(For the full review and many more photos, see the July 2019 issue of our magazine All photos featuring the race logo are by Sue Sitki – https://suesitkiphoto.shotsee.com/)

The Happy Trails Sunburn Solstice event took place near to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Jenn and Dave from our team took on the full distance, starting at sunup and finishing over 15 hours later at sundown. Before we go into our usual 8 point review, here’s a short film showing the course.

Pre-Event Info
If I had to say just one thing about Happy Trails Racing it is that everything is well thought out, and the pre-event information was no exception. The initial details available on the registration site are very thorough and give a good idea of what you are getting in to. We were sent several emails prior to the event with all the pertinent information including detailed notes on how to get to the location, what to expect for snacks, and support during the event. We were even notified by the event organizers of the switch to smaller race bibs in an effort to cut down on waste (bonus points here for their work to minimize footprint), and even what leg would work best if we were pinning these bibs to our shorts.

Event Location (parking, facilities/washrooms, pavilion)
Everything about this location was great. The drive was a reasonable 1 hour from the city centre, which in my mind is to be expected when you want to be on trails that wind through a forest. The directions and address provided worked perfectly, and made it really painless to find the park, complete with flags and signs marking the park entrance where the event parking was ample. With that being said, my two standout items about the event location were the bathrooms and the pavilion. The bathrooms were located in a park building just off the start/finish line, so no porta-potties for us! And the pavilion provided a much needed source of shade, a spot for the food/drink area and an opportunity to socialize with our fellow participants, volunteers and spectators before, during and after the event.

Aid Stations (snacks and water/fuel)
The food and drink options at the pavilion were everything an ultra runner would want. We had electrolytes provided by Skratch, water, sodas, sweets, fruit, salty treats, boiled potatoes, peanut butter and jam sandwiches and more. The volunteers generously cooked up pancakes, grilled cheese, and pierogis among other things and Mes Amis Catering brought in some lovely little chocolate and fruit based energy bites that were dairy free! I always bring my own food, as I don’t want to rely on the events having vegan options but I had so many fun and appealing fuel options that I ended up bringing about half of my food back home at the end of the day.

The drinks were served in recyclable cups. This is epic. There are so many plastic cups wasted at running events it’s insane. I’m a runner and I care about the environment so I hate it when I see so much waste generated by a big event. So I absolutely love that Happy Trails use cups that they can sterilize and use again and again and again. All races should do this, hopefully soon they will.

General Atmosphere of the Event HQ (event staff, volunteers, other runners, what’s there for a spectator)
I could note enough positive observations to fill a page but for the sake of space and time, I will keep it brief. Happy Trails Racing’s Directors (Heather Borsellino and Jeff Rowthorn) put on races where everyone feels welcome. The atmosphere was incredibly warm and upbeat and the volunteers, runners, staff and spectators all seemed to be having a great time. All of the participants out on course were offering words of encouragement to each other as we continued to cross paths throughout the day, while the volunteers were fully dedicated to keeping us happy, hydrated and fully fueled.

For spectators there was plenty of seating and 2 basketball hoops in the shade of the Race HQ shelter. One of the beauties of a 4km looped race is that you can see your running friends quite often as they pass by. Some spectators were also acting as race crew for their friends and family and they had loads of room to lay out their bags, food and spare kit as well as a good sightline down the final straight of the course so they could see their runners coming and get things ready for them so as not to waste any time.

Course (length, technicality, scenery)
The short film give you an idea of the course. It was the most beautiful little 4km loop I’ve run in Ontario. There’s very little to disturb the natural sounds there – it’s far from a main road so traffic noise is minimal and I only heard a couple of private aircraft going over all day. The first 3 to 5 minutes of the route is on tarmac path then you enter a wood which remained quite dark all day such was the leaf cover. After that you go downhill and the lake appears on your left. At dawn this was a millpond. The path curves right and the lake is always on your left until you reach the turnaround at about the 2.5km point. During this time there are a couple of up and downs. Nothing serious, the sort of climbs and descents that escape your attention when you start running but do seem like Mont Blanc after a few hours!

The forested sections were dark due to leaf cover and since there’s a fair few roots and rocks sticking up these will most likely be your biggest hazard. If you take your sunglasses off before you get into the dark bits though you should be fine, there’s nothing major waiting for you.

You can tell by my description that this is a very runnable course. It’s far from flat but you should be able to put on a pretty good total mileage, perhaps just 15% down on what you’d achieve on the flat.

Shoe choice – I wore trail shoes but the course was dry enough for road shoes and the enhanced grip that trail shoes can offer wasn’t really needed. Keep an eye on the weather the week before the race and that’ll help you make your choice. You can also of course take both road and trail shoes and leave the pair you’re not using at the central aid station. The loop is only 4km so any decision you make on the day doesn’t have to be one you stick with for very long.

On Course Aid Stations (water points, sprinklers)
There was a water point at the 2.5km turnaround, and a sprinkler just after the start/finish line, which offered a welcome rain of cold spray through the hottest hours of the day.

Race Kit, Medals and Awards
This race kit showed the RD’s passion and attention to detail. The t-shirt has a well designed and appealing logo (the sort I’ll happily wear as an everyday shirt) that’s screen printed onto a soft cotton shirt. In the bag, which was also screen printed with the Happy Trails logo and which will make a decent shopping bag, there was a sapling – yes, a real tree! – a whistle and a decent pair of running sunglasses.

The tree was an especially nice touch. Not only did it come from a local nursery so it was advertising a local business but also it’s one of the best things you could offer at a trail running event. If you think about it, every trail runner must enjoy nature. It’s their playground. Yet time and time again I see trail running events that seem like they’re organised by people who care more about playing to the crowd than guiding their runners in the right direction. Thankfully that wasn’t the case with Happy Trails. The tree was an inspired gift that hopefully has all runners planting, maybe for the first time, and also thinking more about the environment. I don’t have a garden but I’ve found a place to plant my sapling because the world needs more trees and it’s up to every trail runner to take up the challenge of trying to make that happen.

The finishers medal was in a stained glass style. I’ve got over a hundred race medals and this is the best designed. A beautiful mix of creative ability and race medal knowledge. The race awards were equally thoughtfully designed. I was lucky enough to get second place in the event and received a framed original art piece by Heather, one of the race directors. I usually don’t like to put my awards on show as they can be somewhat vulgar at times but this went straight on the shelf in full view and there it will stay.

A couple of days later the race directors released the Wolf Patch and Bear Patch Awards on their Facebook page, both of which are awards voted for by runners who took part in the event. The Wolf Patch is for a runner who exhibits a ‘pack mentality’ by showing an abundance of compassion and camaraderie on the course to the other runners, staff, and volunteers.The Bear Patch is for a runner who exhibits strength and perseverance with an inspiring gritty and gutsy race. They never give up – even in their lowest and most challenging of moments. These are excellent ways of rewarding people for something other than their speed or endurance.

Post-Event Info (photography, films)
The race photographer, Sue Sitki (https://suesitkiphoto.shotsee.com/), was very encouraging all through the race. She was always yelling out where she was and telling you what to do if you wanted a good photo, such as,
“Go full stride soon, it’s going to look great as you come over the bridge!”

I’ve worked as a photographer and know how hard it is so I was surprised to see Sue out there all day, for as long as we were, in the hot sun. Great stamina Sue!

The photos were online within 2 days and they were all free to download and of great quality. Couldn’t ask for more from a race photographer, and bravo to Heather and Jeff for including them in the race package.

To discover more about Happy Trails and their events see their website