On May 20, 2019, I ran the Fire Fighters 10 Mile Road Race in Thunder Bay, Ontario, along with my marathon training buddies, my husband and a whole bunch of friends. It was the perfect day to run a legendary race.
Three of us young-at-heart women are training for our first marathon in October this year. Our training officially started on May 1, 2019. We have been building our distance and a 10 mile race this weekend was the perfect opportunity to test our our legs. We call ourselves the Struggle Busters because we each have had to overcome several obstacles in our lives. You can read our stories and follow our marathon training here on pinkribbonrunner.com.
Today, I want to tell you about this gem of a race in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
Oldest 10 Mile Race in Canada
The Fire Fighters 10 Mile Road Race is the oldest 10 mile race in Canada. It was officially started in 1910 to promote “healthy and clean sport” in the region. It ran from the town of Fort William to Port Arthur. These two towns later amalgamated in 1970 to form the City of Thunder Bay. The race has attracted world class athletes from all over the world. The Thunder Bay Professional Fire Fighters Association became the title sponsor in 2009, naming the race the Fire Fighters 10 Mile Road Race ever since.
This year saw the introduction of a new race director, Herb Daniher to head the volunteer race committee.
The course starts in the downtown Fort William area on May Street. It loops at Marina Park to overlook Lake Superior and the Sleeping Giant at the halfway point before heading back along the same route.
Participants can run as individuals to complete the entire 10 miles or form a relay team of 5 people, each completing 2 miles of the course.
Sandy Lake Runners
This year the race raised money to support the Sandy Lake Runners. Ralph Bekintis started a running group in Sandy Lake First Nation numerous years ago. He brings about 15 – 20 runners of all ages to the 10 mile race every year. They raise money to help fund their trip to Thunder Bay for the race. Some of the proceeds collected during runner registrations have helped support these runners for the past couple of years.
Race Day Weekend Weather is Usually Miserable
The Victoria Day long weekend is notorious for bad weather, usually bringing rains and even snow. The race was postponed in 1971 due to torrential rains.
A storm, bringing snow and wind gust, just south of the border the day before threatened this year’s race. There were reports of power outages and record snowfalls in Duluth, MN, which is only 300 km south.
Perfect Weather This Year
But May 20, 2019 was a perfect day for racing. There was no rain or snow. The sun came out to greet the runners. Temperatures were just below 10 degrees Celsius. It was cool in the morning, as we waited for the guns to go off. But as the race progressed, the sun on the road pavement warmed us up. We even welcomed the light cool breeze off Lake Superior as we ran the Marina loop.
Fresh Air 10 Mile Training Group
I was a part of a training group for the race this year. Developed by Sandy, and now co-organized by Marilee and Cheryl, Fresh Air has hosted an 18 week training program with volunteer coaches for a number of years now.
I have participated in this program as a runner for the past 3 years. This year I help coach the beginners group along side several other leads. It has been a fantastic experience. I really enjoy helping new runners progress along in the program.
Marilee and Cheryl are fantastic leaders for the program. Both have a such a wealth of knowledge about running and are very respected in Thunder Bay’s running community. Runners and coaches in the program value their advice and have learned a lot from them.
Every week was a triumph for the beginner group, some running the furthest they have ever run before. And I was there to celebrate with them. Many of them were coming off the couch to running 10 miles. Some were struggling with coming back to running after illness or injury. I understand and know their struggles so well. It was so encouraging and inspiring to see them succeed.
On race day morning, the training group leaders and coaches met early for pictures. We arrived at 7:45 to gather near the start line. The other training group runners started to arrive at 8:00 am for a group photo and a warm up run. We ran a little over 1 km to warm up before the race.
The Fresh Air 10 Mile Training Group won the award for most participants in the race again this year.
The Race Start was Delayed
Just before 9:00 am we lined up for the race start. There was a bit of a delay in starting the race, for reasons I do not know. I had already set my Garmin watch to “ready”, so couldn’t see what time the race actually started. I suspect the guns went off about 10 minutes after 9:00.
The Canadian Corps of Voyageurs fired off their muskets to signal the start of the race. And we were off.
Stephanie, one of the Struggle Busters, and I started with the pace bunny aiming for a 1:50 finishing time. Our strategy was to keep with this pacer until the first 10 minute walk break. The pacer was doing 10 minute run to 1 minute walk intervals, but Stephanie and I had trained to run the race straight with no walk breaks.
Anita, the 3rd Struggle Buster, started a bit further behind, as she was coming back from an injury and was planning to run a little slower for the race to protect her healing ankle.
Races Sometimes Don’t Go As Planned
Of course, I knew Stephanie wasn’t going to stick with the plan. About 200 meters into the race, I could see her start to pull ahead. She kept looking back at me. I knew she wanted to go faster than I was capable of. Anita and I are always trying to rein her in on our training long runs, as these runs are suppose to be long slow distance runs. But this was a race. And she needed to test her legs.
I told her to go run her race. She didn’t need to stay with me. I wanted her to do well and celebrate an awesome time at the finish. I didn’t need to say it twice. Stephanie took off and quickly pulled away from me and the 1:50 pace bunny. I could no longer see her after the 1 km mark in the race.
Following The Plan
I kept with the plan. After running with the pace bunny for the first 10 minutes, I kept the nice steady pace that she set and pulled ahead when they slowed for their first walk break.
The Value of a Pace Bunny
I learned the value of a good pace bunny from my husband. My husband is a fast runner. During his Boston Marathon qualifying attempt last year, he used the pacer to keep him from going out too fast. He chose his pacer carefully and stuck with the pacer almost to the end of the marathon. He then had legs left to pull away from the pacer in the last few miles of the race to accomplish his Boston Qualifying time. It works.
I had set my watch’s virtual pacer function for a pace of 6:45 – 7:00 per km. If I kept this pace, I would finish in under 1 hour and 50 minutes, which would be a personal best. I was running around 6:40 – 6:45/km and it seemed comfortable, so I kept this pace, wondering if I would tank after going over the overpass at the half way mark. I was going to find out.
The Cheering Crowd at Mile 2
The first water station was 2 miles into the race. A crowd of spectators was gathered there. It is so nice to have people cheer you on at a race. It really makes a difference.
I took two glasses of water at the water station. One at the beginning and one at the end of the row of water station volunteers. This was a trick I learned from a veteran marathoner during my first half marathon back in 2015. I call it “Bob’s Legacy”.
In 2015, Bob was running his last half marathon. I was running my first. I caught up with him after coming off the International Bridge at the Sault Ste Marie Festival of Races. He wasn’t sure which direction to go, so he and I ran together for the rest of the race. As we ran, he told me many tips about running distance races, such as half marathons and full marathons. For the next 2 hours, like a newbie sponge, I sucked up all his racing knowledge. How to drink water during a race was one of the things I learned from Bob.
Bob was a stranger to me before the race and I lost track of him as soon as we crossed the finish line. But I always think of him when I pass each water station in a race.
Cheering and Music Passed the Time between Mile 2 and 4
Next up was the long stretch between the second mile and fourth mile water stations. This is an open stretch of straight road. On the way out towards the Marina, it was lined with spectators cheering us on.
At about mile 3, loud music boomed from a sound system set up there. It was rockin’ music. I picked up my pace a little to keep in sync with the beat.
The Overpass to the Marina
After taking my two cups of water at the Mile 4 water station, I started to prepare myself mentally for what was next. The overpass. The hill starts just after the water station with a gradual incline. Then it becomes steeper as you run around the corner up onto the overpass. I worked my way up the hill, picking up my pace ever so slightly to get it over with quicker. Done! Then I could enjoy the descent into the Marina.
Views of the Sleeping Giant
The Marina has some gorgeous views of Lake Superior and the Sleeping Giant. The Giant is a peninsula on Lake Superior. As you look out from the Marina, you can see the resemblance of a giant with his arms folded across his chest. There are several versions of the legend about how the Giant came to be. The Ojibwa legend tells the story of how the Spirit of the Deep Sea, Nanabijou, was turned to stone when the secrets of Silver Islet were discovered by the white man.
I didn’t slow down at the Marina, but I did take in as much of the view as I could. I have hiked the Giant many times over two decades of living in Thunder Bay. And I recounted some of those hikes as I looked out over the water at him.
The Half Way High 5s
Returning back over the overpass, I was able to see some of my friends. There were many ‘high 5’s’ and cheers as we saw each other in passing.
After running back over the overpass, I was relieved to be done with the hills. I could now concentrate on running back to the finish. I picked up my pace a little at the thought of being over half way done. But there was still over 4 miles to go. Would my legs hold out at the pace I was going?
Miles 6 to 8
The stretch between the 6 and 8 mile water stations, I will admit, was a little boring to run. The runners had spread out by then and I found myself running alone. This section is a repeat run, given the out-and-back course, so the scenery didn’t hold my attention at all.
I tried to entertain myself by practicing a little mindfulness. I focused on my breathing and relaxed my body, leaning into my run ever so slightly. It really is a great way to run. I find that I can run a bit easier when I do this. However, I am not talented enough at it to maintain it for long periods. It does take some focus. My mind starts to wander eventually.
There were some very enthusiastic young spectators on the course at around the mile 7.5. They were jumping and cheering as I approached. Their sign said “Touch here if you need to power up”. So, I ran over to them and touched the sign. I definitely needed a “power up” to finish 3 more miles. It worked. I found renewed energy.
The Home Stretch
After the 8th mile water station, the road starts to enter back into the downtown. The road was shaded by buildings and I realized then how hot I was getting from being out on the open road in the sun. A cool breeze started blowing and it was wonderful. I was starting to tire now, but was determined to maintain my pace. I was on track for a great personal best time.
The Finish Line
I was very happy to see the finish line. Glancing at my watch, I smiled. I knew I would finish a happy runner.
Then I heard my name announced as I approached the timing mat. I looked at the clock and grinned from ear to ear. I cheered as I crossed the finish line with a time of 1:47:20.
This may not be a great time for most runners. But it meant a great deal to me. It was a personal best. My previous best 10 mile time was 1:54:12. I had improved so much over the past year.
A Personal Best Time Is So Much More Than Just a Time
After struggling for a couple years, my improved time means that I can overcome cancer both physically and mentally. I can overcome cancer treatments, including my struggles with Tamoxifen. I can improve and grow stronger with every run.
Those who have experienced illness and set backs will truly understand how much accomplishing a personal best means. It is a sweet victory, but even sweeter when you have been struggling.
Many Good Runs That Day
I wasn’t the only one with a personal best time. Stephanie also had a great run, finishing in 1:40:18. I am so impressed by her time. And Anita did well too, finishing in 1:55: 32. In fact, Anita felt so great on her run, she is now fully on-board to run a full marathon in October 2019.
My husband did well too. He ran the 10 mile race in 1:08:57 and won first place in his age. He has been training hard this year and deserved this win. It was also a personal record for him.
Congratulations to all the runners!
I have heard many personal bests were achieved at this, 2019 Fire Fighters 10 Mile Road Race. That is just so wonderful! I am so happy for everyone.
Well, Maybe It Wasn’t ALL Good
After we congratulated all our friends on a run well done, my husband showed me his running shoe. There was this a white splatter pattern to the toe of his left shoe. I was curious.
Apparently, on the way back to the finish, the woman he was running beside was dive bombed by a seagull flying inland from the Marina. As it approached, my husband saw a long stream of white liquid coming down from the blue sky. Some of that white stuff landed on his shoe. He also noticed the woman wiping her hair. That was not good, at all. To her credit, she took it well and kept running.
I am excited to tell you that I will be writing the story of two very special people who went from the couch to running 10 miles in this race. They are very inspiring people. I can’t wait for you to meet them. Watch for this post coming very soon.
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