Posted by: Karen | August 8, 2006

Milk River Road Race

 If you know me, then you realize that my race reports take longer to write than to run the darn things. Have patience, Grasshopper. I think if you persevere, you’ll like this one.

 When I Googled the Milk River area where we would be camping this summer, I found this interesting item on a local community calendar for Saturday, August 5th: “5k and 10k Road Race”. There’s nothing like a race to keep me running through a holiday. My non-runner husband rolled his eyes when I told him about the race, but he didn’t veto the idea, so I called the Milk River town office for more information. They put me in contact with Race Director Wendy, who cheerfully answered all my questions.

On the morning of the race I awoke bright and early just before 6 a.m., without even the aid of my watch alarm. I quietly grabbed the running gear I’d set out the night before, and slipped quietly out of the tent. Well, as quietly as I could with a noisy tent zipper. I drove off still wearing my pyjamas, an extra t-shirt and a hoodie over top – the nights at Writing on Stone are brutally cold, even in mid-summer.

I arrived in Milk River over an hour before the race, and cleaned up in an Inn’s public washroom. It was still pretty chilly out, so I decided on my long sleeved Calgary Marathon tech shirt and shorts. I sunscreened my torso under the shirt anyway, in case I warmed up and ended up removing it. I wore my lined windbreaker as I registered and shivered as I waited for the race to start at 8 a.m.

 Tees n Jeans Store, Milk River. Registration, Start & Finish all happened here.

Wendy and one of her daughters deftly signed me up for the 10k distance, and the 10k course was carefully explained to each participant. I was pleasantly surprised to end up paying only $15 instead of $20, as race organizers hadn’t increased the price on some of their literature. Next year it will cost $20.

Wendy shows Julianna the 10k course.

I was amused by the age-groups. I had thought this would be my last race in the under-40 age group, but ended up in the 38-45 category. Hey, who says age groups always have to be in 5 or 10 year increments, anyway?

I looked around as the start time got near and realized that this would be a very intimately-sized race. Usually in Calgary, when the crowd is this small, it’s populated by die-hard, skinny fast competitors. A crowd this size usually means I’m about to come in last or darn close to it. Here? I saw folks of all sizes, shapes and ages. The mood was jovial and celebratory. None of this stern concentration you see on the front lines of our city races.

I noticed only one guy actually doing a warm-up jog. “Hey,” I thought, “I should do one of those, too.” I jogged down the street a couple of blocks and back. I didn’t stretch much, but I did keep moving. I was chilly.

I made note of a petite, sinewy woman about my age in a University of Alberta track suit. She was pushing a baby-jogger, but I guessed that she was way out of my league. Another woman and her daughter signed up at the same time as me. I thought the 9 y.o. girl would do the 5k route, and the mom said she was going to do the 10k. I sized the woman up and decided she was someone I’d see if I could beat. There was another woman, older than me but possibily still in my age group, wearing a Melissa’s race shirt. She looked seasoned and confident. Heck, I frequently come in behind even 50+ runners at the XC races. Whatever.

Not that I’m fiercely competitive or anything. I’m a Penguin; I race against myself. Against the clock. For FUN, eh? Okay, sometimes a little healthy competition adds to the fun.

Registration Volunteer not really making fun of the Policeman, but giving directions. Funny tho! Sue from Coutts just behind the officer.

The race began at somewhere around 8:10 a.m. Did I mention how relaxed this race is? As usual, I was in a conversation at the back with someone, but I noticed the RD getting her watch ready and counting down to the start. Go!

In the first stretch through town I tried to find a reasonably maintainable pace for the 10k. I hadn’t raced a 10k for so long, I’d forgotten what that pace was supposed to feel like. My confusion was compounded with the fact that I was towards the front of the pack. Within a few minutes I spied the U-of-A-baby-jogger lady peeling off to the right on the 5k route. Hah, one less person in front of me.

When I turned left on the 10k route There were 3 people ahead: the warmed-up guy, the Melissa’s t-shirt, and a man I assume was her husband. The warmed-up guy disappeared over a knoll before 10 minutes was up and I didn’t see him again. The gap between the other two and I slowly increased, but I wasn’t concerned. I just had it in my mind to stay ahead of Julianna. After the first mile we were out in the country on gravel and a man caught up and passed me. We cheerily exchanged greetings and I let him go.

I’m guessing on the distances here. There were no distance markers, km or miles. This was kind of nice, because then I had no disappointments. No looking at my watch and thinking “I’m going out too fast” or “I’m not going fast enough”. Nobody stopped traffic, but the small-town drivers were very patient with us runners streaming around them near the start. There were 3 pylons at each country corner where we were to turn.

I heard more footsteps behind me and made a gentle suggestion about where it seemed easiest to run on the gravel. Paula took my advice and we ran along together for much of the race. She seemed about my age and size and was going my speed. We egged each other on and eventually took a couple of walk breaks together. When my hat flew off somewhere in the second half, she slowed her pace while I retrieved it. We chatted a little about occupations, kids, where we live, etc. She is an Emergency Room Nurse. Handy to have someone like that near you during a road race in August. At no point did we discuss our age group category. I think bringing that up would have been like daring her to beat me. 

We reached the highway and did about a 1 km out and back section to the water truck. One of Wendy’s daughters had poured little cups of cool water and set them on the bumper of the truck. This section gave us a good chance to cheer on our fellow racers and see how everyone was doing. That’s when I realized I didn’t have to worry about staying ahead of Julianna; she was pacing her 9 y.o. daughter through the 10k.

The wind was at our backs and it was warmer now, so I stripped off my long sleeved shirt and tied it around my waist. A car went by honking merrily at us, and I recognized the guy who’d warmed up before the 10k. He had won it by a long shot, but cheered us on his way home. Other cars honked in support too, and I waved back when I could. I felt strong and amazing.

Somewhere in the last 2 miles I realized I had more in the tank. We had not been running easily along, and I was starting to feel the effort, but I knew I still had something left. I leaned a smidge more forward and slowly increased my speed. Paula stayed close behind, but her ankle was giving her trouble and I put in more effort to increase the gap.

As I nudged myself to go faster, bit by bit, I realized that I was breathing harder, but that my legs still did what I told them. Nothing hurt. Only my lungs complained. This was the absolute opposite of how I felt in the last bit of my marathon, where my lungs were whooping for joy, and my legs were all whiny. I marvelled at the difference. I held my lead. I didn’t know if Paula would have a finishing kick or not. I hoped not.

Finally I rounded the corner onto the finishing street and I was delighted with the loud whoops and hollers of spectators, including Race Director Wendy. I waved my hat and gave a big YAHOO as I crossed the line in 1:06:20 (my watch time). Paula finished a mere 41 seconds later. I cheered her in and shook the hand of Sue from Coutts, who had beaten me by about 7 minutes.

I consumed some water and orange wedges. I chose a bright orange t-shirt in my size from neat, multi-coloured stacks, sorted by size. I like this race, where you have to earn your t-shirt before you get to wear it. We also received special Bonanza Day buttons, which entitled us to a pancake breakfast down the street.

I chatted with the boy who was standing at the corner, alerting the finishing crew as to how many more were coming. He had a stellar attitude towards running, winning, and showed a clear enjoyment of the sport. He had won his age group in the 5k. We all cheered heartily until the last runners came in at around 1:25.

Julianna and Pandy, her daughter, and their friend finishing their 10k.

I eagerly waited through the placement awards. Wendy started with the kids in the 5k and worked her way up throught the age groups. The U-of-A-baby-jogger woman won the 5k, but was off changing a diaper during the announcement. Many racers knew Wendy personally, and she gave out big, warm hugs with her medals and ribbons. Everybody beamed, just like she did. I was thrilled to bits to receive a silver medal. Second in the Women’s 10k, 5th overall.

Here is the ultimate example of how “Penguin Friendly” this race is: When Wendy was done handing out medals and ribbons, everbody had one. 40 people had raced that day, and yet Wendy said “Did EVERYBODY get something? Let me know if I’ve missed you!”

There is a mural, dated 1991, on the side of tees n jeans, which shows many of the fun things you can do in and around Milk River. Check out the running group towards the bottom right. The running community here is a wonderful, supportive group. This race is family-run and has been held every year since 1983. It is a great event.

Mural on the side of tees n jeans, showing activities to do around Milk River. Notice the group of runners bottom right.

At the end of the awards, I asked for and was enthusiastically granted a group picture. I love it.

  Milk River Bonanza Day Racers 2006



  1. Well done on your medal! Finding races like this make you almost want to move to the area, or not… but it seems like it might be fun for a while anyway. Run Good!

  2. That’s a great day! You’ve captured the joy of running a race aside from the competitive grind it can be. I love this post.

  3. Congratulations on the hardware!
    I really would’ve had fun at this one. You got to choose your race shirt? Cool!


    You frequently come in behind “EVEN 50+ runners”?




    50+ runner *jeanne*

  4. Hope this weekend is as much fun! Love, Mom

  5. Wow! Thanks for sharing your experience. You write so personally – and specifically – that it makes it seem like we are there (even though ‘we” were.) It is good for me to understand what you, as a runner, are feeling. Perhaps you have captured the essence of our race that keeps bringing people back to participate. We do feel like “family”. Thanks for sharing the day with us.

  6. I can explain the age group category. Two years ago as a 30 year old, and as a newcomer to the 30-45 age category, I lost to a runner who was nearing her final years in the category. Of course, that could have been because she had trained for the run and I hadn’t, but I did a bit of whining to Wendy about how this category was so much bigger than all the other age categories. So, being the great lady that she is, Wendy adjusted the age categories for the next year into 30-37 and 38-45, meaning I would be in a different category from the faster, in shape woman who had beaten me, and would thus have a chance to win gold in my category.
    I was pretty excited about my pending gold in last year’s race, but wouldn’t you know it, last year was the Milk River Reunion, so instead of the usual 40-50 runners, there were closer to 70 runners, and at least 5 of them were in my category, and at least two of them were faster than me. Apparently I should have relied more on practice than on rigging the age groups.
    (I actually trained this year and finished with a personal best time)

  7. I had a great time, too, even won a medal because I was the only one in my age category! Hey I’ll take it! We spent the rest of the day in Writing on Stone Provincial Park, (which my friends who had never been there before) thought was great. We’ll be back next year.

  8. What a great post. I loved it. There’s hope for me getting a medal. I’ve been reading a lot of running blogs, including Dawn’s and hope to go for a run with you when I come to Calgary. I’m from Medicine Hat so I know all of these places well. You might want to consider bringing some pals to a fun race that is held at Cypress Hills (SK side) near Maple Creek. It is the Cypress Hills high altitude trail run and it is just beautiful. Last year weather was gorgeous. It is Sept.30 this year. I know it’s a long way to come for a run but think about it. I really love trail running and may try that one in Bragg Creek next year. It sounds great. I’m sure I’ll read about it on your blog.

  9. What a great race! I proudly wore the orange shirt this morning on a run through the neighborhood. Thanks again, Penguin Santa.
    ; )


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