We were looking for some new adventures close to home this summer so we decided to work on completing the Rideau Trail. The Rideau Trail is a 327 km trail over private and public land between Kingston and Ottawa. There are people who do the whole trail in one go but we are taking a more causal approach and doing the trail as day hikes. The trail is maintained by the Rideau Trail Association. This is a non-profit volunteer group and membership is only $26 a person so if you plan to hike the trail please give back by joining the Association.
When we joined the RTA we discovered that 2021 was the club’s 50th anniversary and they were having a 50 km Extreme Hiking Challenge to Celebrate. Trail runners were welcome to sign up as well. Although they stressed that this was not a race.
I have run many road races but I have done very little trail running and I have never done an ultra. If you know me well, you probably recall that I “tripped” on Trip Crescent seven years ago on a clear day and managed to break my elbow. I have always maintained that trail running is too dangerous for someone who can do that much damage running down the sidewalk. But 18 months of pandemic living weakened my resolve. So I signed up.
The event started in Perth and followed the Rideau Trail to Lally Farm in Murphy’s Point Provincial Park. There was a small 0.9 km loop around a nature trail and then we headed back to Perth.
Registration opened at 5:45 am so we spent the night in Perth to avoid a 4:00 am wake-up call. The McDonalds down the street from the hotel opened at 5:00 am which allowed us to stop in on the way for a pre-race Egg McMuffin and coffee. We arrived at the start a little after 6:00 am and checked in.
Trail runners had been asked to wait until first light to start. I hung around until 6:16 am and then I started.
The first 800m or so where on a road with an intersection. I was pleasantly surprized to find a volunteer at the corner to make sure we crossed safely and found our way to the first of many stiles over fences along the route.
The next section of the trail passed through the edge of farm fields and on into the woods. As I was passing through a field, Eric (whose last name I still don’t know) caught up with me. He was doing a last long run before a planned attempt at the FKT (Fastest Known Time) of the whole Rideau Trail. He was obviously faster and fitter than I am but we ran together and chatted for a few km. I eventually thanked him for the company and let him go. Running the first few km with him felt great but I pretty sure I would regret it 40 km in!
I continued along, passing a number of hikers who had all started before me. I reached the first of 5 checkpoints at around 11 km and ran straight through as I was carrying 2L of water and more snacks than I needed.
All was going well until I tripped over a rock somewhere near the 15 km mark. It was not a big trip, but I landed flat on face with my usual grace! Unfortunately, there was a large gritty rock exactly where I landed. When I got up it was pretty obvious that I was bleeding. One of my hands was bit banged up too. I pulled out my disposable mask and used it to clean up as much blood as I could. I realised at this point that my hand was swelling up so I walked and took off my rings in case my fingers started to swell. Experience has taught me well! At about this point Eric who was definitely ahead of me, popped up behind me. He had missed a turn and he stayed with me while I walked to make sure I was okay. We were not too far from the second check point so he ran ahead and told them I has damaged. When I went over yet another stile and came out onto the road two concerned volunteers were waiting for me. I assured them I was okay and kept running to the nearby checkpoint. At the checkpoint they were very helpful but they looked rather concerned. I asked if they had a band-aid and was quite willing to just put it on and keep going. They gave me a band aid, wipes and paper towel and suggested I use the mirror in the pot-a-john to clean up the blood.
When I looked on the mirror I realized that I had blood all over my face and that it was running down my chin, no wonder the volunteers looked alarmed. The main source was a sizable gash on my forehead which was bleeding a lot but that is what happens when you cut your head. I cleaned it up as best I could, put on the band aid and assured the volunteers that I had not passed out at any point and I felt fine (which I did). I eventually convinced them to let me keep running.
I continued along through the Mica Mines where there were warning signs by the big holes from the mines. They obviously knew I was coming! I was very careful and walked over anything that looked in the least bit technical. After Mica Mines the trail continued on through Murphy’s Point and came out onto a trail where there were people selling souvenir t-shirts and rocks! I decided not to buy anything as I had no money and I did not think it would be helpful to run back with an extra rock!
It was raining lightly and the band -aid had soaked through so I looked pretty bad again when I passed through the turn around check point. They gave me more paper towels and actually helped me get cleaned up. One of the volunteers was a nurse who pointed out that I definitely needed stiches. I declined the band-aid knowing it would just soak through again, but I did take a banana. There was a bit of a delay as I once again worked to convince all involved that I was fine and had every intention of finishing.
There were two runners at the checkpoint when I arrived and I caught up with them a little latter. Dave and Scott. It turns out that Scott had lived in Ottawa and we had actually crossed paths before doing Ironman events and getting TriRudy awards. Scott and Dave and I ran together for a while. We were passing people coming the other way and I could tell by the looks on people’s faces that the bleeding had started up again. We found an outhouse with toilet paper where I got cleaned up a bit and grabbed some extra for the run back. From this point on I cleaned up a bit every time I passed someone coming the other way who looked alarmed.
We stopped at checkpoint 4/2 and they greeted me warmly as it was the same group who had helped me out originally. We somehow lost Dave at this point although we did find him again later. We ran on to the final checkpoint and only got lost once. At the final checkpoint the nurse who had helped me at the turn around reappeared with additional first aid supplies. She applied a pressure bandage to my head which looked funny but it did the trick!
I again had to convince everyone I was okay to keep going but at this point I only had 11 km left so there was no way I was stopping. They did offer me some cake!
Scott and I continued to run together for several km. Harold (my husband) was hiking the 25 km return with my brother-in -law Paul and I met them both about 8 km from the finish. News travels fast so Harold was quite aware that I had fallen. He had been asking each passing runner how I was doing. When he asked about Judy he got a blank stare but when he added the woman with a gash on her head they all knew who I was and assured him I appeared to be fine. Eric, who eventually finished first, told Harold I was a bit concerned about seeing him as I had vowed not to get hurt.
There was a stretch of real road it the final few km so I was back in my element. Just after that Scott let me go and I continued on alone. I passed one additional runner about 2 km from the finish. I arrived at the finish and was once again warmly greeted by the volunteers who pointed out that I was the second finisher (although this was NOT a race). I was given my 50 K extreme challenge badge and then offered a ride to the hospital by at least two different volunteers.
Scott had already offered me a ride so I waited for him to finish and change and he drove me to the ER at the Perth Hospital. They were very nice and they had me cleaned up and stitched up by the time Harold and Paul had finished and picked up Paul’s car.
I now have 5 stitches and a bit of glue on my face (they glue cuts at hospitals, who knew!) plus a bit of a black eye and a few scrapes . I am going to look great at the wedding I am attending this weekend!
But I finished my first Ultra trail run and I even got a badge to prove it! The volunteers were amazing, they went way above and beyond and the other runners were so friendly and helpful. Would I do it again? Absolutely but not until the stiches come out!
Huge thank you to the volunteers, Scott and Eric for the company, the friendly folks at the ER in Perth and my husband Harold for putting up with me.