Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Stampede Road Race 2014

Last Sunday was the 7th annual Calgary Stampede Road Race - called such because it takes place during the Stampede not through any affiliation.

As I was prepping the night before the race I had the horrible realization that I had forgotten to pick up my race package. Apparently you could pick-up your package the morning of the race but it was supposed to be for out-of-towners only. I was hoping that they only say that to encourage people to pick up the kits ahead of time and decided to go anyway.

The race starts at 7:30 so while I had to get up early it was not the crazy early starts of the Disney races. I made sure I was there early to get easy parking and have time to pick-up my race kit. I was able to do so and still had time to walk back to my car and stick the none essentials inside so I did not have to use the bag check. Now equipped with my bib and timing chip I walked over to the starting line and hung out for 30 minutes until things got started. They let the slow-pokes leave at 7:00 (people with an expected 2:45+ finish time) so they won't be out there long after everyone else. The 10km runners depart at 8am.

While killing time, at one point the MC went over the timeline of getting all of the different pieces ready for race day. Permits are requested almost a year in advance and shirts are ordered over 9 months in advance (which is why they never have enough of the right sizes). It gave me a good appreciation of all of the work that goes into making the race a success.

After getting eaten by a bunch of mosquitoes the gun went off and we took off from our starting line near the Glenmore track. I am always amazed at how adrenaline causes runners to start off at such stupid paces. I'm pretty fast and started up near the front but there was still a surge of people that roared past me in the first couple minutes. A few minutes later these same people are wheezing and muttering "too fast" under their breath. I prefer to start a tiny bit slower than my target pace for the first kilometre until I'm fully warmed up. I also like the psychological boost of passing people.

It was a bit warm that morning but completely overcast with little wind so it was almost perfect running conditions. By the time I had made it to the dam the pack had really thinned out and there were only 20 or so people left a head of me. I hit the aid station coming up the hill after the dam and grabbed some water. I've never tried what they were offering for energy drink so I played it safe. I normally don't stop for water either but it was warm and I need practice for marathons. I really didn't want dehydration cramps.

I passed a few more people as I went by the hospital. Sometimes its hard to tell if the person you are passing is someone that has run out of gas from the lead group or were one of the early starts that is running particularly strong. I passed the Ken and Barbie Australian couple as I rounded Heritage Park. I seem to remember them from a different race where they passed me easily and never looked back.

The south side of the reservoir is a lot of small rolling hills which can be rather draining on a bad day. I was still feeling strong and was staying a head of my desired pace. I hit the second Aid station but felt the water sloshing around and deicided to skip the next one. At about the 44 minute mark I passed the mid point. I wasn't exactly sure because my stupid Garmin had lost its satellite signal at Kilometre 4 and I was now dependent on my foot pod to track my pace. My goal for the race was 1:32:00 or 4:20/kilometre which I was exceeding, but I also knew the last 7 kilometres of this course are rough and I slowed down through there last year. Still, finishing under 1:30:00 was within my reach.

As I came to the big downhill I passed the blonde that I'd been tailing for quite a while. My legs felt good and the pathway was dry so let gravity do its thing and blasted down the hill as fast as I could barely staying in control. I can get up to almost 30 km/hr on a good downhill like those and although they can wreck my feet and knees I find it worth the risk on a race.

At the bottom I resumed my normal pace and tried to recover a bit as I continued on over the forested flood plain. My Garmin was not reporting correctly and it didn't take long to figure out that somewhere coming down the hill my foot pod had popped off. I was now stuck having to reset my watch so I could track my pace.

The course's worst hill is coming up out of that flood plain and I passed yet another guy. I guess all of my hill training paid off. At the top was the second to last Aid station and I hit this one for more water. Those few seconds of walking enable me to actually drink the water and drop my heart rate a bit before taking off again. My Garmin was back up and running now.

Running along the north end of the the reservoir I could only see 5 people a head of me. One I would catch just as the path turns north leaving the park. The next two remained frustratingly distant.

The section that runs north out of North Glenmore park towards Glenmore Trail is long and a slight incline. I find this to be the most psychologically difficult part of the race. It is still about 4 kilometres to the end and I'm always really, really tired by this point. I was also starting to cramp up.

I changed up my breathing and pushed on. Up ahead was where the 10k runners route joined ours and there was a mass of people. I came around the corner and joined the pack and heard a great cry of "Go Obiri" from behind me. It was some of my coworkers running the 10k. I did an over the shoulder wave and used the boost to pick up my pace.

As I ran up the ramp of the pedestrian bridge over Glenmore I could hear the whispers of the 10kers as I dodged around them: "OMG. He's fast","Wow he's a half marathoner". Their tears were delicious.

Coming down the ramp on the far side I realized I was close to another Halfer. The white haired guy had passed him and now I was coming up on his tail. He looked over his should twice at me which I interpreted as a sign of weakness. I used the downhill stretch again to my advantage and passed him and rounded the corner onto the final long stretch. There were hordes of 10kers everywhere and I spotted the white-haired guy ahead. With a little less than 2km to go, I kicked up my breathing into hyperventilation mode and made my big final push. Weaving around other runners is not the most efficient way to run but at times the psychological value exceeds the energy cost. This was one of those times.

As I blaze past the runners I can feel them become demoralized. It only makes me stronger. The white haired halfer is getting close now. My heart is pounding but I'm gaining on him quickly now. I pass him on the outside and then make the turn into the athletic park. There is a short stretch of running on grass to get up onto the track that sucks a lot out of me. It takes a moment to refocus and I push on. Somehow with the finish line so close I dig a bit deeper and sprint to the finish. I cross the finish line a big sweaty mess but very happy. I managed to finish with a 1:28:46 time which is 3 minutes better than my previous best and 8 minutes faster than I ran this race last year. Aside from the initial burst I was never passed by anyone the entire race which I think is a first for me. I also finished 11th overall. Still not top 10 yet but getting close.

So yeah, I loved the race. In fact I'm still fairly high from it 2 days later. It's not too big participant wise (less than 2000 runners), there were lots of water stations and the volunteers kept us on track. I don't remember any entertainment but I fall into a trance after the first few kilometres and don't care about that stuff anyway. There is a very nice stampede breakfast available at the end of the race. It always has a big line and I wasn't hungry anyway. There are all sorts of fun kid family events except this year I was solo and went home after I'd said hello to everyone that was participating that I knew.

Stampede Road race is a solid well organized event.

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