And just like that it has been 10 days since QMT. This race was by far the hardest race/thing I have ever done. Here’s a bit of a recap of the build, the course and how the race unfolded.
To prep for QMT I raced Sulphur Springs 50k 5 weeks before on top of 7 weeks of steady build into this season prior to that. Sulphur springs was scheduled as a training run and an opportunity to practice fueling. It turned into setting the (female) course record by 12.5 minutes finishing in 4 hours 16 minutes for the 50k distance. Whoops… a bit harder than a “training run” but, the weather was optimal and the trails were in amazing condition; I couldn’t miss that opportunity. All was not lost, I returned to regular training 3 days post race and was able to get in a 20km long run in that next weekend.
I focused on hitting technical rocky trails post Sulphur after hearing from others that QMT has some tough technical sections. Quite a few visits to Rock Chapel section of the Bruce in Hamilton and a few day trips to other sections including one towards Caledon and out to Devils Punchbowl. The HARDEST part of training for QMT was finding elevation. Course description had it at 2300m of elevation gain and 3000m of descent over the 50km distance. Ideally, I wanted to match (or get as close as possible) the elevation gain per km (46m per km). The most I was able to reach in training was 1000m of gain in a single run making this very tough. I had to accept I’d be undertrained for the elevation and just do my best.
1.5 weeks prior to the race I tripped during a run-of-the-mill easy run and strained my right hamstring. It was so sore that the next day I was limping just walking and could not tolerate sitting. I took 3 days off of running and hoped for the best; along with shockwave and hands-on work to the hammy every couple of days. The sunday before the race I was able to run 20km and was really happy about that; still had some tenderness but did not get worse during or after the run. It was settled, I would likely run with some discomfort but I would make it to the start line.
A big group (11) of my friends came along for the trip to support me and enjoy a long weekend away. It was Canada day after all. Thursday morning we set off; the drive took 12 hours including a few stops for a demi (beer in our made up language) and early dinner. Beers and pizza it was… water for me of course! We finally arrived at our air bnb with direct view of Mt. Ste Anne after going quite stir-crazy in the back seat. Dusk settled in as we took in the view and I had my first glimpse of what I was in for. The closest comparison for me was Blue Mountain and by looking at it, this had to be at least double the size of Blue. Both nerves and excitement grew. A quick 5km shakeout that night to get the drive out of my legs before falling asleep. Our crew was awesome sharing the load cooking and cleaning over the weekend and I’m so grateful that they picked up some of my workload so that I could focus on the race.
Friday was low-key; picking up the race bib (10minute walk each way) and another quick shakeout. I opted for 20 minutes only as I did not want to flare up the hamstring injury I had been nursing since the previous week. Strides were slightly painful which made me nervous but, I stayed optimistic.
(Race Elevation Profile above photo)
Going into the race, I had broken it into a few different sections in my mind as per the race profile. First, would be a very technical rocky Mestachibo section for ~10km. Onto Mt Ste Anne where we would ascend and descent the summit twice. Then the final section which would be net downhill and more runnable.
Did I mention the massive number of runners on the start line? No. Well, ~450 runners would start the 50km distance alone. At Haliburton last year there were 80. Total.
When the gun went off and it was a mad dash for positions. With the technical nature of the first 10km everyone wanted to get out hard so they didn’t get stuck behind others. This was really tricky to navigate. I knew I needed to go out easy in any 50km race as a fast start would really come back to haunt you in the later miles. However, I couldn’t end up behind hundreds of runners either. I compromised to start out faster than I wanted but not too hard. I went out just under 5min/km average for the first 4km (race goal pace was somewhere around 7min/k average or slower). Even with the “slower” start I was sitting around 70th overall for the race through the first aid station at 6km into the race.
The 10km section that was Mestachibo was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. The closest comparison in Southern Ontario is the Niagara Glen where I go outdoor ROCK CLIMBING. It was as if you were lost from the actual trail and decided to follow the water to find your way. This trail wasn’t only rocky, it was filled with BOULDERS. This section was nothing but high stepping, jumping up and down, pushing/pulling with my hands, swinging around trees just to stay upright. My feet rarely stepped on actual dirt. We had a conga line of runners power hiking their way through every crevace trying not to bail on the rocks. I did fall once and slid down a large boulder luckily did not injure anything; but that did not help my confidence over the sketchy rocks. For a better idea check out these pictures I found online of this section.
This section felt never ending. I was never happier to have had experience and strength from rock climbing as I was in this section. Another memorable part of this section was crossing two rope bridges which were super sketchy! Since we were walking the entirety of this section, I took the opportunity to ask a few guys around me about the trail and what the rest of the race looked like. One guy told me the section after the summits was quite runnable and not nearly as technical. I focused on that hope and suffered through as best I could.
We finally got out onto “normal” runnable trails a few km before the next aid station. We also ran past a really sick waterfall (Jean Larose Falls) which had 400 steps to climb (whoof) as we made our way into Mt Ste Anne.
The SECOND AID STATION was at the base of Mt Ste Anne at 17.6km. By then I was in desperate need of a water refill. The sun was starting to get to me and somehow it had taken 2hr19 to cover 17km.. both added up to burning through my water. I had the first glimpse of my cheering crew which helped energise me for what was coming up. Next up, summit the mountain (twice)!
I had no idea what I was in for. I knew we gained a huge amount of vertical in this section which I was mentally prepared for and tried to mimic in my training at K2. However, I had no idea the rocks continued.. but this time, vertical! The first summit was only a 4.4km section yet somehow took 51 minutes to cover (11:30/km). For context, one of my kilometers took 20min 35sec.
We really only ran on the grassy ski hill for less than a kilometer before turning in to the forest into more rocks. This time, they were often at waist height or similar requiring massive steps upward and clawing myself through the dirt. Hence the 20 minute kilometer. I reached the FIRST SUMMIT AID STATION to meet half of my crew who helped me refuel for the second summit.
Side note: The crew hiked up a small section of the course/ a trail that ran parallel to reach the aid station. Their 3km section was somehow over 600m of elevation gain. They also decided the best way down was to hit a black diamond route. As you can imagine they had some stories to tell.
After leaving the aid station of summit 1 the course brought us straight down the ski-run which was super steep. A weakness of mine is downhill running and it showed. In the short kilometer or two that we descended, I had several men and one female come flying past me. Luckily the second summit wasn’t nearly as hard but still technical and steep. There was a 17:30 kilometer covered during that section as well.
At the 2ND SUMMIT AID STATION I was able to see the rest of my crew (who stayed at the initial MSA aid station) who came up the gondala to cheer again. A nice boost for what was the halfway point of the race. The aid station was a bit slow here with a stockpile of runners building up as the same spot was used for both summits. I was a bit frustrated trying to fill up my water. A hop and a skip off the deck of the aid station and I was off for the second descent. Finally, onto the net downhill section of the race!
The first half of the race was so slow; it blew my mind that I was somehow only halfway done at just under 4hours into the race. I kept my mind focused on running as much of this section as I could. I was praying that the man who told me the course was runnable back at Mestachibo was right.
This section had 14 kilometers between aid stations and everyone was so stretched out at this point that it felt more like other 50km’s I have already done. This is one of my favourite parts of the trail race; when you end up by yourself and have to dig deep to see what you’re made of. This section was runnable compared to the rest of the course but still no cake walk. A mixture of single track and wider jeep like trails made up this section. Even being net downhill, there were still some decent uphills sprinkled in. I cursed these; looking at the elevation chart and asking aloud, “how is this net downhill!” This entire 14km section I only was near these 2 men who we kept trading positions; during downhills they came flying by me; then they would stop or we’d go up a hill and I would fly by past them. I joked with them but im pretty sure they didn’t understand me much with their french. Perhaps I was truely alone out there after all.
One last aid station and my awesome crew was there to help push me for the final 9km section. I was starting to feel a bit of gut rot from all the gels but, overall feeling good.
I was hoping to crush the last 9km section but, after about 2km from the aid station my stomach was feeling a bit gross so I knew not to push the pace too much or I would be walking it in. The final section still did not let up with single track covered in roots and a few climbs as well. The biggest WTF for me was the course cutting through a river crossing up to my waist deep 1 mile from the finish only to cut back over to cross the same river bed only a few hundred meters later. This meant heavy soaked shoes into the finish, for no reason!
Cutting down the end of the ski run I came around to see the finish and my full crew cheering me in 6 hours 42 minutes for the 50km race finishing 6th place female, 42nd overall.
Overall, I was really happy with my race. My hamstring never ended up bothering me after all that worry. This was by far the hardest thing I have ever done and I hadn’t been able to reach the elevation I wanted in my training runs. I had the mantra to just survive the day and I was pysched to not only survive but place in the top 10. I think most of the girls in front of me had mountains at their disposal for training and I had Hamilton. Either way, it showed me the importance of mental prep just as much as physical. I had prepared myself knowing it was going to be the hardest race of my life and the hardest terrain I had ever been on and that it was.
Onwards to training for Squamish, this time, a 50 miler!