Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Banff Ekiden

"Runners do it on their own.." Not quite, sometimes we're into the group thing. I was kindly invited to join the Bonavista team, most whom had done of the Harvest Half, to do the Banff Ekiden. Fortunately I'd saved myself from myself at the end of that race once a PB seemed out of reach, so 2 weeks later I'd be in reasonable shape. As a general rule I can manage one race a year under 4 weeks after a previous race. 
To Banff! Great to do a race there, and the Ekiden format is a hassle-free relay. The start and finish of 5 different legs is in the same place. Weather was sunny and slightly cold, a bit hard to know exactly what to wear.
Perhaps next time, I'll see if everyone can wear and pass on the headcam (what's a little sweat between co-film makers?), this day though I recorded the start and handovers and wore it for my final leg. 
1st was Rich, managing not to get too caught up in the start line mania. The same couldn't be said for the kid in front of him, who enjoyed a few yards of glory. 
Enough to make you break out into Oh Canada was the news that the first 2 legs had been altered due to bear sightings. 
Speaking of beasts, Brent was next up for leg 2. Rich had run a stormer despite feeling the strain of his 3rd race in 3 weeks. 
Brent came in to hand over to Nicole who was doing legs 3 and 4, a total of just under 10k. Brent had a lie down right after finishing, having laid it all out on the road. 
Some teams were laying it all out in the wrong place when their changeover came, the next leg being in the bathroom at the time. Quite a few runners need to learn the art of a well-timed CC (confidence crap - "going" so you can be confident that you won't need to "go" at an inappropriate time). 
"2 Legs" Nicole came around to start leg 4, took off her long sleeve with leg 3's number on, and carried on with her second race number on the short sleeve underneath. Great idea, whoever had it.
Right after leg 4 started, I immediately went for a CC. So voided, I lined up to start my leg and watched for leg 5 runners to see who I'd be chasing for the 11.7k. One lady went past, but more than 3 minutes elapsed, so too far away. Then a rather quick looking guy started his team's fifth leg. While his wearing the race day shirt was cause for optimism that he wasn't all that good, I didn't think I stood a chance after 1 minute had gone by. 
Up the hill came Nicole and I took off like a ferret up a drainpipe.
Straight up a hill and past a 20 speed limit sign. Should I turn myself in?
When you come to a fork in the road, take it. The right hand one as it turned out.
Once past a couple of camp grounds, the road undulated and was mostly straight. There were periods when I couldn't see anyone or any cars. Faced with just the wonder of the Rockies and the sound of the breeze, a thought inevitably drifts into the mind: "here, one may truly fart in peace."
So parped, in the distance I saw a blue dot. Mr Race-Day-Shirt. Keep to your pace, you're gaining. 
Time before that to fulfill a request I had received to get some selfie footage.
The coyote I saw is above the letter h. The wide angle of the camera makes it look pretty distant. Half-glancing as it crossed the road, it knew I was there. 
Also very much there about a kilometre later was the super-fast shoulder-height lady who passed me on her way to a world record or something. 
By this time, the course was heading down hill back towards the finish again, into quite a headwind. I caught up to Mr RDS and decided to draft him for a few minutes.
Squeezing past some cyclists and an SUV who quickly remembered the golden rule that runners always get priority, RDS decided to run on the road while I took to the pavement. 
After seeing him nearly get flattened by a Dodge Ram, I decided I would wind it up for the final k before the hill, about 1k long itself. 10k pace was fine for that downhill part. I had figured that I would not have much pace up the hill, no matter what speed I did before it. 
R'n'B took me up the hill in a valiant effort to keep me in front of RDS. He came past at what looked like 10k pace however. An indication that he might have paced himself better. 
I had no big finish strength left. Still, I made up what I had thought to be an insurmountable gap of over a minute and came in 5th quickest on my leg.
A Mobot at the finish (what else?)
7th overall team out of 81, we were 3rd in the "open" category - an all-male category, however we would have placed in any other anyway. 
My second encounter with nature came straight after the finish, as I was getting my breath back. Frame by frame, I can see the fly go from left to right before turning around and heading for just below the camera.
Marshal at the finish line shortly after I had crossed: "can I have your chip please? As soon as you can breathe."
Me: "Cchhhthhspeuthhh! Hock!... sorry I just swallowed a fly...acchh spit!"
Recovered, we all compared notes. We all gave our best on the day and our category placing has earned us gift cards from Strides running store. First monetary instrument I've won from running. 
This is the 4th relay I've done and hands down the best. Nice weather, best looking location possible and a great team. Cheering on my teammates and the atmosphere of the start/ finish was actually more exciting than my leg itself which was a test of not only speed, but above all discipline (quiet roads through a forest, no spectators and few runners in sight). 
A-Chang was as ever great to have at the finish line, and kudos to Kristi for being team manager and keeping excitable runners organized.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Harvest Half Marathon 2013

For me, the final countdown to this sublime race starts 2 Thursdays beforehand, when I take the 20 minute walk from work to package pick-up at the Tech Shop. I registered as soon as I could in April, and when they gave me my stuff my bib was #1!

It was with a mix of irony and genuine happiness - finally number one. "Maybe you'll win," said one of the volunteers. "Well, I was 7th last year," I replied. I could've sworn I heard a gasp behind me. Honestly, I'd love an AG medal which in itself is luck in terms of who else shows up. It is however inconceivable that out of 1,000 runners there'd be nobody capable of under 1.27. 

So despite a foot injury that had cost me a few training runs, I thought I should try for a PB despite not feeling confident of having the legs to do it. 

Back in my GB sprinter's top then, good for cool weather despite its sleevelessness. And my wife likes me in it. Rich was back in action 5 weeks since BQ-ing. He also brought an entourage of other fine runners with him. 

Once again, I led the first block as we started under cloudy skies. It was rather windy on the mainly westward approach to Fish Creek Park. This is an uphill section that climbs to varying degrees, seemingly unending. During that section, I made a close-up pass by a group of deer which had wandered up to a neighbourhood golf course from the park. I've seen them during this race before, but now finally get them on camera.

Plunging down into the park, my favourite section I call the roller coaster. The steepest gravel part scares me every year and I take small, quick, comedic steps. A right hairpin, a sharp downhill left into the trees, the path snakes to the first wooden bridge, a quick view of the creek and then into thick pine forest. 

Emerging from the trees to a grass plain and a hairpin and past the 7k mark, the pace felt hard work. A plunge back down again to the 4 bridge section, I wore the camera backwards as planned. To keep it steady I pulled it down almost to the point of making the strap a blindfold. 

After the 4th bridge a quick but steep hill and more twists to Votier's Flats. A slightly different route this year which added another sharp turn. I reckon the older, straighter route works better. 
One runner in a blue shirt who had been in front of me since the start of the park was acting as my pacer even though I kept trying to tell myself to let him go. 

Getting to Sikone Hill I was 20 seconds ahead of schedule. The hill costs 40-60 seconds so the gamble of this race would be whether or not I had anything left after the hill with 3.5k to go. Getting up to speed was tough going, and at the 18k sign I was about 20 seconds behind. Trying to crunch a few numbers which I find hard enough sitting down, my hamstrings started to feel like they were going to seize. 

The gamble hadn't worked, so just cruise home. By now I know the course so well I knew there'd be few surprises. The only one in fact was the finish line having been moved further back. Rounding the final corner with its grass bank, there it was, rather than 100 metres away. This somehow brought out the urge to celebrate more than most non-PB performances, so I Mobotted my way to the line to quite a bit of laughter. 

I even hit on the idea of taking my camera off and filming myself as I crossed the line. 
1:28:23 is not my quickest, but still a great morning's work. 9th this time, and 6th in my AG. I'll most likely have to wait until my 40s for an AG medal.
Once again this race was everything running should be, both challenging and fun as well as carrying many other wider meanings.