I heard the course was going to be challenging. Hills, road, gravel, out and back: those were the descriptors that my running mates who had raced it before used. They also sighed and, now I know why, they have only raced it once.
Weeks ago, one of my running partners, the lovely Miss Monica, asked me to race the Bench 5K with her. With the PanAm Games in the GTA, a lot of the regular summer races have been cancelled. The Bench, held at the Mike Weir Winery in Beamsville, Ontario, was one of the few left to pick from throughout July and August. While I would have preferred a longer distance to help me in my prep for Chicago, I decided that testing myself with the 5K would be a good idea. Besides, how tough could it really be? I’ve raced tough and hilly courses – well, hilly as far as southern Ontario is concerned – and I can certainly run a 5K. After a winter off running and exercise, I am finally feeling healthy, rested and fit.
At 8:30 this morning, I left the house feeling confident. By 10:00, as we started to warm up, I realized that I was going to be in for a tough day. First, it wasn’t an out and back course; it was two loops. Miss Monica and I jogged it, which started on an uphill for the first 700m, flattened out, dropped gradually and climbed again for the last kilometre. Lucky for us, being a 5K course, we were going to be able to race that loop twice and go around it again for a cool-down.
I started the race well, going through the first kilometre in 4:18 and the second, I believe, in 8:28. Somewhere between those kilometres, I pulled ahead of two other women; every time, I heard them breathing closer to me, I tried to surge a bit ahead. After climbing the hill at the end of the first loop, I felt that I had opened a gap, but I wasn’t really sure how big that gap was. My race fell apart, though, at the end of the second loop. Even though I tried to use the flat and the slight downhill to relax my legs, it wasn’t enough; the last kilometre was a beast. I struggled to get over the final hill and, even though I have raced and trained on much tougher hills, this was one of the toughest finishes I have had.
Cooling down with a lap around the course and a few extra kilometres gave me time to reflect on why the course seemed so difficult. I found out later that all times were slow; ladies who finished ahead of me were 1.5 to 2 minutes slower than usual; my time was about a minute slower so I felt positive about that. By late afternoon, after I got home feeling exhausted, needed a nap and lots and lots of liquid, I realized that it was the heat, not the hills, that did me in. We had started at 10:30 when the sun was already up, humidity was high and there was no shade. Summer racing is tough.
I wanted a challenging course and I got it. But I walked away with a few other perks. Monica finished third overall and I finished 7th (in 22:37), but being 51, I was earned the top master prize: a running hat and a bottle of Mike Weir’s wine.
The best part of the day, though, came from the medal they gave me. As we were leaving the winery, a younger lady asked me if everyone got medals. “No,” I replied, “Only the award winners.”
As she walked away, I looked at Monica and said, “Ah, she wanted a medal. I’m going to give her mine. I don’t need it.” I walked back to her. “Here, you can have my medal if you want.” She looked surprised. “Really, it’s fine with me. If you want a medal, you can have mine.”
To that, she took it and said, “Thank you. I don’t want it but it’s his (pointing to whom I assume is her boyfriend) first race and I wanted him to get a medal for it.” While walking away to catch up with Monica, I turned around and saw him smiling, proudly wearing a “gold” medal around his neck.
He earned that medal. In the same way that we often praise the faster runners for their times, we have to remember that the new runners, the slower runners and the back of the packers are working just as hard. It’s all relative. For experienced runners or those new to the racing scene, the Beamsville Bench 5K is a tough course. Anyone who finished it is a winner.