Good day friends! Well, after the last unsuccessful race outing (in my mind anyway), it’s time to put that in the past and look at another race I took part in. This would be my first long ultra of the season, the 100km Quebec Mega Trail, taking place around Mont Ste Anne in Quebec. The race took place over the July 1st long weekend, so we opted to make a fun weekend of it, hanging out with friends before and after the event. All others were doing shorter distances, but I figured I should still be fine for some post-race celebrating! Read on to learn more about this race, and how I fared on the inaugural running of the 100k distance!
In typical Steve fashion, I was going into this race not with tried and tested gear, but opting to try brand new gear in hopes of finding some great new equipment for my other big races of the season. So what was I trying out this time? How about a completely new pack (Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek FKT vest), completely new shoes (Hoka One One Speedgoat 2), and new gaiters (Dirty Girl Gaiters)? Is that crazy enough for you? On the gear front though, I can assure you that all pieces of kit worked out pretty perfectly (apart from some rib bruising from the hard bottles on the pack – which I’ve since addressed by adding foam). I figure suffering is part of the game, so if I picked bad gear, I’d just suffer a bit more 🙂
Getting to the race was about a 5.5 hour drive from home, and we’d booked a nice Air BnB very close to the race site, and also almost right on the course, as it would turn out! There were four of us there, and a couple of other friends staying not far in another BnB. Upon arrival, I collected my race bib and attended the race briefing the night before the race. Start time was slated for 5am for the 100k race, and started a nice 40 minute bus ride away. This meant a lovely 4am bus ride, hence a 3am wake-up time to have some breakfast and get fully organized.
All in all, I felt pretty decent going into the race. I’d done my ‘homework’ on the trails, and piled on a fair bit of hill climbing to prepare myself for the big climbs in this one, and other races coming up. As you can see by the profile above, there were a couple major climbs in this one, along with lots of rolling terrain. Overall, we were looking at about 4,100+m of climbing over the race. The one that I figured would really destroy me was the one that occurred at the 75k mark. That’s the REALLY steep one you see. If would arrive at a point in the race where you are already beat, but then faced a straight up climb up the ski mountain.
We were also warned that some of the middle sections would also be very tricky, with lots of difficult terrain, such as massive boulders, swing bridges, and basically, non-runnable terrain. Fair enough. I love that kind of things. Ultimately, it’s a bit of an equalizer, since if NO ONE can run, that has to help me overall, right? Plus, I find the more ‘adventurous’ things get, the less I focus on the misery of it. To give you the best sense of the course, your best bet, as always, is to make sure you check out my race video, found at the end of the post.
Although race organizers did their best, our race did not start on time, as with many buses, and the on-ground logistics, things were a little chaotic. Regardless, it was only about 10-15 minutes after the original start time that things go underway. On the plus side, we saw a gorgeous sunrise on the water. First up was a pretty short 3km or so of road before heading straight into the woods and onto a really cool trail that wound its way up and around the Massif de Charlevoix. If you’ve never been to this corner of our country, I’d highly recommend the trip. I can now assure you there are trails all around between here and the heart of Charlevoix for you to explore, most of them spectacular!
For my part, I had a race plan, and was focused on executing as planned. Of course, as is often the case, I started out maybe a bit faster than I should have. Early in a race like this, you just feel so good, you can’t help it. You’ve [hopefully] rested a couple days, and are in fighting form. It feels effortless, but you need to be aware that it will come back and haunt you later, especially in races that are over 80km I find.
Amazingly, over the 100km course, they had planned out 8 aid stations! That meant that the longest stretch you needed to be self-sufficient for was just over 13km. This is excellent for people that want to race light. I still carried extra food, gear with me, but felt pretty comfortable knowing I was never far from aid. The first such station was at the top of the Massif, and I hardly remember it. The pace was good, so I just refilled my bottles and trotted right back out. From this point, we were following a very excellent trail along a ridge line, basically connecting the two main ski hills (with a tricky section between, which we’ll get to!)
Markers were easy to find, and the footing was generally pretty good for the first few sections. I’d say legs 2 and 3 were probably my favourite of the entire race. Great trails, great views, and good people to run with all around. The weather was also very co-operative. We had a little rain, which kept things cooler than what was happening in Ottawa that weekend (45 degrees anyone??). My spirits were high, and I was ahead of schedule. I’d made a pace card for 18 hours, so that I didn’t push myself to hard, but I was crushing that at the moment!
Before I knew it (and well before Deanna knew it!), I was essentially cruising into the mid-point of the race at just over 50k. Here, I had a drop bag waiting for me where I planned to change socks and shoes (we’d just made a very wet river crossing). The plan was for Deanna to be there and have things ready. Sadly, being probably 1.5 hours ahead of schedule, she was not there. Ironically, she WAS, just not keeping an eye out for me. She was very close, talking to another friend of mine, oblivious to me having arrived. Eventually, I actually texted, then finally called her on the phone to ask if she’d at least like to see me off :-). She felt terrible, but I just thought it was funny. I explained this is probably why I prefer being self-sufficient!
Having refreshed my feet, it was time to tackle the 2nd half. Leaving such comfort is always a bit of a challenge, and the first steps were a tad painful. I’d added ankle braces, so my feet were pretty tight in the shoes. I assumed they’d loosen up over the next couple kilometers, which, as it turned out, were either road, or soft trail beside the road. This was also when I realized I had the beginning of bad chafing in certain areas, leading me to run a while with my shorts half off, dangling my butt in the air. At this point, I was alone, so saw no downsides.
The next two legs were to be the hardest of the entire course, but also yield some really cool memories. After the road-side jaunt, we dropped down along a power line and into a trail that brought us into a gorge / cliff area. We got to cross a number of swing bridges, and scramble boulders. The area was also a nice reprieve from the growing heat. The canyons were cool, and the river ran along beside us as we went along. At this point, I was running with a friend from other races, as well as new friends I’d met. We had a good time, and remarked how lucky we were to be on this section. We felt bad for all the 50k and below racers, who weren’t going to see this amazing stuff!
Eventually, we made our way past an aid station literally perched on the slopes of a canyon area, and then popped out ironically into a residential area. In fact, we ran along a road that was about 50m from my AirBnB. Lucky for me, it meant I had a cheering section! Dave, Lise, and Deanna were waiting for me to run by, offering water and some chips. It was a very brief road bit before dipping back into the trails, and eventually emerging at the amazing waterfall you see above. Soon after seeing it, we had the disheartening realization that we’d have to climb a VERY steep set of stairs next to it in order to get to Mont Ste Anne. From there, it was a few other kilometers before arriving at the base of the mountain. Here, the 70k (err, make that 75k) racers finished, whereas I now had the prospect of going straight up the mountain to complete the final 25k of the race.
Once again, I was happy to have people cheer me in, augmented now by Annie and Nathan as well. By now, everyone had completed their respective races, and it was really just the 100k folks left to suffer. They chatted with me as I prepped my gear and headed back out. Deanna was also ready and on the ball with my drop bag in hand this time ;-). Much as I might have liked stopping and chatting, there was more work to be done, and I trotted off once again, knowing that I would likely not complete in the daylight, but happy to still be feeling well.
That good feeling got lower and lower as I very slowly trudged my way up the 610m (!!) near-vertical climb. The legs were protesting, and the bugs were now swarming, smelling fresh meat! Luckily, at the top, there was an aid station, so I pounded back some coke and grabbed a handful of pretzels before carrying on. Cruelly, the organizers made us go down an almost steeper decline after that to get to the next section. At this point, I joined up with another local runner on his first-ever 100k race, and we locked into a good pace and chatted up a storm about everything and nothing as we clicked over the kilometers. Much of the last 2 sections was downhill, but it didn’t feel like it! However, we soon arrived at the final aid station and knew we only had about 9km to go. Doesn’t sound like much, but after 90k, it definitely feels like it!
The other challenge that presented itself at this point is that the light was starting to fade, so out came the lights to guide us over the dying kilometers. Topsy-turvy trails, river crossings, it felt like it would never end! However, on the final 2 water crossings, we knew we were within 1-2 kilometers, and dug deep to ‘get ‘er done’. When I finally emerged from the woods, it was great to once again see my friends and Deanna waiting for me at the finish. All in all, wrapped the race up over 2 hours faster than I’d planned, and didn’t feel completely destroyed. It was a confidence booster, and definitely made me feel that I may finally be returning to form for this season after a frustrating and slow start.
I stayed around a while watching other people finish that I had run with, but eventually decided to go to bed and rest up. After all, our plans included cycling the next day!!! I’m happy to report that although I was pretty pooped the next day, I did manage to do a bit of cycling, and also visited a couple breweries with my lovely wife! All in all, it was a great weekend of racing. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it, and I believe that next year, even the 50k version will take runners along some of the best parts of the course, so that might be the race to do in 2019!! Well, that wraps it up for me, I’m now only one race behind on reporting, but am about to head off for my next MAJOR race, the Canadian Death Race! Wish me luck!