MEC (or Mountain Equipment Co-op for my American friends) puts on a series of races in most major Canadian cities, they are in expensive, no frills races, and until this weekend, I had yet to run one. I’d been eyeing them for a while as I’d heard that they are good races, well organized, and of course cheap. Until this weekend, it had never really worked out, I’d always had family commitments, been training for a different race, or had a big trail run planned. This past weekend, finally the stars aligned, it was their last race of the season, and there was a race on, it consisted of a 5k, 10k, half marathon and full marathon. I knew I didn’t want to race a marathon, and ever since the spring when I was forced to DNS for the Calgary Police Half, I’d been itching to race a half and see if I could PR. I waited until the last minute to register so that I could check the forecast and make sure there wasn’t a blizzard or heat wave forecasted, this is Calgary after all!
All last week I’d been nursing a cold. It wasn’t too bad during the day, but at night I had this annoying little cough that just wouldn’t go away. I think I slept on the couch 5 out of 7 nights last week. I tailored my week a bit to do a mini taper for the half, though not much because I haven’t been running big mileage lately. Friday night I watched a movie (Love and Mercy – it was awesome), and went to bed too late, the race didn’t start until 10am though, so I wasn’t too worried. I fell asleep ok, but as per my usual for the week, I woke up just after midnight and was coughing. I moved to the couch where I could prop myself up better, and had a decent rest of the night, all things considered.
I got myself dressed and organized in the morning, eating a couple of leftover pancakes from yesterday’s lunch. I had planned to arrive at the race an hour or so early so I could park, pick up my bib, and run a short warm-up. I arrived at the start, and was wondering if I’d made a wardrobe mistake, it was freezing and I was in shorts, my legs were bright orange, to match my compression socks, as I got my bib, and used the restroom. I sat for a few minutes in my car with the seat heaters on until it was 9:30, when I forced myself outside to do my warm-up. I ran just over 4k, my legs felt ok, but I was pretty cold! I got back to the start area around 10 minutes before the start, jumped in the porta-potty lineup and finished using the bathroom just before the start. There was a quick warmup, and we were off.
I had lined up fairly close to the start and was surprised when so many people took off from the start line. I tried to stay relaxed and reminded myself to stick to my pacing plan. I had given myself a “no faster than” rule for the first 16 km’s, I was trying to stay at a 4:45 pace and not go out too fast. This would get me to a 1:40 finish. For the first couple km’s my legs tried to tempt me to go a bit faster, to chase those around me, but I tried to keep them under control. The course is a familiar route, nice and flat with just a few inclines as we went over or under bridges along the river. It starts out running by the zoo, I distracted myself by looking at the animals that I could see from the pathway. After a few km’s we crossed the river over one of the new pedestrian bridges at the west end of St. Patrick’s Island. Next we ran through the East Village and the eclectic residents that you often see despite the city’s best efforts to clean things up (today this included Greg Medwind 😉 ).
My feet were starting to bother me a bit, at first I thought they were cold, or perhaps just needed to get some blood flowing through them. I tried to wiggle my toes in my shoes, and tried to keep my form efficient with a quick cadence and midfoot strike. I assumed that they’d feel better after they warmed up a bit, but they didn’t.
I got past the 7 km mark, and told myself, 1/3 rd there, good. The pace was starting to feel like effort at this point, but I kept at it, knowing that I should be able to hold this pace for the distance. My splits through 7 k were: 4:43, 4:44, 4:44, 4:40, 4:44, 4:46 and 4:43.
The next 7 km’s took us past downtown, back across the river under the Crowchild bridge, and west towards Edworthy Park. There was a slight hill as we made our way up towards the turn around. My pace dropped off a bit through this section, and the effort felt high, but give thn the slight rise, I’ll take it. As I passed the turn around, I took a glass of Nuun, walked for 2 seconds and drank it. I only drank Nuun from 2 aid stations, and didn’t take in any calories during the race. I had an emergency gel in my pocket, but didn’t feel like I needed any fuel. My throat was dry and I could have guzzled water, but that was my cold talking, I don’t think drinking more would have changed my performance, it would have just slowed me down as I slowed to drink fluid.
My feet continued to hurt more as I passed the halfway mark. I started to count down the km’s remaining as soon as I got to single digits. I was happy everytime I passed a km as it meant I was closer to being done. Just before I crossed back over the Crowchild bridge again, I spotted my friend Keith, he was taking pictures and cheering on a friend. It was fun to see a familiar face, and it put more of a spring into my step. Then a couple km’s later, Susan and Rob (friends from the Calgary Trail Runners) passed me, again nice to see familiar faces, I would have liked to have hung onto them, but my current pace was taxing enough. Middle third splits looked like: 4:44, 4:50, 4:51, 4:45, 4:39, 4:48, 4:42.
I was pretty happy to get into the last third. My feet were KILLING me, every step was painful, my current theory is that it was my shoes. I was wearing Kinvara’s. I’d worn them on a handful of runs, and I’ve run lots of halves and shorter in the model over the years, but I’d spent the entire summer running in Altras. I think my feet have gotten used to splaying and spreading out in the wide toe boxes, and racing in a traditional running shoe was not making them happy. I’m going to buy some new Altra road shoes and plan on switching to them over the summer. If I can survive 100 km’s in zero drop shoes, I think it’s time to make the switch for all my distances, road and trail.
Once I made my way through downtown, and across the river, I knew there wasn’t far left. I focused on my stride, enjoying the music from my playlist that I had made, and trying to stay positive. At some point Brittany Spears came on with “Work B**ch”, it was the perfect theme for the rest of the race, and I made it my mantra. “If you wanna PR, you’ve got to work b**ch”. I was focused on my splits, and the goal of sub 1:40, I knew that I didn’t have a lot of cushion, and so I didn’t let myself let off the pace. I kept looking down at my garmin, and when the pace creeped up over 4:45, I tried to pick things up just a bit.
Around this time, my friend Keith rode past on his bike, and not too much further up, he was standing to the side of the path, and snapped a pic. I put on my best #fakeittillyoumake face, I don’t think I did a great job of masking the pain, but that’s a good sign that I was working hard.
It wasn’t until I passed the 2 km’s left sign, that I found that deeper gear. I knew I could hang on for 2 km’s, I also knew that I needed to keep pushing. I dug deep and ignored the pain in my feet, and ran as hard as I could. I was passed by one woman when I was about 800 m’s from the finish, but I was also closing in on a couple that I’d been running behind for almost the entire race, I passed them around the 500 m mark, and ran has hard as I could to the finish. I stopped my garmin, it read just over 21 km’s, and 1:39:52, it was close, but I’d made it under 1:40! Last third splits: 4:44, 4:46, 4:45, 4:51, 4:51, 4:42, 4:34.
I hung out at the finish for a little while, chatting with friends, and waited for the chip results to be posted. MEC races are very no-frills, they had awards for the top three men and women. My chip result was posted as 1:39:47 , 62nd place overall, 3rd in my AG, and 20th woman. I’m super happy with my time, I haven’t focused on any speed in my training since the spring, but had felt that with all my mileage and base training all summer that I was getting faster. I also am thrilled that I kept pushing and didn’t let up when things got tough, I really feel like I ran the best race I possibly could on the day, and that’s always my number one goal with any race. It was “fun” to go out and suffer and push myself, something that I haven’t done in this way for a while!
I also give the MEC race two thumbs up, for $20 it was a great value, there were plenty of aid stations along the course, it was well organized, there were lots of portapotties, water and Nuun at the finish along with some fresh fruit from SPUD. I have enough metals, race shirts and those sorts of things, that I don’t place a lot of value in getting more, and I’m happy to save a few dollars. They are putting on 3 trail races in and around Calgary next year, there’s a good chance that you’ll find me at one or all of them.