A group of four racing buddies decided to do the environmentally and socially responsible thing and carpool to the Merville 15k. We weighed our vehicle options and decided Gary's slightly roomier Volvo (vs. Shane's sporty Subaru) would be a suitable highway cruiser. As we watched the real-time fuel economy read-out, we realized that we had probably not chosen the most environmentally friendly option; however, we were still humming along the highway in relative comfort. Despite stopping at nearly every possible red light along the way, we were on track to arrive with at least a 30' cushion before the 11am race start. We became decidedly less comfortable when the car started to emit strange sounds. First was the eerie "howling dog" coming from somewhere under the vehicle. Then came the unsettling illumination of the oil light.
We made a quick stop in Buckley Bay for a few litres of oil, hoping that would quiet the dog so we could continue on our way.
The dog was not pleased, and continued to whine and howl. Fido's howl was soon joined by some odd clanking and whistling sounds. Gary was keeping a decent - if somewhat panicked - pace and we hit the stretch of gravel road that leads toward the race course at a good clip. It turns out gravel roads can have some rough sections, and the Volvo's rear right wheel hit the first pothole rather hard. A jarring "ba-bang!" marked another milestone in our steady decline into vehicle decrepitude. Although it sounded like something heavy was now dragging along the ground, we could see nothing obviously loose or rattly when we got out to check. Ever so gingerly, we continued along the road, uneasily wishing for this drive to be over.
Gary pulled the car into the first available parking spot, within sight of the start venue, and we all quickly switched mental gears into running mode, trying to ignore the big problem we'd have to address after crossing the finish line.
The day offered perfect conditions for a 15k jaunt through the Merville countryside: eight degrees, very light wind and clear skies greeted a crowd of about 310 racers. The Merville course offers classic rural running. The surface is mostly rough pavement, the traffic is light, and the roads are straight and gently undulating, with many opportunities to see runners up to two kilometres ahead.
The ubiquitous Merville bagpiper was out in fine form, piping the runners off the start line and greeting us back to the finish. Harriers fared well in all age categories. For the first time ever, both Galbraiths placed in their age categories - with Andy picking up his first Island Series top-10 finish and Elaine achieving a new PB and her second-ever age-group medal (an incredulous Elaine had to confirm with the volunteers that they had her time correct and that she was indeed worthy of that bronze medal). Despite a major mental stress weighing on his mind, Gary picked up yet another age group win. Shane Ruljancich finished third overall and first in his category. Finishing in the top-5 in their age groups were Jeff Hunt (5th M40-44), Nancy Baxendale (1st F50-54) and Peggy Anne Sherwood (4th F65-69) - hot on the heels of Eric Sherwood. Jan Moller picked up his second top-10 age group finish by placing 9th in the 65-69. I won the women’s title outright, securing my overall Island Series win.
The race organization is good, and has a friendly, small-town feel. The community hall that serves as the pre- and post-race gathering place is a converted barn, and offers basic protection from the elements and a light selection of post-race refueling options. For those traveling back to Victoria, a food stop is recommended, since one can only eat so many gummy bears and cookies!
As for the “stranded” Volvo travellers, the car was deemed unroadworthy and towed to a service station in Courtenay. The occupants were taken pity upon by fellow runners, and all managed to get back home to loved ones safely. You’ll have to ask Gary for a follow-up on the car. But you might want to wait a few days for the pain to subside.
The top three finishers: Derek Vinge, Nick Walker, Shane Ruljancich.