Haliburton Forest 100 mile Trail Run
September 8 and 9
West Guilford, Ontario
By Stu Allen
It was a dark and stormy night, with a severe thunderstorm Friday evening shaking and rattling the tents of most of the runners of the Haliburton Forest 100 mile trail run. Then, as quickly as it had come, the storm passed, giving way to star-filled skies and cooler air for the start of the race. We departed Base Camp at 6:00 am sharp beginning our long journey through the vast Haliburton Forest and Nature Preserve. Just a couple of miles into the run, we passed the first aid station, and the Submarine Tracks by McDonald Lake. There really is a submarine! A four person underwater craft, kept in a shed on the shore. A gentleman who spends his summers on the lake told me how he was skinny dipping in the deep, cool lake one night and had an unexpected encounter with the sub. Maybe that is why it is in dry dock now. I don’t think he has been in the water since then, either. By the time we crossed the Submarine tracks, the sun was up and we were ready for a beautiful day as we made our way around the lake the first of four times (the 100 mile course is a double out and back). After running the East Road and the Normac Trail, we passed the Sub Tracks again, and this time went off to the Poacher’s Trail, one of the many challenging parts of this run. Many steep ups and downs with lots of rocks and roots and other trail hazards to make you step cautiously while making your way. From the Poacher’s trail we took “The Pass” with some tree grabbing ups and downs, and a log bridge over a stream with several Gnomes underneath. They could have been Trolls, I suppose, but either way they provided a moment of levity on the trail. Not long after the Gnomes, it was another long uphill climb toward the Redstone Vista, one of several scenic overlooks in the Haliburton Forest. From there it was on to Ben’s Trail, which ranged from deeply rutted rocky two track to single track deer path. I was keeping my eyes open for wildlife, such as black bears, wolves, and moose, but guess I was making too much noise to have a close encounter with anything but squirrels and chipmunks.
From Ben’s Trail it was on to the Krista Trail, another very hilly section of dense forest. From there we passed a hunt camp with dozens of dog pens. Many dog sled racers run their dogs around this area in both winter and summer (they use a sled with wheels in the summer). After the hunt camp, you pass an observatory which looks over Marsh Lake which has several beaver dams and is a prime spot for spotting moose if you have time to stop and look for a while. Shortly after the observatory was the turnaround point for those running the 50k. We stopped for some sustenance from the aid station and wished our 50k friends good luck on their return journey. From there we headed for the Black Creek Trail which was one of the more forgiving parts of the course except for tricky footing caused by logs buried in what had once been swampy ground. On to the Lookout Trail, which provided more long, steep climbs and descents. Then it was the Sprucetree Trail, which was mostly old forest roads, which led to the King And James Trail. King and James is a rocky logging road with a couple of long climbs and downhills. Not bad in the daytime, but quite tricky at night. King and James led to the Red Trail and the turnaround point for 50 milers at the aid station. 100 milers also turned around there, and would have to do it again that night. This was the aid station offering the most diverse selection of food, including lasagna! You never know what you are going to be hungry for when going 100 miles, but they had soups, sandwiches, fruits, and salty snacks galore. I was still seeing lots of other runners at this point, as we still had 50 milers on the trail with us. I was somewhere in the middle of the pack, so I could see the leaders coming back at me before I reached the turnaround, and the more methodical runners once I headed back. I knew it would be a lot less crowded the next time I visited this place.
I made it to the 50 mile mark at just over 11 and a half hours, and was feeling pretty good. The sun was starting to get low in the sky, and I wanted to get through the Normac Trail with it’s tricky footing in the daylight. Before I reached 50 miles, the leaders went by me going the other way. I could see that it was going to be a real race between former winner Jeff Simpkins and Ron Ely, who was right on his tail. Soon after those two I saw Jeff Christian and Jim Orr go by.
Still a long way to go, and a lot can happen in the second half of a 100 miler. Soon, darkness fell, and the sky was once again filled with stars. There was no moon to help with night vision, so it was time to get used to the headlamp. I picked up my first pacer, Aimee, after the Poacher’s trail, and she got a good laugh out of the Gnomes (Trolls?) under the bridge on The Pass. After several miles, I picked up my second pacer, Karen, and we set off through the dark, damp forest.
It had been a while since I had seen another runner, but then we saw a light heading toward us, and it was Ron Ely running strong through the last legs all by himself. It was nearly an hour after that when we saw Jeff Christian go past us on his way to the finish, cursing the buried logs on the Black Creek Trail, which were hard to see by headlamp. As we made our way to the aid station at the mile 75 turnaround, we saw a few more runners making their way back and looking pretty strong. Former leader Jeff Simpkins was nowhere to be found, but it turns out he felt ill and had to lay down for a few hours before getting back up and finishing. Finally, we made it to the 75 mile aid station, and I was suffering from some nasty blisters on the balls of my feet. At that point, my wife Shelia took over the pacing duties to crack the whip on me the rest of the way. We were a couple of hours ahead of the cutoff, which was good because I had difficulty running by this point. As we made our way down the King and James, the Sprucetree and Lookout Trails, we saw several runners trying to make mile 75 before the cutoff. Sadly, most of them were too far behind and had to drop out. At the 75 mile mark, we were joined by Rick McDowell, and a couple of aid stations later, Karen rejoined us to help pace Rick. Rick had the distinction of being the “Lone Wolf” in last year’s race...the last runner to finish before the 30 hour cutoff. He got an awesome Wolf hat for his achievement, but was ready to pass it to someone else this year. We stayed together for a couple of hours, then Rick and Karen got ahead of us as I was having difficulty with the steep downhills. Finally, daylight came while we were on the Ben’s Trail, and we kept plugging away to the finish. I was able to keep up a good walking pace, but was really slow on the down slopes. Shelia made sure that I kept moving. “Never give up, never give up. Never, never, never!” That was our mantra. As the sun rose in the the sky, we enjoyed the beauty of the forest and lakes in the early morning, and finally got back to the Submarine tracks and the aid station where we caught up with Karen. Rick had made a “pit stop” and we managed to get ahead of them as we made our final circuit around McDonald lake. I couldn’t wait to come back after the race and jump into the icy cold water from the swimming dock. We made the final push home, and finished in 28:41, good for 18th place. I made sure that my friends were waiting for me with a cold Alexander Keith’s Ale at the finish. Beer never tasted better!
47 started the race, only 24 made it the entire 100 miles. I felt fortunate to be one of them. Ron Ely ended up winning with a time of 19:28, Jeff Christian was 2nd at 21:20. Wendy and Mark Coates will have to share the Wolf Hat, finishing together at 29:55.
This was a great race, with awesome volunteers and aid stations. The Haliburton Forest is about 3 hours north of Toronto, and is a great destination for running, hiking, biking, camping, fishing, and observing wildlife. If they ever get the submarine tours going again, I might have to give that a try...but only if that one guy is safely ashore!