I’m a prairie gal. Sure, I grew up in the mountains, but to recall that time of my life takes a scratch of the chin and a shake of my head. It was good to grow up where the winter was short. I’ve been known to belly ache about living on the prairies a time or two, but truth be told, I love it here.
I especially love that when I run (or walk) five kilometres it’s flat both coming and going. There may be a hill somewhere around here but I surely haven’t seen it. In fact, I’ve been told that I live on the hill here in my town but it took me about five years to see what they were talking about.
I was very excited to sign myself up for the Canmore Rocky Mountain 5/10km/half Marathon Run/Walk set to go for September 8th. It gave me a good long time to train and it was going to be in the MOUNTAINS!! I couldn’t wait to see my beloved mountains again. Then, I remembered that it was probably a lot higher there, as in, the air is thinner.
Less oxygen. More hills.
I didn’t check to find out just how much difference there was between my current prairie elevation and that of the mountains I was set to run in. Ignorance is bliss until you Google the heck out of it. I should have stayed ignorant.
When I arrived in the mountains the truth of the matter became quite clear. We were not in harvest country anymore. No sir! The exact difference in elevation between the two has not been calculated by yours truly, but the estimate based on my, then panicky state of mind, would be about 1400 feet. That’s a lot of feet! When I looked it up a few days before my “race” I tried not to think about what that would do to my barely trained body. I went back to ignorant bliss.
Reality was a kicker.
It was a relief to see a variety of people lining up for the 5km. There were beautiful lean muscled people, young kids, plump people (hand up), thin people, old people, tall people, short people… I had NO idea where I would fit into the scheme of the real race and how fast everyone else was in comparison to myself. Growing up, I was the last person every single time we had to sprint/long distance run. I would try to convince friends to run/walk with me so I wouldn’t be the last lame excuse in the gym class. I hated running. Running and I have had a history. A short and painful history.
There I was, close to the beginning of the start-up line. The horn blew and I was off. It was clear, from the get-go, that I was going to be passed by a few hundred people. I didn’t count. I was not that obsessed with how many were ahead of me. The lean-muscled, evidently well trained crowd hustled passed me. Soon the middle-agers were kicking my butt. Then, it happened. Right around the 3km mark. The old guy behind me pulled out whatever juice he had and limped past me. I kept running though. I’m not sure you can call it running because there were these walkers that were reluctant to have me pass them. They would run past me then slow to a walk. They did this several times until I let them keep ahead of me. I couldn’t have those tall walkers feel bad, what with all that leg length and everything they had going for them. Truth was, I didn’t have the energy to look behind me to see if I was actually last, for another pass…
Right around the 4km mark the 10km and Half Marathon runners converged with the 5km run/walkers. Then EVERYONE was passing me. Thanks, organizers, for helping me feel better about myself!
I blame it on the elevation and not because I didn’t run very much at all the last week before the race. Training took a kick to the gut when a migraine of scientifically impossible proportions took my head and threw it into the tree grinder. My migraine passed just as we entered the mountain paradise. No, it wasn’t a migraine that took me down in the end.
As I ran, my legs felt heavier and heavier. I looked enviously at the walkers, seemingly oblivious to my pain and enjoying the chat with one another. I thought to myself that I could probably walk faster than I was running so why not just enjoy the rest of the race and the beautiful scenery and walk? It beckoned to me. The sweet song of walking surrender.
I couldn’t do it though. My stubborn streak beat the siren of temptation and held it in a head lock while I put one foot in front of the other. I kept misreading the markers and mistakenly thought I had gone 3kms when I had actually gone only 2kms. From that point on the race only got longer. When the FINISH line appeared after what seemed like an eternity I sobbed. I cried and ran. Onlookers probably assumed I had run the Half Marathon and had accomplished some amazing feat. I had a “Keep on going!” and a “It’s only 500 meters left!” shouted to me. I blithered and kept on running, holding the FINISH line with my eyes and heart.
I figured I should probably get myself together for the cameras that were surely going to capture my finish. I plastered on a smile as I passed my enthusiastic cheering squad and put a jig in my step. As soon as I had passed, I resumed weeping as I crossed that finish line.
Five kilometers doesn’t sound like a lot, but it was a marathon in the making. I can tell you that it felt a lot longer than my usual prairie 5km. As I crossed that finish line I knew that God had done a miracle! As the man on the mat who had been healed by Jesus, leaped up and ran, so did I…without the leaping. The joy over the visible, if not instantaneous, healing is similar.
I’ve had a few “fit” people ask me “So, what’s your next goal?” Are they crazy? I just ran in the mountains. It’s time to hibernate! I’m kidding!! I’m going to tell you a secret… I’ve set another goal but I’m just not telling yet. Let’s just say, I am more informed about what elevation does to a body this time around.