Saturday, 4 July 2015

Stampede Road Race - every dog has its day

Welcome to the longest 5k race report ever written. It might take longer to read than it did to run.
The movie based on the book
If you'd prefer to see the film, here it is: 
The 5k novella 
To battle once more for the Stampede Road Race 5k, my 3rd after a 3 year absence. Back for more 5k madness, and perfect timing too, 5 weeks after the Calgary Marathon weekend and my first ever 50k ultra. 
It's a wonderfully friendly event, full of warmth. It fulfills the need for a race during Stampede, and has most of its best features without the annoyances (sorry, rant unavailable in your area). 

Not for the first time, the omnipotent organizers managed to get an F-18 to fly past. It did so twice before the race (in 2012, during), even tipping its wings the second time. 
Since the 50k on May 31, the aim had been to stay healthy and get back into shape without injury. Hips and lower back remained stiff for a while, so the return of raw endurance had been gradual. 

Speed, however, was another matter. My approach was to do speed runs and tempos at the specified pace, but cut them short as needed. A couple of tempo runs were for 5k at 4:00 per k. The first was just 11 days post-race, inevitably fading in the final k. The following week was 8k at 4:10, which I completed doing mostly 4:05. Oops?
Thursday before the race was again 5k at 4:00, which I did with what felt like speed to spare. "Have I trained myself, post-difficult-50k, into PB shape?" 
The scene and scenery 
The course has gradient and used to have a fiddly turnaround about 500 metres from the end. It was changed a week prior. While it would be possible to eliminate the turnaround altogether, that would require a separate startline from the 10k and half marathon. It's a nice dream of mine, but a bit of an unreasonable expectation. The 5k was the event's minority pursuit with 350 runners, the other distances featuring 550 each.  
The turnaround was at about the 1.5 km point now, however a second uphill climb had been added. I'd need flat road to beat my PB of 19:18, my event PB was 19:46. The Stampede Road Race shares much of its route with the St Patrick's Road Race. Back in March, I had gasped my way to just under 20:00, fighting every centimetre to hold my pace at the end. 
There was also a northerly wind picking up speed that morning. It was rather cold too, which was not very spectator or wife-friendly. 
Start Me Up
"Am I going to get in your way?" asked a polite lady at the line. "I don't think so, I'm going for about 20 minutes." "Good, me too." Asked about the first turn, I gave a quick summary of the course, and chatted with another about pacing. This guy, from Montreal, had done track at college. 
An explosive start, I was lined up on the right to be on the inside for the first corner. A group of kids were on the left, so the 300 or so metres starting straight would be long enough for most of them to sprint themselves out before the turn.
"Maybe a little fast" said the Montrealer. Watch said 3:27 pace, so he had a point. First gradient: charged it as it was early and short.
Fellow blogger Sophia, aka The Mama Runs, was a course marshal, I gave a quick wave. 
Oh my watch!
Camera duly noted by a slowing runner, my Garmin beeped. Why was it going into powersave mode? Out loud when I realized I announced "Oh I didn't start my watch!"  
I decided to start it at the km 2 sign, after the turnaround. I had been using its speed reading to control my pace, I just wouldn't know my total time until the finish line. I now calculate that my average over the first 2 k was 3:53. Probably 3:46 and 4:00.
I was now thinking, given the wind and 2 climbs: "never mind a PB, but get a solid sub-20." 
Middle Earth
One of the Dragonflies that I paced in Banff gave me a wave up the second incline. I managed to sort of wave back. 
As I rounded the corner at the top, I wondered why it wasn't as steep as it used to be as I regained target pace very quickly. 3rd k was done in 3:55, a little quicker for the last 2 would make for a good day's work. 
Just as the downhill began, the 10k leading bikes came over the footbridge to rejoin the course. 
The 10k leader came gliding past, fabulous pace and technique. 
Something possessed me to film myself for the first time during a 5k. Obviously feeling fairly relaxed. 
End Game
2 corners, then the long straight back past the start. Directly into a headwind, I caught up to three others. Each seemed to be hoping for someone to take the lead and tuck in. 2 of them were in their early teens, and didn't have the strength to keep to the pace I wanted. I overtook all of them, then became the wind break they'd all been looking for. 

I clocked 3:50 for the fourth k. My race might've ended there as the guy behind was drafting me so closely we made contact. It was a brush rather than a full-on clip. I had heard that leaders of the Half had even tried to draft the course bikes.
Penultimate corner, and out of the head wind. Time to add some power. I heard a voice behind me say "you got this". Was that "Mr Clipper" behind? A spectator? I know it wasn't me talking to myself as it wasn't my accent. 
I swung out to take the corner off the road that joined the track. A course marshal briefly wondered what I was up to. 
The ground between the road and track was a little soft. As I got onto the track for the final 200 metres, my follower overtook with considerable speed. If I had drafted him instead, my time would have been slower. I was just glad he hadn't taken me out. 
Bolt Channelling 
Accelerating around the bend, I of course didn't know what my race time was. I had been aware of my pace and knew I was close to a PB. Halfway down the straight, I spotted the clock: 19:08. Time to sprint! 
The track finish is a favourite feature of this race. While for the St Patrick's race (which finishes at Stampede's turnaround) in March I was fighting to stop my pace collapsing, this time my inner Usain Bolt emerged. According to my Garmin data, I was traveling at 2:51/k at the line (to put it another way world record marathon pace), 3:44 for the final kilometre.
With 19:16 on the clock, I even dipped at the line. 
I put my arms in the air as it felt like winning, looked up to get even more oxygen in, then put my arms up again. 
There was Neil again, like a good luck charm, to capture my contorted face in close-up. Not suitable family viewing.
Bonus Bale
A-Chang was there as my personal photographer. Shall we call this one "runner's high"? 
I was waiting for the official results to find out my chip time. Finding myself at 10th overall, I moved my finger across to see 19:15. A PB by 3 seconds, result! 
Hold on, what's this? "Cat/pl 1/15"? I won my age group? Not my traditional 4th place?
So, up the hay bales I went, one of them a little wobbly.
A prize envelope and a cool Western themed medal. 
Stampede Road Race is very well supported with a lot of spectators, so I lingered a while up there...
...then a chilly breeze helped me down. 
What was my AG prize? $25 in Mizuno gear. "Enjoy your socks." To put it in perspective though, 2012's time which was some 30 seconds slower would've still got me AG 1st, though on that day it got me 5th. 
I certainly made the most of my moment in the sun/ on the hay, but the enduring satisfaction is always the exhilaration of race day, doing your best, and the collective joy of it all. 


  1. The joy extends transatlantically!

  2. I always love your creative race reports - completely out of the ordinary. Other bloggers should take note :) Another wicked job on the sub-20 5K. You are awesome. Say it out loud: I am awesome :)

    1. Belated thanks for the kind words :)