Race recap – 5 Peaks Terwillegar

Finisher 5 PeaksWhhhyyyy do I do this to myself?

I really don’t like this course, but I knew I needed a swift kick in terms of getting off the road and onto the trails.

Trail running is so incredibly different than road racing, and 5 Peaks guarantees that you’re going to get a course that is a big fat twisty single-track adventure when you run at Terwillegar in Edmonton.

Organization
5 Peaks seems to be experiencing a bit of a growth spurt – the first race in the 5 Peaks Northern Alberta series was  sold out!  The race had vendors, snacks, package pick-up and a social media-driven car-pooling initiative going down.  All smooth, all good.  The location is the same as in years past, at the Terwillegar dog park.

Course
Let me just say… I hate this course. I hate it because it kills me every time. Which means I should really love it because I need to conquer it.

It starts innocently enough with flat double-ish track for a few kilometres or so, and then boom!  Up through the trees on a single track along the river where you find yourself running on what appears in the normal-person-world to be a hiking trail.  This twisty trail of fun continues through the trees with a descent, and then another section of undulating hills hugged closely by trees.  After you survive this bit, the path widens out and heads back down to the finish line. But wait, if you’re an idiot and signed up for the Enduro (14 km) course rather than the Sport (7 km) course, you get to do another loop of this foolishness.5Peaks Terwillegar course

My run
I seeded myself in the 3rd (final) wave of the start for the Enduro runners, and was in full panic mode as I covered the first few kilometres. WHY I was freaking out, I can’t tell you. Probably the same emotional rage range I experience when going to the dentist for a little drilling of the teeth. I knew what was coming. I knew it would be challenging. And everyone who signs up for these trail races are just so EPIC!  (Eeeek! Intimidating!)

Once I hit that hiking trail (yes, I will continue to call it a hiking trail) my legs turned to concrete and my heart was pounding right out of my chest.  Adrenaline carried me as my body went into WTF mode.  As we all navigated the steep, rooted trail, I played tag with a couple of ladies running together. I passed them, they passed me.  They rested, then I rested.  It was comforting to always have a someone (anyone?) in constant view. I managed to keep up an acceptable pace but soon enough the duo disappeared ahead as the real hounds caught up to me.

Released from the start gate, the Sport racers were already running up from behind. Total beast mode! I took advantage of their speed to catch my breath by stepping off the trail to let them pass, me cheering and clapping – because it WAS damn impressive.  During this time, I encountered the Enduro sweep who informed me exactly what I was: “the last one.” A little disheartening. Nonetheless, I stepped, cheered, ran, stepped, cheered ran – repeatedly – the next several kilometres as waves of runners came dashing through the woods.  AND I was also completely lapped by the leaders of the Enduro as well!  Freaking amazing!! These guys rocked.

By the time I reached the end of the first loop runners in front of me were veering off to the right, towards the finish line, and I couldn’t see a soul in front of me on the track starting the second loop. I’d lost the pair of ladies who were around my speed.  That first half of the race truly took the guts right out of me, and I was feeling rather alone in my great trail running baptism of 2016.

And that’s when I began to cry.  It was hot. I was tired. It was stupid, really. But it was overwhelming. I felt terrible and dumb and sad. Even the sweep wasn’t running at that point, as she’d stayed back to chat with volunteers.  And cheese and crackers, WHY do I do this to myself?? Why didn’t I just run the short course??  Well, because I knew I needed practice on a long trail run, that’s why.

However, at this point, “logic” didn’t stop the heaving, blinding, pathetic sobs.  I stumbled up the small rise at the beginning of the second loop, and when I was out of sight from the start/finish line and all the happy people, I sat down on a park bench and sipped some water. I sucked back a gel.  And then I got myself together.  Crying was NOT going to miraculously catapult me to the finish line.  I had a long way to go.

So, I kept going. I sucked air all through the hiking trail part, heaving as I climbed up the short, steep inclines, trying to make up time with fast descents. On the next part, a nice volunteer caught up to me.  He was busy plucking the markers off the trail behind me as I either ran or walked.  (Note: he could walk as fast as I “ran”)  He was retired, and we chatted about all sorts of running-related things. He didn’t start running until his 40s, and it cleared up his knee problems as his legs got stronger over the years.

The next trail angel I encountered was heading back to the finish after hanging out at an aid station post-race, and he walked/jogged with me. He gave me good advice on all sorts of trail-related things, including a walking gait to adopt that allowed me to walk faster while still being soft on the knees and providing recovery time mid-race.

My painfully clenched calf muscles (poor calves – shocked to have worked so hard!) had begun to subside by that point, but being a punk and feeling sorry for myself, I continued to walk the remainder of the course.  Every now and then I would trot, and the calves would protest, so I slipped back into walk mode. I figured last was last, and that’s all there was to it – no need to hurry.

As he and I power-walked monkey-style down the final stretch, we could hear the 5 Peaks announcers and the remnants of the crowd.  He told me this was my time now, and I needed to go ahead.  He told me to run and to throw my arms in the air as I crossed the finish line, because I’d earned it.  That made me feel both grateful and silly, mostly because I spent most of the race feeling sorry for myself. And I’m not sure I earned some fabulous finish.

Off I went, trotting across the finish line with a Forrest Gump wave to the poor volunteers who were waiting to go home.  Everyone was so kind, and they clapped, and the race announcer even gave me a Timex running watch along with my commemorative 5 Peaks pint glass for finishing the race. Awwwwww. Thanks, 5 Peaks!

The food table folks brought out a bowl of bananas they’d put away, along with a sleeve of cookies and a half bottle of diet cola. All the other snacks were gone, and as a little kid hanging out by the table lamented, he didn’t get pizza, either – lol.  I took what they could offer and went to sit and watch the dogs play in the dog park as I cooled off.Terwillegar 5 Peaks my run

Lessons
All in all, this race was a great way to get back on the trails and remind myself what work needs to be done = train for the terrain.

When I got home, I scrolled through the online race results and discovered that the ladies who’d been around my pace during the first quarter of the run had only finished about 6 minutes before me. Six minutes.

On the flip side, boy, I was whiny.  I need to – again – get out of my own head, and work on the positive self-talk.  These races are learning experiences and part of the process. I mustn’t get so discouraged!

I was super grateful to run into those trail angels who offered me advice, with no judgement. It’s amazing how far a kind word will go, you know?

And lastly – oh jeez. I’m striving to gain a little more running maturity (ummm there’s no crying in running??).

5 Peaks last place

 

 

 

 

 

Race recap – Run Disney’s Star Wars (Dark Side) Half Marathon

Better late than never – for both childhood dreams of going to Disney and the writing of race recaps.

Darth Run DisneyI’d heard about RunDisney but didn’t pay much attention until the words “Star Wars” came up.  Running the inaugural Star Wars Dark Side races at Walt Disney World (the light side having been run in California at Disneyland) sounded too cool, and hey, it was Orlando – I love you! Orlando! Sea World and Disney and putt-putt golfing! But I digress. Jim and I joined 43,000 other registered runners for the 2016 Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend—The Dark Side.

We also totally made a holiday out of it this past April, staying for a week at Disney’s Pop Century hotel.  Talk about havin’ a time!  From the pineapple beer at the race expo to crossing the finish line at the half marathon = all was amazing.

Organization
With 19,500 runners registered for the half marathon, it’s the largest race I’ve ever participated in. And it was STAR WARS.  How absolutely nerd-tastic was this??  I’m hands-down impressed by the sheer logistics of the races hosted by Walt Disney World in Florida.  Despite my coping issues with crowds, for some reason I didn’t really feel the sheer humanity present at the race. (Disney seems to have this skill down to an art form, races or parks in general).

To give you an idea of the people-moving skills required, it was suggested you be on the bus out to the race launching area by 0330 hrs at the latest.  So, I was up by 0230 hrs (having gone to bed by 2300 hrs) and on the bus leaving my Disney hotel by 0300 hrs.  After a dark 10-minute walk from the bus drop off to the  launch area, the parking lot had transformed into a massive party with John Williams’ finest pouring from the speakers, a big screen & stage with pre-race hosts and epic movie clips from all the Star Wars films, tents for last minute coffee, snacks and runner’s fuel and stacks and stacks of port-a-potties! (My fave mash-up tune was “shotz, shotz, shotz, shotz-shotz” in tune with blaster fire…)

Walking from the launch area to the starting corrals must have been another 20 minutes – I kid you not!  I was down in corral G – I believe it went all the way to J or K.  The start time was 0500 hrs.  The temperatures – even in the wee hours – were deliciously balmy.  For a Canadian accustomed to freezing pre-race and having to bring coats or throw-away tees, this was a pleasure.  Fireworks heralded the start of every corral’s gun.  It was all just so epic.

Course
RunDisney half marathon courseThe half marathon course snaked it’s way through three Disney parks – Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom – with the finish line at ESPN.  All pavement. Barely any grade to the course. LOTS of distractions!  Epcot sparkled in the dark night as we ran through the back lots and onto the main route around the lake and past all the pavilions.  There was only one super-tight walkway where faster runners were getting bottlenecked (and one rather mouthy guy pushing his way through with rude comments was booed – long live ‘merica), but otherwise it was easy going.

Every park had Star Wars music booming from the sound systems, and spacious boulevards connecting the parks were dotted with giant screens playing Star Wars movie clips; plus there were photo opps with R2 and Chewie (long lines for these!).  Hollywood Studios sported a whole selfie station with tons of beloved Star Wars dark side characters like Boba Fett, Storm Troopers, Imperial guards, etc. hanging out. As the sun rose (remember – I’m a slow runner) the road in and out of Animal Kingdom seemed the longest, but it also had movie screens, and a special aid station with tubs of serve-yourself pump-action BioFreeze (lifesaver!).  ESPN welcomed runners to the finish with loads of cheering and supporters, snack boxes, aid stations and the opportunity once again to take more photos with Darth Vader, Darth Maul and all their dark side buddies.

My run
Despite the staggering amount of people and production behind this event, I didn’t really have my usual run-freak-out.  Pretty relaxed, I went into this with a certain giddy merriment, and it seemed like everyone else was there to have a good time as well.  Tons of runners were using the Disney-endorsed Jeff Galloway walk/run methods, as confirmed by the endless interval beeping from watches, and runners throwing up their arms indicating they were about to walk (I’d never seen that done before).

Stocked with plentiful aid stations, the course kept runners hydrated with loads of water and I guzzled H2O and electrolytes at every opportunity. RunDisney material reminded runners that the heat and humidity impacts your bod and your time, and I’d been seriously worried that hydration was going to do me in. Instead, I ended up drinking enough that I even used the loo 4 times along the route (port-a-potties plus open washrooms in the parks: thank you, Disney).  As the sun climbed into the sky, it became more challenging for me due to the heat, but I just kept trotting along.  The Star Wars music was ridiculously inspiring.

When my knee hurt, I pushed through. When I was tired, I gave myself a minute walking break.  When I was hot, I thought about the finish line.  When I felt soooo middle aged wearing a sun-visor (hey! It’s Florida!), I pretended I was… in costume.  I’d kind of decided that I didn’t want to feel like crap at the end of the Dark Side half marathon – I wanted to feel good about the run.  I took off performance pressure (knowing full well that I am just soooo slow this year) and in the end, finished at 3:26:59.  I came in, like, 14,522nd place. Hahahahahaaa. SO MANY PEOPLE!  But it was FUN.

And, just FYI, I’d have to run another 31 half-marathons to lap the second Death Star.

Competitive me, of course,  must point out that this is my longest ever half marathon time. EVER.  I’m still struggling with weight and performance. I still hate that I’m not improving upon my best half marathon times from two years ago. But I know this is all a work in progress. And another “but” —> but I know this has to remain fun to some degree or why do it?  I’ll keep working on it.  Summer has barely started – plenty of time to train. RunDisney

RunDisney
Would I do it again?  YES!  RunDisney is a pretty slick operation and registration – while not cheap – sells out quickly.  It makes for a great holiday and a fun, fun, fun experience. I totally felt like a kid all over again from the costumed runners, collectible medals and snagging exclusive RunDisney/Star Wars stuff at the runners’ expo to the overall holiday experience where there were wild rides, mouse ears and ice cream. And bonus: it’s a great family thing – Jim and I also did the 5K together, which was cool.  Next time, I’ll have to make sure we time it so the boys will join us!