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Event Reviews

The English Lake District – Great Dodds to Helvelyn (18km Walk and Swim)

Hiking, Runs Posted on Wed, December 04, 2019 07:59PM

This is a full day walk or run up to the summit ridge that links the Dodds peaks and Helvelyn, and then down again to Thirlmere reservoir, offering excellent views and the chance to swim in several places. It would be a great walk for those with dogs, they’ll be off the lead almost all the way. I used the Ordnance Survey Map 0L5 (The English Lakes, North Eastern Area), and its best to take that map; I think it might be frustrating to try to find your way without it.

First of all, here is a short film of the central part of this walk, shows you what to expect up there on the summit ridge.

You can see the summit of Clough Head and Great Dodds from the CCC campsite at Troutbeck. It dominates the horizon to the west. Below is the view from my tent. Clough Head is the peak on the right, you’ll be walking from that to the peak on the left, which is Great Dodds, and beyond. It’s possible to walk to the path that leads up to the summit ridge from the campsite, but it’s a very long slog, and I was told the ground is often very boggy, so I did it another way.

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I drove along the A66 for 5 minutes until I got to the B5322 road on my left, turned down that and drove on for 10 more minutes until I reached the small hamlet of Legburthwaite, marked on the map. It’s on your left, and just before you join the main A591 road. There’s a church hall here, and free parking for about 5 cars. The path up to the ridge leaves from here, so if you can get a space, perfect. After you park, walk up the small road which peters out when you see this stile. Go over the stile and head upwards.

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The views as you head ever upwards will look like this. On the map, you are heading for Sticks Pass Cairn.

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The photo above shows the scene about 10 minutes before you reach Sticks Pass. As you can see, the path is well trodden and easy to follow. When you reach the pass, look left, the broad red earth path you see will take you all the way to Clough Head, and then you’ll retrace your steps and pass Sticks Pass on the way to Helvelyn. The paths are very easy to follow, as long as you have the map for reference, the gradients are mostly slight now you are up high, the views are supurb on both sides and there’s no steep edges to fear. Here are some views.

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The view from Clough Head, looking down onto the plain that the Troutbeck Campsite is located on, is above. From here, you’re just going to retrace your steps along to Sticks Pass. When you get back to the pass, the view looks like this.

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As you can see, the ridge is wide, and the path easy to see. You’ll have no issues following it. And the views just keep on appearing…

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The view above is from the peak known as Lower Man, looking at the route on to Helvelyn. To get here from Clough Head took me about 2 hours. You’ll have to descend from this point as well, so head up to Helvelyn peak if you wish, enjoy the great views, its an easy wide path, as you can see, no chance of getting lost, and then come back down to this Lower Man peak from where, if you look down, the view will be like this.

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The path here is well trodden, you’ll have no problem following it, and it leads straight down to the A591 road in about half an hour. It’s not that steep, just a long plod, and when you near the bottom you’ll have Helvelyn Gill on your right, a small stream which forms into a waterfall just above the wooden footbridge that your path will take you across. You can bathe here. It’s a small pool, only room for 2 or 3 at most, and not deep, but not too cold either, and very refreshing after that very long hike.

The path ends at a public carpark next to Highpark Wood. Cross the main road, then turn right, walk along the grassy verge to the layby on the opposite side of the road and find a noticeboard, which tells of a path from here leading down to Thirlmere Reservoir. Now, you’re not meant to swim in reservoirs, there may be underwater obstructions, but faced with a scene like the one below, I must say, it was so enticing that I did indeed go for a dip. It was extremely cold so I kept near the shore for safety, in case I cramped up. The water is very clear. I kept an eye out for any outflow pipes, which I never saw, which might have caused me trouble. I saw a few other people taking a dip too.

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The path onwards, along the shoreline, is marked on the ordnance survey map in red. You go as far as the hill of Great How, then skirt it on its right hand side, and eventually, after about 20 minutes, you reach the main road again, from where you can cross and double back about 500 metres along the verge to where you parked your car. The views as you go will be like this.

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The English Lake District – The Mosedale Horseshoe (17km Walk and Wild Swim)

Canoeing & Swimming, Hiking Posted on Wed, December 04, 2019 07:55PM

This is a circular route, and some would say one of the very best in the Lake District. I used the Ordnance Survey Map 0L6 (The English Lakes, South Western Area) to guide me, it only shows the start and finish points of the walk but once you’re up there, the route is very clear.

I set off from the Ravenglass Camping and Caravanning Club campsite where I was staying for a week and drove to Wastwater, and the free car park at Overbeck Bridge. It was a 20 minute drive at most. From here the path begins, and climbs immediately up the steep slopes of Yewbarrow. As you near the top of Yewbarrow there is some lively scrambling to be done, not for those a little scared of heights or unsure of their ability on rock. It’s not full on climbing, not at all, but the path is unclear in many places and there is no choice but to go up, and once you’re up you look back and wonder how on earth you made it. Here are some photos of the lake, and the initial climb.

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Above is the view of Sca Fell (right) and Sca Fell Pike (left) from the top of Yewbarrow. From this point you are going to head north, the path is easy to follow, once you get down from Yewbarrow, which entails another difficult scramble. At the bottom I had another one of those moments when I looked back and thought, how on earth did I get down that?

Basically, your route from Yewbarrow takes you on a very well trodden path to Dore Head, then Red Pike (826 mts), Black Crag (828 mts) and Pillar (892 mts), all on the same path that curls around to your right.

Below are some snaps of views en route to Pillar.

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From the summit of Pillar, the route heads back in the direction of Sca Fell. It’s steep here, you keep the metal chain/railing on your left. Actually, no chance of getting lost here, the path is very well trodden and if you go too far left you’ll fall off the edge! The path will take you down, eventually, to a saddle, from where another path goes on straight up to Kirk Fell, whilst the one I took goes down to Wasdale Head. Here are some snaps of the route…

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From Wasdale Head its a half hour walk along the road to the Overbeck Bridge car park. No hassle, the views are nice and the road isn’t that busy. Some people park at Wasdale Head and do the walk the other way round, but I think my way is better as there is a nice beach at Overbeck so you can have a decent swim at the end of this very long, and strenuous (at least, the scramble up Yewbarrow is) walk. The water of Wastwater is very cold, but also very soothing for achey muscles.

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The English Lake District – Loughrigg Fell (9km Walk and Grassmere Swim)

Canoeing & Swimming, Hiking Posted on Wed, December 04, 2019 07:49PM

This is a full day walk or run, offering excellent views of Rydal Water and Grassmere, and the chance to swim safely in both the lakes. I used the Ordnance Survey Map 0L7 (The English Lakes, South Eastern Area), and its best to take that map; I think it might be frustrating to try to find your way without it.

Leave the Windermere Marina Village and drive up the main A591 to Ambleside. Pass through the village and head on towards Rydal, but just before you turn the bend into the village, look for the old stone bridge on your left. This is marked up as Pelter Bridge on your map. If you drive over this bridge, then take the right turn, you’ll come to a car park.

It used to be free to park here but in 2013 the local toerags, sorry, council, put a pay and display machine in. Shame.

The car park gets full quickly, so arrive early in the day to be sure of a space. It’s an ideal place to park though, just 10 minutes walk from your car and you’ll start getting views of Rydal Water.

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When you first see the lake, you’ll have the choice of 2 pathways, the upper path and the lower. I chose to take the upper path on the way in, and the lower path on the way out, later in the day, after my swims. I came to a cave after about 15 minutes walk and then the path led on, always very clear and easy to follow all the way to Grassmere, which was a further 15 minutes walk.

If you walk this path on a clear day, as I did, you’ll be rewarded with one of the finest views, anywhere. That’s my opinion, anyway, Grassmere is a beautiful lake, no doubt about it. The path keeps level here, it’s known as the Loughrigg Terrace; you can walk for a while longer, enjoying the lake as it reveals more and more of itself.

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As you approach the forest, a path climbs up on your left, if you follow it, this will take you to the summit of Loughrigg. It’s a stiff climb, always on a clear to follow path though.

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The view above from the summit of Loughrigg. It’s a large summit, and from the central, highest point, marked with a cairn, you can see Lake Windermere very clearly.

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From the peak I headed back down towards the shore of Grassmere, to a point on the map that is marked ‘Landing Stages’ between ‘Dale End’ and ‘The Lea’. It took me about half hour to descend.

Grassmere is a warm lake, it’s shallow so the sun can heat the water quickly. I could splash about in it for a good 10 minutes before I felt cold enough to get out. It really was lovely swimming, although not secluded. On any clear day, this route is packed with hikers, and for good reason, the scenery is terrific.

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After the swim I walked back along the lakeshore, towards Rydal. This time I was taking the lower path.

Rydal Water beach is shingle, and easy to walk on. Rydal is warmer than Grassmere, and a real delight to swim in. The entry and exit point was firm and easy to walk on (no sharp stones here). The spot I liked was the bit of beach nearest to Little Isle, which is the island shown below, shrouded with trees. Out of all the lakes and rivers I swam in during my 6 weeks in the Lake District, I’d say that Rydal was definitely the warmest lake, and the easiest to swim in.

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And then you’re back on the path, heading away from Rydal, stopping one last time perhaps for a final look at this magnificent scenery, before descending to Pelter Bridge car park.

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Canoeing the River Medway, in Kent, England.

Canoeing & Swimming Posted on Sat, November 16, 2019 06:57PM

A 3 part canoe journey up the River Medway in Kent, England.

Part 1 – At the estuary mouth.
Part 2 – From the estuary mouth to Maidstone, via Darnet Island.
Part 3 – From Maidstone to Tonbridge, via Oak Weir Island.


The Milan Marathon

Runs Posted on Fri, November 15, 2019 10:20PM

To check out our full account of the Milan Marathon complete with restaurant review and a great many photos, see our ‘Issue 7, Summer 2019’ edition of our magazine which you can download for free from here – https://trekandrun.com/publications.html

Below is a short film that will give you a brief idea of the race day experience.

For further info about the race check their website here – https://www.generalimilanomarathon.it/en/



The Happy Trails Racing ‘The Beav’ 25k and 50k

Runs Posted on Tue, November 12, 2019 10:20AM

(All photos featuring the race logo are by Sue Sitki – https://suesitkiphoto.shotsee.com/)

The Happy Trails ‘The Beav’ event took place at Hilton Falls Conservation Area, near to Milton, Ontario, Canada. Jenn and Dave from our team took on the 25km and the 50km events; there were also a 10k event going on.

Before we go into our usual 7 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=F1C4w4nnxok

1 – Pre-event info

Jenn – In addition to the detailed information available on the event registration page, participants received two pre-race emails; the first one encouraged participants to carpool to make sure parking was available for everyone, and the second email included race details and a very thorough participant guide that was like a mini magazine, complete with some great info for those new to trail running, such as trail running terms that you might not understand unless you’d been on the scene for a while. On race morning, the race director Jeff gathered us all for the standard (Happy Trails Racing standard, which is very high!) pre-race meetings before each of the different start times to go over course details and reiterate how the trails are marked and possible issues the runners should watch out for.

2 – Event location

Jenn – This is my second time participating in this race and I find the Hilton Falls area very scenic laced with extremely fun and challenging trails. It’s a little less than one hour from Toronto city centre, is easy to locate and has a good amount of parking. Additionally Happy Trails Racing encouraged participants to carpool to ensure parking for all, and even offered a prize draw as an extra incentive for all of us that did carpool. Porta-potties were available as well as one conservation area washroom. There was a constant line for the bathrooms, as is often the case, but nothing unusually long and frankly the bathroom line at trail races offers up a nice opportunity to chat with fellow participants.

Not a photo of the bathrooms because we thought you’d rather see a nice shot of a view you get from about the 18km point of the course!
And here’s a shot of the waterfall that you see when you do the 10km event.

3 – Aid Stations

Jenn – There were three aid stations to help participants fuel their way through the event. ‘Tanker’s Canteen’ was at the start/finish (and mid-point for the 50k), the ‘S’more’s Station’ was at the 5k/20k mark and then ‘Russell’s Roost’ was at the 8k/17k mark. The S’more’s Station offered water and electrolytes, the delicious vegan energy balls from ‘Mes Amis Catering’, and of course, S’mores. This aid station was located at a large fire pit too! The other two aid stations were fully stocked with lots of goodies; water, electrolyte drink, sodas, fruit, chips, pickles, boiled potatoes, sandwiches, pizza, hot dogs, quesadilla, and even apple and pecan pie was available!

The ‘S’mores’ Aid Station.

It’s hard to leave any of these stations hungry or thirsty. As always at Happy trails event the volunteers were nothing short of amazing. They always make sure their visitors are taken care of, even when they themselves have been standing there in minus temperatures for hours on end. We salute them!!!

4 General atmosphere of the Event HQ 

Dave – I always see many familiar faces at Happy Trails events, which makes for a nice day out even without the running. The race series is known for it’s unique events, well thought out swag and genuine feeling of community. I’m certain this draws people back time and time again, and also attracts new faces who are looking for an authentic trail running community and have heard that they’ll find it here. There are a few people who are fast so if you’re looking for a race and to test yourself you won’t be disappointed. There are also a great many people dipping their toes into trail or ultra territory for the first time because the cut off times are generous, the course well marked out and the aid stations really well stocked. There is also always a fun atmosphere at the event HQ start/finish line, so friends and family who want to come along to support runners have a place where they can hang out. Admittedly, on colder days like we had (expected for November), they might retreat to their cars whilst they’re waiting for much of the time, but at least there are bathrooms, hot drinks and good company available if needed. The race directors Jeff and Heather are very visible around event HQ and are happy to talk, and the volunteers I met there and at the other aid stations all seem to be bottomless sources of encouragement.

Obviously each race is different but on this course, if spectators want to cheer runners on from an aid station, it was possible to walk about 5km along the track to get to the ‘S’mores’ aid station where there was a bonfire and a washroom. It was also in a beautiful location, by a stream (it’s the last inhabited place you see in my race video before I hit the finish line). A lovely place to hang out I’d say!

Beautiful section of rolling trail at the 15km point.

5 – Course

Dave – If you are racing this then you’ve got sections of technical trail joined by very runnable track. If you’re out to enjoy the scenery and vibe, though, and are going slower, as I did, then the trail doesn’t seem so technical because you’ve much more time to find stable footing among the rocks and roots. The near constant up and down nature of the technical parts of the course makes sure it’s a good quad and glute workout though, however you take it on. Mostly the trail led through forest, with occasional openings onto marsh and river. Here are a few snaps I took as I ran.

The first couple of kms is mainly single track; if you’re racing make sure you start off quick so you have a clear run ahead of you.
If you’re not racing then no problem, chill out and enjoy the scenery! It’s especially nice when you pass a waterfall and look out onto the reservoir. See my video for a better look at both waterfall and view, I stopped here for quite a while!

Jenn – The race course was marked with a combination of orange ground flags, orange ties, and the occasional sign warning to slow down where the course turns into rocky outcroppings with a few gaps and even a crevasse to jump over, or where an arrow was needed to ensure we made the correct turn. The hand-drawn directional sign pictured below was definitely a fun highlight for me!

With the exception of the extremely technical (and fun) sections of the trail, the remainder of the course is made up of groomed double track trails weaving through the Halton Region Tract System of forest. As the race registration page notes “This course is primarily made up of fast, groomed trails with some short but tougher and more technical sections thrown into the mix.” Here are some photos I took on the way round.

A rocky climb.
Groomed trail.
A tricky route forward!
Crevasse Crossing!

Shoe choice: I wore my Hoke One One Speedgoat trail shoes and I’m glad I did; the technical bits on this trail were very rocky and the extra cushion this shoe offers was greatly appreciated by the 20km mark.

6 – Race kit, medals and awards

Dave – I love that there are Wolf and Bear Patches awarded to runners at all Happy Trails events. These are public shout outs that allow runners to recognize the kindness shown by other runners by nominating them for an award, like this;

As a 50k runner I got a brilliant hoodie – which I’m still wearing a few days later to prolong the vibe of the race and because it’s really very cold now and the hoodie is snug – and a wooden medal. Winners in various categories also got wooden plaques.

7 Post-event info (photography, films)

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 a day and they were all free to download and of great quality. 

Jenn captured by Sue during the 25km event.
Dave captured by Sue during the 50km event.

To discover more about Happy Trails and their events see their website
https://www.happytrailsracing.com/



The Niagara Falls International Marathon

Runs Posted on Sun, October 27, 2019 08:56PM

This event took place in and around Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada (with the full marathon starting in Buffalo, USA). Jenn and Dave from our team took on the half and the full distance. There were also 5k, 10k, and marathon relay events going on, so something for all the family!

Before we go into our 7 point review here’s a short film showing the marathon course and some of our activities in Niagara over the race weekend. If you’re viewing on a mobile and can’t play flash, you might try going straight to Youtube to view it here

1. Pre-Event Info

Jenn – The race registration, website and pre-event email were very informative. They offered details on the courses, packet pick-up, expo vendors, and most importantly, details on getting to the start via car or shuttle. I didn’t feel the need to overly prepare for this run compared to others, knowing that shuttles would be easy to find and there would be a lot of water/nuun stations on the course. They covered cut-off times very clearly within the race details and in my experience, this event is one of the few Ontario marathons that offer a 7 hr cut-off for us back-of-the pack runners. I think this needs to be noted as it adds an extra level of enjoyment to an event when you know it’s inclusive to both runners and walkers alike with a wide range of paces.

Dave – In addition to the above, for marathon runners it was important to understand how the border crossing was going to work! And the race website made this very clear. Depending on what passport you had, there were different proceedings. I have done this event in 2015 when I had a British passport (and with that I had to get a visa waiver, which was an easy, low cost process that I did the day before the race by walking over the Rainbow bridge from Niagara Falls Canada to the US side and buying it from the border officer for about $6) and this year with a Canadian passport (no visa needed at all). Regardless of the passport, customs did have to be cleared the day before, at the race expo.

This was an easy process. Then on the morning of the race, the buses that were transferring us from Niagara Falls to Buffalo stopped at US customs for a very short while, our passports were checked, then we drove on. After that runners had the option of keeping their passport with them as they ran the marathon or putting it in their kit bag with the rest of the clothes they weren’t taking on the run, and handing it over to race officials who placed it in the baggage bus. It might seem risky to be leaving your passport in a plastic kit bag but the buses are staffed by race officials, and nobody is allowed on them, just the volunteer who will give you back your bag at the finish area of the event.

The expo was useful. There was free yoga all day (and what runner doesn’t need to stretch if they want to stay injury free), nutrition, shoe, clothes and training offerings, and a number of good talks, including Canadian adventurer Ray Zahab and also experts on plant based and keto eating.

Ray Zahab speaking.

2. Event Location (parking, facilities/washrooms, pavilion)

Jenn – Half Marathon: The half marathon, 10k and 5k all started at the same place; the Rapidsview Parking Lot. The lot seemed easy to get to by car, as many participants were taking advantage of the ample parking and drove to the start. Since we stayed at a hotel by the falls, I chose to use the free WeGo shuttle, as the pickup spot was right outside of the hotel (the Sheraton on the Falls). It made a second pick-up stop at the finish area and then took us to the start. The starting area had a couple tents for warmth/shelter. Luckily the weather was amazing and I found these unnecessary. Race kit pick-up was available at the start, as were a lot of porta-potties, several hand washing stations and bag check. The race assigned school buses for bag check, each bus was identified by a range of bib numbers, and the bags stayed on the bus until the finish when the runner went to collect them. I quite like this process. I felt as though the few items I put in my bag were well taken care of, and my belongings were not just laying on a tarp on the ground, as has happened at other city marathons.

Half Marathon start area.
Half Marathon start line.

Dave – Full Marathon: Buses were offered to take runners to Buffalo in the USA. They left from outside our hotel between 7 and 7:30am – so I didn’t have to get up too early which was nice! When we got to Buffalo we could go into the sports arena which was next to the start line. There were washrooms in there, plenty of space to warm up in, and it was heated (not a consideration for us as it was a lovely day but this will be important if your race day is rainy or cold). The baggage buses were just outside.

Inside the Buffalo sports arena.
Looking back at the Marathon corrals from the start line.

3. General atmosphere of the Event HQ (event staff, volunteers, other runners, what’s there for spectators)

Dave – The event staff seemed just as excited to be there as us runners, it was a great vibe from start to finish. Everybody, including all the runners, was respectful during the playing of both National Anthems before we started to run. The aid stations seemed to be staffed by volunteers from different community groups and they each had their own style of cheering, some like cheerleaders, and others playing music. This is not a big city marathon following a circular style course, you go from point to point, country to country, along a rural road so bearing that in mind the route was pretty well supported. I don’t think I ran for more than 10 minutes without getting cheered on, either at an aid station or by people stood outside of their houses.

The other runners were friendly, kind of half way between a trail race and a big city marathon level of friendliness, and whenever one passed me they asked how things were going. That was nice, as I wasn’t going slow – I came in 29th position in the end – and usually the people at the front of marathons are too fixated on running fast to make small talk, but this race was different.

For spectators, it looked like they would be best either waiting at the half marathon aid station (which was fun and lively) or at the finish area, as this was just in front of the mighty falls themselves and there was lots of hustle and bustle there, as well as washrooms and places to get refreshments. Plus they get this view whilst they are waiting for you!

4. Course (length, technicality, scenery)

Jenn – Half Marathon: The half marathon, 10k and 5k courses were all happening along the same ‘mostly’ out and back routes from the same start area. We started a couple of kilometers past the finish, so that we could run to the respective turnaround points and then run all the way back to the falls, which allows for fantastic views during those last few km when the spray from the falls reached high in the sky.

The distances and turn-around spots were very clearly marked for each separate race, and the course itself was very easy to follow. It was a standard road race with lots of paved road and only a couple of very small bumps along the way (they weren’t actually hills so I am referring to them as bumps!). The half marathon course also had very picturesque views of the riverbank and fall colours for most of the route. I snapped some photos along the way and have included these below.

Dave – Full Marathon: We ran around Buffalo for about 5kms – residential streets, quite pretty – then over the Peace Bridge, which is the link and border between the USA and Canada. That was as special as it sounds! I’ve never run over a border before, apart from this one. It was sunny by the time I crossed it, the river on my right and the lake on the left were bright blue, it was pretty exciting to drop down into Canada, pass the border police with a wave and then set off to the left before looping back after another 5km to begin the long push for Niagara Falls.

Leaving the USA, ahead is the Peace Bridge, leading to Canada!

We followed the Niagara Parkway. It really is a beautiful route. It can be prone to headwind but we had fine conditions with no wind to worry about. Always the blue river was on our right whilst on the left were mansions and fields, and often the road was shaded with magnificent trees.

A flotilla of Canada Geese!

The overall elevation of the marathon course was just over 170m; I imagine much of that was going up and over the Peace Bridge, which is so exciting I didn’t really notice it! Is this course a fast one? I’d say yes, it could be, and if the wind is kind to you as it was for us, then it could even be PB territory.

5. On course aid stations (water points, fuel)

Jenn – The aid stations available on course were plentiful. Water and electrolytes were available approximately every 2.5k, and in some cases the volunteers at the aid stations on the ‘out’ portion of the race moved their station across the road to the ‘back’ side of the road and set out more water. There were also Clif blocks available at 10k, 21.1k and 30k.

Dave – I ran self supported (meaning I took my own fuel – dates filled with peanut butter, and coconut water) but I did see that the aid stations were plentiful and well stocked with Nuun, water and Clif nutrition. I did like that the drinks were offered in paper cups, which looked recyclable, as opposed to the plastic cups that are often used at aid stations. There was enough on offer at the aid stations that a runner wouldn’t need to carry any spare fuel unless they had some special fuel strategy.

6. Race kit, medals and awards

Dave – The medals are nice (see below) and every runner got a race/running shirt as well as a couple of Clif bars (which were really useful for the morning of the run as I didn’t have time for breakfast!).

7. Post-event info (photography, films)

Jenn – Race results are available on the race page and easily searchable. The race had photographers posted in the last couple of kilometers and at the finish. They offer the standard post-race packages if participants want to purchase their photos.

If you’d like to discover more about the Niagara Falls International Marathon, or enter for 2020, check out their website – https://niagarafallsmarathon.com/



The Happy Trails Foxtail Hundred

Runs Posted on Wed, September 11, 2019 09:54AM

(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
https://www.happytrailsracing.com/



Scuba and Snorkeling with Life Planet Project, Costa Rica

Canoeing & Swimming, Tours & Experiences Posted on Tue, August 27, 2019 02:32PM

We went on a scuba and snorkeling day tour with Carolina and Davide of Life Planet Project and consider them among the most ethically sound, caring tour guides we’ve ever experienced, anywhere in the world. We also saw more sharks than ever before out at Cano Island (even compared to when we went on a 2 week liveabord diving tour with the MV Sharkwater), and also learned so much about the ocean, the mangroves, and Costa Rican culture. If you’re looking for an honest, ethical company offering great land and sea tour experiences, you’ve found them.

We started our day with a transfer to Sierpe, from where we took a boat downriver and out into the Pacific, heading for Cano Island. The images and film below tell the story of our day.

Davide telling us about what was to come, as we sat on the boat in Sierpe.
The views as we motored downriver were spectacular.
The Sierpe River really is beautiful.
We stopped frequently to see monkeys, birds and sloths in the jungle that fringed the river.
Approaching the river mouth. Between the two headlands is the opening into the Pacific.
En route to Cano Island. We saw dolphins as we went, you can see them in the film at the end of this article.
Whilst some of us snorkeled, some of us went diving.
There were plenty of fish, and also sharks.
We didn’t get too close. The company is as ethical as they come and close interaction with wild animals is not encouraged. We agree with this wholeheartedly.
More sharks.
Fish and sharks. I love being underwater!
We even saw a hammerhead shark! It was too deep for my camera to work (nearly 30 metres) but I got a shot of us celebrating when we surfaced.
Then it was lunchtime.
Excellent pasta served up in a coconut shell.
Lunch with good friends. Tastes even better after you’ve just swum with sharks!
After another dive we went ashore to Cano Island, this is the rangers station and museum.
The view from a point about 10 minute walk inland.
Enjoying a stroll on the beach.
Then it was time to leave Cano Island and head back to the Sierpe River via a different route.
Enjoying the coastline as we motor back.
Davide explains how the mangrove forests are being destroyed and what that means for the oceans. The mangroves are the nursery for many species of animal and fish.
Another view of the Sierpe as we neared the town.

The emphasis all day was on showing us why it’s important to preserve the environment. It was a great tour, and this educational aspect was the icing on the cake. It’s worth re-printing a piece from their website here, we wish all tour companies thought like this!

“We aim at sharing the natural beauties of our planet, on land and underwater, promoting exciting activities merged with environmental awareness and collaboration with the key figures of today’s environmental conservation movement.

We have a desire to help nature, to give back. We want tourism to stop leeching our planet. We want to raise consciousness and give you the experience of a lifetime in the meanwhile. We want you to learn. To see with your own eyes. And we want you to have fun, lots of it!!!”

We recommend you look Life Planet Project up if you are in the Manuel Antonio/Dominical/Uvita area and want an ethically sound, fun day tour.

Check out what they offer on their website – https://www.lifeplanetproject.com/

Here’s a short video we made showing highlights of our day.



The Teamsport Gozo Half Marathon

Runs Posted on Fri, August 23, 2019 04:00PM

The Teamsport Gozo Half Marathon event took place on the Mediterranean island of Gozo, next to Malta and just south of Italy. Everybody we met there spoke English so it was an extremely easy place to travel around, and in the spring when weather in northern Europe is changeable the conditions on Gozo were sunny and hovering around 20C, which we think is perfect for running.

There are no flights to Gozo, you have to fly to the nearby island of Malta and then catch a bus/taxi and ferry. We flew there on Air Malta direct from London Gatwick. Air Malta fly to 25 scheduled destinations in Europe, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean and offers an additional 150 destinations through code share agreements with quality airlines. For more info check out – https://www.airmalta.com/ 

Nita from our team took on the 10km race and Dave took on the half marathon.

Before we go into our 7 point review, here’s a short film showing the course. For a fuller account of our time on Gozo and many more photos, see the September issue of our magazine and our “A Week in Gozo” article.

1 Pre-event info
The event directors were active on social media keeping all runners informed of various details and frequent emails were sent with full instructions of where to be, when, and what we could expect from the course. English is the language of communication used so it was easy for us to understand everything and make arrangements.

We had our transport and hotel arranged for our stay on Gozo via the Malta Tourism Authority, their website has lots of links to all the services you might need, including transfers from Malta airport to Gozo – https://www.visitmalta.com/en/home

The race expo was held at the Ggantija Temples complex. These temples are older than the pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge, what a place to have an expo! Note, this is not an expo where you can buy running gels or kit. But you can pick up your race number and t-shirt and view one of the world’s most important historical buildings at the same time, which is a unique race-cation experience!

The view from the temples is pretty special as well and got us excited for the next day’s racing when we’d be running through this beautiful landscape.

Outside the temple complex there were 2 kids races going on. If you’re travelling with the family, you might want to consider these for your young ones. All details are on the website – https://www.gozomarathon.org/

2 Event location (parking, facilities/washrooms)
The main square of the village of Xaghra hosts the race HQ. It’s flanked by beige limestone buildings and an impressive church.

We got a lift there arranged by Malta Tourism, the driver could drop us and pick us up about 10 minutes walk from the square. It was about 20 minute drive from our hotel, Ta Cenc. If you’re driving yourself you might want to park a little way away from the village centre as the main roads will be closed for the duration of the event and if you park in the centre, once you’re there, you might have trouble getting out until late in the afternoon.

There was a building in which we could leave our bags, use washrooms, get changed and ask the race officials any last minute questions. Note that since there is zero crime on Gozo the bags are simply left in the corner of a room where people warm up, so don’t take anything with you to the race that you don’t mind leaving in such circumstances whilst you run.

3 Aid Stations (snacks and water/fuel)
There were several water stations en route but for those who want to use gels or special fuel you will want to take these yourself. At the finish line we got a sports drink and a banana, and there’s also several bars and cafes in the square which runners made good use of.

4 General atmosphere of the Event HQ
The event staff and volunteers was very friendly to us, answering every question we had on race day and before, and there were a surprising amount of overseas runners there with large groups from many British clubs so the pre-race warm up had a familiar feel/soundtrack to it.

Spectators can travel to various points of the course to cheer runners on but many roads will be closed so we’d advise them to stay put in Xaghra Square, enjoy the surroundings (the cafes are great!) and stand around the finish line to welcome friends or family home. There’s a great atmosphere on the home straight, the red carpet leads runners to the finish line and crowds line flank either side of it making a tremendous noise.

5 Course (length, technicality, scenery)
As the photo below shows, the route is far from flat! You can expect some lung busting hills in both the half marathon and 10km distance.

The route is all on well made roads, most of which are closed to traffic. If you’d like to see the actual routes of each race there are several maps of each on the website, including interactive maps that show locations of aid stations, marshals, cheer points, etc.

The race starts with a long downhill which offers runners a terrific view of the distant Mediterranean. We were to see the sea many times during the following kms.

We passed numerous villages squares – where support was vocal from locals who had settled in to watch the race pass as they breakfasted on fine looking pastries – and churches, like this one.

The final 2km is tough, a gentle slope at first then a set of severe switchbacks which a drumming band pulled us up and then we were into the final 500 metres which is a finishing straight we’d want to run again and again. The light bounced off of those limestone buildings, the loudspeaker music welcomed us and a red carpet funneled us into the finish line area. Fantastic.

6 Race kit, medals and awards
The race medals portrayed a windmill that stands in the village of Xaghra, where the race starts and ends.

There were plenty of awards including top 3 and for all age categories, which were each split into male and female. Trophies were large and presented on a stage by the local priest!

7 Post-event info (photography, films)
Photographs were free to download and were offered within a week of the event. Coverage was great, we got about 7 or 8 each from different points on the course.

We absolutely loved our race experience at the Gozo Half Marathon. The island is a dream destination, very peaceful, friendly and beautiful, a real gem of the Mediterranean.

To discover more about the Teamsport Gozo Half Marathon see their website
https://www.gozomarathon.org/



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