Monday, 10 February 2014

A Chilly Nose Hill Cross Country

Calgary is in the throes of yet another “deep freeze”, the type where those that venture outdoors become encrusted in ice after a short period of time, with eyelashes and eyebrows freezing, hair and clothes becoming rigid with ice, and even the ladies end up with beards and moustaches as their faces freeze in the cold air. The good news is that despite the cold, the snow hasn’t been too frequent in recent weeks and most days we are greeted by the bluest skies and brightest sunshine which certainly helps to make the long winter months somewhat more bearable. We're also fortunate to experience many natural wonders – snow capped mountains, icy rivers, sightings of wildlife searching for any scraps of food they can find beneath the snow and ice, as well as “sun dogs” that are formed by ice crystals in the air that reflect off the light to create beautiful golden arcs and rainbows around the sun. I tried to photograph this phenomenon whilst out on a run recently but couldn’t quite capture what a wonderful sight these are and the beauty they emit.

Del's photo attempt of a Sun Dog - just about see halo and rainbow effect :-)
Not surprisingly, racing in such chilly temperatures is tough – breathing becomes even more laboured as the cold air hits the lungs, and the whole body feels like a lead weight as the blood thickens, making it more difficult to fuel the muscles when running at an effort. When waking up on Saturday morning with full intentions of running a cross country race, I knew that it was going to be hard work.

We’d been spoilt at previous cross country races this winter as things had been much warmer – we’d even raced in shorts and t-shirt at the previous 2 races - but with a maximum of -16 expected for today’s race at Nose Hill, it was going to be the coldest race this season and so the race director’s warning the night before was kind of expected:

“ ….. just finished flagging the course for tomorrow on Nose Hill. The wind is extremely extreme! We made the decision to make the course two loops in consideration of the volunteers and staying closer to the cars. PLEASE wear lots of layers tomorrow. There isn't much ice but if the wind is anything like it is right now, BUNDLE UP!! ….”

Being a former Girl Guide, I was definitely prepared, and yet despite arriving at the start in 2 pairs of thermal running tights, 4 top layers, 2 pairs of gloves and a balaclava, I could still feel the cold, with my fingers and toes already feeling numb before we had even started.

With a 2 lap course this year rather than the usual 1, it wasn’t going to be as hilly although there was still a good hill to climb at the start of each lap to take us to the top and on to the plateau. I was feeling pretty relaxed about the race today and after a swift start, I settled into a steady pace up the hill. Conditions underfoot were pretty good with just small sections of deeper, softer snow and patches of ice, but in general, it was good running and it really helped me to pick up the pace, pleasantly surprising myself with a few 4.30 km splits. I overtook a few chaps once I’d hit the top, although it was hard to tell the boys from the girls as everybody was dressed like a ninja and barely recognisable from previous races, but I figured I was 2nd lady as I could still see the bright pink jacket of Kim just ahead. I knew that I wouldn’t catch her – particularly with another jaunt up the hill at the start of the second lap – so my main aim was to keep the pace going and hope that I didn’t get caught from behind by another lady.

After a couple of km in the open, we dropped down into a clump of trees to follow a narrow, snowy pathway, ducking and diving between tree branches and trying to stay upright, before hitting the main pathway for the start of lap 2. Sadly I didn’t see the porcupine this year, although apparently he was lurking in those trees and was spotted by several runners as they ran through.

Freezing cold Nose Hill XC Race and heading through the trees - still smiling :-)

The second lap was pretty much the same – I was feeling good and could tell that my marathon training and speed sessions are already starting to pay off. Kim had by now opened up a good lead and so with no other ladies to chase, I focused on trying to stay ahead of the men and trying to catch any in front of me.

A fast downhill finish gave me 2nd lady and 17th overall, along with one of my fastest paced cross country races for a long time. OK, the course suited me with some good flat and downhill running, but it still gave me confidence that training is going in the right direction and that the pain and effort is worth it. The result means that I’m currently lying 1st in my age group this year and 2nd lady overall, and it’s highly unlikely that these positions will change with just 2 races remaining. 

Next weekend I have the Frozen Ass 50km which I won last year in 3 hours 56 minutes. I already know that there are some far speedier ladies taking part this year and assuming they still turn up, I don’t expect to “defend my title”. With so much treadmill running over the past few weeks, I really have no idea how I will cope running outdoors for that sort of distance on the roads, and as ever, much will be dictated by the weather and pathway conditions on the day. What I do know though is that the cross country has given me a little more confidence and I’m hoping that I’ll have a good run in the 50km that will give me a good indication of my current fitness level. I’d love to run a little faster than last year, if only by a minute or so, but whatever happens, I fully intend to enjoy the racing and giving it my best shot – after all, that’s what running is all about.

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