Fernie Half Marathon

The last time I ran a half marathon I pounded pavement on the streets of Ottawa, running past parliament buildings with 15,000 others surrounded by city skyline. When I crossed the finish line, I said I’d never run that far again.

And yet, here I am on a warm October morning running along the Elk River with 398 others for the Fernie Half Marathon. The view, unlike Ottawa, is much more beautiful, a whole lot fresher and there’s no city noise. Only snow-capped mountains.

This is how a half-marathon should be.

If you are a runner in any form, you know there’s a moment during every run where a feeling of happiness engulfs you. It may be a very brief moment – especially if you are running 21 kilometres, your hip-flexors ache and you feel like death – but it is a moment, nonetheless.

My friend Amber and I decided several months ago that we would both run the half marathon. Having both grown up here, running this particular race is especially important. We created for ourselves a training schedule and, week after week, ran a little further.

The morning of the race finally arrives and despite having horrible weather for the past few weeks, the day is sunny and bright.

“I’m nervous,” we both say to each other as we stretch in the Annex Park. People have gathered for the beginning of the race to cheer on friends and family. Nerves quickly change to excitement and soon we are corralled to the starting line.

The race begins and then I’m off, racing around the first corner and coming in first place.

I’m kidding. I start with a slow and steady pace and say my goodbyes to Amber, not wanting to become wrapped up in the hype. I remind myself that some people are running the relay – seven kilometres – while I have to run 21.

As we move forward through the first few kilometres, I play touch and go with several people. We run through the Annex along the river, up onto the lower part of Mt. Fernie and towards the golf course. It’s a fight to remain composed, breath easy and run steady.

The bright yellows of the changing leaves fall to the ground and crunch beneath my feet. With every breath the air is crisp, as if the day has been given a fresh start.

I reach the seven-kilometre mark and am happy to see my parents and friends along the sidelines. Their support is beyond encouraging.

The route then loops around Maiden Lake and down along the Annex towards Coal Creek. It’s a flat stretch and at this point I’m feeling confident and steady, Lady Gaga pumping in my ears.

That steadiness is short-lived. At kilometre-13, I hit a wall and Lady Gaga can’t do anything for me. I’ve just reached the bridge by the Coal Creek barn and I’m feeling lightheaded. I push forward, knowing I have two friends up ahead.

Sure enough, they whoop and holler as I run past, putting a smile on my face. I loop back and head towards James White Park, where the third portion of the race weaves.

“Go Jess!” I hear my mom yell along the trail, and emotion floods over me. Apparently running can make you cry, too.

I make it through James White Park and reach the last three kilometres of the race—the most challenging.

Although my feet look great in these fluorescent green Nike sneakers, they are screaming at me to stop. I’ve been fighting a cold all week and my lungs wheeze. I can feel every inch of my body moving towards exhaustion. My legs are wobbly. But I trained for this and I know I can do it.

Several minutes later I approach the final stretch. The loud voice of my friend Pauly echoes above the others, and I pick up speed to cross the finish line, finally done. Amber gives me a big hug, and the waterworks begin.

2:25:41. I feel elated. Overjoyed. Proud and exhausted. I’ve just finished my second half marathon.

If you’ve never been a runner, I suggest you try. Maybe you’ll find yourself running a half marathon. Never say never, right?