Freedom Trail

In 2010 I ran the 21k version of the Mt. Tremblant Ultimate Cross Country, a trail running event in a ski resort just north of Montreal. It sounds crazy, but it felt short, so I decided to sign up for the full 58k event in 2011. Could I handle such a challenging race? Standing at the starting line I felt ready for it. I had trained hard and I just knew that I would be able to finish within the twelve hour time limit.

Trail running has its challenges: First, you have to deal with the ups and downs of mountainous terrain. Second, the trail is not even, you have to keep an eye on the trail to negotiate the rocks, roots, mud, swamps. And you need to pay attention to trail markers. I started the race at an easy pace and was feeling good when I got to the first aid station in about one hour. I stopped for a sip of water and asked for directions because the trail seemed to split. A Woman Running Triumphantlyvolunteer told me to go straight and then yelled something else I didn’t catch. I kept going through a nice downhill section and I was truly enjoying myself when I saw a group of fast runners coming towards me. They said something in French that I didn’t understand. This was bizarre but I kept going further until a few minutes later another group of runners came my way. They told me that I was running in the wrong direction. I couldn’t believe it! I had been following the pink ribbons together with other runners for at least 30 minutes past the aid station. Apparently we had missed a turn, but where? How far back?

I turned around and quickly realized that besides the pink ribbons I was supposed to look for yellow arrows, too. I was very confused and as I was running back I found more disoriented runners. Almost back at the first aid station I finally saw the turn I missed. I also encountered a race volunteer that was writing down bib numbers of misdirected runners. He promised that the cutoff time at the second aid station would be waived, because obviously something had gone wrong with the marking of the trail. Some people seemed a disheartened since we ran for at least an extra hour, but I was still optimistic and decided to focus on reaching the second aid station.

The trail became really muddy and then I reached the start of ‘the river run’. I had been informed I would be running through a river for approximately 4 km. Unless you have done this race yourself, it is hard to grasp what this entails. My husband’s advice had been: “No matter what happens just keep moving”, so when I first went in the water and it reached my chest I tried not to panic and kept going. The water was cold and after a little while my legs became numb and soon after that everything below my waist also went numb. I have never felt anything like that before. I kept moving. I went in and out of the water a few times, until the river became less deep. There was no escape, the banks of the river were impassible and the only place to run was in the river. The bottom was strewn with tons of rocks:  big rocks, not pebbles. I kept moving. I was not running anymore, I was just trying to stay upright, although I had to use my hands a lot. I kept moving.

When I finally reached the second aid station my watch marked 3 hours and 15 minutes. A race official came to me, striked out 58k from my bib number and wrote 35km. I couldn’t believe it! I was being downgraded to the shorter race. I begged him to let me continue. I explained that I had just missed the cutoff by 15 minutes even though I had taken a huge detour. He did not budge and I just started to cry. I said I hadn’t come all the way to Canada to run 35 km. He was unimpressed.

I got my drop bag and put on dry running shoes. I also dried my tears and started running again. After a few miles I came to my senses and realized that I could still enjoy myself in spite of the disappointment. The scenery was beautiful and the trail was challenging and fun. I also still felt strong even after five hours of running; all those hours of training were paying off. I finished the 35km course and while I will never know how many extra miles I ran because I missed the turn-off, I do know that I can train hard and conquer the full Mt. Tremblant race next year!

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