The Banff-Jasper Relay is an annual run through the 260 km stretch of mountain highway stretching between Banff, Alberta & Jasper, Alberta where 15 runners tag along and each travel a bit of the distance on foot over the span of a single day. There are amazing views, wildlife encounters, epic challenges of endurance, absolutely no cell phone coverage, and opportunities to take selfies while hot, sweaty, and staring down a fifty-thousand year old mountain glacier.
I’ll admit, I didn’t do my hill training as well as I should have.
I’ve not written much about the experience, the gush of it, the flood of it, the thrill, the pain, the ache, the fun, the awe and awesomeness, all of it washed over me in a fabulous weekend in the mountains… and then reality struck back hard on Monday morning and, well geeze, I haven’t even put on my shoes this week.
Last Saturday sixteen of us joined another nine hundred runners out in the sprawling landscapes of the Rocky Mountains and ran the two-hundred and some klicks up the highway leading between Banff and Jasper. It’s the annual Banff-Jasper Relay, a test of high(ish) altitude road running in unpredictable weather and random wildlife encounters. For some it is truly a race. For our team it is an annual party along the highway with some running on the side.
I was team captain, a job often compared to herding cats, but largely tasked with registration and organization of the team, ensuring everyone is where they need to be for precisely times starts along a long stretch of highway where one of the biggest obstacles to organization is the complete lack of cell phone signal.
Because of all this pre-planning I’ll admit, I hadn’t really paid very close attention to the details of my leg. I’d signed up for Leg S4 (South 4) which I knew was a tougher leg, sixteen klicks with an incline and some gain, but other than that… my focus was now where it should have been.
We had gone to the bar for dinner after all the registration duties were done, the south team gathered in a quaint little hole-in-the-wall mountain pub that wasn’t expecting a crowd, and I was leafing through the printed version of the captain’s manual I’d recently acquired at check in… and that’s when it sunk in. I was looking at the elevation chart more closely. There was a climb. A big climb. In fact my leg ended on the summit of the race. The highest point. Not the biggest climb, not the steepest hill, but the top of the mountain. The math was rolling through my brain. I was calculating over a plate of fish-and-chips and the realization of the run I’d be doing in about fifteen hours hit me pretty hard. Appetite lost. Head spinning. I went out for some fresh air, played it cool, but I think I was in a bit of a panic to be honest.
I barely slept that night. The hills were getting steeper and steeper in my sleep-deprived, dream-fueled imagination. I was ready for sixteen klicks. No problem. I was not, or so I kept telling myself, ready for sixteen klicks of a hill, at elevation, in the heat of the day…
I ran at noon. I launched out of the gate at a steady pace. And within a few hundred meters the road curved gently upwards.
I’ll admit, the imagined extremes of elevation gain were out of whack with reality. It was a climb. It was a giant mountain hill, and probably the most hilly race I’ve yet completed, but it was not as bad as my brain had tried to convince my feet that it might have been.
I felt those hills. And a week later I still feel those hills. Hills upon hills