As I was driving up to Terra Cotta to take part in the 2009 Egg Nog Jog, I asked myself, “Do I really want to run in this rainy, winter weather?” For some reason the answer was yes so I continued to drive up the road a little further to my destination just fifteen minutes north of Mississauga.
After arriving at the Terra Cotta Conservation Area to park, I moved through the busy registration routine and then headed back to my car to suit up. It was mild enough to warrant shorts on this day (my opinion, HAHA) so I pulled them on and tied up the spikes before heading out to the road for my warm up and stretching. During this pre-race run I kept on my wind pants and hoody but it didn’t take long to get up my body temperature so I jogged back to the car to peel down to my race gear.
Start time was now upon us so I ventured towards the line where I met up with a number of Falcons and friends including Marko, Peter, Robbie-T, Jen C A, and Hans. After a brief chat to discuss the conditions, strategy, gear, etc., we all switched our attention to the task at hand and moved over to the starting line. I was actually surprised to see the front of the corral so empty, almost like nobody wanted to be on the chalk. There were over 500 people registered for the race so the numbers were there but everyone seemed more than happy to approach this one with caution. This course does have a reputation.
Once the cow bell sounded, I took off in my usual fashion (bad habit!). With a few days of rest my legs felt amazing and I was quickly out to the front of the group as we darted down the park’s laneway. I did not expect to jump out to that position (and was not really wishing to be in the lead) but with the open space around me, I did not have to worry about making the turn onto the road in a crowd. I rounded the corner and started to make the big drop in elevation that would lead us down into the tiny, tiny village of Terra Cotta.
This is a severe plunge right out of the gate and a place that can easily ruin the rest of your race if you don’t control your speed. As my Garmin hit 1km it read 3:14 so I knew I was in jeopardy of falling into this trap. Thankfully, it was around this time when the first two runners to pass me cruised by to offer up some sort of guidance. I knew from past results that the leaders would be in the 36 minute range so I was happy to let them lead knowing that they would most likely be heading for that approximate finish time.
For the first two kilometres we were running downhill as the track leads us west of the little hamlet. I ended up going through this section a touch too fast and when I hit the first climb, along the rolling hills of 27th Sideroad, I was starting to feel the wind come out of my sails. I hoped that I could push hard up the hills and then catch a little rest on the down side to set up for the turn onto a flatter section of road on 10th Line, just over 4km from the start of our journey. This approach came in handy as I made the turn still sitting in third spot but there were two pods of chasers coming hard. The fear of getting caught by this many runners helped me pick up my pace again. I was really looking to finish in the top 10 on this day and if they all went past I would be sitting on the edge of this goal.
Shortly after hitting 10th Line the road turns to gravel (snow, ice and gravel on this day) so it was time to make hay with the spikes. I knew I had about 1200 metres of relatively level roadway until the biggest climb on the course so I stepped up my speed and focused on keeping smooth to save some energy for the Egg Nog Jog’s version of “Heartbreak Hill”.
I ended up putting in another respectable split during this stretch and held my position until the bottom of the hill. At this point, I was met by another runner making an effortless ascent up the winding slope. I waited for the competitor to pull alongside before checking to see who it was. As he slowly pulled away I would see (we raced earlier this season) that it was Greg McNab.
This gentleman, from Burlington, is a very strong runner and has put up some very impressive times for our age group this year. With his experiences on the hills, and with this race last year, I realized that I better keep to my plan and just get to the seven kilometre marker before making any defensive moves.
From my one training run on this course, I had an elevation map on my Garmin and knew that after the 7th kilometre it was predominantly a downhill ride back to the finishing tape at the conservation area. For now, I just had to worry about getting up the rest of this hill without zapping too much of my energy. It was not a pretty site but I pushed on up that sucker (with a little help from photographer Nick!) and finally got my legs back up to speed for the short zone leading up to our last real uphill tester.
I was still happily running along in fourth spot through the tail end of the 10th Line portion of the route. I could see Greg opening up a larger gap as we approached the next turn onto Wellington Road 42 but this directional change gave me an opportunity to check my rearview. As I made my right hand turn, I could see Rob in his orange “Runningmania.com” singlet making his move. He had dropped the rest of the group and was the only person I could see being a threat, unless I really blew up on the decent.
There must have been about three kilometres left so I figured he was going to put a good push on in the next few minutes. He is a patient runner with solid pacing skills and he would probably have a little more in the tank than I at this time in the race. I knew I had to get into the next gear and just keep my eyes forward and that is what I did, using the fans’ cheering as a gauge to measure how close he was.
I kept charging ahead and was finally nearing the 10k marker. I was sure the support coming from the Falcons at our club’s tent they set up would be all the energy I would need to make it through the final 800 metres in very strong fashion. I soaked in the loud applause as I reached the tent and then rounded the bend down Winston Churchill to the start/finish line. When I was directed into the driveway, I took another glance back and could see Rob was not very far back so I could not let up.
Getting into the park, I could now see the time counting up. I had missed the sub 40 minute barrier but still had a very good shot at sub 41. Another kick for good measure and a few extra seconds put me over the line in 4th spot with a clocking of 40:37.
Even though I missed my secret stretch goal of sub 40 minutes, I was extremely happy with my race. It was a very amazing season of athletics where I was able to meet a number of great people through the club, racing and online. After the race I congratulated all the other fantastic athletes and then headed over to the covered shelter in the park for some Egg Nog and mingling before the awards. As Greg took third overall, I was moved into 1st in the 30-39 Age Group which earned me a very nice prize from Brad Maillaiux and his Georgetown store, Feet in Motion. Who knew you would get such a great prize from such a local event!
BTW – How inspiring is it to have a world class athlete take time out of her busy schedule to run the course to cheer all of us weekend warriors on! Lisa Bentley was out cheering on one of her athletes but she always spreads the joy to everyone else as well. We are lucky to have such a classy ambassador of athletics supporting our races!