Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Happy Holidays, Happy Christmas, Happy New Year!

How fast a year can go! 12 months ago, I was dressed in a Santa costume at a snowy Tittesworth Reservoir in the Staffordshire Moorlands, ready to run my 8th Christmas Cracker. It was quite an emotional occasion as I was saying my goodbyes to many of my friends, knowing that at some point soon, I would be leaving my home land behind and moving to pastures new across the Atlantic Ocean. OK, it took a few more weeks and a couple more UK races before I eventually left, but by the end of March 2012, me and my boys had packed our bags and waved an (almost) fond farewell to good old blighty.

Fast forward 12 months, and what a year it’s been! I’ve had wobbles about moving, I faced initial home sickness, I’ve lost 2 of my best friends in the form of Sammy dog and Bunny rabbit – one due to old age and the other due to problems during quarantine over here in Calgary – and something I never dreamt would ever happen – I got pregnant only to lose my baby a few weeks later.

It would be so easy to dwell on the bad things, but I’ve cried many tears over the past few months and I’ve come through the other side. Without wanting to sound philosophical, life does gone on – unless of course the predictions for Friday come true and life as we know it really does come to an end for all of us.

Thankfully, no matter what happens on Friday, I’ll have had the pleasure of competing in some fantastic races this year ranging from the Calgary Marathon and the Grizzly 50km Ultra, to the Stampede Half and Banff WInterstart, and last weekend, I competed in my final races of the year, both on the same day, bringing my tally to 14 races in just 9 months.

First up on Saturday was Silver Springs Cross Country in north west Calgary, which marked the mid-way point of the cross country series with 5 more races still to go. I’m currently one of two ladies that has done all of them so far and I’m lying 2nd lady overall, although it’s the best 6 races that count. With 5 races still to go – and with so many good ladies racing, particularly in my age group -  I’m pretty sure that I’ll be slipping down that leader board by the end of March.

For now though, I’m feeling happy that I’m slowly improving with each race, particularly having finished 3rd lady at Silver Springs and 38th overall – my best positions so far.

It was a little sad at the start as we remembered a member of Calgary Road Runners that had died in a mountain climbing accident back in the summer. The words spoken about him touched me, even though I'd never met him, and I found myself welling up with the emotion. He was a key member of the club and loved this particular race, always turning out in his Santa hat being so close to Christmas, and so it was fitting that we all wore a Santa hat in his memory and had a group photograph prior to the start of the race.

Group photo of competitors at Silver Springs XC in memory of CRR that sadly lost his life earlier this year

The course itself wasn’t as picturesque and varied as the one down in Okotoks the other week , but what it lacked in variety was more than made up for by yet another cold, crisp and gloriously sunny day with stunning views of the snowcapped mountains and the Bow River in the valley below. It was quite a bumpy course with plenty of undulations – no significant uphills, but a couple of quite steep grassy downhills, made a little more troublesome thanks to frozen snow and ice in places.

Silver Springs and fantastic views of the Rocky Mountains
I’d woken up feeling somewhat sluggish and drained, so was surprised to find myself up-front with the leaders at the start – a position I hadn’t been in for a very long time – and I began to think that maybe I had gone off too fast.  I was also feeling the cold today – normally it wouldn’t bother me and yet today, my hands and toes were literally freezing and were hurting due to the cold, and it took a while for the old muscles to warm up properly. As the path narrowed to single track, I had no option but to keep going as it was too narrow for people to get past, and I felt pressured to maintain the pace. I eventually ended up in a group of 5, including a lady who kept overtaking me on the uphill, only for me to go past her on the downhill and flatter sections. I didn’t recognize her from previous races, so wasn’t too concerned about the threat to my overall position in the series, and tucked in behind her before she eventually pulled away in the final half mile thanks to a series of wooden steps and a steep incline up to the finish! My legs had gone to jelly due to all the hills, but I was still pleased to run just under 40 mins for around 5 miles of bumpy, icy terrain in freezing cold conditions, and finishing 3rd lady was a double bonus.

Up and up again at Silver Springs XC, Calgary
After a dash to the life saving Tim Hortons for a coffee and a donut to warm the old bones and refuel, next stop was Canmore – about an hour’s drive away up in the mountains where a lot of my races in recent months have been. Canmore was hosting the World XC Skiing Championships this weekend, so there was quite a buzz about town that was centred around the athletes village, with lots of Christmas activities making it extremely festive. In addition to the skiing, there was also the Grizzly Canmore Winter Night Run – a low key race of 6km or 3km – and having had a great experience at the Grizzly 50km back in October and being organized by the same team, I’d decided to give this one a go.

The sun had already gone down by the time the race started at 4.30pm and the temperature had plummeted to something like -10. Thankfully the firepits around the start area kept the runners warm whilst waiting for the start, although the smell of wood smoke is still lingering on clothes 3 days later!

The course was an out and back along the Bow River Footpath Trail and so I knew that it was likely to be flat. The main concern was the cold and the considerable amount of snow and ice that was still lingering, making it a little treacherous in places but thankfully I’d worn my trail shoes which certainly came in handy.

Before the start of Canmore Winter Night Run
Once again, I found myself at the head of the field shortly after the start, but because I knew the course would likely be flat, I tried to stay with the pace this time. At the first turnaround point, I counted myself at around 10th place overall and 4th lady, but we were running with the 3k runners at the same time, so there was no knowing if any of those ahead of me would be finishing in a few minutes.

Heading back to the start area and back out for lap 2, I only saw 2 ladies ahead which meant that the other lady was only doing the 3k and I had now moved into 3rd place. With the prospect of a prize, and knowing that there was less than 2 miles to go, I really pushed hard, particularly when I saw another lady closing quickly on me from behind with about 20 seconds separating us. I desperately wanted to win something, and I all but sprinted the last 400m or so for fear of her passing me in the closing stages. I was extremely relieved to cross the line as 3rd lady again, ending on a positive note on what I considered to be a successful day of racing.

Having had a warm by the fire pits once again, we headed over to the stage where the presentation would be taking place, a little excited knowing that I would be getting a prize of some description, but as they read out the results, it became clear that they had made a massive mistake. I’d ran just shy of 25 minutes for the course, and yet the top 3 ladies were called forward in times of 32 minutes up to 37 minutes – surely that couldn’t be right! Normally I wouldn’t have bothered querying the result, especially with it being such a low key event and being so close to Christmas, but knowing how hard I had worked to hold on to 3rd place, I was feeling a little disappointed and bemused.  Having spoken to the organizers, it became apparent that some people that had actually registered for the 6k race had decided to just do the 3k on the night and therefore finished ahead of me, hence been awarded the prize. It still didn’t explain how 32 minutes was faster than 25 minutes, but they generously gave me the prize and I was so pleased that it was a Salomon Camelback, something I have been after for a while due to my return to ultra running and long training runs. I wasn’t the only one affected – the winning man also missed out, but thankfully he received his prize too.

I really enjoyed the event and the whole atmosphere in Canmore, but was a little disappointed that such an error had been made in the results – especially as we all had chip timing – although this does highlight that sometimes it is the runners themselves that are at fault by either swapping bibs or changing things without notifying organizers on the day. It was a lovely festive evening with Santa and a Christmas outdoor movie, but even so, I’m not sure whether I would do the race again. It is perhaps more of a fun run for the less experienced runners – maybe those that are just starting out on a fitness regime or new to racing, or that want to introduce their children to running – but then that makes me sound snobbish and serious, which isn’t really the case.

Whatever I decide, my racing for 2012 has now come to a close and I can honestly say that in running terms, it has been a good year. I’ve had to adapt to my new surroundings and the conditions here in Canada, not just the higher altitude and the dry air, but also the very cold and snowy weather in the winter months which does affect your ability to run at any decent speed. With over a week off during the Christmas period, I’ll be spending some time planning out next year’s races although there are already a few events that are in my line of vision. I intend to do the remaining 5 XC races that end in March, and there is also a new marathon in June that follows the trails between Lake Louise and Banff which I fancy doing. Then of course there is the Frozen Ass 50km in Feb, the Grizzly 50km in October, and a new Grizzly trail race at Panorama Hills just over the “border” in British Columbia in September.

Next year will be a fresh start as I move into an older age group and I already feel motivated to prove myself as a new FV40. We’ll be moving into our new home hopefully sometime in February./March, and with the likely addition of a new friend for Wilson at some point, things really are looking good.

For now though, thank you to anybody that has followed my news throughout the year and I hope you haven’t been too bored with my ramblings and my obvious obsession with this wonderful country. The pictures look good, but to actually be here and experience things first hand on a daily basis can still be overwhelming, and I still have moments of "OMG, the Canadian Rockies!!"

For anybody that has just started running, is returning from injury, has smashed PB’s or achieved new distances in 2012, a HUGE well done to all of you on achieving your goals. Now let’s raise a glass or two to a successful 2013 and all our running endeavours.

Merry Christmas everybody and all the very best of wishes for 2013!

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