One Sunday in March, at the norda barn, exasperated and annoyed with ourselves that we did not know what Elliot Cardin was wearing in the Black Canyon Ultra, we figured it was going to be down to the tracker on a map.
But suddenly, over the crest, and among the saguaros, like Poseidon emerging from the sea, Elliot came from the sand. Elliot has shoulders like no other ultra runner and once you spot him, there's no denying it, he looks like a running God- and here at home in Quebec, he is one.
“When I first heard of Elliot Cardin, it was through a mutual friend who asked me if I knew of this young, up and coming ultra running phenom. I didn’t, but I looked him up and of course was immediately blown away. The Quebec trail running community is steeped in talented runners, but there was something unique about Elliot. Fast forward to me not only meeting him, but having the honour of working with him to achieve his goals. Elliot is a tremendously humble, positive, and kind young athlete. A guy with so much potential in his pursuit of his running goals, but more importantly, an overwhelmingly bright light and future leader in our trail running community. A guy who runs because he loves to, a guy who can’t help infect you with that same passion”.
-Ray Zahab, norda adviser, adventurer, ultra-runner and coach
norda: How did you start running?
Elliot: I started running in 2015 when I was in college. I've always loved challenges and working out, but I've never done a sport seriously other than skateboarding and snowboarding. My brothers-in-law are runners and have both run marathons. Hearing them talk about their running made me want to try it too. I started with the half-marathon and ended up running the marathon in the same year. It's hard to explain, but it really clicked for me running! I much prefer natural environments to urban ones and that's what quickly got me into the trail world when I discovered it in 2016.
norda: What other sports to you do?
Elliot: Since discovering running, I've put skateboarding and snowboarding on the back burner because the risk of injury is too great and time is running out with the amount of work and training. Before last year I was purely dedicated to racing, but since 2021, I try to integrate other sports in my training to diversify and limit the risk of injury. I now do a lot of skimo in winter which allows me to decrease my running volume while keeping an excellent level of fitness. I'm also looking to buy a gravel bike to continue cross training in the summer.
norda: What is a day like for you? Where do you run? What do you eat?
Elliot: I always try to start my days by jogging with my dog Pixel. She's a husky and she loves to run and I like to burn off her energy before I go to work. For my training, I go to the mountains, either to Bromont or Sutton, two beautiful mountains that are both 30 minutes away from Cowansville where I stay. Most of the time the choice is Bromont. The trails are more diversified, dirt road, rolling trail, slope, ski trail, technical trail, in short a nice mix and all in the same place. I love Sutton, it's wilder, very technical and there is a better difference in altitude, but the trails are less diversified and therefore less practical for daily training. After training, nutrition is very important. I study naturopathy and I like to apply what I learn to optimize my physical performance. I use plant extracts and supplements a lot. I love to cook and make sure I eat whole foods and as little processed foods as possible. I have been vegan for 10 years and since this year I have allowed myself more flexibility by eating vegetarian, but the goal is to no longer have a label and to eat without restriction while keeping an ethical, environmental and health conscience.
norda: Tell us about Black Canyon.
Elliot: Black Canyon is a race I love for many reasons. It is one of the first ultras of the year in the middle of February when usually all the Quebec runners are in the off season. It adds an extra motivation to train well in the winter to book a race at this time of the year even if it brings a lot of challenge in terms of acclimatisation. Training on snow for an ultra in the desert is far from specific, but I love the challenge! The profile of the race is also very much in line with my running skills. Downhill is definitely my specialty. Although the course seems super rolling, there are still some technical sections with lots of small unstable rocks on the second part which allows me to stand out from the faster runners on the flat. Another very interesting point is that it's a golden ticket race which means that the first 2 of each category get a direct entry to the prestigious Western States! Every year it attracts many professionals to this race and it's clearly an attraction that I like.
When I go away to race, I want to compete against the best in my discipline to see where I stand. In 2020, I managed to get a 3rd place on the podium. This allowed me to get the Golden Ticket because the winner Hayden Hawks had already entered the WS via the ultra trail world tour. With the pandemic I had to postpone my participation in the WS for 2021 which was a difficult year for me. I overtrained and since then I'm slowly overcoming the repercussions, but let's just say that the preparation for my first 100miles was difficult and I arrived on the starting line more or less close and unfortunately I had to give up the dream of performing and completing my first 160k at 125k. Anyway, for this 2022 edition I really wanted to repeat the feat and give myself a second chance to finish what I started on the WS. The elite field this year was exceptional, even historic. Many professionals and elite on the start list. On ultra signup we could count more than 50 runners with a rating of 90% and more! A big battle for the Goldens tickets.
I trained hard for this race and the trainings were going well just before I got injured in early January following a speed workout in snowy and slippery conditions... a strain in my ischio and calf that turned into tendonitis despite a week of complete rest. It took me the whole month to recover with a minimal training volume. A very stressful end of preparation and a lot of investment in a race that was becoming more and more uncertain. It was only two days before the race that the pain disappeared completely. Despite everything I remained motivated and confident. No excuses, I was going to give it my all, injury or no injury, and that's what I managed to do. I felt the injury all the way through, but it scared me more than it hurt and the pain remained constant from the beginning to the end without changing. Until the 40th kilometre I was in good shape, but the heat quickly hit me and the rest of the race became survival. I could barely feed and hydrate myself for the last 30 kms. It was a hot edition, quite a bit hotter than 2020 with particularly dry and hot weather. I finished in just under 9 hours in 14th place. Definitely not the time I was dreaming of, but that's what ultra running is all about, it's more than just running, you have to master the elements, your nutrition and your mind and that's something I'm always learning! Over all I'm very satisfied to have finished in conditions where I was in the habit of giving up instead of pushing hard and I'm proud of that and happy to have broken that bad habit.
norda: What's next?
Elliot:The next real goal will be the QMT 50k. It will be a perfect distance to focus on speed again this Spring and once again compete against the best, as this race usually attracts some great runners!
norda: What do you run for?
Elliot: For me, running has become a vital need. It's a sacred moment, a meditation where I naturally clear my mind. It is also one of the most beautiful excuses to explore the world and to explore our wilderness with literally no limits!
Photo courtesy of Guillaume Audette