The alarm clock was not a pleasant sound. The desire to race was not dancing through my mind. In fact, in the immediate minutes upon waking, there were three things which could have turned the day miserable:
- The previous two days were spent eating cookies, drinking wine, and finding inventive uses for the homemade Irish Cream (with plenty of whiskey).
- I had forgotten to pack my “Pixie Dust” — my race-day glitter and an integral part of my preparation.
- I had a disturbing dream, the details of which I couldn’t remember, but woke up with a strange scared feeling. If this has never happened to you before, count it as a blessing. But those unsettling feelings from a dream have in the past stayed with me throughout the day.
Life had the chance to look bleak at that moment. I was already in an emotionally vulnerable state thanks to a weird dream, feeling a bit like a weeble-wobble from my holiday food and beverage consumption and was without a key piece of race-day ritual.
But I saw the potential of this confluence of events — recognized my addiction to the negative and decided to change it. The Boxing Day 10-miler would be an adventure, like any race, and the idea was just to have a good time, enjoy a long run with some challenging hills and enjoy spending time with Mark.
On his part, Mark was a bit uninspired also. He was a bit sore from having to finish cutting down a tree manually the day before (long story) and experiencing the general glaze of post-holiday weariness. Still, we both knew the race was good motivation to get our sorry butts out for a long run and so we headed up to Hamilton for the 90th Annual Boxing Day 10 miler (And yes, it is 10 miles, not 10 kilometers. The 90-year old race dates back to before Canada went metric and race organizers kept with the tradition. The course is even marked miles.)
The race is well organized, which is not always a given even with events that are 90-years old. We arrived early, giving ourselves time to get lost (we didn’t actually get lost, but felt like we were lost), find parking and maneuver through the Hamilton YMCA without the crush of runners and their family and friends. This allowed us time to chat with friends Sue and Herm and also try to free ourselves from a seemingly friendly guy who sat to chat with us. Friendly often covers crazy but the crazy often comes out too late for you to easily extract yourself from the conversation.
On to the actual race.
Temperatures were cold, in the low 20s, with winds blowing up to 17 miles an hour. This made dressing difficult as at times it felt as if my three layers were way too much and other times the wind whipped right through me. The cold air also was sharp on my lungs and from time to time made my breathing a bit labored.
Sue and I decided to run the first few miles together. She wasn’t feeling particularly well this morning and immediately after the start said, “I think my first mile is going to be at 10:30.” Fine with me. I had announced at the start of the race that I would be happy with 10-minute miles on this particular day.
I lost Sue in the first half mile, her yellow running jacket fading in front of me. This made me think it really wasn’t going to be my day, especially as the guy wearing the Christmas tree outfit passed me, however upon reaching the first mile marker, I noted my pace: 8:56. Smiles. Sue is notorious for underselling what she’s capable of running — at least to me.
The first five miles of the course are rather pleasant and pretty flat. It runs out of the city down to a marina and along a paved waterfront trail. I crossed the mid-way point in 45:52 and was rather pleased. This was work, but it was going better than expected.
At Mile 5 comes the first of the “hills that never end.” It’s a long, gradual climb, one that plays more with your mind than with your body. I kept focused. I thought “harmonious hill” and just tried to stay consistent. Reaching the top of the hill I took a brief walk at the water stop and carried on. When I hit the “lap” button at Mile 6 I was pleasantly surprised with my pace up the hill.
The race is half over. The cookies will power me through Mile 7, I thought, and then started singing “Jingle Bells” to myself.
Mile 7 involves the Chedoke Golf Course and another long, never-ending hill up the driveway. The good news is that at about the midpoint of the climb there is a relatively flat section giving you a chance to catch your breath. The bad news is that it turns into a tough, steep climb up to the clubhouse. I kept moving, kept looking ahead, kept moving my legs. But my leg turnover was going as best it could and it naturally turned into a power walk. I offered a hearty “nice job” to two fellas who ran passed me and picked up my run as soon as the steep grade eased up. Time-wise it was my worst mile, but that didn’t matter. I knew this was coming and was prepared for it. At the top of the hill there was still 7.5 miles left to run. And I wanted to finish strong.
The route goes off road at this point, running a gravel trail back to a downtown residential development. I passed a few people, feeling really good as we enjoyed a gentle downhill. I took the downhills with a bit of gusto over the final two miles — not getting crazy but letting gravity help me out. There were two final “hills” on which I kept steady and even.
As I rounded into the final few turns in the city, I heard Herm, cheering on the runners. He caught me and yelled support. I knew it was close and I kicked it hard, passing at least three people en route to the finish line.
My final time was two minutes faster than last year.
Take that low expectations.
I went inside the YMCA and found Mark with a shocked look on his face. He looked at his watch, looked at me and looked at his watch again. “Didn’t you say you’d be lucky to run 10-minute miles? I thought I had plenty of time to get back out and wait for you at the finish line with a bowl of soup.”
For the record, I wasn’t sure if he was planning to be out there to offer me the soup or to be eating soup himself at the finish line. Either way would have made me smile.
Instead, we got our bowls of hot tomato soup (which seems to be a Boxing Day 10-miler tradition) and sat in the bleachers of the YMCA gym, recounting our races. It was a tough run, but one that I got through, one that I didn’t let my head get in the way of. I ran hard and took the course as it came, secure in the knowledge that no matter what I did, it was going to be a good day.
Only it wasn’t just a good day.
It was a great day. Because that’s what I decided it would be.