Last Thursday (for context, that was June 24, 2021 for anyone reading this later looking for tips on running La Cloche) I finally FINALLY managed to run the entirety of the La Cloche trail in Killarney Provincial Park. We’ve had false starts—messed up navigation!—and fast-packed it in the past, and we’ve had to cancel going a couple times because of calendar or injury or whatever. But it’s been circled red on the calendar for months, and it was starting to feel momentous, like if we didn’t make it this time, it was becoming farcical. My left knee has been bugging me for the last couple weeks, but I still had high hopes that it would hold out and magically not be an issue for the day. That… didn’t happen.
In fact, a few miles in, I stopped and said to Peter that I thought we might need to turn it around. This is where I’m so thankful for Peter. He didn’t say “push through it, don’t be a wimp,” but nor did he suggest we turn around immediately. We slowed to a walk for a while, discussed it, stopped so I could stretch, and I decided that it wasn’t getting any worse. I knew it wouldn’t get better, but I also felt like it wouldn’t get worse, based on how it’s been the last few weeks. I wouldn’t say this is the right call for anyone, but for me, it was the right call. I felt that from a mental and physical standpoint, I would be able to make it. It just might not be as speedy as I hoped.
Still, it was a huge hitch in my stride, literally, and it meant that every descent, every rock, had to be taken a lot more carefully than normal. But I was still moving forward. Walking didn’t bother it too much, so we did more walking than I would have liked, but I still ran where I could.
We finished in 12:57, which is longer than I was hoping to be out, but between my knee and the rain that started mid-way and slicked up the rocks, it was solid.
Mentally, it was one of the few runs/races I’ve done where I was actually struggling. Usually, once I’m in a race or run like this, I’m in it. But this time, I was doing a lot of self-talk, mantra-ing, singalongs in my head, whatever I could do. (Thankfully we’ve had a ton of mental performance experts on the podcast lately, and I heavily leaned on some of the stuff that I’ve learned from them.)
La Cloche is ever-changing, terrain-wise. One minute, you’re bouncing over massive, slippery roots, then you’re climbing up a rock, then running on top of a rock, then suddenly you’re crossing a dam. All while also looking for blazes and cairns. It’s a gorgeous, awesome trail—and at 76 kilometers with no real “bail out,” it’s NOT for casual runners or beginners. Personally, I wouldn’t attempt running this trail unless you’ve already done a technical 50-miler in more safe, supported conditions. And I’d highly recommend hiking it first, to get a feel for it.
We opted to do the trail clock-wise, which means ending with the Crack. Most people run it with the Crack side to start, but we like this direction. I think next time, we would try starting towards the Crack, but I always like this direction because I feel like it’s safer. Silver Peak and The Crack both bring in a lot of day-trippers, there are more canoe passes that merge across the trail, et cetera. While there aren’t any easy road access points, with more people on the trail, it feel safer on that side, so I’d rather finish where more people are. We also love the dirt highway section as a finisher, since it’s much smoother than any other part of the trail. The clockwise start is runnable as well, but it’s really rocky and rooty with lots of little ups and downs, and I like running that while fresh. Still, I would like to try the other way next time, since all the other FKTs have been run in that direction because most people would argue it’s faster to get the Crack section done first.
For anyone considering running or fast-packing the trail, a few pieces of advice from this adventure:
See water? Refill. While you’re never *too* far from water on this trail (except when you’re up on the ridge, but even then, you’re up and down a fair bit), you are often a steep hike away from it. So if you see water a few meters off the trail, stop and refill—even if you don’t fully refill, at least refill your Katadyn or handheld if not your entire bladder, just in case.
Look a few feet up the trail. In late June 2021, there are a lot of downed trees/branches blocking the trail. They’re all passable and most you can easily hop over, but if you’re not paying attention and you’re moving at a fast clip, the tripping hazard is real.
Good news, the cairns and blazes are in great condition—but always keep an eye out on the trail!
What we brought in our run vests:
- 1.5-liter bladders
- Around 3000-3500 calories each (I used Tailwind in my hydration bladder, plus extra powder for fill-ups), gels, Snickers, and Clif bars. I only ate around 2000 calories, but I knew I wanted to have extra in case of emergency
- Raincoat (I have this small one from Gore that rolls up super small)
- Katadyn water filter and water purification tablets
- Emergency 2-person bivvy: This, to me, is super important. I’m highly critical of anyone who would attempt this trail without a full accoutrement of safety gear/enough stuff to stay out all night if something happened. There are so many spots on the trail where it would be easy to pull, strain, sprain or break something, and if the worst case happens, I want to have supplies to get through (hence extra food)
- First aid kit: We’ve put together our own collection of hockey tape (good for everything!), gauze, bandaids, moleskin, NSAIDs, Benadryl, Pepto Bismol, and a triangle bandage
- Matches, headlamp
- Spot Tracker
Note that almost all of this gear is safety oriented. We didn’t need to use any of it, thankfully, but having it on a trail like this is important.
What I would change:
Other than my knee being happier, I would change my pack and clothing choices. On the surface, they seemed good, but once they got wet and sweaty, they weren’t ideal. I tend towards baggier clothing that fits loose in general, but once it’s wet, that ends up being saggy and leads to serious chafing issues. I love my UA CoolTech Long Sleeve for casual runs, but I needed something tighter-fitting for this. Ditto my Tracksmith shorts. And the Nathan Pinnacle Vest, when weighted down with a ton of stuff, just rides too low on my back for it to be comfortable on me. I’m pretty short, and I think anyone a couple inches taller or wider in the chest will love it, but for me, it wasn’t optimal for a long day.
What I was happy with:
Our fueling! I ate and drank plenty, and as we walked through the campsites to get back to the van when we finished, I ran out of water—talk about perfect timing! We refilled twice, and using the Katadyn plus tabs to fill our bladders (then adding Tailwind for easy calories) worked great.
The company. This is the longest run / adventure we’ve done together and it went swimmingly despite setbacks. We’ve done plenty of longer hikes and travel, of course, but nearly 13 hours of running is another level.
My hair situation. After nearly concussing myself running into a branch thanks to the brim of a cap blocking my view as I looked down at a trail a few months ago, I knew I wanted to wear something that would keep my vision clear, so I opted for a bandana as a buff, with my hair pulled back into very tiny pigtails. Not fashionable, but it did the trick!
Camping the night before and the night after: We have a tendency to be in-and-out with stuff like this, so getting a campsite was out of character for us. I’m so glad we did, since it led to an easier morning and much nicer homecoming! Sure, sleeping in a tent is rough when you’re sore, but it beat driving 5 hours.
Going in summer: It’s hotter, buggier, and more likely to rain, but it is damn nice running in daylight from start to finish!
So, that was our trip this time! Now, it’s on to knee rehab for me, some more strength and cross-training—aka getting back on the bike—and some more adventures. I’m still not done with La Cloche, I don’t think, but I’m happy to have gotten through one clean run of it… And to be done with the major bucket list items for this summer so I can get back to focusing on overall fitness rather than the peak-taper-recover cycle.
If you want to check out the route and our run time on Strava, it’s one of the few times I posted in the last year: https://www.strava.com/activities/5534235588#kudos
And if you haven’t checked our book, Becoming A Consummate Athlete, grab it right here: