Despite never having looked at a map, I just assumed that it would be possible to run the full length of the Estrie trail. There was the old Estrie 50 race that went from Kingsbury to Orford and Sébastien Roulier had done a solo effort from Orford to Sutton, so somewhere in the back of my mind the two sections could be linked and run as a whole. I just never assumed that it would be me..
However, back in early April, when it was becoming very apparent that summer races were not going to happen due to the pandemic, the idea of running the full length of the Estrie trail was becoming the obvious thing to do. The second obvious thing was to pull together my usual run crew (some of my closest friends) and make an adventure out of it. The aim was to take on a challenge, have some fun and explore some trails that were close by but we may have never visited otherwise.
I researched the route and, via Skype, presented the idea to the group. Alexis Lussier and Alexandre Sauvageau were onboard for attempting the whole run with me, while Paul Lavoie and Helene Michaux were up for pacing us along different sections of the trail, and Catherine Tremblay and Karine Mousseau were going to crew us, following us by car and meeting us at spots where the trail crossed the road.
The next challenge was then to make sure the full length of the trail was actually accessible. Many sections of the trail pass over private lands and over the years some sections had their right of access taken away. So we researched online and visited spots to either get permission to use the trail or find a way to go around. It took some time but eventually we had our route sorted and had a date set for the run: June 26th, 6 pm.
We started at 6:15 pm. Temperature was humid in the mid 20’s, meaning that hydration was going to be an important part of the run but it wasn’t so hot that we would have to carry large amounts of fluids and chugging non stop.
Being that we we running at a moderate pace (ie not race conditions) I was timing my XACT ENERGY fruit bar intake to every hour instead of every 40 minutes and at each aid station was grabbing a handful of chips or a piece of our prototype almond paste bar for a salty contrast to the sweetness of the gels, they also felt more satiating as the hours went by. Alexis was following a similar protocol and as night set in the strategy was doing us well; the pace was good, energy was up and most importantly the jokes were flowing.
It was humid during the night and we stopped regularly to fill our water bottles in the streams we passed (get yourselves a filtered water bottle, they are a handy wee invention). I was chugging 1 bottle full at the stream and leaving with a full bottle to which I added an XACT ELECTROLYTE tab. XACT ELECTROLYTE has a higher sodium content than most electrolyte tabs and so I wasn’t too worried about the diluted effect of 2 bottles per tab, plus I was eating salty food at the aid stations.
Before going over Mont des Trois Lacs (which is a steep and technical climb followed by an equally challenging descent) we called for a noodle break at the next aid station to set us up for the night going through Orford park.
We hit the aid station ready to snack, going through boiled potatoes, PB&J sandwiches and the previously ordered noodles. I cracked into a Red Bull for a night time caffeine boost too. We needed jackets while we ate as our body’s were soaked in sweat and as soon as we started producing less heat, we got cold quickly. Food was scoffed, caffeinated drinks were gulped down and we readied ourselves for the back end of the night.
The technical terrain across Mont des Trois Lacs had aggravated Alex’s old ankle injury and it was starting to show. While his energy was boundless on the climbs and smoother trail sections, he was backing right off on the descents and by the time we were halfway through the park and at our aid station he had decided it was time to call it a night to avoid worsening his injury. As soon as we stopped at the aid station mosquitos descended on us like it was Happy Hour so we moved on as soon as we had our bottles filled.
The shorter stop at the aid station caught up with me though, I had recognised my energy levels were not super since the beginning but I was managing my intake properly so put it down to ‘one of those days’. However the steep climb up the ‘escalier du nord’ towards the crete was slow for me and as some daylight began appearing I was beginning to realise that I was stuck in a bit of an energy dip ..time for some more caffeine, in the form of a XACT ENERGY blackcurrant.
Despite my physical sluggishness, 70 kms in the legs and almost a full night of running, I was still feeling alert (thank you caffeine!) and as we got nearer to the first view point along the Sentier des crêtes, daylight was taking hold and we hit the perfect sunrise at Pic de l’Ours.
It was a steep climb back down from the summit of Mt Orford to the Orford lake parking lot where our next aid station was to be, but this stop was for breakfast and on the menu were Beyond Meat burgers and coffee, both powerful motivators to not hang around and get us there asap.
The burgers, coffee, sunlight and a bunch of fresh faced friends joining for the next leg got us back up and energised for the second half of the run. Outdoor adventurer and XACT athlete, Arnaud Coté Boisvert was joining us here to run all the way to Sutton to attempt his longest trail run so far. After the big climb of Mt Orford we were due for some more smoother terrain over the next 30 kms. This allowed us to stay concentrated on fueling regularly, rather than focus on navigating the terrain.
However, the day began to warm up quite a bit and so again we put an emphasis on hydration. The crew did an awesome job of keeping an eye on us, making sure we were drinking and eating regularly.
The morning was going well and we were closing in on the 100 km mark when Alexis's old sciatic nerve pain began playing up. As we ran over Mt Foster the pain began to slow him down and we took some time at the following aid station to see if Catherine (physiotherapist) could fix him up a little. Unfortunately, things were not better and so, like Alex, Alexis called it a day to avoid making things worse.
This left just Arnaud and me to run the 13 km stretch of road that navigates around Mt Glenn ski resort. Despite the smoother surface of the gravel, it was a tough section with the midday heat of the sun bearing down on us. We counted down the kilometres and drank up all our fluids. By the time we reached the next meeting point I was gasping for a cold drink. It was getting harder to eat so I went for a bunch of sugary drinks that the crew picked up up from the corner store.
As it often goes after a long time running (or even a long day at work), we start to hanker for particular foods and drink. In this case, it was Gatorade and coke, chased down by some salty chips (to contrast the sweetness). Sugar, caffeine and salt ..all the food groups, right?!
From here, there remained about 30 kms and they were going to be the toughest section overall, with over 1000m of vertical and technical single track until the village of Sutton. I was still running on the flat sections and downhills, but mostly power hiking the uphill sections. Caffeine seemed to be having less of an effect on me by now and my mind would often wander from the task at hand. Fortunately, Helene joined us for the climb from the foot of Mt Singer and, like a metronome, kept reminding me to keep drinking and eating as we went.
I had deliberately stuffed my XACT ENERGY fruit bars into my pack and belt at random, so as I reached for a bar, I didn’t know what flavour I was going to get. This little trick is handy when I know I will eat what I have in my hand rather than fish out my preferred flavours and end up getting fed up with the same taste over and over again. This time I had the added bonus of a couple of pieces of our prototype almond paste based bars in the mix. The trick was working and the kilometres were ticking by.
Our water reserves had just run out when we fell upon our pop up aid station deep in the woods between Mt Echo and Mt Singer. Lawrence, Marianne, Catherine and Alexandra had hiked up from the Mt Echo parking with fluids, chips and sandwiches. It was a huge lift to see that they had come up to meet us along the trail so we took a moment to snack and chat before pushing on towards the summit of Mt Echo. It was beginning to feel like we were coming closer to the end of our journey.
After Arnaud and I left the crew and headed towards Mt Echo, things started getting a little wild; the trails between Mt Singer and Mt Echo are far less frequented than those of Round Top or Mt Orford and a couple of times we found ourselves getting ambushed by Perdrix nestled in the undergrowth; their sudden flapping and squawking was enough to make us jump and the adrenaline felt like 6 shots of hot espresso in one gulp ..especially after a night with no sleep.
Fatigue is a strange thing, even after just one night without sleep, our mind can play little tricks on us ....more than once I thought we were being watched by hooded figures deep in the woods, large motionless beings silently patrolling the forest. Each time they turned out to be mossy old tree trunks. But for a moment, the mind takes a different path from the more obvious (no wonder fables and stories of monsters exist). It’s one thing when it’s just you seeing things ..but quite disconcerting when both of you start seeing them..!
Despite the hooded monsters and pouncing perdrix, we pushed on to Round Top where Catherine and Helene had decided to hike up and catch us and the sunset. They’re now awesome reputation as crew did not flounder as they presented us with Gatorades and extra XACT ENERGY.
It was downhill from now on and we picked up the pace as it got darker and darker. There was a certain thrill knowing that we were on our last leg of the run and we were eager to get down to town to see the crew (and catch last orders). Halfway down we met Lawrence and Marianne who joined us for the last leg. Lawrence cranked up the music on his phone as we flew down the Villagoise trail into town and we ran on the high of knowing we would soon be at the finish. We hit the rue Principale of Sutton village and turned left towards L’Abordage which was our destination finale. And with hugs and high fives all round we had got there just in time for last call!