I fancy myself a bit of a runner. I am not fast and I only completed my first marathon last October. I do not run a lot of races but I have done a few over the past couple of years as this is something that I have adopted somewhat late in life. Last year I did one of the Hypothermic Half Marathon races in Montreal and this year on February 1, my racing buddy asked if I wanted to do it this year as well. It didn’t matter that I had not run much since the marathon. The temperatures were mild and it was a chance for two single girls to go to Montreal for a weekend.
The mild temperatures that we had been enjoying quickly plummeted the week before the race. Race day itself was looking like it would be around -25 C with wind chills in the -30 C range, even dipping as low as -40 C. But we were going to do this race; or give it a real shot anyway. I dropped the dogs off with my good friend Liz (a total lifesaver and amazing all around person) and drove down to pick up my friend.
We left Toronto on Friday afternoon and promptly hit traffic. It was expected at that time of the day so I wasn’t too concerned. However the weather was determined to slow us down and we were soon crawling eastward. We passed cars in ditches and even had one spin out across the highway in front of us. A drive that should have taken five hours took eight. It didn’t help that we seem to have problems navigating the multitude of one-way streets in downtown Montreal, an issue that was exacerbated by road-weary brains.
Finally we checked into Hotel Faubourg Montreal. It was a nice suite and after we unloaded our belongings we walked outside in search of food and a welcoming drink. The first restaurant we went to ignored us, so back into the cold we walked. Several other places were closing. Eventually we went to another hotel that had a lounge and had some fancy drinks. The kitchen had closed but we had gotten to the point that we were too tired to eat. We walked back to the room like zombies and were soon sleeping.
Saturday we almost slept through the hotel breakfast but we just made it. It was better than some of the other breakfasts I had had on the road with nary a waffle or waffle machine in sight. We decided to go to the suburbs to go pick up our race kits and a few other things we needed. I had forgotten to pack my outer wind pants which I was definitely going to need. The course is two loops through Parc Jean Drapeau in the St. Lawrence River and there is a good wind that blows off the water. I ended up finding a better pair of tights than the pants I already had so it was a worthwhile trip.
We decided to test our fortitude by walking around downtown Montreal for a few hours. We stumbled across Montreal Poutine and just had to stop. Poutine…how could you not? French fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy. I had mine topped with fried onions and she had hers topped with smoked meat. It was good and I could have gorged myself on cheesy gravy fry goodness but we stepped back out into the cold. The temperature had dropped considerably while we had been eating and we sought refuge at a cafe down the road. Soon we made the cold trek back to the hotel.
In an effort to thaw out, we turned the heat up but soon it became apparent that nothing was working. Old buildings being what they are, there was a mean draft from the window. The gentleman from maintenance tried to help but we were soon moving to another, much warmer room. We ordered pizza from Pizza Il Focolio and waited for it to be delivered. And waited. And waited. After an hour and a half we called and were told that it would be at least another 45 minutes. I don’t think so.
Back out into the cold we went and walked to nearby Chinatown. We had some good food at Restaurant Beijing then made the quick walk back to the hotel. On a side note, as much as I love Chinese food, not the best thing to eat before a race.
The next morning we were the first ones downstairs for breakfast and then soon on the Metro to the Parc. It was cold but the blazing sun made it bearable and we joined other brave souls at the Aquatic Centre. We learned that they had added an option for this race: you could stop after one loop instead of doing both for the full 21.1 km. I had no intention of doing such a thing but it is easy to think that at the beginning when standing in a warm building.
The crowd moved out into the cold and we fell into step with them. It was a short wait before the front of the pack started off but soon I was passing under the inflatable arch and out onto the course. As much respect as I have for my fellow runners, I am always blown away by the volunteers, especially in a race like this one. It was cold and windy and there they are standing out there just so I can run by them and get the odd high five or words of encouragement through muffled layers.
Once I started moving I soon fell into a steady, if slow. rhythm. My sunglasses were fogging up badly so they were tucked into a pocket early into the race. My breath soon had my eyelashes frozen and when I started getting close to aid stations, I would take off a glove and pinch the icicles off before taking my water. I passed the point to turn at the end of the first loop and kept going. My hamstrings were burning and my face was freezing but it was not about the physical discomfort anymore; it was about beating the temperatures and the snow and the wind and getting to that finish line. The cups of water at the stations were more slush than water and the gels I carried for fuel were in various stages of frozen so I could only choke one down. My stomach was a little upset from the dinner the night before and there were a few times when I wondered if there was a place to duck off the course. My neck gaiter, a tube of cloth worn around the face, had become so frozen that it was too heavy to stay up and was gaping around my neck. The last kilometre has been the hardest for me in this race but finally rounding the bend and seeing the finish line helped my feet to fly.
I crossed under another red arch and had a medal draped around my neck. I stood and waited for my friend who was a few minutes behind me as the icicles melted off my eyelashes and eyebrows. I have since seen the pictures taken by the race photographers and I had ice over most of my face. I checked the weather report and a short time after the race, the temperatures were showing as -23 C and feeling like -31 C. My friend crossed a short time later and we went inside to warm up and eat. Some lack lustre nibbles and we went back to the hotel.
After a warm shower and dry clothes, we were back on the highway. The trip home was uneventful and I was soon back home with my dogs. I had been worried about my pipes freezing and had left the water running slightly. No problem there. So I tossed my sweat-drenched clothes into the washer and was relaxing when Piper suddenly seemed to be curious about something and ran into the kitchen. Oh NOOOOOOOOOOO. The drain must have become frozen somewhere and the washer had backed up into the kitchen sink. There I was, exhausted from running and a long drive on the road, bailing out the water and mopping the floor. Finally I sat back down.
I like to get pictures of the dogs wearing my medals and this was no different. I also got a hat but Leo was the only one that would stand still long enough for a picture.
As much fun as it was, I missed travelling with the dogs. This trip was obviously different because there was a destination and a time frame that had to be kept, so it lacked the carefree feel of the other trips. Could I have brought them with me? Absolutely not. It just made me appreciate how amazing they are to travel with.
And we have so many more adventures just waiting to be told. Unfortunately I’m having technological issues so once I get those sorted out, the stories will continue…