[Surprise, surprise – I wrote this post over a month ago but am only getting around to posting it now. I was waiting for them to post race pictures because I swear I saw a race photographer on the course, but I never did find any photos!]
The Uniformed Services Run in St. John’s, Newfoundland, was one of those races that could have totally gone either way.
On the one hand, I had trained steadily for a trail half just three weeks prior, plus I had tacked on the last couple of weeks of a regular road half marathon training program to fill the time between the trail half and the St. John’s half. In theory, I was in decent running shape for the race.
On the other hand, I spent the eight days leading up to the race in full tourist mode, meaning lots of time sitting in a plane or car and lots of indulgent meals (with some fresh Atlantic salmon thrown in here and there, for good measure). I managed to squeeze in a couple of short (<5k) runs and we did a few hikes as well, but I was certainly moving less than I ordinarily would in the week leading up to a race.
Running a race away from home has its own challenges, too. I’ve only ever run one non-BC race – a ten miler in Toronto eons and eons ago. Running a race on a vacation means you have to remember to pack everything you’ll need ahead of time, plus pre-race rituals (like the meal you typically eat the night before a race) are tougher to stick to.
Throw the fact that I was 21 weeks pregnant into the mix, and you can see why things felt totally up in the air. For this race, I was at that point where some days, I almost forgot I was pregnant – but other days, I would get winded just walking up a short but steep incline. Even though I’d just run a trail half 3 weeks before, I knew that a whole lot could happen, fitness-wise, in those 3 weeks.
(As an aside, there is something oddly satisfying about running 21k at 21 weeks.)
So you can see why I had no idea what to expect going into this race. Well, I’m glad to say that it pretty much turned out to be the best case scenario!
Initially, my goal had been to enjoy the race and just finish before the 3 hour cutoff. After completing the Loop the Lakes trail half in about 2 and a half hours, I decided I could probably expect to run a road half at least as fast as that, given the relative lack of elevation. I estimated that I would probably finish around 2:15 – 2:30, depending on how it all went down on race day.
On the third day of our Newfoundland trip, it had snowed in St. John’s. The day before the race was cold and damp – the kind of weather that really gets into your bones. I was understandably a little worried about what race day would bring, but the forecast looked promising: sunny but cool (6 degrees, but feeling more like 1 or 2 degrees at our 7:30 AM start time). I had brought one t-shirt, one long sleeved shirt, one pair of shorts, and one pair of running leggings, so I had to option to mix and match depending on the weather. I opted for the long sleeved shirt and leggings, which seemed a little ridiculous for mid-June, but hey – cold is cold!
By the time we got to the start line, I could already tell that I had overdressed. It definitely did not feel like 1 or 2 degrees – more like 10 or 11 degrees – and I felt envious of the runners around me who were wearing t-shirts and shorts. It was too late for a wardrobe change, so I decided I would just have to make do.
I pulled up to the start line less than a minute before the race actually started, and I seeded myself towards the back, knowing that I would probably be on the slower side. Before I knew it, we were off.
I knew virtually nothing about the course. Our friend was running the half (though his goal time was much more ambitious than mine), and he had told me that there was some nice downhill to start the race. I also knew there was a loop that I’d have to repeat twice, though I wasn’t sure when it would come up or how long the loop was. I’d read the course description, but all the names of the roads were foreign to me so I decided to just go with the flow.
The first few k were indeed downhill – and HOT! Despite a pre-race bathroom break, within the first kilometre, I was already sweating buckets and I also had to pee. There was a porta potty at the first aid station, but another runner juuust beat me to it. I waited for about 30 seconds but when he didn’t emerge, I decided he was probably going to be in there awhile longer and that I was probably better off just hustling to the porta potty at the next aid station.
There was a good crowd of runners around me, but then the course split off into half marathon and 10k runners – and most of the people around me abandoned me as they turned right towards the 10k course. This was the beginning of my first loop. Despite feeling a little overheated and having to pee, my legs were feeling pretty good and I was enjoying the run.
As I made a U-turn at the far end of the loop, the course marshal said something about pacing myself as I ran into the wind. Wind? What wind?
Then, as I began running in the opposite direction, it hit me – and I mean it, the wind smacked me right in the face. On the plus side, I no longer felt hot and overdressed. On the down side, it was serious work running into the wind. That infamous Newfoundland wind is no joke!
I had time to gather a bit of energy as I stopped at the (thankfully vacant) porta potty at the next aid station, then got back to it. Running into the wind was tough, and as we rejoined the 10k course, the road started to get a little hillier. Thankfully, the hills didn’t bother me too much – I credit this all the trail running I’ve done in the past few months.
One thing to note is that this race has no kilometre markers. I never had any idea whatsoever how far along I was – I wasn’t even wearing a watch (though I had my phone tucked away into my running vest. By the way, I’m pretty sure I was the only runner with a running vest. Trail habits die hard!) I was, however, beginning to wonder when my second lap of the loop would start. For some reason, I had thought that the loop was much shorter than it actually was.
Just when I was starting to feel a little discouraged, I ran into some fans: Cedric and the wife of the friend who was also running. I didn’t think that I would get to see them along the course, so it was great to get some high fives from them. This also happened to be about the point where the first loop ended and the second began – at least now I knew what to expect for the next loop.
I enjoyed a little stretch with the wind at my back, then it was once more time to run straight into it. I stopped at the same porta potty on my second loop that I had on my first loop – pregnancy bladder is real!
I am pretty certain that the wind picked up as the morning went on. At this point, the runners were very spread out – at times, I could only just barely make out the colour of the shirt of the next person ahead of me, and they would sometimes disappear over a hill or around a corner. There were marshals along the course, but I really had no idea where I was going, so I wanted to try to keep another race in view at all times.
Meanwhile, my legs were still feeling good. I felt like I was pushing myself, but comfortably – the kind where your legs will probably feel sore the next day, but you don’t feel like throwing up or anything (this is generally a sensation that one wants to avoid when running pregnant, to be sure). Eventually, the person ahead of me would come closer into view until I was able to pass them, then I would target a new shirt colour.
This is how the last few k went – I’d see a shirt colour, slowly catch up to them, and find a new target to lead me to the finish line. The only thing is that I wasn’t sure how far away the finish line was – I knew when I had completed the second lap, but from there I wasn’t sure how far into the race we were.
The last little bit was a slog – windier than ever, and just uphill enough to chew up your legs. I had been trailing a guy in a blue shirt and I passed him as we entered the park. Suddenly, I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me – and I was at a T junction with no course marshal in sight! I asked a bystander if she knew where I should go and she said she thought she saw people take a left, so I decided to do the same. For a moment or two, I thought I might have made a mistake – but then I saw the finish line come into view, thankfully.
The finish line clock was just turning to 2:03 as I crossed it (my chip time ended up being 2:02:47) – and I couldn’t believe it! I knew I had felt good, but this was a totally normal road half marathon time for me – and things had been SO windy and, you know, the whole pregnant thing. It was one of those days where things just kind of aligned for me and I struck that magical, elusive balance of pushing myself while still really enjoying the whole thing.
Another magical, elusive miracle: my Strava app actually recorded the correct 21.1 km distance (although it put my moving time at 2:02:15, so something was a little off – maybe my bathroom breaks automatically paused it?). My KM times are approximately as follows:
I’m not sure when my two bathroom breaks were – I would guess kms 9 and 17.
I am pretty sure that this was the last “big” race while pregnant – though I still hope to run a few shorter, for fun races. Who knows when my next half will be – but hopefully it’ll be as much fun as this one was.