Horror Hill Trail Race Report
Location: Woolwich, Ontario
Date: October 28, 2017
The Horror Hill race is a fun community race, known for it’s friendly volunteers and organizers, and the scary zombies and werewolves that “attempt” to help the runners pick up their pace by chasing them through the mixed wood forest trail.
I fell in love with this race last year while I was visiting family in Waterloo for Halloween. I was keen to run while there and it turned out that there was a race not far from where I grew up that seemed like the perfect combination of trail running, autumn colours and celebrating one of my favourite days of the year – Halloween! What I did not anticipate was how challenging I would find those hilly ten kilometers. Maybe I should have known that when a race is called ‘Horror Hill’, it might not just be referring to the theme, but rather the elevation gain involved. The course is a 2.5km loop (brutal!) – with each circuit of hills getting increasingly harder and steeper — at least that is how it felt to me!
I was feeling quite embarrassed about how challenging I found that race. I had been getting more into running, and I thought that having more experience running in the Yukon would make a southern Ontario trail race easy! But I was wrong and I had obviously not incorporated enough hill runs into my training. After struggling immensely with those hills, I was determined that I wanted to try the race again and that I would be ready this time! When registration opened for the race, I had just completed my first marathon (the Dempster to Dawson Marathon), so I decided to take the leap and register for the 25km distance, and started hitting up the black steps and Two Mile Hill on a regular basis.
Leading up to race day, the forecast seemed to be getting gloomier and gloomier, and I quickly had to accept that it would be one of my wettest runs of the year. I was excited though, because the weather forecast was calling for a colder start of 5 degrees. I am a cold weather runner and would much rather run at -20 than +20, so while this was one of the coldest days this season for the Waterloo region, I was delighted. Just as we were driving up, my friend Martha was getting out of her car. Martha is from Yellowknife and ventured over to Whitehorse for Ecology North’s Young Leaders for Northern Climate Change Summit this past summer. It was nice to see a familiar face, and while I was happy about the colder weather, she was in a T-shirt! A true northerner.
When I got to the start line, I was feeling good. Probably the best I have actually ever felt before a race. I had been off alcohol for over a week, and I felt like I had the right mental attitude for the ten laps and hills that lay ahead. I kept thinking in my mind that it would be just like running up my favourite mountain trail in Kluane National Park and Reserve – Sheep Creek Trail – but without the views of the Kaskawulsh Glacier, and instead, seeing the start line over and over again (okay, maybe it was a bit of effort to feel okay about that). But even with the pouring rain, I was, surrounded by excited people, and I felt ready to go.
For the start line, I had put myself around the middle of the pack — mostly because I had started off too many races in the first quarter of the pack, only to get deterred and further upset with all of the runners passing me from behind. So I started further back, but found myself quickly trying to pass the slower runners once the race got going. I was worried about starting off too fast, but my pace was feeling good.
The first part of the loop starts off by going around a little pond – which has always been one of my facourite parts, and then it veers left into the woods for the proper technical trail running portion of the race. Entering the woods, I started getting nervous. I knew that the big hill was ahead. The trail quickly turned into the first hill, which I ran up with relative ease. Okay Shailyn, you’ve got this, I kept thinking. Now bring on the big hill! I kept running, mentally preparing for that ‘big hill’, but that hill never came. Hmm. Where did that big hill go? The one I struggled with so much last year? No, it couldn’t be! Apparently I ran it, without a problem at all! And so the training paid off! I was over the moon. And then before I knew it, I was back at the start line, my mum and dad cheering me on, asking me if I needed any of the snacks or hydration that I had brought for them to hold on to.
On my second lap I stated feeling a pain in my right lower leg, which made me quite concerned. I had felt that particular pain during previous races, but not usually until around the 20km mark, so I started to worry. If this is how it felt on lap two (only about 3km in), I did not want to make it worse, and knew that if it came down to it, it would be better to stop than cause a serious injury. But for some reason the pain just remained stable and bearable for the entire race, so I kept pushing on in the rain. Lap two, lap three, lap four, each lap brought additional rain and additional mud – good thing I had recently bought and broken in a good pair of gortex trail runners! And every time I passed the start line again, my parents quickly ran down from the building to cheer me on and see if I needed any snacks. I had packed some hot rods and Girl Guide cookies to keep me going, which seemed to work out pretty well, and quickly landed me the nickname ‘Girl Guide’ by the race director.
The transition from lap four (10km) to lap five (12.5km) was the fun push that I needed. Most of the runners on the trail were finishing their race, and it was only those who were doing the 25km, 50km, and 6-hour race that were left. Having struggled with the 10k race last year, I remember being in awe of the runners that were continuing on, so it felt truly wonderful to have trained to this new level.
Lap six, lap seven, lap eight — each lap got muddier and muddier – especially on the hill. But the hill did not seem to grow. I kept thinking that at any moment I was going to hit my wall, but for some reason the wall never came. I remember the short repetitive laps being really hard to handle last year, but for some reason, I actually liked them this time. Doing the same route over and over again allowed me to get into the zone and allowed me to understand where to conserve my energy and when to really push it. I enjoyed developing this deep understanding of the trail and found that setting small goals of completing another lap kept me motivated and pushed me to keep going.
Before I knew it, I was beginning lap ten, the final lap, and I knew I would be able to pull off a strong finish. At this point, I just let the whole trail soak in – the beautiful autumn colours, the smell of rain, and I enjoyed splashing through the mud. It was during this final lap that I also accomplished a goal that I had set out for myself for 2017 – to run 1,000 km this year. So I was over the moon with excitement about that.
Coming around the final bend I could see my parents standing at the finish line, cheering me on, and man did it ever feel good! I think this is one of the first times I crossed the finish line with a big smile on my face. I actually had no idea how I had done compared to other runners, but I knew that is was the best I have ever felt during a race, and that was all that mattered to me. As it turned out, I placed around the middle of the pack, completing the race in 2:42:59 and placing 11/17 overall, and 4/9 for females.
This truly was a wonderful race to be part of, and it’s thanks to the volunteers, race organizers and fellow runners who braved the rain, that is was such an enjoyable experience. I am very thankful to the kind support of Athletics Yukon and Lotteries Yukon whose financial support (travel grant) helped make this goal of mine possible. And thanks to my parents for being there for me the whole way through, and to mum who insisted I have a free massage right after. Thank you!