By Jerelyn Craden
The team at Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve is excited and for good reason. On Sept. 10 and 11, their highly popular, internationally recognized event – the Haliburton Forest Trail Race (HFTR) – enters into its 29th year with more racers than ever.
“We keep breaking our registration record,” Tegan Legge, race director said. “Last year was the first time we had sold out the race, with 500 runners. There are five different categories, so we had 100 people per category due to COVID rules, which only allowed 100 runners to start at a time. This year, we’ve opened it up a bit more and have 575 people registered, with 180 people on a wait list.”
Of the 575 registrants, 24 are local residents and 95 per cent are from Ontario, “with some folks coming from Germany, England, Quebec, Alberta and the United States,” Legge said.
Last year, the course was changed from linear to circular, and many racers call it one of the toughest courses in Ontario.
The trails are rocky, muddy, dry, up and downhill, flat, grassy, not grassy, everything you could imagine. Plus there are small sections of gravel roads that connect to the next trail.
“It’s very tough and has spectacular views,” Legge said. “They go around lakes, marshes and wetlands, and two sections go up to Lookout Point.”
The race has five different categories: 12K, 26K, 50K, 50 mile and the signature 100 miler. Each category has its own fee starting at $50 for the 12K up to $250 for the 100 milers with an early bird registration of $200.
“In the past,” Legge said, “we’ve had runners as young as five, six, and seven years old running with their parents in the 12K.” She added, “About 20 to 25 per cent of the runners are over 50.”
The HFTR difference
“The HFTR is more than just a race,” Legge said. “People are here for the camaraderie, the atmosphere, and for the property itself. People run together, support each other, and cheer each other on. And if somebody is struggling on a portion of a trail, the runner that passes them will go to the next aid station and let them know to watch for them. They take care of each other. Our racers call it, The Haliburton Forest Family Reunion.”
Last year, Haliburton resident, Gord Darling, competed in the 50K for the first time. This year, he will be racing in the 50 miler. Once a wilderness professional, when his back gave out, he was no longer able to carry a backpack, run or canoe.
“The recommendations for this,” Darling said, “were – don’t run uphill and don’t get your heart rate way up so you’re maxed out. I had to unlearn a lot of what I learned about fitness and running.”
It was from reading the book, Born to Run, that Darling’s problems began to resolve.
“In April, before last year’s race, I started walking 5K four or five days a week on my lunch break. And every time my breathing got a little bit laboured, I slowed down. My goal wasn’t about winning anything,” Darling said, “It was to be injury-free and go to work the next day.”
Today, he no longer has those problems and looks forward to his young son and daughter handing him water and snacks at a trail aid station and cheering him on at the finish line.
“It really is a family-friendly event,” Darling said. “It’s not competitive. People are there to have fun.”
The 100 miler
“They leave at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning and have until 3 p.m. on Sunday to complete the course,” Legge said. “They run all night, wearing headlamps. We have aid stations all through the forest that provide food, water, and electrolyte replenishment. About 60 volunteers help us for the whole weekend. Then, the racers have their crew, made up of family, friends, and coaches who are out on the course helping them with whatever they need. They also have pacers – at night in the dark, they’re allowed to bring a friend with them.”
Legge added, “The driving force for the 100 milers is to cross that finish line in the time allowed and get a big gold and black belt buckle with the HFTR logo on it.”
This year, the race’s biggest sponsor is Canadian ultra marathon runner, Derrick Spafford’s company, Spafford Health & Adventure. There are $700 worth of donated prizes, which include camp running vests, Kahtoola Winter Running ExoSpikes and more.
“Our paddle shop also donated paddles as prizes,” Legge said. “Algonquin Outfitters typically does Haliburton Highlands Brew. The top contenders get a prize and then if we get enough prizes, more participants will receive a prize.”
Legge estimates that over the course of the weekend, approximately 1,000 people will be on site.
For race information visit www.haliburtonforest100.org/and Haliburton Forest Trail Race on Facebook.