I drove up to Lake Louise with a teammate on Friday afternoon, a nice pleasant ride into the mountains despite persistent clouds and impeding rain. I checked in and then went in search of our team captain who also was a race director. We had a pleasant supper at the hotel and ironed out logistics and swapped stages yet again. He’d run the first stage and I’d run the 6th, an 18.4 km run that ends the first half of the race.
It’s been a while since I last took part in a relay, and I'd forgotten how much fun they can be. The camaraderie, the war stories, the beer… well we didn’t have too much of that, and since we’d be meeting at 5:50 am we made an early night of it. First thing in the morning I poked my head out the door and into the cold and damp. I was glad I’d brought clothing for all eventualities. I dressed for the race and then layered up some more. It was raining steadily as we met in the parking lot of the “mall”. Our assignments in hand I followed the RD to where he would drop off his car and then took him to the start. His was the only car allowed – the other runners would have to be bussed – second stage runners to their start and the S1 runners from there to the “mall”. The road the race takes for the first 25 km is not built for support crews, it’s a narrow twisty scenic bit of mountain heaven and runner ****.
We heard that the rain was actually snow at altitude overnight, and that there was a possibility that the Bow Summit stage, S5, would be canned. Being as I was supposed to support S5 before running S6 I was wondering what the morning would hold in store.
I was to help set up and take down the start, and once the runners were off at 7:00 I headed back to lake Louise to help set out cones on the highway shoulder for the short stretch of the run from the end of the 1A to the turnoff for Jasper. I encountered my first bear, a juvenile black bear who peered at me from across the road and scampered off into the trees.
That task accomplished, at 8:00 I returned to Lake Louise for a bite and a fillup for the van and thermos. Met Karen from Calgary - coach and blogger extraordinaire and one heck of a support/cheering section. Nice to see so many familiar faces. Then, up the uphill to the start of S3 and the start of my support duties. It was cold but drier there, but our S3 runner who was camping with his son at a site near then end of S3 told me that they’d awoken to snow.
Support is fun. You listen to runner’s instructions, ignore half of it (the…”I don’t need to see you until 10k”) and enjoy providing encouragement, nourishment and teasing. S3’s 8 year-old son was priceless company, yelling support to his Dad the moment he would come into sight 100s of metres down the road. We’d stop every 2k or so and wait.
Our team was in 2nd place at that point, and when I met up with our captain I asked him just what he’d meant the night before about having a “fun” team. He smiled sweetly and said nothing. What I did learn was that our S3 runner will have MCP surgery in a week or so: “Well I can run on it every other day and I’m not going to do any more damage…” and that he needs surgery on his shoulders to repair tendons. He’d run in pain the whole way. Some fun eh Bambi?
Younger and healthier legs seemed to prevail and we dropped to 5th. At S4 I gave up my support duties and scooted up to meet our S5 runner and begin my own prep. Our S5 runner is on the International Paralympic Committee and had at one time competed in track and field. I was told that I’d recognize him because he only has one arm…
It was cold and while the snow had been cleared off the road, the north wind brought promise of more. Our S5 runner started his run with a few too many layers and had to stop a couple of times to shed them. The wind was strong, but the air was warmer on the other side of the divide. I was alone and had time to contemplate the quiet and admire the scenery while waiting to provide support.
At the 13th km I traded off duties with our captain and booted it over to Waterfowl Lake to change and to warm up. Here the wind was strong, but I shed all my layers, down to shorts and a technical shirt, keeping running gloves and a cap. We were all obliged to wear reflective vests, and mine was bulky. It caught the wind and just seemed to be an anchor. After warming up I stretched until I heard that my teammate was in sight.
There had been a mistake, the runner approaching me had two arms! Someone had heard the 1 mile out announcement and presumed that I was next.
When I did get away I found myself sucking air big time, both from the wind and from exertion. On reflection, it may have been the altitude, over a mile up, but it could also have been nerves and the perception of slowness that had me speeding the first quarter mile. I slowed to a more reasonable pace and sped up bit by bit until it was a pace I felt I could sustain.
Rolling terrain – not flat as described – predominated for the first 10k or so. I couldn’t see anyone behind me, ever, but I could make out the next runner a quarter of a mile ahead. I keyed on her, but she seemed to be increasing the distance. On the downhills I’d run like there was no tomorrow, on the uphills I went by effort, slowing to tackle them at a steady pace.
Then the second bear encounter, a pile of steaming droppings by the side of the road and a few hundred feet later the sound of crashing in the brush beside the road. How I'd not seen that happening I'll never know - must have had my head down... The race is beautiful to support, but I didn't pay to much attention to the scenery.
At 59 minutes I’d made it to 11.2 km, and I was feeling okay, the wind was a bitch, but I had long since come to terms with it. The race profile said that there was a 5km stretch of downhill, a greater than 1000 foot drop, and I was conserving energy for a push. Apparently I’d gained 15 seconds on the girl ahead by the time I reached the top. I turned on high gear and ran like there was no tomorrow. At the back of my mind I knew that the 200 foot climb at the end was somewhere I might regret the downhill chase, but it was a gamble.
1km and she was in sight. 2km and she was in spitting distance. By 3km I knew that she had slowed, it wasn’t just my speeding up. 4km and I was calculating when to pass.
Her team and ours had been close for most of the race, and I had chatted with both her and her support crew from time to time on the road and in the transitions. Friendly banter was exchanged for each runner. As I passed her she gave me a high five and I told her she’d probably smoke me on the hill. A few strides and a comment from her support team about “flying”. I glanced across the road. Next thing I knew I was flying and landing, and I was looking at the sky. My competitor stopped and I told her to get going. I got up and realized that I’d had a bad case of road rash. Her support crew helped steady me and I took off after her, slowing down and taking inventory. Soon after, I met my support (the S5 runner) and he poured water on my wounds and asked what I needed. I told him I’d finish and to just go to the end and get first aid ready for me. The girl’s support crew said something about feeling bad about winning this way. “Right!” I said to myself. That’s not going to happen. I still wanted to catch her, but I had blown my adrenaline on the fall. Still, if you're racing, race!
We’d reached the Saskatchewan River and the bridge – and a climb loomed ahead. I passed the girl again and down on the hill. I knew that I had slowed, but I just wanted this done. Up the hill, my support found me with 400 metres to go and said that he could run for me but we’d take a 5 minute penalty. Heck, it was just blood… I was moving. I crossed at about 1:36 and went to celebrate. Tthe paramedics weren't there, but a competitor was an EMS tech, and I was in good hands.
Lots of gauze and water cleaning later it was apparent that both my left hand and right knee and shin had gravel embedded. We wrapped them up and I was good to go. Our S5 runner drove us back to his car and we had a great chat along the way. I was feeling okay – just a bit of road ash – and decided to head to Banff’s hospital to get the gravel out, a good hour and a half drive.
It was on the way there that I noticed that my left wrist was sore. I mentioned to the doc that I thought it was sprained, but he ordered an x-ray and then came back with a splint. Broken. Hmmm. So here I sit typing one fingered.
Hey, despite the fall it was a great day, and a great race and a great team. One day I’d love to see a team of Kickrunners handle all 15 stages in what has to be the most beautiful race in North America. Me? Meh. I’m fine. Feeling stoopid. Two first rules of running? Left right repeat… and look where you’re going. I broke both. But I had a blast.
Purveyor of Awesome since 1958.