(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 50km and the 25km events; there were also a multitude of other events taking place including the 100 mile distance. Before we go into our usual 8 point review, here’s a short film showing the course. If you’re viewing on a mobile and can’t play flash, you might try going straight to Youtube to view it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPAei-NGbOY&t=12s

1 Pre-event info
The concept of this race was very different than the other Happy Trails events we’ve done. It involved out-and-back routes of varying distances all on rail trail instead of circular routes, so the Happy Trails folks went a slightly different direction with this event and provided a very thorough event guide via email. The guide included course descriptions, notes on the different turn-around spots for each distance, information on where we could expect aid stations and it even outlined the pertinent cut-off times for the long distance events. In addition to this the race director held a pre-race meeting on race day for each distance to reiterate the more important details with us and address any questions. I personally love this step; it’s so helpful to have a summary of the key points as an additional reminder before heading out.

2 Event location (parking, facilities/washrooms)
Foxtail had us back at the scenic Dundas Valley Conservation Area (same as Tally in the Valley). The location was an easy 1 hour drive from Toronto city centre and the tree-lined rail trail was beautiful. Once parked it was just a short walk to our main race area where anyone who wanted to setup camp for the day had plenty of space to do so, or you could just drop your supplies in the designated bag drop area to have them taken over to an aid station. What was different than the Tally event is that our main race area was at the Train and Visitor Center this time, so we had indoor bathrooms and even little snack shop that was open for several hours.

3 Aid Stations (snacks and water/fuel)
There was one aid station at the start/finish area and several more out on the course. 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.

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. As always at the Happy Trails events the volunteers are well into the whole event and absolutely awesome.

4 General atmosphere of the Event HQ (event staff, volunteers, other runners, what’s there for spectators)
I completed 10km at this event so I had some extra time to hang out around the event headquarters after my race while Dave churned out a 50km distance. As usual the area was full of good spirit and cheers of encouragements for the occasional runner passing by. With the out-and-back nature of this course we didn’t get the chance to really cheer on other runners as much as a looped course offers, so I mostly visited with friends and checked out the vendors and the merchandise for sale. Additionally, spectators were able to make use of the grounds and could wander the trails while they were waiting to support their runners. True to the standard set at previous events, the volunteers were always at the ready to help with questions or any assistance needed and the other runners were really friendly – there is always a great sense of community and belonging at Happy Trails Racing events.

5 Course (length, technicality, scenery)
The course was a near flat rail trail. There was a slight incline over several kms that sapped strength deceptively but overall this has the potential to be a very, very fast course. Just because its on a rail trail, however, doesn’t mean it’s not scenic. The forest around Dundas is thick and beautiful, and the wide horizons that crop up now and again magnificent. The rich natural environment existing here and along the Niagara Escarpment has been designated a World Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Here are a couple of photos I snapped as I ran to show you how it looks.

There were a couple of minor roads to cross but there were marshalls at some and a police officer at the busier one. At the others I didn’t have to stop at all as there was no traffic in sight.

Shoe choice – I wore trail shoes with gaiters and I’m kind of glad I did. I could have done with more padding as the trail was gravel and quite hard on the feet after a while but then again, the gaiters kept out all the stones. If I had road shoes with an attachment for gaiters, I’d have worn them.

6 On course aid stations
There were 5 or 6 aid stations on the course, each managed by a different local run group and set about 5-7km apart. There was a fun competition going on set up by the race organizers asking us to choose which station was the best. It was all taken lightheartedly and seemed to encourage each aid station to pull out all the stops to make their station the most enjoyable and welcoming. Each offered the standard fare – fizzy drinks, electrolytes, bananas, chips – and then each had their extras such as quesadillas and other goodies that seem very welcome after a few hours on the trail. One place even had very comfy reclining chairs – the kiss of death for many tired runners! – and a bed. Good work!

The organisers offered up the following info about aid stations and drop zones before the event. As you can see, it’s got all you need to go into the race with a plan formulated.
“There will be 5 aid stations on the course and they are situated so that participants will pass an aid station approximately every 6 km, with the longest section between aid stations being just under 7.5 km. We are very pleased to announce that we will have a number of different local running groups hosting the various aid stations and that each aid station will have a theme as well as a specific food option that will only be found at that station. At the end of the event, please vote for your favourite aid station on our Facebook page on a post-race poll that we will put out. The best aid station will earn a prize. All aid stations will have a variety of sweet and salty snacks, sandwiches, fruit, an electrolyte drink, and water.

The aid stations, in order, are: 1) Hammer View – no crew access 2) Headquarters (Dundas Valley Conservation Area Trail Centre, 650 Governors Road, Dundas) 3) Opossum’s Landing (Hwy #52, small parking lot across from Powerline Road) 4) Friendly Coyote – no crew access 5) Telephone City – no crew access

Please go to the Maps & Details page for accurate information on the location of each aid station.

DROP BAGS: Participants in the 50 mile, 100 km, and 100 mile events are permitted to have a drop bag at the ‘Headquarters’ and the ‘Friendly Coyote’ aid stations. The positioning of these aid stations will allow frequent access to the drop bags. ALL participants are allowed to have a drop bag at ‘Headquarters’.

CREW ACCESS: Runners in the 50 mile, 100 km, and 100 mile events are permitted to have a crew vehicle meet them at the ‘Opossum’s Landing’ and ‘Headquarters’ aid stations. Crew members are not permitted at any other locations at the risk of participant disqualification.”

7 Race kit, medals and awards
This time instead of a shirt, participants were given a fun straw hat as part of the race kit as well as the bib, and snack bars were made available for those who wanted to try one.

The finisher medals and awards were entirely unique to the event as in prior races from Happy Trails. 100 mile finishers were given a belt buckle, 100km finishers earned a custom plaque with a railroad spike mounted on a nicely decorated piece of wood. 10, 25, 50k and 50 mile finishers were rewarded with a custom made finishers medal.

Category winners were awarded a striking wooden plaque painted with custom artwork commemorating their finish. There was even a special buckle for any finisher that completed the 100 miles in hour 29 (of a 30 hour course limit). Happy Trails puts so much thought into the awards and finishers items, it’s hard not to want to earn one the many different distance options.

8 Post-event info (photography, films)
I’m tempted 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