The morning of Sunday, December 11, 2016 broke in wintry fashion…-9 Celsius with a north-west wind, light snowfall and treacherously icy road conditions. The occasion? It was the day of the 34th annual Georgetown Runners’ Egg Nog Jog in picturesque Terra Cotta. The 10.8 kilometre course is set in a rectangle around the Terra Cotta Conservation Area with the Credit River running through it. The race is always held on the second Sunday of December and has been a goal race of my Team Over The Top runners for at least 12 years. Many have done the race multiple times – and always make the same observation – “it NEVER gets any easier!”. Nestled in the Niagara Escarpment, if it is not the most difficult 10.8 kiolometre race in North America, it’s DAMN close. Quite simply, there is NOWHERE to hide on the course. If you are NOT prepared to run in wicked winter conditions on rough terrain up and down some of the most challenging hills in the area, you will end of WALKING! That’s correct – walking! As my runners know, if I see ANYONE walking on the course during the race, I boldly announce “NO MEDAL FOR YOU. THIS IS NOT A WALKATHON!”. It is quite simply not acceptabvle in my world of running.
The registration/warming centre holds everything from the post-race Egg Nog to vendor booths tot he officail race t-shirts. It also serves as a gathering spot pre-race where you can stay somewhat protected from the winter elements until close to start time. Of course, post-race, the awards ceremony and camaraderie of your fellow racers take place – always a high-energy hour or so.My team came prepared with 5 on-course training sessions throughout the fall season. The main purpose of the sessions was to get them confident running what I term the Valley of Death II – an 850 metre double-barreled 12% grade climb at the 5.4 kilometre mark. This after having already climbed 6 much smaller hills that contribute to the cumulative fatigue that gets SO many walking up the Valley of Death II. It not only saps your energy but it crushes your spirit – IF you are not properly prepared for it. Our pre-race photo shows everyone raring to go.Terry was especially fired up as he wanted to keep a streak of sub-50 minute finishes in tack. Well, he did just that with a fantastic 49.12 result – his second fastest on record (notice the Vibrams. A number of my runners use only Vibrams. The others race in various types of minimalist footwear. Of course, the old coach was again full-on barefoot. I finished in fine form with absolutely NO issues (photo later in the blog).
The race start is always fast (the 1st 1.8 kilometres go straight downhill). You can see that the young greyhounds were flying from the start. Most of them finished in under 45 minutes – incredibly fast on such a tough course in winter conditions.I decided to run with Terry’s wife, Kimberly, for most of the route. It gave me a chance to support her and provide a boost when her confidence flagged somewhat. Thus, the following photos will depict her cresting on some of the toughest hills (including the Valley of Death II). Kimberly did exceedingly well – especially when you consider that she and Terry alternated Wednesday training with me and pushed their 21/2 year old son, Edison (who actually ran a few kilometres with them every Sunday), in a running stroller.In spite of a less than ideal training fall season, you will notice how Kimberly keeps low to the ground with knees bent, always driving forward. This is the perfect way to control a hill-dominant race course like the Egg Nog Jog. Good on her to maintain form even on the Valley of Death II where all around her other participants were walking and complaining. I almost forgot to mention the traditional bag-piper at the final crest of the Valley of Death, trying to spur everyone on – just when their lungs are about to explode. This, of course, is part of the Scottish heritage so ingrained around the Terra Cotta area – 1st settled, of course, by our Scottish ancestors almost 200 years ago. I will admit it’s a rather haunting yet spine-tingling sensation as you run out of the Valley to the piper’s sounds.
Once we hit the home stretch (a steep 100 metre downhill followed by a rather flat 400 mtres to the finish), Kimberly was flying. The big challenge for her moving forward is to calm her heart rate and breathing in the midst of racing. She can do it in training runs but…!! Next year, there will be no prisoners. The post-race picture shows most of my Team Over The Toppers in celebration mode for a race well-handled. Times ranged from 49 to 82 minutes with Kerry (mother of two young ones!) once again reaching the podium in her age group. 2nd place and this with NO running for 4 weeks pre-race due to her hectic ‘life’ schedule. Just think if she was conditioned as per usual!!!The post race festivities included the proverbial Egg Nog with all sorts of homemade goodies – another special feature of the race. It’s small enough (maximum 600 entrants) and local enough to maintain that ‘down-home’ feel. My team certainly enjoyed everything about the race.Finally, as proof positive that the old coach navigated the course full-on barefoot yet again, please view the photo below. My feet actually got hot and sweaty as i got beyond the 2 kilometre mark.From there, I quite simply dominated the hills and the rest of the course – using my toes to grip on the icy patches without losing stride. None of the rest of the field (other than my team and a few others who knew me from years gone by) could fathom how I ran so fast and strong barefoot when they were having major issues holding pace in their ‘coffins’ (shoes). To which I reply “why the hell would I run in ‘coffins’ when I can run easy, light and injury-free barefoot and bury most of you at the same time?” I never get a negative reply – everyone knows that I am correct.
One day before I die (and it most likely will start with my grand nieces and nephews!), there will be more barefoot runners than shod in North America. I’ll take that to my grave!!!