I was feeling pretty good leading up to race weekend. My sleeps had been great, which was a nice change from the norm. I was still on the edge of fighting off some kind of cold, but I was on the way to recovery for sure, and all it really was was just a minor lingering nighttime cough.
I had spend the previous weekend installing laminate floor into our TV room, and ended up with a bit of a sore back from the whole ordeal of moving furniture around. I actually went to Dr. Cindy Berna, my chiropractor, on Thursday to realign my back, as I knew it was off kilter somewhat from whatever I was doing on Wednesday.
I woke up on race morning with a sore back. It wasn't too bad, but I was feeling like today was going to be a great race day for me in spite of it. I got my gear ready, had a giant bowl of cereal, and then rendezvoused with my running clan to carpool up to the race.
Our first stop was a pee break at Mill Bay, and when I tried to get out of my seat in the back of the minivan, my back throbbed with pain. I have no idea where this came from exactly. To make a long story short, when we got to the race my back was in terrible shape, and I was in noticeable pain. I still thought that I could just 'run it out', and after multiple attempts, the pain was barely manageable. Each step compressed my back and shot jolts of pain around my low back, on the right side. I now decided that the only way out of this mess was to take an Ibuprofen, and just pray that it did some kind of magic. I am not exaggerating when I say that I actually thought of not starting the race due to the pain.
So, I began my hunt for some Vitamin I, as I do not carry any with me for any kind of short runs. I do always have a couple in my Nathan Hydropack, but I didn't expect needing any. After much ordeal, I was lucky enough to have Shane and Sonja (fellow Harriers) give me an Ibuprofen. I went to the water fountain and popped one pill down - the time was 13 minutes to start.
My only hope was now that the Ibuprofen would take effect almost immediately. It did not, of course, and a few strides in before the race only confirmed how much pain I was in. I did start the race however, and I fully expected to drop out before the 1k marker.
I lined up behind training mate, Gary Duncan and just hoped to follow him until (a) the magic of the Ibuprofen kicked in, or (b) I dropped out.
The race began, and I followed Gary as best as I could, in spite of the pain I was in. I was a little surprised I could keep up to him in spite of the pain. And it was painful. I was a little slower than I probably should have been, but I my legs were turning over and I was running.
Then, at the 3 minute mark, something remarkable happened and I felt a quick wave of energy go from my head down to my heels. As this wave of energy passed through my body, the pain left my body. I took a few strides of pain free running and actually spoke out loud and said, "What the hell?!"
The first kilometer passed by in 3:45, and I actually felt like I had a chance of finishing this race, as long as the pain was gone. Either the magic of the Ibuprofen or the indestructible feeling you get from racing had aided me, and done so at a pretty damn good time.
I still felt like it would be a slow race for me, as much of my early energy had gone into the stress of the back pain situation and trying to figure out what I was going to do. I basically just needed to relax a bit and start to enjoy things. Finishing the race would be a small miracle this day, and now I thought it was possible.
The next couple kilometres went by in relatively slow fashion, but I actually was still maintaining a sub 4 minute pace per kilometre. I knew that if I could do that, then my chances of finishing the day without a totally embarrassing time would be good.
I had to finish this race. I needed this race for my Island Series points, and I was determined to have the required 5 races in to qualify. I also was really hoping for a good day. With my last 2 races (Orcas Island 50k & Bazan Bay 5k) kind of falling apart, I wanted this one so bad.
Gary extended a bit of a lead over me in the first 5k but he wasn't more than about 30 seconds in front of me. I figured that as long as I kept him in sight, I would do reasonable.
The hills at kilometre 6-9 didn't phase me too much, as I knew what to expect this year. Last year these hills were surprising to me and took the wind out of my sails completely.
I was satisfied with my 10k time of 39:58 when I passed the marker. I thought to myself, now all I need to do is maintain what I've done, or better, and I'll have a good day. The only problem with this is that I literally have never negative-splitted a course before. Could this be the day?
The wind at the turn-around spot was pretty nasty, but again, I was just looking to hold my pace against the odds. I then headed past the 11k marker and toward the last big hill on the course. I knew once I climbed this hill, I would be on a slow downhill for the next 3 kilometres.
I climbed the hill well, and then angled my body forward to embrace the downhill. I felt pretty good here, as did the group of 3 runners around me. I actually had been trading spots with a Campbell River runner, named Bryan Crerar, for much of the race. He and I seemed to be on the exact same pace. I made it down the hills alright down to the 15k marker, and I was still very slightly below a 4 min/km pace - I think I had about 30 seconds to spare. Bryan meanwhile started to fade over the last kilometre, and he was definitely tired.
The only problem now is that I felt like I was starting to tire. This part of the course is basically flat, but because the prior few k's had been a slow downhill, it gives the feeling that I was now on a slow uphill. I also felt my calves getting tight, and the last thing I needed were calf cramps.
Fortunately, there was an aid station coming up, and I did stop briefly to take a mouthful of Gatorade and a cup of water that went on my head. I hadn't planned on stopping at any of the aid stations, but I had to finish.
With basically 3k to go, I could feel some excitement rush through my bones. I still happened to be slightly under PB pace. Gary Duncan was still visible, and he now seemed to be almost within striking distance. Another runner just behind Gary was also suffering, and over the next kilometre, I was able to reel him in. The final 2k of the race are pretty easy. It is just a boring, flat run along a farm or two. I just had to keep my energy alive for just a tiny bit longer.
At the 20k mark, I knew I was in good shape. Don't get me wrong, I was suffering, and I was definitely pushing my pace to the max. I knew that the final kilometre here could very well determine whether or not I land a PB. My final kilometre had to be fast, and fortunately, it was a slow downhill to a flat finish. I tried to summon my adrenaline glands to activate, and I was able to make a final push to the finish line. I crossed the line at 1:23:36, which would be good for 25th overall and 2nd in my age group. It would be a 41 second PB for me, on a day that I was pretty certain that I was not even going to be able to make it through 1 kilometre. The result was superb, and although I do think I have the potential to run a high 1:22:xx on a good day and on the right course, this result was excellent (Gary did finish 30 seconds infront of me). What went from being a miserable day, turned into something magical for me.
After the race, I took full advantage of the post-race smorgasbord. I also waited with my Harriers group for the awards ceremony and then took the long drive back home. As I sat around, my back was in complete pain again, and when I got home, I realized that my upper body was a good 2 inches bent to the left. I was hoping that a trip to the chiropractor would fix all that. As I write this, it is now 3 days after the race. 2 chiropractor appointments later, my back is still not 100%. It is better, and I am far more mobile than I was, but this back thing seems to be fairly serious. The timing could not be much worse, as I am supposed to be peaking this week and next for the upcoming E/B 50k race in early May. With some luck, I will be running again, pain-free. No more moving heavy furniture for me for a while.