Tobermory Trail Race Half Marathon – 1st OA, 1:54:52

Saturday the 24th of September was the first annual Tobermory Trail Race Weekend. Tobermory is a small community located at the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula in the municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula. It is 300 kilometres north of London. The community is known as the “fresh water SCUBA diving capital of the world” because of the numerous shipwrecks that lie in the surrounding waters, especially in Fathom Five National Marine Park. Tobermory and the surrounding area are popular vacation destinations. My family has been lucky enough to have a cottage in the area for over 60 years. I grew up in Tobermory spending every summer of my childhood fishing, swimming, boating and running around on the rocks. A lot of who I am today is because of this tranquil oasis in Ontario and being able to run around from sun up to sun down “free range” if you will. We would load up the station wagon when school ended in June and that was it we were gone until September. This was possible because my father was a public school physical education teacher and had the summers off. Tobermory has evolved over the years to what seems like crazy amounts of tourism and while its good for the local economy it has upset a lot of the small local population. I would say in the last 5-10 years the interest in Tobermory has just increased tenfold year after year. There was once a time you could go to the Grotto and see 10 other people, now if you don’t get there before 9am you have to literally wait in your car outside the entrance until someone leaves……. enough about that.

Since I started running and cycling back in 2012 I have always thought Tobermory would be the ideal place for a triathlon or duathlon, beautiful clear water and fresh air and kilometres of trails to run on. As soon as I heard there was a “trail race” on my home turf so to speak I was all over it. Registering as soon as I was able to I knew it would be a success. The registration filled up very quickly attracting people from all over the province and form the local community. One of the guest speakers that talked the night before the event was non other than Mike Coughlin the 2015 Ultraman World Champion. He runs Discomfort Zone Training out of Guelph Ontario.
People of all ages and abilities registered making this event a huge success and once that is sure to be around for years to come. All the proceeds from this even one towards the daycare that is open year round in Tobermory and thanks to this event they will be able to keep the doors open again this winter! A huge shout out to race director Tara Harpur    this event was so well-organized and the volunteers did an amazing job. Everything was so well done you would have thought that the race had been around for years.


Friday night Laura, Harper and I drove up to the cottage and on the way into town I picked up my race kit. By this time it was too late to get in on the pasta dinner and the guest speakers had already finished up. Settling in we turned on the heaters and went to be early because I knew it would be a slog the next morning running up the Bruce Trail. up before the sun as per usual I was dresses and fed before 6:00. Laura drove me down the community centre for the pre race meeting, this was for everyone participating from relay to full marathon. After Tara went over the day’s schedule everyone walked down to the marathon start line and saw them off. The full marathon started downtown Tobermory and you ran down to Cyprus Lake and back. The most technical parts or the trail are the 10k north of Cyprus lake so that meant for the people suffering through the full that the hardest part was the middle 20k they had to run.

The rest of us were loaded on busses and driven down to Cyprus Lake where we would start the half marathon running north up the Bruce Trail. Friend and fellow du athlete Mike Noon and I sat together on the bus and chatted on what we might expect for the day. He has hiked the trail many times so we had a lot to chat about. After 25-30 minutes on the bus (thanks Blue Heron) we all arrived about 60 of us to start the half. The start time was about 15 mounts after we landed so everyone stood around and chatted about their running experiences and trail adventures. Mike and I discussed strategy a bit and because there were so many of us starting we needed to funnel down single file from the very start. The trial entrance is not wide but was flat and fast for the fist 1km.  The crowd of us gathered out in the parking lot and lined up wide so we could narrow down before entering the trail. Withe a 3..2…1.. GO we were off and I set out on a brisk pace to ensure I was in the front.

The first 1km was a fast flat groomed trail that goes around Horse lake so I took my early lead and then settled down into a sustainable pace. 1k in and it was out on a boulder

beach of loose rock that was about 300m long then back into the woods. Again at 2k there was another beach of loose rock. I navigated them both with very fast feet and keeping on my toes and trying to avoid jumping rock to rock. This section was only 200m and then it was back into the woods. the next 1.5km was a slow go with lots of climbing and navigating narrow rocky trails.  Around the 4km mark there was yet another boulder beach north of Loon lake and but this point I was so used to the last few I just breezed over the rocks and barely slowed down. Shortly after I passed the 7k mark I came face to face with the first person I had seen since the start. The full marathon leader was moving quickly south on the trail and we exchanged words of encouragement. This was the trend for the next hour as more and more marathon runners made their way down the trail.

One hour in I answered the call of mother nature as my bladder was sloshing full from all the jumping and climbing  as I took in fluids. At this point I took in a gel also for some energy and was feeling great about my performance so far. I had no idea where or who was in second behind me and not wanting to find out I pressed onward. At 13k I exited the trail and ran up a gravel road which was a welcome relief from the slow and challenging technical sections I had just crossed. The 1.4k section up little cove road took me past an aid station and cheering volunteers which really pumped me up. I was able to bring back my 4:00/km pace for this section knowing that the last 6.5k to the finish would be much faster with all the technical stuff out-of-the-way.

dsc_3704smThe other relief that came from the flat ground was that my feet were able to relax a bit and stretch out. I had roller over on my right ankle 3 times but this point and thought for sure that if it happened again it would completely stop my race. Another kilometre down I was onto the golf course running through live rounds and people swinging their clubs. TO keep the distances accurate there were sections like this that took the runners on private property at times. Back on the Bruce Trail I looked at my watch as I crossed Dunk Bay road and to my surprise it said 1:40:00…in this moment I knew for sure that I would beat my goal and go sub 2:00:00. As I ran towards Tobermory I could see the visitor centre tower and knew that I had 2km to the finish. Exiting the trial I was out on the road and my speed was still there to my surprise. I managed to keep a sub 4:00/k pace here and despite my quads screaming and pulsing I kept pushing all the way to the finish line. Crossing under the finish line no one was prepared for the first finisher, the volunteers were still marking the course and even the announcers post was vacant.

To be honest I though I set an ambitious goal of 2:00:00 and crossing the line at 1:54:00 race organizers and myself alike could not believe it. I have raced a lot of duathlons and running races over the years but I have never experienced anything like this. I pushed myself way beyond my comfort zone physically. Mentally I knew that I could keep going but I had not idea how my legs would hold up. As I mentioned the last few kilometres my quads started to lock up and I have never experienced muscle spasms like that before. After crossing the line I had to sit down and could only watch as my legs twitched like I had a tens machine on them.  I could count the times I have run 21k on one hand and leading up to the weekend I increased my volume but not my distance. I was totally relying on adrenaline for the last 5k that’s for sure.


Waiting for me at the finish was Laura and my baby girl both cheering me on and smiling away. What I didn’t realize during the race is that there were people at different cheek points relaying bib numbers to everyone and I guess they had been following me the entire time getting updates as I crossed check points. I truly pushed myself that day and discovered that regardless of time I love to run longer distances. I played it smarts fuelling every 45 minutes and drinking every kilometre from my highly concentrated 500ml bottle. I had no need to stop at any aid station and despite the sore ankle and quads I couldn’t stop smiling ear to ear.

  1. Spencer Summerfield 1:54:52.0
  2. Michael Petrella 2:03:13.4 
  3. Isabella Graham 2:07:11.8


Following behind me was Michael Petrella who was in third until Bradley took a wrong turn along the golf course and slipped into 4th. Rounding out the top three was Isabella from Tobermory a 23-year-old local. I will be running this next year and suggest that everyone should also when the registration link is available you will see me sharing it all over social media. Leave your comments and questions on the blog.


3 thoughts on “Tobermory Trail Race Half Marathon – 1st OA, 1:54:52

  1. Hi Spencer, I am a friend of your Mom and I have just discovered your Blog. I read it with great interest and some tears, thank you for being so articulate about your sport and last season’s racing. I remember that weekend last year but always afraid of very busy town I stayed home. My sincere Sympathy to your family in your heartbreaking loss, I too will always miss your dear Mom.

    1. Hi Jean,

      Thank you for leaving a comment on the blog, more and more people have been reaching out and extending condolences and I very much appreciate it. There are no words to describe the loss in my life and the life of everyone she touched. She is at peace now and that is very important to me. The emotions are still raw but the healing can begin. Stay in touch, Spencer

  2. Thanks for the report! I’m signed up for the full marathon for 2017. There’s some really helpful info about the course here, especially the more technical sections.
    A couple of my friends ran this race last year and had great things to say. I can’t remember the exact words but some that come to mind are “… gruelling” “…painful” “…really tough.” Can’t wait!

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