Posted by: Karen | February 16, 2008

Worth Showing Up in the Cold

Some people pay a lot of money and travel great distances to seek adventure. Me? I don’t have to go far or pay much. I just show up at a local XC race in -24*C/-11*F.

I was in a fantastic mood when I arrived at the Nose Hill Cross Country Race last weekend. Upon arrival at the North Haven Hall about an hour before the noon race start, I lugged in my gym bag, a chocolate sour cream cake, and pot of tomato meatball leek soup. I had made the soup a couple of weeks before and kept it in the freezer until I warmed it up on race morning. I’d also baked the cake that morning, so instead of frosting it (it was still warm), I sprinkled it with icing sugar.

The cake had three candles in it, because this would be my 30th CRR Grand Prix XC Race in a row. Yes, folks, I’m on a streak. Each race is a celebration of my health, the joy I experience on the trails, and my family’s support of this crazy hobby.

Inside the hall there were racers and volunteers in various stages of preparation. Lorna and Helen took our registrations, course marshals received their instructions and kitchen helpers bustled about. I was glad to be racing. Standing around directing runners outside in that cold is hard. Thanks to the volunteers!

There were a few dreary souls who weren’t looking forward to the cold. Greg remarked that the weather held potential for “great suckitude”. Others like me wandered around with big goofy grins on their faces, knowing that surmounting this challenge would give us mondo bragging rights for years.

We’ve raced in worse conditions. At least this time we had some sunshine and hardly any wind. Why, I remember way back in 2004, when… what? Oh yes, sorry, back to the recent.

The race start was at least a kilometer from the hall. I could have driven, but chose to walk up and hopefully get in a little warming up on the way. I was glad I’d come up to the start on foot. I had warmed up nicely and doffed my winter coat just before the start. It was hard to recognize everyone, because we had bundled up to our eyeballs. Jason took a few photos before his camera batteries froze,

Like my hat?

and then we were off and running.

It’s hard to explain the Nose Hill Park course to folks who have not experienced prairie terrain before. Nose Hill is a very, very big plateau covering many hectares/acres, but it is not flat. The mound is so big and bare that you feel like you are ON the park, instead of IN it. There are a few stands of trees growing in big wrinkles that lead up and down the plateau sides, but the rest of the vegetation is grasses and scrubby shrubs.

We started off the race by crossing one of the steep down-up wrinkles, and then soon after that headed down one of the sides. Wheee! The descent was great. Wide open, so I could choose my footing as I wildly bounded down, and steep enough to gain some serious speed. I greeted Dawn and Nikayla at the bottom and then began the long haul back up again.

The race really didn’t seem that difficult until my glasses started fogging up on the second loop. When the breeze was at my back on the way out my body felt warm enough, but my breath condensed up on my glasses and made it hard to see. There were a couple of inches of windblown snow filling the single track dirt paths, which made footing very tricky, especially with fogged up glasses.

On the way back up up up and over the plateau the wind took my breath away in a good way – I could see again. It made my eyes cry, but the tears didn’t freeze my eyelashes together, so that was good.

In this second loop I became aware of Davey the Scot running with me. I usually am hard pressed to keep up with him unless he’s injured, but this day he was taking it easy due to the cold weather’s effect on his asthma. In the last mile Davey pointed up ahead to Barrie and told me we could catch him. We’d been creeping up on him since reaching the top. He picked up the pace and encouraged me to come along. I had been going faster than my comfort zone much of the race already, so chose to hold the pace I felt I could manage and let him go. Devil that Davey is, he went up and whispered in Barry’s ear that I was catching up, and darn it if Barry didn’t pick up the pace! It gave us quite a chuckle at the finish. No, I didn’t catch him, but the thought of it kept us both going strong and made us laugh at the end.

I snagged my timing stick from Mardy, cheered in a couple of finishers, added my winter coat back to my layers and headed back to the hall for soup and cake.

I placed third in my age group! Never mind the fact that all the other 40-49 women stayed at home. It still counts. The Race Director gave me the second place medal cookie, but they mixed me up with Philippa. He told me I’d have to give up my Penguin affiliation if I kept running that fast.

Sheer adrenaline and excitement had gotten me through the 8k race, but it took me the rest of the day to warm up after that. I went straight home for a bath and a nap. It was a good day to race.

Check out Dawn’s photos of the course here, and more race photos here.

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