For the first time in ages, or maybe ever, a 42-kilometre marathon was held at the JJ Collett Natural Area.
The race was the brainchild of runners James Dalke and Andrew Jacobs who felt that the natural area, with its many paths and different terrain challenges would make an ideal spot for a marathon.
Using the Barkley Marathons as the inspiration — a gruelling 60-hour, 100 mile race in Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee — Dalke placed pages from books in specific spots to help track a runner’s progress. He invited 50 ultra and marathon runners with 24 showing up for the inaugural event held April 2.
Dubbed the JAJA Marathon, runners had five specific routes they could take to complete a total of 42 kilometres for a complete marathon. Along with the book pages were timing chips that runners needed, which would eventually make up a medal.
“The shortest you can take each loop is about 8.4 kilometres,” said Dalke.
And the trails were relatively simple, however, runners had to navigate slippery paths, water and ice in some shady spots along the trail systems. This added to the technical aspect of the marathon.
“They can pick their route any way they want to go. They have a map so they know what the trails are out there,” said Dalke.
Dalke put together a map of the trails with a grid system. This grid was separated into quadrants, which guided the entrants to the locations of the books. The cover of the book had the next grid on it, he explained, and the title gives the clue of where to look.
“That seems to be messing up a lot of people,” he joked, adding that he never intended it to be an easy task.
To add further challenge to the marathon, Dalke lit a candle and used that as the timer. Once the candle went out the race was over.
Dalke wants to develop a strong Ponoka trail running group and feels the JJ Collett area is an ideal runners spot. Indeed, many runners in Ponoka and Lacombe use the site to trail run and Dalke hosts a Ponoka Trail Runners Facebook page.
“I would want to a see a trail running community in Ponoka,” said Dalke.
This first marathon is what Dalke called a grassroots run with a small aid station with runners providing pot luck food and snacks.
His other goal is to see a yearly marathon at the JJ Collett Natural Area, offering that running and marathons would raise awareness of the natural area and bring more people to its trails.