The air horn is a whine rather than a blast...a sound you liken to erectile dysfunction. But a race off to a limp start is still a race, so you shuffle with the herd to the start line where you are then able to actually begin running.
Five or so kilometres in town, then cross the bridge over the creek, zip past the electrical transformer (that's where Mrs. Buzzy lives) and it's out onto the trails. You feel like shit, but forbid yourself from voicing a word of complaint until you are past the 11km mark.
Some paths are paved, some are not, and some are always swampy no matter how dry the weather has been, but you don't care about mud seeping into your $200 shoes because trail running is glorious. Along the scenic stretch through a meadow, smudges of morning fog both obscure and enhance the breathtaking view of the mountains. Then you take a loop around the sewer outfall that reeks so sharply of sulphur you can actually taste it.
Once past the Bog of Eternal Stench it's time to pack up your gentle awe of your surroundings because you've reached the dreaded switchbacks. These hills are steep and long. The best strategy is to put your head down and try to blot out the wail of ultimate suffering that echoes through the valley from countless achilles tendons brought to the very brink of rupture.
After the cliffs of insanity, it's a bit of downhill, which is pleasant, unless you're coughing like a consumptive textile worker from the industrial age because you chose to run 21.1km while in somewhat ill health. Even you don't understand your own madness. Although a psychologist friend recently told you that a balanced life involves a good mix of self-abuse as well as self-care. This is the most attractive professional theory on mental and physical health that you've ever come across.
At the 12km marker, you finally mutter something about needing to slow down, but it doesn't feel as good as you'd hoped. It's okay though, because you're more than halfway to the finish. Just a few more hills.
Then it's back down into the valley, around the stinky sewer pond, through the meadow, across the bridge, and follow the creek until you turn onto the street where the finish is three blocks away.
You cross the line and look for your dad, who finished several minutes before you because you are weak and sickly. Father is found, congratulations exchanged, and diluted orange Ultima is sipped from a cup made of corn or something because this is Canmore, a former coal mining town now mindful of its carbon footprint.
With a raw throat and aching chest, you suggest ditching the dry post-race bagels and heading to the place that makes awesome Quebecois style poutine instead. Shivering in your wet gear, you and your dad share a huge dish of gravy drenched cheese curd and fries.
Somehow, it's the best day.