at the races On Second Chances and Reaching the Higher Ground

On Second Chances and Reaching the Higher Ground

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It’s not an uncommon DNF (did not finish) story due to knee pain that caused me to drop out of the Calgary half marathon in 2017.  Suffice to say, one pandemic later, plus a milestone anniversary, that revenge is a dish best served cold and it was a damn tasty meal at the finish line of the 60th anniversary of the Calgary Marathon.

In hindsight, it has been eight years since I last ran a half marathon road race.  There have been many trail races in that time, and a few shorter road races, but the need to rectify my last half marathon attempt in Calgary was strong.  So when the opportunity to return to Cowtown revealed itself, I knew this was my second chance to return to racing and a bit of redemption.  

Travelling to races may trigger a bit of anxiety but the City of Calgary is pretty easy to navigate.

The Easy:

  • Getting from the airport to downtown Calgary was a cinch with one bus ride at $3.70 cash fare that is valid for 90 minutes.  
  • Getting to the expo was pretty easy on public transit also.  The Red Line stops on the doorstep of GMC Stadium.  
  • Calgary Transit staff were also at the expo to answer any questions about getting to and from the start and finish lines.  
  • The big bonus, and kudos to all players involved in making this perk happen…public transit was free for all participants on race day.  
  • The organisers also had covered bike parking for anybody who chose to commute on two wheels.  
  • The Westin Hotel offered a free shuttle bus to the start line.  

Race Day 

With the start line close to GMC Stadium, runners had use of the toilets that helped ease the wait times at the porta potties.  

For 13,500 participants, there were four easy access corrals for the varying distances and pacers were identifiable with their high flying tear-shaped flags. Kitty Honeychurch was the 1:55 pacer and I overheard her say during the race that she was 3-years into a running streak. I would be remiss to leave out Mr. Gerry Miller, who at the age of 88 is also known as ‘the Grandpa Pace Bunny,’ and the 2:40 half marathon pacer. I met him at the expo and he predicted my finishing time to be 1:55. Furthermore, he started running at age 58 years, which proves it’s never too late to start.

The Course

Even though Calgary is considered to be on the foothills of the Rockies and the gateway to the Prairies, it makes the half marathon course relatively hilly (with a great view of the city after the 6K mark). This plays to my preference as the course zigzags from the Tom Campbell’s Hill Nature Park, through the downtown, residential areas and across the meandering Bow River.  

The Peace Bridge over The Bow River. One of the landmarks along the course.

I was thankful to have the FuelCell cushioning and stability of the New Balance Supercomp Elite 4 shoe as I worked both days of the race expo on concrete floors. It gave me the forward propulsion for those upward climbs and mitigated the pounding on my quadriceps as I  descended. I’m happy to report no sore thighs the next day.  

It was a well-marked course, with a bit of variance from my own GPS. This was further confirmed by a conversation I overheard between other runners and also hearing watches indicating as we approached the kilometre markers (this happens a lot at races). 

Along with the scenic parts of the route, there were also some memorable supporters and cheer stations. Elvis was crooning right near the start, to the sonorous choir and the mellow pings of the Calypso steel pans that just made you want to relax. I was eternally grateful for the cheer alley that also was the Xact Nutrition fuel station around the 11K and 19K points. Big shout out to Migzy of Me Versus Me Mentality for the much needed bolster the second time round after the 19K mark, as my right hip was a bit angry with me.  

Navigating unfamiliar streets can throw anyone off a race, but the finish line was right near the Scotiabank Saddledome and once that was in sight, it was hammer time. I’m happy with the 1:54:00 finish, one minute earlier than my predicted time by Gerry (sorry, sir).  

As it was the 60th anniversary, the finisher medals design were inset with two diamantés and the City of Calgary in the backdrop with the number ‘60’ formed by shoelaces. 

Be prepared for…

All sorts of weather. Race morning was 6 degrees Celsius, perfect race temperatures, with next to zero humidity. There was a westerly wind, and it was much welcomed during the race.  HOWEVER, less than two hours into the event (7 a.m. start for the marathon and half marathon), it started to rain. Thankfully, I packed a waterproof running jacket and was able to stay relatively dry on the way back to the hotel.

Dry air. Due to its distance from large bodies of water, and its proximity to a desert, Calgary has a drier climate compared with Vancouver and Toronto. That would explain the constant thirst and dryness my body experienced during my stay. I really, really had to pay attention to my hydration and increased my electrolytes intake before and after the event to avoid dehydration.

Hills. I like hills, in fact I have a far more enjoyable race on hills, but I might be an outlier with that preference.

Specific dimensions for checked bags. In addition, it would be prudent to use a water resistance/proof bag as the baggage area is not covered.

The cold and wet weather after the race. Mylar blankets were not distributed to half marathon finishers. From what I could see at the baggage line, I was not the only person who missed out.

Local places to eat and celebrate. 

Breakfast. Hands down the best Korean breakfast spot this side of the Pacific Ocean is Brouhaha that serves breakfast and lunch. Located on 609 14st NW, it’s a nice walk along the Bow River and through Kensington for the yummiest Kimchi Omurice.  

As tempting as it was to go back to Brouhaha for a second time, OEB Breakfast Co., was conveniently on the way to GMC Stadium. The spinach and cold smoked salmon eggs benedict was ample and cleverly called The One That Did Not Get Away on the menu. Its located on 222 5 Ave SW #110, and right around the corner from a terrific coffee shop called Monogram Coffee.

BBQ Platter at Hayden Block Smoke & Whiskey, beet salad, pork belly, smoked brisket and pickles.

For a post-race celebration and located on 1136 Kensington Road NW, is Hayden Block Smoke & Whisky that has a BBQ platter for a satisfying protein fix. Stacked with local craft beer, cocktails and true to its namesake, Whisky’s from Canada, America, Japan, Ireland and Scotland.  

If you prefer a quiet corner, across the street in The Plaza Theatre is Sidebar to indulge in uniquely crafted cocktails, wine or local beers. But don’t blame me if those Tiki cocktails lead to hot, messy and disorderly behaviour.

Scoping out local bars and restaurants in Kensington. Photo credit Tina Garstad

It’s been a bit of a climb to return to road racing. We keep on training to be in top form, to be race ready and remind yourself that despite the roadblocks that bring you down, that you CAN DO HARD THINGS. Fingers crossed the life priorities balance out moving forward. Thank you Calgary Marathon for ushering me back into race mode and achieving that higher ground. 

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