The pile of luggage was rather impressive. Two huge bags waited at my front door, along with me, patiently waiting for my friend Sue to arrive.
You would think the trip was an overnighter, but no, we were just going to Hamilton for a few hours, to run the 89th Annual Boxing Day 10-miler in Hamilton. But the weather report wasn't very helpful in planning. It called for a 50 percent chance of rain and/or snow showers (which means they had no idea IF precipitation was going to fall and were less sure what KIND it would be if it did) and light winds. What's a girl to pack? lots of layers and two different kinds of sneakers along with shower gear for afterward. Yup, it looked like I was moving into the James Street YMCA.
My best running buddies, Sue and Herm, were running in the 10-miler, a tradition in Hamilton dating back to 1920. Training for the Miami half marathon next month, it seemed as if the run would fit in perfectly with my workouts. My coach agreed and passport and overstuffed luggage in hand, off to Canada we went.
About 700 people were in the event, including a fair number of those who chose to walk the 10 miles (the walkers began the route half an hour early). The rain had stopped, the wind wasn't a factor and temperatures were cool but not cold. If the rain and snow held off, it could be a pleasant run, weather-wise at least. With little fanfare, the race began (after a guy yelled "Go!" Thankfully there were no long-winded speeches) and off we went.
My goal for the race was to run a strong a tempo pace. But that first mile is often the most difficult. It's easy to get caught up in the speed of the start and forget about running your race. Sue stayed with me for the first mile and we dialed it back, running smart. I checked my Garmin to keep track of our pace and we ran that first mile right about where I wanted to.
But of course, that first half mile included a hill up a bridge.
It wasn't until the day before the race when I read the course description online, which noted the route was scenic but challenging and described a number of hills.
The description was completely accurate.
It took me a long time to get into a rhythm. The course was pretty, taking us along the boathouse and waterfront. That section was mostly flat with a few slight rollers, until we had to climb out of the park.
Then at Mile 5 came a long hill.
At this point, I stopped looking at my Garmin. There was no need. I would not run my tempo pace up this hill. But the good news was, I didn't care. As the negative voices started to chime in my head, I reminded myself that I was strong, that I could do this and that I trusted my fitness. Up the hill I went. And then I found a bit of a groove.
Until that seventh mile when we hit another signifiant hill. For those of you familiar with Chestnut Ridge, think Mother. It was a gradual climb to start, then a curve, then a steeper climb then a STEEP climb. Everyone around me walked. I kept running. Or at least I kept a running motion. I would like to say that I banished doubt in this instance, but I didn't. I didn't think much of anything. I just kept moving forward because eventually, the hill would end.
When the hill did end, we had a lovely water stop. A 20 second walk break to take in some water and off I went as the course continued onto a dirt path. Parts of the wet mud on the trail had iced over. I picked up my pace and rhythm, but it was definitely under speed. The last thing on my agenda was wiping out after Mile 7.
We hit Mile 8 on the trail then turned out onto a residential road. There was a bit of a downhill (a glorious downhill) until we hit, oh look, another hill. Granted, it wasn't a hill of much significance, but it was a pronounced incline. For the first time during the race, my legs started to hurt. But knowing how close I was to that finish line, I kept thinking about a strong and steady pace.
As the route turned back toward downtown Hamilton, I asked a police officer who was kindly controlling traffic if I was close to the end.
"Just up this dumb hill and around the corner," he said with a smile.
Just up the dumb hill I could handle, but he took some artistic license with the "around the corner" part. There were a few turns to end the race, but thankfully they were all downhill. I kicked it in when I could hear the finish line and sprinted hard.
Was I off my goal pace? Yes.
Was I concerned? No.
Ah, that's the feeling of personal growth.
It was the best 10-miler I've done. It was a strong, solid run and I kept the nuttiness that normally creeps into my mind at bay.
It was a hard course, but it was fun. And it is so on my schedule for next year.
The precipitation held off and my choice of clothing turned out to be perfect. (And yet I regretted nothing that I toted along with me.)
And the best part was sharing the day with two good friends ... along with the gingerbread hot chocolate we found on the way out of town.