Well the 2nd Annual Tobermory Trail Race Weekend (TTRW) has come and gone. I was one of 103 racers that took part in the Trail Half Marathon Solo (21k) event, at the same time there was a combination of 60 people racing the solo and or relay legs of the Trail Marathon (42k). Having competed last year at the inaugural event I signed up immediately for this years race because I enjoyed it so much. Read the 2016 race report here if you have not already.
This year I set a lofty goal of taking 10:00 off the race record which I set last year. Unfortunately mother nature had other plans and it rained the night before which made the entire trail very slick and dangerous. This slowed everyone down because 90% of the entire race is over rocky surfaces. I missed the time goal but did decent the title wining back to back years at the half distance.
When even the race director says that the courses technical level is “very high” that says something after all she grew up in Tobermory. The course is the same as last year for the HM, once again we were all bussed down to Cyprus Lake from downtown Tobermory to the race start. This if course takes place after the full Marathon race starts from downtown Tobermory. Sent off with a bagpipe playing as per usual. Nothing like that at 7am to wake you up….
A little course preview for this race, Starting at Cyprus Lake you run approximately 2.5km of park land that is gentle and packed trail, passing by the world famous Grotto Caves you get the first taste of the slippery rocks and lime stone that is everywhere up there. Then you pop out on the first rock beach which is just 300m long but reminds you and your ankles what you are embarking upon. This is just north of Marr Lake and you continue “running” past Overhanging Point until you reach 4km and the second rock beach this one now 400-450m long and increasingly larger and very loose rocks. Up until this point most of the trail has been along the water’s edge and you get spectacular views of Georgian Bay. From km marker 4.5-9 we run inland and only pop out now and again to see views of the water. This section is heavily dense with cedar and spruce trees growing right out of the rocks everywhere. More slippery rock footings and constant ups and downs amending rock faces 10′ tall and descending 20′ rock faces with ropes this course always keeps you moving. Now from 9-13km you came back closer to the water and along the escarpment running more Bruce Trail heading towards what I call the “half way point” at Little Cove. I call it this because that first 13km of the trail on the HM is the most technical running I have ever encountered and if you can make it to that point then you can make the rest. Once you reach Little Cove you have a 1.2km stretch of gravel road that is all up hill, be it a slow but steady incline past one of the last aid stations one the course.
I tell you that upon reaching the gravel road despite the incline it is a welcome relief to the quads and you get a chance to stretch out and return to a regular running gate for a brief time. From marker 14-16 it is gentle winding paths and minimal obstacles as you wind through the active golf course heading towards Dunk Bay. At this point you connect back into the regular Bruce Trail and start counting down the kilometres. Little land marks pop up like Little Dunks signs and you know the visitors centre is getting closer. There is a very tall observation tower there and you can see it as you approach and to me that is the end in sight! Crossing behind the building on the snowmobile trail you pop out on the first stretch of pavement for the entire course. At kilometre marker 19.6 PAVEMENT!!!! at long last the pace picks up if only slightly as you weave down Harpur Drive where it meets Bay Street. The finish arch is smack dab downtown in front of the iconic Tobermory Brewery & Sweet Shop.
TTRW Half Marathon Course Summary – 21km
0-2km – This isn’t so bad, I can do this.
2-13km – WHY!!!! WHY!!! WHY!!!, everything hurts!!!!! I didn’t know my quads could twitch there…
13-14km – Gravel is so much softer than rock…. is that snake moving faster than me?
14-18km – It’s just a few more steps right… go go gadget legs…AHHH golf ball!!!(FOUR)
18-21km – Why is the scuba diver walking faster than me with all their gear on:(
21km – No big deal, I knew I could do it… right…..One slight problem my legs don’t work anymore so be kind and throw me in the lake please.
The TTRW is not for the fait of heart or people who don’t like risk that is for sure. If you don’t expect to roll your ankle (multiple times), get a series of flesh wounds, dodge poison ivy, run from wasps, trip over your own feet like you are wearing clown shoes, oh and possibly have to run from a black bear or rattle snake then this is not the race for you. I must say hats off and kudos to the full marathon people…. next level suffering..wow.
As I mentioned above I had a goal of being faster than the previous year after all isn’t that what we always want. Environmental conditions aside I know that this course can be run faster and I hope to be the one to do it next year but even if it isn’t me the 1:45:45 time can be achieved! One year almost to the day back in 2016 my late mother had a stroke the night before the race. This was after we learned of her cancer diagnosis and she was on bed rest because of her aggressive chemo. She insisted that I still go and against my own instincts I went and to be honest that weekend was a blur. I raced up Friday from London, raced Saturday and immediately following the awards ceremony drove back to London to be at her side in the hospital. Last year I raced with so many out of control emotions and a lot of anger in my heart. Maybe it helped be run as fast as I did or care less that I rolled my ankle three times which fuelled my anger.
No matter what back I was one year later only this time with a much clearer head. My mother passed away in January and ever since and to this day I battle the sadness and anger that comes from her absence but grief is a funny thing, get the balance just right and it is a huge motivator. This year I didn’t have the anger from 2016 instead I was fuelled by her memory and the memory of the countless summers we spent at the cottage in Tobermory growing up playing on the rocks and in the lake. My mom had been coming to Tobermory long before most people as her father owned property all over town dating back I believe to the 60’s. She had a cottage growing up and the year I was born her and my father bought one just down the shore from her childhood cottage. Tobermory was not a place she visited for the sake of going, it was a part of her. Swimming, boating, fishing, hiking and bon fires all things in her blood and now mine. Working as a minister up until she died she dedicated her only time off in the summer to heading to Tobermory and enjoying the splendours of what vacation she did get. I was always amazed at how much she loved the place and I too now understand and share that feeling.
That being said I was racing with the notion that my own mother had hiked the very trails I was running on and now here I was no longer able to hike them with her so it was up to me to hike, run, walk do whatever it took to finish the race and honour her memory. She has been referred to as my emotional kryptonite in a few of my blog posts but not this weekend, instead she was the solid memory like the very rock I was running on that propelled me forward on race day. Watching my own daughter (Harper) now over a year old climb on the rocks at the family cottage it solidifies in me what a magical place Tobermory is within our family. She too will grow up spending time in the summer there and we will do it as family like I used to.
Above I described the course and instead of breaking it down km by km I will give a general overview. The entire course is a deadly, slippery and very highly technical hiking route let alone a “trail race” and this year I was coming off a calf injury that kept me from running in the week leading up to the race. I had this heavily taped with KT tape as you will see form some of the pictures. In conjunction with the calf injury I put more KT tape to use taping up my ankles to give them the best support and fighting chance of surviving the race. I have “loose” ankles and wanted to give myself the best chance at keeping them working for the 2 hours.
Arriving at Cyprus just before 8am the air was heavy and humid. The sun came out for a bit and some light rain actually as we were all lined up and exchanging words amongst one another. After a final head count and bus check list it was time to get started. 10……5…4…3.2.1 GO!!! Off we went. The first 4km came and went fairly quickly and by 6km my hat had started to drip with sweat already… I knew it was going to be a hot humid day so I had mixed my F2C Glyco-Durance in a heavy concentration as well as stacked it with F2C Electro-Durance to make sure my electrolytes were maxed as I am a heavy sweater. The technical stuff is the same as year prior but I had a hell of a time with all the rocks being so wet. My shoe of choice was the same as leads year the New Balance Vazee Summit Trail.
Hop over roots and rocks, these summit-chasers are built for elite-level trail runs that cross high ridges and descend steep switchbacks. They’re lightweight and
flexible, and offer a locked-in feel thanks to the FantomFit upper. Aggressive lugs, and a rock plate round out their performance nature.
- Synthetic FantomFit uppers hug your foot for a secure fit.
- Toe bumper for added protection.
- Midsoles have Revlite foam for lightweight cushioning.
- 3/4-length 1mm Rockstop plate for protection from sharp rocks and lumpy roots.
- Outsoles are Hydrohesion rubber with aggressive 4.5mm lugs for durable grip
Grip was almost non-existent and as a result I had to take much more calculated steps and pay closer attention to my landings and next steps. This was actually quite mentally draining because you had to look ahead but down all at the same time. More than a few times I took a step on what looked to be a dry rock but it was not and I would slide a little stressing my ankles and joints that much more. The most technical section is the first 13km and once I reached the clearing I was hopeful that I would pick up the pace on the gravel road but did not. Unlike 2016 I was gassed already, I tried my best to pick it up but being honest I did a lot of run / walk / run / walk after that point. It reminded me just how physically demanding this race is on your entire body. My quads were constantly going into spasm from about 16k onward. I had mental marker in my head to help me know just how close I was to the finish and every one I crossed off I felt the pace slipping. You would think that after a year of hard work training and racing duathlons that a half marathon would be no big deal… well this was. I have discovered that my body is currently capable of working out hard for 2hrs sometimes 2.5 hrs and then thats it the tank is empty. This race cut that in half it is a whole different kind of hurt. Before heading back into the woods around the 14.2km and not really getting any relief on the gravel road I glanced back for the first time all day. You can almost see that entire kilometre down the road and I didn’t see anyone. A bit a relief came over me and yet again I let myself run walk as my legs started to twinge…. the onset of the spasms that would follow. So I knew that I had roughly 6km left and at least a 1km lead… which meant I could be caught or maybe not depending on who was behind me. I ran on and as the terrain was not nearly as technical now I was able to pick up the pace as my breathing settled. As the kilometres ticked by I kept telling myself what I wanted out of my race, one finish, two beat my previous time. Number two was just not possible at this point. I was at kilometre 17 and my watch showed just over 1:46:00.
That’s 4km in 10:00 or 2:30/km pace to make the time…. not going to happen.
With goal two out the window it was back to just finishing and not getting caught by whoever may be behind me. When I finally reached the pavement and knew there was only 1km left I was once again relieved as I ran on what felt like stumps towards the finish line. Passing along Bay Street you could see the finish arch in the distance and I looked back once again to see empty road behind me. As I approached the line I could see my family in the distance cheering, little Harper and Laura. Tunnel vision kicked in and I wasn’t looking at the clock or anything else as ran towards their smiling faces! Crossing the line at 2:01:33 I was off my time by 7:00 from last year but all things considered it was still a fast time and a fantastic race.
Looking at the splits you can see that I was on pace at the Little Cove check point and ahead of 2016 by 4:00!!!!! But that is where I started to really struggle this year and the finish time shows that. Seeing that number just proves to me that I will run this course faster in the years to come. If I was ahead by 4:00 this year I will be ahead by 5:00 next year.
The Little Cove check point is at the end of the most technical section so in theory I was flying and should have been able to beat the time…. but it gives me something to shoot for next year. It also proved to me that my fitness has improved to be ahead by 4:00 after 13km, that in itself is quite a feat given the conditions.
- Break the sub 1:50:00 time barrier
- Have fun with my family and friends at the race
- Video the whole run / live stream parts if possible
A huge thank you to everyone involved in the Tobermory Trail Race Weekend. Without the support of local business, local land owners, the Bruce trail association and the volunteers this race would not exist. The Blue Heron Company, Parks Canada, Leeside Restaurant, Crowsnest Pub, Tobermory Brewing Co.Restaurant, PASA and the list goes on, please click here for a complete list of supporters and volunteers!
A special thanks to the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula – Tobermory Fire Department & Bruce County EMS for providing an ambulance and the volunteer medic, Jim Ainslie. Thanks Tara Harpur for another great race and I can’t wait for 2018!
For all the data and race info click on the Strava link below.
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