It's Monday night and I'm still recovering from what turned out to be another great weekend on the Cabot Trail.
The weather was cooler than expected but mostly good for running. The folks who ran legs 9, 10 and 11 had to contend with dark, damp conditions that made their runs more treacherous than usual but everyone performed well. My team, the Smokey Mountain Daredevils, completed all 17 legs of the 276km race in a total of just over 24 hours, placing 38th out of 70 teams. Not bad considering the team included so many newbies.
I ran my own leg (#1) faster than I expected, "making the mat" with an average 5:57/km pace - which I was pretty damn happy about given that leg #1 was just a tad hillier than I expected, with ascents totalling nearly 400 metres.
Logistically, things went well too…for the first while, at least. Team members arrived in Cape Breton early Friday evening, enjoyed a community pasta dinner together, then headed up the road to settle into rooms at the Gaelic College before reconvening for our team meeting later that evening. Before joining them, I went to a local hotel to attend the mandatory captain's meeting, filled the car with gas, and stopped to take a couple of photos. As I drank in the gorgeous views, I was confident my plan was unfolding perfectly.
My confidence was short-lived however. The first four legs went well…
...but in the midst of leg 5, a caliper on Sarah's van seized and we were suddenly scrambling to make alternative travel arrangements for five teammates stranded on the side of the road.
The next couple of hours are a blur. I remember a lot of good ideas being thrown around as we waited for those who'd been travelling in the van to rejoin us (thanks to the kindness of other teams who offered lifts), and more than a few moments of panic as I tried to figure out the best alternative. However, by the time leg 7 was underway, we had a new plan and everyone was pulling together to make it work.
And, wow, did they ever. With little or no sleep, the two Sarahs and Gwyn ran great races in the wee hours of the morning with terrific support from Ruth and Krista. The late night crew, who faced some of the hardest runs, stayed focused and ran brilliantly with only minimal support from their driver/captain (me!) who was quickly running out of steam after all the unexpected decision-making and tough driving conditions. In fact, by the time we finally rolled into the motel around 1:30, I was so tired, I could barely string two words together and, to be frank, wasn't enjoying myself much anymore.
Fortunately, things looked a good deal brighter with a few hours rest. My teammates and I awoke to blue skies and beautiful views of Cheticamp harbour. As we sat outside sipping the hot coffee and tea David had thoughtfully popped out to buy first thing, we shared our favourite moments from Saturday before jumping in the car and heading up the road to join our teammates at the end of leg 16.
After a beautiful drive along the coast and through the Margaree Valley, we arrived to find them in good form - happy with their runs, enjoying one another's company and talking about "next year". By the time we reached Baddeck, we were all in full party mode, laughing and dancing as we waited for Julian to cross the final finish line. What a great feeling!
Looking back on the weekend, I realize that I'm already only remembering the good things - amongst them, my teammates welcoming me over the finish line at the end of leg 1, Jim gently counselling and Julian patiently listening while I struggled to rework our race plan, Ron and Hughie sacrificing their weekend plans to enable the team to finish the race, Deidre's strength as she climbed North Mountain, the excitement and fearlessness in "little" Sarah's eyes as she headed out into the darkness at 2:00 am, the joy on Tristan's face when he finished his leg in fifth place and on David's when he conquered MacKenzie Mountain, and Sarah's warm hugs and encouragement.
Did the weekend go exactly as planned? Nope. Was it terrific just the same? You betcha! Will I do it again? Well, the jury's still out on that one but I expect it'll be hard to stay away. The Cabot Trail Relay truly is a race like no other.
Thanks once again to the organizers and the people of Cape Breton for hosting such an amazing event and to my teammates for making CTR 2014 such a positive and memorable experience!