One of my favourite things about running is that you can do it anywhere. Hot or cold, city or country, day or night. It doesn't matter. As long as you have your shoes and the desire to get out there, you can do it.
I'm pretty lucky in that I get to travel a decent amount for work. Earlier this week I was in Victoria, British Columbia for a work event. While work travel can throw a wrench into your workout routine, I completely take advantage of it. I see it as an opportunity to explore. Before visiting a new city, I do a ton of research and try to connect with local runners to get the inside scoop on the best running routes. As my trip to Victoria approached, I did just that. I reached out to the local marathon organizers, retail stores, and running friends on the west coast. Man, did they ever pull through for me. Here's what my weekend looked like.
Saturday: Fisherman's Wharf & Breakwater Pier
After a long day of travel, I finally arrived at my hotel in Victoria. Instead of kicking back and watching some TV or heading to the bar to grab a drink, I threw on my running shoes to go out and explore. After all, my legs needed a good stretch. I had planned out a nice 10km route around the touristy areas of down town, through the picturesque Fisherman's Wharf and all the way down the long and narrow Breakwater Pier. It was warm and sunny afternoon, about 10 degrees Celsius. A far cry from the -40 degree winds and record setting blizzards that we've been experiencing in Ottawa. It was nice. Really nice.
Sunday: Hatley Castle 8k Race
That's right. Crazy Jay signed up for a race. During my research I connected with the good folks at Frontrunners, a popular local running store that helps organize the Vancouver Island Race Series. It just so happened that they were hosting the 4th race of the series on Sunday when I was in town - a 8km race at the historic (and beautiful) Hatley Castle, nestled in the deep woods on the campus of Royal Roads University.
I am a big proponent of running a race during marathon training. It helps you work on your race prep and gives you a really good sense of where you are at physically. I usually run a half marathon, which is a solid test. But between the craziness of wedding planning, marathon training, and work travel, my schedule hasn't been able to accommodate any races - yet. So when I stumbled upon this 8k race, I signed up immediately.
8km isn't very far. I've never actually run a race that short before. But I figured it would be a good test anyway. I was looking forward to getting out there are running really fast. I've been working a lot on my speed and I was curious to see how fast I could go. Another appealing aspect of the race was that is was a trail race. Some running on roads, some on dirt trails, and some on packed gravel paths. And it was hilly. Really hilly. That would also be fun.
I showed up Sunday morning not really knowing what to expect. I signed in, got my race bib, and went over to a bench on the side of the room to prepare. As the room filled up, I began to realize how amazing the running community was in Victoria. Everyone seemed to know each other. They were all greeting each other with high-fives and hugs. A small group sitting next to me introduced themselves and included me in their pre-race conversations. They told me all about the race and the series, and gave me a ton of great tips. I don't know if they were really friendly, or just felt bad for the loner from Ottawa. Either way, I appreciated it.
As 11AM approached, we made our way down to the start line. I settled in towards the front to make sure that I could get out quickly. Around me at the front were some pretty decent looking runners. The competition. This was going to be fun. I soon began to feel those familiar pre-race jitters. I wasn't nervous. I was excited. It was a chilly morning; you could see your breath and many runners were wearing toques. From the start line, you could see the snow-capped mountains of Washington State across the water. It was truly beautiful.
As the air horn sounded, we took off. I always go way too fast out of the gate. You're so full of energy and excitement that you just explore off the line. In a half or full marathon, this can kill your race. You waste all of your energy right away. But since this was only 8 kilometres, I decided that I was going to give'r. I wanted to run fast, and I knew that I could hold a strong, fast pace for 8 kilometres. Before we had even reached the 1 km mark, the "elites" had already separated themselves form the rest of the group. Three guys wearing University of Victoria team gear quickly peeled away from the rest of the crowd. We didn't see them again until the finish. Those dudes were fast. I was close-ish to the front as we entered the 2nd kilometre. I began to settle into a comfortably fast pace. 3 or 4 guys passed me. We made a left into the woods. Huge, lush trees towered over us. A few more runners over took me.
As we hit kilometre 3, the hills started. Long, steep ones. I've been training for this. Not these hills specifically, but a famous one in Boston that is known to break hearts. This was a great opportunity for me to see where my hill game was at. I cranked into high gear, passing five guys on that first hill. The course levelled out briefly, just long enough to catch your breath, before hitting you with another one. I passed 3 more runners. After kilometre 5, the course flattened out. We then dipped deeper into the woods, going from paved road to dirt trail. Rocks, stumps, and tree roots were marked with white spray paint and the slight downhill descent began. Spectators in the woods cheered us on and called out our place numbers. "Twenty!" one guy shouted at me. I slowly began catching up to a guy that had been ahead of me the whole race. As I inched passed him at about 6.5 kilometres, I could tell that we has holding back a bit. It was clear that he was a really strong runner and I knew that I would see him again before the end of the race.
The slight downhill course quickly changed into a steep downhill course. It was crazy. I came barrelling down the hill through the trees, my feet pounding the dirt and my quads burning. As the downhill flattened back out, we turned the final corner in the last 500 meters of the race. The finish line was in sight and the clock read 29:something. My pre-race goal was to come in around 31 minutes. Knowing that I had a chance to break 30 minutes gave me extra motivation. My legs and lungs were pretty burned out from the speed and hills. I did everything I could to kick it up one more notch for that final stretch.
And then I heard some footsteps. Loud ones. Fast ones. Remember that guy I had passed? They guy that I knew was holding back? It was him. I knew it was him. I didn't even have to look back. I could hear him, getting closer. I could see the look of urgency in the faces of the spectators as we got closer to the finish line. "He's right behind you," their eyes said. "He's going to catch you!". I pushed as hard as I could to fend him off, to beat him to that line. I couldn't do it. About 5 or 10 meters from the finish, he finally pushed past me.
Defeat. Exhaustion. I was done. I came to a stop, bent over in pain trying to catch my breath and slow my heart rate. As I stood back up, I found my friend standing right in front of me, looking equally defeated. We both gasped out a laugh between breaths, high-fived, and congratulated each other on the battle. Funny thing was, he didn't actually beat me, and I didn't beat him. His late surge pulled him even with me. Exactly even. We finished with the same time. 29 minutes and 58 seconds. We tied. I later joked with him as we received our awards "Tie breaker? 100m dash?". He smiled and kindly declined.
So that was it. Hell of a race. I got to go really fast and face some good competition. The course was beautiful and challenging. The people were amazing. And, best of all, I beat my goal. 29 minutes and 58 seconds put me 7th in my category, and 18th overall out of 475 runners.
I stretched out my legs, hydrated, ate some food, and stayed around for the awards before lightly running the 12 kilometres back to down town Victoria where I capped off my day with a celebratory pizza and pint.
Monday: Dallas Road & Beach Drive
This city is too nice to not go running. I woke up before the sun on Monday morning. A bit sore and stiff from the day before, I grabbed a coffee and went down to the water to stretch. I decided to go for one last run. I had read so much about this one particular route - Dallas Road to Beach Drive. It's the stretch of road just south of down town that goes all the way along the water around the bottom edge of Vancouver Island, and up the east side. I headed out just before the sun rose for the day. It was quiet and peaceful. The route delivered on it's promise. My 16 kilometre loop offered some stunning ocean views and glimpses of Washington State. What a wonderful way to cap off my trip.
I'm now back in Ottawa, welcomed home by my loving fiancée, crazy dog, and miserable weather. 57 days until Boston.