Labrador's Trapline Marathon

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Oct 24, 2008 5:17 PM
Cathy and Michael Jong practise for their first marathon run.

By Kim Kielley

On October 11, a group of enthusiastic runners set out to complete the first ever Trapline Marathon. The event not only offers a unique fitness challenge, but it also gives a respectful nod to the natural resource that played a critical role in the settlement of Labrador.

Starting at North West River, the 42-kilometre race route follows a path to Happy Valley-Goose Bay originally used by trappers more than 260 years ago. In 1743, a Frenchman by the name of Louis Fornel established a year-round settlement at North West River where he traded European goods for the local aboriginals' furs. The signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763 saw control of Labrador pass from the French to the British, and before long the Hudson's Bay Company enjoyed a monopoly over the central Labrador fur trade that continued for a century.

But by the 1940s, many trappers had turned to the newly built air force base in Goose Bay for steady employment and a chance at a better life. This move contributed to the eventual collapse of the fur trade. The Hudson's Bay Company's Trading Post in North West River, built in 1923, remains today as a museum run by the Labrador Heritage Society. Next to it is a bronze statue of a trapper, situated on the banks of North West River as a tribute to the trade and the Hudson's Bay Company.

Now there is another tribute to local fur trading history, the Trappers' Running Club and its Trapline Marathon. Club president, Jamie Snook, says the idea for the marathon came after he and four other local runners ran the Bluenose marathon in Halifax last spring. "We were in the airport and everyone was saying how they had such a good time. Then someone said, 'How hard would it be to organize a marathon here in Labrador?' And then someone casually said, 'Oh, that shouldn't be too hard. Let's do it!'"

A committee was quickly formed and a Web site created. Once Air Labrador signed on as the marathon's first sponsor, "it really took on a life of its own," says Jamie.

Deciding on the route the marathon would take was the next step. They chose the route from North West River to Happy Valley-Goose Bay and that naturally led to the naming of the race.

"We decided to call it the 'Trapline Marathon' because the route coming up Highway 520 and from the (Trappers') monument is somewhat symbolic of what the trappers would do in the fall, leaving the community and going up the river. They went a lot farther than 42 kilometres, but it was in that direction," Jamie says. A map of the traditional trapline from North West River is on the club's Web site.

"It's just promoting the heritage aspect of the area," he continues. "It is a bit of a tourism thing. A lot of runners do travel and are looking for a unique event where they can see new areas."

He adds, "People are looking for something different. Some of the most successful marathons are in the north, like Iceland. Some people just like to run in cooler climates."

As proof, there is already a very active running community in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and so there should be no shortage of local representation in the Trapline Marathon, including Jamie, who's relatively new to long-distance running. "It started out with me walking to work for some exercise, and then I just started gradually running," he says.

The Trapline Marathon will be Jamie's third long-distance race. But there are a few participants for whom this is their first marathon experience, including Cathy and Michael Jong. They have lived in Happy Valley-Goose Bay for almost 25 years and have been married for 22 of those years. Cathy is a former physiotherapist-turned-consultant, and Michael is a doctor and medical director at the Labrador Health Centre.

Never in Cathy's wildest dreams would she have envisioned herself running a marathon. "I'm not really a good runner," she chuckles. "It's way too far - I think of myself more as a skier, a rower and a biker than a runner. I run for cross-training."

In fact, if it wasn't for Jamie's enthusiasm for the marathon and the opportunity to host it in Labrador, Cathy might have found herself conveniently "busy" on the day of the race.

Instead, Cathy's become quite serious about the event. The Jongs have taken up a training program that sees them running three times a week. Cathy says juggling practice runs, her career and home life has been a challenge.

"It's given me a much greater respect for people who run marathons on a regular basis. It's not a small-scale commitment," says the mother of two. With her youngest child now 16, Cathy says he's old enough and independent enough now for her and Michael to commit to their rigorous training schedule. "I could never have done this when he was two and three years old," says Cathy.

Cathy and Michael can cover 10-18 kms on weekday runs, while they stretch it to 22-32 kms on the weekends. But even with plenty of practice, Cathy expects the last 10 kms of the 42-km Trapline Marathon to be brutal - advice she picked up from other marathon runners. "There's a reason why the training programs don't go beyond 32 kms. It just eats up your body. So there's no point in brutalizing your body every time you go out," she says.

So why do this if it's so physically demanding? "I'm not in this for racing purposes. I'm in it to see if I can do it," Cathy says. "It's one of those things that are out there that's a physical challenge that I've never done before. And it's just a question of, can I do it? Is it possible?"

For Cathy, running a marathon for the first time "inspires people and provides a goal to shoot for. It's a positive thing and encourages people to be active and get fit. If nothing else, it's been a positive experience thus far. It is one of the ingredients, not the only thing, to a happy marriage," she adds with a laugh.

While Cathy and Michael are not yet looking beyond finishing their first marathon, Jamie Snook notes the Trapline route does serve as a qualifier for the Boston Marathon - so who knows where this one race could take runners in the future?

"We're hoping the (Trapline) Marathon will be an annual event," says Jamie. Not only does it create a healthy challenge, but it also could also contribute to the local tourism economy and make a welcome addition to the long list of outdoor adventures for which Labrador is so widely known.

To see photos and video footage from the Trapline Marathon, click here.