Written by Ashley Dier | Academy Of Lions Media Team | Toronto
Seven months ago I received an email asking if I wanted to join an all women's relay team - The race, The Cabot Trail Relay in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Traveling out east and running a relay race are both things I've been wanting to do for some time, so I jumped at the opportunity and promptly replied with "I'M IN!!!". At 276 km's long, The Cabot Trail is noted as one of the most famous drives in Canada, and is one Canada's most stunning backdrops, Google it...you'll see why. Seven months ago, I had no idea just what was going to happen to us all on the incredible Cabot Trail.
The team leaders, Jenny McConnell and Preety Mudhar had a vision. "With an unwavering desire to fuel the power of women working together through the inherent spirit of a relay race, Relay Collective was born. Our aim is to tell the stories of remarkable women as they work together toward a common goal, while pushing their own preconceived limits. Camp Saturday's is the first team presented by Relay Collective." Jenny and Preety via @lululemmonto
Now, The Cabot Trail is not your average trail, it is legitimately some of the most difficult terrain in North America. There are mountains...huge mountains, there are steep downhills, there are constant rolling hills, not a single portion of it is "easy". The Cabot Trail Relay race is a bucket list race for many, the backdrop is incredible, and each portion a huge personal challenge. The relay race itself is divided into 17 legs and set over a 24 hour time period. Each leg has a time limit, each leg is incredibly difficult. The Cabot Trail Relay is no joke.
When Preety and Jenny, sent out that initial email, I was excited. Excited to be included, excited to conquer, excited to help my team, and excited to prove to myself that I could do this. After having some less than perfect races over the past year and still grieving over the loss of a family member I was ready to tackle something huge. The 17 women on the team shared a few things in common, we have all trained together either in Camp at the Academy, or with Parkdale Roadrunners Saturday morning ladies run. (Hence the name Camp Saturday's) We've persevered, we've all trained, and we've all sweat...together.
"Each runner displays a willingness to get better and be stronger. They continue to achieve goals while always wanting more for themselves and committing to the work needed to get there; all the while inspiring those around the, through perseverance." Jenny and Preety via @lululemmonto
Over the past few months we trained together, we sprinted hills together, we practiced yoga and meditated together, we became bonded together, the story of Camp Saturday's was beginning to unfold. As the race approached, things began to get more serious, for me at least. I studied my leg (leg 3) harder than I've studied anything in my life. I broke down elevation gain kilometre by kilometre, and meticulously went over the route (thanks google maps), we all did. No one on the team wanted to let anyone else down, that much was evident from the start.
For me, what we were about to do really sunk in during our shakeout run. We were here, we were doing it, it was huge. The morning of the race we were all buzzing with anticipation and nervousness. Those running first, anxious and wanting to start us off strong, those running later wondering when and if they would sleep. We set off and when our first runner, Altaira took off, it was clear something incredible was happening. Over the next 24 hours, every single women ran their heart out. For me it was difficult, I had a hard time finding my breath and fell in and out of my groove often. It was hot, hilly, and difficult but it was incredible. At one point as the road winded ahead of me, I saw beautiful mountains in the distance, mountains I knew my teammates would be running, it pushed me forward. I recited my mantras, chatted a bit with runners next to me, and even sang a little Beyoncé, it kept me moving.
Over the next 24 hours I witnessed some of the most inspiring shit I've ever seen in my life. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Each woman on our team brought it, and brought all of it. Each woman pushed harder than they ever have and left it all out on the trail. We were inspired by each other, dedicated to each other, and wanted to do our best for each other. Few things are more inspiring than seeing your friends run up HUGE MOUNTAINS with a smiles on their faces. The logistics of the race posed a different set of challenges, 24 hour of non-stop motion, running, support, driving and sleeping and eating when you can, how Jenny and Preety nailed down the logistics of it all is still mind boggling but I am grateful that they did and for their fearless leadership. The brain and body on no sleep is an interesting thing. Emotions were high, but the adrenaline kept us going. At certain points my body was numb and there are parts of the night that felt like a dream. I remember watching the line of runners during a night leg, vets illuminated by the headlights, fog rolling in all around us, the sounds of their feet and crickets the only thing you could hear, it was hypnotizing.
It's been four days since we finished the race and I'm still trying to comprehend exactly what what we conquered out there. The memories of my own leg are vivid and filled with emotion, but what I keep going back to are the memories of the other 16 women running their legs, crossing the finishing lines, and conquering. When one woman crossed the line after running a particularly challenging leg, a group of us ran to her. She looked at us, eyes filling with tears and asked "did I do ok? I just wanted to make you guys proud." That moment will stick with me forever, and perfectly describes this entire experience. We were made vulnerable by those mountains, but every single women on the team conquered them like the mf champions we are. We are stronger because of this experience, because of each other. The story of this relay race will continue to evolve and blossom. The bonds created will grow, and the stories and images will hopefully inspire others that they too can conquer. The story of the Relay Collective is just getting started and I am so grateful I was able to be a part of it.