Do you like surprises? I do! I can remember when I had a surprise birthday party in 4th grade… I remember seeing Alex Kirk standing behind my kitchen door and wondering what he was doing in my house – of course I came in the wrong door for the “SURPRISE!” to really hit home. I like surprises as an adult, too, even though those don’t seem to happen as often. But when’s the last time you surprised YOURSELF?
This last weekend, I did just that in a half marathon race. Let me back up for a bit more context first…
As most of you know, summers are full for Mikey and I with Survive & Thrive Cancer Programs – that’s when our expeditions run and when we are out of town most often. It’s fun and busy and we’re often in different settings, like on kayaks or in sail boats, which doesn’t allow for my personal fitness goals to hang on like they can in the rest of the year. This is something I’m totally okay with, but it also is part of why I don’t commit to races or training programs that require more consistent focus in the gym over the summers.
At any rate, two of my friends had signed up for their first ever half marathon that, at the time, seemed like a ways away: Melissa’s Road Race on September 24th. The race was over our girls’ weekend, and I knew that if I went to watch them and cheer them on, I would regret not signing up because of that electric race atmosphere and because of how much I still do love running that distance. So, I signed up too!
Ashley, Elisa and Nicole – our cheering squad and some of my best girlfriends!
Over the course of the summer, I exchanged texts with Clare and Rachel about their training for the half and we encouraged each other along, even though I wasn’t running much alongside them (Rach in Canmore and Clare in Vancouver). “I’m comfortable with the distance,” I kept saying, “but won’t be in shape to actually race the event. And I’m totally fine with that!”
a beauty day for a run!
pre-race jitters in full effect right here…
Well, come race week, I started feeling like I wish I would have squeezed training in around the times I was free and on solid land over the summer. But an interest in power lifting and playing around with random workouts – including a few runs here and there – left me feeling very inadequate in the running department! Not to mention my last run had been horrible – I felt weak, tired and nothing felt smooth. I had resigned myself to just enjoying the run even though I really wanted to show up in top racing form. The truth is, the only race I’ve actually trained for is the marathon that almost wasn’t – my first marathon that was canceled due to the flood in Calgary and that I ran on my own with my mom and Mikey on bikes around me in Waterton! But that’s another memory for another day. 😉
All week leading up to the race, my workouts were lackluster, my energy low, and my motivation almost non-existent, so coming into the race I had pretty much zero expectations other than to have fun and support my friends – your first half marathon is a big deal, and I was really there for them! This is why, at the last minute, I decided that since I hadn’t trained I really didn’t need my phone for anything and just wanted to soak in the beautiful views. I knew that I could enjoy the run without music and that I only would have used it for selfies and scenery shots, but at the risk of dropping my phone decided it wasn’t worth it. So I left my gear in my bag at the bag check, ditched my layers and we went our separate ways; I lined up in the area of 5 min per KM, or 8 min per mile, and the race was off!
I felt very unlike my entire week of workouts – fresh, excited, full of life, and ready to move. I tried to reign it in, knowing that often the race atmosphere, adrenaline and excitement busts people out faster than they want and I didn’t want to crash later. I felt good so I kept moving and just thought, “Maintain this pace, Bon; you can do it!” For the first half of the race, I was noticing those around me and thinking about who I wanted to keep up with, but occasionally I just had to exclaim to someone around me, “Isn’t this so beautiful?!” The mountains were clear, the fall colors in full effect, and the course rolling or flat and absolutely beautiful in the crisp air. My motto for the first half was “light and fast, smooth and strong” and I kept reminding myself how strong I was – love that that idea was my focus without thinking about that beforehand! As I heard watches beeping around me, I realized I was keeping pace, maybe even speeding up, and I got in the groove and decided to see what I was capable of. This is when my motto switched to “stay uncomfortable” as I was pushing my pace, just going with how I felt and picking people off around me.
Before I knew it, I saw the 18 km sign and realized this thing was almost done! I took the last hill head on and started picking up my pace, and when we got closer to the finish I wish I had started going for it sooner – I didn’t realize how fast it would come! The result?
Well, I finished with my fastest time ever and totally didn’t expect it! I had told the girls to be at the finish around the 2 hour mark, even though I would have liked to run 1:5o, and I finished in 1:42:16. Had I actually looked at the map I would have paced differently and gone for sub 1:40, but it was also very freeing to run without a pace or clock, phone or headphones. I was shocked… And SO HAPPY when I came across the line because I was just having so much fun!
Race outfit details: 2XU shorts, compression socks, Nike shoes and top.
Rach and Clare crushed their goals and finished faster than they anticipated, too, and we celebrated with post-race bananas and donuts (times two on the donuts for me – they went down the hatch VERY easily).
I ran my fastest half when I wasn’t expecting it – both at my heaviest weight and absolutely untrained – with so much left at the finish; I felt like I could have kept going and was jogging everywhere afterwards (to the food tent, to get my bag and stay warm, to cheer on the girls). Just goes to show there’s so much more to health than the scale. Next time I might train, but having no expectations and running in a gorgeous setting with an amazing crowd (and cheering squad!) allowed me to have fun and also run with a mindset of just seeing what my body could do. I think knowing what it feels like to suffer helped me keep that mentality to keep pushing and not let myself get comfortable; I was constantly reminding myself that this would be done soon and I wanted to finish having felt like I pushed my pace rather than just ran through it.
The race was very well done; this was the 37th year of the event (although they haven’t always had the half marathon) and it was smooth, had great post-race food (bananas, donuts, cheese packs, yogurt, apples and bars), the bag check was easy, the pre-race warm up on the stage was fun and there were a few bands along the way! We were also told that whenever we saw a yellow flag to beware of wildlife in the area and that a red flag meant to stop. There were a few yellow flags (a bear in the area and rutting elk) – but that’s just life in the mountains! It was an incredibly stunning course because of the setting in Banff and is a race I would highly recommend; in fact, it’s one of the top races in Alberta.
After the race, my friend texted me that I actually placed, which I also didn’t expect at all; apparently I finished 2 out of the 249 in our division and was 56 out of 963 and 12 out of the 642 girls who raced. That was just the icing on the cake of a great day with friends – from our cheering squad and photographers (most of these beautiful shots are thanks to Elly!) to the girls killing their first race to the post-race massage and dinner out afterwards.
One of the neatest things is that I really surprised myself – I had no clue that was inside of me and now, for the first time, running a half marathon in the 1:30’s seems doable, something I never thought was possible before. To be surprised by your own strength, speed, power or endurance is a very cool thing, and it just shows that continuing to live a healthy lifestyle matters more than even what you’re doing specifically, what the scale says about your body, how you feel in the moment or how you are compared to others.
(post-race hot tub; I was clearly VERY excited for this at Rach’s house!)
The rest of our girls’ weekend was filled with delicious food, lots of amazing talks and laughs, and good encouragement to one another about all kinds of issues and life events.
Everyone all together! Rachel, Nicole, Ashely, Clare, me and Elly.
I left the weekend grateful for good friends, fellowship and thankful for a capable, strong body as my bottom line; what gifts to be reminded of these things. Back in Calgary, I capped off the weekend with a delicious meal at my in-laws’ house and a visit to see the newest member of the family – pretty great. 🙂
When is the last time you surprised yourself? Did you do a set of stairs at work without breathing as hard, or cook a meal when you’d normally opt for a dinner out on the way home from work? Maybe you caught a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and saw the strong, beautiful, capable person that you are staring back at you. I hope you surprise yourself with something soon, and that God surprises you this week with his lavish love and grace in a unique way to your heart.
I’d love to hear your stories! Thanks for reading, friends! Live well & be well,