I’ve run the trails at Frontenac Park countless times over the past decade, but I’d never considered doing the Frontenac Challenge – that is to do all the loops in their entirely in the months of September and October – until this year as I plan my Trail Trek for Judy project.
Some things I’ve considered (so far) when planning my Challenge:
- Route planning and strategy – What loops to do, and in what order is a bit of a puzzle to figure out. How to fit in the required distance over the days you have available takes a good deal of thought. There are efficiencies to be found when doing multiple loops in an outing by eliminating some of the distances from trailheads, but this comes with the added difficulty of doing more distance at one time. Which trail access points to use each time is also to be factored in.
- Work your strengths – In finalizing your planned days and routes, knowing your strengths can help set you up for success. Some people do better with tackling more loops in a single outing to make very long days, and others are happier with more days of fewer or single loops, even though that makes the cumulative distance longer. If you’re considering the Frontenac Challenge you likely have experience to draw on to know where you fit along the continuum. No matter how it is done – running or hiking, many days or all in one - it is definitely going to be a challenge.
- Know your style - Do you want to accomplish the challenge as a solo traveler, have a partner or small group, or go on larger group outings such as with the Rideau Trail Association. Or perhaps you want to do a combination.
- Register your challenge – The Park Office issues a log sheet for those attempting the Challenge. Letting them know of your attempt also allows them to keep track of numbers for their records and use as promotion to encourage park use. They also acknowledge successful completions each year.
- Know the rules – Familiarize yourself with the Challenge rules, including the fact that each loop must be completed in its entirety. This means that adjoining sections of loops must be traveled twice. There are other rules, helpful tips and information on the Frontenac Challenge page.
- Find the Challenge signs – Every year the park places a yellow label in a tree somewhere along each trail loop with a word that needs to be recorded in your log to prove you were there. An honour system must be relied upon to some extent, but this collection of words helps confirm completion. When looking at the ground (which often happens while trail running) they can be missed, so don’t forget to keep an eye out!
- Be safe! As with any trip into the backcountry, tell others your plans including route and time of expected departure and return. Bring a map and plan what you are taking for food, water, and extra clothing so you are prepared for any possible weather. Long days on the trail mean things can change unexpectedly while you are out there.
- Cell service – Large parts of the park are without cell service, so don’t rely on being able to use your phone. Generally speaking, tops of hills or along lake shores may have some or better reception in some areas.
- Buy an annual pass – It is worth it to purchase an annual pass for Ontario Parks. Besides Frontenac you can enjoy our other beautiful provincial parks. The more you use it, the better deal it is.
- Be good to yourself – Your body is your vehicle through this trip, so be sure to take care of it. Train enough to get stronger, but not so much that you risk injury or burnout. Eat nutritious food, hydrate well, and get plenty of rest. Getting to the start of the Challenge in good condition will make it more enjoyable to experience the beauty of the park as you travel through it.
- Mentally Prepare – Just like this list, trail miles are longer than expected, especially when you start getting tired. I’ve found a big difference between meeting a goal and falling short is not underestimating the difficulty. Troubleshoot in advance some tactics to deal with struggles that may arise, and visualize your success in working through them.