Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cabot Trail Relay Race - part two

Yesterday I wrote about the Cabot Trail Relay Race in rather general terms. I thought it would be helpful to set the tone and help people get a sense of the enormity and complexity of this race.

Today, it's all about the Mojitos on the Rocks.

Here's how the weekend went. The day before the race, I drove four runners around the course. Klari, my co-captain, sat in the front seat and took copious notes. We drove to the beginning of the race (the Nova Scotia Gaelic College - my grandfather would be so proud) and began paying very close attention at that point. All of us started analyzing everything. The road conditions, the shoulders, the elevation changes and Klari was writing it all down. Our job was to report back to the team and let people know if there were things about their particular leg they should be aware of.

By leg four, our tactic changed a little bit. Between gasps of amazement at the scenery and gasps of horror at the challenging climbs and precariously steep descents, we soon began talking about what things we would tell the runners and what things were best kept a 'surprise'. Truth be told, there were a whole lot of things we didn't tell them. Sometimes it's just best not to know.

Like the fact that someone was going to have to run up and back down this mountain. 

Or the fact that Chris was going to have to run this stretch of the dark. (He said afterward that he looked up at one point and could see brake lights way way above him. He quickly looked back down again and carried on.) 

We gathered on Friday night for dinner and one more review of the rules and then everyone trotted off to bed. Van 1 was leaving at 6am with the first four runners and even those who were heading out with me at 10am had a 10-hour day of driving ahead of them. Everyone was very aware that opportunities for rest should be seized whenever possible.

Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny. I pulled on my shorts and my Mojitoswear and began my last-minute preparations. I loaded the van, primed my GPS, triple checked that I had all the elevation maps, race details and timing charts, put water bottles next to everyone's seat and headed to pick up my four ladies - none of whom had been part of the crew who saw the route the day before. We headed to the Gaelic College and then, as we drove along, I began my running commentary. "This is the first leg - Cathy ran it this morning at 7am. Lots of downhill but nothing like leg four which you'll see in a bit." "This is leg two - Barb ran this one. The road gets pretty bad around the 5k mark and the footing is precarious. She starts on an uphill but once she gets to the top, it's rolling hills for the rest". As we drove along, we were a few hours behind the race so the road was pretty much deserted. As we approached leg 3, we started seeing cars parked on the side of the road. We had caught up to the caravan and, in the distance, we could see runners on leg 3. We started passing them and started looking for Steve. We passed more and more runners and still no Steve - did we miss him?

Wait - there he is!  Omigod - is he in the lead??  We honked and cheered as we drove by. He waved and grinned back. We made our way to the end of his leg and discovered that, while he wasn't in the lead, he was well ahead of most of the pack. We passed several more runners who were way ahead of him.

When we got to the exchange point, we caught up to Van 1. Hugs and high fives all around - it's amazing how big a relief it was to find smiles on everyone's faces.

So far so good - people were running well and making it in under the cutoff time. I pulled out my camera and prepared to capture Steve's finish. He came blazing in and finished 11th out of 70 runners. Holy crap!

Alex was next - she had the third hardest leg of the course and the first real 'mountain'. She also had the longest leg (20k) so she was essentially running a half marathon with a mountain in the middle. I know how I would be feeling facing that sort of challenge but she looked pretty darn relaxed.

We were about to find out why.

She's a powerhouse! This girl can run. And climb. And descend. And pass people while doing it. She ran 20k in 1:39:02. That's a pace of 4:57min/km. Did I mention there was a mountain to climb?

At the end of leg four, Van 1 headed back to camp and I took over as support vehicle. We had four legs to run. Leg 5 was rolling and the past was FAST! Leg 6 didn't have a mountain per se but it did have a bunch of ridiculously long and steep climbs followed by more long and steep climbs. Leg 7 had one of the steepest and longest descents of the race and ended at the top of a hill (how cruel is that?). Leg 8 was the shortest of the entire race (12k) but the pace was fast and the course was tough. Each of my ladies started with a wee bit of fear in the eye ('I just want to make the cutoff') and each lady showed just how tough, fast and strong they were.

We met up with the night crew (Dave, Janice and Chris) who were running the three hardest legs of the entire relay - most of it in the dark. Dave had a run similar to Alex's only the mountain he ran over was higher and steeper. Chris'  run included 10k of straight uphill followed by rolling hills. Janice started on an incline and, after 5k of up had about 10k of straight down. All three became instant superheroes in my books when we drove the course and became gods when I heard the report later of how they did. I still can't quite comprehend their times. Just for example, Dave ran 17km in 1:18:00. That's a 4:23 min/km pace on a leg that's mostly uphill.

Van 4 met up with the night crew and continued through legs 12-14. My second van, Van 5, left base camp at 4am with the last three runners for legs 15-17. We headed out in the opposite direction of the race and met up with them in the middle of leg 14 - Klari's leg. She started running in complete darkness and got to watch the sun come up.

We picked up Klari, Van 4 headed back to camp for a rest and Cathy headed off to run leg 15.

The Mojitos are a pretty happy bunch of people and Cathy, without a doubt, is the happiest. 

She finished and Steve took over. Steve was a hero in his own right. One of our runners was injured and couldn't run. He stepped up and offered to run two legs instead of one. We gave him the two easiest legs but easy on the Cabot Trail is much different than easy in Niagara. Did I mention he ran a marathon three weeks earlier? Holy hell can he run.

Leg 17 - only one leg left to go. Leg 17 was originally rated as a pretty tough leg. Another big mountain to climb and a lot of kilometres to run. We needed a ringer for that leg - someone who is a strong and consistent runner who could bring it home. The obvious person for that job was Doug.

There was a problem. The day before the race, a bridge that they were supposed to run over was washed out. So now, instead of starting leg 17 at the end of leg 16, we had to drive our runners through most of the original route until we got to the bridge. We had to drop them off. And we had to wave goodbye. They were being sent on a 19k run on a completely unknown route. And, because it was a single lane road, we were not allowed to provide any support. All we knew what that the route was now a little longer and a lot harder that it was originally supposed to be.

I know Doug. I know he is a strong, independent and thoroughly capable runner. But omigod it was hard to send him off into the unknown and drive off without him to the finish line.

We headed back into town, parked and walked down the street to the finish. All 70 teams were there with all of their runners and support crew. All waiting for their last runner to come tearing down the street. And tear down the street they did because every team had put a ringer on the last leg. The cheers, the screams, the adrenaline was incredible. People were dancing in the street and the excitement as each runner turned the corner was unbelievable. I was staring intently at the spot where the runners come around the final bend - waiting to spot a red had that would signal that my Doug was coming.

And, as always, he appeared right on time. Right on pace. Looking strong, focused and very much the machine that he is.

We did it! The Mojitos on the Rocks conquered the Cabot Trail Relay Race. Every runner finished their leg on time and in good standing. So good in fact that we finished 19th out of 70 teams.

And we're already planning next year's strategy.

I knew this race was going to be fun. I knew it was going to be memorable. I just didn't know I was going to fall in love with it.

In Memoriam: Steve Dunn of the Salt Marsh Trail Running Team ran leg 17 of the relay. He collapsed 500m from the finish line and was taken by ambulance to the local hospital where he later died. 


  1. WOW! One of the best race reports I have ever read, felt like I was there with you. I have always wanted to do this race and hope that one day I will. Congratulations to your team!!

  2. I loved your report too! Awesome! And of course I remember seeing you and your gang out there . We all admired your matching gear, and sounds like everyone on your team ran well too. Thanks for sharing your memories of the day!

    And I completely agree with you about "falling in love" with the event. It reaally IS like nothing else.