My attitude towards birthdays has changed a lot in the past few years. When I turned 30 a few years ago I was happy and ready. While others lamented the end of their twenties, I embraced my thirties as a time to explore my newfound love for running and capitalize on being (hopefully) wiser. I don’t measure my age by the number but rather by how I feel. I am in better shape now than I was ten years ago. People in my family tend to live for a long time (my grandpa just celebrated his 98th birthday and I had great grandparents who lived into their late 90s to early 100s) so I know how important your health is if you want to maintain a good quality of life into your old age.
I celebrated my latest birthday by running the half Marathon by the Sea, which was race #3 of the Port City Challenge in Saint John, NB. Running makes me happy, so when I found out this race was on my birthday I knew I had to do it. I had run personal best times at my last two halfs, but given the hilly course, racing three days in a row and the fact that I hadn’t tapered (this would be my fifth day running in a row), my expectation for a PB was low. I decided to use the race as a training run for my full marathon in October. The rest of the Crush It gang ran the 10k, so I was the lone person in our group tackling the half.
My morning started out with a yogurt parfait and reheated oatmeal. I usually carry two water bottles in my fuel belt when I’m running a half, but after overheating at the Goodlife Half in May I opted to carry all four (two with water and two with ELoad).
We walked over to the start line where my friends sang happy birthday to me before the start of the race. Kristen was determined that I finish in sub-two hours and kept cheering “sub-two! Sub-two!” Dan guesstimated that I might finish in about 2:15, which I would be happy with given the challenging course. As with the other two races it was a self seeded start and we were off.
I ran my first kilometre in 5:40, which strangely enough was the same time that I ran my first kilometre for the first two Port City Challenge races in. This isn’t my half marathon pace but I chose to go out faster so I could get some distance on the crowds. I settled into my pace when the half and full split from the 10k route and more breathing room opened up. There was perfect running weather that day. It was warm enough for shorts and a t-shirt (I wore my singlet) but it was grey and overcast so it didn’t feel unbearable. The half route took us up and down several streets. At one turnaround I saw the marathoners carry on to their part of the course. I couldn’t even imagine doing that. I wasn’t in the headspace for it.
I kept passing runners at the water stations and was thankful that I was carrying my own water. It makes a difference and I find it hard to start running again when I slow down at a water station. I did end up taking water from one volunteer because she was dressed as if she was taking a shower. It was pretty funny and I couldn’t resist her enthusiasm.
During the course, we crossed several bridges, had an excellent view of the Saint John sign and ran along the highway. It was hilly but not any hillier than what I’m used to running. On most up hills runners would pass me but then I’d pass them back on the downhill sections. I think the reason why I’ve started enjoying hilly races is for the downhill sections. I have giant, muscular quads that help me power on the downhill sections so they’re my favourite. As we finished a set of rolling hills I remember thinking “Is this all you’ve got New Brunswick? I thought you were hilly!” At 17k I ate my words. We hit some challenging uphill sections and then entered into the elevation nightmare known as Rockwood Park. I felt like every hill I encountered was laughing at me. I regretted my initial bravado with the onslaught of each hill. At one section I looked ahead, desperately hoping to see runners descend at the top of the hill. Instead I saw them run a flat section and then tackle another challenging uphill. I thought “Don’t worry about that now. That’s future Mei’s problem.”
Despite all of this I refused to walk on any of the hills. I kept thinking “I didn’t run all of those hills in -30 C to walk up a hill in August!” Soon people were no longer passing me going uphill and I was passing them as they slowed to a walk. Every time I passed someone I expected them to pass me back, but in most cases I never saw them again.
After an agonizingly long time I excited Rockwood Park and headed to the finish line. On the way I encountered, you guessed it, more hills! At this point I was cursing and swearing at every hill as my legs cried out in protest. I knew I just had to hang on for a few more kilometres. My left calf threatened to cramp up and as I felt it tighten I felt as though I was willing it to relax with my mind. I started matching my exhales with my left leg’s footfalls and I drank more sports drink. Something worked (likely the sports drink but I like to think my exhales and mind over matter attitude helped).
Some race volunteers saw me and wished me a happy birthday. I found out later that my friends told them to look out for me. I could hear the finish line ahead so I mustered everything I had left in me to finish strong. Much to my surprise, I finished in 2:09:54, a new PB! I was so proud. I kept thinking about what I could do if I tapered, only ran one race that weekend and ran on a flat course. The possibilities!
After I finished I grabbed my chocolate milk and headed to the food tent where I saw one of the greatest post-race food spreads I have ever seen! They even had pizza! Unfortunately I couldn’t eat most of it since I tend to not want to eat right after a big run. Usually I’m starving a few hours later. I grabbed some watermelon, which was one of the many things that I was craving, found a spot on the curb and sat down and ate. Dan sent me a text asking if I had finished yet and eventually found me. It turns out he missed seeing me finish because he underestimated how fast I would be done. The 10k course had taken him through part of Rockwood Park and he had looked at some of the hills that the half and full marathoners had to run and thought of me/laughed at me. Kristen, Paul, Sue, Anna, Eddie and Gianna all also came back to the finish line and they also brought me a piece of cake! It was definitely one of the best birthdays ever! I kept thinking how I felt stronger and fitter now than I did the year before. Last year I couldn’t have run this half like this and I certainly couldn’t have done this a few years ago. What more could I ask for?
After showering and changing we set out for what turned out to be an 8 hour pub/food crawl!
The waiter at Bourbon Quarter was very nice and quickly moved us inside when it started raining. He also helped us plan out our pub crawl route!
Next we went to Saint John Ale House, which had a really cool atmosphere. I had the maple bacon scallops (incredible!) and Dan had the buttermilk chicken fingers and fries, which were featured on the show “You’ve Gotta Eat Here!” All of the food here was delicious. Anna also ordered a deconstructed Caesar salad where the romaine lettuce head had been grilled. It was also a hit.
Our next stop was up the street at Lemongrass where I had the tom yum goong soup and some veggie wrap rolls. Dan had deep fried ice cream. We also admired some of the new tables that were made by Elwood’s Wood Lab, a local place. The tables were beautiful.
After Lemongrass we waddled over to Britt’s Pub and Eatery for dinner. Britt’s was named after Saint John artist Miller Britain, who had an art studio a few floors above Britt’s Pub and Eatery in the 1930s. The food here was also amazing and I had their special, which was a pasta dish. For dessert Dan and I shared the pavlova (meringue, whipped cream, fresh fruit and strawberry coulis). Gianna had a flight to catch so Paul walked her back to the hotel lobby where she caught a taxi to the airport. She definitely didn’t go hungry before she had to leave! At this point we were stuffed but the rest of us ended up making one final stop.
We returned to Mix Resto Bar where the friendly waitress recognized us and asked us how the race went. We all got coffee and then Dan started asking about the ice cream. When the waitress told him what flavours they had he said he’d have one of each (and basically make a Neapolitan). I couldn’t believe it! We sat around chatting and digesting. Paul, Sue and Kristen were flying out from Moncton the next day, Dan and I would be flying back to Toronto from Saint John, and Anna and Eddie were just starting their east coast adventure. We said our goodbyes to Kristen, Paul and Sue but made breakfast plans with Anna and Eddie. I can’t believe how quickly the weekend went.
The next day the four of us returned to Britt’s for their famous eggs benedict. I had their chorizo sausage and biscuit Benedict and it was definitely worth getting up early for! After that we said goodbye to Anna and Eddie and spent the rest of the day enjoying Saint John.
Saint John is a charming city that is somehow quaint and modern at the same time. The people there are incredibly friendly and who knew that there would be such amazing food in Saint John? We were also happy to see what seemed like a resurgence in their arts and culture industry. There was a quiet buzz about the city while we were there and I liked it. I hope that we get the chance to visit again soon.