Monday, August 14, 2017

Bad Beaver Ultra, Gatineau Park, Ottowa, CA Aug 3-5, 2017

August 3-5, 2017
Gatineau Park, Ottowa, CA

A great race, as I see it, incorporates a high degree of difficulty, a beautiful and memorable course and first-rate support.  For an ultramarathon, for example, the race route should be very well marked with flagging, signs and whatever other means are available so that runners do not get lost.  (An adventure race is an entirely different species, when typically at least some orienteering is expected.)  Last week’s “Bad Beaver Ultra” was a great race and I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

I like stage races a lot.  Bad Beaver is a 3-day stage race in spectacular Gatineau Park near Ottowa, Canada.  This national treasure covers 139 square miles (301 square kilometers) and is a sports haven year-round.  Our race traversed 150+ kilometers, yet runners saw just a small portion of the innumerable trails found in Gatineau.  This race was one of the toughest I’ve ever run, especially the long second day.  We faced many different kinds of running surfaces and trails, with many steep up and down hills that were quite technical--rocky, rooty, muddy and wet.  The second day was over 70 kilometers—roughly 45 miles.  It took over 16 hours for this Flatlander to complete the day.

Canadian Ray Zahab is one of the world’s great adventurers as well as a very accomplished ultra-runner.  (See “Running the Sahara” for an account of Ray’s 4,300 mile run across the entire Sahara Desert in 2008.)  Ray lives near Gatineau Park and designed the course, alongside his co-race directors Mat Lefevre and Sereena Trottier.  When I heard that Ray would be involved, I knew it would be both immensely challenging and first-rate in every respect.  I missed the inaugural in 2016 but made it this second year and am so glad for that opportunity.
“Bad Beaver Ultra” has started by design as a very small race, to get the details right.  Next year the limit will increase to 50 or 60 runners.  For this 2017 edition, the number of entries was 20.  Prior to race day, three people dropped.  Of the starting field of 17, five did not finish.  I was very fortunate to have my friend and Fort Lauderdale neighbor, Tim O’Brien, compete with me in Gatineau.  Tim and I ran every step together. We finished tied for 9th overall, very pleased to be among the finishers and pleasantly surprised not to have finished last!

The first day, or “stage”, was 53.5 kilometers and was designed as an overview of the remaining days.  A little bit of everything was thrown our way, with the opening caveat from the race directors to save a little for Day 2, which would be far tougher.  Each day incorporated beautiful views from mountain-top overlooks, lots of miles on single and double-track trails and jeep roads and even a small amount of pavement.  Running on heavy, wet grass and mud, groomed and very technical surfaces, over and through streams and downed trees and scrambling up mountain escarpment was all part of the experience.  And the first day included a bonus called “Lusk Cave”.  Upon arrival, a race volunteer was waiting to keep an eye on your pack, shirt, hat and anything else you didn’t want to get wet.  With only running shoes and shorts and a necessary headlamp, you scrambled up the rocks and then down into the cave opening where very carefully you stepped on wet marble into the cold, rushing water.  Towards the end, 150 meters later, where it was completely dark, water was chest and then neck-high, with about 12-18 inches of opening at the mouth of Lusk Cave to exit.  You held on to any piece of rock you could reach the entire distance, and carefully stepped and swam just a little to reach the finale.  The day was very humid and warm, so the cold water was actually welcoming and refreshing.  The experience was also, shall I say, different!  We knew that the cave was incorporated into the route so that it was no surprise.  But it was a first, to be sure.  Exiting the cave, we sloshed up some rocks to where our gear awaited us, spent a couple of minutes shaking-off excess water, then donned shirts, grabbed packs and trekking poles and continued the remaining 5 miles to the day’s finish line.  Yes, our shoes remained damp for the balance of the race.

Damp shoes were not a particular problem, though.  In our packs were changes of socks in addition to food and electrolytes for the three days, sleeping bag, headlamp, batteries and other required gear, personal items, warm clothes for nighttime, rain gear, etc.  Shortly after the start of the second (long) stage at 6:00am, it began to rain.  The forecast had called for heavy thunderstorms all day, yet somehow we missed the worst.  The rain kept up for an hour or two and then backed-off.  It remained very humid all day.  The most difficult terrain of the entire race was the last few miles of the second day, which we ran at night—after the rains began again.  So, our shoes remained damp, but hardly from Lusk Cave alone!  Thanks to our running “partner” that second day, Leeanne Richardson, who lives in the Gatineau area and knows the park well, we were able to complete the distance by 10:30pm.  Leeanne was our leader, set the pace, helped navigate some particularly squirrely spots and got us “home”.  Great flagging, signs and maps (in hand) notwithstanding, confident and knowledgeable leadership is always a huge help in the woods on a dark, rainy night.  Yes, Momma Bear with her two cubs in tow got us back safely to our Bad Beaver den.  Leeanne finished 3rd female.

As with nearly all stage races, we expected to be sleeping in tents on the first and second nights.  Instead, we were pleasantly surprised to be indoors, apart from the mosquitoes and deer flies that were plentiful in some areas during the first two days.  The first night we all slept in a bunkhouse-type cabin, with half the space divided into cubicles with two double bunks in each.  It was luxury, indeed, with real mattresses underneath our sleeping bags.  And “Bad Beaver Ultra” includes dinner; fine food it was, too!  We had only to carry nutrition for during the day as a modest breakfast was also offered.  On the second night, when we did not arrive until 10:30pm, hot dinner was still waiting for us inside a large lodge at the base of a ski lift.  Here we slept on the floor in what would be a very large and hyper-active bar area in season, using sleeping pads beneath our bags.  (We brought sleeping pads with us from home.  Race staff kept those for us until delivering them that second night.  It was a bonus not to have to carry that extra weight for just the one night’s use.)

The third day dawned dry and sunny, with a nice breeze keeping the bugs away.  It was a spectacular day.  At the highest point on the entire course, at the top of King Mountain, the 180-degree view from the overlook was truly incredible.  We could see all the way across the Ottowa River to the Capital at one angle, and lakes and mountains of green and blue everywhere else.  That was one of the many times I wished I had carried my phone on this adventure.

Tim and I ran comfortably and well this last day, making-up some time and looking forward to the finish where our wives awaited with hugs and the further reward of a cold adult beverage!  That third day was just 23 kilometers, or about 14 miles.  We reached the finish line and also received finisher’s technical hoodies.  Slipping-on that clean sweatshirt was a very nice bonus.  After the others finished, we drove a short distance to Doozy Candle Shop, Old Chelsea Quebec, where we were served lunch in a converted garage area.  All finishers received a commemorative candle, awards were presented to the winners and we said our goodbyes until next time.

I could not recommend this race more highly.  It is a beautiful, exciting and tough event, with a touch of luxury tossed in, including night-before hotel accommodations at historic Wakefield Mill Resort for those who chose that option.  Registration for next year’s race from August 2-4 is open now.  Here’s the registration link:  And here is the website for all the info:

Finally, I would be totally remiss if I failed to give a shout-out to my personal sponsors, Skechers and Nathan.  My Skechers trail shoes were stellar on every surface I encountered in the race.  My new Nathan “Journey” pack held everything I needed for the full three days with easy access to the items I used regularly.  My sponsors do provide me with shoes and hydration options, but I wouldn’t wear or use them, never mind recommend them, if they were not the very best for me.  Toss-in the Drymax socks that kept me virtually blister free even in the wet, Trail Toes and NipEAZE to prevent chafing and I was 100% satisfied with my gear choices for “Bad Beaver Ultra”. 

I am proud to be an official “Bad Beaver”!!

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