It was a cold and wet one in Perce, QC this past weekend. The second edition of the Gaspesia100 is now in the books. It's a brand new event but it is growing up fast. This year's race saw triple the attendance and there were more race distances/options and some major improvements to the course. Everything was fantastic except the weather. One option runners had this year was a stage race called the TransPerce, which was a combo platter including a late night 10k trail run on Friday night, a 53k ultra run on Saturday and a tough 23k run on the Sunday. Saturday was designated as ultra day, where runners could run the 53k point-to-point course either once, twice or three times to give runners a choice of the 3 common ultra distances(50k, 100k and 160k). The 53k and 160k runners started at the far end of the course, enabling them to finish at the race HQ in the center of Perce. The 100k race started and finished at the race HQ, making it easier for spectators to gather up to see runners finish. I was running the 53k this year, so I got to line up with the 100 milers at 5am. It was pretty I early for a 50k race, but I figured Iuli and the kids would have just enough time to get out of bed, get coffee and croissants and make it to the finish line to see me finish, giving us the day to explore the Geoparc.
The start of the race was located on the beach just a few kilometers north of Percé. The tide was low for the start of the race and as we took off we got to scramble rocks and boulders before making our way to the smoother beach. I was in the lead pack of 3 to 4 runners through this section and came off the beach in the lead.
The next 4k section was on the pavement and I used this opportunity to stretch the legs out a bit and see who would follow. As I turned onto the singletrack I could see a few runners about 400m back, so despite cruising 4:20s-4:30s I didn't open up much of a gap. The next 27k section was all on the Sentier des Rivières, and would make up the bulk of the race course. This was a beautiful singletrack that followed a set of rivers in the region. It was fairly technical at times and smooth and fast in places. The 53k course had a total of 1500m of elevation change, but the first 33k, probably only had three to four hundred of that, so things were going to get harder as we got deeper into the race, and I knew it. After 4 to 5k on the trail(section A on the map), ducking and weaving through cedars I got to see the famous waterfall. I remembered it from last year and it was just as spectacular this year. I carefully navigated the improvised log bridge to the rickety stair case, and stopped at the top of the stairs to tie my shoes, which were a bit loose. I'd lost my shoe in the mud earlier and I figured the trail wasn't going to get less muddy. At this point Dan caught me and we ran together for the next 4k(Section B on the map) till we hit a short gravel road section that was used to link up the trail. During this short road segment, Bart caught us and he was flying. We were roughly 18k into the race, and I felt very comfortable with my pacing so far, but I also felt I was moving as fast as I should be moving to prevent a blow up late in the race. I was also pleasantly surprised that I wasn't running alone. Both Dan and Bart however shared with me that neither had ever run anything longer than a half marathon, and for Dan that was 4 years ago. Bart had done one more recently but both were about to enter unknown territory. To be honest after hearing this I was almost positive I was going to see some blowups from these guys. Through this next section(C on the map), to the aid station located on the side of the road(~22k), Bart was leading and really pushing the pace. Dan had dropped back a bit, but I couldn't tell how far. I knew this next section as Florent and I had run it together last year and had gotten confused in this exact spot. This time, it was well marked, but I also knew what I was running into, a long muddy 4 wheeler hill up to a fire road. It wasn't steep, but it was fairly long. Bart stopped in the aid station. I had everything I needed in my pack so I kept charging. I reached the fire road and looked back but couldn't see Bart. I made a bit of a move here to see if anyone would follow(section D). I looked back when I turned off the dirt road, but didn't see anyone behind. This next section was about 9k of singletrack and it would take me to a main aid station at l'Anse a Beaufils, aka "the bar". I was doing some quick math in my head to try to figure out when I should see the 106k runners coming my way. They were supposed to start 2hours after us from the town center in Perce. I figured I could look at the time the leader took to get to me from the start of their race, and use that as a rough guide to tell me how much time I had left on the course. After about 3 hours of running I reached the bar, and still hadn't seen any 106k runners. The aid station wasn't ready for me, so I just gave them my number and quickly turned around and headed for Perce. This section to the aid station had a 600m out and back, which I figured I'd use to see how much of a lead I had. Just as I was getting ready to turn off toward Perce at the end of the out and back, I crossed paths with Bart. He was still looking pretty good but is likely now 5-6 minutes back. This next section would be where things get tough. We left the flat "river trails" and we're now on "sentier des montagnes", which as you can guess, would be a wee bit hilly.
As I got near the end of section F, I crossed paths with the leader of the 106k race. I looked at my watch, and figured he'd taken about 2 hours. But something didn't seem right given it was only supposed to be 17k to that point. Our race started a bit late, so I considered the fact that maybe the 106k race start had been delayed as well. Section G, would be the biggest climb of the day. Through this section I crossed paths with the remainder of the 106k runners. I wished them all well, and also found out they did start 15 mins later than planned. Half way up the climb I reached an aid station and I finally took a short break. I was feeling my legs weaken and get heavier. I took my time and just hiked up to the top with hands on knees. At Belvedere, the summit, I posed for the photographer, who nicely asked me to stop and turn around. I was pooped so gladly took the break. From there I figured I had about 10k left. I looked behind me, didn't see anyone, so bolted down the steep hill. The next 6k was quite steep and technical and very slow to navigate with tired legs. I had very little left in the tank and upon cresting hills, would hesitate a minute or so before I'd resume running again, a sure sign I was losing steam. I figured I still had a good lead, but knew that it could evaporate quickly so I just kept hiking, trying to not lose too much time. I was still running the downhills reasonably well, but the flats and the mild uphills were a killer. I passed some signs that indicated 3km to the geoparc building, and figured I was getting close to the finish. I had forgotten about the Mont Sainte-Anne detour that we needed to take. There would turn out to be one last big climb. The rain and wind started to pick up just as I reached the summit. I was completely bagged. I could barely run at all anymore and wanted nothing more than to stop and be done with this race. I was just hoping that Dan and Bart were also suffering and traveling as slow as I was. I took a drink from the aid station and jogged to the start of the downhill. This should have been the easy fun part, but it was anything but that. I was hurting and it took everything I had to run down this meandering path to the bottom of the park. Finally, after what felt like the longest descent ever, I reached the road to the finish, and could finally see the end in sight. I finished first, in 5:37, but I really didn't feel good or all that happy about my performance. I knew I had fallen apart, and although I was the only one who saw and felt it, and I could have easily just focused on the win, I didn't feel great about it. I knew I could do better. Iuli, Sam and Nico were at the finish and managed to cheer me up and help me get some food and fluids in me. The next runner came in, it was Dan. He had witnessed Bart blowup around the 36k mark, and took advantage. In fact, Dan said he felt great during the second half. He was whittling away at my lead throughout the final 20k, and lucky for me he ran out of room to catch me. From this point on, the rain was really coming down, and would continue to do so until about 9pm. The conditions through the mountain trails deteriorated immensely and runners were left with giant mudslides and very slow rope-aided climbs. Needless to say that many runners dropped as a result of the tough conditions. Thomas Duhaime became the one and only 100 mile finisher, and JF gave me the honnor of handing him his hard earned belt buckle. The field of 106k runners seemed to manage reasonably well as a whole with only a few drops. Good friends Karine and Krista, hit the podium, finishing 1st and 3rd respectively. Jerry Pugh and Brian Head also impressed with their strong finishes in the 106k which I believe was their longest race to date. Dawson and Carole completed the full TransPerce, which I believe Carole won for the women. Just outstanding grit and determination all around.
All in all, the new course is spectacular and is sure to please anyone who loves running singletrack trails. We didn't get the views of the ocean on account of the weather, so we'll hope that next year we get better weather. The post race BBQ was fantastic, with locally made sausages and salads. I can't wait to do this event again, hopefully with a bit more recovery between races.