|Photo credit: Marie-Christine Ruffo|
I came down to run Bear Mountain (the official name is The North Face Endurance Challenge) after my friend Jocelyn offered me his bib when he decided not to run it because of a nagging injury. Jocelyn is one hell of a runner, and I made sure he was OK with my finish time in his track record. “No worries”, he said, “just have fun”. These words stayed in my head and I didn’t overly research the race. I thought I was fit enough to do a comfortable 50, that it would just be a nice long run in the beautiful New York State forests. So I took things lightly and smiled all the way to the starting line, where many friends were lining up. Just before the gun went off, I was hanging out with my running sister Little Wings and her husband Dean, and they asked if I had prepared. “It’s a 50K, man”, I replied, “How hard can it be?”
I was just about to discover.
I could go on telling you about how this trail race is insanely technical and rough, about how I’ve been told it’s known as “The single toughest 50K in North America”, about my wanting to go home 15 minutes in or about the dozens of times I feared for my running season, trying to negotiate my way through the rockiest, most treacherous terrain I have ever seen. But I won’t. Instead, I will pay homage to the people who’ve run it and to the inspiration they gave me.
Christy Little Wings is one of my favorite runners in the world, and an overall beautiful person I consider myself lucky to count as a friend. She packs a hell of a lot of punch in a small package and a heart like a mountain. She kicked some serious butt on the course that day, and definitely ate the bear. Her mantra, “The only way out is through”, will stay with me always on the trails.
Augusto is not only a trail brother; he is a shining example of what I call a “reconstructed runner”. Tired of being injured all the time, he began a couple years ago an incredible journey to improve his running form and technique. He rebuilt himself into a graceful, powerful running machine and inspires me immensely. I can’t even keep up with him anymore. He completed the 50-mile physically and mentally exhausted, but performed an amazing feat of strength and determination.
I met Kent at his Halloween race, Rattle Me Bones, last year. A fairly new acquaintance for me, he came across as strong-willed and a quiet leader type. The Bear was his first ultra ever, and I spent the day worrying about him out there. Not only did he pull it off like a boss, but he did it in an awesome time, looking strong. My running hat way up to you, man!
I consider Donald an old friend. We’ve been running together for a couple of years now, but it’s the stuff we’ve gone through that has made our relationship. I often refer to him as my own personal drill sergeant, and it’s true that he is one bad ass trail runner. But he’s also a man of heart with a deep care for human values and his passion for running and outdoor living truly shined last weekend on the trails. He finished bruised and bloody, but he finished strong and proud. And most importantly, way ahead of me ;)
I didn’t see as much of Pierre as I would’ve liked, but he had traveled down with his wife and a group of other runners. As usual, he glided over the trail with grace and speed, making little work of the treacherous terrain and quietly conquering an extremely tough course. His humility and generosity are real guidelines to me.
I must add a tribute to Singing Man, an unknown runner I shared sections of the course with. Very muscular and dressed in a black skeleton technical shirt, he ran the trails laughing and singing out loud, mentally unbreakable. He lifted the spirits of every runner he crossed, spreading words of encouragement or making quirky, funny remarks. When he crossed me at my worst, zombie-walking up a section they call “The riverbed”, I confessed I was just about ready to sit down and quit. “And here you are, singing!” I yelled as he passed me. Without even turning his head, he replied “I’m sure you can sing, too”. So I started screaming a phrase or two of “Please Play This Song On The Radio” from NOFX, at the top of my lungs. “There you go!”, he exclaimed, and I pressed on, grinning and laughing at my predicament, happy to be following the springy steps of the Singing Man. Thank you for your resolve and for reminding me this is about fun in the face of adversity!
Lastly, I want to acknowledge everyone I crossed paths with on that gorgeous, sunny spring day and celebrate your accomplishments. Martin St-Pierre for being the great guy he is, Alister Gardner who runs like a deer, Hélène Michaux for being a tiger, Sereena who kept battling against that cutoff, Gerry who got injured early on and to whom I wish a strong, speedy recovery, everyone in Team Bromont, the Montreal runners and Daily Milers and everyone who shared the effort, pain and joy of a beautiful, but very tough day.
“How hard can it be?”