© Julie Schmidt
What is great about running is the variety of challenges we can sign up for. There are races of all distances, terrains, elevations, weather, and even all together in a single event. That’s the case of ENDURrun, a staged race that offers something different every day for 7 days. I had the privilege of competing at the Sport edition, which covers 80km of paved paths, trails, and track, in different locations around the Region of Waterloo. This is half the distance of the Ultimate edition, which occurs a month later, challenging runners to complete 100 miles in a week.
Stage 1: Sunday, 10km at RIM Park, Waterloo
The first edition of the ENDURrun Sport 2023 started with a moderate 10 km on the Grand River Trail, in the surroundings of RIM Park. The course was a 5km loop, mostly flat, with hills at the end of each lap. I started slowly, one of the last ones in the pack. Most of the runners pushed strong from the beginning, which scared me at first, but as I warmed up, I got faster and caught up with the others. I finished 14th overall and 10th among males.
© Julie Schmidt
Something special happened at this stage. My family volunteered in a race for the first time. My wife and kids were in charge of a water station. It was so cool to pass at their spot! But I had to be careful to take a cup from each kid so I wouldn’t leave them debating my preferences.
Stage 2: Monday, 7.5km at Riverbluffs Park, Cambridge
© Julie Schmidt
The second stage was a time trial on the Grand River Trail, at Riverbluffs Park, Cambridge. The trail is scenic, with many ups and downs, but it is not technical. Runners started the 7.5km distance one after the other, 30 seconds apart, with the slower starting first and the fastest starting last, based on the results of Stage 1. I was the 12th to start and passed all the previous runners, but my position stayed the same, finishing in 13th place overall and 9th among males.
Stage 3: Tuesday, 5km at Shade’s Mills Conservation Area, Cambridge
© Julie Schmidt
The third stage was pretty short but tough. We ran on a beautiful hilly trail, 20% technical, 30% grass, and the rest regular. The course was a 5km loop, 95% covered by trees. When running a shorter distance, runners tend to run faster, so I had to push through those hills to keep my overall position. That was tougher than expected, giving me chills about the next stage 30 minutes later. Finished in 13th and 10th among males.
Stage 4: Tuesday, 10km at Shade’s Mills Conservation Area, Cambridge
© Julie Schmidt
The only difference between Stages 3 and 4 was the distance. The course was the same. I felt like I was part of an experiment. Why didn’t they merge stage 3 and stage 4 into a 15km distance, running the loop 3 times? Perhaps to burn our legs in a faster 5k to make the 10k look tougher. We will never know, but I felt stronger than during Stage 3. I slowed down a bit at the beginning, fearing the distance, but as the race went by, I felt good to run negative splits. Around 4km, I felt a runner approaching, but my negative splits discouraged them. I ended up gaining 2 positions, finishing in 11th overall and 8th among males!
Stage 5: Wednesday, 8km at Water Bean Trail, Kitchener
© Julie Schmidt
The fifth stage was tough. We ran a loop twice, on a pretty hilly trail along the Grand River. The trail is well-covered by trees and not technical at all, but part of it was closed for maintenance, forcing the organizers to adapt the course. I was optimistic after my Stage 4 performance, so I tried to closely follow faster runners, but soon the hills slowed me down to a more realistic pace. They were so steep that I got my heart rate up pretty quickly. The gap increased between me and the next runner to the point I had to change my strategy to simply maintain my position. Finished in 13th and 10th among males.
Stage 6: Thursday, 13.4km at Baden Hills, Wilmot
© Julie Schmidt
Cancelled! Weather Canada has a history of overreacting to weather conditions, so everyone was skeptical when they announced a severe thunderstorm coming to the area. Runners, volunteers, and organizers headed to Baden Hills as planned, just to be surprised by the force of the storm, which left part of the group stuck under the tents and others in the parking lot. I was in the car and could barely see outside, given the density of the rain. I was afflicted in there, thinking if I could be of any help outside, but the fear of being hit by lightning was overwhelming. On my way home, I witnessed at least three lightning strikes on the ground, which confirmed my worries. I learned later, through the Facebook group, that everybody got safely home. That’s what matters.
With the cancellation, I finally had time to carefully look at the results up to that point. The next male was almost 10 minutes ahead, and only an injury would change the game. Then I looked at the female ranking and noticed 4 women ahead of me, but one of them, Joanne, was just over a minute ahead. Well, I had two more stages to bridge that gap, but I remember well how fast Joanne is. She beat me at stages 1 and 2, with a 5 minutes advantage, then I narrowed the gap on the trail stages 3, 4, and 5; since I have been training hills a lot lately. The next stages were flat and fast though. My chances of going up on the overall ranking were minimal.
Stage 7: Saturday, 5km at Resurrection Catholic Secondary School, Kitchener
The seventh stage was a track race. We had to run 12.5 laps in the inner lane of the track. Because it was a short, flat, and fast course, we couldn’t do much to bridge the gap between runners, so the overall ranking stayed the same, but that was so fun! The participants were divided into two heats, the fastest times in the first one and the remaining in the second heat. I was in the second one and had the chance to see the fastest runners putting in place their strategies. Some started fast just to find themselves fading away in the last minutes, others started slower to push harder at the end, and leaders took it easy, saving energy for the final stage. My strategy was to start slow and focus on passing the next runner, one by one, until I couldn’t anymore. I ended up finishing my heat in the first place, which was unexpected.
Stage 8: Sunday, Half-Marathon at RIM Park, Waterloo
The last stage was a half-marathon on the Grand River Trail, in the surroundings of RIM Park. It was the same location as Stage 1; but with a slightly longer loop, with 3 laps of 7km. 21km is enough distance to catch up with other runners in the ranking, but it meant I needed to run one of my fastest half-marathons and hope others were not on their best day.
Around 1km into the race, Joanne paired with me and we ran side by side for 14km. During this time, I noticed something surprising: I was comfortably talking to Joanne all the time. That means we were at a conversational pace, but the pace was 5:15/km! This is 40 seconds faster than the pace I thought was my easy one. I was feeling good, so good that I ran the last 7km averaging 4:50/km, making a new half-marathon best time! My final result, considering all stages, was 12th place overall, and 9th among males. It took me 5h:47m:41s to complete all stages. A time that put me 13 seconds ahead of Joanne. That was nothing after 7 days and 66.6km, but still.
Something unusual happened that day. One of the runners forgot his left shoe. I have seen people forgetting a pair of shoes, or bringing the wrong pair of shoes, but I’ve never seen someone forgetting one of the shoes. When I was about to leave the house that morning, I looked at my pair of Brooks and said: “I’m gonna bring these just in case”. Looking at his desperate face, I felt I had a chance to save his day and said: “Are you 11?”, “Yes”, He said. I lent him my pair of Brooks and saw him disappear with the leaders. I was in the middle of the second lap when I saw him again, walking! “What just happened?!”, I thought. When I asked him, he said: “I’m done”. “Was it my Brooks’ fault?!”. The next time I saw him, he was finishing the second lap, walking barefoot, holding my shoes. “It was definitely my Brooks!”, I thought, feeling bad for him, but I also felt OK because that was not an act of sabotage. The good news is when I was halfway through my last lap I saw him running again, with my pair of Brooks, a relief.
I performed better when I ran negative splits, starting slow and accelerating when I felt I could. I did it in stages 4, 7, and 8, feeling good to go faster in the last minutes.
There is a single bib to identify each runner throughout all stages. We have to attach it to the clothing every time. So, I left my bib in the car since I had to drive to races in different locations.
If you signed up for the race and other people with you have nothing else to do while you are running, then consider making arrangements to engage them as volunteers. Active hands are always welcome to move things around, mount, dismount, hydrate runners, mark, clear, clean, and so on.
I increased my VO2Max by 1 point during the event. My last point took me 4 months to earn, and this one took me just a week, given the pressure to compete every day.
My performance improved at every stage, despite the increase in intensity and competitiveness. The big question now is: Do we really need a tapering period before a race?
ENDURrun races don’t have a big field. A week-long commitment is not for everybody. They have just enough runners to build strong connections among them. Everybody greets and encourages each other to keep pushing forward. Before and after each stage, we have so much to talk about. We share our running history, training adventures, what happened the day before, how the ranking looks like, what we plan to do next, which strategies to bridge the gaps, and mutual praise.
Now, I have one year to build enough volume to run the Ultimate edition in 2024. I’m sure it will give me the confidence I need to go far beyond the marathon distance.