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A run in the wild

Green hay fields, free horses, rough terrain and open trail. For five years, runners have descended on this village, some 188 kilometres west of Fort Nelson, to compete amongst some of the most pristine running terrain in British Columbia.
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Green hay fields, free horses, rough terrain and open trail. For five years, runners have descended on this village, some 188 kilometres west of Fort Nelson, to compete amongst some of the most pristine running terrain in British Columbia.

At the Toad River Run, roads are traded for nature, cars for bear spotters. It's the runners, horses and sometimes their dogs.

"Where else can you run and you have horses running with you?" asked third-year runner Angela White. "The route director playing the mandolin. It's very northern and very cool."

White won the 10 km run.

"The scenery is spectacular, it's a unique, completely different atmosphere. You know everybody," added White, who did the race with her dog.

The Toad River Run took place last weekend on the 500-acre property of Stone Mountain Safaris.

Ninety-four people participated in a number of events, up slightly from the previous year, including a 10 km walk (11 participants), 10 km run (24 participants), 5 km walk (23 participants) and a 5 km run (21 participants).

Kellie Olsen, the main organizer, said this year's event was different from previous years because of the province-wide teacher strike.

Usually teachers help organize the race for the Parent Advisory Club (PAC), who direct proceeds to Toad River School. The race is one of its most important fundraisers, which in the past has raised more than $8,000 to go toward a merry-go-round.

"The strike presented an opportunity to raise money for the community-run hockey rink this year because it's not owned by the school," said Olsen.

The plan this year is to put the net-proceeds toward an awning for the outdoor rink, but Olsen hasn't pegged down the final cost and expects more money will be needed.

"The kids here don't have a gym and sports, so when we put on a run like this and it motivates them to get out and exercise," she said.

At it's peak the school had 25 children in kindergarten through Grade 12.

The town, only plugged into the province's power grid in 2009, has 30 year-round residents, but that grows to more than 50 in the summer.

Ramona Allan competed in the 5 km race, finishing with a time of 35:45 minutes.

The three-time competitor said the morning was perfect: Cool and cloudy, about 14 degrees Celsius.

The teacher at Fort Nelson High School praised the camaraderie in the community.

"It brings the whole community together; the whole community comes out. It's crazy," she said. "Everywhere you look there are kids. They all knew they were there for fun. You see a real community coming together to make it happen.

"It's so beautiful out there. To be able to run out in the mountains is just breathtaking. It's a little bit of paradise. "

Endurance Energy donated tents and BBQs this year, which was fine with Olsen because usually she hosts more than 100 people in her home.

White, community relations advisor for Encana, said running is her passion, particularly trail races.

"Trail races are better than city races," she said. "It's a completely different experience. The crowds can be kind of overwhelming. It's neat to experience. You get different types of energy from different races."

"It's really neat to see a community run where the community of Toad River is out and all the kids are out running. You see a lot of local people with their families from Fort Nelson. The atmosphere is really, really neat. It's so beautiful up there."