Trail of the Tour

Let’s talk about mud, and plenty of it! The last few years have brought about plenty of new themes in running, and mud certainly seems to be popular in many of these new races. But, why not go old school with a race with a long tradition? The Tour de Lac Brome-Merrell has been on the calendar in these parts for 37 years now, yet this was only my second run at, the mid-June date always filled with some other activity. About 10 years back I remember doing this pleasant run along the mildly rolling hills in Knowlton with not much sweat involved.

The organizers have done a great job of turning this event into a weekend long activity and have introduced a new twist with the “Canicourse” or Canicross, which is basically a play on words meaning a canine race, you run with your dog. Well, I do not own a dog, but find this an interesting new addition to our world of running. Another good addition was the introduction of a 22.2km race on Saturday afternoon, followed by a 20km race on Sunday morning, 42.2 km, a marathon distance over two days.

No more long distances for me these days, so I decided I would give the 9km Trail race a go as cross-country always was and still is my favorite form of running a race. After all, what can beat running in the woods on trails, connecting to that inner wolf in all of us runners, and 9km, well, how hard could it be? In addition, the 9km Trail race was on the Saturday evening, always good for the schedule as it allows for a Sunday rest day. Back in school, all of our cross country meets were usually on a Saturday, which allowed for a Saturday night filled with Genesee Cream Ale, Buffalo wings, and even a pizza slice or two for good measure.

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Photo: Marathon-Photos.com

At the start I stood at the back of the pack and realized I was one of the older people out there, and really, I am not that old. I knew something was coming as we lined up for the 7pm start, and the race announcer stated that anyone who had not crossed the halfway point bridge in 45 minutes would be out of the official results. 45 minutes to run roughly 4.5 km? There was a woman standing behind me with official gear on, but no bib number so I asked her if the course was really that tough and if she was running. She told it was muddier than I could imagine, and she was the person who ran at the back to pull people off the course if they didn’t make the half-way cut off.

Off we went on one of the toughest races I have done in years. After the first few hundred metres or so we headed into the trails and everyone laughed at the first few steps in the mud. Most of us headed for the side of the trail, others plowed through with much delight and laughter. Well, the laughing didn’t last long. I made a mental note of my timing, and glanced at my watch at about 30 minutes, wow, where was this bridge? We came back to the start finish area and the time was approaching 40 minutes when we turned back into the woods there it was. I had barely made it to this little bridge in the required time.

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Photo: Marathon-Photos.com

On to the second run through the trails and I was very low on energy. A friend had recently lent me the fascinating book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall so I started to think about the spirit of the Tarahumara during the second half of the race just to get through to the finish. I am glad to say I completed the race in 1h20min in shoes so soaked in mud I thought they might be done. This 9km trail race turned out to be one hell of a test of stamina, more than I bargained for when I signed up! It turned out that much of the race was run knee deep in mud over up and down trails, and with a 7pm start time it slowly got darker and darker the deeper we went into the trail, especially on the second loop. Plus, in the days just preceding the race, we had plenty of rain, making it even more wet than usual.
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Photo: Marathon-Photos.com

That’s everyone’s favorite race announcer Jean-Pierre giving me a high five at the finish line. My shoes recovered, while that pair of socks will be grey for the rest of their days. Tough races are still good to run; they challenge us and make us appreciate the achievement when we are done. Afterwards, we enjoyed a nice plate of food and a pint of beer to feed the beast of an appetite we had built from running in the woods. As always, our most enjoyable runs take place in our most natural environment. I will probably be back next year, but maybe on Sunday morning for the 10km road course, we’ll see.

Forever a runner, follow your path.

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