Let’s start by saying I got some wicked awesome prizes for being dead last.
The kickoff race for the Northern Alberta 5 Peaks trail running series was at the Terwillegar (dog) Park in south Edmonton, along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. Everything is still morosely brown here in Edmonton, but it was a blue sky day with a cool breeze – perfect for a wee run.
I signed up for the “Enduro”, which was 16 km for this particular race. I’m on a two-week countdown to the 25 km Baby Ultra (or rather, the “Mini Mental” as Winkler calls it) so I thought getting into race mode with hordes of other runners was appropriate.
Organization: Given that the dog park was still open to the public (dogs, walkers, bikers, etc) organizers had things under control with a whopping great start/finish line flagged by Salomon, and plenty of sponsor tents for Salomon, MEC, Buff etc. Parking was right out on the field, and package pick up was swift. Got another 5 Peaks Buff with my reg package along with a mini Clif bar. There was no bag check, but thankfully Miz Jilly was there as my coach, trainer and holder of stuff.
Course: The 16K Enduro consisted of two laps of one course loop, shared by the shorter 8K Sport runners. The first few kilometers of the course were fairly flat through a grassy area with a mix of single and double track. At 3 km the trail started to climb and became a single track through the trees, with a bit of technical work over roots and rolling dips.
At 5ish km, runners hit a broad double track with a sustained climb, then back into the woods on a single track through another technical section of roots and ropes. The last few kms trailed through the open field towards the start/finish. Enduro runners do the course twice.
My run: The Enduro runners began at 9:00 am, and I seeded myself at the back. Lots of uber-looking athletes present! I felt pretty nervous to be running alone, as Jill is such a great pace setter when we run together. She coached me to think of this as just another training run – which was spot on – and not to be tempted to run with the pack. Boy – easier said than done.
With all the people dashing over hill and vale, it was hard not to try and keep up to an unsustainable pace. My first mile pace was 10:36….and it dropped to 13-15 per mile after that. The most challenging part for me was when the Sport runners launched at great speed 20 minutes after my start and quickly began catching and passing the Enduros on the technical single-track trail. I so admired the Sport runners for their flat-out speed and agility through the tough parts of the trail. When I hit the field and then the hill climb on my first lap, Jill joined me for moral support (yay), and then I was back to it.
I felt much better during the second lap of the course, both mentally and physically, as the racers thinned significantly and it became easier to concentrate on moving at my own pace for those last 8 kms. I received many encouraging words from the safety volunteers, including lots of “hey, you paid to do this, take your time.” I actually had no idea at that point I was the last runner.
As I approached the end of the course, I could hear the awards announcements in progress for the top runners. I hoofed it across the finish line around 2:15 hrs accompanied by one whoop from a volunteer and a wonderful high-five from Jill who was waiting on the other side.
The sponsors had already packed up and left, but there were still plenty of oranges, bananas, pretzels, etc. leftover and the folks waiting for their awards. I’d filled up my water bottle and was sucking on an orange when I heard my name called by the announcer. I ended up walking away with something nice from MEC – a cherry windbreaker and a teal technical tee – for being the (unintentional) race sweep. DOH.
Both of those awesome prizes were size Medium. I guess I will have to keep keep running until I can fit into them 🙂
Overall, it was a good experience running Terwillegar (home to my winter snowshoe training ground) but I’m not sure I’d pay for it again in a formal trail race. (Running two laps of the same course was a little dry.) Getting another 16 km under my belt has been fab training! Countdown is on to the big one!