ST. PAUL - Over 100 athletes attempted this year's edition of the Iron Horse Ultra 100 on Oct. 3, a feat that many people would never consider signing up for.
The 100-km or 100-mile run takes athletes from the start line at St. Paul's Reunion Station, through the County of St. Paul to the east, through Elk Point, and toward the scenic North Saskatchewan River, before looping back to the finish line - also at Reunion Station.
This year, there were 44 100-km solo male runners who took part in the race, 16 100-km solo female runners, 20 100-mile solo male runners, three 100-mile female runners, and two 100-mile teams, for a total of 99 runners.
During last year's event, tragedy struck when one of the area's own athletes passed away while taking part in the run, Tom Starosielski. In response to concerns expressed, organizers made a number of improvements to help volunteers and include safety protocols for all of the competitors, says Monique Poulin, race director.
Improvements include more trail monitors, Cold Lake Search and Rescue being in attendance on all legs of the race, and a better communication system between volunteers and first aid members. Other precautions put in place include boosting service where it is unavailable, a bib and time chip matching system, a break down of the course map with access points for emergency response vehicles, and ensuring emergency services have a copy of the trail map before the event.
There were also detailed written directions to the access points at each aid station with GPS co-ordinates, for emergency purposes. A meeting with each key volunteers to go over the Emergency Response Plan was also held.
Organizers are also hoping to make further improvements, such as having AEDs (automated external defibrillator) at every aid station and an on-call ambulance.
"We also have a volunteer appreciation award in honour and memory of Tom Starosielski. We are having volunteers, runners and support people nominate people who go over and above race weekend," says Poulin. "We will compile all the stories and names and give it to someone outside of the race to pick the one they think is deserving. We are going to tell the runners that Tom was a local runner, volunteer, and lifetime member of the sporting community."
Some of the area athletes that took part in this year's run include Bonnyville's Paul St. Amant who finished 11th overall in the 100-km male solo run. St. Paul's Doug Zarowny finished in 13th place in the same category. Mitchell Gillis from Cold Lake finished 35th in the category, along with Devon Kalinski of La Corey who came in at the same time as Gillis.
Trevor Gill of Vilna registered, but did not race, say organizers.
In the 100-mile category, St. Paul's Ben Poulin attempted the daunting run, but did not finish. Kevin Briseboi of Cold Lake and Curtis Hargrove, also of Cold Lake, both attempted the course but did not finish.
Organizers capped the number of participants at this year's event, along with staggering start times Saturday morning, to ensure COVID-19 protocols were being followed.
"Overall, it was a great race. Lots of volunteers and the runners seemed happy," said Poulin. While there wasn't much socializing due to runners staying in their "bubbles," they still appeared to be "excited and so thankful" for the run, she added.