I’d known about Melissa’s Road Race for years but always thought it too big, too epic for the likes of me. Well, since 2014 is all – CHANGE THYSELF – I figured I would make it so. I knew I would more than likely be running it alone, and yep, that’s how it turned out. But in the end, it’s just what I needed.
It was my second and final long race of the year. This one was a 21K road race compared to the 25K trail race I did in May. And, really, my first true road race of the season as I’ve mostly stuck to the trails. This course was out of the Banff Rec Grounds, along the Bow River, past the Bow Falls, two loops around the Banff Springs Hotel golf course, then back again. 95% pavement. Something new.
Organization: From the online registration through to the package pick-up, this was a quick, slick operation for those in the know. Back in the dead of winter, credit card at close hand, I dutifully watched both the Melissa’s and the Running Room websites for the announcement of the registration. From what I’d heard, this race would sell out in a day or so, and I wanted to be ready. For 2014, the registration opened on February 18 and the 10K sold out almost right away, and the 21K a few days after.
I didn’t train very well for this race. I was a little bit lazy, in fact. I did do a 14K trail race two weekends prior, but otherwise wasn’t running daily. I really should have been, but I’ve been in a bit of a funk with exercise, and it worried me somewhat that I was being silly in following through with this commitment… but at the same time, I signed up. So, I was going to do it.
Package pick up took place in Calgary leading up to race day and in Banff at Melissa’s the day before. I elected to head straight to Banff and it was a quick number pick up and scan right at Melissa’s restaurant. Not a lot of touchy feely stuff going on, and if you had questions you kinda just kept them to yourself…the volunteers’ main purpose was to get through the line, I gather.
On race day, the start/finish was located in the Banff Rec Grounds. I was quite morose to see the beer tent not open pre-race. Don’t they understand I need a cold one to calm my nerves?? I picked up my very own Melissa’s shirt with the awesome autumn artwork, then checked my bag. Huzzah for bag checks.
A trainer from the Banff Springs Hotel started a warm-up session, which was awesome. It helped me shake off the nervous excitement and warm up my body. I had to laugh though – the warm up was like a whole workout session for me….lol. I was worried that I had expended precious energy! And that was it – - – > we were off! The 10K race left at 10:30 am and the 21K race started 10 minutes later.
My run: Rewinding a bit…Despite having lived in the area for seven years, I’d never actually eaten at Melissa’s Mis-Steak, so I decided this was a good place for my pre-race carb loading. Spaghetti Bolognaise – pineapple juice is their secret weapon in this sauce – bread and garlic butter, Caesar salad. Did the trick.
The day of the race, I brought my little backpack with gels, watermelon Spark, salt packets, etc. When I saw the bag check, I weighed my options against the course map. There looked to be enough water stations to safely forgo bringing my own H2O, and my jacket had pockets to bring the gels. The three salt packets from Wendy’s were a new addition to my running repertoire. Miz J. told me that her totally amazing brother-in-law used salt in his long distance running. I sweat out SO MUCH salt. 21K was long distance enough for me, and because I didn’t want calf cramps like my last race, I figured I’d give this a go.
I seeded myself at the back! The slowest pace bunny was 2:45. (My 25K took me 3:59 so I was aiming for about 3:00 hrs for this race.) No walkers were permitted, although there was evidence of such, complete with walking sticks. The main reason would be because of Parks Canada restrictions, and the time allocated for the race was limited. I would later learn how serious they were about this time limit.
Off and running, I was so excited. Seriously. A half marathon! SO COOL. And in the mountains, my favourite place on earth. After I simmered down a bit, I found my legs, and I had to pass the 2:45 pace bunny and the 2:30 pace bunny. Not sure how wise this was, knowing I had so many kilometers to go. I found a girl in purple with a long brunette ponytail to follow. She had a good solid pace and I kept time right behind her. My right heel was sore, so I was trying to carefully place my foot, and even when I started to tire (hello – this is me we’re talking about…I get TIRED) I concentrated on keeping up with her.
Side note: I remember reading the question “Do you like to chase or be chased?” I think I prefer the chase. I get way stressed out when trying to keep ahead of other runners coming up from behind me!
Passing a water station, I grabbed a cup and stopped at the garbage can to chug it back and to chuck out the cup. Purple Girl didn’t take any water nor did she stop, and that’s when I lost her. And the little old Japanese lady. And the sweatpants guy. I was soooo unhappy about that. Purple Girl was truly keeping me going. Things started to go downhill. I became so sluggish. I felt mentally defeated. It hurt to lift my feet. I was achy. I’d already taken a gel with the water, and needed to save the others for later in the race. People I hadn’t previously seen started passing me. I shuffled a few more kilometers all grumpy like this.
Then I remembered the salt. I touched my face, and already a crystal layer was building up. I took a salt packet from my pocket, ripped it open and poured the contents under my tongue. So gross. But so good. As it melted into me, I felt so much better. And that’s when I had the conversation with myself. Yes, it hurts now but pain is temporary. You want to finish this race? Then just go. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. All this is temporary. The accomplishment of finishing this race ON YOUR OWN is something no one can take away.
Generally, these kind of pep talks don’t work on me. (You don’t really want that cookie…) I think being there alone, with no one to motivate me or hold me back, it was all on me. I was going to make or break this run. And you know what? I didn’t want to be last. Again. So, I ran. (Well, let’s be honest, I never actually RUN, more like shuffle/jog).
I picked my pace back up a bit and found my stride. Surrounded by new people now…an older couple, a trio of 30-somethings, pink lady with the fanny pack, etc. Partway through the first loop on the golf course a wave of runners loped past: the 21K-ers on their second loop already! Loved this! So amazing.
I almost didn’t do my second loop – the junction with the two water stations didn’t have clear markings, and I started to head down and out of the golf course. I caught myself in time and asked for directions. I got straightened out but as I was talking to the volunteers, another wave ran through, including the 2:30 pace bunny (damn!!).
From there on I just kept at it – periodic salt and gel, water when it was offered. I appreciated all the water stations and the musical volunteers along the route. Kinda made you want to sit down, kick up your feet and stay a while! Finally, I hit that junction again and was on my way back to the finish line. The 2:45 pace bunny caught up to me and passed me, but then he ran back again. He was having trouble keeping to his assigned pace, and was constantly going back and forth. He did offer some nice advice to stand up straighter…I must have been hunching at this point. (Hunching, as in, let me lay down in the fetal position for a while)
Coming up past the Bow Falls I chatted with a walker (who walked as fast as I ran) who had actually run the loop THREE times due to the directional challenges at the junction – poor thing! And then, that’s when I spotted her: PURPLE GIRL!!! She was still running, and not too far ahead of me. I told the Triple Loop Lady how I was following Purple Girl at the beginning, and she was like, oh! let’s catch her!! So we ran together until we reached Purple Girl. I said hello, but Purple Girl was lost in her own jammin’ earphone haze. And that’s when I realized that Purple Girl was going pretty slow. And that I could keep moving.
I picked up my pace again and ran the last kilometres back onto the Rec Grounds. Lots of cheering, lots of love from people I’d never met. They announced my name and my town, and I crossed the finish line at 2:39 hrs. WOW. SO AMAZING.
Conclusion: Oh, heck ya, I’d do this one again. I feel so at home in Banff and would be thrilled to do it. The race had loads of draw prizes as well, many of which to encourage you to return to Banff, such as brunch certificates, etc. Would you believe I didn’t go back to the beer tent? So unlike me. Or was it? Perhaps I finally figured out I didn’t need it.
I forgot to switch off my running watch, so I’d wandered about the grounds eating my free race banana, stretching etc before I turned it off. I totally appreciate the way Melissa’s operated their food section. You shuffle through fencing one by one, receiving a plastic bag, then volunteers in turn fill it with fruit, yogurt, granola bars, juice, etc. There was no worry at this race of having the food plundered by faster runners from shorter races.
When I’d had enough, I started to walk back to the Banff Springs Hotel through the woods and back along the Bow River where we’d already run. Coming towards me on the forest path was a little old Japanese lady with a giant pink balloon in her hand. She was one of three little old Japanese ladies wearing matching t-shirt I’d seen sprinkled through the race. She was followed by a volunteer in a golf cart. I suspected she was one of the last ones. I put my stuff down and cheered her on as she came close. It was a little weird, me, alone in the woods cheering on this stranger. When she passed me and offered a tired smile, I started to cry. I don’t know why. Maybe because I was tired, too. Maybe because she was awesome. Maybe because she was running for someone who was no longer here. Maybe because I’d finished so many races alone and last. Maybe because I was alone today.
I walked – rather gingerly at this point – along the Bow then headed back up to the road. That’s where I bumped into another runner. She was off course, and she was pissed. By the time she’d finished her two loops and was heading back into town, all the race markers had been removed due to time restrictions, and there were no longer any volunteers or directions in place. She’d been walking because of an unexpected hip injury. Angry and defeated, she was trying to get back to the finish line. I pointed the way, and wished her luck. That sucked. I felt bad for her.
And that’s Melissa’s from September 27, 2014! A fun race, good organization, a cool t-shirt, neat prizes, and lots of good time. I’ll sign up for this one again next year.