by Scott Sternthal, 5ème/5th – 125k

On Saturday, September 10th, at 2 am, I began an epic journey that I will not soon forget. The Ultra Trail Harricana of Canada (UTHC) 125k was one of my 3 major objectives for the 2016 trail running season. For the first time in it’s 5-year history, the race was part of the Ultra Trail World Tour, and is considered to be one of the most prestigious trail races in Quebec. This is how it unfolded. scott
Km 0: The race started outside a small church in Notre-Dame-des-Monts, Quebec. I imagined the people sleeping soundly in their beds as our Pain Train got rolling. Km 1-20: Running and blabbing non-stop with Luis about everything and trying (and failing) to crack jokes with Simona and Luca from Italy while running 4:30 min/km pace. Stars and headlamps pierced the night mist.
Km 21: We started the brutal climb up Mount Morios (939m). No more joking. This climb was mean. Luis came roaring past me on a particularly steep, rocky section. He was moving well, floating. I never saw him again. Jean-François, the eventual winner, also passed me near the summit. My mediocre climbing ability was shining through! We crested the mountain under a clear sky in dark, inky mystery. We had a long, long way to go.
Km 28: Second time through the Marmotte aid station at 28 km. I stopped for a moment to drink Pepsi. My headlamp shone into the dark woods which lay ahead, in waiting.
Km 29-44: My first rough patch of the day, battling a cramping stomach. I was surprised since this had not really been an issue recently and especially not in cool weather. At 40 km, the sun rose over distant purple mountains as I loped through dew-covered meadows of giant wild blueberries. In the mud were fresh moose tracks. Birds sang. As I pulled into the Chouette aid station at 44 km, left knee bleeding from a silly fall, Marc and Jessy caught and passed me, so I decided to wallow in misery for a few minutes and eat cheese while a medic bandaged my leg. I was now in 5th place and a bit discouraged.
Km 44-54: My stomach troubles continued. Knee was still oozing blood. Every time I tried to eat something, stabbing pains seized my gut. Moving any faster than a jog was impossible. After a long, winding, exposed descent under humungous buzzing electrical towers, I pulled into the mid-way aid station at Hautes-Gorges at 54 km. I changed my socks, ate potatoes, and drank chocolate soy milk. People there were friendly and took pictures of me bleeding and eating. After a few moments, I was off again, hoping that my stomach would settle so I could tap deeper into my fitness.
Km 55-74: The section between Hautes-Gorges (54 km) and Coyote Honda (74 km) aid stations was more or less uneventful, except for some risky untreated creek water consumption and me running over and through a rotting moose carcass. I had been moving alone in the woods for nearly 7 hours. When I pulled into Coyote, my old friend Ian was there to greet me, which was a nice boost. I had not consumed much for nearly 2 hours, so I guzzled as much electrolyte drink as I could before leaving. Suddenly, I felt like I was moving well for the first time since sunrise!
Km 75-93: This was a rough and tough section of sustained up and down technical single track that seemed to go on forever. But I was moving well! Light and nimble, stomach was ok. I started pushing, confident I could maybe even bridge up to Marc and Jessy. But alas, I never did, and was actually about to reach the lowest low of the day.
Km 94-101: I arrived at the Epervier aid station at 94 km feeling so crappy that I contemplated dropping. But I knew that my family and friends were waiting for me at the finish line and I just couldn’t let them down! When the next runner pulled in shortly after me, and I realized I was about to get passed again, I decided then and there to start pushing harder than I had all day, regardless of the pain in my stomach, and now, in my legs. I stuffed more salt-dipped potatoes into my mouth, downed 5 cups of chicken broth, and was off running, in pursuit of the finish line at the Mont Grand Fonds Ski hill.
Km 102-Finish: After a quick stop at the 101 km aid station, I kept my foot on the gas. Bleeding, grunting, drooling. I think even growled at someone (sorry!). The ascension of Black Mountain (800m) at 108km was the final cruel twist of the blade. The Km markers ticked down; 9km, 8km, 7km, another punishing steep climb, 6km, until I could hear the faint sound of a loudspeaker and people cheering, and music! After over 15 hours running, I made the final turns toward the finish line. I saw my wife and kids and our friends jumping up and down. I stopped for brief hugs and crossed the line, satisfied that I held onto a solid 5th place finish. I drank a beer, ate some oranges, then threw up, elated.
Now, it’s time to recover before I tackle my first 100 mile race, and last race of the season, the Bromont Ultra 160, in less than 4 weeks!
Huge thanks to all the volunteers and race organizers of the 2016 UTHC who made this race truly world-class, to Inov-8 Canada for supporting me with the best shoes on the planet, and to my family and friends for putting up with this insane and completely awesome hobby called ultra running.