2017 Race #1: Re-Fridgee-Eighter 8 Mile, Waterloo, ON

Date: February 12, 2017
Gun Time: 57:29
Chip Time: 57:25
Placing Overall: 18th out of 76
Placing in Age Group: 2nd out of 6 (M40-44)
Theme Song: “Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow”, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

It seemed like it had been an age since I had last run a real competition, and I had been looking forward to 2017’s debut with great anticipation. I was in the midst of a training cycle for the Puerto Rico Half Marathon, which, this being February, had largely been inside on the treadmill. I did, however, buy a pair of those Yaktrax things that you slip over your shoes and have the spike-and-coil combination on the bottom for traction on icy winter surfaces. I was still ambivalent about them after a 10 mile run the weekend prior where it felt like my feet weighed about 50 pounds (the snow sticks to the bottom of them, you see) and it seemed they rendered running outside a choice between one of two evils. So, I was delighted to see, in the days leading up to this race, that it looked like the weather was going to be fairly benign, with a 45 degree Saturday the day before, and temperatures in the mid 30s on race day with, possibly, a little rain dampening the proceedings.

O, ye capricious gods of Southern Ontario weather, it seems you are still angry with me.

I awoke on race day to find that our yard was buried in 4 inches of fresh snow from a storm that no one predicted. Lori, no doubt hoping to stay inside next to the fireplace, asked me if I really, seriously, planned to run that day given the conditions, which suddenly were calling for an additional 2 inches of fresh powder over the course of the morning. I assured her that nothing would keep me from competing and watched her face fall a little. Trooper that she is, she helped me pack the kids into the car and off we went to RIM Park in Waterloo where the race was being held (normally we can drive up there in 25 minutes, but on this day it took us nearly an hour).

I’d signed Brendan up for the 3K the day before, and he was keen to run, having dropped some extra weight that he had accumulated last summer sitting around playing PlayStation (he’s deeply into basketball now and in much better shape). We sat in the community center waiting for the race to begin, and I sized up the competition. There was an 8K and an 8 mile being run, and the field in the 8 mile was shaping up to be a very fast one, with several elites taking part, including a couple of Canadian Olympic Team members. I went into this one hoping for a sub-56-minute time and a top 3 placing in my age group, and though the sub-56 seemed exceedingly unlikely I felt like I could still acquit myself fairly well.

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The snow let up a bit for the start, and we all crowded outside into the freezing cold. Brendan and I had been working on a choreographed pre-race handshake celebration thing that we busted out to the amusement of some of the other runners. “Gotta let them know we’re in the house,” as I said to B.

Anyway, the horn went and off we trudged into the heavy snow. The first 500 meters or so hadn’t been plowed and were very sludgy, but then we turned onto the road and things got a bit better, at least for a while. I rolled through the first mile at a 6:45 pace, down a hill and around a sloppy, slippery corner. I remember thinking to myself that if conditions didn’t worsen, maybe the race would be faster than I expected.

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Rounding a corner with a bit of a sly grin. I might not have been smiling if I’d known how much the course would deteriorate.

Worsen, they did, however.

The snow started to fall furiously shortly after, and to make matters worse the 8 milers had to detour through a residential neighborhood where the streets hadn’t been plowed at all. The footing was treacherous, and negotiating the white drifts was like running through heavy, wet sand. My calves and quads were getting pretty sore by the time we got through this section and into a second loop of the previous major streets, which by now were also snow covered. I was keeping my pace but starting to struggle a little at around mile 6.

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This should give an idea of what we had to deal with.

Meanwhile, B had blazed through the 3K (which wasn’t chip timed, but he didn’t care) and was the fourth to cross the line, and the first one under 18.

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The boy’s all right.

I put everything I had into the last couple of miles. I seemed to get a bit of a second wind with a mile to go, and managed to pass a couple of runners en route to the finish, and we were starting to catch up to the back of the pack of 8K runners, which meant steering around some slower people.  The last 500 meters was over the unplowed section again, which wasn’t the easiest way to finish. I think I let out a couple of fairly inventive cuss words, in fact. But, I managed to hump my way over the line in a little over 57 minutes, and was pretty much OK with it.

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Drafting. It didn’t help much given the footing.

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First race of the year, in the books.

We all went inside where hot coffee and pizza were waiting. A live band was playing, too, and Dana and Brendan got their groove on a little bit. I bumped into one of my former students who had run the 8K and we commiserated about the conditions. I was happy to see that I had a podium finish in my age group, and went to collect my medal. Somehow, the winner of the 8K had done it in a blazing 24 minutes and change, which was a bit mind-boggling to me. Everybody else struggled. Even Krista DuChene, an Olympic Marathoner, struggled to do the 8 mile in under 50 minutes. I figure I would have been about 3 minutes faster in dry conditions. Oh well. The next race I’m running will present a different challenge: Puerto Rico will be very hot and humid, though I did get 35 miles of training done in similar conditions last week in Cuba. Anything without snowdrifts will be a welcome change.

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