Saturday, October 1, 2022

Ultra Trail Harricana - 80km


View of the Malbaie River valley from the course

Disclaimer: I write these reports mainly for myself, so that I can over time remember the lessons learned.  I am decidedly back-of-the-pack runner, and am out there to challenge myself, to enjoy the journey as well as the awesome community that is trail runners everywhere.


When I didn't get into UTMB on my first attempt in 2022, I had assumed that I will need to"top off" my ITRA points with another more recent 5-pointer race in order to apply again.  So looked for an interesting race in a place I've not yet been and not too far from home.  Harricana came up as a good option, in particular because it takes places on the shores of mightly St. Lawrence, in a beautiful setting roughly in the areas that Louise Penny covers in her "Inspector Gamache" series that I happened to be a huge fan of.  I registered for a 125km option that would be worth the points I needed.

Then came UTMB qualification revamp which forced me to change my plans complete and to chase the so-called "running stones" in Canyons 100k and Speedgoat 50k.  Once those were done, I was faced with the decision about Harricana since technically I didn't _need_ to run it.  It wasn't refundable and the prospect of a Quebec vacation sounded good, so I dropped down to a still "respectable" 😅 80k, which is just a smidge under 50 miles.  The goal in my mind was to have fun and try to run a "faster" (for my abilities) 50 miles given that the course promised not to pack too much elevation.


For the preparation, I focused less on climbing and among other things completed the so-called Boroughs Loop that covers ~30 miles stringing together trail systems of Marlborough, Southborough, Westborough and Northborough.  That effort went pretty well, even resulting in what Strava thought to be my 50k PR.  So I was going into this race pretty confident.

The course - the region

The course starts along the La Malbaie river and stays flat and pleasant for at least 10 miles, then meanders through a typical Quebec forests and meadows, finishing at the Mont Grand-Fonds ski resort.  Point-to-point courses are always more fun for me compared to any sort of repeats or out-and-back, so I was looking forward to the experience.

Brief re-cap of the race

As expected, the first 10 or so miles flew by very quickly, except for being stung by a wasp fairly early on.  It hurt like heck for a few minutes but then subsided and luckily I am not allergic to these stings, so it wasn't a big deal for the rest of the race.  But funny enough something similar happened at Speedgoat just a few weeks earlier.  Best I could tell, I was the only lucky one and other runners around me were spared :-).

In the following few miles after that, the course seemed to weer off from what I earlier explored in the provided GPX track and instead of an easy dirt road we were on a fairly new single track trail that was still very soft from the trail work and full of small stumps from the smaller cuttings.  This definitely slowed me down from the original plan, but those things never hold anyway in a race.

Before starting, I struck up a conversation with a few of local runners that spoke English and we had nice occasional chats in the first few miles before we separated.

In the second half of the race, the going got tougher with a few muddy and technical sections. Banged my big toe a few times and stepped into deep mud a few times. Before the race, I debated whether to take my poles, but did not regret having them and used them heavily in the second half.  I also had spare socks and the Trail Toes cream so I took the opportunity to change the socks a couple of times in the aids.  

As is customary with me, as the effort got harder, the stomach stopped working so I tried to ease off a bit to avoid redlining and somewhat towards the end, especially as the temps cooled off, I was able to feel better and to eat more.

The last few miles were a bit of a slog, especially an ATV/jeep section that was downhill.  I just could not find enough to run over the shifty uneven rocks.  The finish was a bit of an uphill to the ski resort.  

A big bonus was the post-race meal that was a legit nice dinner with salad and a couple of great dish options capped by a delicious pastry.

In the end the race was a lot more technical and challenging than what I had imagined.  So this wasn't quite a fast 50 miler, but it was still a decently paced once for me.

What worked

Changing socks and reapplying "trail toes".  

Managed effort to avoid redlining.

Good call to take the poles.  Hydration was on point.  Nutrition worked ok when the stomach was able to accept food.

What to improve on in the future

Maybe packing even more socks would have been good, but it was hard to predict the amount of mud on the course.

Packing self adhesive bandage? There was a guy with a gash on his leg and I tried as best I could to attach a large band-aid patch there, but it just would not hold.

I should be careful when navigating mud / branches to make sure

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