Adventure Racing at The Bruce in Ontario

Come August, a host of people on Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula will be striving to become one with nature.

To those who aren’t familiar with it, the Bruce Peninsula is arguably the most spectacular section of the Niagara Escarpment in Canada. The jagged, rocky finger of stone and sand is found about two hours north of Toronto, separating Lake Huron from Georgian Bay.

On the east shoreline, the peninsula is the land where surf shatters stone, where the frigid waters of Georgian Bay wage a relentless, grinding battle against the stony heart and brooding cliffs of the escarpment.

The west “coast” is more mellow – a land of sand and surf in many spots, where Lake Huron offers some of the most spectacular sunsets in the world, according to National Geographic magazine.

That dichotomy forms the backdrop for what’s turning out to be one of the more eagerly anticipated new tests of endurance in this part of Canada – The Bruce Peninsula Multi-sport Race Aug. 13.

“This is not your ordinary 5 or 10K race, which is more or less a standard product plus or minus terrain and temperature,” said organizer Leigh Grigg. “In multisport races like the BPMR the terrain dictates the course.”

“We try to find the most adventurous route from one place to another, and invite our participants to come test themselves. People sign up for the both the challenge and to see something they might not otherwise see or do – whether its a paddling stage that they might not normally take on due to the logistics of shuttling, or the combination of events.”

The race will take competitors up and down the length of the peninsula, primarily through its roughest, most challenging sections including the famous cliffs of Lion’s Head and Cabot Head in the middle of the Bruce.

Grigg describes the race as a bike-run-kayak-bike-run endurance challenge with a 100K long course, and shorter courses for children and those less ambitious (or less insane) around the Wiarton area.

He said there were three reasons for holding the inaugural race, which some wags are suggesting could become known as the “Peninsula Death March”.

“We wanted to encourage locals to get involved and active,” said Grigg. “We also wanted to invite people from out of the area to discover this fantastic part of the world, and we wanted to raise support for outdoor sports opportunities on the Peninsula.”

Course designer and ultra-endurance athlete Jack Van Dorp grew up in the Wiarton area at the base of the peninsula, where he has spent years training on the rugged terrain of the Bruce to prepare for races in other places.

Grigg described Van Dorp as “one of Canada’s leading multisport athletes with numerous wins on the Ontario Adventure and Multisport Racing Scene and top-10 finishes in the recent World Multisport Championship and Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge.”

Now, it’s time for him to come back home and his recent racing experience and an eye for how things are put together has convinced him that the peninsula, with its cliffs, shoreline, and trails makes an excellent spot for a course.

“I am really excited about the launch of a multi-sport race that showcases the amazing landscapes and terrain of the Bruce Peninsula. This area is a great place to train and explore, and I am really proud of the work we’ve been able to do with a dedicated team of volunteers and enthusiasts,” said Van Dorp. “And the course is fantastic. Some sections are quick, while other sections are among the gnarliest I’ve ever seen. The escarpment is a great feature to work with, whether for running above or paddling beneath, and the multi-sport, multi-transition format really echoes the format of the world championships race course that crosses New Zealand.”

“Most of the people who sign up for the Challenger Long Course will be multisport athletes or adventure racers; the course sort of demands it,” said Grigg. “Most of the Explorer Short Course participants will be single-sport athletes, triathletes that are less comfortable in a boat and want to try out the multisport format, or active people looking for a fun challenge. We already have participants aged 7-53, and more than half are women.  We’re expecting a mix of first-timers, triathletes, and even people who are interested because it’s close to their cottage!”

“We also have the added allure of using private trails that are not accessible to the public outside of the event as they cross private property – so it’s definitely a unique experience.”

While Van Dorp is the on-ground expert, Grigg’s experience includes organizing numerous events for Lakehead University, GriggSport, and supervising the hockey venue at the recent Vancouver Olympics.

This is also the first official GriggSport event in Grey-Bruce. The company prides itself on being low-impact, especially important considering the race will feature the sensitive ecosystem of the Niagara Escarpment.

“With ecotourism principles well in mind, we feel its a great way to get people out and enjoying the Bruce Peninsula, its trails, back roads and shoreline. This will only create more advocates and stewardship for conservation of this unique rugged landscape.”

“We’re also working to make this event accessible for people of all income levels,” he added. “Sponsors have come through with free kayak and bike rentals, and we have been able to extend our early-bird pricing to keep prices down as a result of the partnerships we’ve been able to secure these past five months.”

The duo is expecting “about 200-250 competitors between the explorer and challenger courses, plus the Northern Confections Kids Race.”

“We have set caps for the races to ensure that we can provide participant safety and manage our impact on the environment here on the Peninsula,” Grigg explained. “The Niagara Escarpment is a UNESCO World Biosphere Site, a unique geological feature with lots of cool plants and animals that deserve respect, so we’re going to make sure we run an ecologically sustainable race and the best way to do this is to start small and monitor how our race impacts the environment.”

The buzz has been building steadily as participants, local governments and businesses jump on the bandwagon.

“Everyone on the Bruce Peninsula is talking about the race, and everybody else in Ontario, Quebec, and the northeastern US who’s heard about it has been giving us great feedback, occasionally dropping notes by email or Facebook with support,” said Grigg. “We get the lines ‘thanks for starting this’ and ‘it’s about time we had something like this’ more often than we imagined.”

“We’re also getting huge support from businesses, such as Suntrail – Source For Adventure – which has provided kayaks and Bikeface Cycling which has provided bikes. Our local governments are also very supportive and have provided us with equipment and facilities, and we have a long list of financial and in-kind supporters from that are keen to see this race show off the beauty of the Bruce.”

The organizers remind all racers that they must have some kayaking experience however in order to participate.  The early bird pricing deadline will now be June 30th, 2011, after which regular prices will take effect.

For more information contact: Leigh Grigg at 519-270-8041 admin@griggsport.com or Jack Van Dorp at 519 270 9951 jack@vandorpracing.com.

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Timothy Giilck