Ryne and I jetted off and flew to Kitchener, just about 30mins from the race course, were met my Mike of Montrail/ MHW and then started off the weekend with a catch up over a pizza carbo loading meal in a great pub, whilst holding off on the beers!
The race expo is open the day before the race so we all headed down to the site to get ready. Ryne and I went out for an easy 10km run to check out most of the course and it looked like it was in great shape. RDs George and Peggy Sarson pay amazing attention to tiny details and pride themselves in their preparation of the course. Since last year, narrow sections of the trail had been widened (a real bonus given the number of racers), a set of stairs has replaced a worn out section of trail, mulch had been used to fill ruts in what had been mud, and it honestly wouldn't suprise me if the course had been vacuumed of leaf debris! It was in excellent shape. After our scouting out of the course the post-race massage therapists were already there so it seemed a shame to not let them practice their skills on a couple of eager runners! It was then back to the Montrail booth to talk the racers who were coming by to pick up their packages. I always really enjoy this part of Run for the Toad - chatting to runners (many of whom are new to trail racing), sharing stories and reconnecting with faces from the past 2 years. Before we knew it the afternoon had flown by and itwas time to head back to the hotel and get ready for race day - yay!
With Ontario being 2hrs ahead of Alberta I was glad of the 9.30am race start - not too hard on the body clock and no super early wake up call. After a pretty standard pre-race brekkie of bagel and a cup of tea (thanks for the Starbuck run Mike!) we had time to hang out at the Montrail booth and do last minute preparations. Rain had been forecast and it was pretty cool (about 6 degrees), so it was just a matter of hoping that the rain would not be too heavy and might hold off for at least some of the race. Although this wasn't a key race for me I'd got a decently fast target time in mind, in part so I could see where my training was at for Gibraltar 100km in 5 weeks time. The Toad course is non-technical trail, a small amount of tarmac and flat trail with gentle ups and downs, so it a very runnable and fast course. I'd decided to start out with Ryne and aim for 55mins per 12.5km loop, for a nice round finishing time of 3:40, which would be 14mins faster than my CR time of last year (and also rather conveniently it would be one minute faster than Gary's finishing time of last year)!
Wtih the 25km and 50km both starting at same time we let a few runners go off ahead and then I settled into pace by Ryne and Andrew of the Guelph Running Zone store (who was racing the 25km). We hit the 1km marker at dead on 4.00mins. I wasn't panicked by this fast pace as I was prepared to take some risks in going out faster than I normally might. With 4 loops I had my strategy; loop 1 - set the pace, loop 2 - solidify the pace, loop 3 - over half way, loop 4 - push to the finish.
On loop one there was a fair amount of company on the trail, I was with Ryne and Andrew for a bit, I chatted a little to 2nd place female in the 25km, and before I knew it I was done one loop in 53mins and change. I heard Steve, the announcer, call out that I was leading the 50km race but I also heard him call out Ryne's name so knew Ryne was just behind me, which I was more than happy with. On the 2nd loop I could see 1st place female in the 25km just ahead of me and although it took me forever to catch her it was great to have her pull me along and help me maintain my pace. I passed her about 1/2 way around the loop (and reassured her that she was still 1st in the 25km) and now worked on keeping my pace and calling out to 25km walkers who I was passing. The 2nd loop was definitely the most challenging for the volume of slower people I was looping past and having to weave betweeen in the process. As I fields of the 2 distances are mingled it wasn't overly obvious to the vollies that I was lead in the 50km which I quite liked, I was just running along, running my own pace and not attracting any attention - stealth racing!
I completed the 2nd loop again in just over 53mins and was glad to have Steve call out my name and then spot Mike and Bruce of Montrail/ MHW who passed me a new bottle of Cliff drink and a pack of shot blocks. By now it had started to rain (after only about 20mins or so into the race) and although I wasn't cold it was miserable weather and it was definitely a case of just keep moving and get this job done! On the 3rd loop the trail was starting to get a litle muddy in sections but was still holding up pretty well and I had the company of more 25km runners who were on their 2nd loop. This was great because although I was out on my own in the 50km race there were lots of other racers around me and I used them as moving targets to catch! The course really is nicely rolling, some trail in woodland and other sections out on grass in the open. There is only one short steep hill, which as Westerners Ryne, Gary and I always have a little laugh about. Admittedly it is very steep and grassy but it is also literally a few metres, so it's tuck the head down and your at the top in 5 seconds, but the way some locals describe this you might be mistaken for thinking it's Mt. Everest!
Coming into the start/ finish for the start of my 4th and final loop I was on 2h41mins. Steve called out that I had 1h13min to get the course record and although my legs were tiring I knew I would get under 3h40 unless I totally died. Throughout the race I didn't really think about being caught at all. I was pretty sure that there was not too much female competition and having not had any of the guys challenge me earlier in the race I doubted that they would be able to catch me now unless I just hit the wall. One advantange of my recent road marathons is I know that if I can race the last 8 tough kms of a road marathon then I can hold a pace at the close of a trail race because nothing compares to the last kms of a marathon!
By the 4th loop practically all of the 25km runners and walkers were done so there were much fewer racers on the course although I was starting to pass some 50km racers. The couse was now really chewed up as the rain was still coming down and with about 1200 runners doing 2 loops and another 150 or so doing 4 loops, a lot of feet had squelched in the mud. Some sections were fine but others were a total mud bath and reminded me of school cross country. I walked some short hills as I simply couldn't get the traction to run, I skirted along the sides of the trail and I helter-skeltered down some of the hills with zero control (demonstrated by the fact that I body-checkied 2 fellow racers and fell over once)! To be honest I was having a hard time on the muddy sections as I was trying to maintain my speed and also having to avoid fellow racers who I was passing. The one bonus was that focusing on the trail and staying upright made the last few kms fly by :)
Before I knew it I had summited Mt Everest for the 4th and final time, which marked 1.5kms to the finish line and I put down the hammer for a solid finish. The last section was thankfully not too muddy so I could get a good push to complete the course and roll over the line in 3:37:30. 1st place overall - yay!
So all in all a result I am very happy with! Of coure placing not only depends on how you run yourself but who else shows up, so I'd like to thank Taylor Murphy for being a no-show (and also wish him a speedy recovery). Big thanks also go to Gary for giving me a time to beat from last year, and to Ryne for his coaching (but don't think that means I'll start paying you for it Melcher!) Thanks also to all the Montrail peeps for a fun filled and inspiring weekend, and for designing the Montrail Fairhaven - out in sping 2011 and I'm on love with them already having worn them at the Toad. But the biggest thank you of course goes to Peggy and George and all the vollies, what an amazing race you put together - look forward to seeing you next year!