2015 Race #12: YMCA Jingle Bell 5K, Cambridge, ON

Date: November 22, 2015
Gun Time: 20:18
Chip Time: I don’t know, probably 20:16 or so
Placing Overall: 7th out of 142
Placing in Age Group: 3rd out of 18 (M40-44)
Theme Song: “Roxanne“, The Police

Well. Last race of the year. I did it. Man, it feels great.

I’d planned to do the Tannenbaum 10K in December in Toronto as my last one, but then my running club president sent us all an email reminding us about this race supporting the local YMCA. Since it was closer anyway, and it’s always my inclination to back local races, I decided this was a better one to do.

It was a spur of the moment decision, however, and I wasn’t even sure that there would be race day entry, because the website didn’t say either way. There was race kit pickup relatively early on the morning of the run at the Y so I swung by there to see, and got some bells (obviously), a Christmas ornament shaped like a bell (sensing a theme here), and a rather lurid pink T-shirt (um, OK?) in the race kit. There was a 2.5K timed fun run before the 5K was scheduled to begin and everyone was in a festive mood, as I suppose befitted the circumstances.

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We stood around in the parking lot shivering while the timing guys pointed out that there was about a 6 foot deep pothole filled with water right in the middle of the course in front of the start line. Thanks, timing guys. The thing looked like it could swallow a Yugo whole and still have room for a Smart Car. Several Cambridge Harriers were in the race so we spent some time catching up waiting for the gun to go off. The only local elite was Rob Brouillette, and he took off at the start as expected. I tried to settle in at a fast pace (avoiding the monster pothole) as the course wound through the trails in the Dumfries Conservation Area before spitting us out on Dunbar Road for an out and back.

Did I mention I hate winter running? Pretty sure I did. A stout wind was in our face from the northwest at this point bringing little flakes of the white-stuff-that-shall-not-be-named. I tried to grin and bear it but wished I had some gloves as I was losing feeling in my hands. I was sitting somewhere in the top ten in a clump of runners that was ahead of most but rapidly falling behind Rob who was by this time way ahead. The one thing that was kind of nice was knowing that the wind would be at our backs pushing us along pretty soon.

We reached the turnaround and got some encouragement from the runners we were passing as we headed back. I was amused to see a runner in a Gumby suit motor by (it turned out to be another fellow Harrier, Steve Mota). The old familiar burn was setting in but the wind behind me helped a lot and I was actually gaining ground on some of the people ahead of me.

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I’m Gumby, dammit. (Photo courtesy George Aitken)

So, avoiding the giant pothole again, we hit the line and I was not all that surprised to see that my time was basically the same as my last 5K at about 20:16, and I finished sandwiched in between two other Harriers members (Gary Cassel, who caught me from behind, and Colton Dorion, who won the 16-19 category). I was pretty pleased, as I knew I was in the top ten and felt I probably had another podium finish.

I went inside for some lunch in the YMCA gym, and there was lots of food available; cookies, cake, clam chowder, and chili, among other things. When the results were posted, though, I got a bit of a surprise. Gary was 6th, all right, but Colton was listed as finishing 7th.

No mention of yours truly.

I headed out to talk to the timing guys. Catching one of them, I mentioned that my time hadn’t come up. A second timer, standing nearby, said, “Oh, yeah. 154, we’ve been looking for you.”

He took me into a third guy who took my number. “Okay, let’s see. 154, 154… here we go… Roxanne…”

He paused and squinted at me. “Uh, you’re not Roxanne, are you.”

Nope. Nope, I’m not.

It turned out that somehow the names had been screwed up during registration, and that’s why my name wasn’t there. Normally I wouldn’t care about this all that much, but a podium finish was at stake, and more bling. The situation ended up being rectified in time for the announcement of the age category winners and I got my medal. I guess this sort of thing is inevitable from time to time, and I’m glad it worked out, because otherwise it would have been kind of a sour note on which to end the year. I still don’t know what my chip time was (it was reported as 20:43 which is obviously wrong) but I guess it doesn’t matter. Bring on 2016.

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My hard earned (harder than expected, anyway) medal and retina-searing pink shirt.

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2015 Race #11: Remember Run 5K, Cambridge, ON

Date: November 7, 2015
Gun Time: 20:19
Chip Time: 20:16
Placing Overall: 22nd out of 268
Placing in Age Group: 1st out of 8 (M40-44)
Placing in Parent/Child Team Event: 4th out of 9
Theme Song:Downtown Train“, Tom Waits

Continuing with the rapid fire race reports, since I’ve been lazy about doing them…

Running this race again was like revisiting an old friend, despite my rather ignominious defeat last year. (Rachel didn’t enter this year so I was safe). The 2014 version of the Remember Run was the first event I had run in years where I actually felt like I was competitive again. In many ways I consider it the starting point of my reinvention as a runner (albeit a middle-aged one now, but still). This year the organizers changed the longer distance run to an 11K to align with the Remembrance Day/Veteran’s Day/Armistice Day theme of the event. I had originally planned to run this distance, but then my son expressed interest in running too, flush from his success at the Pearson Runway Run. It turned out that there was a team category for parent and child in the 5K, and so I opted to do the shorter distance so I could run with him.

Several local Canadian Forces soldiers were present, along with the members of the Royal Canadian Legion in Cambridge (the proceeds of the race would go to them to help support veterans in need). It was a pleasant day with a somewhat stiff breeze out of the east and temperatures in the low 40s at race time.

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Canadian Forces members, hanging out before the race.

Brendan and I started our warmups and trotted to the start line, where a crowd of runners was starting to gather. I was a bit worried about him in this one, admittedly, since he had been gravitating to the La-Z-Boy with controller in hand a bit too often lately and this course was going to be tougher than the first 5K he did (by virtue simply of not being on an airport runway). Not wanting to damage his fragile 9-year-old psyche I of course made no mention of this.

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Ready to roll.

We stood at attention for the national anthem and the pipers played Amazing Grace to honor our fallen soldiers, and then the countdown was on to the gun. I tipped B a wink and he gave me a thumbs up, and off we went.

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I surged forward into a pack of about 30 or so runners who had taken off pretty quickly at the gun. I had the advantage of knowing exactly where the route was going to go, as I had run the same race last year and a lot of it was on my regular running route as well. We headed up along King Street and over the Grand River before turning into Riverside Park. At the one mile mark they had a volunteer calling out times and I passed him at 6:30, so I knew I was moving along pretty well. I also knew there would be a narrow, technical, and probably rather boggy trail section ahead if the race followed the course from last year. There was. Furthermore, I got stuck behind a slower runner for about 500 yards and there was nothing I could do about it unless I wanted to run through the brambles on either side (I did not).

Eventually, things opened up and I picked up the pace again as the course traversed a good size hill on the way back to the finish line. As I was crossing the railroad tracks before the last corner into the final straightaway, I noticed a couple of cops there gesticulating away from me, along the tracks. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, as I plowed through the final 400 yards or so and crossed the line at just after 20 minutes. I grabbed a drink and headed back to Lori and Dana who had been cheering me on, and noticed that there was a weird gap behind me, with no runners in sight.

“Oh no, look at that,” said Lori, looking behind me, and the reason for the gap became quite evident as it seemed there was a train rolling right through the middle of the race.

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Yup. A train. Fellow Cambridge Harrier Gary Cassel was the last one to beat it. Holy schnikes.

I was relieved to be on the other side of it, but was imagining the blue streak I’d be cursing if I hadn’t. I felt bad for the runners who got caught, but the most comical part of the race turned out to be the gigantic sprint finish that resulted when the train finally passed and they took advantage of their rather unwelcome period of rest. I wish I’d gotten a picture of it.

Anyway, the last order of business was to wait for B, and eventually he came panting around the corner, finishing in 29:02. He was disappointed with this and I had to explain to him that the course was a lot tougher (I left out the part about him hanging out on the couch most of the last three weeks). At least he didn’t get caught by the train.

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Tired, but still smilin’.

I checked the results afterward and was pretty happy to see that I had won my age category. Our team also finished 4th out of 9 which mollified Brendan a bit. To be fair, I think most of the faster runners my age decided to run the 11k. Nevertheless, I’ll take first place any day. Still didn’t break that magical 20:00 barrier, but I have been getting remarkably consistent with my 5K runs and if I put a bit more work in I may just get there. (My wife finally made me take off the medal after a few days.)

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Ooooooh, shiny.

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Also, really dug the shirt. My favorite of the year.

2015 Race #10: Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon, Toronto, ON

Date: October 18, 2015
Gun Time: 1:39:01
Chip Time: 1:37:49
Placing Overall: 729th out of 10220
Placing in Age Group: 93rd out of 674 (M40-44)
Theme Song: Going the Distance“, Cake

It was weird how this race kind of snuck up on me. With a lot of changes happening in my personal life and plenty to distract me, I suddenly realized one day in early September that I had a half marathon in six weeks and I hadn’t really done anything to ramp up my mileage from my weekly maintenance totals or even to start preparations. The good news was that I had been putting lots of speedwork in with the 5K races and I felt absolutely tip top physically. So, I thought I’d ensure I at least got a couple of 10+ mile training runs in, which I did four and two weeks prior to the race date. These went well, so I rested for most of the week prior and got up on a cool Sunday morning ready to give it a go.

I had a bit of an adventure getting down to University and Dundas where the start was. All the promotion for the event warned against trying to drive downtown because of the 20,000 plus people that would be attending, so I figured I’d leave my car near Bloor and Christie and take the TTC down to Osgoode which would give me plenty of time to warm up and get to the starting corral. An added bonus was I wouldn’t have to pay a crapload for parking and get stuck in the jam of people trying to get out of downtown after. Smart, right?

Well, starting gun was at 9AM, and I got to Christie subway station at 7:45, as planned, after a trouble free drive into the city. The day was looking to be a perfect one for running, with no wind and the temperature around 40 degrees. I could feel the adrenaline start to pump as it always does on race day as I fished for a token and made to enter the building.

My next thought: Why is the door locked?

And on the heels of that: Oh shit. It’s Sunday.

The subway, you see, doesn’t start running until 9AM on Sundays in Toronto. NYC we are not.

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No TTC for you!

This was really annoying given the city made it plain it didn’t want people driving downtown, but it didn’t give us what would be the best alternative in terms of transportation down there. So, I had to decide whether I wanted to try and drive over and try to find parking, or take a bus, or what. I decided I’d briskly walk the 2 and a half miles or so instead and treat it as a warmup. This ended up working out OK and I’d be able to take the subway back to the car and get out of town fairly easily.

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Off we go.

I still was able to get down to Nathan Phillips Square and find the bag check in plenty of time for the race, and made my way to Corral A after doing some light stretching. There was the usual banter from the organizers in the countdown to the gun, and Jean Paul Bedard was going to be running his third consecutive marathon distance in 18 hours, which is pretty damned impressive. Even better, he was doing it to raise funds to support victims of sexual abuse. Good on him – and you really should read his story, it’s quite affecting. Kathleen Wynne did make an appearance in this one, running the first 5K with Jean Paul and firing the starting gun. I tried to stick near the 1:40 pacer, who was from Kitchener near where I work, with the overall strategy of staying close to him until midrace and then upping to negative splits to try to break the 1:40 mark. The start was the usual surge-forward-and-stop that you get in big races, and this was the biggest one I had ever been in. We streamed up University Avenue and as is typical for me I was trying to control my pace and not let the adrenaline take over.

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Jean-Paul Bedard, with the premier to his right.

As we rounded Queen’s Park Circle, though, I was cruising along and before I knew it, I had passed the pacer by a considerable distance as we ran along Bloor Street. We bore left onto Dufferin to head south toward the lake and I felt like I was trying to hold back enough that I wouldn’t die in the second half of the race, but was still going at a pretty good clip. It helped that this stretch was all downhill, though I found myself having to keep an eye on the streetcar tracks in order to avoid tripping.

Now I was pretty much neck and neck with the 3:05 marathon pacer and thinking, damn, am I going to regret this later? I don’t run with a Garmin or anything like that – I typically like to run by feel, so I really had no way of knowing what my pace was. We surged over the Gardiner Expressway and onto Lake Shore Boulevard, and I concentrated on keeping pace and form. Hitting the 10K split, I was rather astonished to see that my split was below 46 minutes, which meant that with the time taken to reach the start line after the gun I was probably under 45 minutes for the first 10K (it turned out to be 44:32).

We also had a good view by this time of the race leaders coming back along Lake Shore, which was quite a marvel. Soon I reached the turnaround just past KM 12 and started heading back toward downtown, which suddenly seemed very far away. Gut check time started around KM 14. I could feel my legs starting to fade and my hamstrings were tightening up. A steel band along the side of the road perked me up briefly, but at the next water stop I had to take a short 20 seconds and stretch things out. I could tell my pace was dropping by the rapidity with which the 3:05 pacer was running away from me. This is where the lack of work going in really hurt me. Soon I was running alongside the 3:15 pace group and willing myself to try to stay with them. Unsuccessfully. By KM 18, as we were in the shadow of the office towers, they were at least 50 yards ahead of me.

I kept waiting for that 1:40 pacer to come up behind me, but it wasn’t happening (little did I know he would actually end up finishing around 1:42). I got a real boost from the cheering throngs that were lining Lake Shore at the turn onto Bay Street and the final stretch. Gritting my teeth, I watched the distance markers pass. 20KM, 1KM to go, then 800m, then 600. They seemed to be moving by awfully slowly. I went around the bend with 200m to go and could see Nathan Phillips Square, and finally the finish line. With a glance at the clock I allowed myself a smile as it was still at 1:38 and change. I crossed as it flipped over to 1:39 and trotted over to grab my medal relieved and happy. Mission accomplished – my first sub 1:40 time.

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The finish line crowds were good. And pretty loud.

One thing that’s nice about finishing with the first hundred runners in a big race is that there aren’t any lines for food afterward, but I wasn’t terribly impressed with the offerings (bagel + cream cheese + cookie + banana = boring). I considered sticking around for some entertainment and a beer, but with the family not there and fatigue setting in I decided I would just get out of Dodge and head home for a sleep and something more substantial to eat. So I can’t comment on the post race festivities. Maybe next time.

I would deem the last major event of my year an unqualified success. It was a fast course, great weather, no major problems, and I really think I can go faster with some better prep. I was sore for a couple of days after, but rested up properly this time, and it was on to the final two events of the year.

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2015 Race #9: Toronto Pearson Runway Run 5K, Mississauga, ON

Date: September 26, 2015
Gun Time: 20:33
Chip Time: 20:06
Placing Overall: 32nd out of 1550
Placing in Age Group: 7th out of 197 (M40-49)
Theme Song: Jet Airliner“, Steve Miller Band

Sometimes, it’s fun to do runs that offer something a little out of the ordinary. I tend to be on the lookout for these, and the Pearson Runway Run is a pretty good example, given that it presents the opportunity to run along the tarmac of one of the world’s busiest airports. I had been running a lot of 5K races lately, but the chance to do something unusual like this was a powerful draw, and so I decided to do one more, and we made it a family affair with everyone piling into the car early on a Saturday morning to head up highway 401 to check out the scene. It was a great morning for the event, with the sun shining, cooler temperatures in the 50s, and only a slight breeze.

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Brendan decided that he was going to do the run as well, and Lori and Dana were signed up for the untimed 2K run/walk. The swag included was pretty decent; we all got nice shirts, and there was a reusable plastic water bottle included which I thought was a nice touch and very environmentally sound (there were stations at the airport where you could fill them up). Also, lots of energy drinks and bars were free and on offer from different sponsors, and there was a kids’ zone with a bunch of activities. The run expo was in an aircraft hangar at the periphery of the airport which made for an interesting location. Lots of first responders were there with gear and vehicles for the kids to check out, and you could watch the jet traffic taking off from the hangar doors along a runway parallel to the one we would be running on. A couple of jets were parked nearby for an up close experience, for those inclined to have a look.

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So, the pros: lots to see, unusual and intriguing race location, and the volunteers staffing the run were great and super friendly.

All that said, this was not a race that was without its problems.

First off, it was pretty much impossible to warm up, because there was nowhere to do it. Upon reflection, I can understand this, since it’s probably not advisable in this day and age to have people running off unaccompanied in random directions on airport property. I had to settle for doing a few laps around the parking lot, but even this became a bit dodgy as it started to fill up with vehicles.

The second, and much bigger, problem was the organization of the start. For some reason, the organizers had a warm up in the hangar with entertainment (including a beat-boxing guy who was, admittedly, great) at the exact same time as many of the runners were lining up to begin the race. For those of us in the hangar, there was no warning whatsoever that the race was about to begin, and Brendan and I only realized that we needed to hoof it out to the runway when I saw people streaming off in the distance toward the start line. By the time we got out there, we were at the back of a large crowd of several hundred runners and the horn for the start went off as I was wishing Brendan luck on his first competitive 5K. So, the upshot of this was that I had to move to the outside, tear past as much of the crowd of runners as I could, cut inside the start gate, and motor away past the rest of the crowd. This ended up adding about 25 seconds to my gun time. I guess it could have been worse – at least there was space on the wide open tarmac to maneuver.

Anyway, as you might expect, I ran this one flat out, given the no hills, very little wind, and conducive temperatures. Maybe there was something psychologically satisfying about blowing past a bunch of people, but I felt like I was really moving, and at the turnaround I mentally pretended to race the jets that were taking off opposite (I lost to them, but you know). The one downside was the mental aspect to running a long straightaway, as the perspective in these cases always seems to be that you aren’t moving.

Brendan taking time out to wave.

Brendan taking time out to wave.

I ended up in 32nd place and the start-line snafu cost me 5 places, but I had a PR by chip time, so I guess I really was moving. Brendan did well too – I cheered him as loudly as I could at the finish as he came in around 27 minutes. Not bad for a 9 year old neophyte.

At the finish.

At the finish.

The younger, and handsomer, of the two runners.

The younger, and handsomer, of the two runners.

A neat little medal was our reward (for the walkers, too!) and I would say the day was a great success. Hopefully the logistical problems with this race will be worked out next year, but even despite these, it was well worth going to.

2015 Race #8: Bang and Olufsen Yorkville 5K, Toronto, ON

Date: September 13, 2015
Gun Time: 20:23
Chip Time: 20:21
Placing Overall: 15th out of 896
Placing in Age Group: 2nd out of 43 (M40-44)
Theme Song: Bling Bling“, Juvenile & Lil Wayne

Canada’s premier 5K road race,” the website calls it, and you’d best believe it.

I’ll admit I was a little hesitant to cough up the rather hefty entrance fee for this race. Yes, it was supporting several charities. Yes, I’d get a chance to see the Canadian 5K Road Race Championships held just prior (but not participate – I need a sub 20 minute 5K time to do that and I haven’t quite got there yet). Yes, there would be local luminaries there. But what really decided me was the spectacular race kit on offer, which included over $150 worth of New Balance running gear. (This would turn out to lead to bit of a colossal fail on my part, but more on that later). So, out came the credit card, and “boutique” race it was.

I ended up driving into downtown myself for this one, since the fam didn’t seem all that keen to join me at 7 AM on a Sunday for the trip, and one could hardly blame them. It looked like it was going to be a bit of a soggy day with pewter-grey skies above, and more than once on the way I drove through a spattering of rain. Having secured a parking spot near Davenport and Avenue road, I wandered down to Jesse Ketchum public school in Yorkville where the staging area for the run was to be. And a rather nice spot it was, nestled in among condo towers in one of the tonier districts of Toronto, with an artificial playing field and running track to warm up on.

Jesse Ketchum School, complete with track.

Jesse Ketchum School, complete with track.

There was already a ton of food out, and pre-race cookies and pastries from artisanal bakery Bon Appé were apparently de rigeur. I watched as the athletes (true athletes, as opposed to weekend warriors like me) went through their various preparations for the 5K championship, which was being run first, starting at 9 AM. I found out later that several of the Team Canada track and field participants from the Pan-American Games were there, and the field was an extremely fast one.

As for the rest of us, we were running the open B & O Yorkville race starting at 9:45, and we probably looked rather less athletic standing around stuffing our faces with cookies and bagels. Lots of participants were wearing the stylish black shirts that came in the race kits, especially since there were draw prizes for those seen at the event wearing the gear. Sadly, I was not among them thanks to my own inability to check the gear size I entered when registering for the race and having gotten… a Men’s Small. Sigh.

The podium, where I would, unbeknownst to me, soon be standing.

The podium, where I would, unbeknownst to me, soon be standing.

Despite the grey day, the winds weren’t too bad, and as it turned out the rain largely held off. I headed over to the start line to check out the elite runners, who were starting to assemble for the 9 AM gun. The race route was an extremely fast one, heading down Bay Street to Dundas, than across to University and up around Queen’s Park Circle to Avenue Road, and left on Davenport to the finish. The race included males and females of all ages, and they sure looked a lot faster than me. I doubt I’ll ever decide to take on that level of competition despite the fact that I am actually pretty close to qualifying standard – I guess my pride is rather too easy to wound.

Not a perfect day, alas.

Not a perfect day, alas.

The elites, getting ready to roll.

The elites, getting ready to roll.

The mayor of Toronto, John Tory, was there to count the runners down to the horn, and later spoke to the assembled open runners, praising us for our fundraising efforts, which raised over $250,000 for various charities. When asked if he was going to run the event, Mayor Tory demurred, claiming he would be embarrassed by his time (I suspect he’d be alright – his predecessor Mr. Ford may have had a bit more trouble). Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown said a few words as well, and he is in fact a runner (and a pretty good one, although all false modesty aside I would end up beating him). Given this, I was a bit surprised not to see Kathleen Wynne, the Premier of Ontario, as she makes a rather big deal about being a runner – perhaps something to rectify next year, Madame Premier. Consider the gauntlet thrown.

Anyway, eventually the time came to toe the line, and as we amassed on Bay Street I tried to get a position in the scrum near the front. Mayor Tory was there once again to count us down, but before that happened we all posed for a selfie that ended up on the Mayor’s Twitter page, naturally.

Selfie with the Mayor. You can kind of see the top of my head to the right of him, right behind the girl in orange.

Selfie with the Mayor. You can kind of see the top of my head to the right of him, right behind the girl in orange.

So then the horn went, and we were off. The first section down to Dundas was a slight downhill, and there was a moderate breeze at our backs blowing us along. I really felt like I was flying along and it was pretty neat to do a road race straight through my old stomping grounds; the run took me right past my old apartment building at Bay and Wellesley. We took the turn at Dundas and I was still passing people on the short section of the street over to University where we would turn north and head back up to Davenport. Going was a little tougher here – the breeze was now right in our faces and the route was a slight uphill, but I felt really strong and carried on at a fast, steady pace.

Geez, I look pretty well coiffed under the circumstances.

Geez, I look pretty well coiffed under the circumstances.

At Avenue Road and Bloor some poor kid turned an ankle, or something, because he suddenly sprawled on the asphalt writhing in pain. You know how as a runner you kind of feel bad passing someone who is injured, and you give them the commisseration face? Like, “Hey dude, tough luck, keep your chin up, I’d stop to help but I’m kinda in the middle of something here?”

Yeah. I did that.

Anyway, I was sitting on another runner’s shoulder as we were about to make the turn onto Davenport, and some of the elites, bless ’em, had gathered along the route and were shouting encouragement to us. I don’t know if it was this gesture that did it, but I found a gear I didn’t know I had and just powered down the stretch to the finish. Coming around the last bend I was maybe 150 yards from the finish and I could see that the finish line clock had just turned to 20 minutes flat. I knew that I would have a PR by a substantial margin, which tempered my disappointment with my race kit snafu rather a lot.

Down the stretch, PR in sight.

Down the stretch, PR in sight.

I burst across the line with a big smile, was handed a fancy bottle of Flow alkaline spring water, and I went to go get my big ass medal.

Post race refreshments were as spectacular as advertised, with hordes of tuxedo t-shirted volunteers handing out goodies, including Clif Bars, Mamma’s Pizza, and a whole array of lunches from Paramount Foods (including a killer falafel sandwich I quickly scarfed). After watching the elites get their medals, I went to check the posted results and was astonished to find that I had another podium finish. This earned me a second big ass medal and a picture with all the other age group winners. Not bad for a fat old dude, I guess, though one could argue that the really fast folks were in the race before mine. (I obviously worked hard to ignore this fact).

This race was really fantastic. Super well organized, really friendly, great course, and though it was expensive the value for money was outstanding. I will definitely be doing this event again. And, for what it’s worth, the wrong race kit size fiasco wasn’t a total loss – my son got a really nice pair of running shorts out of the deal, and my wife got a new shirt and pullover. A pat on the back for Dad’s largesse, although I think next year I’ll make sure I have the right size…

The bling.

The bling.

My teeny tiny running gear. Nice race kit though.

My teeny tiny running gear. Nice race kit though.

2015 Race #7: Kitchener Kids with Cancer 5K, Kitchener, ON

Date: August 23, 2015
Gun Time: 21:10
Chip Time: 21:09
Placing Overall: 5th out of 259
Placing in Age Group: 1st out of 11 (M40-49)
Theme Song: Casimir Pulaski Day“, Sufjan Stevens

I’ve been rather lazy with the blog over the summer. With the fall running season upon us, I decided it was time to dust things off and do some race reports. I have recently been running a lot of 5K races, as this seems to be a distance I’m pretty well suited to. The Kids With Cancer 5K wasn’t even on my radar at the beginning of the year; in fact, I had no idea it even existed. I discovered it when I was surfing around on roadraceresults.com looking for some summer races to do (as those of you who run are aware, the race schedule gets a little thin in July and August).

This race doesn’t seem to know what to call itself – it’s still billed as Kitchener Kids with Cancer but the website claims the name has changed to KW Run for POGO (POGO being the Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario). Nevertheless, I was very pleased and excited to have found it, since given my academic pursuits at the University I tend to lean toward events which are cancer fundraisers. I also loved the fact that it was right in my backyard, with the course starting at Grand River Hospital up the street from my office.

I arrived on a sunny Sunday morning to the north parking lot of the hospital near where the race was to start to pick up my race kit. Lori and the kids were coming to this one to watch but not participate, and we browsed around the small runners’ expo that was set up in the lot before heading over to the start line where helium balloons were being handed out by a number of volunteers. This race ended up raising over $32000 for POGO, which helps support families in need when dealing with a pediatric cancer diagnosis, and one of the organizers told a very affecting story about his own son who sadly passed away from cancer recently and what the support from POGO meant to him.

Ready to go. Balloon in hand.

Ready to go. Balloon in hand.

After the national anthem, we all released our balloons and watched the phalanx of white and green ovoids float off into the clear blue sky. It was as nice and affirming an opening to a race as I can ever remember.

Up, up, and away.

Up, up, and away.

As for the race itself, the organizers admitted right off the bat that they hadn’t really gotten the permissions from the City of Kitchener that they wanted, and this was to become evident as I was running. There was a large group of young male high school students right at the front along the start line, and as we were counting down to the start of the race about 10 of them ended up actually false starting and taking off when the countdown reached 2. As kids this age are wont to do, of course, most of them took off way too fast and ended up gasping for breath after about 500 yards. I settled into what felt like a pretty fast pace and soon was ahead of all but a few runners.

The race was an out and back along the Iron Horse Trail, which is a converted disused railway line in Kitchener. The first problem was that the trail crossed several city streets and the organizers were denied permission to close them and stop cross traffic. This meant we had to stop and wait for a break in traffic in order to continue. As you can imagine this was not exactly conducive to a fast time. The other problem was the narrowness of the trail and the fact that it wasn’t closed either, forcing us to dodge the various strollers and bikes that were present for a Sunday outing. We passed a number of bemused people who obviously were not aware of what was going on, but to be fair they did for the most part stay out of the way.

At the turnaround there were four runners ahead of me – two of them were teenage runners, a boy and girl, and two older men. I was actually feeling a little gassed at this point which kind of surprised me. I decided to hold back a bit and not really push things, since this wasn’t the kind of course that I was going to run a PR on anyway, and I couldn’t see anyone behind me. I cruised into the finish in 5th place comfortably and just actually ended up just a little off my PR despite all the issues with the course, which I thought was pretty encouraging. There was a cool little medal modeled on the gold ribbon that pediatric oncology uses as a symbol, and I ended up winning my age group and a GC for the Running Room, which was a nice bonus. There were excellent post race refreshments included too, with lots of coffee from Tim Hortons and pizza from Boston Pizza on offer, among other things.

My standing in the race was definitely inflated by the fact that there were lots of walkers in the race who were timed, and this being a small regional race the competition level wasn’t super high. I was pretty happy with my finish in spite of this, and given the proximity of the race to me and its cause (and the fact that it’s one of the only races in the region in summer that doesn’t involve running through a big mud pit) I will definitely be running it again next year. I thought that it was a very nicely put together event despite the shortcomings and the organizers are moving the race to a completely different location at the Waterloo Region Museum next year which should solve all the logistical problems, and it’s a great opportunity to help kids and their parents in need. I would urge anyone in the area, whether you are a runner or not, to take part.

A good day, and a good cause.

A good day, and a good cause.

2015 Race #6: Huron Shore Rotary 10K, Southampton, ON

Date: June 6, 2015
Gun Time: 43:36
Chip Time: 43:34
Placing Overall: 10th out of 174
Placing in Age Group: 4th out of 19 (M 40-49)
Theme Song:Bittersweet Symphony“, The Verve

“You know, maybe we could ditch the city and move here,” my wife said.

 

I’ll admit the idea had some appeal. After all, Southampton has its charms. Quaint cottages, long strands of tan sand sweeping along the cerulean shores of Lake Huron, and all that. Small towns are very convivial places and we were both raised in one, and small town races, too, have a different vibe to them than the bigger city-based ones. The Huron Shore run was no exception. This was to be the replacement event for the Oakville 10K that I missed when I was hurt, and I felt great going in. And notably, my son, at eight years old, having apparently falling prey to the running bug, was to run his first timed race, and would be in the starting corral with me. We had been out a couple of times earlier in the week already and despite the fact that he would be one of the younger kids in the 3K race, he was raring to go (and seemingly slightly nervous).

There was additional motivation for me as well in this one. As I mentioned before, I have a close family member with gastric cancer who is now reaching the end stages of her disease. It has been very difficult. Though I was able to successfully raise several hundred dollars for Debbie’s Dream foundation in Cleveland, the fact that I didn’t run the marathon made me feel like I had some unfinished business, and so I decided that this race was gonna be dedicated to her and I was going to go absolutely all out. The race proceeds were partially going to an expansion of the cancer center at the Owen Sound Hospital, so I felt that was fitting.

It helped that conditions that morning were pretty much letter perfect for running. The sun was shining, temperatures were in the mid to high 50s, and the wind was limited to a fresh breeze of maybe 10 miles an hour or so out of the northeast. The race had a compact but surprisingly robust little runners expo (held, naturally, in the hockey arena, this being rural Ontario) and we were greeted warmly by the volunteers manning the registration tables. Everything was very well organized, and there were a lot of the townspeople out just strolling around the festivities and lending support to the event.

The half-marathoners were already out on the course when we got there, and the next event was the kids’ fun run, which was loudly cheered by the spectators. There’s something about watching a gaggle of 4- to 6-year olds charging down the street, legs pumping, some accompanied by their huffing parents, that’s enough to warm the cockles of any runner. My daughter was in their number, and indeed went so far as to hurdle a fallen competitor on the way to the finish line (rather than stop and ask if the other child was OK, of course, which maybe wasn’t the most sporting of acts but there was nothing that was going to keep her from that finish line).

The 3K (reserved for the teens and kids), 5K, and 10K runners were all slated to start at the same time, and my son got loose by warming up rather demonstratively to the strains of “Uptown Funk”. I passed out handfuls of jellybeans to the kids (and scarfed a few myself) and we posed together for a dual-generational photo in all our athletic glory just before the races were about to begin. In the corral, I looked proudly at the boy, who was bouncing with pent-up energy. I searched for something to say that wouldn’t sound like a bad sports cliche.

The runners. Doin' what runners do. Kinda.

The runners. Doin’ what runners do. Kinda.

“Don’t be afraid to push yourself,” I told him. “One thing you’ll learn about running distance is that sometimes it feels tough to keep going. But don’t ever quit, because in the end, it always hurts more to quit than to see the race through.”

“I won’t. Good luck, Dad,” he replied, smiling a smile that I know I’ll remember for a long time. As we counted down to the gun, I said a quick prayer to whatever capricious gods might be listening, and promised I’d do my best to live up to the advice I’d just offered.

Focus now, focus. SPEED.

Focus now, focus. SPEED.

Near the front of the pack, I set a fast pace. The course was an out and back along the waterfront, and this created a bit of a problem at the 3K turnaround because the race marshal there needed to be a bit more vocal about the fact that the kids running the 3K were about to miss it. This led to one of the kids, maybe 11 years old, doing a sudden reversal of direction right in front of me and I nearly steamrolled right over him. As it was, I only ended up having to break stride for a moment, but, being in the throes of competition I did end up fixing him with a bit of a baleful glance (which I felt kind of bad about later, but, you know, heat of the moment and all that).

I felt extremely strong early in the race, and the wind was more or less pushing me along, which I was enjoying at the time but knew would come back to bite me later. When the 5K runners turned around I knew I was pretty close to the front of the 10K group. I pushed hard, knowing that I had a good chance of at least an age-group placing given that the race wasn’t huge and I was making such good progress. Things got tougher, as expected, when we hit the 10K turnaround and I had to run smack into a wind that was a little brisker than at the start of the race, since we were facing the open waters of Lake Huron at that point. The faster half-marathoners had started to return by then and we ran alongside a few of them as the course took us into a side loop which was needed to make up the entirety of the 10K distance. By kilometer 7 my legs were loudly complaining at me, but I still felt I had enough left in the tank to keep a strong pace to the finish. We were starting to pass the 5K walkers now, and it took a bit of energy to get around them at times, but mostly they stayed out of our way. The course was flat as a board, which certainly suited me as I’m not much of a hill guy. As I rounded the last corner, I could see that the time was still under 44 minutes which was a bit of a pleasant shock – I knew I’d been pretty fast, but I wouldn’t have bet on that kind of a time. Thanking the aforementioned capricious gods, I had reserve enough to power to the finish in a near sprint, with my family cheering me on, and crossed the line with a fist pump.

I believe there may be a beer in my near future.

I believe there may be a beer in my near future.

So, having set out to honor my loved one’s struggle with cancer, and do right by my son, my feelings were bittersweet; but I was pleased, and felt I had done my best. I shattered my old 10K PR by more than a minute, and in the end I did get on the podium, since the winner of my age group was one of the top three overall and the organizers gave medals to the next three fastest in the group accordingly.

On the podium. We're blurry because... we're just so damn fast.

On the podium. We’re blurry because… we’re just so damn fast.

And my son took my advice and didn’t quit – he finished 14th out of 41 in a race where he was maybe the 6th youngest participant. I envy him, as his best racing days are ahead of him. And the old man will always be there to give advice (whether he wants it or not, I’ll wager).

The future. Which will no doubt be faster than I could ever hope to be.

The future. Which will no doubt be faster than I could ever hope to be.