Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Poutine Trail Tales

What does poutine and trail running have to do with each other?  Not much...

The fall is always a busy time of the year for me.  Trail running events put in their last hurrah, and nordic planning starts to get into high gear as the white stuff starts creeping down from the peaks...

With the Nordic season just around the corner, I took the PV roadshow East to attend Salomon's Hardgoods Sales Meeting, which gets everyone geared up and prepped for the winter season.  In order to get the most of my travels out East, I usually put a few add-ons to my trips, and in this case, it was perfect timing to assist in 2 of the many new trail running events sprouting up in Quebec.

But first, a little history about trail running in La Belle Province...

Despite the incredible amount of outdoor enthusiasts out East, it's hard to believe that trail running is a relatively new sport in Quebec.  As with the rest of Canada, road running has seen a huge boom in the past few years, and trail running has followed in its grandfather's footsteps.  We've noticed, for example, a participation increase in all the 5 Peaks Series events across the country - to the point where caps have to be implemented!  This in itself poses more questions?  Are we looking at a shortage of trail events in the future? If we consider the population numbers of  West VS East, we would assume that the number of trail running events + participants would follow suit out East, if not lead the way, but surprisingly, it's a completely different story.

Currently, there are a few 'core' events that have established themselves in the Eastern trail running scene - These includes epic races such as Xtrail (Sutton and Orford) and Ultimate XC, which not only attract about 500-600 runners each, but are technically beyond what 'standard' events offer across the rest of the country.  This also seems to be the trend as smaller events are cropping up...

I did my first race in Quebec last fall at Mt Orford, about 1.5hr drive SE of Montreal. After completing the 21km XTrail event, I was blown away at the technical challenges of the course. Even its10km event, which included a straight-up-the-mountain course was sold out! Where I am...Europe?  Then, this summer, I took part in the Ultimate XC, a multi distance event (13km, 21km, 35km and 56km) that blew my mind as far as its level of difficulty. There were chest-deep creek wading sections, beaver dam assaults, river running sections...oh, and not to mention the 3,000m of climbing (3 times up Mt Tremblant's slopes)! The interesting thing about all of these events is that runners of all levels were eating it up!

XC de la Vallee: 10km runners line up! (photo credit: E.Bonneau-Marcil)
 XC de la Vallée...

With the success of Xtrail and Ultimate XC (Montreal area), an Adventure Racing organizer from Quebec City, decided to raise the bar with XC de la Vallee, and challenge its trail runners to a combined format event that showcased a 10km night race + 21km trail race, where runners have the option of doing either the combined (10k + 21k) or one of the individual events...

PV lighting the way - Not quite sure how others were able to see out there, but my AY-UP rocked it! (photo credit: E.Bonneau-Marcil)

Light Show - Running at night is fun...Racing at night rules! (photo credit: E.Bonneau-Marcil)

Chillin' out before the action starts - Etienne and I even hosted a little BBQ after the event too!
(photo credit: E.Bonneau-Marcil)
Nestled in the Vallee du 'Bras du Nord' located about 1hr West of QC city, this provincial rec area offers some of the best trails I've ever run on.  And with the combined event on my radar, I hooked up with Etienne, the QC apparel rep, and I decided to hang out overnight with a few other adventurous souls and make it a weekend! 

Throughout my travels, I've spent a great deal of time running or skiing at night, but I've never done a night race, let alone on a technical track - I was really looking forward to this.  With our tents setup complete and a few daylight hours to spare, Etienne and I decided to check out the 3.3km loop, that would see 40+ dancing headlamps on it later on.  A fast and flat start, a steep climb out of the grassy field and a long technical descent back into the field where a lap lane sent you back up for 2 other loops...

Have you ever raced at night?" I asked my neighbour setting up his tent...

"I've never trail raced before!" he answers. 

If the 10k night race wasn't enough, a super fun/technical 21km followed the next morning!
photo credit: E.Bonneau-Marcil)
Gaining some speed before we hit the hills, and singletrack! (photo credit: E.Bonneau-Marcil)

David Le Porho - one of Montreal's best all-around runners - not too shabby on the trails too!
photo credit: E.Bonneau-Marcil)

Tough Character: QC version of Barefoot Bob...I'm impressed! (photo credit: E.Bonneau-Marcil)

Surprisingly, this was a common theme for the 40+ participants that took part in the night event, and a bit of an insight into the motivations of French Canadian trail runners...

5 Peaks Mt Sutton...

Off they go! 5 Peaks Enduro runners head up the hill... (photo credit: Luc Hamel)

Flight Crew's Marting Ladouceur (9787) leads the way, and on to take victory.  I couldn't believe that ghost runner on the left jumping in with the leaders... (photo credit: Luc Hamel)

Fast forward a week of sitting inside a conference room talking shop with Canada's Hardgoods reps, and I was itching to get outside again. So, after a early wake-up call on Saturday morning, I hopped in the car with the marketing director and hit the road toward Mt Sutton, a small ski hill about 1.5hr SE of Montreal - site of 5 Peaks furthest eastern trail running event. The Salomon Team was on hand to help support the event, and let the 100 or so participants try out some of our trail running demo shoes!

The final stretch - Daniel Chartier finishes hard to take the Sport Category win!
photo credit: Luc Hamel)

Fight Crew's Danielle De Guire wraps up a tough 21km (2x 10.5km) course - Meanwhile, teammate Junior Maheu (background) play the paparazzi for the Club de Trail Le Coureur
(photo credit: Luc Hamel)
After a quick setup, I took to the trails to preview the 10.5km course to get a little bit of exercise, and double check the track to make sure it was well marked.  Despite the cool sunny morning, the trail was very muddy and slick - leftovers from all the rain we had received during week!  I suppose one could say it made it even more 'fun'!  I caught myself laughing to myself at how technically challenging the trail was...it even caught me off guard, resulting in a hard crash - but with a soft, mucky landing! - Nothing makes me smile like a little mud! 

It took me about 1h20min to cruise around the loop, arriving just in time to watch the Enduro (10.5k) runners line up. I mingled for a moment, pondering whether I should change my mind and jump in the race...Quickly I ran back to the van to switch my top and put on my Exo Calfs - I couldn't help it, I had to go back around...What a treat!

When's the last time you had some poutine?

So if you feel like switching up your trail race routine a bit, sign up for one of these bad boys - You may not understand everyone around you, but one things for sure, you'll love their events!


Derrick said...

Great post Phil. Really some amazing looking races in Quebec. Neat to see the sport growing there with the beautiful terrain available. Definitely looking forward to heading there to sample some trails soon.

Phil said...

It was interesting to me to see such a big 'gap' between East & West...Seemed like a no-brainer that the East would be on board with trail running...but in fact, it was quite a different story.

Small pockets of core trail runners are forming now, and making leaps and bounds in the sport - Knowing how fanatical French Canadians can be, it won't be long until they catch up to the rest of the country!

chris mcpeake said...

Awesome post, great blog man

Phil said...

Thanks for following Chris!