Running, part 2

| by

Running: Part 2

A few weeks ago I wrote about my running training in preparation for the Banff – Jasper relay I had signed up to run with my colleagues. I had signed up for the 16.1km leg #12, the Endless Chain. My knowledge of the Endless chain mountain range prior to this event was limited to my drives up and down the Icefields Parkway (Highway #93 from Jasper to Lake Louise) and my friends’ hatred of that particulate segment having had to cycle the route many, many, many times for work! The clue is in the name; it’s a mountain range that extends as far as the eye can see up the right hand side of the parkway as you’re journeying north, and when you’re on a bike apparently it seems to go on forever! I confess I was nervous about running this section (mostly because in my training for the event, the farthest I had run was 13km!!)

The Banff – Jasper relay “The most beautiful relay in the world” is a team event where 15 members each run a leg of the 230km from Banff to Jasper. Now this obviously takes quite some time, so in order for it to be completed in daylight the starts of each leg are forced, the times added together and winners determined accordingly. There are some opportunities to hand off to the next team member, and quite a lot of logistical organization in driving people to and from the start and finishes, and making sure they are supported along the way!

Expertly organised by our team leader, I convened with some of my team mates at 9:30 to depart from Banff. Our first runners already underway, we headed up the highway to catch up with the rest of our team. The sun was really beginning to heat up the asphalt by this time, and I was dreading my 2:20pm start time. In my opinion, 2-5pm is the hottest part of the day in the mountains…lucky me!

I loved the support part, the cheering and hooting and hollering as we drove past runners from all teams, and waiting to hand out water and candies to our own team members as they powered by, but as the day wore on my butterflies gradually got worse and worse. I don’t often get butterflies in my stomach these days, but they were nauseatingly there on Saturday! I jumped up and down a lot to try and rid myself of some of the adrenaline I was building up, kept myself busy with driving and moving people around… and suddenly there I was congregating with the others for the forced start of leg 12. We were off!

I got off to a fantastic start; the first 1km literally flew past and I was astonished to hear the robotic female voice chirp from my phone “1 kilometer completed, time: 5 minutes, 31 seconds” – LITERALLY the fastest I’ve ever run. I had to slow down, but I was enjoying myself! The second kilometer passed without much slowing in pace, so I forced myself to drop to a walk, reset and start again. This put a better distance between me and the runners I was keeping pace with, but the damage was done. By the time kilometer 10 came around I was in a sorry state:

By kilometer 11 I’d given up on taking photos and videos and was desperately looking around for a cool stream to plunge my head into. Thankfully, another of our support vehicles pulled up to me and one of my of team mates came and poured some glorious, cool water over my head. I gasped with shock and then grinned, feeling instantly revived by the drop in body temperature! Reinvigorated, I was able to run almost another kilometer before stopping for a walk. This trend continued for another few km, until I reached Sunwapta Falls. The final hill was ahead of me, the finish line just out of sight. I drew on what little strength I had left and surged up the hill, passing one of the ladies that had been ahead of me for so many kilometers. Feeling a weird juxtaposition of half dead meets the strongest person alive, I managed a “sprint” finish and put every ounce remaining across the line. I had done it!! My furthest, and hottest run ever! Barely able to draw breath, I paced about searching for shade and water, before being picked up by my team mates and taken on to the next competitor.

Along the way we discovered a convenient access point to the river and jumped in gratefully to cool and soothe our aching limbs. It’s a strange sensation finishing a race at that level of exhaustion. The familiar endorphins were coursing around, but even they felt tired. Without being allowed too much of a break, our final team member arrived needing me to give him a lift to his start zone. It was good to have something important to do as the urge to sit down in the shade and never move again was strong. If I had done that I would probably still be there as all my muscles would have seized up!!

Steadily more and more of our 15 person team arrived in their respective vehicles, and we began our final convoy to the finish line. We swapped vehicles and stories of highs and lows we’d experienced that day. The overwhelming take away from the whole day was such a strong sense of shared adventure, a mutual respect of a challenge overcome as an individual as well as part of a team. Everyone was tired in their own way, and eager for a good feed and a beer! Thankfully all of this was waiting for us at the finish line, and as our last team member approached the finish line we made a tunnel for him to run through! It was a slightly dorky moment, but a perfect way to finish the race.

I think that might mark the end of my relationship with running for the time being. My bike has been somewhat neglected of late, so I shall devote some attention to that and perhaps getting out on some rock in the coming weeks. One of the many phenomenal places about living here in the mountains is the vast array of energetic pursuits you can pour yourself into… and summer is only just beginning!

Great atmosphere on the Icefields Parkway, photo by Anna Powell @AnnasBanff
Dan powering along, photo by Musa Khan