Creemore Vertical Trail Challenge 25K, Creemore, Ontario

Elevation Gain: 2870'; High Point: 1575'

July 4, 2009 - For much of 2009 I have sought, and raced in, events with severe vertical challenges, so I entered this event as soon as I spotted it to learn first hand what the Canadians think seriously vertical is, eh? Canadian ultras attract some seriously enthusiastic quality runners, so I find it a pleasure to travel north and flash my passport to toe the line.

Ann and I stopped in Niagara to take a break on our six-hour journey, taking in a cool tropical aviary, and of course the Falls. We drove through the architecturally modern city of Mississauga on our way up toward Georgian Bay to the little burgh of Creemore. The race is staged there by Pierre Marcoux from his home in the woods along the Mad River.

Other runners liked Pierre's local runs well enough that he built a race to share his trails with all comers. We checked in at the house and pitched our tent in the back yard with a dozen or so other tents, then socialized until dark with people from Hamilton, Toronto, Barrie, and one couple from Michigan, around a large bonfire that Pierre set up along the river. It was pretty cool to share stories and compare races on each side of the border. The biggest interest was in what races Canadians could come south for to do during their snowy off-season.

When I headed to bed under moon-lit skies it was about nine o'clock. I slept like a baby and arose at 7:00 to get around for the eight o'clock start. The balance of the contestants arrived to a sunny start to the day with rapidly warming temperatures from the 50 degrees of the night.

25K contestants would make one loop of the course, while 50K runners would go around twice.

Pierre hung a profile on the wall, illustrating two good climbs at 6K and 14K. Talk abounded about how tough the course was, with some calling the event "Screamore". Word was that we would be climbing the Niagara escarpment each of these climbs. This was about as tough as it gets in the generally flat Ontario lake country.

While the relief of the profile looked steep, I had my doubts, considering some of the straight up climbs that I had recently done, so I toed the line in anticipation of taking in stride whatever the course threw at me.

A bagpipe serenade preceded the loud starting report of an ancient musket. The field quickly strung out in the first 400 meters before cutting right onto single track along the river for a kilometer or so. We emerged to hit a country road and proceded gradually up the first hill. I couldn't find my rhythm for the first 5K, just holding my own without gaining or losing my place in the field. By the time we hit the woods I slowed to regroup before reemerging onto another dirt road for the first "serious" climb up the escarpment.

By the time I hit 10K I had found my stride and fell in with a couple other runners who were moving up on the field. We ran alternately on dirt roads and over grassy single-track through fields and light woods for the next 10K. Even though the temperature was cooler than expected and I may have been borderline hypothermic, I gained a lot of places, especially by breezing through the aid stations, none of which I had to give back as I continued. Only in the last 4K did the trail turn technical in the woods, with greasy precipitous butt slides and steep muddy climbs with one rope that had broken by the time I reached that point. I flew to the finish pulling along my newfound friend Edward from Hamilton who I had been back and forth with through much of the event. I waited for him as we crossed the river on a cool suspension bridge

before finishing together in 23rd place in 2:14:53.

We received a clay medallion that Pierre's wife had made for everyone. I put on a good effort, finishing third in my age group, and was satisfied, but was fairly beaten by better talent. Ce la vie!

Since the sunshine of the day was limited to the start and much of the day was cool with bone-chilling wind, Ann and I broke camp and headed back across the border rather than camp another night in the chilly north. It was a fun race with lots of very friendly people and some of Creemore's locally micro-brewed beer at the finish. That's all I ever hope for in an event! While the venue of Pierre's home for a start and finish was unique, the Canadian hills didn't measure up to my expectation of a tough vertical challenge. While nearly everyone I ran with walked on the hills, I never lost stride and ran them all without any duress. The hills were a good place to gain ground on your competitors and I used them to my best advantage.

Back to Pennsylvania to chase up some serious vert.

Near the finish line with Edward on the bridge