2018 Ultra-Trail Harricana

It’s a little odd to write about a race that I didn’t attend. Since I wasn’t at Ultra-Trail Harricana (UTHC), I don’t have any of my own photos to share. With the exception of one shot, all the photos in this post were taken by Debbie. On Saturday and Sunday, she ran this tough 123 kilometer/75 miles (it turned out to be more like 128 kilometers/80 miles) trail ultra in Quebec. She was happy to talk about it, so I’m happy to write a bit about what she shared.

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Over the last 19 years, she has run many ultras, and this was the first one that I didn’t attend. I’ve run a handful of them with her, but the rest of them I’ve been on her crew or I’ve paced her. At all of her races, I’ve taken photos and then written about the adventures.

Over the last dozen years, I’ve also looked after our kids, who have attended many of these races with us. The Harricana circumstance is an interesting story. She has had a solid year of trail running with her notable races being the MT. TAMMANY 10, Traprock 50K, The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler-Massachusetts, the Ragged 50K, and the Vermont 100K.

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None of these races are Western States Endurance Run (WS100) qualifiers. Though the WS100 course doesn’t favor her strengths, it is an iconic race, and one that she would like to compete in. In 2012, she crewed and paced for our friend, Larissa Dannis, but has never run it herself. She came close to qualifying in 2012 at the Pinhoti 100, but she fell short of earning a Golden Ticket by one spot. Alas, her best chance of entry now is through the lottery.

However, to remain in the lottery (held each December), you have to still complete a qualifying race. It’s a complicated system, but each year that you run a qualifying race, but fail to get in through the lottery, you get additional tickets that increase your odds. If you miss a year, you “lose your tickets” and your odds of getting in start over as if you are a first time lottery entrant.

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We recently learned that this rule has been modified and that you now get a once in a lifetime exemption to keep your accrued lottery tickets. However, she wants to save her exemption until she has more tickets. It would be wasteful to burn them in 2018 because she just started over again in 2017 after not doing a qualifier in 2016. Are you confused yet?

Anyway, six months ago, she identified UTHC as the only race east of the Mississippi that 1) fit her schedule and 2) was not a 100 miler (e.g. Grindstone 100 is a qualifier, but conflicts with cyclocross season). It never looked like UTHC would work out because it was scheduled for a very busy time of year. School, work, community involvement, kids activities, and cyclocross all ramp up in September.

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In July, I deleted it from my calendar and told Debbie that there would be no way that I could drive 8-10 hours to Quebec for another ultra in 2018. She agreed, but I think she secretly kept the race on her calendar. Anyway, in August, at the Ragged 50K, she ran with our friend Amy Rusiecki (she is the Vermont 100 Race Director), and the subject of UTHC came up in conversation. She said that her husband, Brian, and she had an opportunity to participate through a connection with the race organizers. I gather that Debbie eventually asked about joining them. She wouldn’t have made a solo trip, especially because of the long drive (I do most of the driving in our family).

To make a long story short, the Rusiecki’s were kind enough to bring her along for the ride this past weekend. She met up with them on Thursday evening, and then they left for Quebec early on Friday morning. This was a whirlwind trip for all three of them. Brian also ran the long course, while Amy ran the shorter 80 kilometer event.

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Debbie was pretty much out of touch from Friday night until early Sunday morning. The long course started at 4:00 A.M. on Saturday. The race took her 21 hours and 38 minutes, which is a long time for a race of this distance. The point to point course reportedly had 13,000 feet of elevation gain, but figuring it was longer, it probably had more climbing too. I was a little nervous following her results on Sportstats. There were long delays in the posting of “real time” results. Results didn’t appear until an hour or two after she reached each aid station. This lag was maddening and I kept refreshing my iPhone Internet browser in an effort to stay up to date on her whereabouts.

I followed through the day and into the night. I got up to use the bathroom around 1:42 A.M. on Sunday and the results still showed she was on course. She had finished by then, but it was a couple more hours before they were updated online. I got up again around 4:00 A.M. and checked my iPad and it showed that she had finally finished, which was a huge relief. I slept better after that.

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She held 5th spot amongst the women, and was the first Masters runner (40+) all race long, but at the last aid station with a timing mat (Split BMR), she had given up a spot to another masters female. However, in the last two hours of the race, she closed a two-minute gap, and then prevailed, ending up back in 5th place with a restored 10 minute gap to the other woman. The only photo of Debbie is from when the course passed through Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie. She was taking a photo of the river, and a tourist offered to taken her picture.

She said the course was grueling, with lots of fresh-cut singletrack. This created  many tripping hazards. She said the temperature was cool, near freezing in the morning, and the sky was overcast with partial sun. She said it only rained lightly on a few of the higher mountains. Other runners reported some light snow on the higher taller summits. She used her UltrAspire lights and packs with success. She had some “issues” as she described them. This wasn’t her smoothest race. She is in good overall shape, but it sounds like her race execution wasn’t superb. I’ll leave the details and that part of the story for her to share as she likes, especially since I wasn’t there to witness it.

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The race is part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour. It appears there were only 100 finishers under the 24 hour time cut. Technically, the 100th finisher was in 24 hours and 8 minutes, but she was counted in the results. That’s a high attrition rate given that there were 179 starters, including 24 women. Only nine women finished. Debbie said that the organizers made the race harder than last year, with more difficult trails, and that the cutoff times were tight. Even she was concerned about missing a time cut, but in the end, they weren’t a factor for her. She was definitely on course longer than she planned, but with her experience, it just meant more time in the woods.

Brian had a fine run, finishing 4th overall (and first Master Male) in 15 hours and 4 minutes. That fast time allowed him to get some sleep. So, after Debbie washed up around 2:30 A.M. on Sunday, they hit the road. It sounds like the kind of adventure that I would have loved! I was sad to miss it, but I filled my weekend with a mixture of family time, work, soccer, and cyclocross racing.

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It felt weird to follow Debbie from so far away, but she is super strong, fiercely independent, and built for this ultra lifestyle. She actually beat us home on Sunday. The kids and I were at Quad CX all day and didn’t get home until 7:00 P.M.

On Monday afternoon at work, I got an iMessage from an Ontario, Canada native by the name of Dale Witty. It included a photo of her ROADiD, which she apparently lost during the race. She suspects this may have happened when she removed her jacket. Dale finished about a half an hour in front of Debbie, so they were near each other on course, and obviously, at one point early in the race, he was behind her.

His note to me (my mobile number is on her iD) said, “Hi, my name is Dale Witty. I picked this up during the 125k Harricana UTHC on Saturday. Congrats to Debbie on finishing that tough race. Let me know if I should put this in the mail for you.”

What a fantastic gesture. I’m glad that since I wasn’t there…others were looking out for her!

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Race Results

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