Friday, August 20, 2010

Not Since Moses

Last weekend I decided against running the 5000m at AOs in Sudbury and went to visit my brother in Halifax instead. Now why would I dare taint my hardcore running blog by professing that I went on vacation instead of dutifully finishing my track season, you might ask? Well, because I plan my vacations according to races abroad, of course! In fact, I was very much looking forward a race in Five Islands, Nova Scotia, dubbed the ‘Not Since Moses’ run, that was started by Dick Lemon in 2008.

Not Since Moses is a race unlike any other. It takes place in the Bay of Fundy – that’s right, in the Bay of Fundy – which records the world’s largest tidal changes. The horizontal tide can rise and fall several miles apart, meaning that it is possible to walk – or run – on the sea floor at low tide, and swim or kayak (or walk, if you are Moses) where you once walked at high tide. Dick Lemon had the ridiculous idea of creating a 10k run along the sea floor. Of course, this means the slower you run, the greater the chance that you will be swept away to China. Perhaps not an every-day consequence of not running fast enough.

High tide

My brother ran this race for the first time last year and I was intrigued by his description of the challenging course and majestic scenery of Five Islands: he recounted getting stuck in thick, goopy mud, jumping over rocks and scaling barnacles, trudging through sand and running through water, ultimately finishing the ten kilometre distance in over 70 minutes (a good 30 minutes slower than his best 10k time). What’s not to love? Furthermore, this year Dick advertised a $100 cash prize and a free pair of running shoes to attract “star athletes and Kenyan runners”. Now, he may not have totally succeeded in his goal, but this was enough to get my attention, anyway.

I arrived in Halifax at about 1:30PM on Friday and was greeted by my brother and his girlfriend Ashley at the airport. From there we drove straight to Five Islands, where we would camp overnight before the race. We stopped briefly for a nutritious chicken dinner meal at Swiss Chalet and to pick up some barbecueing essentials at the grocery store. We arrived at the campsite around 5:00PM, set up our tent and drove to Mo’s – the local hangout, whose most famed dishes include beer, fried halibut and mystery chowder - to pick up our race kits. I started to get pretty pumped about the race at this point. The G.I. Jane in me could not be tamed, as I began to smack-talk my competition (namely Ashley), threaten to throw mud at whoever came my way, and make outrageous predictions of how fast my 10k time would be despite the difficulty of the course. Ashley, being the competitive squash player she is, revealed to me that she had actually been training in secret for the past six months and was planning to kick my ass. Bring it on!

We got back to the campsite and made dinner: salad, barbecued chicken, corn, roasted peppers...and rum. Thank god that I was with another Coolis who was smart enough to bring his flask of rum with him (even though it was Appleton), since the vodka in mine was for some reason dwindling. We turned to Ashley to ask her if she wanted in and were answered with a slow, disapproving head-shake: “Now I know where you get your problems from, Jeff.” Ashley was kind enough to cook the chicken for us, even though I had to convince her to take it off the BBQ a good ten minutes before she wanted to for fear that it would burn to a shrivelled, burnt, crisp. I am convinced that she plotted to drain me of all nourishment the night before the race in order to beat me the next morning. Alas, I had my wits about me and quickly averted the situation. We made a bonfire and roasted some good ‘ol marshmallows before we were overcome with boredom and mosquito bites and hit the hay at 9:30PM.

Low tide

We woke up around 6AM the next morning, got cleaned up, had a coffee and soon it was time for me to warm up. Apparently squash players eat cheesies and play Frisbee to warm up, as I was the only one to do a shakeout before the race. My legs felt fresh for a change – they had been feeling sluggish all week and I was hoping that a day off was all I needed, and it seemed to do the trick. I did an easy 30mins on the roads before we headed down to the race course. After contemplating my foot attire for quite some time, I had decided on wearing my cross-country spikes for the race. I wasn’t sure if the spikes would do me any good through the thick mud and water, but I figured they might help in the harder-packed sandy surfaces and would not weigh me down as much as running shoes coated in mud, sand and water. As we came down to the course we saw the end of the 2k kids run and I gaped in horror as what looked to be sea monsters emerged from the finish line, covered from head to toe in dirt and grime. Some of the children had mud entrenched in their heads so deeply I wondered if they had mistaken the mud for some kind of hair cleaning product. Would be the demise for all those competing in this event, or were these kids really just being kids?

Jeffrey and Ashley (note the young sea monster on the left)

Ashley began to complain about her chronic hip bursitis (excuses, excuses!) and decided at the last minute to switch into the 5k event. So much for the G.I. Jane vs. Action Ashley showdown! The registration desk told her just to turn around at the 2.5k mark and that she needn’t change her event officially. We lined up at the start line and eventually the gun was fired. I found myself tied for the lead in the first few hundred meters, which worried me since I had absolutely no idea where I was going. Was the course even marked? They advertised that volunteers would be around to direct the runners but I doubted that there were any cones laid out. I saw the outline of a person a few hundred meters away and decided to run towards them. Suddenly, we hit a patch of mud that was dangerously soft and slippery. My feet sunk into the ground so deeply with each step that I wondered if I would lose a shoe 200m into the race and rekindle my nickname as Shoeless Jane. I tried to run on my tippy-toes through the sticky mess (as advised by the one-and-only Dick Lemon), but after a hundred meters or so my calves began to tire and I gave up all efforts to try and be efficient. At this point the mud had slowed me down enough such that I was no longer in the lead and I allowed myself to calmly follow the men in front of me. Soon after we hit a rocky patch that led into shin-deep water - what a perfect opportunity to clean the mud from our shoes! This was followed by a long stretch of undulating, soft sand, which felt like a break from the mud but was still very labour-intensive. Once we got to the 2.5k turnaround, however, most of the course was hard-packed sand or rock and we were able to pick up the pace considerably. I counted seven men in front of me and was feeling good so I started to push the pace, though it still felt like a tempo effort. I was really enjoying myself on the course and found myself looking around at the beautiful view, waterfalls and islands we passed by and thinking about how happy I was not to be in dreary Sudbury, Ontario running a 5000m on the track. The volunteers were amazing, cheering and directing us every few hundred meters and encouraging me to pass the men in front of me. I began to catch some of them who were tiring and by the time we hit 5k there were only three men in front of me. I realized at this point it would be pretty cool if I could win the entire event, though it seemed unlikely since I guessed that the leader was a good minute in front of me. Still, I tried to push a little harder and by 7k I was in third overall. When I hit 7.5k I ran into the slow joggers and walkers who had just reached the 5k turnaround and was forced to weave between them – I tried to be polite but am quite sure I splattered most with mud and water flying in all directions from my spikes. In the last kilometre I re-encountered the slick, ankle-deep mud that was even more treacherous now that several hundred people had run through it, but this time powered through on the tips of my toes and sprinted hard to the finish line. I was surprised to see that my time was 44:23, since I had arrived at the 5k turnaround in 23:15 or so, meaning I had negative-split the race by a long shot. I have to say¸ I felt great crossing the finish line and actually wished that it was about 10k longer so that I could have caught the first place man, who was only about 45s ahead of me!

After a 10min sludge around the finish area I went back up to meet Ashley and Jeffrey, who were getting sprayed down by the fire hose provided by the race organizers. Apparently Jeffrey had tried to keep up with me for 5k despite not having run for more than 20 minutes in the last year, and finished 11th in 47 minutes, a good 25 minutes faster than last year. Nothing like a little smack-talk from your sister to fuel your competitive edge! Ashley took it pretty easy and did the 5k in 39 minutes: however, it suddenly occurred to me that she could be mistaken for the winner of the 10k and steal my prize money! She cackled and celebrated at this thought, exclaiming that she had indeed beat me in the race and that, since she was registered in the 10k, the prize money would be hers. I was so terrified that I tracked down Dick Lemon himself to set the record straight, at which point he assured me that the money would be sent to me. I hope I didn’t give Torontarians a bad rep by demanding for my prize as soon as the race ended? Regardless, I will be back next year to reclaim my crown, that is unless Ashley successfully sabotages my race, as I am sure she plans to do...

Mo's post-race lunch!

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