Athletes of the Week: Muskoka Algonquin Runners

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Main photos: On the left, Time to Grind (from left) Aiden Britnell, Nathan Johnstone, Chris Watson, and Dave Johnstone at the Ragnar Trail finish line; on the right, the MARsian Ladies (from left) Darla Coles, Melissa Kosowan, Catherine Smith, and Jess Sheppard. (Photos courtesy of Muskoka Algonquin Runners.)

Two ultra teams from the Muskoka Algonquin Runners (MARs) recently endured the gruelling Ragnar Trail Cottage Country relay and proved their perseverance as each team trampled approximately 200km over a two-day period. The ultra race, held August 24-25 at Hardwood Ski and Bike in Oro-Medonte, requires teams of four to complete a series of three trails or “loops” multiple times over two days and one night.

The MARs teams were: Catherine Smith (Cat S), Darla Coles (Darla Jean), Jess Sheppard (Def Sheppard), and Melissa Kosowan (Melissa M) competing as team The MARsian Ladies in the women’s open, and Dave Johnstone (Dave J), Chris Watson (Lil T), Nathan Johnstone, and Aidan Britnell competing as team Time to Grind in the men’s open.

Dave Johnstone shared the most challenging part of the relay race: “For me, the hardest part of the event was maintaining focus and concentration when running the trails in the middle of the night. It’s hard to stay on your feet and maintain a good rhythm at 2 a.m., running on narrow, winding, hilly trails within the glow of a headlamp.”

Darla Coles said of the Ragnar course: “Not much was easy. The trails were challenging, the mileage was challenging, the sleep deprivation was challenging, even the fuelling to discipline.”

Coles added that “Sharing the experience with two teams of eight amazing individuals” was what made it easier. “We took care of each other, motivated each other, cheered for each other. Even though, in the middle of the night you are out there alone, you run it for each other.”

All of the runners trained in a variety of ways to mentally and physically prepare for the event, including training at night and participating in the Limberlost Challenge. It paid off: they all made it across the finish line and all had smiles on their faces. Both teams wanted to recognize the amazing support from their hometown club, Muskoka Algonquin Runners, and The SportLab.

The teams each placed first in their respective categories with Time to Grind finishing first overall. (See full results here.) Well done MARs runners!

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