Ultra-running – the highs and lows

By Basia Vanderveen

Basia Vanderveen enjoys the view on her 80-kilometre ultra-run in the mountains of Quebec.

If you run in or around the Glebe, be careful because you never know just how far your feet will take you. You could say that I’m living proof of that. It is only three years since I finished my first 65 kilometre trail race where I watched the longer distance runners and thought that there had to be a limit to the madness. Apparently, worrying about limits is a waste of time. This fall, I completed my very first 80 kilometre distance event, the Ultra-Trail Harricana du Canada at La Malbaie, Quebec, and, yes, I would definitely do it again.

The Charlevoix Region is a truly beautiful place with its warm and welcoming people, the mountains, parks and deep boreal forests, views of the St. Lawrence, breweries and fresh bread and lovely cheeses. The location appeals to me so much, I could run around it all day. The September race started on a Saturday at 7 a.m. in the Hautes Gorges park. Racers were shuttled from La Malbaie to the start about one hour away (an 80 kilometrerun back) at 4:45 am. It was dark and cold. By the time we got to the start, there was drizzle, strong wind and a rainbow above us.

Once the race started, the first long climb was relentless. The conditions were much better than the previous year when I was falling all over the place in slippery mud, but my pack felt heavy and my back hurt under its weight and I was slow moving. I worked on my mind game and came around to embracing the possibility of being pulled from the race at the following aid station. Ottawa friends leapfrogged with me and that perked me up. One friend suggested I could finish this race in 14 hours and I quickly dismissed that. I was targeting the maximum time allowed or 16hours. Start at 7 a.m., finish at 11 p.m. A lovely long day in the park. Then at around kilometre 32, one very long descent rolled out ahead. I can makeup time on the descents and at around kilometre 57, I looked down at my watch to see 5:55/km pace. Those downhills really energize me as does the cold. It was around 10 C in the morning and a high of 15 C during the day. When runners were wearing long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and hats and gloves, I was wearing a T-shirt and shorts. I kept my arm warmers handy, but skipped wearing them.

Vanderveen finished the race at 9 p.m., in just over 14 hours. PHOTO: COURTESY OF UTHC

Another surprise were the wasp stings. I realized too late, once in the midst of a cloud of angry stingers. Ouch! Other than that, I spent a good majority of time during this event laughing, smiling and chatting with others. At one point, I came across two people standing still ahead of me waving their arms. They were trying to warn me about a new wasp hot spot. I was spared, but another racer behind me did not fare as well and we heard sudden very loud cursing from out of sight behind us. That’s not fun.

At kilometre 65 I found myself at the finish line and beer tent. For the80 kilometres runners, this is only a checkpoint to pass. Another 15 kilometres to go so it’s just a quick stop to refuel and load some flat Pepsi before starting another climb, straight up a steep ski hill. It was about 6 p.m. The good news was that I now had the pleasure of the company of a pacer, a friend who came to run another event on the Sunday. Tony was full of fresh energy and I was slower than molasses on this climb. That climb was hard, but the view on top was spectacular!

After we revelled in the scenery fora while, the sun went down and we moved on, feeling energized again by our surroundings. And boy did we move! We passed 25 people at the end of this 80 kilometres race, which was great fun. I finished just past 9 p.m.at Mont Grand-Fond, or in 14:16. My watch showed a moving time of 13:15so I stayed still for one hour that day. The elevation gain based on my watch was 2,362 metres.

Thirty-two women started, 28 in my age group. Twenty-six out of 28finished. Ninety men started and 82finished.

My quads hurt for a week and I do not know how I drove the seven hours home the next morning. Adrenaline and cruise-control, I guess.

Basia Vanderveen is an athlete and consultant active in the Glebe community.

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