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.
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.
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.
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.
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??).