Run up hills in the dark in May? I’d pay to do it.

Rick MacLean
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 It was dark. Streetlights were few and far between. Very far, actually. But that was all right. It was cool, six degrees. The breeze was light. And the headlamps of the people in front of me were getting closer.

I was catching them.

That is catnip to a runner. Tired? Not when you’re catching people. Thirsty? Not when you’re catching people. Hurting? Not when…well, yes…but it doesn’t matter when you’re catching people.

Welcome to the Cabot Trail relay, nearly 300 kilometres of uphills and more uphills around one of the most prettiest highways in the Maritimes. And at 3 a.m. on most May nights, there are likely few places quieter and lonelier than any stretch of that road.

 Until last weekend, when about 1,100 runners took turns pulling on their running shoes for the chance to run one of the 17 sections of the relay. We’d had to apply for the right to be there.

If our team was one of the 70 selected in the lottery, we’d paid $90 a person for the privilege of taking part.

The Georgetown Conference held on P.E.I. a few months ago encouraged people to think of new ways to help their rural communities do things differently, renew their regions while attracting money to their small towns.

Well, I wasn’t thinking about it at the time – I was concentrating on my pace, my legs and the next hill – but looking back now, anyone interested in community development could do worse than to consider what the organizers of the Cabot Trail relay have done in 27 years.

The story goes the relay was born from the over-active minds, and legs, of a few locals. “Bet we could run that thing,” someone likely said over a few cold ones. “We’d take turns.”

They were onto something. Money, for one thing. Looking to pump some money into a rural community? Consider this.

Many of us stayed Friday night at the Gaelic College, next to the starting line.

$40 a room. Multiply that by dozens.

Saturday, at the end of the 18-kilometre Leg 2, the first of two I’d run in 18 hours, the smell of fish and chips from a little shed near the finish line was irresistible. Two orders later, one for me, one for Beautiful Wife, we jumped back into our car.

$10 each. Multiply that by a long line-up of hungry runners eager for their grease fix.

 “We’d better buy gas,” I said to BW as we prepared to leave. “I’m not sure if there’s another place open for awhile.”

$40. Multiply that by car after car after car.

There were 70 runners in each section of the relay. Each was followed by a support team in a car. Behind those, family and friends. The line-up of parked cars at the end of the mid-afternoon Leg 5 stretched for three kilometres. I measured it.

Around 3 p.m. BW and I headed to our motel room in Cheticamp to rest my legs and try to get two or three hours sleep before Leg 13 at 2 a.m.

$140 for the room. Food? Another $15 each.

Multiply that by every room in town. There was not one to rent anywhere in Cheticamp that night. Instead, there was a forest of no-vacancy signs.

The finishers banquet was held in the rink in Baddeck. It was full. I’m guessing over 3,000 people. On a Sunday. In May. In Cape Breton.

And these weren’t kids taking part. Politely, we’d be called middle aged. We have money and the time to travel. Would I go back next year? I’ve put my name on the list already.

Now that’s how you bring money into your community.

Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

Organizations: Gaelic College, Holland College

Geographic location: Georgetown, P.E.I., Cheticamp Baddeck Cape Breton.And Charlottetown

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