Last year, on the Saturday before the Bare Bones Half Marathon, I was eating poutine at Wendy’s in Airdrie, Alberta. We were on our way back from High School Cross Country Provincials in the far away land of Drayton Valley, a lovely 7 hours north west of Lethbridge. And then, I got to bed at 1 am, managed to wake up on time, and run my personal best of 1:41.07, which earned me a first in the 20-29 category, and a second overall for women.
Fast forward a year and it was déjà vu. Saturday was Cross Country Provincials again, but this time in a city a more manageable distance away-Okotoks, which is 2 hours northwest. The kids on our team did great, and to continue the tradition of eating crap after a day of watching them run (hey, I did total 9.12 miles of walking that day cheering them on!) I decided to gorge on nachos at Boston Pizza. I was able to get to sleep by 9:30 pm, a whole 3.5 hours earlier than the year prior!
The start of my race morning did not seem promising, however. I woke up sore, with bloated feet. My legs were sore and I felt like I could sleep another 9 hours. The day prior gave my body a beating, and I hadn’t even ran yet. I somehow managed to get ready and make it to Softball Valley in time for the race….sorta.
I parked my car at 8:50 am. I jogged to the bathroom at 8:51. I did a set of skipping A’s, B’s, C’s and butt kicks before heading into the starting corral at 8:57. I sure hope I was warmed up, and if I wasn’t, well it was too late.
Bare Bones is a small local race which has a 5km, 9km and half marathon every year. There were over 300 participants total, with 40 in the half marathon. At 9:00 AM, the 9km and half marathon would set out together. The race began and I quickly knew I was going to quick, but I wanted to get the first mile over with. The first mile is through gravel and past the always pleasant-smelling water treatment plant. As we made our way to the trail by the Oldman River, I knew there were three women ahead of me. I kept my eye on them, as I was not sure if they were 9km or half runners. At this point and time my legs had gotten warmed up and I was feeling positive, so I would do my best to catch up to each of them.
I was able to pass one of the ladies as we ran on a cross-country portion of the path, which was put in because of the wash-out by the river. I had two more to catch. We were approaching the 9km turnaround. Thats when I found out that the women I was pushing way-past my desired average pace to catch, were 9km competitors. They turned around, and all of a sudden I was the female leader, approximately 2.5 miles in. Crap-I better not screw this up!
The weaving through the river bottom helped to slow me back to the pace I should have been at. When I reached the dreaded hill climb up to Scenic near mile 5, I started to slow dramatically. I knew my pace would drop off here, as this hill is well over a half of mile of hell. My calves started to feel super heavy. This was the point where I knew the chance of a personal best was GONE. But I kept thinking about keeping my place as lead female and pushing the best I could…hopefully get a sub 1:40 still.
I made it on to Scenic Drive and it took a few minutes for my legs to loosen up. I slowly got back on track to the pace I thought would be reasonable to aim for (7:30-7:35). Distance between me and the closest male runners was spreading, and this race was starting to feel like a solo adventure. It was starting to get extremely tough mentally as I knew I needed to keep at race pace, yet I had no one around me. I was alone.
The turnaround near Tudor Estates is was saved me. The out and back layout of this course is perfect, because that hill beats you up and makes you feel all alone, but then on the way back you get to high-five other runners and in time, run down that crazy-ass hill.
The turnaround also gave me a vantage point of how close the women behind me were. There were three women within striking distance, all around 1-2 minutes behind me. If I hit the proverbial “wall”, slowed down even a little bit, or they picked it up at all, my position would be lost. I kept trying to think positively, and now my goal was to keep this position and hopefully get a Bare Bones personal best, as I wasn’t completely sure if sub 1:40 would be in the cards. Every word of encouragement I received from fellow racers as I headed back to the hill were bursts of energy that I so very much needed. And Amiee, a colleague of mine in the Lethbridge 51 School district, did an extra awesome job of giving the most energetic high-fives mid race as we would cross each other!
As I rolled down the hill, I knew I still had a decent position away from my closest female competitior, but I didn’t want to get too comfortable with that. It was down at this very trail that I lost my steam during the Police Half Marathon in September. In that race I was on time for an EPIC personal best, but gained a bunch of time during the last 5km of weaving by the river. I still nudged out a personal best (3 seconds faster, but still counted!) however, I knew I could have done better. I didn’t want to falter down here again.
I kept my composure and kept on pushing. When I got to the metal gate that exited us from the Nature Reserve, a volunteer was yelling to me I was the first female. I mustered out the words “how far back is she?” The volunteer guessed 45 seconds. Crap. I made it 12 miles in first place. I wasn’t going to screw it up the last mile.
The last mile is tough as you are running through the same gravel area as the beginning and it just feels like a quarry. You couldn’t see the finish line or hear any spectators. It is a mentally draining stretch. As you finally round the corner where the new road from Scenic was put in, the finish line awaited. I lengthened my stride the best I could and rolled on in. 1:40.43—first place female and a new Bare Bones Half personal best for myself!
Just like in September at he Police Half, when I stopped after the timing mat for the workers from RacePro to removed my chip, my calves were shaking. Not just a little, but pulsating like they were going to explode. My left knee was twitching. My body felt like a wreck. I walked a bit for about two minutes, grabbed some water and a coffee, and did the one thing a runner should never do after running a half marathon—-I sat down on the ground. Glenn and Grace (local runners whose children go to WCHS) both yelled at me to not sit down and I quickly responded “I don’t care!” The ground was what I needed!
I didn’t stay down for long, as I knew I needed to keep moving. I wandered back and forth to my car, to layer my sweats and long sleeve back on. I got more coffee and snacks and stretched. I cheered in the rest of the half finishers—former student of mine Kristin finished her second half marathon in under 2 hours, a new personal best for herself! And Aimee and her dad came running into the finish line together, hand in hand, and it made me smile. It made me laugh later when she told me he was giving her a hard time the whole way that she needed to pick it up.
The age group awards were presented, and I received a white with gold glitter dog bone medal. When I came home, I promptly wrote my time on the back with a black permanent marker, and my overall place. I also made sure to write “1st place female 30-39” because while I did place 1st female overall, this race will always be the first half marathon of my 30s, and I am going to remember it fondly. Who ever said getting old meant you had to slow down? I know I am definitely not ready to slow down!