I’m sure you have heard the idiom that “Every picture tells a story”.

It means that “what has really happened in a situation is clear because of the way that someone or something looks”. My friendly search engine Artificial Intelligence assistant also suggests that “every experience in life contributes to the story of our lives”. This makes a lot of sense to me.

The phrase was actually popularized by a song and album of the same name by Rod Stewart way back in 1971. Every picture tells a story. I remember as a mere 13 year old boy quietly listening in my bedroom to Rod Stewart and many other Rock and Roll musicians with a transistor radio dialed to 1050 CHUM next to my ear and a blanket over my head to keep mom and dad from hearing. Headphones were out there, but were way beyond my 13 year old budget.

What a rebel I was.

And here, 52 years later as a 65 year old senior the same rebel in me would attempt to complete a 96 kilometer trail race called Rainbow Run Trail Race. Who would have thought. And in the end who knew, accompanied in my mind by a large group of school children.

My childhood home.

I actually attempted this last year. Same race. Same distance. Same location.

It was such an unbearably, brutally hot day. After running 60 kilometers (5 loops of 12 kilometers) I ended up “hanging out” with the medics for over an hour while they ran a series of tests on me. And kept monitoring my vitals. Plus they had blocks of ice placed on me in several key areas of the body to cool me down. My body overcome from running in that extreme heat had ended up in such a major mess.

After that hour, the medical crew left the choice with me. But highly recommended that I call it a day. Which I did. There ended up being only 5 much younger runners finishing under the 15 hour cutoff in that 96 kilometer distance. Conditions were extremely tough. Despite that, I knew I made mistakes last year. What should I have done differently? Lots of things.

Every time I looked at last years bib, it conjured up many picture memories. I was hoping it would provide the motivation needed for some unfinished business to take care of at that same race in 2023.

Bib from last year.

My 1st DNF (did not finish) at the inaugural 96k Rainbow Run Trail Race.

With any ultra, I start looking at the weather a week in advance and start preparing my race kit. As the week progresses, I’ll keep tweaking it. Right until race morning.

The weather forecast was extremely positive for race day, Saturday July 29th. Under 1 millimeter of rain per hour between the hours of 7 am (race start time) and 9 am. And then sunny the rest of the day. High 23C. No humidity. Perfect summer race weather. My friend Martin who runs with me each Tuesday evening in our Hillsdale run group picked me up and drove me to the race. He was running the same distance. If you are able to car pool, there is much less race carbon footprint if you do car pool.

Earlier in the season with Martin and myself on our Hillsdale Run Group Tuesday evening runs.

I was hoping to meet again some of the 96k runners from last year. But after last years “sufferfest”, I guess I was the only one crazy enough to show up for a return visit.

It was so wonderful to see again race directors and husband and wife team Norman and Jodi from Gotta Run Racing. They are very personable, and put on such a great race. Jodi is also race director of the Monarch Ultra.

As a fellow Monarch Ultra race committee member I have the privilege of “seeing” her on Zoom each month as we plan out the 2023 Monarch Ultra. It is hard to imagine our world without our beloved Monarch butterfly. But the possibility is very real. Great to know the Monarch Ultra is returning in 2023.

In Canada we will be running a 10k race followed by an exciting monarch festival this fall in Peterborough. Registration here.

Our ultra event this year is in Mexico. A 54 km race from Zitácuaro to the monarch sanctuary (Cerro Pelón). In this race, runners will have the opportunity to run through beautiful rural areas towards the mountains where the monarchs spend their winter. This run is organized in collaboration with the municipality of Zitácuaro and it will be part of the International Monarch Butterfly Festival celebrated in Zitácuaro that weekend. The monarch butterfly is so revered in Mexico. Registration here.

Even if you don’t plan on running Mexico, please check out the registration page. Which goes into detail on our fundraiser for Nación Verde. A goal of planting 100,000 oyamel fir trees along 100 hectares. If you are able to help out financially it would be so greatly appreciated. The oyamel forests house the appropriate conditions that allow the annual wintering habitat of the monarch butterfly, giving them protection against strong winds, rain and even snowfall and hailstorms.

But sadly, these forests have been greatly diminishing. Which directly affects the population of the monarch butterfly.

Just released a couple of weeks ago, and retrieved off the Nación Verde website, this video clip is mostly in Spanish, but has English subtitles and talks about their important tree planting program in the Monarch sanctuaries. Which the Monarch Ultra is raising money for.

Back to the Rainbow Run Trail Race, the best news is husband and wife director team Norman and Jodi extended the cutoff time to finish the 96 kilometer distance this year from 15 hours to 24 hours. Even though I was “hoping” to finish well under 24 hours, the extended cutoff took an enormous amount of pressure off me. Just like last year, my training was derailed from life events. Last year the church I pastored for the previous 11+ years had closed. It had been going in Hillsdale for 171 years. In fact since 1851. This year the crossing job position in Hillsdale I love and am so passionate about was eliminated by township council. It has been such a hard thing to try and keep motivated. My training just hasn’t been there. Even focusing on last years DNF bib didn’t seem to help.

What was supposed to have been my long 50-60 kilometer training run in Copeland Forest in early July to prepare for my 96k, ended up me just spending time in nature for some needed quality forest bathing. Still a good thing though, as I was really struggling. Since my 50k at Pick Your Poison on April 29th, my longest run ended up being only a lackluster 28k.

Soon we were all lined up at the start. Race director Norman (an accomplished elite ultrarunner) gave us this bit of advice to all of us runners, “Don’t think of it as 96 kilometers. Think of it as 8 loops”.

There was a light rain at the start. What was unexpected was that for next 5 hours the rain became steady for much of the entire time, with periods where the rain became extremely heavy. As race director Jodi described it later in an email to all the runners, “The conditions were wild”.

Fortunately I don’t mind running in the rain. Particularly when it is a warm summer rain. And there was mud. An ultra is just not the same without mud. I was thinking, “Boy my 2 year old grandson Archie in New Zealand would love this”. Going through those sloppy mud sections, I’d do a little extra splash. Just for Archie.

Grandson Archie trying to figure out how to get to that water.

Bibs were breaking down in the rain. Coming in from one of my loops I’m holding out two bibs for the chip timer to register. My own bib and one I picked off the trail. Image 2023 Rainbow Run Trail Race photo gallery. I so love that rainbow arch we all ran through.

Wet trails

As the race progressed the motivation was there. It’s weird what we think of while running long distances.

For a whole month I tried not to think of that final school assembly where Marci the school principal at Hillsdale Elementary School had me come to the front of the gymnasium where I faced the entire student body. It was then announced to the school assembly I was no longer going to be their crossing guard. There was dozens of children crying, tears streaming down their faces. I always knew the kids really loved me. But boy, that assembly and seeing the heartbreak on those children’s faces really broke me.

I deeply fear for those children crossing major Highway 93 on their own without an adult crossing guard. This issue is so close to my heart I have written four articles on my crossing guard duties and safety for our most vulnerable road users. In 2020. In 2021. In 2022. And a 2nd article later in 2022. I have desperately tried to block this memory of the many heartbroken children so much for a whole month.

But it all flooded back in my mind in full technicolor, front row, centre main stage early into my 2nd loop. A mere 15 kilometers into a 96 kilometer race. I knew this could really mess me up mentally and easily cost me the race. But I made the decision in my mind while soaked to the bone in the pouring rain, “Children, this race is going to be for you”.

Poster from the students

A 2nd poster from the students.

A tender moment at the crosswalk. Normally the last day of school children would be full of excitement. Not this year for many children. Here, tears were streaming down Lilly’s face as she came up for her final crossing of the 2022-2023 school year. Photo captured by Lilly’s mom.

Two 12 kilometer loops, became three loops. Which became four loops.

Everything was going so well. Hydration and nutrition was bang on. Four loops became five loops. Which became six loops. I was using my old Blackberry to take photos as well as send my dear wife a text after each loop. Sort of like a live tracking. I also took a few minutes after each loop to rest and rehydrate.

Despite running through all that rain earlier, my feet were feeling great. No blisters. Six loops became seven loops. I grabbed my fully charged headlamp and a spare headlamp with fresh batteries from my race bag and headed out on loop eight with daylight quickly fading.

Soon it was pitch black. One stride at a time I followed the trail using my headlamp to guide me. The much younger podium finishing elite ultrarunners had finished their 96k distance literally hours before. It was lonely out there on the race course, but I didn’t feel alone. In my mind I had an entire school of children running with me. Splashing through the mud. And pushing their way up that massive hill at the back, laughing with youthful energy.

At the top of the big hill at the back of Earl Rowe Provincial Park on my final loop there was less than three kilometers to go, and I became quite emotional. It was all downhill (in a good way) the rest of the way.

Soon Jodi was waiting all alone at the finish line boisterously ringing her cowbell as I crossed the finish line for the completion of my 8th loop. As a 65 year old who has just run 96 kilometers with (according to my friend Martin’s Strava) 5,942 feet of elevation gain, trust me, that ringing cowbell was the most beautiful sound in the world.

Thank you Norman and Jodi of Gotta Run Racing. Thank you students of Hillsdale Elementary School.

My unfinished business has now been taken care of.

“Distance running is 90% mental. The other 10% is in your head” ~Ray Zahab~.

More mud

I so appreciate that the races by GottaRunRacing are cupless to help our environment. Thank you to all the wonderful volunteers who always kindly refill my hydration pack, provide me some nutrition and send me on my way with a big cheer. A race like this is impossible without you. YOU ROCK!!

With all that rain, my race bib was pretty much disintegrated.

Way back on loop two I looked down and there was only one safety pin left holding it. So I ended up taking the bib off and tucking it in my waist belt. There will be some definite memories each time I look at that bib.

Thanks for reading.