Hey kids, what time is it?
That's right, it's time for the annual pilgrimage to the Berwick Run for the Diamonds!!
I was introduced to the Run for the Diamonds in 2007 by Joe Duval, long time runner and huge contributor to the running community in Ottawa. Joe and his buddy Dave Pedley have made the 7hr drive down to Berwick, PA for the annual Thanksgiving Day run for 18 years now. The event itself is actually 102 years old and has an amazingly friendly, small town flavour, except now there are 1800 runners. There are no Kenyans showing up to this race, but that does not take away from its competitiveness over the very challenging 9 mile course.
The stiff competition comes from the allure of running such a storied event, on a very tough route, but also the fact that, as the name suggests, there are diamonds to be won by the top 7 fastest men and women, as well as the fastest in four master's categories. They are not easy to acquire.
I will dispel with the suspense and say now that none of us earned one this year. You can read on for the actual fun part of the trip, or at least my perspective on it.
The first snow storm of the year hit Ottawa the night before we left, so driving was a bit nervous (or was it Joe's driving that made us nervous?) as we headed south to Angelo's Restaurant near the 416 and 401 interchange to meet up with the Cornwall crew.
The Cornwallians had worse roads than we did, so they let us know they were backing out of the trip in the interest of safety. We trudged on and the road improved the further from Ottawa we got. We called the Cornwall guys to let them know the situation, and two of them, Henri and Jeff, decided to make the trip.
The drive down was uneventful and actually quite pleasant, with the regular stop for lunch in Homer or Cortland. We arrived in Berwick, checked in to the Patriot Inn, and since beer is cheaper than pop, went to the bar only to find out they changed their hours and it was not open for another 45minutes (5:30PM).
We wasted a few hours then went to race kit pick up and the old fashioned pasta meal, complete with guest speaker. Race entry is $20 and pasta meal is $10. One free beer from the Elk Lodge included.
All that done, we followed the usual pattern and went to a sports bar called the Scoreboard and watched the hockey game, while being entertained by a very good solo guitarist belting out the tunes. Joe says they have the best fries in the area, but I disagree, though I have nothing to compare them to since that is the only place we ever go.
Hotel to bed, then up at a relaxed hour the next day. Race start is 10:30, so no rush at all here.
We arrived at the race with about 35min to spare, basically a perfect length of time to warm-up, change into the racing gear, do some drills and get to the start line. The temperature was about 8 degrees, with sunny skies and a very light wind that would be a tailwind in the finishing miles. In 2010, we were treated to a snowstorm. This was much nicer.
The course profile is very tough-it starts with 1 mile of flat road heading straight out a spectator lined boulevard, then turns right to the 1 mile clock. The next mile has a gentle downhill to the bottom of the biggest challenge of the day, a hill equivalent in length to twice Pink Lake and at the same steepness. The next big challenge is not falling on your face as you fly down the other side, blowing your quads apart as you head towards the sharp left turn that marks the half way point, complete with clock to demoralize you. You then start a series of rolling hills, 2-300m up and down several times, but with a net downhill trend, past the golf course and more hills, but this time with a net uphill profile. At 8 miles, the course flattens out and you run the initial boulevard back to the finish line. It's a long straightaway that never seems to get shorter, but eventually, mercifully, it does.
Previous high placers overall get seeded numbers at this race, and only seeded numbers are allowed on the front line. Race Directors enforce this aspect firmly. If you think you are fast, you line up on the second row. You have no choice. It is as simple as that.
My warm-up felt great and I was encouraged, so I was on the front line with Christian Belair of Summerstown near Cornwall, himself enjoying a very good season but being a 'Berwick Virgin', lined up behind me as we waited for the gun to go off.
We stood around on the start line for about 10min protecting our space and, unbeknownst to me, my legs were stiffening up. When the gun went off, I started running hard, but my stride length was about half what I expected. I became discouraged.
I reminded myself the race was long and hard, and the first mile was not important. I was re-energized.
I felt like I was flat out and could not see the front guys a mile into the race. I was very discouraged.
I was pleased and shocked at the time for that first mile-5:35- but flabbergasted at the number of people in front of me. My guess would be about 50 or so people rocked that first mile. I figured if I was patient, they'd start to come back soon enough, and then a pack of 10 passed me and no one came back to replace them. Discouraged again.
My second mile was 5:50 and still no one was coming back to me. More discouraged.
Mile 3 is on the big uphill and I clocked 7:54. For the first time in my runs at Berwick's, I did not lose a place on the hill. I was encouraged.
I hit the half way in 28:10. My best time to that point on this course so far is 26:20, so I was back to being discouraged.
And then my legs woke up and I started to catch people. I was encouraged again.
5 miles went by in 31:10 and I had caught more people. Still encouraged.
My 6th mile was 5:15 thanks to the net downhill, but I was still gaining on and passing people. I was felt more encouraged all the time.
My 7th mile was 5:35, still downhill, but not as much as the 6th. There were now more people behind me and still fewer in front.
My 8th mile was 5:40 but it was more uphill than down. Again, I was passing a runner here and another there. I was really inspired at this point.
My 9th and final mile was 5:50 and, just like on the hill, this was the first time I had not been passed on that section. I did not catch anyone either, but I was very encouraged to finally hold my own and stay in one piece on this course. It's blown me to smithereens twice before.
I was and am elated with the way the race unfolded-41st overall, 4th in category.
Christian finished up in a very fine 55:10, 8th in his category.
Joe, Dave, Wendell, Jeff and Terry all had good days-it's hard not to on such a great course when Mother Nature cooperates.
In looking through the past results, in 2007 and 2008, I was 24th place both times. In 2010 and 2011, I ran exactly the same time.
How weird and coincidental is that?
I was walking past the finish line and heard the best line of the day.
supporter "great race, man. Excellent time..."
runner "thanks! I'm very happy with it."
supporter "but you still haven't beat your father's time from 45 years ago."
insert knife and twist was all I could think of.
Thanks for reading.