Every time we head out for a run it is different, each run has a life of it's own; sometimes it's great, sometimes it's not. Then there are the one's that start out terribly and end up with a strong finish, miles longer than you thought you would have been able to pull off when you dragged your butt out the door. These can easily be my favorites! And of course there are the runs that initially feel fantastic and you have a great route planned and as you get going your body laughs at you and feeds you a plateful of humility to choke down as you hobble home a wee bit earlier than you planned. I also find it interesting that you can run with someone and have such different experiences along the way at the same time and on the same route. It's nice just to hear their thoughts because they open your mind to what it is they are experiencing. Kinda like growing up with your sibling in the same house with the same parents, but seeing a whole other side to the experience than what you saw.
The Polar Bear Run is one of these runs that really point out to me the extreme in the experience paradigm. Three years ago (2010) we had wanted to run this and it was unfortunately cancelled due to the melting snow on top of the ice. There was a 2-4 inch layer of water on top of the ice and the snowmobiles would not be able to support us if we ran across, these snowmobilers are an essential part of this run. They carry water, gatorade, supplies and even sleds that can carry an injured person if required, they are even kind enough to pick up shed clothing! We were distraught! We ran the distance that morning and it was one of the hardest runs we had done to that point. It was also our personal best for distance at that time, 17 miles! (seems rather short now).
Last year, there were four of us who drove out, this year there was two. We ran across the frozen wilderness that is Lake Winnipeg from just outside Gimli to Grand Marais a point to point route. This year, we ran along the shore line from Gimli to Winnipeg beach and back. The run is set for this Sunday every year, the Sunday morning of daylight savings time. I've been told that before this day the conditions are often to bad and dangerously cold to run safely, after this day the conditions could be to warm and dangerously wet.
Last year (2011) conditions were ideal, at the start. It was around the -20C mark and not too breezy. The trail we were following was well marked with orange poles every tenth of a mile or so, and the snow was fairly well packed... at the beginning of the trail. I'll let you read more about this experience here. There is a lot of things that can change on the frozen ice desert in a few miles than you would think.
Sunday morning was interesting as we set our clocks ahead an hour and then proceeded to get up extra early to make the just over an hour drive to Gimli. We were rewarded with a coyote sighting on our way for our troubles of waking up early; he was finding something interesting in the lightly snow covered field. It was neat to watch him as we took some time to pull over to the side of the road for a moment.
This year (2012) there was no marked trail across the lake. There just wasn't enough snow on top of the ice for the posts, or so I heard someone say. Interesting? So instead of cancelling this years run the race director was creative, asked for some help from another snowmobile club, and found us all a new trail to run. We would still be running on the lake but we would follow the shoreline and run an out and back type route. We met at 'Kris' Fish and Chips' in Gimli, where we were greeted with coffee and water before we headed out. As the start time came and slowly went by, a few runners started looking at their watches more closely. The RD came to inform us that we had a choice; we could 1. wait for the fog to lift off the lake or 2. run through town to another start area where we could get onto the ice and by then the fog should be lifted. At this time we couldn't see the end of the harbour and going onto the ice would only get us lost on the lake if we tried. Without a marked trail, and one that you could see, it is very dangerous and most likely that we would all get lost or at the least be going in different directions. We all wanted to get started so we all opted to run through town. We were outside and on our way 5 minutes later; 3 minutes after that we came to the end of a street and the RD stops everyone to point out that the fog has lifted, so out onto the ice we go. I'm really not sure, but I feel that this RD has a lot of experience in this neck of the woods. He seems to really know the terrain and conditions. Later in the run I had a chance to chat with him as we were running along to only find out that he has trained out this way for many years. It's nice when you get confirmation the guy you are trusting for your safety actually does know what he's talking about. And I believe this is the 20th year he's done and organized this run.
There were some instructions about keeping left for two areas in the marsh? And then staying to the right after that? We eagerly followed everyone, watching carefully as we saw some participants drifting out onto the lake on another snowmobile trail. Sometimes when the trails cross, they are easy to steer you out further than you initially notice, mistaking one trail for the one you thought you were on, not realizing where you are in relation to the shore. But we had the snowmobilers watching our back (and our asses!) as they did direct a few people back onto the correct trail.
Out on the ice we watch as the sun came through strong and melted the haze of the leftover fog away. Looking to your right you could see the beach houses sitting on the shore waiting for their families to return to their summer homes, looking to the left you could see the icy lake stretch out for miles until it peacefully met the sky. Looking up into the sky it seemed that the clouds were a reflection of the snow covered lake we were running on. It really felt like God had created this morning just for our enjoyment.
Gail had a great idea to eat every 5 miles to keep our energy strong and even, I loved this idea because some days it's so much about the food for me! Actually I was excited because we had tons of chocolate and energy bars, and with this kinda mileage I'm not as worried about the calorie count. We kept a pretty even pace throughout, even with our snack breaks and finished 19 miles in about 4 hours 20 minutes. Last year I think I finished 18 miles in around 5 hours 30 minutes. Same distance? (actually I think this year we did an extra mile) different conditions. Last year when I finished there was nothing left in me, I was done for the day. This year I felt excited, tired, but I still had something, which was good because we got to refuel and then had an hour drive back home to our families where of course you have to get back into life and still do stuff. About the after spread, mmmmm scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, pancakes, cupcakes, strudel, cookies, banana bread...... mmmmmm! Thank you to the staff at Kris' Fish and Chips'! Gail and I were at the end and I still couldn't believe how much food was left. Awesome!
In Gail's post she mentioned how we got lost and ended up on the wrong side of the thin ice sign, we had no idea that we were lost. We had all been told that the sign was out there and if we saw it to stay on the right and we would be okay. We never saw it on the way out, but on the way back it was interesting to know that we have someone looking out for us, and for those who chose to run with us. Some may be glad they continued on their way ahead of us? Hahaha, but the stories we get from this are priceless, or so I'm gonna believe because they give us lots to laugh about later! I think Gail has us all signed up for an orrienteering course this summer!
Thank you to all who made this possible, the volunteer snowmobilers, staff at Kris', our knowledgeable RD, his wife the organizer, the photographer, and the runners, the fat tire bike guys, the skiers. It was an awesome day that has made such a great memory, I will savor it on the days that aren't so great and it will push me through.
Gail had the camera, so to see the awesome pics go here.