The longest I had run since my last marathon in October was 18km. So I knew, on Saturday, that the 25km I had signed up for was probably not going to happen. If it was sunny, I might not have switched to the 15km option (in other words, I might have been not-so-wise). However, a chilly wet day sealed the deal in favour of the smarter choice.
The race was the Seaton Soaker. It’s a trail race that has a slightly surreal overtone, for me, as it starts and finishes at my old high school. To say I wasn’t a runner back then would be an understatement: I loathed running. And yet, for the third year in a row now, I’ve come here to run around in the trails behind the school. A lot can change in 10+ years!
In any case, to set the stage, here is a rundown of race morning: Kevin and I woke at 6am with the intention of being on the road by 6:45. Kevin, who had been training more purposefully for the 25km, had an 8am start for his race, and we would have to do kit pickup before that. As readers will quickly learn, I am not particularly a morning person, and it will come as no surprise to those who know me that we were a little late in getting out (particularly as I forgot both my coffee and my water bottle and had to run back to the apartment twice to retrieve them). On the drive there, Kevin realized he had forgotten his GPS watch…oops!
When I made the decision to switch to the 15km distance, I briefly thought about trying to beat my previous time on the 15km course from 2014, but I realized that it was unlikely to happen that day. Not only was there was the rain and mud, I was also battling a pretty raging head cold. So, giving up on any particular time goal, I offered Kevin my GPS watch.
When we arrived, I was pleased to discover that switching distances was straightforward. We picked up our kits and Kevin hurried out to make his start. The 15km didn’t start until 8:30, so I had some time to hit the bathroom and have a wardrobe crisis. What do you wear when it’s 8C and raining and you’ll be running for around two hours? I was in shorts and a tee, but looking around at all the other runners in their tights and shells and long sleeves had me second-guessing. I did what I always do in these situations, and texted my dear friend Mandy, who was also signed up for the 15km. After texting not only about what to wear, but also informing her of how many poops I had taken that morning (hey! it’s important!), I made my way to the starting line.
I decided I would try to track the race with RunKeeper on my phone, as I’m not sure I’ve ever run a race that I didn’t track with GPS. But when I opened the app, it informed me that I was actually down by the waterfront… in Whitby… Well, there went that idea. I would truly be running this one tech-free.
A couple of minutes before the start, I saw Mandy, and ran over to give her a hug. Seaton is a special race for Mandy as well — it was her first ultramarathon! Now, not only is Mandy a badass ultra runner, but she recently did another pretty incredible thing and grew a little human inside of her, who she brought into the world six months ago. Since then she’s been getting out with the jogging stroller, and her goal was to run about half of the race and hike the rest when she needed to.
Mandy and I are frequent run partners. We even did 30km of my first marathon together! She’s been a constant presence as I’ve progressed in my running, but this was the first race that we had started together in a fair while. So when the race began, we just naturally fell into step, chatting as the pack set out.
The initial 2-3km of the course goes down a field, out by the side of a road, and then onto a narrow section of single track made narrower by the presence of a beaver dam this year. The going was fairly slow to start because of the lack of passing room and the muddy footing. That was fine by both of us, since I’d thrown my time goals out and Mandy just wanted to run as much as she was able. Pace wasn’t an issue. Still, when we got to one of the first hills, the track widened and we began passing people as we hiked up.
From then on it was mostly just the two of us, occasionally being passed, or encountering lead runners coming back in the other direction, but mostly remarkably quiet considering the number of participants out in the trails. We stopped for water at the aid stations and we walked/hiked up the larger hills. But mostly we just ran.
We ran and we talked and we marvelled at how much easier it all felt when we were running side by side. In no time we were at the halfway mark. I felt good. I checked in with Mandy – she felt good, too. We decided to keep going on together, as long as we felt good!
On the way back, we turned a corner, and Mandy said, “I see flashes!” Considering the rain that had been off and on throughout the race, my immediate thought was, “lightning?” “No,” she said. “A photographer!” We have photos from the marathon that we ran together, looking like total goofballs. They’re some of both of our favourite race photos, because we just look like we’re having the best time, and we were. So we struck a couple of poses as we ran by!
And then, just like that, it was time for the river crossing. The water was lower than I expected, and although it was cold, it was fun! After the crossing, the finish is only about 2km away. We realized we were going to run the whole thing together, and I got a huge burst of tingly endorphins. I was bursting with happiness and pride for Mandy; she hadn’t expected to run the whole thing, yet here she was, doing just that, like a boss. And here I was, happy and thankful that this is a thing that I get to do, that this is a thing that my body can do, even if I’d filled an entire pocket pack of Kleenex with my snot (sorry if that sounds gross, but imagine how much grosser it felt!).
The 2km to the finish breezed by, although we were both getting a bit tired (I turned my foot on a root, and Mandy took a little tumble, but we’re both OK!). We crested the last hill before the field where the finish line stood. Together, we crossed the finish line smiling. Despite having run many races together, this was the first time that we crossed at the same time. Our amazing friend Emily was there to capture some truly fantastic photos of us (thanks, Emily!).
Kevin also had a remarkable race – he finished the 25km course in a blistering 2:08, shaving 20 minutes off his time from last year and placing 9th in his age group (if he’d run with that time last year, he’d have placed 2nd!). I guess he really did need that watch more than me! Hah!
And that’s it! Afterwards, Mandy told me that we ran a negative split – she had checked the time at the halfway point. I think that might have been another first for both of us!
I’m grateful to have friends like Mandy to run with. I’m proud of her for exceeding her expectations. She has never stopped being an inspiration to me, not even for a second. I’m also grateful to be able to go out and run for a couple hours on trails. And I’m surprised to find myself grateful to have run without my watch or RunKeeper, but completely letting go of the compulsion to track allowed me to revel in the pure joy of it all.
Stephanie is an astrophysicist, runner, photographer, drinker of craft beer, and sometime triathlete. This post was originally published at Sweaty & Hungry, where she and fellow athlete Megan blog about fitness and feelings.