“Sometimes you just need to ask yourself – why not.”
On October 30th of this year I went on a 100-kilometre birthday run. Why? Why not! I did it because I could and it was a long run to contemplate the last year, raise some money for the Canadian Cancer Society and to draw attention to a great 72-kilometre trail hidden just on the outskirts of Ottawa, Ontario (Canada).
Here is the story of my adventure.
The Prescott-Russell Trail
The Prescott-Russel trail is a 72-kilometre trail that starts in St-Eugene, Ontario and runs almost into Ottawa. It is a flat, quiet rails to trails (old railroad track turned into trail) that runs through corn fields, woods and past quiet small towns. The towns along the trail have done a great job and pavilions pop up along it (St-Eugene, Vanleek Hill, Plantagenet, Bourget and Hammond (with a map of the trail, a covered spot to sit and rest or eat and usually a port-a-pottie) and a garbage can.
The trail is uber well maintained, clean, flat, well marked (with posts usually every half-kilometre).
Raising money to help fight cancer
Cancer seems to touch so many people – their friends, their family or people they know. Last year i ran 258-kilometres along the Rideau Trail with my friend Nick Brindisi and helped raise money for cancer. It only seemed right to do some good on foot again as I reflected on life and had some fun. I did not raise a huge amount ($300) but I think many people doing a little can do a lot together.
Gear: 1 pair of HOKA running shoes and a backpack stuffed with gear and food for the run. This included a headlamp, mp3 player, my cell phone, map, MuscleMlk chews, bars and fuel, water bottles and extra clothing.
2:00am. Crawled out of bed and ate a quick breakfast, grabbed my gear and got a cab to the Ottawa bus station and waited.
2:30am. and I was on the bus and rumbling along in the dark towards a small Quebec town.
Rigaud, Quebec – 4am.
The run started in Rigaud, Quebec on October 30th (my birthday) as I had to figure out a way to do this solo 100km birthday run without any real support and not bother my family. Rigaud, Quebec is where the Greyhound bus service stops. So Rigaud was about 19-20 kilometres from the actual start of the official trail but was on the old rail line. I had google earthed it and did a bit of research and knew the tracks had been removed and that it was probably run-able.
I was dropped off outside a Tim Horton’s in the wee hours of the morning in a town I knew only from a map and picture online. I navigated down the main drag and turned up a side street to connect with the abandoned rail line. I turned my headlamp on and started to run along the grassy trail. The only real off-roading occurring when I accidentally veered off on an ATV trail that ran alongside the trail and got REALLY MUDDY and slippery. After bushwhacking through some brush I found the real railway trail again and continued.
Dodging puddles I ran along quietly in the dark listening to some CBC podcasts and my own thoughts – waiting for the sun to rise.
After an easy 20-kilometres I reached the start of the Prescott Russell trail. The trail became more groomed and there was a sign to reassure me I was in the right spot. It was still dark but I knew the sunrise was coming. The town of St-Eugene was quite and no one was at the first pavilion.
I was running to raise money for cancer but to also raise awareness about the trail I was running on. Maintained by the towns along the trail – it is in danger of not being funded or maintained in the future.
I had made contact with the trail association and let them know what I was planning and also tried to get some attention with local media. I did not really want the attention – but if I was going to raise some money I figured I should try and get some attention. The Vanleek Hill newspaper put a piece (the article) up about my run, the Ontario Trails organization posted information about my run and those involved with the Prescott-Russell trail put the word out and said some folks may offer up some grub or some cheering along the way.
At this point I still had energy and my backpack did not feel that heavy (that would change). I had decided to bring the minimal but had to bring fuel, extra gear etc. as I was not sure if anyone would show up along the trail.
My breakfast was on the run as I stopped just past an overpass with the faint hint of a sunrise sneaking over the horizon. It was cold enough that I did not keep my gloves off long but not too bad for October 31st in Ontario.
From St-Eugene to the end
In Vanleek hill after a good chunk of running (probably about 40km) I was less energetic and glad to see some friendly faces at the pavilion. The sun had come up and it was looking like it was going to be an okay day – not too cold and not sunny but not too grey.
A group of folks including those from the newspaper showed up to say hello and brought food and presents. It was great. I tossed a pair of muddy running pants I had worn to warm up (over my tights), took a breather, chatted and then got going again. I did not want to stop too long and get too comfortable. I now had some more food and a great drink from a local entrepreneur called Golden Hill.
The headlamp now came off and away I went.
With daylight I got to see more of what was around me. In the dark I had glimpsed brush, fields and farms but now I got to see them.
It was quiet, flat running and I spent the time with my own thoughts – thinking on the past year – being a new running dad and all the transition I had struggled with.
The kilometres ticked away (with the help of the mileage post along the way it was easy to see how far I had run).
On the way to Plantagenet In was greeted by two friendly folks who offered me more food and encouragement. One of them was the one who maintained the trail physically and I thanked him as it was clean, flat and well-maintained. I thanked them and got the legs going again – they were getting a bit tired. It had been a long year and only 2-weeks after a marathon.
Next was the pavilion of Plantagenet where I met the woman from the trail association I had chatted with via email and an extremely friendly older gentleman who was involved with the trail and was also celebrating his birthday and was exactly double my age. I inhaled a banana and got the increasingly tired legs going. The stride was getting smaller and my backpack felt increasing heavy. I had left some gear with those in Bourget to lighten my load (A huge thanks for that).
After I left the pavilion the legs needed a break and there were a few walking breaks. A hard section that was paved seemed a good spot and I walk-jogged through it.
Now it began to become mentally harder. What greeted me at the next pavilion made me smile and lifted my spirits. Some nice person/persons had tied balloons to the Bourget stop and left me a birthday card, bananas, apples and a birthday treat! My stomach grumbled and the rich treat did not last long.
A minute or two sitting on my butt and I needed to go again. I was creeping up on 80-kilometres and the last pavilion at Hammond, Ontario.
As I arrived into Hammond two more friendly faces and sipped some hot chocolate and chatted for a few minutes. the couple talked about how much they liked the trail and how sad it would be if the trail was not maintained. I agreed.
The trail starts just outside downtown Ottawa and is super flat, easy to run, walk or bike on, is well marked and has pavilions with washrooms, some shelter and maps along it. What else do you need.
The last 2o kilometres, I am not going to kid you were tough. I usually do not get blisters but had to sit and repair some damage at about 90-kilometres. Two small bubbles between a couple toes. I clean and bandaged and tried going again. The legs and feet told me they had enough. For running anyway. The last 10-kilometres was done at a fast walk with occasional attempts at slow running.
In October the views along the trail are of a multitude of fall colours from bright oranges to soft yellows and in some browns (as it was late October). You pass along corn fields, past farms and quiet century old homes, trickling streams, through forest and brush. The path is fine ground gravel (except for the unofficial portion between Rigaud and St-Eugene) and is flat and well-groomed. There are a few bridges which are all sturdy and well-maintained.
Now I was really tired and the legs were not responding like I wanted. I had plenty of fuel but was getting ready to wrap things up. I had planned to walk into Naavan and get a bus, taxi etc. but managed to catch a ride to a bus stop from a friend (Thanks Claude and Nancy!).
My run ended just past the official trail in Naavan, Ontario. I took a few pictures and made a quick video to mark the end and the accomplishment.
Thanks to everyone I met, to those who donated and to my family who gave me the day to run!
Dream big my friends – life is short – dream big, run long, run hard.