Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Heels & Wheels Trail 5k - June 1st, 2014

Well that was unexpected...but feels like redemption.

To set the stage for this, we were out to a punk rawk show on Friday night. Getting home at 3am and finally to bed by 4-ish meant a later morning Saturday, a hot & sunny cycle to and from the farmers' market, an even hotter trail run in the afternoon, and a tired (but much cooler) swim in the evening - a little more than 2.5hrs of training for the day. Add in a lovely mild walk down to Riverside Park for the Preston Kinsmen Carnival and once again the clock had struck midnight before we made it to bed. Ah well - good times.

I got kissed by Mickey De Sadist!

Ferris wheelin' with my sweetheart.

I'd also taken a few minutes before bed to install the new wheelset on Snorky, to get him back to proper condition after an Acura got a little too friendly with him.

Dapper boy.

Up at 7:30, down a bagel, then kiss Tanker (who rode his motorcycle up to volunteer at the race) and hop on Snorky for his maiden voyage with the new hoops. The morning was mild but sunny, promising a scorcher later on, but I had a really pleasant 18km pedal up to Bingemans to start my day. I had intended to stop for a coffee on the way up, but having forgotten to fill a gel flask with almond milk I didn't actually bother.

I arrived to discover the race occupying a different pavilion than last year, with the start/finish line in a much different spot. I recall in 2013 that the route had to be modified due to a large part of the Walter Bean Trail out of Bingemans being under water - did this mean we were going to be using the original route for 2014, or would it be the same with just a different start point? This I pondered as I ate an energy bar and a maple sugar candy - since there was no Pudding Power (I'm not carbo loading for a non-priority 5k), I'd have to rely on Maple Might and wearing my fast shoes. Really, I just wanted to make sure I got something into me to replenish after my 40min cycle up to the venue.

The 5k walkers all went off around 10am, so I did a little loop of running as a warm-up - just a kilometer through the trailer park section of the camping area that had been part of the 2013 course - and wasn't feeling it at all. I had a fellow out front of his trailer offer me cold beer, and the whole loop smelled like cooking bacon. I could've gone for either of those rather than a run, especially since I'd seen Jan and he'd told me there was an even bigger hill on this year's course than last year's.

Not good.

We'll give this thing a whack anyway.

Just past 10:30am a very energetic young lady led a warm-up aerobics session for the 5k runners, some of whom were some seriously slender and fit looking women. I mean, it's not like I had any illusions of doing well in this race, but I was seriously thinking I'd be left in the dust. The sun was hot, I already felt tired, and Jan's course description of a "big, very steep hill" we'd have to run up and over on the way to the turn-around and then run up and over again on the way back was much less than confidence inspiring. Especially the bit about how we should be careful on the way down, because it really was very steep and covered in gravel.

I was now starting to wonder if I'd even finish, and was almost sure I'd end up walking.

Nevertheless, we lined up and were sent off at a trot by a vuvuzela. I aimed for tempo pace to start with, and was quickly left behind by more than half the field. The campground roads were covered in gravel and Jan had mentioned the first few metres of the trail would be muddy - I was seriously questioning my choice of footwear, considering my bowling shoes are designed as road racing flats and have holes in the soles. They're pretty minimalist, too, and I was having to spend some time avoiding stepping on the larger stones to keep from hurting myself. I plodded along behind a couple of fellows who gave off a serious Crossfit-and-mud-runs vibe, then passed them as they stopped to walk about three quarters of a kilometer in. They asked if I knew where the big hill was on the course, and I said from the description it sounded like probably around 2k in. They thanked me as I left them behind, hitting the muddy first section of trail.

I managed to get through the sloppy bit without any issues, but then just as I reached the 1km marker the trail started to go up.

And up, and up, and up again.

The elevation profile closely resembles what my EKG would look like while running the course.

You'd think you could see the top of the hill, but the trail would wind around to reveal another section of climbing. Fortunately, while some of the other people may have had less to haul up that hill, I apparently have more power to do the hauling - finally starting to puff and blow at true 5k "make it hurt" effort level I managed to reel in 3 or 4 runners ahead of me on the seemingly endless climb, including a very fit looking woman who'd gone out very fast.

Finally cresting the hill, I began the descent on the other side with some trepidation. My left knee has really, really hated running downhill since it met a wooden boardwalk with some alacrity just over 4 weeks beforehand. It gets grumpy. It tends to stay grumpy for the rest of the run. Therefore, I tried taking the first part of the decline fairly conservatively, but let loose a little more as it seemed to be holding up ok. I used super high cadence but shorter strides to try to minimize damage, and it seemed to pay off - especially as I passed another person or two ahead of me.

As I approached the 2k marker and hit some reasonably level ground, I found myself a few of strides behind a really slender lady who was running along seemingly with the ease and grace of an antelope. I came up behind her, but couldn't quite make the pass at the moment - I had to sit in a step behind her shoulder and recover for maybe 100 metres before I could pull a surge and get by. The trail curved around, then annoyingly turned up once more as I made my way to the turn-around. I was sweating like a beast in the hot sun and my mouth was incredibly dry - I'd have loved to grab a cup of water to have a sip and toss the rest over me, but the single aid station by the turn-around only had bottles of water or sport drink. Not wanting to carry a full bottle or ditch it on the trail, I just pressed onward.

I hit the lap button on my watch as I made the turn, giving me a split time of 14:08. I hadn't thought I'd be able to crack 30mins going in, but I was on pace for 28:xx if I could keep myself from falling apart. I got a bit stuck as I hit the level portion of trail coming up to the 3k mark - a kid in front of me (only 8 or 9 years old) kept zig-zagging back and forth, and would put in a surge every time I tried to get past him. I was almost at the foot of the huge climb again before I managed to nip by, dreading my return trip up the Hill of Pain.

The 2014 route - it looks so innocuous by satellite.

The ascent up the back side was just as tough as the front, with several steps and just not enough space between them to recover your wind. I saw another woman a couple of hundred metres in front of me as I climbed, but despite the fact she was walking and I was running, I knew there was no way I'd catch her. I focused on trying to control my breathing, and fought down the voice in my head that said "well she's walking - you could, too" while the burn of anaerobic effort flooded into my legs and even crept into my arms.

At long last, I summited the final section of the hill and began to negotiate my way down again. The first stages of the descent were very steep indeed, so I picked my way down carefully as I tried to recover my wind. As it flattened out further down, I was able to open up my stride and roll with it - I passed the 4k mark with my knee in better shape than the rest of my legs, wondering what I had left in me for the finish. I hadn't heard anyone running behind me since I got past the wee lad just before the 3k mark, and I could no longer see anyone in front of me.

A volunteer diverted me to a different part of the trail than that we'd come in on, and told me there was less than a kilometer left to go. I knew there was a little bit of climbing left to be done, though, as the road from the trail ascends and rolls a bit before the final gentle downslope to the finish. I felt like I was sort of slacking and coasting it in at this point, but a glance at my watch tells me I ran the final kilometer in something like 5:25. After running that stinkin' hill twice, simply having my heart rate relax from chestburster mode made it feel like I was just slouching along. As I emerged onto the paved road I finally spotted the lady ahead of me across the parking lot, but she had a lead of at least 100 metres with only a quarter kilometer left to go; no time to even attempt a move.

Rounding the last curves to the finish, I tried to kick it up but just didn't have a damn thing left. Sweetly cheered on by Jan's lovely wife Mariska as she finished the 5k walk, I stumbled my way through the last few metres desperate for relief. I stopped my watch as I crossed the line, and it turns out I recorded the exact same result as the timekeepers (by which I mean Tanker and Jan's friend Pete).

Official time: 27:51 @ 5:34/km

Not too shabby, considering I didn't think I could go sub-30.
I started walking a bit to try to cool down and get the searing pain in my legs to subside, then heard Jan ask me from the finish line area what I thought of the hill. Still gasping as I fought to regain my breath, all I could stammer out was "You're a sick man!" - it wasn't a good time for that particular question. I checked my watch, and discovered my 13:43 run back from the turn-around had been fully 25sec faster than the trip out, but looking at the map later it appears the front section is a bit longer due to the change in routing on the way back. As much as I whine about it, I do actually like tough courses; what fun is doing things the easy way?

Nonetheless, I'd worked so hard I was totally derped.

This is what my sweet husband chose to marry.
No-one ever accused him of being a good decision maker.

I hung around and drank my post-race coconut water, munched a macaroon and a banana, and then figured I might as well ask Tanker if he knew how many other women had come in ahead of me. He was doing manual timing, after all. He said he thought there had only been one or two - I was sure there were at least 2 women ahead of me, as one had completely disappeared off the very start (I don't even remember seeing her on her return leg) and I'd seen another finish about half a minute ahead of me. Tank mentioned that he might have missed a few numbers as people came in all bunched together, but that hadn't happened until around the 30min mark.

I milled around the finish, cheering on other participants as they came in and hanging out with Tanker. After the kids fun run we all returned to the pavilion to listen to the master of race ceremonies offer the customary thanks to organizers, volunteers and sponsors, then to hear Jan speak about his continuing challenges with his traumatic brain injury.

Jan speaks as his young son sits on the grass.

The awards ceremony followed, and I was amazed to hear I'd managed 3rd woman overall - hooray for small fields! I was given a lovely medal and a huge gift bag full of goodies (insulated lunch tote, nice steel water bottle & compact atuo-open & close umbrella), including a $50 gift certificate to the Bon Appétit group of restaurants. All this on top of the massive swag bag all 5k participants had already received as part of the $35 registration fee! It's a good thing Tanker has a big roll bag on his motorcycle to carry all this stuff.

Spoiled rotten!
3/11 Women
12/32 Overall

It was a fun event for a great cause, with great organization and a course that is achievable by anyone while still providing a solid challenge even for the very fit - I'd highly recommend it for any level of runner.

Winning my first overall award was just a bonus, but it sure does feel good. Definitely a sweet way to wash the sour taste out of my mouth from my lousy finish at Woodstock last week!

Even better, I climbed back on my bike afterward and (after slogging my way up the big stinkin' hill to get out of Bingemans) rolled over to Kitchener City Hall where Bikefest was in full swing, so I got to glory in a huge crowd of people all out enjoying cycling in its multifarious forms. What better way to spend a beautiful sunny summery afternoon?

All sorts of bike shops, clubs, yoga studios & physiotherapists offering free stuff.

Unicycle road hockey was one of many challenges in which attendees could take part.

Unicycle stunt riding demonstration by some pros

So many bikes!
I even got another swag bag, consisting of a BikeKitchener.ca string backpack with a waterproof Kitchener cycling route map, a pamphlet with Bike Month events, a BikeKitchener saddle cover, clip-on red blinky light, reflective leg strap and even a bell!


There was even some sustenance to refuel me for the ride home - I couldn't eat any of the food trucks' wares, but there were a couple of kids offering free popcorn and Berlin Bicycle Café had teamed up with Grizzly Bear Coffee roaster Joe to offer fresh pour-over brew. I finally got the cup of coffee that I'd missed in the morning, and it was one hell of a lot better than what I'd have got from Tim Hortons! No almond milk required - when you've got fresh roasted beans that are hand-ground just before your cup is brewed, black is just dandy.

Enjoying my popcorn and jet fuel with Snorky by my side.

The best part was the huge variety of cyclists in attendance - everyone from tiny kids on tricycles through mountain bikers, city commuters, recumbent riders, and even a bike polo player out with his daughter. Everyone had a smile on their face, and many were kind enough to compliment me on my beloved bike and my truly awesome Vanderkitten jersey.

Ophelia is always a popular kitty!

If ever there was a day that would make me believe everything is truly all right in the universe, this was it.

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