Monday, 1 June 2015

Finding it: Calgary Marathon 50k Ultra

Before the gravitas of the race, the buildup. On friday, I took part in the Forerunner panel at the expo. The photo makes us look like a choir, and we do all sing a great tune.
That evening was the VIP party. Rich was hosting a visiting athlete, Benny, for the race weekend. I surprised him with a word of Swahili I remembered from Reid Coolsaet's blog. Reid was there, though I was a little shy speaking to any of the other elites.
Elite bloggers were there, just time for a group photo before heading off for an early night.
Saturday, and I showed up for the friendship run for my first time. It's a fun way of getting in a pre-race shakedown and building positive vibes for the race. Cool with a light drizzle. 
I was also part of saturday's ForeRunner panel. 
We all love to talk all things running, so it was a blast. A bit of a blur now, the one thing I can remember saying is that the runner I admire most is Haile Gebrsellasie. Aside from his record-breaking career, he shows a love of running that all of us, regardless of ability, can relate to. 
Looking ahead to the race, the hourly forecast showed a big temperature increase by 10am. A heavy sweater, 17 degrees and rising by the end of my first 50k Ultra was a concern. The day would require mental fortitude. 

Race day
The start line vibe was, as usual, palpably all positive. 
It felt like good running weather, though I knew it would be getting warm, and quickly. I had also forgotten the sunblock, facepalm. 
GoPro at the ready, I knew I'd need to switch it on and off several times to last the race. 
Great to capture the army of runners.
Also Rich, never to be seen again (in the race). 

Picture perfect start. 

Vitally, I started off at race pace from the first step instead of the usual adrenaline-fuelled-nutter-sprint. 
First of 3 times along the underpass, a sharp right saw a runner shove a cyclist entering the course. 
Heading into Inglewood and across its historic bridge, due to be replaced in the next couple of years. 

Elvis and a runner taking out the trash, Inglewood 12th St bridge. 
17th avenue saw the half and full/ 50k courses separate. 
More crowded for me than when I do the half, which is considerably faster. 
It was a relief to get to the marathon turning, less concentration needed on road positioning.
Nice to be recognized at km 11. I had noticed feeling warm by this point. Drop the pace a little, adjust that finish time. 1:42 at the half marathon point, and I realized my bandaids had fallen off you-know-where when I started to feel an itch. 
Just before the halfway mark, reached in 2:02, I felt a familiar hamstring twinge. This was my warning to take a walk break within 5k or grind to a long halt with severe cramping. 
Before that, a couple of minor traffic snafus, including wrong lane and hasty reverse.
Then one too many at the next junction. A small orange patch had now taken shape on the front of my singlet. 

The Grind
At the 30k aid station, I took a walk break. Being a slightly less exciting stretch of road, I had the camera off to save on battery power when the low point came. 
My hastily devised plan was to take a walk break every 5k. Coming off the Crowchild overpass and approaching the 32 km sign, my right leg turned to concrete. Painful, unyielding concrete. Don't let the knee bend, stretch it out and start walking I told myself. I tried this more than 3 times, each time my leg tried to fold. 

"Hey, what's happening?" A couple of medics had shown up. "I dehydrate a lot, leg's locked up." I explained how it had happened to me before. My responses were lucid enough that in hindsight I think I was starting to bore them.
"What do you want to do now?" "Wait for this to pass, get walking, and carefully manage things. I can finish." Writing this now, it's a bit surprising I didn't have to have a motivating chat with myself to psyche myself up. I merely issued that statement as if it were as bland as something one says in small claims court, and got moving. 

The Voyage Home
Sponges and cups of water were plentiful at aid stations. Each time I dumped water on my head, my pace quickened until it warmed up again 2 minutes later. 
At the second turnaround, I was slow working out what to do with the wristband (needed to make the cut-off), so I was given a second one. A fitting double souvenir.
The third and final turnaround at about 41k, elated to be putting the distance behind me, albeit slowly. 
And another.
I crossed the full marathon timing mat just under 3:50, to move into uncharted territory. One bonus was that I had thrown so much water on myself that the stain on my singlet had washed away. Result!

With around 5k remaining, I caught up to Ashley, whom together with Rich I've done a couple of relays with (and is also a spin instructor). Moving along at 5:30 pace after the 2nd last aid station, we took a walk break through the final aid station. After taking one of everything (cup of water, energy drink, and sponge), we got moving again. 
Approaching the underpass for the 3rd and final time, Ashley noticed everyone running on the sidewalk instead of the road, so we did the same. What a great idea. 
It was far less of a plunge, but there were still a couple of marathoners in difficulty.  One lady stopped right in front of us, easily avoided as we were hardly running fast. 
Next was a guy who stepped off the sidewalk. The 10cm drop was enough by now to produce a wobble, which was then turned into a controlled fall. "Damn cramp" he said. 
The 49k sign was metres after him. I told Ashley if she wanted to go on ahead for the finish, she could. She pulled ahead, though after a couple hundred metres slowed to a walk. A tap on the arm and she took off again. She ended up winning her age group, and so did Rich. 
2nd from last corner, now within crawling distance. At the very last corner, there was loud cheering from a few people I know which spurred me on. I am most grateful to them and all those who encouraged me, many by name, others spotting my camera or noticing my Canada singlet. It all helps, especially in the last half of a hot race. 

I celebrated all the way down the finish straight, geeing up the crowd. 
I ended up with 4:37:11. While I had been aiming for 30 minutes quicker, I knew at about 1/3 distance that the weather was firmly in charge. From 168 finishers, I was 47th. Top 50 had actually been a loose aim of mine beforehand, so pretty pleased with my placing. 
A massive thanks to all volunteers, all of whom knew that finishers like me would need gentle guidance, such as which recycling bin to throw my cup in. 
Ace photographer Neil found me at the finish, armed with his favourite fisheye lens. 
I like it too! I feel this portrait captures the essence of many runners: deliciously bonkers. 

The sprinkler was frankly heavenly, I let out a big aaahhh, which came out more like "blaaaaauuuuurrrroooohhhh". 
The most trying race I've done by far. The magnitude of what I've done started to sink in even before the finish line, however what strikes me most now is the calmness shown dealing with a near disaster. 


  1. Congratulations, I enjoyed every moment of your recap. A tough day for sure out there, suddenly summer and now back to cool rain. Ah Calgary.

    1. Absolutely! Saturday would've been ideal.

  2. Great recap Peter. You are such a rockstar and had an amazing finish time.

  3. Way to go Peter on your first road ultra! I have much admiration for you! I would never do a road 50K. Hurts my body too much! Good on you. Glad your leg unlocked. Way to keep it together. Sorry I wasn't there to help you get over your shyness at the VIP event :)

    1. I know, I needed the help! Actually, last year's party was way better overall in the Calgary Tower.

  4. Peter, congratulations on your race! I'm so in awe of you running 50K. It was so hot out there.

    Well done!!!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thanks! I'm sure you've had a few tough Ironmans.