When: Jan 19, 2019 Where: Edmonton, AB
I have said it before, I am not a trail runner. I am a road runner. I am a half marathoner who sometimes dabbles. I have run 2 full marathons, one in 2017 and one in 2018, and plan to do one full each year until I am no more. So, why do I keep coming back to RVR? It isn’t to beat my time and it isn’t because I want to be a full time trail runner. I keep coming back for the adventures. Life is about collecting memories and experiences. And each time you push yourself you learn more about yourself. This year was no different for me. The course changes each year but some things always remain the same; I meet new people, I see people push themselves passed their own perceived limits, and we share a moment. You know when you read a book or watch a documentary about a runner and you get to celebrate with them; at RVR we all get to celebrate that moment together. At road races you are on your own and celebrate personal success. At RVR you are part of a tribe that welcomes all and doesn’t care how fast or slow you go, sharing a collective success. We all took on that course together and the back of the pack earned their medals just as much as the leaders. OK, emotions aside, let’s talk about the race this year.
The winter RVR offers several distances: 5K, 25K two person relay, 25K, and 50K. My family had a vacation planned for the start of January and my wife said, “You are NOT doing a 50K only days after we get back!”. So, I signed up for the 25K this year. As always, she was right. It was a good thing too. I may not have finished the 50.
There was a big crowd this year. Feels like the race is getting bigger every year as the word gets out. The 50K started at 8AM and some runners were already completing their first loop while I was getting ready. I did not know it at the time, but race director Sheryl had shared my last winter race review on Facebook just days before the race. Not knowing this, I was approached by 3 different people independently asking me for tips on the course and what to expect. I had some fun conversations and texted my wife how great it was that these people actually read my little blog. Made me feel pretty special. After I got home after the race and opened Facebook to share my new race experience with my friends and family, I saw what Sheryl had done. Thank you Sheryl!
Anyway, the 25Kersand the 1st leg relayers started out at noon. We trudged through the snow leaving the Westridge Wolf Willow Community Centre and then headed down a nice flat paved path for the first km. Boy, that one was easy, 24 to go! Well, that was the only easy km. The sounds of snow crunching and grips jingling filled the air on this very cold morning. We turned off the path and onto a small creek. I had never been here before. Crawling under logs and hopping over puddles . The crowd was still thick here so I took a few pictures while I waited my turn to climb.
We came out of the bush and onto a trail down to the Ft. Edmonton foot bridge. You could run here and I knew that more hills were coming, so I kept the pace up crossing the bridge.
We then headed into some familiar territory, the winding single track behind Jan Jansen. This is a fun section that we did both last winter and last summer. Lots of S turn switch backs. The crowd had thinned out by now and there were people a minute ahead of me and a couple 20 seconds behind me. I made sure to move over to the side and let people pass whenever I heard people getting up close behind me. Emerging at the north end of the Ft. Edmonton parking lot, we ran under the Whitemud bridge and toward the Savage Centre. To my excitement, we hit the 1st aid station on the side of the road here. There seemed like a good number of people here when I got here. Already talking about the crazy adventure so far. A helpful individual pointed out the water with electrolytes and I ignored everything else.
I had decided not to carry my handheld bottle for the race because I wanted my hands free for climbing and descending, and decided it was just too cold for the hydro backpack this year. Oh yeah, I forget to mention that it was 17 degrees below zero but felt like negative 23 when that wind hit you. Anyway, I needed water. I don’t like spending too much time at the aid stations, so I headed out ahead of a number of people who were previously ahead of me. They passed me again soon enough. I took a quick picture as I left.
We had some flat ground here for a bit until we entered the woods again south from the Savage Centre. The course wound up and down and then out of the blue it went up a lot in a sort distance. Then, out in the wilderness there was a girl cheering us on at the top of one hill. I came down out of the trees just to the right of the Snow Valley ski hill and looked back to see if anyone was with me and to make sure they stayed on course, but I was all alone.
Past the parking lot I stopped for a moment to look around for flags. As I was scanning, a head popped out of a car and said, “This Way!”. I thanked them, spotted the flags going south and kept moving. Later on I saw runners who got lost here.
Heading south was more woods and then a great big hill up to Aid Station 2. The second half relayers were waiting here by a fire pit to keep warm. I downed water with electrolyte powder like I had been stranded for days and then took a deep breath and headed back down that hill we just climbed. We went across the always beautiful fireball ridge and back toward Snow Valley. Heading out east we then climbed a long hill at the side of the Whitemud and at the top my quads started burning and then completely froze up. The spasms were so painful I could not even lift my feet. I stood in obvious pain and a guy came up behind me and said, “Do you have any gels?”, and started digging in his pack. I told him that I did and ate one and then started doing squats to loosen my cramped muscles. This guy stayed with me to make sure that I was ok. I checked my watch, 14.4km. Still a long way to go. When I said, “it is working out, I can move now”, we headed out and ended up sticking together for the rest of the day.
In the next climb we found people going down while we were going up. These were the lost folks I mentioned earlier. They went east instead of south at the Snow Valley parking lot and missed the 2nd aid station and now had to back track. They got a few more km’s than they bargained for but looked in good spirits.
Next was the fun single track up above and south of the Savage Centre. This area holds fun memories for me. This was the first section when I first ran the Winter RVR in 2017. Also, I just did this section with my 10 year old daughter last month for the X-Run X-Trail 5K race. I texted my wife to tell my daughter where I was. When we did it together I had to hold my daughters hand and help her up and down the slopes and she could not believe that people run this!
We came down a hill and headed toward the Savage Centre and what I thought would be a leisurely stroll back to the first aid station. Wrong. We were directed up the big hill here and halfway up we hung a left. New territory again for me. At every bend we thought we would be heading back toward the Whitemud bridge but we kept getting further east. My new running partner and I did a lot of talking because I was unable to run the up hills. We took turns leading and a few people passed us, but we kept moving until finally a glorious down hill back to the Savage Centre. A nice jog back to Aid Station 1 and time to refuel again. My partner later told me that he almost quit here but I said, “Let’s get it done”, and we headed out.
Across the Whitemud bridge and a sharp right down and under. We took our time to navigate down to the path along the river’s edge. I almost lost my footing but corrected just in time and avoided falling on some rather large rocks. Just then another guy behind us shouted, “So this is why we sign waivers!” We watched him come down and he joined us for Two Truck Trail. This was his first race. Not his first trail race, first race period. He said that he had never run over 20K and that was road, but a friend made him sign up. It is weird, I always think of myself as the inexperienced, looking up to others. Strange when people ask me for advise, who am I. I am no elite runner, just a guy who enjoys running.
Two Truck Trail was tough as always but the cold weather was also kicking in and it was getting late in the afternoon. My goal of 4 and a half hours was completely blown, but I didn’t care. This race isn’t about time, it is about finishing.
We saw Keith the Unicorn guiding people down a treacherous ice slope. I wanted to say hi, but I wanted more to get it done, so I waved but he was hard at work helping more people. No idea how many times he was up and down that hill helping people to navigate the best path. He truly is a remarkable soul. I later learned that he even gave his gloves to a runner with freezing hands.
I’d be happy to say that the course ended here, but it didn’t. More hills, more trees. One small loop that may or may not have been part of the course. My running partner got a phone call here. His friend who made him sign up, called it quits at the last aid station and was getting a ride back.
We made it. Out of the woods and then had to trudge through the deep snow across the field in the bitter wind to the finish line.
I earned this beautiful ceramic medal. Sheryl was sitting outside all bundled up cheering us on as we came in. Indoors I asked my running mate his name, Dexter. I said well done and then went to grab some cookies and juice.
I had to leave and miss the dinner after to pick up the kids, whom my wife took to work with her. So, I hustled off to my freezing car and started driving in my wet clothes. Big mistake. I lost feeling in my hands and was shivering uncontrollably. When I got there my eyes were completely blood shot. Good thing my wife is a nurse who could tell the signs and treat my hypothermia. Note to self, bring a change of clothes next year and wait until you have warmed up before leaving.
That’s right. It was brutal. And I will be back. The next 2 weeks were filled with people sharing experiences on social media. Word is getting out, RVR is awesome. Did up sign up for the summer yet? Go for it! I’ll see you there. I am doing my first 50 miler and would love all the company I can get.
I forgot to mention the swag. This year we got Sweatshirts and if you already signed up for the summer, you also got a new hat with the new logo! Also, the race has gone cup free, so everyone was given a squishable silicone cup to keep with the race logo on it as well.