the Spring Warm Up a mere 36 hours before its’ start.
It was raining all the way during my 56 kilometer drive to the run start at Dunedin. Much of the drive my wipers were going full blast. It was going to be a wet run. I arrived at the Dunedin Community Hall 25 minutes early. The community hall is the only building in this sleepy village at the bottom of the Niagara Escarpment that is not a house. Looking around the hall there was no one I recognized. No sign of Crystal, Michelle or even Pierre, who usually organizes and directs this event. Scanning another wall, I thought there was a runner who might pass for Marylou. But I wasn’t 100% sure. I went over and shyly asked if she was Marylou.
Sure enough, this lady was indeed Marylou. She was so delighted to meet me. All I really wanted was to meet her and have my picture taken with her. Marylou was so gracious, took our photo together and talked with me for the longest time. Soon it was time for everyone to go outside for a group photo with all the runners. Then back inside to listen to instructions on directions for the Spring Warm Up. Then back outside and we were off. I learned that OUTrace director Pierre, who I ran with last year was in Costa Rica. Crystal and Michelle never came. I’m assuming it might be because of the heavy rain. Pretty much all the runners were pairing up or running in small groups. I didn’t want to impose on anyone, so I just ran on my own. I was totally fine with it.
The runners all spread out on the long climb up the Niagara Escarpment. There was a left turn at a road at the top, some more dirt road and soon we were running in the forested area of the Bruce Trail. It was magical. My entire body was experiencing sensory overload. The sound of the rain in the forest, and the birds singing their hearts out. The sight of the 1st signs of spring all around. Vivid green moss clinging to the rocks, and trout lily greenery having pushed its way up through the forest floor to daylight. I love particularly the energy I feel during rains in the forest like this, experiencing that piquant, musky “earth smell” emanating the air, and stimulating my olfactory senses. Not only was the rain soaking my body in a physical sense, the glory of nature with all its senses was penetrating far deeper.
Perhaps I was so absorbed with my surroundings in nature, I wasn’t paying as much attention to the route I should be taking. And alongside the river I ended up on a different distinct trail marked with pink ribbons. I ended up being joined by another runner in our Spring Warm Up group named Lise. She was pretty confident we were going the right way. But the further we ran on that trail, the less sure I was. I remembered nothing of this from 2019. Eventually I persuaded Lise we really should stop. I encouraged her to wait with me for 10 minutes. If no runners behind us caught up to us, we were likely on the wrong trail. No one came, so we backtracked to where we intercepted the Bruce Trail again. Followed it to a dirt road and then followed the dirt road until we came to the paved County road.
I remembered most of this part from 2019. Running up County Road #9 with Lise I saw two vehicles parked on the side of the road up ahead. And made a mental note that this must be the entrance to spectacular Noisy River Provincial Park. Which was part of our route. Just then I noticed further beyond that 4 other runners (3 humans and a dog) scrambling out of the woods, through the ditch and onto the road. There was Marylou, Grant, Veronique and her friendly dog Rosie. Lise and I were told jokingly by the group to not ask any questions. Apparently they took the wrong route like Lise and I did. Instead of turning around they kept going. Marylou mentioned it got quite treacherous beyond where we turned around.
They made it out safe and for the rest of the loop we all stuck together. Much of this time I ran alongside Marylou, bombarding her with lots of questions on races she has run such as Western States and Badwater 135. She is so gracious and humble. The amazing thing with Marylou is that her ultrarunning journey began in earnest with this fun run. Each year OUTrace gives out a grand prize at this spring warm up, which is free registration to all their races. It is worth around $1300 this year. Back in 2011 Marylou won the Grand Prize. She ran all the ultras in the Ontario Ultra and Trail Running Series that year. And never looked back.
I had never met any of these other runners before. It is incredible how we all connected. Noisy River Provincial Park was spectacular. It continued to pour rain, the temperature never got above +5C, but I think everyone in our group at one time or the other remarked at how incredibly beautiful the day was. We watched out for each other with the slippery rocks and perilous drop offs by the edge of the trail. We stopped several times for photo ops. Marylou graciously took all the photos and sent them to me, as my 16 year old Blackberry literally freezes in weather like this. Soon we were out of the Provincial Park and on a dirt road for the long, steep two kilometer descent back to Dunedin, where our meeting place at the hall was. A couple of the runners effortlessly sped on ahead. My almost 65-year-old, 220 pound, 6’4″ frame does not make me a smooth downhiller. So I slowed to save my quads from exploding off my femurs.
Back at the hall I almost decided to go out for a second loop with Marylou and Grant. But in the end stuck to my plan to call it a day after one loop. Because I went off course, my distance was actually closer to 15 kilometers. Had a wonderful time chatting it up with the others hanging out at the hall. Had a long conversation with a lady named Christine. Told her all about the Monarch Ultra and our 2019 relay to Mexico. We got talking about races and I told her I don’t drive further than 60 kilometers to run an ultra. If I can get there by train or bus, or carpooling, I’ll go further to run a race.
Christine asked if I was A Green Runner. I was quite surprised by her question, because no one I know in Canada has ever heard of this movement. Co-founded by UK ultrarunner Damian Hall (aka “Guy with Mohawk” at the Barkley Marathon), the Green Runners is built on Four Pillars on putting the planet first when making lifestyle and running decisions. They are 1: How you move. 2: How you kit up. 3: How you eat. 4: How you speak out. Check out Damian Hall’s Twitter feed to see how he speaks out.
Under the “How You Move” pillar, it mentions, “Our travel has the greatest impact on the environment. Over 90% of an event’s carbon footprint comes from a runner’s travel, with air travel having the biggest impact”. There are scores of ultras I would love to run, but here in North America races are so car dependent. Driving is a necessary evil in order to race. Individual actions are important, but we really need a systemic change within governments. European counties are way ahead. My Swiss ultrarunning friend Catrina Denker doesn’t even own a car. Yet she takes a train to all these amazing races that start and finish right at the train station. And the train ticket is included right in the registration.
Some running competitions will explicitly incentivize long-distance travel as a marketing strategy. One that mostly comes to mind is the World Marathon Challenge in which participants complete seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. As they are whisked around the globe on charter flights. My Swiss runner friend Catrina wrote about it here after meeting one of their participants. Every year about 50 people fork out a staggering USD 45,000 to participate in this challenge. The seven locations are Novo (Antarctica), Cape Town, Perth, Dubai, Madrid, Fortaleza (Brazil) and Miami. Then there is the World Marathon Majors. Their Six Star medal is awarded to runners who complete Boston, New York, London, Tokyo, Berlin, and Chicago as “marathon running’s greatest prize”. I really enjoyed talking with Christine. We talked about Damian Hall who having run the Barkley Marathon would have had to fly from the UK to the United States. He is an elite runner and regularly receives invites to sufferfests (aka ultras) all over the world. The Barkley required a flight from the UK to the USA. The Barkley was his first flight in four years. It was an event he’d long been waitlisted for and ultimately couldn’t resist. Before we register for a race, we really need to ask ourself, “How important is this really?” On the Green Runner website these additional questions are asked, “Will you need to fly to get there? Can you make the journey by train or car? (I would add bus in there as well. In 2019 I took the bus to Mexico from Canada to run in the Monarch Ultra). When driving, can you carpool with other runners? Can you spend more time there to justify the trip?” The website Climate Hero has a great Climate Calculator that takes around 5 minutes to complete. It covers our carbon footprint in all major categories.
This month, the global sea surface hit a new record high temperature. It has never warmed this much, this quickly. Warmer oceans will make storms like hurricanes and tropical cyclones more intense in the future. An academic article by Earth System Science Data mentions “over the past 15 years, the Earth has accumulated almost as much heat as it did in the previous 45 years, with most of the extra energy going into the oceans.” The oceans have acted as a kind of global buffer to the climate crisis over recent decades, by absorbing vast amounts of the carbon dioxide that we have poured into the atmosphere. There is a fear we could be reaching the limit of the oceans’ capacity to absorb these excesses. World Meteorological Organization secretary general, Prof Petteri Taalas says “As the most urgent priority, we have to slash carbon dioxide emissions, which are the main driver of climate change and associated extreme weather”.
The forest where I ran at the Spring Warmup was beautiful But we’ve lost so much. There is not just a climate crisis, but an equal if not worse collapse of nature. Biologist Dave Goulson writes in the Guardian that insects have declined by 75% in the past 50 years. This is turn affects others species. The 2020 World Wildlife Federation Living Planet Report (which can be downloaded here) mentions the rich diversity of life on Earth is being lost at an alarming rate. Our planet has experienced a 68% average decline of birds, amphibians, mammals, fish and reptiles since 1970. If it were not for insects, many birds, bats, spiders, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and fish would have little or nothing to eat. These in turn are food for the top predators. The loss of all insect life from the food chain would be catastrophic for all wildlife.
As an ambassador/writer/athletic liaison for the Monarch Ultra, it is wonderful to be able to combine my love for running with my love for the environment. In July 2022 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) uplisted our beloved migratory monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus plexippus) to endangered. Substantial areas of the butterflies’ winter shelter in Mexico has been destroyed through legal and illegal logging. There is pesticides and herbicides used in intensive agriculture across the range that kill both butterflies and milkweed. In addition, climate change has significantly impacted the migratory monarch butterfly. These insects are very delicate and the weight of a paperclip. Temperature extremes trigger earlier spring migrations before milkweed is available further north. While severe weather has killed massive numbers of butterflies.
Not only are these beautiful butterflies wonderful to have around, they are also important pollinators for our food supply. To continue to bring awareness on the monarch, for 2023 the Monarch Ultra will consist of 3 races in the 3 countries where the Monarch migrates through. The United States festival/race will be held in August in Milwaukee, The Canadian festival/race is a 10k held on Sunday, October 15 in Peterborough, Ontario. We will be working with our Mexican partners Nación Verde to support reforestation efforts in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. The Mexican race is a 50k held on Sunday, November 26th in Zitacuaro. If attending any of these races I encourage to use as low of a travel footprint as you can. If driving, if you can, please carpool.
Though a little crumpled at the end, the poster travelled the distance on the final day of the 2021 relay. Photo with the team at the finish of the 1,800 kilometer relay in Barrie.
The door opened to the Dunedin Community Hall and in came Marylou and Grant looking soaked to the bone. They both had such happy, radiant, glowing looks on their faces. In the continuing pouring rain, they ran that second loop for a double dose of petrichor. And then a tiny bit extra to make it 30 kilometers. We don’t have to fly half way around the world for an extremely memorable run. Sometimes that run can be found very close to home. And who knows, maybe you’ll get to meet an international top-level competitor there. Just like I did. I had so much fun at the OUTrace Spring Warm-Up Fun Run. I do pretty much all my training in the same 4 kilometer forest loop, which is 1.2 kilometer run from home. So the Spring Warm-Up was a very special treat. Meeting all those new runners made it all the more special. Those of us who remained all pitched in to make sure the hall was as clean or cleaner than how we found it (an important analogy for our planet). As Marylou was parked near me, I walked with her to her car. I was extremely delighted to see she was driving a gas stingy Mini. Marylou gave me a big hug, saying how wonderful it was to meet me. The feeling was extremely mutual. It was an amazing way to spend Earth Day. It was a day I will never forget.
The Green Runners?! What a great initiative! I love it! Thanks for mentioning the movement and linking their website, Carl.
I just had a look at it and it definitely resonates with me. Most runners are outdoorsy people and love nature – it’s our duty to do what we can to protect it.
Also, well done on your race! It sounds like so much fun! You met some great runners and you were able to spend a lovely time in a beautiful forest. Isn’t it great when it rains in a forest? So many smells!
So good that you backtracked and found the right path again. Your instincts were right!
So by now, you have done the 50k, right? I’m sure that went much better than last time. Can’t wait to read your recap!
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Thank you for reading, Catrina. The Green Runners is something that really resonates with me. And it only costs 2.50 pounds to join. I imagine that is just to cover administration costs.
I am really glad I went to spend Earth Day this way. So much fun getting out there on that cold, rainy day.
Pick Your Poison went really well. Last year the trail conditions themselves were like perfect. This year much more challenging. But in a better place mentally and had a really good race.🤗
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Thanks for sharing Carl!! I learn so much from your posts and find all of it interesting and informative!! Keep after it sir!! Blessings!
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You are very welcome, Kirt. This is very kind of you to say. Thank you for reading and for all your support. Blessings in return! 😀
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This is another fantastic post about running, Carl. As always you weave in the important topic of our environment ever so seamlessly, adding much depth to your perspective. That is amazing you got to meet Marylou who has inspired your running journey. And she really sounded like such a humble, delightful person and so generously shared with you all the photos she took 😊
I really enjoyed reading about your run through the forest and rain, getting lost and getting on track again. It sounded like such an immersive experience, and sensory overload as you described. Glad it all was a good time and day in the end, and lovely that you all connected. The Green Movement sounds like a wonderful initiative. Our actions all add up and at the end of the day have an impact on the environment around us. Agree that carpooling is a good way to reduce our carbon footprint, especially when you’re traveling a far bit to run a race which is shorter than the travel itself. I don’t usually drive and for me, I like walking whenever it’s possible. Won’t be a runner like you but certainly like hiking and appreciating nature at a leisurely pace. Again, great post with a great message.
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Thank you for taking the time to read, Mabel. You always respond with such generous and well articulated comments. I’m really glad I ended up going on this run. I have so much respect for you in that you don’t usually drive, and most likely to walk whenever possible. That is amazing. Nature is so nourishing for the soul. I’m so glad you are able to go hiking and spending time in nature. Thank you for all that you do! 🌳🦋😀
Thank you for your nice words, Carl. You said it well. Nature is indeed so nourishing for the soul, and running in nature really does seem to speak to you very deeply. The downside of not driving much is sometimes going places a few hours away (here in Australia) can be a bit of a hassle. But with planning it can turn out alright. Thank you for sharing as always 🌳😊
I didn’t know about Green Runners! My Dad asked me if a moped would be better for me to get around the city easier. I said yes, but I’d feel guilty as I can easily cycle places. If I had to, I can app rent a moped on shared moped apps. I still prefer cycling. I don’t mind once or twice a year I fly to the UK and hire a car to visit my parents. I miss driving however city living I don’t need a car! Plus I get to see so much nature cycling through city parks I’d otherwise miss!
You did great running the Outrace! 5C on rain is almost freezing 0C!
You are amazing, Natalie. So much respect for your lifestyle. Sometimes I will read articles of different cities in Europe that are becoming more bike and walk friendly. Can’t remember if Barcelona was one of them.
I am glad you are able to get to see your parents a couple times a year.
The Outrace run was amazing. One of those days that was really hard to dress for. Wasn’t too hot and wasn’t too cold. It was a concern being lost in that kind of weather. If I got injured, hypothermia would come quite quick.
Thank you so much for stopping by, Natalie. Hope you are having a great year. 🌱