Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Canadian Adventure & Vulture Bait 50K Trail Race

Canada was absolutely amazingly wonderful. We did so much in such a short space of time. And, like everyone told me I would, I fell in love with the place. All the leaves on the trees were beautiful changing colours and we had pretty great weather. I packed my case expecting it to be really chilly, but the first week was scorching hot. The skies were blue and it was sunglasses, ice-cream and shorts weather. On the ice-cream note, I had the biggest and tastiest ice-creams ever. The Canadians sure do love their food. So, I won’t give you a day-by-day account of our adventures, but I will give you a mismatched excitable account of things that spring to mind:

·         I am still having Tim Horton’s withdrawals. This convenient bagel, doughnut and coffee provider is something of a Canadian heritage (or so I have been informed). It was great for a very cheap coffee and I loved the novelty of it.

·         Muskoka Harvest Ale and Flying Monkey IPA are some of the best ales I have tasted – I’m so sad we don’t have them :(

·         When walking around trails, look out for weird orange and black furry caterpillars and cute snakes.

·         Ice Hockey is awesome!  I didn’t know what was going on and then about five minutes in, I was hooked. The atmosphere is great and our team won on penalties, yey!

·         Halloween stores are so much fun. They take it all so seriously over there and I love that they make such a big effort. There was a particularly fantastic advert from a company called Value Village, which is still stuck in my head and cracks me up and went like: ‘You can be anything, even a zebra with a big green moustache. You can be a duck. You can be a ref. You can be a duck that’s also a ref. You can be anything, a steampunk pickle or a zombie hotdog! Sexy Ben Franklin, funky future Ghandi lalalalaaa’ You have to witness the video on YouTube:

·         Root Beer (yep, all the healthy stuff...) is very addictive and yet strangely medicinal- tasting. And A&W burger was also a guilty pleasure...

·         Beagles are the cutest doggies – we helped look after a Beagle called Emmet and he was the cutest thing ever. He didn’t bark, in fact, he didn’t make any noise. He had the most adorable big floppy ears and friendly temperament.

·         Niagara Falls impressed me much more than I thought it would. It is amazing to see such a vast amount of water plummeting over the edge like that! However, the casinos and various amusements bewildered me...

·         Poutine (see: is such a simple, yet strange foodstuff. Imagine chips covered in strange gravy and cheese curds = really unhealthy, but really tasty carb loading food.

·         Canadian Thanksgiving is crazy. I have never been so full in all of my life. Also, pumpkin pie is delicious and who knew that cheese went so well with apple pie?!

·         We went to Canada’s Wonderland Theme Park for their ‘Scare fest’ /  Halloween night and if you run a 50k the day before visiting, you really do blend in pretty well with the people impersonating zombies (well, my walk was pretty spot on!) Also, wooden rollercoasters and runaway train rides are much scarier in Canada. They are also very rickety and they hurt.

·         I wish we had a Bulk Barn, because it is such a great place to go and pick up snacks before an ultra, which me and George did before Vulture Bait 50k.

·         I learned/ rediscovered (I should know this by now, I’ve run around enough lakes!) that not all runs around lakes are flat and that the clue is often in the name. ‘Vulture Bait’ was definitely tougher and muddier that I thought!

Talking of Vulture Bait 50k trail race, here is a quick ramble about that... Well, we got up pretty early and set off, with Emmet the dog in tow towards London, Ontario. We stopped off at a Tim Horton’s on the way & got a much needed coffee and breakfast bagel, which Emmet tried to eat. Arriving at Race HQ was all very strange and different; none of the usual suspects here! We registered and got our numbers and timing chip and goodie bag. Interestingly, the goodie bag was full of chewing gum and teeth related stuff like floss and toothpaste and a toothbrush. Well, I guess ultra-runners do need to brush their teeth a fair bit after all the sugary energy snacking. Vulture Bait consisted of two laps around a rather expansive ‘lake’, which looked more like the sea... Runners were made up of those running the 50k and those that were running 1 lap. The course was marked by little flags in the ground.

Before I knew it, we were off. The first lap was pretty tight packed, because there were obviously more runners on narrow trails and so everyone was bunched together. This was good in some ways, because I got into a steady consistent pace and I was running pretty well. Having said this, the trails were a lot tougher than I had though they would be. They were so narrow and winding. The run did encircle a lake, but we didn’t actually get to see too much of it. However, a memorable moment with regards to the lake came about six miles in when I saw a really huge deer go for a swim! Its head and antlers were poking out of the water and it was a great sight to witness. And, all I could think was that I didn’t know deer could swim haha! I also saw a deer about 1 mile into the run when it ran across the trail just ahead of us...glad we missed that!

So, the run made its way through narrow and very leafy/ rooty/ muddy woodland paths. It really was a beautiful course, with tall trees and nature surrounding us and every now and again you would catch a glimpse of the water. However, because there was a lot of potential for tripping, you really had to be vigilant and pay attention to where you were putting your feet. Therefore, I found that my eyes were often focused on the ground, instead of relaxing a bit and taking in the wonderful scenery.

Now, before the race started we were told that there was a 30% of rain forecast for that day. And the Canadians reassured us that this meant that it basically wouldn’t rain. However, 17 miles into the run the heavens opened and the second lap was a mud bath. Fortunately, I didn’t slip over until about the 27 mile mark and it was a good ‘body plant’. The whole right side of my body was literally covered in mud. However, I wasn’t hurt and that was the main thing, I was just extremely dirty. Fortunately, there was a stream crossing where we had gotten our feet wet in the first lap and this time around it was a very welcome sight. I stopped for a few minutes to wash my face and onwards I went.

Aid station-wise, everything was great. They had pretzels and various sweeties and chopped banana and Hammer Nutrition stuff. The marshals were also super friendly! I was wearing my 100 Marathon Club top with my name on the back and whenever anyone wanted to get past or you were at a CP, people actually used my name. There was one particular lady who was so friendly and was driving around the accessible bits of the course to offer support and on Lap Two, she was shouting ‘And here’s Liz, Go Liz!’ as I ran towards her. It was just so friendly, considering my name was on my back and she had obviously remembered it from Lap One. Made me smile.

So, it was a beautiful, yet tricky and very muddy 50k. I was so happy as I legged it towards the finish, as I thought it would never arrive at one point and it had now gotten really chilly. Running across the finish line, there was the same fantastic support that had greeted us all the way around the course. And of course there was George, who had not long finished and his sister and her boyfriend :). 

At the end there was a really nice buffet of food for runners to pick at and I felt like I had earned it. Normally I just think, ‘Well a 50k is not much more than a marathon, it’s just a long marathon’, but it is easy to forget that even marathons can still be tricky and this was definitely that, so I felt like I put in a good effort. I also got talking to an English guy at the finish and it turned out that his wife was from my hometown! It is a small world indeed.

After the race, we drove a short distance to Brandon’s parents’ house (George’s sisters’ boyfriend), where his parents cooked us the most massive post-race steak. This was accompanied by Caesar salad, jacket potato, beer and wine :-) This was possibly the best post-race meal I have ever had.

And so, this ramble concludes my Canadian adventure.  I realise that it mainly consists of talking about food and that my adventure largely consisted of eating lots of food and drinking lots of coffee and beer. For all of these reasons, I really miss Canada. I had such an amazing time with George and I couldn’t have asked for a better holiday or a better travel companion :-)

The End.