Monday, February 24, 2020

Race Report: Scotiabank Calgary 50K Ultra

The Calgary Marathon has been on my radar for some time.  Not only was it because of the destination: Calgary, being the gateway to the Canadian Rockies, but because it offered a rare road ultra, the 50K ultra distance. The ultra was launched in 2014 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Calgary Marathon.  I hadn't been all that secure about my ability to do the 50K previously because of my finish times; in fact, they had some criteria requiring runners doing the ultra having completed at least one marathon in the previous 18 months in less than 4.5 hours, strictly a logistical reason since their road permit relies on runners being off the city roads in a particular amount of time.  When my finish times began to improve drastically, with consistency under the 4.5 hour mark, I confidently registered to do the ultra. The 2019 edition had a brand new route, which was flatter and required less city resources, such as police, to staff the event. In March, I had contacted the race with an offer to sing "O Canada" with the hopes to jumpstart a challenge to sing the Canadian national anthem in the Canadian provinces; they granted me the gig in April, and everything was set for me to go to Calgary in May!

While in London doing the London Marathon at the end of April, chatting with my friends Leo and Febry led to me divulging my upcoming marathon schedule to them.  I had mentioned Calgary as my Memorial Day weekend trip, and a week later, Febry messaged me that she and Leo were going to be heading there too, offering to fit in a night at a hotel in Banff after the marathon for more sightseeing... so my trip was set, and I had some good friends joining me for the adventure!

I took Friday off from work, and left New York super early that morning, flying out on a WestJet flight to Toronto.  Transferring to another flight using this airline requires you to exit the airside area of the terminal into the departures area, then re-enter through the security checkpoint. Thankfully it wasn't terribly busy, so after a short wait in line, I was back in the terminal, just a short walk away from my gate.  Because I had some time before my flight, I made use of the nearby Priority Pass lounge before boarding.  The Toronto-Calgary flight was pretty uneventful, and we departed and arrived on time. It was overcast when we arrived into Calgary at 1pm. Picking up my rental car was a breeze, and I ended up getting a nice upgrade to an SUV because they didn't have any cars available for which I reserved. I headed downtown to meet up with my Airbnb host at the apartment I'd be staying at for the next two nights.

Calgary Diegos!
My Airbnb host Tynan was a cool guy and during our conversations before my arrival, we found out that we both had a great interest in craft beers. It just so happened Calgary had a lot of great brewery options, many along 9th Avenue in the neighborhood of Inglewood, so after dropping off my stuff, Tynan drove us out there to enjoy the offerings.  We popped into High Line Brewing and Cold Garden Beverage Company, before returning back to the Airbnb.  I went to the Calgary Stampede, where the expo for the race was occurring (as well as the start/finish line), and picked up my race bib, then later that evening, made plans to visit with family who lived in the area. I actually didn’t realize until just before this trip I had so much extended family from the Diego side of my family living in Calgary! It just so happened the weekend I was in town, several Diego siblings, children of my grand uncle Cesar (and in turn, my dad’s first cousins) converged onto Calgary for vacation and we’re attending a big birthday party of one of the sibling’s grandchildren, which I ended up attending for a short period of time!

A view of downtown from Rosedale
I slept in a bit the next morning, waking up to a rainy Calgary. I decided to explore a bit of the downtown area, and do a little shopping - particularly for a down jacket, since I was quickly realizing that late May in Calgary still meant colder jacket weather, and I could only imagine how much colder it could be in some areas of Banff!  I picked up Febry and Leo from the airport at around noon, having tracked their flight as it landed.  We made our way back downtown for some lunch before walking over to the Stampede so Febry could pick up her race bib.  The rain finally subsided in the late afternoon, so we made our way to Crescent Road NW in the Rosedale neighborhood of Calgary, near McHugh Bluff Park, for an amazing view of the downtown’s many skyscrapers!
Canada Olympic Park
Being dorks at the Canada Sports HoF
With more time in the afternoon to enjoy the day, we decided to head to Canada Olympic Park, one of the main sites for the 1988 Winter Olympics held in Calgary, being the primary venue for ski jumping, bobsleigh, and luge. Also on site was the Canada Sports Hall of Fame, originally established in 1955 to "preserve the record of Canadian sports achievements and to promote a greater awareness of Canada's heritage of sport.” The facility opened on Canada Day, July 1, 2011 with eleven galleries and numerous interactive displays.

The most amazing steak EVER.
For our prerace dinner that night, Febry and Leo had made reservations at one of Calgary's famed steakhouses. Beef produced in Alberta is world renowned for its rich taste and incredible quality. Modern Steak, with multiple locations in the city, was highly regarded as one of the most prized steakhouses in Calgary. I chose a delicious NY Striploin steak, "born in Alberta, raised in Alberta, and harvested in Alberta." It was heavenly - one of the best pieces of steak I've ever eaten; a prime grade, dry and wet aged, pasture raised and barley finished cut of 12 ounces of meat, accompanied by sides of poutine, crimini mushrooms, and creamed Swiss chard.  I was ready for my race the next day, having fueled with such fantastic protein!

Race morning was a chilly morning, with the temperature forecast to be in the low 30s. The rain from the day before was gone, thankfully, and in its wake was a cloudless sky, the sun shining bright overhead. Still, for May, it was quite cold - so I was thankful for the long-sleeved shirt I was wearing to keep me warm.  We milled about before the race was to start at 7am.  Then I stepped to the stage to sing "O Canada" for the first time in Canada... hopefully the first of more to come!
Singing O Canada at the start

The startline
After I singing, I jumped into the corrals with Febry and at 7am we were off, taking the main road through the Calgary Stampede grounds northward, along Stampede Trail and out toward Olympic Way SE into Victoria Park.  We had a nice downhill as we made our way underneath the train overpass, before turning right onto 9th Avenue SE into the East Village, a corner I would be seeing three times that day, as we'd pass by here again in a little over an hour's time near the 11 km mark, and then again just before the finish of the race back in the Calgary Stampede.  The corner was framed by the Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, a beautifully designed bronze-hued and terra-cotta-tiled museum and performance venue dedicated to celebrating music in Canada in all of its forms -- its Skybridge looming five stories over the street.  We continued eastward along the avenue, passing Fort Calgary and crossing the Elbow River (a tributary of the Bow River) into the Inglewood neighborhood at the mile 1 mark, running down the avenue I had been familiar with from enjoying the area's breweries the day before.
Studio Bell
Telus Spark Science Museum
At 12th Street SE, we turned left, making our first crossing of the Bow River as we meandered our way onto St. George's Island, home of the Calgary Zoo, Canada's second largest.  We then crested the short Baines Bridge onto the single lane frontage road alongside Memorial Drive going east, where I finally took my first walk break 19 minutes into the race.  We eventually turned left onto 12th Street NE over the drive and into the Bridgeland neighborhood, where we turned right, and began to crest the first hill of significance of the race, a short 40 foot climb along an out and back on St. George's Drive NE around Tom Campbell's Hill Natural Park.  We had a nice downhill as we made our way toward the Telus Spark science museum, our turn around point being right around the 5K mark, which I reached in 28:30.

Downtown Calgary in all its glory
We made our way back up and over the hill, but this time continued on straight along 12th Street NE as we made our way into the heart of residential Bridgeland, turning left onto 1st Avenue NE, the main commercial strip of the neighborhood and what was historically its Little Italy enclave. Along the way, I noticed a woman wearing a bright yellow t-shirt running the race, which turned out to be a Michigan shirt - so of course, I had to yell out my customary "GO BLUE!" to her as I ran by; her cousin was running with her, and was wearing a 50 States Marathon club shirt, so naturally, I began a conversation with the both of them. Yvonne and Kyann were originally from Washington state, but were out here for vacation and to run the race, and it turned out Yvonne was currently living in New York!  Both Febry and I would keep up with them as best as we can over the next several miles, while we continued our regular run/walk intervals.

Soon, the course had us turning left onto 4th Street NE, a short route south before turning right along Memorial Drive, heading westward alongside the Bow River. We were now just coming upon the 9 kilometer mark of the race, and continuing to make do at a fairly decent pace, just before turning left onto the lower deck of the Centre Street Bridge, a historic two-decked bridge that marks the central point of the quadrant system of the city.  Just as we were making our way onto the bridge, we heard a car honk, as the lead vehicle charged with clearing the roadway for the 10K run made their way along the road; the 10K had started half an hour after us, and these runners were 4 miles into their race, averaging 5 minute miles!

Passing by Fort Calgary
We turned left onto Riverfront Avenue SW, still hugging the river, but now beginning the segment of the race through Calgary's Downtown area.  We crossed the 10K mat in 58:21.  The route was momentarily crowded as we made our way along the brick roadway of Confluence Way SE and 6th Avenue SE - the half, marathon, and ultra runners averaging 9+ minute miles on the left, with the 10K runners speeding past on the right at 5-6 minute pace. It just so happened this was also a section of the race with lots of spectators, particularly supporting charity runners as this was the Scotiabank Charity Block Party!  At the end of the road, we passed Fort Calgary once again (to our left) and then turned right.  We headed past Studio Bell and then took the short downhill back onto Olympic Way SE under the train tracks.

11th Avenue SE
As the road started to trend uphill, we turned right onto 11th Avenue SE heading west, beginning our first long straight away, about 5K long. I kept a nice regular pace, running alongside the 4 hour pacer who was keeping to a 10 min/1 min interval. Febry decided to stay with them, but we were never too far apart from each other, as it turned into a game of leapfrog for a little while. It was also a little windy along this stretch, as some light cumulus clouds started to roll in - so I was thankful to have decided to wear my longsleeved shirt to keep warm. The entire time we were just south of Downtown, with the city's notable skyscrapers just a few blocks away from where we were running.

Just after the 14 km mark, we turned right onto 14th Street SW, heading north toward the Bow River.  After passing underneath a few overpasses, we crossed over the Mewata Bridge as it became 14th Street NW.  We were back on the other side of the river, but now in the trendy neighborhood of Kensington, a lively area with many independent shops and restaurants.  We turned right onto Kensington Road NW, right through the center of this bustling commercial area, passing a Taiko group drumming a good beat for us as we made our way back down onto Memorial Drive.  We curved our way down onto Memorial Drive along 10A Street NW, right past the entrance to Modern Steak, our dinner venue from the night before, to the junction where half marathoners were directed to turn left, but marathoners and ultramarathoners would turn right to a considerably thinned out crowd.

Marathoners alone on Memorial Drive
Now 16 kilometers in, we began the long trip westward, eventually leading to a turnaround point. At this point, Kyann and Yvonne had carried on past Febry and I, as did the 4 hour pacer; so we maintained our solid pace as best as we could.  This was also the start of a very gradual 100 foot ascent -- for the ultra marathoners, at least -- where we wouldn't reach the highest point of our race course for another 14 kilometers, at that particular turnaround point.  From the 16th to the 19th kilometer, we'd be running alongside the Bow River, as Memorial Drive became Parkdale Boulevard NW, heading into the neighborhood of Parkdale, a residential area dominated by 1950s style bungalows. We veered slightly onto 3rd Avenue NW, as it passed through the neighborhood's main commercial artery which became Bowness Road NW, eventually reaching the 20 km mat in 1:57:19.   Shortly thereafter, we passed by some stiltwalkers, one of whom I jokingly passed between the legs of.  Though there was no half marathon (21.1 km) mat, I can imagine based on our pace that we managed to pass the halfway point at around 2:03.
Stiltwalkers on Bowness Road NW
Meeting Pippa!
We made our way underneath the Trans Canada Highway, passing a small cloverleaf interchange as we entered the heart of a quiet residential neighborhood called Montgomery.  It was quite nice through here on 19th Avenue NW as we were cheered on by residents out in front of their yards.  By then, we were asked to move to the right side of the road, as the fastest runners for the marathon were starting to come our way, some 9 kilometers ahead of us.  A group of flag spinners joyously entertained us as we passed their station in front of a senior center.  The route then zigzagged its way up toward Bow River once again, but just before our last turn, I spotted a spectator with a corgi cheering along the route!  I forced Febry to stop as I stooped down to get a photo with Pippa, who I later learned was barely a year old and was born in Kansas!  We continued on, getting onto the sidewalk and then crossing the John Hextall Bridge, a pedestrian steel truss footbridge with wooden decking that crossed over the Bow River.  Having seen a Calgary corgi, my day was made.

John Hextall Bridge
But there was still more running to go!  We were now in the neighborhood of Bowness, a former town that was amalgamated into the expansive city of Calgary in 1964.  In fact, the founder of the community was the bridge's namesake John Hextall, a landowner who developed his nearly 2500 acres of ranchland in the early 20th century into a garden suburb for the wealthy that didn't take off until thirty years after his death in 1914, after World War II.  We ran along Bowness Road NW northward, up until the road veered left and then curved toward the natural gridlines of the neighborhood. Some of the residential gave way to a gradually commercial area, and this part was slightly underwhelming, and not as highly spectated.

Bow Crescent NW
We veered right onto 67th Street NW, taking us up to Bow Crescent NW, running down a residential road that was largely undermaintained (read: full of cracked asphalt and potholes) compared to the roads we had been running on.  It started to become slightly gravelly as well.  Eventually, we realized that the marathon turnaround point was nearing, as runners who had passed us along the way were coming toward our direction, including Yvonne and Kyann.  Febry and I had stayed together all this way, some 26.5 kilometers, and this was where I left her to continue on my last roughly 2.5 extra miles before I made my turnaround.  I wished her well, and continued on, as I was directed to a narrow paved sidewalk as part of the Bow River Pathway, weaving its way through the trees.
Much more lonely on the Ultra route, as we go along the narrow sidewalk...
Welcome to Bowmont Park
Bagpiper in Baker Park
It was much more lonely out here, as we progressed down the pathway deeper into the woods. Hugging the Bow River once again, we were now in the 470 acre Bowmont Park, a natural environment park that was absolutely beautiful to run through, an area that felt completely different to the more urban and residential surroundings we had been running through for the last 30 kilometers.  The pathway undulated up and down somewhat, but never too much - eventually, the pathway made its way into an open clearing, into Baker Park. Here, we encountered more spectators (and even a bagpipe player), but moreso people who were just out enjoying the park on this beautiful morning.

The Stoney Trail NW Bridge
We continued on, with the river to our left and an expanse of trees to our right; eventually, the Stoney Trail NW bridge over the Bow River came into view, and our realization that there was a pedestrian bridge underneath the tall concrete expanse.  After passing some water treatment facilities, we made our way across the Bow once again, taking the meandering pathway through Bowness Park. The turnaround point was not too far inside, and once there, we were given a special branded slap bracelet to prove reaching this point, before turning right back and continuing back the way we came. It was just a little after 10am by this point, just over three hours into the race, and just under 30.5 kilometers run -- so under a half marathon left to go. It had warmed up a bit from the morning, now somewhere in the mid to high 40s.
Tall trees near the turnaround point
Loving the bridges over the Bow River
It definitely began to warm up a bit over the next hour, as my intervals had spread a bit thinner, and I was taking more walk breaks. I was appreciative of some of the aid stations in the ultramarathon extension of the course to carry sponges, as I used one to wipe the sweat off of my forehead, which was dripping into my eyes to cause them to sting. I finally got back to the point where I separated from Febry, now close to 35 kilometers in, and began the long slog back on the city streets toward downtown Calgary.  I had caught up to a few marathoners on the return trip back, but for the most part, it was pretty lonely out there - and a majority of the spectators had all but left. By 11, it had warmed up into the 50s, and was still climbing. I reached the 39 kilometer mark, and was only three kilometers away from completing the marathon distance -- but still had eight more to go after that. It was then I realized - hmm, my marathon time could very well be under 4:30, which made a 50K finish time potentially be as much as a full hour under my 50K PR.  Still, with as much running as I had left, I needed to keep in mind that the temperatures were rising and I was getting increasingly tired.

Marathon distance done.  8K to go!
We were back on Parkdale Boulevard NW when we finally reached the 42K mark, and for the ultramarathoners, we had a mat perfectly situated at that point in order to get a split time.  Seeing it in front of me, I gunned it and sprinted across the mat, crossing in 4:26:14, a blazingly fast time for me. The marathon time alone would've been (at that point in time) my second fastest lifetime marathon, only four minutes off of my Queens Marathon PR set in April 2019. Still I soldiered on... 8 kilometers left to go!

Spotting the Peace Bridge
The road diverged slightly as the route took what normally are the eastbound lanes of Memorial Drive NW as we retraced our steps alongside the Bow River.  These kilometers, though, felt like the longest EVER. Taking frequent walk breaks by then, the temps had reached a solid 56 or 57 degrees, and I felt like I was burning up. We passed the point where we had turned onto Memorial Drive over three hours earlier, this time continuing along the bends of the Bow River's north bank, as we ran through the neighborhood of Sunnyside. The Santiago Calatrava-designed Peace Bridge, resembling a Chinese finger trap, was to our right, with the skyscrapers of downtown Calgary in full view.  Soon, the 5:15 50K pacer passed me, and unfortunately I couldn't really keep up.  I kept him within my sights as best as I could, though, but he disappeared the closer we got to the turn onto the Centre Street Bridge for the second and last time.  Less than three kilometers left to go, and these were going to be familiar streets.

Only 2K left!  Come on Jim!
I was on the bridge when my watch hit the 5 hour mark which meant it was noon. I knew then that I could finish this race under 5:30, one of my major goals of the race. The final race of the weekend was the 5K Family Walk and Run, an out and back along the same final 1.5 miles of course that the 10K, half, full, and ultra runners were running, which started at noon. Despite the Calgary Marathon offering "The Roundup" challenge where we'd be able to earn two medals (for the 5K and Ultra) that fit together to make one super medal, I knew full well I wouldn't make it back to even start the 5K on time.  By the time I hit the 48K mark, I was on the course for the 5K, and the fastest runners began to blaze towards me, eventually making their turnaround and speeding right by me as I took my frequent walk breaks.  It made the roadway fairly crowded, but much more lively, especially when we passed the charity block party on 6th Street SE - a welcome change to how desolate it had been on Memorial Drive for so many hours.

Finally back in Stampede Park
It was just under 5:15 when I passed the corner adjacent to Studio Bell for the final time, now less than a kilometer away from the finish line. The straight shot along Olympic Way SE took us back into the Calgary Stampede onto Stampede Trail, past the Scotiabank Saddledome, and into the Grandstand.  By then, the course was separated out - a finish lane for the 5K, and a finish lane for the marathon and ultramarathoners. I crossed the finish in 5:23:02, over 56 minutes faster than my previous and only other 50K time at the Cowtown Ultra in Fort Worth, Texas back in February.  I was a different athlete then - somehow, in three months time, I improved my fitness, and improved it pretty drastically!

Ringing the PB Gong!
One of the fun benefits of the finish line festivities is the PB Gong, which I gleefully went up on stage to bang! I then went through the finish chute and found my way toward the courtyard in front of the Grandstand, making my way to a mural on the outside wall of the Stampede Corral, which I saw near the start and finish of the race.  I found a fellow runner who gladly obliged to take my headstand photo for me at this spot, before I scampered back over the skybridge at the Calgary Transit Stampede station to head back to my Airbnb for a much needed shower.  After I cleaned up, Febry, Leo, and I would drive off to Banff to explore the Canadian Rockies for the next two days.

Finished!  I look so DONE with that race, haha!
(Photo courtesy of the Scotiabank Calgary Marathon)
A medal and a slap bracelet!
Victory Headstand at the Stampede!
Off to Banff!
Except it didn't go as smoothly as anticipated; the lockbox keeping the key to the apartment was stuck, and I struggled to get it open; after getting in touch with my host (who was stuck across town and couldn't get back to the apartment in a timely manner due to the road closures for the race), he was able to contact his roommate who let me in.  We left Calgary a little later than we hoped, but we were off to Banff!

The charming town of Banff
With Leo driving the hour and a half out there, the Canadian Rockies, which had been hidden under a veil of clouds for the last couple days, finally came into view.  And they were quite majestic; soon we were in the town of Banff, where we checked into the the Canalta Lodge, which Febry and Leo had booked for us for the night. After dropping off our bags, we set off to enjoy the area as best as we can.  Banff National Park is Canada's oldest national park and is humongous, encompassing some 2,564 square miles of mountainous terrain.  With only a couple days to enjoy, I curated an agenda for us to maximize our sightseeing to see the must-see sights over our time there.

Overlooking Peyto Lake
Already well into the afternoon and wanting to take advantage of the sun while we still had it, we decided to go to the furthest point out first, having us drive 100 kilometers away to the lookout at Peyto Lake, a glacier-fed lake famed for its bright blue color during the summer months. It gets its color from the large amounts of glacier rock flour that flow into it at that time of the year. Being that it was May, and the summer was just beginning, the lake was still partially frozen. The area still had a nice blanketing of snow, and from the parking lot we had a 3/8 mile uphill hike through patches of snow in various states of melt to the lookout point.  We were some 6,840 feet above sea level on the highest part of the Icefields Parkway, the watershed divide between the Bow and Mistaya Rivers.  Coming back down was scary... this was SO not easy in tractionless running shoes... and it was COLD!  Still, it was totally worth it... this became our first of multiple photo shoots between Febry and I with our hard earned Calgary Marathon medals!

Snow in Canada in May!  And with tractionless running shoes!

Lake Louise
We then drove south to Lake Louise, world famous for its turquoise reflective lake surface and the Victoria Glacier, the soaring mountain acting as it’s backdrop. Like Peyto Lake, the turquoise color of the water comes from the rock flour carried into the lake by melt-water from its glacier. Though partly still frozen, the setting was still a fantastic one for a mini photo shoot, just as the sun was about to hide behind the adjacent mountaintop. On the lake's eastern shore was Fairmont's Chateau Lake Louise, one of Canada's grand railway hotels. Also nearby was Moraine Lake, only 14 kilometers away; but the we were just a week shy from the opening of the road leading to it.  Besides, we wanted to get back to town before sundown, since we didn't want to be driving on these mountain roads with all sorts of wildlife running about.  That night, we headed to dinner at The Grizzly House, a famed local institution, serving fondue and meats grilled on hot rocks in a lodgelike setting. After the Neufch√Ętel cheese fondue, our waiter brought a flat rock to the table, heated to a whopping 300°F. Each rock gets its own schmear of garlic butter, then we were free to grill our meats - in this case beef, chicken, venison, buffalo, and wild boar, to our hearts’ content. For dessert, we enjoyed some chocolate fondue!  It was a perfect way to end our last night in Canada, since we were all flying back to our respective homes the following night.

Enjoying the Banff Upper Hot Springs
Early the next morning, we woke up early to head to the Banff Upper Hot Springs just as it was opening on Monday morning, to beat whatever potential morning rush crowd could arrive.  These springs are a historic spa and bathhouse against the backdrop of spectacular alpine scenery. Within an hour of arriving, it got pretty crowded, so our timing was perfect! After leaving, I needed to dry out my bathing suit, so it had it hanging out the window to air dry for a bit as we drove to our next destination - which got a few questioned looks from other drivers as we drove through town!

Johnston Canyon
We then headed 40 minutes away to Johnston Canyon, one of the most popular and easy day hikes in the park. Only a little over 1 km in each direction, the trail begins immediately behind Johnston Canyon Resort. After a short climb through the forest, it descends and stays close to Johnston Creek. Along the way, the trail passes over iron catwalks attached to the canyon walls; underfoot, the turbulent waters of the creek flowed. As we neared the falls, we could hear the rush of water before actually seeing it. Once it came into view, a bridge across the creek served as a viewpoint, and a short (and wet) tunnel through the canyon bedrock allowed passage to an even more intimate vantage point. There were further points ahead to be able to hike to, but we had a schedule to keep, so we decided to head back to the car and go on to the next spot!

What a view from Two Jack Lake!
Another 40 minutes away along the Bow Valley Parkway are the adjoining lakes of Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake. For over 100 centuries, people have camped and hunted along the shores of these two lakes. Fed by the Cascade River, Lake Minnewanka is 13 miles long and 466 feet deep, making it the 2nd longest lake in the mountain parks of the Canadian Rockies (the result of a power dam at the west end), but the largest in all of Banff National Park. Two Jack Lake is a much smaller lake just a short drive from the parking lot for Lake Minnewanka, named after two men named Jack: Jack Stanley, who operated a boat concession on lake Minnewanka at one time; and Jack Watters, who worked for the mines in Bankhead, a town which flourished at the base of Cascade Mountain just after the turn of the century. We enjoyed the cool blue waters of these two lakes, and even braved a barely-above-water stone path to an island in Two Jack Lake for a fun photo op!

Bow Falls
Before we left town, we visited two more sites within the town of Banff. Cave and Basin National Historic Site, considered the birthplace of Canada’s national parks system, was founded in 1885 in an area with its thermal waters from the sulphurous hot springs on the flank of the aptly named Sulphur Mountain. It is notable as the habitat for the Banff Springs snail, an endangered species that is only found in this specific area, and has adapted to life in thermal springs where the water is low in oxygen and high in hydrogen sulfide, an environment too harsh for most animals to survive in. Many of the early structures here were built by detainees held at a World War I Ukrainian Canadian internment camp located nearby. The camp held citizens of countries with which Canada was at war with at the time, and had a significant Ukrainian contingent. Addressing this, an informative permanent exhibition about Canada's historical internment operations was opened at the Cave and Basin site. Also part of this area is a unique marsh habitat, with waters flowing from the caves down to the Bow River, offering fantastic birding opportunities and excellent views of the surrounding mountains.  Our last stop out of town was the Bow Falls, a major waterfall on the Bow River, located near the Banff Springs Hotel.  Of course, our trip would not be complete without a photo with the Banff sign at the edge of town; after asking some other tourists who had the same idea to take our photo, we jetted off, heading back to Calgary.
The Banff side at the edge of town
Ginger Beef
With my flight leaving quite late that night, essentially a redeye heading east to Toronto before transferring to the early morning flight getting me back to New York, we stopped into Dragon Gate Restaurant, a Chinese restaurant in the residential neighborhood of South Calgary. It’s not what you’d expect as a big food “draw," but Ginger Beef, considered a true Chinese Canadian dish, was first invented here in the 1970s. It consists of deep fried strips of beef coated in a dark sweet sauce that is reminiscent of other Asian sauces based on vinegar and sugar. It also contains flavors of ginger, garlic, and hot peppers, and is commonly served with a small amount of julienned carrots and onions in the sauce. Today, the dish is considered an important part of culture in Calgary and this part of Canada. We were taken by surprise by the portion sizes at Dragon Gate, which came recommended by Reddit users naming their favorite spots for this fish; after ordering other dishes (green beans with chicken in a black bean sauce, ma po tofu, and the Dragon Gate special fried rice), we were a bit skeptical with how much we’d be able to finish, but still ate most of these dishes before needing to “doggy bag” what was left.

After my two flights home, with a super early morning arrival into Toronto (and beating the rush of travelers connecting into the US PreBorder Clearance area!) I made it back to New York on Tuesday morning, and stopped home to drop off my bags before heading to the office.  I was happy with a new 50K PR, lots of great memories after visiting some family and a fascinating part of the world, and the fact that I'd only be at work for three days that week; late Thursday night, I'd be off to Europe again for the Stockholm Marathon, taking another Friday off!

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