Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Creemore Vertical Challenge is No More

Well, I guess it had to happen at some point in time, but it is still one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make.  I don't know about you, but I am sad to see the CVC go.  It has been a constant companion for 10 years and I will miss what has become an exemplary event, for me.  I will address the reasons for cancelling the race below, but before doing so, let's take a short stroll down memory lane.

The Creemore Vertical Challenge started because some of the Ontario trail races (does anyone remember OUSer?) were tough, but I found them to be less challenging than a few of my training routes.  Some races were touted as "really hilly".  I found them mostly flat.  Back in 2005, as I was climbing the Niagara Escarpment for the third time on one of my longer training runs, I noticed a small plane, possibly a Cesna, below me.  It was likely approaching the Collingwood Airport.  I'm hazy on the details, but a friend was running with me.  Yes, I had chosen a particularly hilly route, in order to impress my running buddy.  His expression?  "Holy sh*t, we are above an airplane!  I recall thinking how his remark was quite funny and wondered if other runners would see the humour.  Only one way to find out!

After much consideration, questions, estimates, logistics and a significant degree of apprehension, I invited 2 race directors from the Ontario Ultra Series, to run the proposed Creemore Vertical Challenge course.  It was the summer of 2006 (the first CVC was held in July 2007) and although the temperatures were great for running, the combination of hills and some heat made sure it was not a walk in the park.  The first course (it changed over time) included a good chunk of the Nottawasaga 4th line.  We had run about 19K of the course, which included a hill up Collingwood Street (Hill #1), the gulley (hill #2), 30th Sideroad in Mulmur (O2 hill) and the Townline, which I call Top Hill.  Don't forget that I am used to running hills.  The poor chaps accompanying me don't normally see so much elevation in a given month of running.  John (Turner?) asked me what lay ahead.  I think he was nearing the limit of his hill running.  I made a small mistake.  I knew the upcoming terrain was relatively flat, but I thought it rose gently, then went downhill.  So I informed John that "we have to go up a gently incline, then it is downhill for most of the remaining course".

We crested the long gentle uphill, only to find another gentle uphill.  John gave me a significant look.  "Oh yeah, I forgot about this rise".  We then ran to the top of the second gentle uphill, only to find another gentle uphill slope.  John turns to me and states "If there is another hill after this one, I'm going to kill you".

At the time of the inaugural CVC, I was a member in some of the larger IT projects at Honda.  At about that point, I would assume the position of technical lead, for Mainframe computer systems, which is a fine way of saying that I was involved in maintaining the project schedule, but didn't have to deal with staffing or reporting to the project stakeholders, typically senior management.  I incorrectly assessed the effort of organizing a race to be the same as a minor project.  It wasn't.  It was closer to a mid-sized project and (of course) I had little support or resources on which to draw.  I now know it takes close to 800 hours of work, to stage the CVC.  Please go back in time and shoot me.

One trend I noticed was that you can expect things to go wrong.  The trick is to have contingency plans for every aspect that can seriously derail the race.  Being able to think fast and invoke corrective action really helps.  Oh, and have a thick skin.  On occasion, a runner will complain about something that is not overly relevant.  Keep in mind that the runner is probably frustrated about his/her performance and is simply venting.  This is to be expected.  The real problem is when a runner complains about something that you should have antcipated, or an outright error on your part.  I think most drugstores have a shelf of thick skin products.  Buy a large assortment.

Over the years, I have strived to improve the race.  Better signage, better prizes, race swag and a great after-race party.  I know, calling it a party is somewhat misleading, but what else could I call it, when Creemore Springs donates 3 kegs of their finest ale?  But there are many different aspects of the race that are improvements, yet not likely to impress most runners.  The Creemore Vertical Challenge was always part of the Ontario Ultra and Trail race series (OUS and OTS, now under the OUTRace series umbrella).  Over the years, I have petitioned to become part of the ACU (National Trail Series race), IAU (Bronze level international ultra race), Trophy Series (Trail Runner magazine) and this year, part of the Canadian Skyrunning Series (Skymarathon).  These improvements have resulted in some surprising (and puzzling) results.  The CVC was included as one of the top 50 international trail races by the UK Trail Running magazine.  I'm not even sure how they found out about the race!

Creemore has attracted what I consider to be an inordinate number of elite runners.  Not that we had Kilian Jornets coming out of every orifice, but still, there were some damn fine runners.  Calum Neff, a Canadian living in Texas, running the 50K in 3:25.  Seriously?  No one had broken 4 hours in the 50K before that record.  Kanchha Maya Koju from Nepal, who ran the 25K and broke the woman's record by 9 minutes, in a time of 2:00.  Wow!  By the way, Kanchha recently broke the Nepalese womans marathon record.  Not to mention most of the top drawer Ontario trail and ultra runners.  I figure they were either drawn by my charisma or my wife Lee Anne's pottery prizes...

Reasons for Cancelling the CVC

Well, here goes.  I intend to spend a bit of time explaining the rational in pulling the plug.  This was much harder on me than it will be on anyone else.  It is difficult to let something that has shine and sparkle fall to the wayside.

Effort

I have addressed this in other blog posts, but the 800 hours I spend per year on the race is a significant part of my available time.  In the past 3 years, I have been feeling that it is too much.  I spent close to 2 months clearing trail after this year's ice storm.  I fear that I will one day have difficulty with the relatively small amount of time I need to invest close to the race day.  I work 18 hour days for the week leading up to race day.  Race day starts at 4:30 AM for me and continues until 8:00 PM Monday.  Long after the last volunteer has departed, I am at it.  Don't get me wrong, it is the volunteers that make the race possible, but I would never expect any of them to stick around much after the race is over.  Race prep takes 8 days and tear-down takes 4 more.

What has been troubling me for the last 3 years is that as I undertook the plethora of tasks that need completion before the race begins, I was finding myself less engaged.  I didn't care as much if a task was completed with quality.

As a preemptive measure, no it would not make sense or be possible for others to assume the tasks.  I can't ask someone to run the evaporator and make 65 litres of maple syrup.  Administration of the race is quite unique.  I know the land owners personally.  They are very gracious in granting me the use of their trails, but that is because I'm a friend.  Otherwise, there are No Trespassing signs on their land.  Good luck getting Lee Anne to make 42 pottery prizes for less than a fortune!

Bureaucracy

Not that I pine for the old days, when races provided water and not much else.  I would like to go back to the days when woman were barred from longer races, but that is for selfish reasons.  I hate it when old fat ladies beat me to the finish line...  Okay, a joke in bad taste is not going to help me!

Races nowadays are mired in bureaucracy.  The Spring Warm-up could no longer be held in Toronto because the city wanted police presence at every intersection.  This was for the 30 odd runners that went out for a fun run.  The Toronto Ultra was cancelled for similar reasons.  I am supposed to remit GST for the CVC, but I am not an accountant and there is no way in hell that the race can afford one.  I spent an interesting month in 2008, while the County of Simcoe tried to determine if the race should submit a special event form every year.  This is a 7 page form that requires sign-off from the police, fire, medical, roads and others.  Eventually, they decide it was not necessary, but this sort of thing is cropping up all over.  I never did get a reply from the County of Dufferin (the race course is on Simcoe and Dufferin county roads) if I needed to submit anything.

My feeling is that I am running on borrowed time and that some day, someone will want to inspect the race financials.  The race financials are very simple.  I pay out of pocket for everything (and keep track of expenses) until the big ticket items need to be paid.  I then withdraw funds from online registration, pay the bills and reimburse myself for expenses.  Any money left over is donated to the national ultra teams.

Liability

Ah!  Such a dangerous word.  I know that no runner would ever consider suing me because I have such a nice personality, but the first question you should answer before you decided to stage a race is whether or not you like your house.  Because if things go south litigationaly, it will soon belong to someone else.  Think of what runners face on the CVC.  There are hills, heat, roots, rocks, long distances and trucks zooming along the race course.  Cliffs, swamps, branches and possibly angry dogs.  It is not the easiest of races and I often wonder how many "runners", who sign up, haven't a clue what the are about to face?  Perhaps it is possible that their loved ones, when they die on the course, will want retribution?  Is it possible for them to "prove" a lack of due diligence on my part, by finding an eye level branch somewhere along the 12 kilometers of trail on the course?

Stress

Strangely, when I worked at Honda, the stress of organizing a race was not a major issue.  Since retirement, the race is the largest stressor in my life.  I don't mind, as it is typically stress for a short 2 weeks leading up to the race.  Recently, I have been questioning if I need the stress and as I approach 60, it seems to be growing.

I probably handle stress as well as anyone, but it still needs to find a release somewhere, somehow.  Guess who is usually on the receiving end?  Lee Anne does not need a grumpy old man hounding her.  I don't like being irritable.

This year, I noticed how much more enjoyable it was to stage the Spring Warm-up (for OUTRace, in Dunedin in April) than a full blown race.  I LIKE the Spring Warm-up.  I'm lukewarm about organizing the CVC.

Miscellaneous

I could actually go on for quite some time on reasons why staging the CVC is no longer a pleasant experience.  I'm approaching 60 and wonder if I might soon have trouble staying alert during the 16 hours of the race.  I worry about getting sick at some crucial time, such as the week leading up to the race.  What if I am physically unable to prep the trails?  Cancel the race with less than a week to go?

Looking Forward

So, the race is now part of history.  Hopefully people will recall the good times and some will think about how the punishing CVC course helped them to excel in other races.  Ironically, I'm looking forward to being able to train properly during July, a critical part of the year if you want to do well at in summer races.  Yes, I had to virtually shut down training as the race loomed.

Lee Anne and I are also toying with holding a few hill and trail running camps.  Although not fully fleshed, the concept would be to attract runners up to Creemore for a weekend to experience trail and hill running.  The target audience would be runners who wish to hone their trail and hill running skills.  We would offer some tips during the runs, meals and accommodations.  Most likely though, runners would show up just to have fun, get in a few runs and enjoy a Creemore Springs at the bonfire...

50 comments:

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    1. Hey Ron. It's too bad you don't get 6 more years to even the score!

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  2. What Ron said. I only got to run it twice, but I loved every second of it (including O2 hill.) Thanks for your service all these years, Pierre.

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    1. Hi Kwillonia. I also look forward to running O2, to see if I can make it up alive...

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  3. So very sorry to read this but the reasons are totally understandable. I'm grateful I was able to participate the years that I did. It will also be a memory for Amelia where you allowed her to volunteer for her first (and 2nd time) ever. Thanks to you Pierre & Lee-Anne :)

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    1. Hi Robin. Yeah, it was a tough decision. Part of me wanted to go out on a high, instead of after a year when the race has issues. Thank Amelia for her help. As I said, it is the volunteers that made the race possible.

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    2. It was a high....no issues! It was all fun :) Thanks again!! See you on the trails.

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  4. Thanks for all of your hard work Pierre. I only got to run the CVC once but I wear your race shirt with pride on training runs and have great memories of sitting in the stream behind your house, sipping a Creemore draft and thinking about how lucky you are to live in such idyllic surroundings. See you on the trail circuit!

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    1. Thanks Dave. Yes, sitting in the river afterwards is almost worth the suffering! One regret is we won't be sharing the area and property with so many running enthusiasts. See you soon!

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  5. This is shocking..expected..but shocking nevertheless :(
    This is the one race that made me fall in love with trails and trail running.. The fact that I will miss it dearly is the biggest understatement in the world. I think I might need therapy to get over this news.
    That being said.. thank you Pierre and Lee-Anne,and I speak of behalf of Saj and I, Thank you for bringing this wonderful race into our running lives, for being kickass RDs,for the lovely hand-made medals,for the maple syrup and most importantly, for the precious memories that we will cherish as long as we live.

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    1. Hi Agnes. The race helped to cultivate friendships such as ours, so another regret in letting it go. Many thanks to you, Saj, family and friends for your help with the race. I still am amazed that you brought 300 Samosa this year! Wow!
      See you in therapy...

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  6. Although I had only made it out once for the CVC I am still sad to see it go. There was a wonderful vibe of community there and despite a slower than expected time and a tough run, I have fond memories of it. Thanks for making that possible.

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    1. I agree Brian. Sometimes, it is the "tough" races that you remember. Creemore was a bit like a mini Barkleys, as it pushed runners to their limit. I would see it on the faces of the finishers. They were beat up, but proud to have completed the race.

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  7. This race has been a part of my life for the last four years. First two years of 25K. Then two years of 50K. I have run the trail 6 times. It really has been integrated into my daily running mentality. It has been listed (as CVC) on our marathon groups training schedule along with our fall marathon. We hill train to get stronger because we had known the CVC is just around the corner. When I first did the 25K, the longest I had ever gone was 30K (ATB). Somehow I got the courage to signup for the 50 two years later. Never content to stay at the same level, I had been planning on running the 75K next year. Well I thank Pierre and your crazy race for encouraging me to dream big as far as running goes. And it goes far...

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    1. Thanks for the inspiring words. Each year a few people consider the next step - stepping up from the 25k to the 50K, then toying with joining the crazies for 75K. I'm glad the CVC was the venue that helped you to dream big!

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  8. Thank you, Pierre and Lee Anne, for organizing CVC, by far the best and most enjoyable trail race I've ever participated in.
    I and my fellow Thornhill Running Room friends talk about Creemore all the time. Last Wednesday, while we were doing speed work at a local high school track, there was a veritable sea of fluorescent green as at least a half dozen of us were decked in CVC technical running shirts despite the fact the the track was as flat as a pancake and there were no pitches or hills to get over. Those who were not in CVC green clearly were not in receipt of the memo.
    I'm sure I'll see you at future trail races and will be sure to say hello. Thanks for the great memories. I wish you nothing but happy trails.

    Aaron

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    1. Thanks Aaron and those at the Thornhill Running Room. I wear the CVC green at most races. While chatting to a fellow runner, he looked at my shirt and declared "Oh! You're one of those crazy runners"! See you at the races!

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  9. I'll echo Aaron's Thank you!.... and add my sad face :(
    As one of the Thornhill Running Room group, I was introduced to the CVC years ago by some our CVC enthusiasts by being told "there are only 4 hills, you'll be fine".....the reality was juuusssttt slightly different as I ran my first CVC on a sweltering July, 31C morning...yeah! BUT, that sense of accomplishment and sitting in the river after the race was completed...made it worthwhile. There is so much more I can write about this race but I will say I am sad I missed this last CVC due to an injury and that this race will live on in our memories and in all of our running stories!

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    1. Thanks Cigdem. Running CVC during a hot year (7 of the 10 years!) is a true test. I recall a 50K runner who mentioned that about halfway through the race, he changed his focus from trying to attain a 50K PB, to trying to survive the race... We will miss you and your Thornhill buddies!

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  10. Congratulations Pierre and Lee Ann for investing so much of your time and effort, your creativity and your vision for this project. Do you think it's coincidence that now when I am finally in race ready shape that the race I want to run is no longer available? (Short joke). I think you have many reasons to be very proud of yourselves, the race went on despite the weather, the temperament of some runners and/or emergencies that will happen. Thank you for including the Marcoux family in your race for many years. It's always been a blast!

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    1. Hey Sis! Thanks to you and the whole fam damily for help year after year with your little brother's pet project. Along with the sorrow of seeing it end is a great sense of relief. Also, I think it is time for Lee Anne and I to change directions a bit. We will still be involved in racing and volunteering, but we also have plans to stage something much smaller, such as a trail and hill running camp. Stay tuned!

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  11. Thank you so much Pierre (and Lee Anne) for giving so much of your lives these past 10 years. My 1st trail race was the 25k in 2015 and I loved it and was hooked. Adding my 50k ceramic medal in 2016, this event (my favourite) will always be very dear to my heart.

    I am one who has a hard time dealing with stress, and I can't imagine the toll this event must have on you. Dealing with bureaucracy, litigation always on the mind, I understand why you have decided to retire this event.

    This would have been a difficult post to write. But I am so grateful to say I experienced Creemore vertical Challenge.

    The hill and trail running camps sound really cool.

    Thank you for the great memories! :)

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    1. Thanks Carl. I know your plans for a Creemore 25K, 50K and 75K are derailed - one of many items I factored into the "keep the race" side of the equation. But alas, I felt that continuing with the race was not the right decision. I wonder if 3 laps of the course would constitute a good first day for the Hill and Trail Camp? Hmm... Not that I could complete 75K of Creehills!

      The stress was not a huge factor in the decision, although it was always present in the back of my mind during almost every task. It was more about the balance between doing a quality job and avoiding undue effort.

      We will meet again at some future race!

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    2. A 1st day 3 laps of the course for day 1 of the Hill and Trail Camp would be epic...lol.

      We definitely will meet again at a future race! Thanks again! :)

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  12. Thank you Pierre and Lee Anne. Done CVC twice and absolutely loved it. And with the best swag ever, - Anne your two bowls sit proudly on my kitchen counter top (maple syrup long gone), - so I will always have a reminder and fond memories of CVC. All the best to you both.

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    1. Thanks Alistair. I still remember being lapped by you at Pick Your Poison. You were in second place and stopped to shake my hand. Only a gentleman would do so, but at the time, all I could think of was that you were in second place and should get going!

      Cheers!

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  13. Thank you Pierre and team for the amazing dedication you have shown the sport over the years! CVC is a wonderful race and will be greatly missed by many.

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  14. hmm... looks like I'm signed in as my husband lol

    --- Chantal Warriner

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    1. Hi Chantal. Thanks for the kind words. I will likely miss it the most. I'm hoping that a new and better race will take its spot in the near future. I think that OUTRace is a fine series and I hope it continues for years to come.

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  15. Thanks Pierre! It has been amazing and will be really missed. I had some of the best trail running experiences of my life on your course. All the best!

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    1. Hey Nick. Thanks. See you out on the trails!

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  16. Pierre and Leeann, I had heard this rumour, and I am sad to learn that it's true.I have many Creemore shirts but even have more fond memories! I have missed a few years because of family travel, but if in town I have never said no! I think I was at the first Run when I used to Run with The Ultimate Warriors! And I think I have convinced more than a few of our Thornhill Running Room marathon group to run this Race over the years! The gun at the start! The long steep hills! The sunshine!falling flat on my face in the mud! The aid stations! The comraderie! The steep valley with the rope then the foot bridge near the end. The cold Creek,cold beer, and the best tasting pizza! The hand made pottery,the Creemore coffee (with my friends' faces on the label!) and handmade medals. Spending the day with amazing running people. THANKS FOR ALL OF YOUR HARD WORK, And for the great memories! Happy trails and well deserved rest to you!

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    1. Thanks Debrah. Many runners said it was a great event, if you exclude the running part! Thanks for your kind words and enjoy the memories.

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  17. Pierre, thank you to you and Leanne for your exemplary efforts throughout the years. CVC has been always something that Ben and I have looked forward to and we thank you for your hard work. It will forever live in our memories as being a special race. Thank you!

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  18. Be there this year, second or third week in August? Just leave the stream open and the beer keg unlocked. Sorry your resignation is not accepted.

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    1. Hey Stephen! I thought you might not take this lying down... One of the ideas that Lee Anne and I have kicked about is staging a Fat-ass. No bibs, registration, police, medical, insurance, toilets, flagging, prizes, medals, registration (OK, he gets the idea). Just a self-serve aid station. Show up and run! Oh! And a keg of beer. Let's not lose sight of priorities...

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  19. Pierre, you and Lee Anne ran a superb race, and I will miss it tremendously. Thank you for all the memories (and hills).

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    1. Thanks Salvatore. Can't forget those hills!

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  20. This means I don't ever have to sign up for CVC 50K -- thank God! But seriously Pierre, I only had the cojones to run your wonderful race at the 25K distance a couple of times and enjoyed everything about it. You learn something new every long race but your races taught me more than one thing each race (blisters, cramping, sun, hydration, you name it)... I wish you the happiest retirement and hope to see you on the trails. ツ Martin Kuhn

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    1. Thanks Martin. You see, there is a silver lining in any bad news! I have saved so many so much suffering...

      Cheers!

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  21. Mike Tickner/I will definitely miss your race Pierre and Lee Anne.I ran your race the whole 10 years that you held it and enjoyed every one of them. It was my first trail run that I had ever won at the time.I was hooked on this race and was one of the first races I circled on my calendar every year.Anyways we didn't have any more room for Lee Anne's wonderful pottery.Best of luck to the both of you.

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  22. Hey Mike. I think the combined times of your 10 runs adds up to the average 50K time! I've always been in awe of how you were able to run the ENTIRE course, never mind setting the course record in many years. Lee Anne is having a show of her pottery this weekend and yesterday the sales were rather brisk, so I think others also perceive her pottery as being wonderful.

    Cheers!

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  23. Your event has been one of my absolute favourites and always will be. I am thankful for the few years i was able to huff and puff my way through and appreciate your efforts to keep the event running. The hospitality you showed and the camaraderie of the field make CVC a race full of fond memories and four letter curse words. My mother always said to stop while you're still having fun :)

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  24. Thanks Sonya. Your mother was correct; I didn't want to see the race slowly degrade over the years, as the effort of staging the race became too much for us. I should have had a sign on the O2 hill designating a "Swear Zone"!

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  25. Pierre,

    So dissapointed to hear the race will not continue but completely understand. I was really looking forward to coming back this year and smashing that record again but glad I could be part of the memories. Still working through my mason jar of syrup (will ration now) and the pottery is apart of my family's weekend tradition when I make crepes for the girls. I will never forget arriving in Wales for the world mountain running championships just a month after CVC and turning on the TV to a special on Creemore Springs. CVC was my first ultra race and it will live on forever. Thanks for everything.

    Cheers,

    Calum Neff
    www.neff.run

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    1. Hi Calum. Yeah, bit of a drag that Creemore is no more. However, your record will remain untouched! I'm glad the the CVC had a place to play in your incredible running career. Hopefully we meet up at some race in the future.

      Cheers!

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  26. Just reading this. I was part of the 50k version in 2015, I believe, for a couple of weeks on holidays and preparing for a mountain run in Austria, when I found out about the CVC. What a wonderful surprise it was! And a welcome and different experience of the landscape! Funny that it was on a European top 50 list - when I told people back here in the Netherlands that I ran the CVC they had not the slightest idea what I was speaking of. Thanks for organising it through the years, an giving me a unique opportunity to participate. Enjoy your life and stay healthy!

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