So far I think I have been pretty lucky; today was my 2nd year of running Gord's Running Store Frozen Ass 50km in Calgary and both years the temperature has started out around minus 10 and crept up to just below zero - positively balmy for Alberta at this time of year!
I really love this event, it's so well organised, great sponsors, low entry fee and low-key atmosphere. Although big races are fun it's great also to have races like this that have less frills, less fanfare and are just about getting some miles in with some company.
I signed up only few weeks before once I knew I was pretty much over injury and could likely tackle the distance, but went in with a 'training race' head on. With Banff getting a tonne of snow this winter outdoor running has been challenging so I wanted to do Frozen Ass just to get training in.
However Calgary has received more than it's fair share of snow so far this winter too and as we set out along the bikepath at the edge of the canal it was clear that there would be very few sightings of tarmac today. The course is simple to the extreme - basically 25km straight out to an aid station, turn around and run back. It was kind of funny to watch us all at the start - whichever path through the snow you chose it looked like the runner ahead had a better path so we were zig-zagging from one side of the path to the other in search of the best route. This went on for the first few km and then I think we all realised that it was best just to pick a line and go for it. A couple of detours led us down onto the ice-covered canal and after one everyone just decided to stay down on the canal where footing was better than up on the snow and wind blown bike path. So for a good few kms we ran along the frozen surface with nothing but snowy canal and bluebird blue sky in sight, it was so so pretty. I had put my yak-trax in my drop bag at the turn around but was glad not to use them. I find yak-trax great if the trail is 100% snow covered but there were a few breaks where we hit tarmac which is not good to run in yak-trax and I was getting great traction with my Montrail Rockridges.
With just over 100 runners in the event there were a few guys within eyesight and it was good to strike up some conversation as we ploughed on towards Chestermere Lake. A few kms before the turn around we all popped back up onto the bike path, this section of which was totally bare. Ahhhhhhhh...it was so nice to be able to pick up the pace a little and cruise into the aid station. Angela, a Calgary runner I know, was there volunteering and helped me with my drop bag (thank you Angela!) and I took on some coke at the aid station. Gord pretty much leaves the stocking of the aid stations to the volunteers so each have their own speciality and at this one I was glad to have the excuse 'I'm vegetarian' when I turned down a peanut butter and bacon tortilla (though other racers later reported that they were actually really good!).
Turning around at 25km I was just over the 2hr mark. I hoped I could pick it up a little to squeeze under 4hrs for the finish, my time from last year was 3:47 but I knew I'd not got quite as many long runs in this year and didn't want to race this event hard, it was just about getting some miles in.
The lead guy was way ahead but I felt confident I could catch some other men and this became my target for the return trip. It was also great to have the company of runners still on the outward direction as we all cheered each other along. I know lots of people don't like out and back routes, and although they are not always the most exciting I tend to find that the return trip goes by pretty quickly as you are already familiar with all the little twists and turns and landmarks.
All was going well and I passed a few guys and steadily gaining on Carl, a Calgary-Brit who I had met at pretty much exactly the same point last year. I was glad to have Carl to follow on the one section that detours off the bike path for a few hundred metres. With only 8km to go it wasn't essential that I stopped at the aid station but I decided to as it was a usual dry Alberta day and I knew keeping fluids up would help for the final stretch. So I stopped momentarily at the station only to see a freight train approching, the bar come down, Carl nip underneath it and me be left waiting on the other side. Aaargh!!!! Oh well, I waited out the few minutes, used the time to take on some more Clif drink and then set out again once the bar was up - trying once again to regain all the distance I had gained on Carl and then lost with the train passing!
The last few kms were a steady push and with about 5km to go I passed Carl and kept moving. Although I wasn't overly bothered if he beat me I also decided I'd prefer to come 2nd overall - which I would if I could stay ahead of him. The last few kms were particularly icy packed snow so it was by no means a sprint finish but I managed to keep up my pace to squeeze in under 4hrs - 3:58, 2nd overall and first female.
Massive congrats to Ian who ran 3:39 - a pretty darn fast time for the conditions underfoot and the time of year.
And a big thanks to Gord and all the vollies - once again a great event and the only event where I think I have ever eaten my race entry in Dominos pizza at the post-race buffet :)