on a rather last minute suggestion from my friend rhonda-marie i made my way north into orillia for the third race in the CANIrunning snowflake series - a 5/10k competition. it seemed like a good way to start off 2014, and who knows ... maybe i'll become more like my running idol yuki kawauchi and race my brains out this year.
it was a slick drive on snow-packed/icy highway 11 from barrie to orillia, so i was worried that i hadn't given myself enough time to get to the start line to register. maybe the motto for my commute there would be my mantra for the day: slow and steady.
arriving at the waterfront in orillia, there were two small card tables set up in a snowy parking lot - that was registration HQ. the snowflake series is marketed as a no-frills race: $15 per race (or $50 for the four-race series), no shirt, no medal, with all proceeds going toward The Sharing Place, a local food bank. the process was no muss-no fuss: fill in your vitals (race bib number, age, name, home city) with a golf pencil, pay the entry fee, try to manipulate your now frostbitten fingers to pin the bib to your outer shell.
i prepped with a 2k warmup jog with strides, including a quick trip to the one port-a-potty seemingly stranded out in the snow-covered park.
the underfoot conditions that we would be running on were similar to what i encountered on the highway - packed down snow and icy, tire-track worn patches in -21°C windchill. i can honestly say that i was worried when my 'warm-up' only managed to notify me that the entire front half of each foot was frozen numb ... being a forefoot striker i really rely on my ability to push off from my toes and this was not a good start.
by the time that the group that had gathered (i eyeballed about 150-200 of us) were herded to the start line, i'd managed to recover feeling in my feet. the race organizer/announcer did a solid job of announcing the route, the hazards (e.g. traffic - these were not closed courses), and the fact that there was no awards ceremony afterwards ... only hot chocolate and timbits (enough incentive for me!).
with simple verbal countdown we were off. i started about 15 feet from the front runners (who were off in a flash - what did they have on their shoes, tire chains?) and worked my way through the pack easily enough into what looked to be about 12th spot. i tried to find a group to run with, but i didn't want to blow up so the pace that i found manageable kept me lagging about 5 seconds behind a pack of three.
the course itself was easy enough to follow - turns were marked with small orange pylons and signs, and one major turn/intersection had a course marshal to help encourage/manage traffic. for a no frills race, this was one of the best controlled courses i'd seen.
i was pleased (given the greasiness/lack of traction) with the pace for the first 5k. at points i wondered whether or not i'd made the right choice to wear my skechers gorun 2s when i'd also packed my brand new merrell mix master 2s, but the tread seemed to perform just as well as anybody else's footwear. today's road surface was a great equalizer.
the 5k turnaround (it was a loop course) was treacherous at best - a hairpin turn on a single lane of road marked by those little pylons. there was simply no running through that, and a shuffle pace meant risking a turned or busted ankle. what was impressive, however, was that in the midst of the turn my watch beeped 5k - they must have measured this course using a garmin. :)
setting out on the second loop i quickly recognized that several of the front runners had wrapped up their morning, and that i was now in about 6th or 7th place. this was a similar experience to the MEC burlington race five back in november, only i didn't have the benefit of my pal trevor to push the pace on me here. but before the 6th km was up i managed to catch up to one of the guys (now the lone guy, having lost two of his pack compatriots after 5k) whom i was chasing during the first half. his name was jason, a half-marathon specialist ten years my younger - and we managed to link up and finish the race together. even though he'd not run in about three months before today, it was evident how quick he was as i gave another full-out sprint effort over the last 150m and could only manage to stay on his heels crossing the finish line.
checking my watch, i managed to complete the race in 44:09 (about 4:24/km) - which according to the unofficial results is decent enough for a 2nd place age-group finish. far from even my personal training time best for the same distance, i was pleased with the result as i was really treating this as a tempo run for the week, and it served as just that.
following a 2k cool-down jog (part of which involved helping to push a mini-van spinning its tires over the crest of a hill), i took full advantage of the aforementioned timbits and hot chocolate. at this popular spot i chatted it up with several people that i'd recognized from the running room/barrie roadrunners group - all of whom commented that the running community in orillia is very much underestimated and very strong. for sure there were a number of jackrabbits out there today, and i think that i'll be looking out for more CANIrunning races in orillia to help sharpen me in 2014.
kudos to all of the snowflake series organizers and participants - i will definitely make a point of seeing you again!