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

The Happy Trails Tally in the Valley event took place at Dundas Valley Conservation Area near to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Jenn and Dave from our team took on the 24 hour event; there were also a multitude of other events taking place including the imaginative and tough ‘Gong Show’ (where runners take on a 7km loop on the hour, with the 24th and final loop being a full on race between any runners that have made it through the previous 23 hours). Before we go into our usual 8 point review, here’s a short film showing the course.

1 Pre-event info
True to the precedent set by previous Happy Trails Racing events, the pre-event information for Talley in the Valley was very thorough. We knew what to expect of the course, the aid station options and the location itself. The physical address was provided as well as instructions on entering the park and getting to the correct parking area. I am a bit of a planner and so I really enjoy thorough pre-race instructions, as it takes away some of the unknowns and allows me to plan out race morning in better detail and with less stress.

2 Event location (parking, facilities/washrooms)
This was my first visit to the Dundas Conservation Area and I must say, it is a wonderfully scenic area. The location was an easy 1 hour drive from Toronto city centre and the trails were beautiful; the park offers a mix of rail trail, winding forest trail, blanketed pine needles trail and of course, hills. Once parked it was just a short walk to our main camp and aid area where we had plenty of space to set up a sun shelter or tent, or you could just drop your supplies in the designated bag drop tent. Also, a shout-out is due to the regular patrons of the conservation area who were extremely patient with us taking over the trails for the day and offered up encouragement, plenty of good mornings and space on the trails.

3 Aid Stations (snacks and water/fuel)
There was one aid station on the course, located at the start/finish area. There was water, ‘Skratch Labs’ electrolyte drink, ginger ale, coke and all of the typical ultra running fare including sweet and salty snacks, PB&J sandwiches, potatoes, chips, pizza, grilled cheese, quesadillas, noodles and Mes Amis Catering (https://www.mesamiscatering.com/) brought in some of their lovely chocolate and fruit based energy bites that were vegan, dairy free and very good running fuel. I love them as they’re not so sticky that you have to chew them for ages but not so crumbly that the bits get stuck in your throat. These are important matters when you’re 50km into a run and your head’s moving more towards the clouds!

The drinks were served in reusable EcoCups, which we think is a brilliant idea. They can be washed, sterilized, and re-used over 100 times and then recycled.

There were also portable toilets located at the aid station.

4 General atmosphere of the Event HQ (event staff, volunteers, other runners, what’s there for spectators)
I keep saying that Happy Trails Racing puts on races where everyone feels welcome, but at every event I am reminded of just how great they are at this and how much I appreciate it. The same amount of support is offered to the person walking a single lap as is offered to those toughing out 100 plus miles. The volunteers were working overtime in the soaring temperature to make sure we were hydrated and full of salty and fruity snacks. It didn’t matter if the volunteers were filling up water bottles and cooling wraps with ice around the clock or boiling up some instant noodles at 3am; if you needed it they were helping. These events really are a little community unto themselves. Some of the volunteers were runners who had finished their distance and stayed around to help out which is so nice. And the other racers and their crew were social and ready to offer up some blister protection or sunscreen if they even think you may have needed some.

5 Course (length, technicality, scenery)
The course was a 7km loop and non technical. There were a couple of hills that most of us taking part in the longer events walked from the very start but nothing that was going to make you start crying too early in the day. The overall elevation gain was 130m per loop and it was a pretty run.

Now here’s part of the information that was provided to all racers, it’s comprehensive and it gives you a run down of event options and a course description.

“Participants will run a 7km loop through the unique Carolinian forest in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area. The loop is primarily made up of groomed double track trails with rolling hills and approximately 130m of elevation gain per loop. Although there aren’t any major climbs on this course, the constant rolling hills will wear you down in the later stages of the race.

Choose between running a single loop (7k) or for 6/12/24 hours and see how many loops you can complete in the time provided. Runners who complete 23 loops (100 miles/161km) will earn themselves a custom belt buckle while all other participants will also be recognized for their hard work with a custom finishers medal.

Looking for something a little different? Try “The Gong Show”! This is an elimination style event, inspired by the Big’s Backyard Ultra, that we are super stoked about. Participants will be given 1 hr to complete the 7km loop. Runners who successfully complete the loop within 1 hr (which may seem easy at first but will eventually become very challenging), will wait at the start line until the gong is hit, marking the time cut-off for the loop AND the start of the next loop.

Please note: regardless of how fast participants complete their loop, they can’t start their next loop until the gong is struck, which will be every hour on the hour. Participants remain in the event until they can no longer finish a loop within 1 hour OR until the race reaches 24 hours. If there is more than 1 runner to start the final loop after 23 hours, the first runner to complete the final loop will be the winner. However, ALL runners that make it to the 23 hour mark will receive a custom belt buckle since they will have run 100 miles. Last year’s event saw 9 runners (out of 35 starters) reach 100 miles, but only 2 went on to complete the 24th loop- 1 male and 1 female! This race is awesome to watch as there is quite a bit of strategy involved. Ideally, runners will want to run a comfortable pace and conserve energy but will also want to leave themselves some time to fuel-up at the aid station and have a short break before heading out for another loop.

In the 6/12/24 hour races there are no DNF’s (Did Not Finish). Each runner that starts the race will be recognized for the distance that they complete, regardless of when they stop. In the last 30 minutes before the completion of each timed event, we will have race volunteers stationed at different points on the course to mark how many kms into the loop the participants are when the time is up.

Course Description:
The first 2km are run on the Sawmill Trail and are amongst the most scenic on the course. Expect the most elevation change during this section but also beautiful sections on soft pine needle trails. Just after the 2km marker you will hit a drinking water station. This is a great place to cool down if it is a hot day. There is also a portable toilet here. The next 2 km are on the rail trail. Last year’s runners felt that this was the most challenging part of the course- especially mentally. However, this year, since we are running in the opposite direction, it will be 2km of running on a very gentle decline. In theory, this should be the easiest section of the course. However, beware of the mid-day sun as this portion offers the least shade. The final 3k consist of rolling hills but I would say that there is more up than down. You will finish at our Race Headquarters in an open field where there will be an aid station and cheering spectators.”

Shoe choice – I wore trail shoes and I’m glad I did. We had a mostly dry week before the race and there were still a few puddles and slippery bits.

6 On course aid stations (water points, sprinklers)
After about 2km there was a cold water tap, a bench and a few shady trees. In the heat of the mid afternoon I took several rests here!

7 Race kit, medals and awards
The race kit was minimal and functional. Participants were given a buff (these are so very useful in so many ways and always welcome in my house), a really soft t-shirt that I will actually wear (over the years I’ve donated more race shirts than I have kept but not this one!) a whistle which is very functional for my daily bike commute and just all around use for solo running and that’s it. The kits don’t include a pile of papers or things that might get tossed away and I really appreciate this less-waste aspect of their race kits. The medals are no less impressive. Each event has a medal unique to that event, and in this case it is a very lovely green medal with images of trees on it, resembling the lush forest and tall pines we were repeatedly passing by, and the award for the top finishers of the different distances was a sample pack of local craft beer or kombucha in a really nice carry case.

8 Post-event info (photography, films)
I’m going to repeat what I wrote after the last Happy Trails race, as the photographer was once again the brilliant Sue Sitki (https://suesitkiphoto.shotsee.com/) and she was as good as ever. Sue is always very encouraging and fun, a perfect race photographer doubling as an enthusiastic supporter.

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.

A few runners made their own films and the race organisers circulated them through their social media.

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