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Posted November 4 , 2013

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Recognition - Video

Race directors receive conservation award

By Janet Baine, GRCA

Grand River Basin - Enthusiasm and careful attention to details are bringing world class runners to Run for the Toad at Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area between Paris and Cambridge, Ontario. The couple behind the Run for the Toad trail race, George and Peggy Sarson, received a 2013 Grand River Watershed Award from the Grand River Conservation Authority for their dedication to getting people outside and improving the facilities at Pinehurst Lake. Twelve years ago the Sarsons, residents of Waterloo, thought that the Carolinian forest and rolling landscape of Pinehurst near Ayr would be ideally suited to a trail event. George had been there when he was younger, and the memory stayed with him. Their first Run for the Toad attracted around 200 runners who raced on a 12.5 kilometre loop for a total of 25 or 50 kilometres. Their top priority then and now is to ensure that each participant and spectator is treated with dignity and walks away feeling happy and fulfilled at the end of the day. “If we were going to do it, we wanted to do it right,” George Sarson said.

This year there were 1,250 participants in the race which is now Canada’s top trail race. The Association of Canadian Ultramarathoners (ACU) turned this event into their 2013 championship venue, so top long distance runners form Canada, the United States and Britain are vying for the $7,000 prizes. The Sarsons could not be more delighted.

“The enthusiasm this year is beyond my wildest dreams. I can’t even describe it,” George said. There are 125 volunteers helping the Sarsons, but volunteering is so popular that there is also a waiting list.

“The Sarsons have been tireless in their efforts to improve the trails. They have become strong ambassadors for Pinehurst and the GRCA. The event connects people to the environment through shared outdoor activity. The Sarsons passion for the outdoors is contagious,” said GRCA CAO Joe Farwell, who also enjoys running at Pinehurst.

In fact, many GRCA staff members have Run for the Toad as a result of their enthusiasm. There are four events- 25 and 50 kilometre runs, a 25 kilometre walk and a team relay.

A training day in July attracted nearly 400 participants this year to run the trails at Pinehurst. Thanks to thousands of volunteer hours on the part of the Sarsons and their team, the trail is well maintained. They both also work fulltime, but this is their passion.

A tent city at the event includes a medical response unit with 35 people, an exhibition area with the top brands in running and children’s activities and films organized by the GRCA’s nature centre staff. The Sarsons know that training takes time and dedication and they make sure all family members are happy during the race, no matter what the weather. At the starting line spectators can be five deep and there are bleachers at the finish line as well as many places suitable for photos. This is all topped off with a sit-down catered post-run spread that offers delicious and nutritious food.

The trail has been transformed from “a Billy goat path” to one of the top five in Ontario, Sarson estimates. Funds raised from runners, who have the opportunity to donate when they register for the run, and from the event itself have resulted in new kiosks, benches, interpretive signs and improvements to the park. The new boathouse is a small gift from Peggy.

“My volunteer role here is pretty darn rewarding. It keeps my wife and I in touch with each other. We want to leave a legacy that’s going to benefit the GRCA and we are all about healthy lifestyle,” Sarson said.

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