There’s some­thing about the Cabot Trail Re­lay

A group of women on their jour­ney that lead them to team up to take on Canada’s most sto­ried East Coast re­lay

Canadian Running - - FEATURES - By Al­taira Northe

A group of 17 women trav­elled to Nova Sco­tia to run the Cabot Trail Re­lay. The 2 4-hour event is bro­ken up into 17 legs, rang­ing from 12–20k. The course cov­ers the en­tire 276k of Nova Sco­tia’s moun­tain­ous and breath­tak­ing Cabot Trail. Though train­ing for this spe­cific race only be­gan sev­eral months be­fore, all of the steps that led to it were years, and even decades, in the mak­ing.

In May 2016, a group of 17 Toronto women trav­elled to Nova Sco­tia, un­der the name Camp Satur­days, to run the Cabot Trail Re­lay. The 2 4-hour event is bro­ken up into 17 legs, rang­ing from 12–20k. The course cov­ers the en­tire 276k of Nova Sco­tia’s moun­tain­ous and breath­tak­ing Cabot Trail. Though train­ing for this spe­cific race only be­gan sev­eral months be­fore, all of the steps that led to it were years, and even decades, in the mak­ing. Women’s run­ning has seen an in­cred­i­ble boon in re­cent years; in fact, last year the Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported that in 2015, 57 per cent of the 17 mil­lion U.S race fin­ish­ers were women. When you con­sider the fact that prior to 1960, women were mostly banned from com­pet­ing in races far­ther than 200m, and that the women’s marathon wasn’t an Olympic event un­til 1984, it puts into per­spec­tive just how sig­nif­i­cant this per­cent­age is.

Women are still less likely to run longer races. Data from 2014 re­veals that marathon fields still see male en­try rates at slightly more than 50 per cent, and ul­tra­ma­rathons had only 30 per cent fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion. The Cabot Trail Re­lay it­self is still mostly raced by male-dom­i­nated teams. Though this is slowly chang­ing, there is a spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance to a group of women tack­ling a race like this cel­e­brated re­lay to­gether, with­out the help of male team­mates.

I sat down with the women from the Camp Satur­days team to talk about their jour­neys in run­ning, and the Cabot Trail Re­lay race specif­i­cally, and why this was such a mean­ing­ful ex­pe­ri­ence.

Why Camp Satur­days?

Park­dale Road­run­ners was started by Mike Krupica and Steven Artemiw in the sum­mer of 2010. In the be­gin­ning, it was just two friends who wanted to get each other run­ning. They printed a few shirts, and set a reg­u­lar time and place to meet up, and slowly, their run crew grew. Years later, Artemiw’s then part­ner, Preety Mud­har, no­ticed that a lot of women felt too in­tim­i­dated to come out to the reg­u­lar runs. They were wor­ried that they weren’t fast or strong enough. And so in the late fall of 2013, the Park­dale Road­run­ners Ladies’ Run was born. It was a huge suc­cess.

“I have to ad­mit, it is in­tim­i­dat­ing show­ing up to a huge crew run, as a new run­ner,” says Mary Hig­gins, who joined the Camp Satur­days team af­ter run­ning with the Ladies’ Run. “It’s re­ally dis­cour­ag­ing if you can’t keep up. At the Ladies Run, we still pushed each other, but in a re­ally non-sham­ing, en­cour­ag­ing kind of way. And I don’t know if guys do that. But it’s to­tally dif­fer­ent with women. They’re com­ing from a place of hav­ing been there be­fore. It’s kind of hard to ar­tic­u­late, but for me it’s a lot about that bond with other women. It’s non-com­pet­i­tive au­then­tic em­pow­er­ment. It’s just some­thing that peo­ple do by shar­ing their own ex­pe­ri­ence and just run­ning be­side you.”

Sim­i­larly, Jenny McCon­nell was on her own mis­sion to em­power women to seek their strength. Af­ter qual­i­fy­ing for Bos­ton in her first year as a run­ner, she left her job as a restau­rant man­ager in 2014 to pur­sue a ca­reer as a trainer at Academy of Lions, a Toronto train­ing fa­cil­ity that at­tracts many lo­cal run­ners. Notic­ing that many of her fel­low women run­ners didn’t cross-train as fer­vently as some of the men, she started The Camp, a week­day morn­ing meta­bolic con­di­tion­ing class for only women, mostly from the run­ning com­mu­nity.

These two com­mu­ni­ties grew (with some over­lap), and both Mud­har and McCon­nell saw the women around them get­ting stronger. They ran more, ran with each other, ran marathons. They went from push-up to pull-up, and started to set goals for their own strength.

The idea for Camp Satur­days started one day when Jenny McCon­nell did a speed work­out at Equinox gym. “I was try­ing to think of peo­ple who might be in­ter­ested, and I couldn’t think of women I knew who wanted to ac­tu­ally race. So I wanted to fig­ure out a way to in­spire women to want to go faster.” To achieve this goal, McCon­nell de­cided to put to­gether a re­lay team to keep women ac­count­able to each other. She en­listed Mud­har to be her part­ner, and they made a list of peo­ple who were part of their re­spec­tive train­ing groups. All the women who they mes­saged said yes within two hours. And that was it. The name Camp Satur­days came from com­bin­ing McCon­nell’s The Camp, and the fact that the Park­dale Ladies Run is held on Satur­day morn­ings.

There’s some­thing about teams

As one of the run­ners who quickly and en­thu­si­as­ti­cally replied “yes” to be­ing on the Camp Satur­days team, I can at­test to the fact that tak­ing a gen­er­ally solo en­deav­our and turn­ing it into a team sport def­i­nitely ups the ante. When I have a race com­ing up, I am one of those run­ners who will do the ab­so­lute min­i­mum amount of train­ing nec­es­sary to be able to get it done on race day. This was dif­fer­ent. We did train­ing runs to­gether. We ran hills to­gether. One of our team mem­bers, Kate Evans, a yoga in­struc­tor, even helped us with men­tal train­ing – med­i­ta­tion and cre­at­ing mantras to get us through any men­tal blocks that might come up on race day. Be­ing part of a re­lay makes you ac­count­able to the other peo­ple on your team, and while you may have per­sonal goals in your own run­ning, all of the women who I spoke to from Camp Satur­days con­firmed that Jenny McCon­nell had achieved her goal in cre­at­ing the team – all of us went into the race want­ing to go faster. We wanted to make each other proud. And the re­lay dy­namic lends some­thing spe­cial to the race ex­pe­ri­ence. Team mem­bers can draw from each other’s strengths in a way that’s very dif­fer­ent from what you see in solo races.

“Watch­ing Ce­leste Mor­ton, who was right be­fore me – I saw her run­ning up a re­ally steep hill, and saw the de­ter­mi­na­tion on her face and how fo­cused she was,” says Carissa Gre­go­ria, who ran Leg 7, a 13k. “And then she crossed the fin­ish line and started cry­ing. And I started cry­ing. I was so ner­vous, that it re­lieved my ten­sion.”

Ce­leste told Gre­go­ria af­ter fin­ish­ing that she gave ev­ery­thing that she had and, “pushed so hard for all of you,” re­calls Gre­go­ria. “And I thought, ‘I’m go­ing do that, too.’ Not that I didn’t think that be­fore, but it gave me fo­cus. It made me think, ‘I feel awe­some and I can do this’. Gre­go­ria now con­sid­ers her leg of the re­lay her best-ever race.

There’s some­thing about women’s run­ning

“The con­cept of fe­male strength is chang­ing. Women are no longer wor­ried about be­com­ing ‘mas­cu­line’ while train­ing,” says McCon­nell. “Even if women come in [to the gym] say­ing, ‘I want to get skin­nier’ or ‘I want abs,’ that goal quickly shifts once they see how much stronger they’re get­ting.”

When I talk to women I know who aren’t run­ners, they think that run­ners are crazy. We’re crazy for run­ning marathons and ul­tra­ma­rathons. We’re crazy for run­ning in -30 C in the snow. We’re crazy for trav­el­ling to Nova Sco­tia to spend 27 hours in a van sup­port­ing other women run­ning up moun­tains, while also throw­ing our own 13–20k race into the mix. But when I start talk­ing to them about the ben­e­fits of run­ning be­yond fit­ness, and the rea­sons why I run, their be­wil­der­ment of­ten be­gins to shift to in­trigue. When you stop see­ing run­ning as a form of ex­er­cise to get fit, and start see­ing it as a tool to help you work through all of the other things go­ing on in your life, that’s when the real strength of run­ning.

“Be­ing around other women do­ing pos­i­tive things to change their lives and achieve their goals has changed me,” Gre­go­rio points out. “I know what I want more con­fi­dently and as­sertively be­cause of run­ning. At work, my ca­reer and lead­er­ship are go­ing so well. It’s be­cause of the peo­ple around me, and be­cause I’m run­ning. I see things so dif­fer­ently from [when I started run­ning] two years ago.”

This was a com­mon theme for the women that I spoke with about run­ning in gen­eral, and specif­i­cally about the ex­pe­ri­ence of run­ning the Cabot Trail. Run­ning will pull things out of you that you didn’t ex­pect. “As far as watch­ing the race, and watch­ing all of those women,” says Ce­leste Mor­ton, “it brought some­thing out of me that I’d never felt be­fore – a se­ri­ous depth of emo­tion that I don’t get to very of­ten. I saw women that I’d been run­ning with for a num­ber of years dig just as deep as I did. And I thought ‘you felt as deeply as I did; you wanted to dig to the best of your abil­ity to do well for the peo­ple run­ning with you.’”

There’s some­thing about com­mu­nity

The promi­nence of run crews has ex­ploded, both in Canada and glob­ally. It’s this com­mu­nity that’s helped fuel the third, cur­rent ma­jor phase of the run­ning boom. Un­like tra­di­tional run clubs, which fo­cus on run­ning first, “run crews” are “about fam­ily first and fore­most and the run­ning is ac­tu­ally se­condary,” Char­lie Dark, founder of one of the first run crews, Lon­don’s Run Dem Crew, at his key­note talk last year at the Sco­tia­bank Toronto Water­front Marathon. “It’s about sup­port­ing and el­e­vat­ing ev­ery­one in your crew, par­tic­u­larly new­com­ers, be­gin­ners and mak­ing ev­ery­one the best that they can be.”

And with the rise of women’s crews, or women-fo­cused runs, women run­ners are find­ing their foot­ing, as well as the role mod­els they crave to help push them­selves fur­ther as run­ners. “Women are def­i­nitely more open about how chal­leng­ing run­ning is for them some­times,” says Ce­leste Mor­ton. “As I’ve run with more women, I need that. I need other women to tell me sto­ries about how hard, or how good, or how chal­leng­ing it is for them. Be­cause I feel like women deal with phys­i­cal chal­lenges on a dif­fer­ent level than men.”

There’s some­thing about show­ing up

“When I started run­ning, I thought ev­ery­one else was an ex­pe­ri­enced run­ner,” ad­mits Mary Hig­gins. “And they’d been run­ning their whole lives and I’d never be as fast as them. And I didn’t re­al­ize that this wasn’t the case un­til I started talk­ing to them. The se­cret wasn’t that they’d been do­ing it their whole lives; the se­cret was that they showed up. We live in this cul­ture that we want ev­ery­thing right away. And if we’re not the best right away we don’t want to do it. I didn’t feel that con­nec­tion the first time. But I kept show­ing up and try­ing to talk to peo­ple about their run­ning ex­pe­ri­ence. And I learned pretty quickly that the peo­ple I was run­ning be­side were not track stars from high school. They might have been par­ty­ing two years ago, but they de­cided to keep show­ing up. Any­one can do it. It just takes time.”

“She en­listed Mud­har to be her part­ner, and they made a list of peo­ple who were part of their re­spec­tive train­ing groups. All the women who they mes­saged said yes hours.” within two

“We wanted to make each other proud. And the re­lay dy­namic lends some­thing spe­cial to the race ex­pe­ri­ence. Team mem­bers can draw from each other’s strengths in a races.” way that’s very dif­fer­ent from what you see in solo

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