Iron Horse Ultra 100K



Elevation Gain

1453 Meters

Avg. Pace

08:52/ km



Cellular Coverage: Partial Coverage

Trail Type: Loop

I love this race.

Everyone has their favourites, and this one is mine.

I’m not sure what it is exactly about this race – could be the relaxed atmosphere, the smaller field of runners, the fact that so many of my Edmonton run family come every year. I think a lot of it has to do with the time of year and the location. The fall colours are so peaceful and I just love making my way through the course while the season is in it’s height of beauty.

Mike and I have our little pre-race routine; road coffee for the short 2 hour drive over to race package pickup to get my bib and buy a new mug before we head off to BPs – pasta for me and BBQ chicken Pizza and a beer for Mike. 2 minute drive over to the Canalta (they have free breakfast and a hot tub!!) to get everything ready for the next day and then early to bed.

The race start is 5 mins from the hotel with plenty of parking and a staggered start so I get the luxury of sleeping in a little while Mike brings breakfast up so we can have our morning coffee and watch the news. 

For me, it is one of the least stressful race days of the year.

Leg 1 – 21k – St. Paul to Edourdville

I generally don’t love running on the road in neighbourhoods, but in this case it’s a great warm up for things to come. Iron Horse is a fairly flat course, relatively speaking, with 1,455 meters of elevation over the 105.42km that I ran.

*Disclaimer – all distances referenced on the legs are ish… the GPX is accurate and the final distance and time are accurate. Everything else is my best guess for descriptive purposes. 

The first 10 or 11km runs in town on pavement till you reach the boardwalk that parallels the lake. It’s really pretty during the fall but this year there was frost on the wood which was invisible. I wiped out pretty hard on my right side with thankfully only a few bruises and a cut to show for it. There were reports of many other runners falling too so be careful if you come out and do this leg. The lake is so pretty. Both years it has been misty/foggy with a large flock of ducks keeping an eye on the runners. 

There are loads of folks along the way cheering you on as you move from town onto the Iron Horse trail and out into the country. The 4kms of quads trails are flat gravel flanked by gorgeous trees in all sorts of fall colours & beautiful ponds covered with green algae. It really is pretty so make sure you take some time to have a look around you as you settle into your pace.

At around 15km you head up into the hills to run along the cow paths. I cannot state enough how pretty it is out there. The fog, green hills, multicoloured trees all while hearing the cows mooing in the distance is breathtaking. It’s some of my favourite vista along the route. The whole valley is lit up with gold trees and my pictures just don’t do it justice.

These last 5kms contain the 3 lone hills on this leg. The hills are steep but short and there is plenty of flat trail between each one to give you a rest. Last year I didn’t bring my poles and regretted it. This year I brought my poles and while I used them for this part of leg 1, I never took them out again and wound up getting rid of them by leg 3. The trail isn’t very technical – there are some roots and rocks but not much – this is super enjoyable single track and soon enough you will find yourself popping down into the trees along the Iron Horse. This section has some bushwhacking elements to it and can take a little longer to move through. I wound up getting hit in the eye with a branch so be careful and maybe consider wearing your sunglasses or some other type of eye protection.

Leg 2 – 17km – Edourdville to Moose Mountain

I didn’t spend long transitioning to this leg – about 7 mins to change into a fresh shirt & bra (IFYKYK), have my bladder and nutrition restocked and eat a little warm food. I headed out of TA 1-2 munching on a stack of Pringles doing a short trot along gravel road before popping down again into single/double track.

Leg 2 is very runnable and so pretty! There is a long section here where the grade is a gentle downhill flanked by brilliant gold coloured trees. I love this area – you can just set yourself on cruise control and enjoy the autumn sights and smells as the kms tick by. At some point you head up onto private property (wave hi to the ponies!) to cross a field where you will have to navigate some ladders and fence crossings. The terrain has a little more variety to it which is a nice break from the flat roads so enjoy it while you can, cuz things are gonna get a little monotonous for a spell. 

For roughly 8km you will be running a gravel wavey ribbon of mostly incline road.

It isn’t very steep in any one particular spot but there is plenty of time and open space for your brain to tell you to walk so you might want a game plan to keep you pushing forward. For me it’s a decent playlist and some mind games to keep me rolling my legs over; run to the next song, run to the next dip, walk 25 steps then run again… whatever you need to keep you from slowing down in this mind-numbing purgatory of road.

Leg 3 – 25km – Moose Mountain to Elk Point

I planned a little longer of a transition here, about 15mins to change shirt, socks, reapply vaseline etc… I built a portable change station for Mike to hold up for me out of a hula hoop and a bed sheet. Made it super simple to strip down, towel off and start each leg with fresh clothes. I’ve not bothered with this on any ultra before, but I figured with this distance it couldn’t hurt. I think for me it was integral to being successful. By the time I was done each leg I was super sweaty and cooling down quickly whenever I slowed down or stopped. We both liked it so much that we’ve decided to add this pop-up change room to our kit. My watch is Garmin 645, which I love, but the battery only lasts just over 10 hours with GPS so I bring my charge cord and a battery pack out on this leg. I also charge my phone because I like to listen to music for most of the run.

Coming out on leg 3 it’s a short jaunt through a field leading to an oil lease which leads to a gravel road. The field is flat but rutted in spots so can be a bit of an ankle turner. The gravel road is my spot to make hay and rest at the same time. It’s about 1.5 – 2km of super runnable downhill where I can knock off a good pace get my legs stretched out.

At the bottom of the hill you cross a road and approach the beginning of what amounts to be the bulk of the elevation for this course. I really like this section (I feel like I’m saying that about all the sections :D), the climbs aren’t too steep or too long and they run along a fence line so you don’t have to use any brain power to navigate – just follow the fence up, up, up. The nice thing about this hill is that it’s more like a wave, you climb, you crest, and then run down a little before you climb and crest again. All of this gives you the opportunity to push steadily and get micro breaks.

Sometimes there are cows to navigate around, I personally think they are super cute but I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of manure. Some of the runners I passed were quite scared of them, but I just give them their space and keep moving forward.

The whole hill is ~200m of elevation gain over 3km with the final 50m being very very steep. It’s short but definitely a quad burner. Once you reach the top you can catch your breath for a bit but you can’t rest just yet, there is still another ~1.5km of rolling hills before you get to the road where you get 3kms of nice easy downhill. Back to cruise control for me as I push the pace to make up for lost time slugging up Mean Dean’s hill.

At the bottom you cross the road where there is a remote unmanned water stop – it’s just a single 5-gallon jug so be kind to your other runners and only top up what you need. A little more gentle downhill running and you will find yourself cruising along Moosehills Lake.

This area is super pretty so take a moment to enjoy the view. The first year I ran, it was narrow single track embedded in neck high flora so the flags were all mounted on high sticks to make them visible. This year the flags were still on sticks but the area was only ankle deep or less. I don’t know the geography well enough to say why but it was much easier to see what I was running through. I had the pleasure of some company from a coupler 100milers for a spell where I taught them the fecal or fungal game (and believe me when I say this field can challenge even the most discerning eyes).

A little climb will get you up away from the lake and back onto a paved road where you have another opportunity to make up some time and turn over your legs for another couple of kms before you get back onto the Iron Horse tail for another 7kms of flat gravel. Keep an eye out for the red loo shaped like a storybook schoolhouse. If your guts are bothering you, this is your chance to peace with your gods in private before rolling into aid station 3 at Elk Point. 

This year I was in great spirits and felt like I had loads of kms left in my legs!

Contrast that to last year where I gave Katrina and Mike a heads up text that simply said “don’t cheer me in”.

If I remember correctly, I was completely gassed, pissed off that I had gotten lost so many times, and ready to throat punch the first overly positive crew member that had the audacity to ignore my impending demise with some high pitched cheery whoot whoot! and you got this!! while clapping maniacally as I death marched in.

Leg 4 – 18km – Elk Point to Happy Hill

I planned the longest transition for this leg (about 30mins) – this was the leg I DNF’d last year covering 14 of 18kms before my hips seized up and I decided to sit on the side of the road and wait for search and rescue to pick me up.

I was heading into the night and wanted to be sure that I was dry, well fed, had the right clothes and fresh socks and shoes. I used about 25mins to get cleaned up, re-lubed, changed shirt, bra, added tights under my skort, put on my jacket, new headband, toque, light mitts, packed my headlamp and sat down for some warm soup from the aid station (thank you Hiro!) and hot mashed potatoes from my crew. It was nice to be able to sit down for a minute, air out my feet and eat slowly. 

There are 10.5kms of looooong rolling gravel before you. Hopefully you have a mantra and can go to your happy place. I’m not fast and this stretch was still all in daylight for me with not a whole lot of variety to look at so I made an active choice: I could either focus on the discomfort I was feeling after 73km or I could focus on the magic of being able to do this silly sport in the first place. People often ask why ultra runners run the distances they do. It seems almost incomprehensible to people who don’t often drive that far let alone run that far in a day.

For me it’s largely my mental health – the physical benefit is icing on the cake which also, of course, improves my mental health. There is just something different about spending that kind of uninterrupted time in nature.

When was the last time you can say you spent 17 hours outside, smelling all the smells, feeling the wind and the sun, listening to the leaves rustling, seeing all the colours of fall shining brilliantly. There are no screens, no apps, no distractions from your current state. It’s one of the only times I can truly be present in the moment for such a long period of time. The state of mind in which I choose to be present is my own; I can either focus on the discomfort and pain, or I can choose to focus on the beauty and opportunity around me. The point is, the choice is mine, and mine alone.

The sun was slowly setting by the time I moved from the road into the field that makes up the rest of leg 4. The coyotes were chattering back and forth to each other as I got my headlamp on and moved slowly down the hill and into more technical terrain. I was very cautious with my footing here as there are many gopher holes masked by long tufts of grass. The whole time I had my head down, focusing on the few feet ahead of me that I was navigating -the last thing I wanted to do was twist my ankle this far into the race and this far remote. This section was rutty, holey, single track with deadfall and other debris across the trail. It was pretty well flagged but be warned, there are reflectors on some trees that are not part of the course, had I not continued to sweep my headlamp left and right, I would have followed the reflector on the tree and gotten lost.

I continued to plod my way through the rolling hills as the sun set. There are very runnable sections interspersed with small sections that require more careful footing. The flagging this year was 100 times better than last year and included arrows with lights on them making course finding much easier, but you still need to be careful – there is a longer section of double wide trail flanked by trees where the flagging alternates sides inconsistently which can be confusing and caused me to weave back and forth across each side looking for the next flag. I was using a lot of mental energy checking into the trees each time the flags changed sides because generally that means the course is changing direction – but in this case it doesn’t.

I really enjoy running in the dark. There is something really peaceful and almost meditative when you really can’t see anything outside the beam of your headlamp. You can’t worry about what’s coming up ahead of you (mostly because you can’t see it) and you have to be very present to what’s in front you in the moment (mostly because your trip hazard is much higher!). The rest of leg 4 is rolling single track through the field until you finally pop out onto a road with a short climb up into the welcoming lights of the Happy Hill aid station.

Leg 5 – 25k – Happy Hill to Reunion Station St Paul

I spent no time transitioning here. I wasn’t feeling the need, had a decent amount of water in my bladder, plenty of nutrition left and was wearing the right clothes. Mike had everything ready for the TA and was ready to pace me if I wanted. I decided the company would be great, even though I felt fine and could have gone on alone. While I was eating an orange, he packed up our gear, put it in the car and handed the keys off to our friend Laura who drove it back to the start. I was already walking out on course past all the parked cars flanking the road leaving Mike to catch up when he could.

For the next 5.5kms or so you run on an easy enough gravel road heavily travelled with cars going to and from the aid station. It’s so dark you don’t have the opportunity to see what’s ahead of you, so you need to rely on your other senses to tell when you are on a flat, incline or downhill since they are all fairly subtle. This section is very runnable and I pushed anything that felt like a downhill along with some of the flats. Anything with an incline I walked, enjoying the fact that I was not under any time constraints as I was on target to come in roughly 3 hours under cut off.

Coming off the road we head back into the trees for another 5k section of carefully picking your footing over fallen logs, avoiding holes that want to break your ankles and dodging bushes that want to take your eyes out. There is some runnable in here but I took my time carefully picking my way through the brush – again I didn’t want to risk turning an ankle so late in the race when the finish was so close. I was definitely tired and my balance was not optimal. I also found my depth perception was not ideal in the dark with my headlamp casting some additionally confusing shadows. Another fence to climb through puts you back on the Iron Horse Trail and headed towards victory!

Another 5kms of rolling hills on easy trail and you can see the lights of St Paul in the distance. Navigating is simple as it’s pretty much a straight shot. The last 5kms from the finish I passed Don’s place (at least I think that’s what the sign said?) that had the most inviting bonfire I have ever seen. St. Paul was in striking distance and the lights were getting closer and closer. I was feeling great still physically and mentally was having one of the best races I had ever had. As we got closer to the arch Mike went ahead to try and get some pics of me coming through the finish, but between the music and the announcer, I didn’t hear him tell me to slow down so they are all pretty blurry.

I ran through the finish having completed 105.42kms in 17 hours and 21 minutes and I felt great! 


I couldn’t believe how good I felt physically having completed not only my longest distance, but a race that last year I DNF’d! My crew and I had a plan, we stuck to it, and it went off flawlessly.

It takes a village, or in this case a community, to help ultra runners get where they want to go and crewing long distances is no easy task – so there are a few folks I want to give a shout out…

Thank you Katrina Sadoway for helping Mike crew me, after you ran your own 21k on leg 1! I am so grateful to have you part of my life 🙂

Thanks so much to my coach Evolution Hill – you have been exactly everything I’ve needed to get my mental and physical game on point to tackle successfully my first triple digit race. Hopefully the same magic can happen next year when you train me for my first 100 miler!


And of course last but not least, my amazing partner Mike; I would have never taken my first step if it weren’t for you. Always remember what I told you about the wheat field.

I didn’t take too many pictures out on course as I was more focused on completing the distance. Some of the pics you see are mine, some are taken from the IHU FB page so I am unable to give credit (but hopefully you know who you are!).

Hopefully you will be inspired to come out and try this beautiful race – if you do, make sure you come say Hi at the start!

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