Tuesday, May 16, 2017

MEC Winnipeg Race Two Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 8th Edition 
128.6miles run; 750m swam in 2017 races
Race: MEC Winnipeg Race Two
Place:Winnipeg, Manitoba
Miles from home: 1495
Weather: 50s; Windy; Partly Sunny

This race happened because I like maps.

When scanning the map for places I wanted to go see, the Northwest Angle came across my screen. If you don't know about this place, read more here.  Suffice it to say, as I have already been to a number of exclaves in the US, if an opportunity arises to check out a new one, I jump on it. I was planning a random trip to Minnesota anyway so I knew I had to check out this geographical anomaly. While tooling around on the net learning more about it, I came upon the story of the last oneroom schoolhouse in Minnesota. I was beyond intrigued.  Before long, I had booked not only a trip to the area and a cabin to enjoy it but was going to give a talk to the kids at the Angle Inlet School. Meeting them on an absolute beautiful May day, in their tiny haven of education was an absolute joy for me even though.  Unfortunately, because the Goulets were out of town, half of the school's population was missing when I was there. (I am not using hyperbole.)

In my planning, I decided after vising the Angle, I would want to see a little bit of Manitoba. While I could spend weeks doing just that, my time was short so I decided I would head to the lovely city of Winnipeg.  I then, as I do anywhere I am going to go, looked to see if there was a race that weekend. Sure enough, the extremely blandly named MEC Winnipeg Race Two was on the docket. (This is not an insult.  In fact, I found the simplistic name very relaxing. And for $20 CAD, that is a price you can't beat for a half-marathon virtually anywhere.)  MEC (the Canadian sorta-equivalent of REI) sponsored the event and after a few emails exchanges with them, I was soon signed up for the half-marathon in the "the most popular Race Series in Manitoba." Here, I would like to give a special thanks for the RD of the race for helping me solve a logistical issue with a park pass, necessary in order to enter the area we would run the race. Although, honestly, I have a feeling that no one really checked if we had those passes in this large but still somehow quaint park we would traverse.

Upon looking at the race website, I expected the sort of low-key race that has become very familiar to runners who don't participate in one of the events that boast 20,000 or more runners.  It seems there are far more races on the two ends of the spectrum these days then a heart bell curve midsection.  It is either over the top huge or Frank, Suzy and their nine pals.  In other words, this race looked like it would be big on camaraderie and making people feel good and very low on any other frills. I have said before that when it comes to racing, I like frills. But it is ok to not have them.

Race Morning:

I debated eating or drinking anything prior to the race. If you have read my recaps, you know I get by fairly calorie free way.  For  example, in my 50k two weeks ago I drank water, had one swig of coke and a corner of a corner of a PB&J sandwich during the race and nothing the morning of.  This is not because I think I am a badass who doesn't need calories but more along the combination of I feel a heart meal the night before should suffice and I don't process food very well at all in any sort of speedy way.  If I eat something and go for a run five hours later, I am still tasting it.  But I thought I might want to try a beverage beforehand this race,  as I do at least process liquid calories somewhat well. I came to detest that decision and will refer to this recap in the future when I make similar decisions for races that are only going to take 90 minutes.

I drove from my hotel to the Birds Hill Provincial Park about a 15 mile jaunt.  I realize "Provincial Park" is just the Canadian version of "state park" but it sounded so regal. It added a little zest to the race in my mind.  Like maybe there would be people regaling all participants with long horns adorned wit the flags of the various families of the crown.  (It was early. I was tired. I don't think straight then.)

Arriving earlier than normal to this race mostly because would because I was unaware of how the park was laid out, what the traffic situation would be, and other intangibles, I was unhurried. I am glad I did as it was definitely a more populated race than I as expecting with both a 5k and 10k joining our half.  With just a singular one-lane road (which would serve as our race course as well) in the interior of the park, it would definitely get crowded later.

I parked my car and ambled toward the finish.  After a quick bathroom break, I meandered toward the start which was a few hundred yards away.  On my way I eavesdropped on the Canadians around me and just reveled in their accents. I jokingly asked if anyone knew what the exchange rate was on time and if I could run less because I was American. At the start there were what appeared to be close to 100 or so other runners who milled around rather lackadaisically even though were were just about two minutes from the start of the race. I had no designs to win the race, but hoped for a top 5 showing.  We were called to the start and when no one else moved to the front, I decided I wasn't going to run any further than necessary and literally toed the painted line.  A quick countdown happened and we were off.

Loop 1:

The loops were just a hair over 5k each and we would do four of them to complete the course.  Upon doing so, we would add another bit at the end of the fourth loop, taking us to where the 10k started. A sharp left off this ten foot wide paved path would have us thirty yards from the arch finish (a nice touch I wasn't expecting.)

Within a few yards I found myself behind a handful of runners. At first blush, the loops look relatively flat but they were anything but. There was a tiny rise, then a downhill, then a flat section, then a bump, then a nice sloping downhill, then two flats separated by one long gradual uphill. I would become intimately knowledgeable about every inch by the end of the race.

After another few hundred yards a few other runners passed me and I think I counted I was in 8th place. My stomach was not happy at all but I figured it would settle. The course had no mile markers (we were in Canada) but had most of the kilometers marked. Those come much faster than mile markers (brilliant observation, Dane) and the fact that there were markers for the other races as well meant there was always a marker on the horizon. It was either cool or annoying to have so many reminders of how far you had run, depending on how well you felt.  When it became quite clear by the second mile that I wasn't winning or placing in the top three, I sort of settled into a rhythm.  I had hoped that this race would be a springboard back into fast racing. I expected cool temperatures to help me suss out my progress.  However, it was 50 degrees when we started, there was bright sunshine, and it was a bit humid. Then we hit the back side of the loop.

A stiff breeze stood me up a bit and I heard some footsteps. A runner passed me (named Derek) and even though he got a few yards in front of me, he just sorta stayed there. I figured that I would use him to help set the pace and maybe break a little of the wind for me. Not only had the cool weather I had hoped for had not appeared but I could feel that I wasn't quite rested from my 50k two weeks prior.  All the traveling from the previous week, as well as adding some swim workouts (I had an aquathlon race in Austin just 48 hours later) and I guess today was not going to be the day that I spring boarded back into "fasthood."

We approached the end of the first loop and I had hoped for 22:00 even.  I ran 22:25. Not bad.  Not great, though.

Loop 2:

I am reading Dean Karnazes latest book and he touches on how runners can become thoroughly familiar with random pieces of nondescript land. Already, after one loop, I felt I could tell you where
every nook and cranny was on this trail. I couldn't remember what pace I wanted to run each kilometer in but I knew I should hit this one hump near the aspen tree in 8:30 per loop if I wanted to stay on pace.

About halfway through the second loop we were already dodging runners from the 5k and the 10k who had started after we started our half.  Suddenly the guy in front of me, who had ebbed and flowed and was now just inches in front of me, pulled over to grab a glass of water.  I accelerated.  If he was going to pass me again, he was going to work for it. He gave what seemed to be a bit of a chase and then fell back. However, I don't know how far back he fell as the other runners' footsteps masked his progress.  I would just have to run hard and hope. The wind on the back part of the loop was present again and appeared it would be here each time. I tried to slingshot from runner to runner in an attempt to use their bodies to block the wind. Shake and Bake!

Any major acceleration I attempted was met with a revolt from my stomach. The speed I was running was apparently the governor my gut  had put on my legs today.  As I was not wishing to see my food from the previous night in reverse, I paid it heed. I approached the lap and hit my watch.  22:28.  Well, that's consistent.

Loop 3: 

On this loop some of the runners who had pulled away seemed to come into focus again. I had passed one runner before the end of the first loop and another right at the beginning of the second.  I thought I might be able to reel some of the runners in ahead who perhaps had gone out too fast. But this entire loop I would spend running in the exact same position, inching forward on the runners before me.  I mean, "centimetering" forward.  I'm sorry, Canada.

Hardly hot, the sun nevertheless was shining down from above and I was, as per usual, pretty dripping wet. I grabbed my first and only cup of water around what I think was mile nine. This was the only time all day the table was on the side I was on, there were no other runners in the way, and I felt it was time to drink. My mouth had become quite dry and I couldn't believe I would end up running 13.1 miles on just one mouthful of water.

This loop felt pretty awful even though I felt I was gaining on the runners in front of me. I knew with just one lap to go, if I could close in on them a bit, my racing instincts might kick in. Passing the starting point in 22:39, I was surprised once again, how metronomic I had been even on an "off" loop.  Only 14 seconds different over 3.2 miles.

Loop 4:

I was really hoping to turn it on and catch some of the runners in front of me but instead of getting closer, they had moved further into the distance. Now I had a decision to make: should I work extra hard to move up from 8th place to 7th to run a time that would still be far slower than I had hoped or should I just hold my ground, keep the pace, and lived to race another day. With about two miles to go I decided on the latter.  Just then I heard footsteps and a runner went flying by me.  I later learned that Jin had showed up late and was making up time the best he could. I made an attempt to fall into his slipstream for about 100 yards but that was all I could muster. I glanced behind me and saw not a soul as far back as the turns of the forest would allow.

The only question which remained was whether my time would be 1:30 or 1:31. I did the math and figured if I ran close to the same loop again I would be right over 1:31. As I passed a few remaining 10k joggers I could hear the finish line megaphone in the distance. I slipped by the starting point for the final loop in 22:27.  I laughed at the exactness.

A handful of runners had gathered on the last turn I mentioned previously and cheered me as I made the left. I passed a few 10k runners in the final few yards while the announcer said my name and that I was from Austin, Texas.  While here was a sizable gathering of runners, hardly a hand was clapped as I finished in 1:31:38. Guess they don't like Americans!

About a minute or so later, however, the next half marathoner finished,  and he too was met with stone cold silence. I was quite surprised actually.  As I stood there and chatted with this runner, Derek, a few more half-marathoners and a smattering of 10k runners came in.  I clapped for everyone of them and I might have been the only one doing so.  I am not saying that one must lose their mind for strangers but when you are literally inches away from where they are finishing, it is almost awkward not to cheer for them. This is hardly a big thing but just something I recognized.

At the awards ceremony, I donated a few DVD copies of  the documentary of my solo running of the 202 mile American Odyssey Relay which were given as door prizes.  I signed the copies, spoke to a few runners (including Jin where I learned of his late arrival) and then headed toward my car. 

I was at least the fastest American. Also, let's hear it for the old guys. This was not the race I was hoping for but wasn't too bad. It was also my 98th lifetime halfmarathon. I might need to start making plans as to what my 100th will be and carry a handful of confetti with me to toss at the finish.

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