A race of a different kind

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It wasn’t your typical trail race on Saturday, with endurance riders and ultramarathoners meeting to see whether horses or humans are better at long-distance racing.

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It wasn’t your typical trail race on Saturday, with endurance riders and ultramarathoners meeting to see whether horses or humans are better at long-distance racing.

Four ultramarathoners and three endurance riders hit the trails early in the morning to take on a 50-mile (80.4 kilometre) course as part of a fun fundraiser for Souris River Bend Wildlife Management Area, as well as a training run for runners and riders.

The endurance riders — Ethen Garn, Wendy Carnegie and Shannon Lightfoot — were the first to mount up and go at 8 a.m. as soon as their horse were cleared to ride by veterinarian Glenn Sinclair. At 8:30 a.m. sharp, ultramarathoners Mark Timmons, Clayton Swanton, Roxanne Moreau and Corey Mohr headed down the river trail and on to their leg of the race.

Shannon Lightfoot heads down into the Souris River Bend Wildlife Management Area to start her 50-mile race against ultramarathoners on foot on Saturday morning. (Karen McKinley/The Brandon Sun)

Both categories had their own courses to keep the runners and riders safe and avoid collisions.

The ultramarathoners and riders ran a series of loops to make up the distance, with a 45-minute vet check and rest for the horses. Humans did a 10-mile loop, with a quick rehydration and self-check break and horses did a 15-mile loop.

There were shorter endurance rider races as well, with a 25-mile (40-kilometre) race, 15-mile (24-kilometre) and a short pleasure ride for non-endurance riders.

It was competitive, but not to the point where everyone was in challenge mode, said co-organizer Jeff Bond.

Even then, the courses needed plenty of preparation during the week to ensure trails were clearly marked, checkpoints were manned and everyone and every horse was fit to run.

“The horse group [Distance Riders of Manitoba] did a lot of the work marking the trails for people because a lot of the trails are marked at horse height,” he said. “People like us are runners and we are only looking about three or four feet in front of us. So we had to mark where the runners are going to see it.”

While it was a small event and neither are known to be spectator sports, Bond said it was spectacular to see so many people get involved for a weekend of training runs. The hope was just to have an exciting event for people to enjoy and showcase what he thinks is a hidden natural gem of a natural green space.

Runners are moving fast along the trial, but at the heart of it is being out in nature and enjoying the challenge it brings. Ultramarathoners tend to be careful about minimal impact with no cups and no garbage.

Everything gets packed out, or kept in reusable containers.

“The only footprints we want to leave are the tracks of our shoes,” Bond said. “As we are running by, we get maybe a few seconds to look at attractions, but we still love to be outside and take in the challenges the Earth throws at us.”

The allure of running on a new and challenging course was enough to bring Moreau out from Bellegarde, Sask., to get some much-needed conditioning and spend time with fellow ultramarathoners.

“I’m sure the horses are going to win, but my daughter said, ‘Mom, I have great faith in you,’” she said.

(From left) Clayton Swanton, Mark Timmons, Roxanne Moreau and Corey Mohr all take off on their 50-mile race through the Souris River Bend Wildlife Management Area on Saturday morning. The human ultramarathoners were the second group to go after the 50-mile endurance riders left on their horses 30 minutes earlier. (Karen McKinley/The Brandon Sun)

Moreau has been running ultramarathons around the world for the bulk of her life. While there is a lot of physical conditioning and careful nutritional needs, much of it is mental conditioning to drive herself forward, she said. There will be emotional highs and lows, but she has to keep going, knowing that at the moment she may not feel great, but it will get better.

It is also empowering as a woman to push herself physically and travel alone over great distances.

“It’s amazing to see all the great places your feet can take you,” said Moreau. “I’ve climbed mountains and showed my girls and granddaughters all the great places you can go. As a solo traveller, it’s empowering and I want my girls to dream big.”

For others, the trails are familiar ground, because family made them. Connor McKenzie was in the 15-mile race on his horse Buddy (HR Rising Star).

He wanted to be in the race because his grandfather, Wayne McKenzie, made most of the horse trails, breaking them mostly riding bareback.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, I’ve ridden out here most of my life,” he said. “This is more fun. I like trail rides more than in being in the arena [doing lessons].”

Results will be published later this week.

» kmckinley@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @karenleighmcki1

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