Run For The Toad – 29th September 2018

The Trek and Run Team were supported during this event by;

Kusaga Athletic

Salba Chia

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To give you an idea of the event, here’s a short film we made this year.

And here’s another we made in 2017.

VirgilThe Run for the Toad race in Pinehurst Lake Conservation Park is one of Trek and Run’s favourite trail events. Not only is it set in the heart of scenic countryside in Paris, Ontario, but October brings cooler weather conducive to an aggressive run. And also, above all that, we love the hospitable warmth that emanates from the race directors Peggy and George, a warmth that is sadly too uncommon these days. Not only are they a pleasure to speak with about their ambitions to grow trail running (particular amongst youths), but they’ve cultivated a genuine small community “by runners, for runners” vibe that puts you right in the middle of the Ontario running fraternity. 

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We arrived at Tent City, an impressively large temporary structure that housed the sponsors, merchandise booths, and speaking areas, the day before the event. There was a delightfully prepared media and sponsors lunch available and we took advantage of the fine weather to sit outside to eat. There were thoughtful vegetarian options available and an unbelievable amount of dragonflies everywhere.

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Out to the side was a children’s activity tent with movies and a nature centre, a thoughtful addition for those with kids or children who were participating in the ‘Toad Pals’ race.

In the Bistro Tent there was a booth for the Grand River Conservation Authority who did a short intro on their conservation programs, and also for the event’s new sponsor Victorinox, who also were generous providers of the registration gift – a small shoulder bag, perfect for light treks and packing a few drinks. I hemmed and hawed over getting a 2018 race jersey with all the participant names on the back, just like the 2017 one I got last year!

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Then, after a quick wheel spin to pick up a free prize at another sponsor’s booth, we headed back to our hotel.

The Cambridge Best Western hotel was quite familiar to us as it has hosted us during other trail and bike races this year, such as the mighty ‘Conquer the Canuck’ in June. The rooms were well appointed and we got a corner apartment, great for a bit of sound isolation.

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Breakfast was quite the affair with a great selection to choose from: make-your-own Belgian waffles, bread, muffins, and English muffins were your carb choices, along with omelettes, scrambled eggs and sausages; topped with cereal, yogurt and fresh cut fruit. A juice station rounded out the morning fill up.

The 17th edition of the Race was bubbling with excitement in the morning, with the pomp and ceremony of the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada providing stirring bagpipe music and drum beats, along with the ceremonial raising of the Canadian and US flags.

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Tim Hortons coffee and donuts were available, which was great for staying warm (it was 6C before the race started, a little chilly), along with pre-race massages. After a few announcements, the Toad Pals race was off to great fanfare. Not much later had they left when the first runner appeared in the distance to drive home the finish. Then it was our turn to start!

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I started off with a half decent pace, running around the lake and up the two flights of stairs and watching out for tree roots. It wasn’t long before I had to put away my hat because it was getting warm. The route wound a twisty course through the conservation park, offering a variety of terrain including roads through car campgrounds, tree root infested forest trails and open elevated hillside.

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After the 11th km there was a short but steep hill – I was definitely power walking that. Soon after that one lap was complete and a quarter of the race was under my belt. I was being passed by runners intermittently, and the lead runner passed me about 2km from the end of my second lap, like I was standing still. As I crossed the halfway point of my race they were already congratulating him on an astonishing 3:13 finish time.

Undaunted, I carried on! On the third lap my hip was aching a bit, probably because I needed to do more hill training. The fourth was a bit of a death march, and it felt good to say goodbye to the skeleton at the top of the hill for the fourth time.

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I was relieved to finally cross the line to mark my first time completing the 50k distance at this event. I picked up the shiny medal, which had some heft to it, and a meal which was conveniently packed in takeout boxes (runners who finished earlier were treated to a tablecloth post-race meal). That was a good thing as I was behind schedule for a Greenland paddle workshop an hour and a half away! Special congratulations to my team mate David for winning his age group and taking away an “Artistry in Wood” cheese board with a beautifully engraved design.

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This race is highly recommended as a late season trail race for southern Ontario. The bagpipes and band are always an inspiration, and the course volunteers were very helpful to get you nutrition and hydration as needed.

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There were many cheering spectators in support, including many kids who were looking happy to enjoy the outdoors. The Toad Pals 1k, 12.5k, 25k, 50k and 50k relay offer a range of distances for the whole family. The Grand River Valley Region has several local heritage communities including Cambridge, Paris, Ayr and St. Jacobs to offer to out-of-towners. I’ll be looking forward to doing this race again next year!

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Dave – Personality, character and vision mean something to me. That’s why I love the Marathon des Sables in Morocco, the Lakeland Trails events in Cumbria, England, and the Run for the Toad trail event in Canada.

I’m not talking any other race down, I’m just speaking about a higher level of good. The Toad isn’t like one of those big city marathons, or equivalent trail races, whose primary aim is to seem as alike and corporate as possible. They’re fun to take part in of course and mostly very well organized but nobody is ever going to say they show something of their race directors’ character, mainly because they’re run by committees working within an artificial atmosphere. With the Toad you get something entirely different, though. With the Toad, you get George and Peggy Sarsen.

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They’re kind in a way that you expect Canadians to be. They’re ‘for’ things (instead of being like so many people nowadays, who measure their own character according to what they’re ‘against’). You can see it in the opening ceremony, where the Canadian military band plays and the national flags of both Canada and the USA are raised and respected. This has nothing to do with bigoted, ignorant nationalism, I think, and everything to do with an empathy that stretches across borders, a genuine deep rooted sense of kindness and community and a strong wish to do great things for Canadian trail running.

You can also see their personality in the tented village that serves as event HQ (it’s made up of 4 all weather tents containing the expo and eating areas, a central stage and an outdoors area that reflects the couples’ love of Canadian rural life). No expense has been spared here; this is not a race that exists as a money grab, you get a hell of a lot for your money at the Toad, this is a generous, great value event.

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You can also see it in the guests who are invited to speak at the opening of the event, Rob Guy of Athletics Canada and the RD of the JFK 50, both of whom were telling of their interest of raising the profile of trail running in Canada, of the value of running in our communities, and the great service that Peggy and George have offered to running throughout the long life of the Toad event.

You can tell, I’m a great fan of their race director style and I hope to be able to take part in their event for many years to come.

Virgil has spoken of the race itself, so I’ll confine myself to say that it’s a scenic course with enough hills to challenge but nothing that would count as technical in trail running circles. Here are a couple of photos that I took as I ran to accompany what you see in the videos I shot.

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I loved the first half of the race but then my lack of training on hilly terrain took it’s toll and the last 2 laps were slow ones. My advice to future runners is get some hill running practice done if you want to do well, and work on your hip flexors and glutes in your stretching routine, as you’re going to need their help in this event!

Nutrition – the food at aid stations is old school and totally adequate. Bananas, cookies, jelly beans, water, Gatorade and coke. Before the run there’s free coffee, cookies and donuts (the donuts are probably best left alone if you want to run fast!) and afterwards every runner gets a good meal. I’m pleased to say that the veggie burgers had run out by the time I got to them this year and that there was loads of chicken left, which means times are changing, for the better, and people are making food choices that are healthier for them, and the planet. If you’re vegan there will be lots to eat (although if you’re strict you might want to leave the sauces alone unless the serving staff tell you there’s no dairy in there) as you can see from this photo of my post race plate.

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Run for the Toad, a scenic, homely event with distances for all the family.

To discover more, see the race website at https://www.runforthetoad.com/

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