Virgil – After having done this race in scenic Shades Mill Conservation Park in Cambridge in the last two years, I was eager to attend this perennial favourite with David, as I knew it would be an ideal race for him. The fact that it was the site of the 50 km Ultra Trail Canadian Championships certainly intrigued him, and we knew that it was going to be a popular event.

Race director Tony Martin was not only is a very down-to-earth guy that I’ve known for several years now, he also gives back to the running community in many ways, including scheduling regular training runs in the area. In fact, you may have seen a certain clown at various trail and road races in the GTA advertising his ultra! I’ve done training runs with a few friends (in the winter, no less!), and if I was more local I’d definitely be there more often. The race offers distances for everyone – 8.33k (single lap), 25k, 42.2k, 50k, and the Ultimate Canuck Challenge 92.2k. That’s right, ultra runners up for the challenge would run the 50k on Saturday, followed by a marathon on Sunday.

Best Western Plus was gracious to offer Trek and Run a suite in their hotel. As an official hotel sponsor, they are recommended due to its proximity to the race course, a mere eight minutes drive away. Our home-away-from-home was a spacious corner suite, clean and well organized, with a pull-out sofa bed in the TV room. Free parking and wifi are standard, along with the hot breakfast buffet that included make-your-own Belgian waffles, eggs, sausage, and fresh juice. Breakfast opened up extra early for the race, and we met several other runners that were participating as well. Staff were very accommodating at check-in and out. There was also a pool and hot tub for those who wanted to wade around and relax.

We were blessed with decent low 20°C weather, cloudy with few sunny breaks. We parked and picked up our race kits, which included Endurance Tap energy gels, containing pure Canadian maple syrup, sea salt, and ginger; and a very nice 20 x 40 microfibre towel with the CTC logo printed on it. After the obligatory sunscreen and bug spray ritual, we headed down to the start line where the crowd of runners were milling about. After the national anthem was played on an electronic keyboard, we were directed to stand behind the start for a group photo and soon we were off!
Despite the cooler weather which was a welcome respite from the mini heat wave in previous weeks, the humidity was omnipresent, and the few rolling hills of the course cranked up the difficulty level. The course contained a good number of aid stations, some with ice – which was great for cooling drinks but also to wear inside a running cap. There was even an aid station with donuts and another one serving bacon, along with the more usual sweet and salty treats, all run by supportive and friendly volunteers.
The rolling hills and looping course made each lap an idyllic run with nature, with the park’s namesake tree canopy providing relief from the glaring sun. There was a forested section that provided shelter from the sun running solitude, and frequently the stacatto drill of a woodpecker was heard. The lightest smattering of rain was hardly felt, and I wish it could have rained a little bit more, but not enough to make things muddy!

I was aching a bit with sore calves from my daily weekday morning gym workouts, which was absolutely not ideal pre-race prep! After crossing the sixth lap, I made a beeline for the complimentary massage tables where a much needed calf massage was offered. Several slices of pizza were devoured, while David waded in the lake. I ended up with a discolored baby toenail, a well earned trophy for my efforts, along with official race trophies, a bottle of homemade wine (your choice of red or white) and a medal.
David had an amazing run, coming first in his age group, and second overall going into Day 2. This was after telling me that he wasn’t in 100% race form, with two-time champion Andrew breathing down his neck only 2.5 minutes behind! The next day, I participated in the 21st annual Tour de Cambridge, a gran fondo cycling event mere minutes drive away from Shades Mill. They offered distances ranging from 25k to 160k, making it a very family friendly cycling event, as well as offering distances to pique the endurance crowd. After notching up my century ride, I returned to pick up David, and was elated to hear that he finished the trail marathon to claim that second place overall. What an amazing result for the team!
Check out this great race by visiting the Conquer the Canuck website, and see you at the next race!