This was my second trail race. The first one took place 15 days earlier when I ran the Fundy Circuit 50k. This one took place in Cape Chignecto Provincial Park in Nova Scotia. Like Fundy Park, Cape Chignecto overlooks the Bay of Fundy. As the matter of fact they are directly across the Bay from each other, though they are about a 3 hour drive apart.
I hadn’t planned to run two trail races so close together. As the matter of fact I hadn’t planned to run two trail races at all. I expected my running season to come to an end after the Fundy Circuit.
My friend Paul is the race director of this inaugural 5 Peaks event. His enthusiasm was contagious and before I knew it, I was registered for the 24k. Too late, I realized that it was a mere 2 weeks after my first Ultra Trail Run. Oh well.. how hard can it be, right?
There were approximately 70 people registered for the 24k distance. In a quirky nod to the famed Barclay marathon, the start line was a gate. Everyone lined up in front of the gate waiting for the cue to start. I waited for the ceremonial lighting of the cigarette to signal the race start, but it was merely a Ready, Set, Go! and we were off.
My friend Michelle was also running the same distance and we met up before the race began. We planned to run individually, as a trail run is a very personal journey. We did cover the first couple of kilometers together before she started picking it up a bit and pulled ahead. She is a faster runner than me so I didn’t expect to see her again until after the turnaround point.
The elevation on this course is crazy.. an elevation gain of over 1200 meters. By the 4k mark, the hills and humidity were playing havoc with Michelle’s asthma. As I overtook her on a hill I could see that she was struggling and I stopped to ask if she was ok. We crawled up the hill together and then opted for a slow pace to give her the opportunity to recover. By unspoken agreement we remained together for the rest of the race.
At 6k was the first water station, located at Mill Brook Canyon. The descent into the canyon is very steep, and we knew it would be a challenge on the way back. I should mention that there are viewpoints along the way to look out over the scenic Minas Basin. The tide was coming in and Hurricane Nate provided some strong winds and the waves crashing against the cliffs were incredible. This portion of the trail was mostly single track, with bridges and stairs. There was never any danger of going off course as the trail was very well marked.
We paused briefly at the water station to top up our bottles and then we were on our way again. What goes down must go up and that is exactly where the trail went via a series of switchbacks that went on forever. As we rounded each corner we thought we were at the top, only to be astonished to see even more hill! Somehow we made our way to the top where we were greeted by superb volunteers at the Arch Gully Aid Station. (8k)
Two tables were laden with food for our refueling needs, including a large bowl of cubed cooked potatoes with a bowl of salt for dipping. I snagged some potatoes and candy (jujubes, I think? ) refilled my water and Gatorade bottles and off we went. We were about 4k from the turnaround point, and this part of the trail was a delight. The wind was howling among the treetops but caressed us with only a slight breeze as we skipped over roots and rocks. This was my probably my favorite part of the trail. We started meeting runners who were on the return trip and we stepped off the single track trail to allow them to pass. Several of them spoke encouraging words to us, and a few of them hinted at an “awesome view” that marked the turnaround point.
The trail ended at an access road that took us down to Refugee Cove. Never-ending hills seemed to be a recurring theme on this course, and this downslope was no exception. Every time we rounded the corner we expected to see the beach but it continued to elude us. Our Garmins were measuring 12k so we were mentally ready to reach the turnaround point. Finally.. we saw an opening though the trees and knew that we had made it to the bottom. The view that greeted us was spectacular. It was nearing High Tide and the waves crashing on the rocks was phenomenal. It is very exhilarating to experience nature so fully.
A photographer was there taking race photos and she told us that the turnaround point was another 400 meters. What..? Weren’t we at the turn around point? Wearily we trudged the remaining distance before turning around to head back up that hill. By now we were both weary so we walked / speed hiked a lot during the return trip. My Garmin died somewhere along the way and I had no idea how far we had come, nor how far we had to go. The only thing on my mind at this point was reaching Arch Gully as I suddenly had an odd hankering for potatoes. Finally we caught sight of the red and white Gatorade dispenser through the foliage and gratefully stopped to refuel and rehydrate. Potatoes and M&M`s might seem to be a weird flavor combination but they really hit the spot.
Refreshed, we set off knowing that it was all downhill.. and then uphill … from there. The switchbacks were just as tricky going down as they were going up and we were glad to reach the bottom. And then…. the highlight of the route… Mill Brook Hill. This is a beast of a hill and I can`t even find any words to adequately describe it. We tackled it slowly and eventually reached the top, stopping several times to rest. The remainder of the course was relatively easy but we were exhausted so we speed-walked for most of it.
As we approached the Finish Line we made a pact to stay together and touch the gate at the same time so we could share the coveted DFL status. Somehow I messed up and touched the gate a half a second after Michelle so I get sole possession of Dead Fucking Last. Yay, me!
There was only a smattering of people around when we dragged our asses to the Finish Line, but they offered genuine congratulations and made us feel like rockstars before ushering us inside to eat, drink and be merry. And we received cool Master of Hills Diplomas. Sweet!
Kudos to the organizers and volunteers who made this event so successful. I would recommend this event to top level athletes who are looking for a challenging run. It is also a great run for average people ( like me) who like to push their limits, are prepared to work hard to get to Start Line and are too stubborn to quit. The cut off time is very generous ( 6 hours to reach 16k) so it is very doable. It’s not easy, but it is achievable.
Will I do it again? Six days ago I would have said.. not a chance! But now I would say.. Absolutely.
Next year there is a 50k option.. Hmmmmm…..
Credit to Race Photographer Elita Rahn who gave me permission to use her photos. You can see the rest of her race photos here