The night before the race we’d been invited over to a friends place for board games…sweet (Pandemic, Seven Wonders & Firefly oh my!!)! We’d planned accordingly, I’d brought my own food and we were going to leave early. Then at 9:30 my husband checked his phone to see that Facebook had blown up. The rumors were flying and people were freaking out. The race was cancelled, the race was shortened, the race was loops…you name it we read it and if it’s on the internet it must be true.
I was in disbelief…sure it was calling for cold -45’C with extreme windchill to be precise…but we’d run it in colder weather in the past (-46’C) so what was up? About 30 minutes later as we were getting ready to leave it because official. The race would stay on site and we would be allowed to run 2.5 mile loops to a maximum of 3 loops to protect the volunteers an runners.
I’m not going to lie. I was upset. Really upset. I even had moments of 10km? Why would i go run 10km that freaking cold weather?!?! I wanna run a 1/2 marathon!!! Waaaaaa…cue tantrum.
Our friends immediately pointed out that this now meant we could stay later and play more games…and perhaps even have a cocktail??? So stay late we did. As a matter of fact I didn’t even go to bed until after 1am. When we woke up the petulance continued…I’m not eating breakfast for a 10km…why freaking bother? I can run 10km in my sleep. Whatever. More complaining ensued. It was at this moment that we also decided to not bring our water belts or any fuel…we don’t need it. it’s only a sucky 10 km after all (foot meet bullet).
Upon arriving at the race venue we made a pact…no more complaining. We were going to make the best out of the situation. We’d run what we were allowed, have brekkie with friends and commiserate about the insane cold and take epic frosty selfies. Sounds like fun! Lets do this!!
Then came the pre run announcement. Right before we were to head outside to start they announced that the loops were 5 miles long and you would be allowed to run 3 of them. SAY WHAT?? It was at this moment that you had to chose…were you in or out? I made a mad dash for the gear building, found my bag, grab a fistful of nut butters out of my gym bag and an extra later and ran back to the main building. I mean…I had the option to do the 13 miles…to not do so would have been…well…not me. I’m stubborn like that.
So outside we went. We filled the starting chute jumping up and down to try and stay warm. It was -46’C with windchill at this point. If you’re not familiar with running in that, it’s the point where your eyeballs start to freeze and your nose had stabby things in it that may or may not have been there before. My running partner asked me what my intent was…I told her I was going to evaluate at the end of each loop and make the call then. Lies…all lies…I knew exactly what my plan was but if i said it out loud i might not follow through.
The first mile actually didn’t feel so bad. We were sheltered in the woods, it was pretty, spirits were high and the frost was forming. It was rather pretty, the sun was starting it’s ascent to the sky and everything has a faint pink tint to it…including exposed skin. We can TOTALLY do this. I kept telling people who passed us that the best stories come from crap weather runs. No one tells stories of the races where the weather was perfect…we were going to be Legends after today!! Mile 2 came very slowly…most of this part of the course is the part every runner dreads. It’s a mile and a 1/2 of pure open field with a giant hill at the end. Normally you face this twice during the race…once on the way out, once on the way back. The new course had you run this 6 times…as I climbed the hill the first time I realized I would have to do this over and over again. My heart sunk.
It’s hard to explain why exactly, but it’s mentally the worst part of the course for me. The memories are strong…every year I feel despair over these points, the final mile stretch is always pure agony, the hill seems un necessarily cruel, I have the overwhelming urge to walk, to quit, to just stop. The race owns my head…I know this…and this year I was going to have to run the worst part of the course over and over and over and over again. Then i reminded myself of something I was told last year. Words Have Power.
Okay brain…lets do this. We’ll walk up that giant hill and run down it every time. Right. We do that now. So onward and upward we went. Upon arriving at the turn around point We found our first water station…or should i say ice station. The volunteers were amazing, they tried, but the reality is that the water froze faster than they could pump it out. Then the pumps froze…and before long the water jugs themselves were freezing and bursting. It was also at this moment that i realized that if i was going to take any of the frosty water i would have to remove my face mask.
This presented a whole new dilemma, for at that moment i had my face coverings perfect…i mean 100% perfect. The Vaseline I’d slathered all over my eyes was keeping the skin from freezing and the face mask had my cheeks perfectly covered and warm. Did i risk it? For a bit of perspective…last year i had my facemask freeze to my face just under my eye. I now have tissue and nerve damage there. Usually when i head out into the cold it hurts…even in fall…but today it did not. This would also mean no fueling of the precious nut butters I’d grabbed out of my bag.
I was conflicted. How badly did i want that 35 minute PR i’d targeted? Was i willing to risk my face? Was i willing to risk having to drop because my mask suddenly froze in a weird shape that now didn’t fit my face? The answer was no. Normally i would have never chosen running on empty over fueling up, but EVERYTHING was frozen. The nut butters were like almond ice cubes in my pocket. I had one hand warmer, but that mitten had my camera battery…for taking frosty on course selfies. Yeah…i’m not going to lie…i wanted epic frosty pictures…were my priorities messed up? I don’t know…but it was cold so maybe my brain froze.
As we approached the end of lap one i turned to head out again I told my running partner that I wouldn’t be offended if she didn’t want to continue, but she stayed with me. It was during the second lap that I noticed a strangely, terrifying sight. At the base of the dreaded hill was a wonderful volunteer with a giant propane flame heater. Not the stand up kind…one of the industrial big boys. The temptation was strong to stop and try to warm up…until you saw that the propane flame/heat was pointed at the actual propane tank.
You see…the propane was freezing. So he had it the precise distance away from the heat and flame required to not blow the tank sky high…or or we hoped. I do believe it was at this point that we seriously were doubting our sanity. The water was freezing, the propane was freezing yet we were out there running???? Left foot, right foot, carry on. Over the hill we went again, down, turn and back over again.
Nature however was being kind to us. On the way back you ran into the sun. That sweet precious warm sun. The sun melted the ice off your eyelashes and face, the frosty build up on your head started to drip and the wind was non existent. She was trying…she really was. however one distinct problem arises from the sun melting your frosties away…eventually you have to turn around and that dripping water becomes ice again.
As we neared the end of the 2nd lap, my buddy asked…”so, what’s the plan”. I told her i was headed out again…but there was NO way that i was going to run 15 miles that day…i was running 13.1 and not a step more. The plan was to go out and run 3/4 of that final lap but turn around early so I didn’t have to add extra mileage on what was already a challenging day. So out we went…nature however was getting ready to make us earn that medal we were chasing.
As we left the comfort of the forest the first thing we noticed was that the winds had picked up and we were now feeling every degree of that -45. The air was sucked right out of your lungs, eyelashes were freezing together and whatever exposed skin you did have…well lets just say the Vaseline was no longer doing it’s job. It was on this 3rd and final lap that my decision to save my face and not eat or drink came into play heavily. At first that wall was a short one…it just hopped right over and and pressed on. With every passing step though that wall in front of me seemed to grow taller and taller and it was getting tough to crawl over it. This is point where it got fun. Anybody remember the 70’s cartoon “The Amazing Spiderman”?
I decided that I was going to be Rhino. Lower my head and just plow right through that wall. I bounced right off it…probably because I’m not a Marvel supervillian. My pace was slowing and I’d given up all hope of any kind of PR, i knew it was going to be impossible and that this race was going to beat me again. Out of nowhere there was a tap on my shoulder…it was my husband. He’d finished his race, warmed up and come back out to find me. I’m not going to lie…i would have wept except the tears would have froze…and i was dehydrated and mentally checking out of the race. He ran ahead of me giving me something to chase and I struggled to keep up to his bouncy held back pace. Then it was time…time to head back…time to cross that snow swept open field that now had little stinging snow crystals being swept across it from the wind.
The things that went through my head weren’t pretty. I kept quoting that damn voice in my head…the one that kept saying “Legends are made during sh***y weather and hard days. Be legendary.” That last 2 miles were as they always were. Awful. I wanted to quit, i wanted to walk, i wanted to sit down into a snowbank and cry. This time though i had 2 people by my side…and it would seem that my running buddy was picking up the pace. This was the moment i decided that she was NOT going to leave me behind…no matter what I would try and stay one step ahead of her. Dear god how i wanted to trip her…okay not really, but seriously how was she doing this????
Eventually we passed the telltale landmarks that told us we were getting close to the end…and then I saw it. That flash of red through the trees. I could see that beautiful, ratty old red finishing arch. All of a sudden everything melted away. Every ache, every pain, every horrid thought, just gone. It’s like that every time, spirits lift, a calm settles over me and suddenly I’m sprinting to the finish moving faster than I have the entire race. We turned the corner, ran over the foot bridge and I was done!!! Stop the Garmin!! Where’s the camera???
All in all this was one of the hardest 1/2’s I’ve ever run. In the end I ended taking 22 minutes off my previous winter PB…which was stunning. I was positive that I had slowed down far too much…but to be honest I’ve gotten a lot stronger since last winter courtesy of all of the coaching I got from PRS. While i wasn’t happy with my time (i felt that if I’d eaten ANYTHING that day I would have been able to perform much, much better), I’m still proud of my finish. Many of the runners bowed out after 1 lap and I can’t say I blamed them, many who tried to stick it out were unprepared and ended up with frostbite on their faces, fingers or toes. Ultimately that day you had to make the right choice for YOU. I’m still not sure i did.
This races humbles me every time. I have friends say to me “it’s only a 1/2”, but to me it’s never just a half…it will forever be my kyrptonite race. It’s the race that brings me to the brink of wanting to quit so badly i can taste it. It’s the race that every year I say “never again” and yet i find myself back there over and over again; trying to squash those demons that cover that course. I don’t know that I ever will conquer those demons, I don’t honestly know that I’ll go back again…for real…something out there this year broke, but yet I’d also feel okay with it if I don’t go back. This years race was hard fought and well earned.
Plus…we all became legends…which isn’t a bad note to end it on…who am i kidding…I’m totally going back and next year I’m going to knock another 20 minutes off…or not.