2 x 21km
This year, to complete my personal competitive running quota, I decided to go for two half marathons instead of one. Ok, I admit it. It is an excuse for me to travel to two places instead of one.
Similar to the NYC marathon, the International Marathon de Montreal starts from a bridge, the Jacques Cartier Bridge, with over 5000 runners early Saturday morning. The race was blessed with perfect weather and a relatively flat course. A little after two hours, I took my final sprint into the 1986 Olympic Stadium in Viau, feeling like a real Olympic participant. Considering the lack of regular training, I made pretty good time.
Thinking that the Montreal marathon is good enough training for my next race, I felt relaxed when time comes to hop on a plane to Calgary. Honestly, I was more excited to see the Canadian Rockies than anything else, in Banff, a mere 45-minute drive from the airport. Passing through the Indian Reservation on the Tran Canadian Hwy 1, I can hear my heart pound as the mountains get closer and closer. An sense of energy had seeped through my body. Charged and alive within minutes, I was ready for the race, at least mentally.
Physically, however, is quite a different story. Since Banff is over 4500ft above sea level, the thinner air with less oxygen makes running more challenging. My first trail run along Bow River proved that my confidence needed a little adjustment. Nevertheless, I reminded myself, what more can I ask for to run among scenery like this.
Melissa's Race, in its 27th anniversary this year, is organized by the great owners of a famous local restaurant with the same name and local volunteers. In other words, a town of just over 7000 residents support about 4500 runners every year on race weekend, plus their friends and families - a great accomplishment by itself.
On a picture perfect chilly Saturday morning, after couple nights of much-needed beauty sleep, I arrived at the recreational ground ready to start the 22km, only to be surprised by the sea of enthusiastic runners stretching with aerobic music. The first half of the race was very enjoyable, each corner promises another breathtaking view of the Rockies, literally. I started to feel the thin air effect. Fortunately, the course was shortened two days before from 22km to 18.5km because of the sighting of a mother Grizzly bear and her two cubs nearby. At this point, my gratitude towards this mother bear was so great that it actually managed to push me across the finish line. Little did I know, after the race, runners were offered the best variety of snacks I've had in my experience, by kindergarten volunteers. (It's trick-or-treat, the opposite way.) Needless to say, the two consecutive nights of parties with great people at Melissa's restaurant afterwards made this race all worthwhile.
Banff, totally different than Montreal, is a tourist town, naturally, due to its magnificent view of snow-capped peaks of the Rockies, thus a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bus load of Japanese and Korean tourists filled the sovenir shops lined up neatly on Banff Avenue. I fit right in, in a sense, politely nodded my head when they speak to me, and quietly sneaked away before the shutter noise ruined the serenity of nature.
Over the course of a week, besides an hour of shopping and some running, I wandered around admiring rock formations, hiked up Tunnel Mountain, visited the luxurious Banff Spring hotel, the hot springs at Cave and Basin, Lake Louise, Johnston Waterfall, even saw a small hut built in the 1910s hidden in the wood next to Johnson Lake. Not to mention risking my life tumbling along the 1-foot pass on the eastern cliff of Bow River looking for the picture-perfect angle of Bow Fall, AND almost sighting the mating of elks. Actually, should I say in a sarcastic way, the prolonged and nonchalant seduction of a female elk instead. I guess human is not the only specie in the animal world in which female love to play mind games with male.
Why does every vacation have to end? Especially when my heart was stuck.