Quebec Mega Trail 100M

Quebec Mega Trail 100M

Fist bumping Jacob after sharing many miles together

This wasn’t supposed to be my first 100 miler. For years I’d intended to run the Fat Dog 120, a 120 miler. I’ve never learned the history of the extra distance, but being one of the best known races in BC, I’ve wanted to run it ever since I got into ultrarunning. It’s special to me because it ends in Manning Park, a place I’d visited as kid, done numerous training runs as an adult, and is home to the northern terminus of the PCT. After a strong year of training throughout 2019, I registered to run Fat Dog in August 2020.

I ended 2019 feeling more excited about ultrarunning than I’d ever been. I was looking forward to the year ahead, but then Covid shut down the world and races everywhere were cancelled. My race entry was pushed to 2021 and my motivation to run waned throughout the year. I still organized many fun trail adventures, but I struggled to get out the door to log my miles.

The following year was a repeat of 2020. I ran enough over the winter to maintain my fitness and then planned out a serious training block for the spring. By March, however, everything was still locked down in Canada, and Fat Dog was cancelled again. I was in a rut. It bothered me how much fitness I’d lost over the previous two years and I still didn’t have a hundred miler under my belt.

In the fall of 2021, Anne and I decided to travel the US together for six months. We knew we’d be back in Canada for the spring and with restrictions lifting, it appeared that Fat Dog 2022 would finally be a go. The problem was Anne and I had decided to spend the summer in Quebec, and Canada still had restrictive Covid requirements in place for air travel (something that has since changed). I didn’t feel confident I’d be able to physically get to the race and it looked like another year was to go by without a Fat Dog run. I need a backup plan.

I started talking to Bastien about his race calendar for the year and he told me he’d be returning to run the Quebec Mega Trail 100, a point-to-point race in the Charlevoix region of Quebec. I’d never been to that part of the province and it sounded like a great event. I thought the 80km or the 110km distances might be more logical, but they were sold out. The only distance with spots still available was the 100 miler. Did I have enough time to train? It was only three months away and my achilles tendonitis from the Sean O’Brien 100k had only just healed, but I really wanted to join him. After a couple days of deliberating, I pulled the trigger. So long Fat Dog, hello QMT!

Race Weekend

The QMT 100 miler begins in the quaint town of Baie-St-Paul and ends at the Monte-Saint-Anne ski resort outside Quebec City. This was only the second year the QMT race weekend included this distance. In a style more common to Europe, the race begins at 8pm which means the first third of the course would be run in the dark. A night start meant one could sleep in and have plenty of time for race prep, but the down side was that anyone finishing over 24 hours would have to pull out their headlamps for a second time and end in the dark.

The Sunday before the race, I drove out to Mont Sainte Anne (MSA) and worked remotely from the van. Anne drove up separately the following day and we spent the week together near Baie-Saint-Paul and then later near Saint-Tite-des-Caps. For the weekend, we had rented a chalet with some friends near MSA. Friday afternoon, after checking into our new place, Anne and I drove out to Baie-Saint-Paul where our friends would later be meeting us for dinner.

We first drove out to the starting line area where there was a mandatory pre-race medical check. They record your weight and your blood pressure which they check again at the halfway point to make sure you’re within a reasonable relative range. I was a little shocked by my weight. I was over 10 pounds heavier than I expected to be and even told the medical personel that their scale might be wrong. I later made a vow to myself to shed a few pounds in the months after the race.

Once the medical check was complete, Anne and I met up with Bastien and Jessica. We chatted for a bit and then left for dinner. Our friends joined us around 6pm and we enjoyed a nice meal together. Our food arrived a bit later than expected so Anne and I had to leave early to head back to the race start. I was nervous. I’d been yawning throughout dinner and felt more ready for a nap than a hundred mile trail run. I’d slept terribly all week and I prayed that my sleep deprivation wouldn’t be a factor during the run (spoiler alert: it was).

With half an hour until race start, we rejoined Bastien, Jessica and his family. They had a cool camper set up that they would be using to crew him in shifts throughout the night. Bastien was wearing a Jim Walmsley style crop top with “cooling holes” and everything. He was here to go fast.

Bastien and Ross Pre-race with Bastien

While we were chatting, a storm started to roll in. We soon heard over the loud speaker that they would be starting the race ahead of schedule to avoid the weather, so Anne and I walked to the starting corral as it started to rain. I put on my jacket and waited for the race to start. I looked around for Bastien but I couldn’t find him. I worried he hadn’t heard the announcement, but we eventually found each other amongst the other 115 runners in the corral. We wished each other well and a minute later, we were off.

Section 1: Baie-St-Paul to Le Massif (38km / 24mi)

The first 5-6km of the course are more or less flat. The course follows a road past farms toward the trail where the gradual climb up to Le Massif begins. I went out slow, running at a comfortable 5 min/km pace. I knew most would go out too fast and figured the extra few minutes here wouldn’t mean much by the end. A few kilometres in, I estimated there were 30 or so people ahead of me. As we passed an open field, the sun peaked through the clouds and we were treated to not only one rainbow, but a double rainbow. What an omen!

Rainbow with a second one faintly showing on the right

There was plenty of light as we ran the road and it didn’t feel like the sun would be setting soon. I reached the trailhead around 8:25pm and started climbing trough the trees. It was a little crowded so it was hard to find a rhythm. The early stage crowding is always my least favourite part of trail races, but I fell in with a group of guys from Quebec City who were happy to go my pace. We chatted in broken French and English until we finished the top of the first climb. They went ahead when the road widened and started to descend. I wasn’t going to burn out my quads this early.

At the bottom, the road climbs back up to the first aid station — a water-only stop — at 12km. I hiked alongside with a guy from Montreal. When he heard I was from Vancouver, he mentioned Jeff Pelletier, a fellow Vancouverite who came out and documented last year’s race for his YouTube channel. I’d watched the movie and found it helpful to get a feel for what to expect from the course. At the water stop, I filled my bottles and checked my split. I was 5 minutes ahead of my “A” pace. So far so good.

Over the next 8 km to Halte de l’arche at 19.6 km, I noticed my ankle was feeling tender and my right glute was tight. Neither was painful, but I was a little concerned that I was feeling anything this early. The sun was starting to set and in the trees, it was getting dark. I pulled my headlamp and tried to find a good rhythm, walking the steep climbs and running everything else.

Time moved quickly and before I knew it we were at the first real aid station with 19km under our feet. I filled up my bottles quickly and set off again, passing a handful of runners in the process. I was moving fairly well and happy with my pace. For a while we ran along a trail just below the highway, bobbing and weaving through the trees, as trucks whizzed by up above. We eventually left the highway on a road away towards the deeper forest to the south. We dipped into the trails again and then popped out at a road I remembered from the the training run Bastien and I did the month before.

Sunset Night 1 Sun starting to set on night one

I rolled up to the third aid station at 28km in about 3h40m, 20 minutes ahead of schedule though the mileage on my watch was short a couple kilometers. It was a water only stop, but there were a handful of people there for support. A quick refill and I pressed on. We reentered the forest for the final climb up to Le Massif. I was moving well and caught up to a few more runners over this section. I tend to hike faster than average on the uphills, but I hung back and avoided pushing it, especially given that I was on pace.

Half an hour later, my headlamp started flashing to indicate it was low on batteries. I was a little surprised given that it was 12:30am and I had only turned it on around 9:30pm. I had a second headlamp, but the sun wasn’t supposed to rise for at least another four hours. I prayed my second headlamp would last the night as it was pitch black at this point.

I rolled into the Le Massif aid station (39km) at 1:30am, almost exactly on my A goal split. The mood was somber and quiet. I was pleased to have eaten all 1100 calories I’d carried with me for this section. I replenished my vest with another 1200 calories for the next from my drop bag (a small bag you send ahead with the race organizers to predetermined locations). I ate a piece of calorie-dense pecan pie that I’d packed for myself and picked at the offerings at the food table. I asked if anyone had any extra AAA batteries but no one did. A minutes later, I was off again.

Section 2: Le Massif (38km / 24mi) to Saint-Tite-des-Caps (80km / 50mi)

The next section was the roughest part of my whole race. When I left Le Massif, I was a little nervous that my headlamp would die before sunrise, but otherwise I felt strong and was ready to settle into a rhythm. I was alone for the first hour, mostly running wide, overgrown roads. It was fairly easy to maintain a good pace, but the trail markers were scant and I was paranoid I wasn’t on the right trail. At one point, I came to a hut that seemed to be a dead end. I couldn’t see any orange tape pointing in any direction though there was a road heading back the way we came.

I saw a headlamp coming in, so I waited for them to arrive so that I could verify the correct path. We ran up the road together and eventually found an orange ribbon. His headlamp was incredibly bright. I had headlamp envy and considered staying with him in case mine died. We started chatting and I learned his name was Aurelien and he was from France. He’d run this race the previous year and was building up to run UTMB in August. It was nice to have some company after a few hours of running alone.

I took the lead at one point and followed a ribbon down a trail that cut across the road. It was overgrown but had the reflective markers we’d seen on the other trails. As we pressed on, the trail started to get wetter, muddier and more overgrown. I remember thinking it was odd that they’d take us down such a poorly maintained trail. After about 10 minutes, Aurelien asked me when I’d last seen an orange ribbon. I couldn’t recall seeing one. He went in front and we went further down the trail together looking for markings. After five more minutes, we gave up and turned around. When we finally made it back to the road, I realized the ribbon I’d seen was not orange, but pink.

Down the road a ways, we found the correct ribbon and we continued on. I felt like an idiot. I apologized to Aurelien and let him take the lead. He told me this was the second time he’d gotten lost that night and we commiserated about the poor course markings. I tried to stay positive and not worry about the time we’d wasted. We ran together until the Cap du Salut aid station at 52km. When we got near we heard music and loud cheering. It was about 3:30am. When we arrived, I recalled Bastien telling me about this spot last year. It was run by a young crew who were partying and blasting music. It was a great vibe. I asked one of the girls if they’d slept and she said no. “On boit” — “we drink”. My kind of aid station.

I ate some chips and other salty foods and left at the same time as Aurelien. We ran together for a while, but I quickly found his uphill pace too slow for me so I requested to pass and pushed on by myself. After a brief spurt at a good speed, I started to feel incredibly tired. It wasn’t a normal bonk, but more of a general fatigue. I wanted to close my eyes and sleep.

I was fading and the trail seemed to get rougher and more challenging. It was overgrown, rocky, muddy and in some places, almost a bog. The trail undulated and was difficult to run with any rhythm. I walked even the slightest incline. On the smoother sections, I moved a little faster but I didn’t much much in tank to really push. It was demoralizing.

It was about 4:30am when the sky finally started to lighten. My headlamp had survived the night and I prayed that my spirits and energy would rise with the sun. I waited and waited for the boost to come, but nothing seemed to change. I ate a caffeine gel, hoping that it would perk me up, but that didn’t seem to do much either.

Just after 6am, I made it to the Cap Gribane aid station. A few runners were clustered there and it was good to see people in the light of the day again. Most of these runners had past Aurelien and me when we went off trail. The consensus around the aid station was that the previous section was particularly slow due to the rain. At least I wasn’t the only one struggling. I drank some coke, ate some oranges and cookies, then got out of there ahead the group. I didn’t want to linger. We had 15km to get to the halfway point where runners were able to meet their crew. Anne would be waiting there with Joe and Emily and I eagerly wanted to see them.

The trail seemed to go on and on and on. My pace wasn’t getting any better and I was starting to get into a really negative headspace. Instead of focusing on the current section I was on, I started to calculate how long it would take to finish the race if I had to walk the rest of the way. 20 hours? More? I couldn’t fathom that. If things didn’t turn around, I’d have to drop, I told myself. These thoughts are entirely natural to ultras, of course, but the mind can be a fickle opponent. Since leaving Le Massif, I’d lost two hours from my A goal pace. This wasn’t terrible as I was set to arrive at my B goal pace. What bothered me was that I foresaw the rest of my race getting worse as the miles started accumulate.

Right before the Tite-des-Caps aid station, there’s a creek crossing under the highway. It reminded me of the part in the the Barkley Marathons when they have to walk under the prison. It was dark and the water was surprisingly deep. It was actually kind of fun stepping over the rocks and I caught myself smiling for the first time in hours. On the other side of the creek, it was a short run down the the aid station tent where I saw Anne coming towards me, cheering me on. Finally.

I arrived officially at 8:50am for a first half split of 12h50m. It was morning, but it felt like the middle of the afternoon. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. I first went to the medical tent to weigh-in and take my blood pressure, both of which were fine. I told the medic how much I was struggling, but had to reassure her I was physically fine, just tired and mentally tormented.

Once released, I walked over to an area where Anne, Emily and Joe had arranged an excellent spread. They had hot sausages and potatoes, fresh shoes and socks, and an ice bandana for my neck. I sat on the bench eating a bit of everything and telling them about the first half of the race. I was really enjoying their company any thought of dropping disappeared quickly. How could you consider quitting when you have people taking such great care of you like this?

I was in no rush to leave. I desperately needed a “reset” and time here was lifting my spirits. I wasn’t exactly eager to start running again, but I was no longer dreading it. After 20 minutes — the longest break I’d ever taken in an ultra — I took a quick bathroom break and then set off to tackle the back half of the course.

Ross Noble's Picture

About Ross Noble

Ross is a software developer, ultrarunner, podcaster and van dweller with a passion for the outdoors.

Vancouver, CA