"This race is the longest course in our series, so you guys are all bad-ass for finishing!"said Erin Dasher (I'm paraphrasing at best) during the awards presentation at the 5 Peaks Heart Lake Trail Run Race and she wasn't kidding. When I put the Enduro race at this event on my race calendar, I was expecting a 14 km course. I didn't sign up till the last minute, and we found out less than 24 hours before the race it was going to be... 16 km thanks to a detour. Oh boy. The pre-race bulletin said to get there early since there would be a line-up to pay the park entrance fee, but we were able to drive straight in. We were coming in from the parking lot when we ran into our friend Steve, who we last saw at the Lakeside Triathlon. We also ran into our friend Peter, and were glad to find out I might have some company at the Barrelman Triathlon in September. We grabbed our respective bibs (this would be Shark Boy's first timed race) and posed for our obligatory pre-race pose.
The biggest prize in the pre-race swag was either a cool coffee mug that said "I eat mountains for breakfast" or this flexible cup good for insulating hot or cold beverages that is basically unbreakable. We have too many coffee cups at home, so I took it.
Shark Boy seemed cool with the idea of not only going long (3 km) but running on his own (the rule is for adults to stay off the course during the race, though some alongside running is expected), and I didn't want to step on that with my own nervousness on his behalf, but I still thought it might be a good idea to scout out the first part of the course with him and show him the orange flags he'd have to follow as well as signs for direction. The timed kids' races on the 5 Peaks series vary from 2 to 3 km, so at 3 km, Erin's quote above applies to the kids too.
Shark Boy attentively listening to pre-race instructions.
Pre-race instructions were given (including a check to see if everyone knew their right from left, which is why he has his hand up in the picture). I positioned myself at a fence about 25 m from the starting line to cheer him on. Ready, set, go! He took off with the other kids at a good clip, and it didn't seem to chaotic as all the racers gave each other safe space. I took a short-cut path down the shore of Heart Lake to see him go by.
The little guy toward the back is Shark Boy
Then there was nothing left but to go back to the starting line and wait nervously for a while. The Lightning Kid had been eagerly chanting "GO! GO! GO!... FASSSST!" for probably the last 24 hours, and was taking practice runs from the starting line. Of course, no 5 Peaks race is complete without saying hi to Buffy the Tiger.
When I saw the first of the 3 km racers cross the finish line, I figured I'd head back to the shore and see how Shark Boy was coming along. I had to wait a bit, but sure enough, I saw him, completely red-faced, huffing and puffing and giving it his all.
He's nearly spent
I cheered him on, and got him to give what we call in German an Endspurt; that burst of energy and speed you get when you're nearly finished. I ran ahead to let my wife know he was closing in for extra photo opportunities, and he finished the race strong - probably one of the youngest racers in the timed race.
In spite of all that effort, Shark Boy wanted to join in on the 1 km 'Fun Run' for younger ones that he'd done at the other 5 Peaks races; he said he wanted to help his younger brother. As much as I'm proud of Shark Boy's grit, determination, athleticism and sense of adventure, his generous heart is his best quality. I've seen these Kids' Fun Runs vary from 600 to 800 m; today, of course, it was going to be a whole kilometre. Again, every racer on that day was a bad-ass, even the little Lightning Kid. I managed to get this great video of him running in the beginning.
He did start to flag after a bit; I've found with both boys that they start to lose interest in going as fast as they can without a reward - keeping up the distance running is more of a question of mental focus than physical fitness. All it took though, was a reminder to "GO! GO! GO!... FASSSST!" and he'd break into a run again. It definitely helped having Shark Boy there for encouragement.
Toward the end, I had Shark Boy take the same short-cut that I had used in his race to get back to the finish line and warn his mother that we were on final approach. We crossed the finish line to loud cheers; in fact, they cheered loudly for Shark Boy on his finish too. It's always a super-supportive vibe at the 5 Peaks races.
If the splash pad had been open, my wife might have kept the kids at the park while I raced, but we had made a last minute plan that would let Shark Boy attend his dance lesson (for those keeping score at home, that’s a 3 km race, a 1 km race and a dance lesson on those little 5 year-old legs!), and I could pace myself without worrying. To try to force myself to take it easy in the beginning, I seeded myself in the fourth wave, but I couldn’t help but try to get to the front.
The race starts downhill, and though I knew it was going to be a long run, I couldn’t contain my excitement and went a little fast; the first kilometre was my fastest. I tried to watch my heart rate the entire race and keep it in Zone 2 (with exceptions for some hills and stuff). As we went by the shoreline of Heart Lake, I noticed how chummy and chatty my little pack of runners was; we talked about how beautiful (yet hot) the weather was, and when the guy behind me saw me jump a log (rather than go around it) he joked it was “the scenic route”. I answered that you have to have some fun on these things.
Shark Boy had told me that his race involved a “forest tunnel”, and I chalked it up to his overactive imagination, but they did make a few features with logs and fallen trees that put a ceiling over your head. The “maze” he also mentioned did prove to be part of his imagination though. The nice part about an Enduro race is when I see things I want to take pictures of, but I’m not sure whether I want to sacrifice the time to stop, I know I’ll probably be begging for a rest on the second loop, so all I do is take a mental note on the first loop.
The 4 km mark had an aid station in a sunny clearing. I didn’t need water since I had it in my pack, but I sipped some (what they were calling) Gatorade for the calories, and prepared to be on my way. I saw a woman dump water on her head, and remembered that was something you could do. A relief, but not one that lasted.
After being in the shade for another 2 km, the 6 km mark came as we entered another stretch of sun-exposed terrain. I noticed my legs felt heavy; and promptly tried to un-notice that. 6 km is not long enough to have any real signs of fatigue yet; you are in better shape than that! I told myself. Despite being bad at meditation or any other kind of more passive mental activity, I did forget about my legs for a while. On the last kilometre of the first loop, I even picked up some speed for a bit and passed a slower runner. Before that loop was over, she passed me again while I took a walk break and encouraged me to pick up the pace as it was “almost over”. I didn’t correct her, but I did laugh about it with another Enduro course runner as we took the right-hand fork away from the finish line and onto the second loop.
“That’s the nice part about the Enduro,” he said, “On the second loop you can run your own race and not have anybody nipping at your heels.” He’s not wrong, but by the time I had cleared 9 km, I couldn’t help but notice how lonely and quiet things got. My mind wandered in the worst way, and I lost track of how long my walk breaks got, or what kind of pace I was really keeping. After neither catching anybody for a while nor being passed, I began to wonder if I was in last place, and all kinds of other negative self-talk. My entire lower body began to complain, checking in one muscle group at a time: hamstrings, glutes, calves, quads, even hips and lower back. The complaints went from screams to whines to whimpers as they competed for my attention and drowned each other out. Also, my hydration pack was empty; the first time that had ever happened, in fact, I used to wonder if I was wasting effort carrying so much on my back.
A few showers came and went which was a nice way to cool off, but they didn’t put any real fuel back in the engine, so the trudging continued.
When I reached the 4 km aid station from before (for a total of 12 km), the volunteer told me that the finish line could be reached just a few hundred meters away if I wanted. I hope he was just trying to light a fire under me (which he kind of did) because I’d hate to think anyone in my position would take him up on the offer and quit. I told him I knew, because I could hear the music and P.A. system, but I wasn’t ready to stop yet. I told myself I could simply watch the kilometers tick off as I went along... 13, 14, 15 and done. Of course, I also reminded myself that same distance had seemingly taken forever on the second loop already. Still, I saw my Garmin distance numbers go up (by half-kilometres in intervals that felt like they should be whole integer kilometres) all the same. I even picked up the pace to real running for the last 2 kilometres, and crossed the finish line to loud cheering (some of that might have been for the awards ceremony which had already started).
I had barely crossed the finish line when I saw my family, returned from the dance lesson and a trip to Tim Horton’s. With the kids crowding me, I barely got a chance to get any post-race treats. Not that I minded, I didn’t have that big an appetite somehow, I even turned down a cookie Shark Boy offered me. I found a shady spot on an embankment near the parking lot and collapse; they had to come find me because I hadn’t even said where I was going - I wasn’t feeling too talkative. I think everyone suffered in that heat, but Peter managed to come in at 1:43 (to my 1:54) and Steve killed it at 1:36 or so. I didn’t know then, but my friend Paul had an even worse race.
I tried to look at it as a net positive from a training perspective. I had put some real strength and staying power into my legs that day, and even more importantly, I got to visit the dark places where I’m sure I’ll be during the Half-Iron race, and learned a little bit about how to get myself out of them. And before I could wallow in it too much, I got an ambush hug from the Lightning Kid.
Shortly after that, the thunder rolled in, and we had a good laugh at our hurried retreat back to the car. I secretly suspect the Lightning Kid had something to do with it by living up to his namesake - he even took the time for one of his trademark wild hairstyles!
Though the race was a visit to the pain cave for me, the 5 Peaks events are always a great experience for the whole family, and I’ll always come back.