“Sometimes you have to stop to see. Then, follow the trail to see some more…”
In 2004 after 15 years of running, and mainly road running, I was getting bored. I tried to interchange running with biking and going to the gym but the problem was I always felt like I was cheating on running with other activities. Only the distorted mind of a runner can relate to this way of thinking. If I wasn’t running, I wasn’t really getting all that my body was craving, but the road running was really getting monotonous. So what do you do when you get bored of running? You sign up for a race in hopes that it will motivate you to run!
As I looked for a race I hadn’t done before and one that was over 10 km, but not a marathon, I found a 25km trail race that was nearby in Paris, Ontario. The Run for the Toad was in its infancy at the time and it was only the third year this 25km or 50km trail race had been held. With summer approaching, the training would be great for this early fall race, so I signed up. The first year I ran this race, I fell in love with it. The organization of this race is superb, even with the growth in popularity from only 272 participants in the 25km race the first year I ran it to 1250 runners and 100 kids running in this year’s race. They added a 1 km run for the kids for free, with the added bonus of a medal this year for all 100 kids that participated making the event is truly a family friendly atmosphere. It sounds cliché but if you do it once, you’ll be hooked and I guarantee you’ll be back.
Driving into the park, you are greeted by an exceedingly friendly volunteer at the gate house, which sets the tone for the rest of the day, no matter what Mother Nature has in store for you. Volunteers direct you where to park and there are many that show you the way to ‘tent city’. Event tents house the expo, registration, and a smaller one as a venue for the kids to watch some cartoons on the big screen they have set up. The larger event tent is where you will get your catered lunch after the race…which I will highlight later as it deserves its own paragraph…that’s how good it is.
The setting at Pinehurst Conservation Area could not get any better. The park is impeccably kept and the trails are pristine. The race is run as a 12.5km loop, so for the 25 km, you do this loop twice. Normally I am not a fan of the double loop, but because of the stunning scenery and the diverse terrain you cover over the 12.5 km, the loops don’t really feel like you are repeating it…well until you get to the gargantuan grassy hill at about the 11.5 km mark. Ok, maybe not gargantuan, but when you are on the second loop and it is placed at the 23 km mark, it is gargantuan. My mind cannot even get around doing this course 4 times for the 50km. Every year I am amazed to see the 50km runners amongst the pack, chugging along and unfazed by the fact that they have to do this challenging course 4 times. Respect. The course changes beautifully from wooded single file trail to wide, cedar lined and pine needle carpeted trail. The plains consist of wide open grassy knolls rolling you up and down like a roller coaster. When the weather is good, it is a lovely part of the course; however, when the weather is bad, this is the part of the course that makes you start to question your sanity. The term ‘rolling hills’ is an understatement for this race; which makes it interesting if the day is rainy and the course gets muddy. All along the trail, there are plenty of marshals and volunteers always happy to cheer you on and give out high fives. As it is in a conservation area, part of the course is a run through the camp grounds where weekend and seasonal campers line up their camp chairs and cheer you on as they have their morning coffees.
My running buddy and good friend, Rayanne, are on our fourth Toad (as you end up calling it over the years) together. We train in the Dundas Conservation area trails where the trails very closely mimic those of the Toad. This year the training was superb and the weather this summer could not have been more cooperative. We were hopeful that this year’s race day would be sunny and warm. We were hopeful that we each wear our favourite shorts and t shirts. We were hopeful that we would be able to eat our gourmet lunch outside in the sunshine, like we had a couple of times before. Mother Nature didn’t get the memo. This past Saturday, October 3rd, marked my sixth running of the 25km Run for the Toad. I have run this race in beautiful sunshine, teaming rain, and this year, in extremely high wind gusts and not so seasonal temperatures. Despite the blowing winds and colder temperatures, we were able to beat our time from the last year we had run the Toad.
Feeling good about our finish, we made our way to the event tent holding rows of tables and chairs to accommodate the runners for their lunch. The lunch is served up to you by the Stone Crock restaurant in St. Jacob’s, Ontario. When asked why we keep coming back to do this race, we often say it is because of the lunch. Vegetables, noodles, pasta salads, couscous salad, chicken and pie are some of the offerings to feed your hunger after running 25 km. All of the dishes are delicious and definitely worth running 25 km for.
As I looked around at the Run for the Toad, there is a certain atmosphere here that is not duplicated in any other race I have done. The elite runners are plentiful here and you can’t help but marvel over their accomplishments, but there is a certain mellowness that radiates from the founders Peggy and George that spills over to everyone. They began hosting this race back in 2001 and even though it has grown substantially, the family vibe is still in tact. The Run for the Toad is a total package run. The scenery of the park is stellar. The post-race meal is excellent. The swag bag consists of a back pack (not another race shirt that is 2 sizes too big) and some goodies to bring home.
Of all of the great things I can say about this race, the best thing to come out of running the Run for the Toad all these years is being able to explore trail running. The Toad got me off the road and into the technical world of trail running. The Toad got me off the pavement and onto the dirt. The Toad took me away from running among the cars and trucks and brought me to trees, brooks and nature; and for that, I say thanks Peggy and George. I’ll see you next October.
Nicole Jessome lives in Hamilton, Ontario where she can be found running in the trails or down at the waterfront. Nicole has completed many 5km and 10 km races along with 9 Around the Bay 30km road races. When she isn’t at work, she is teaching Hatha and Vinyasa Yoga, baking and writing for cravelife.org.