Early on in the process of moving back to Waterloo last year I did a web search for running races in the area. I came across the Run for the Toad website and knew that eventually I would have to do this race. Last year the timing didn’t work for me but this year with a planned marathon in November (instead of October) it fit in perfectly. The Toad is something else. It’s Canada’s largest trail race (1350 participants) and was named the number one must-do trail race by Canadian Running magazine.
Going into the race I had absolutely no time goal. It was technically a rest week in my marathon training program so my plan was to treat this race as a catered long run. My trail specific training mostly consisted of reading the trail sections of Runner’s World and Canadian Running magazines in the week leading up to the race. Taking all of that into account I came up with the list of the following three goals:
- Goal #1: Do not sprain or break my ankle or sustain any other major injury,
- Goal #2: Have fun,
- Goal #3: Start slow and attempt to negative split the course.
Around 9pm on Friday night I thought it would probably be a good idea to pack for the race. I basically picked one of every type of running clothing that I had and decided to make a game time wardrobe decision. On Saturday morning I woke up at 6am, ate some oatmeal and hit the road for the 45 minute drive down to Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area. My initial inclination had been to arrive at 6:30 when packet pick-up opened but in the end I managed to talk myself down to a 7:15 arrival. As a side note: my 7:15 arrival got me into the closest parking lot. Some runners who arrived later faced up to a 10-15 minute walk between their cars and the start/finish area.
I picked up my packet and race goodies and wandered around the aptly named tent city checking things out. I especially enjoyed the free Timmy’s coffee which I had with my banana and PB. The sun rise was a gorgeous shade of red and we were treated to a beautiful rainbow over Kettle Lake. Minutes after the photo below was taken light rain started to fall and continued on and off for the rest of the morning. With the rain, I settled on wearing shorts, a short sleeve shirt, arm sleeves and a running vest. The pre race ceremonies started at 8:45 am with the race start at 9:30 am. I lined up about 75% of the way towards the back of the pack and felt ready to take on the challenge of the day.
The course is a 12.5km loop through the Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area. As a 25km runner I did the loop twice. I wore my Garmin but shut off auto lap and resolved not to monitor my time or pace and to run solely by feel. I did however hit the lap button at the 5, 10 and 12.5 km points of each loop so I could do some retrospective data analysis.
Loop #1 1:24:50 (35:04/33:26/16:20)
There was a bottleneck about 500m into the race as we had to shuffle along while everyone walked up the first significant incline. After that the course opened up and there weren’t really any major congestion issues. The first 2km were mostly on pavement and then we headed onto the trails in the Pine Forest. It was awesome to finally be running on trail! Although the trails were not very technical I kept focused on taking shorter steps and trying plan a course that would avoid potential ankle spraining roots and rocks. I hit the first 5km feeling awesome.
The next section brought us through the Grasshopper Meadow into the Carolinian Forest. The Meadow section was pretty easy but the trails in the forest were a little more technical. I kept walking the uphills and reminding myself to save it for the second lap. During the last kilometer of the first loop I was passed by the 25km race winner. He was flying!
Loop #2 1:22:26 (33:31/33:15/15:40)
I took a gel at the aid station immediately after recrossing the start line. Other than gatorade from the aid stations this was the only nutrition I took in. I also didn’t carry any of my own fluids which worked out fine since there were four aid stations per loop. I continued to walk up the major inclines but as the kilometers clicked away I ran more and walked less. I felt like I was consistently passing the runners in front of me and I was still feeling strong but I kept holding back a bit because I didn’t want the wheels to fall off.
At about the 8km point of the second loop the rain really started to pick up. The trail conditions had deteriorated and in sections I was slipping and sliding all over the place. Because it was a loop course by the time I was on my second loop 1,800 pairs of feet had run over trails before me. I’m not sure but having trail shoes might have helped with traction. My mantra for this section was “this is runnable” which I kept repeating to myself as I negotiated the slightly more technical conditions.
The biggest hill on the course comes just after the 11km mark of each loop. It’s short but steep. The second time around I was concerned that it would be dangerously slippery but I made it up with just a bit of side stepping. After I hit the top I knew it was pretty much clear sailing to the finish line. I estimate I passed 10-15 runners in the last 1.5km alone. After I passed the 12km marker (24.5km) I really turned on the jets. Fortunately the final 500m was on pavement and dry trails so I was actually able to run strong through the finish.
After crossing the finish line I got my medal, some water and a chocolate chip cookie. One of the things The Toad is known for is the catered post race dinner. Even though I was soaked through I decided to follow the crowd and just go straight ahead and have lunch instead of taking the time to get changed into dry clothes. This ended up being a good decision for me since as time progressed the lunch line just got longer and longer. Lunch was delicious and even though I didn’t feel super hungry I absolutely devoured it. I think my body was craving the calories even if my stomach wasn’t. After lunch I went back to the finish line to see the 50km winner finish (a woman won the race outright) and grab another hot coffee for the drive home.
Looking back at the data I’m happy to see that each of my splits in the second loop were faster than the first loop. Mission accomplished. I seem to have recovered quite well from the race and I’m ready to dive back into to marathon training. I’d definitely like to do this race again next year. I’m not sure I’m up for attempting the 50km but maybe someday…