This is a race that I have been wanting to run for years. There’s something self-empowering about being able to say at Christmas dinner “Oh, and by the way, I am racing 10 miles tomorrow.” But timing has never worked for me. Either it was too difficult to get to Hamilton, the boys were too young, or I couldn’t handle winter running (asthma is rotten in the cold). This year, everything seemed to come together: Hubs was willing and able to come with the boys; boys were keen to watch me race (even in downtown Hamilton), and I have had an amazing fall running. This year, the 90th year of the race, was the year for me to run the course, collect my snowman finishing medal and cute pair of mittens (and I still can’t believe neither boy has asked for them).
However, as luck would have it, Hubs got sick. He’d been home for almost two weeks and, even though it was the season for miracles, there was no sign of him recovering enough to tag along with the boys and me to Hamilton. And, there was no way that I was going to take the boys and leave them standing on some street corner while I ran for some 75 odd minutes. So, the three of them stayed home and I went with running buddy, Shawn, and his brother, Dan.
Shawn mentally prepped me for the race a few weeks ago. The course started downhill but finished on hills – long hills. Knowing how well my body reacted to the hills in Terra Cotta two weeks ago, I worried about the course. Randy, my chiropractor, gave me the same course description. “Start slow,” he said. “It’s easy to get caught up in a fast pace at the start but you need to hold back so that you can take it in the second half.” And Arma, who finished less than a minute ahead of me in Mississauga at the end of November, also warned me that it was a tough course with lots of hills. So I got the picture: it was hilly.
At the start signal of people running (no speech beforehand, no gun, not even a whistle), I watched Shawn take off and I passed Dan, but I held back. I was determined to start slowly. By mile two, we were along Hamilton Bay which was both cold and windy; it was the kind of wind that sucks the energy right out of me. It took every ounce of mental focus to keep my feet moving forward. One fellow in a bright yellow jacket started talking to me; I listened. I learned that this was his first race since running a marathon in Corning, New York, he was running on a Masters Team at Around the Bay, his wife and son were also running that day, and he was glad to know that we were running at a 7:20ish pace (I was not so tired that I couldn’t still do the math). During the four miles we ran together, I listened to him encourage the walkers we ran past and thank the volunteers. Just past the half-way point, he pulled away from me. I knew I’d be fine on my own; we had been out of the wind for just over a mile and I was ready for the hills.
As I started the first seemingly non-existent climb, I neared a group of women that I had my eye on for miles. I pulled closer to them but waited; I knew that I could take them on Chedoke, a long, gradual climb that covered about two miles. There, I passed four women, one of them was Margaret – my age and Hamilton was her home turf; I worried that I might have passed her too soon and she would take me down later. By the time I reached the top of Chedoke, my quads were burning and I had to walk for about 30 seconds when, of course, I was passed back. I wasn’t giving up, though; I had about three miles left which included a gravel path, another long incline and a downhill last mile. Within minutes, I caught them again and left them behind on the Aberdeen hill. From there, I was home-free and pushed to a 73:38 finish.
Shawn was already in, finishing in 67 minutes, and cheered me in as he went back to support Dan. I found the man in the yellow jacket, Mark, who finished a minute ahead of me, and thanked him for running with me for those few miles. Then, I ran back to look for Dan, whom we expected to run in about 85 minutes as he hadn’t been training. He ran the course in 80
minutes! Imagine how fast he could be if he had trained.
Overall, I finished 21st female, which is about what I expected as a race on Boxing Day is going to bring out the die-hards and the truly competitive runners. I finished second in my age group, which I didn’t expect at all, earning me a silver snowman belt buckle.
When I saw Randy, my chiro, yesterday, he was impressed by my time. “Wow, that’s an honest time. You ran well,” he said.
And, I have to admit, I did. This race summed up what I’ve been doing since May – testing myself and pushing my limits. It’s given me a vision of where I want to go.
But this race has also put me in my place. Along the Bay, I saw a female ahead of me running in a skirt – not a running skirt, but a mid-calf length brown skirt. And she wore shoes that were more like skater shoes with something – I don’t know what – under them for support. “Are you kidding me?” I thought when I first saw her, and I worked hard to pass her. “No way!” I said to myself as she passed me at the first water station. And then, “Wow” I marvelled when I saw her finish a few minutes behind me. Probably Mennonite, running in the most basic gear there is, this woman put me in my spot. She made me realize that I have a lot more to do if I want to stay ahead of the game and get to where I’m going.
Dan, Shawn and me: after the race.