2017 Race #3: Run for Retina Research 5K, London, ON

Date: April 9, 2017
Gun Time: 19:57
Chip Time: 19:54
Placing Overall: 6th out of 278
Placing in Age Group: 2nd out of 24 (M40-49)
Theme Song: You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son“, Wolf Parade

You know, it’s a good thing I’m not as lazy a runner as I am a blogger. I realized today that I haven’t posted on this thing in over two months. So, I think it’s time to do a couple of updates and race reports. The most important goal I reached in the interim was finally running a sub-20 5K after trying for a couple of years. I’d like to say I discovered some sort of magic training regimen or was noshing down on radioactive quinoa or something, but really, I didn’t go into the race doing anything different than usual.

This race was the one I opted not to do in a freak early April snowstorm last year. I probably would have opted for the 10K, but my son wanted to run too, and so we packed into the car early on a Sunday morning to make the 45 minute drive over to London. In addition to the 2.5, 5, and 10K races there was also a half marathon to be run as part of this event, and runners were starting to gather at Springbank Park, where the events would be run on the asphalt trails along the Thames River. (Yes, the London in Canada has a Thames River. No London Eye, though. Or Buckingham Palace or Beefeaters or any crap like that. But hey, they do have the Guy Lombardo Pavilion!)

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Anybody remember Guy Lombardo? Probably not, since he predates even me. Anyway, he was from London. Happy New Year!

I’ll admit I had designs of a sub-20 in my head at the time. Even though I hadn’t been doing any really heavy training, I had just finished a pretty successful half marathon training cycle, and the weather was perfect; little wind, sunny, cool. The course was flat as a board. And given some of the times I had the previous fall I felt like the elusive barrier was in reach. We got our race kits, which contained a pretty nice quarter zip, and lined up for coffee at the Tim Horton’s wagon which was thankfully present. The 5K was the third of the three races to start, so we had to wait a bit while the half marathoners and 10K runners got going.

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Inside the Lombardo Pavilion, waiting to start.

As we lined up at the start, we endured a set of complicated instructions from the race marshal. Don’t turn around at the 2.5K turnaround pylon – check. (I would hope that I would notice the difference between 2.5 and 1.25K). If you hit Storybook Gardens you’ve gone too far. (Uh, OK). I decided to stay behind the people in front of me, and hope a simple out and back wasn’t beyond my comprehension. I wished Brendan good luck (his goal was to go under 28 minutes) and then the horn went and we were off. Once again, there were lots of youngsters in this race, but a bunch of them were wearing gear from a local London track club, and they were fast. I settled in behind a young girl with fiery red hair, with several other teenagers opening a gap ahead of me. There wasn’t much to say about the race itself – as I’ve already noted, it was flat, calm, and fast. I eventually passed red-haired girl (I found out later she was 12, and she finished right behind me, so good on her) and hit the turnaround to head back, feeling pretty good. A thirty-ish guy steamed past me after the turn, but I put myself in about 6th or 7th place, and vowed to hold there if possible. On the way back, we were greeted by the sight of a rather forlorn looking goose, standing over a broken egg. This made me feel kinda bad. Goddamn humans, trampling through everything. We suck.

Now, I had this vision in my head about what it would be like to finally break the 20 minute mark. I would come into the final stretch, legs pumping. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” or something equally cheesy would be pulsing through my head. I would see the finish line clock starting in a 1, and would flash a conquerer’s smile. I would puff out my chest, arms raised, and bellow like a Viking as I crossed the line, and maybe even grab a banana and spike it like a football to punctuate the poignant moment.

Here’s what really happened:

The last stretch was down a hill with the finish line around a sharp corner. While I appreciated the downhill, I couldn’t see the clock, and so didn’t know if I was at 20 minutes or how close I was. As I rounded the corner and crossed the line, I looked up and realized… the clock was counting the time for the previous 10K race.

Goddammit. No Viking yell. No banana spiking. Only mental arithmetic. How anticlimactic.

My math told me, based on when the 10K started, that I was probably just under 20 minutes, but I had no way of telling officially. B came rolling in a few minutes later (looking exhausted – he really wanted to please his old man I think) and he was totally befuddled by the clock. I reassured him that he wasn’t as slow as the time indicated, which mollified him.

A peek at the official posted results confirmed that we had both reached our goals, I at 19:54, and B at 26:58 (he finished 49th). There was no awards ceremony, but $25,000 was raised for research into macular degeneration, which was great. So, another goal to cross off the list. I guess I’m going to have to set some more challenges soon. And, there’s still the marathon looming in my consciousness. Getting closer, step by step…

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The requisite selfie.

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2017 Race #2: Puerto Rico Half Marathon, San Juan, PR

Date: March 12, 2017
Gun Time: 1:40:02
Chip Time: 1:39:48
Placing Overall: 29th out of 760
Placing in Age Group: 4th out of 80 (M40-44)
Theme Song: San Juan“, Daniel Lanois

Note to self: don’t schedule a half marathon at the end of a vacation again.

If you’ve never been to Puerto Rico, get on a damn plane and go there now. I’ve been there four times, and the place never disappoints. It’s got everything: stunning beaches, verdant rain forests, winding mountain roads, great food, friendly people. Old San Juan is one of the most atmospheric locations in the Americas, and of course the temperatures in the 80s in early March are most welcome when the frigid north is being lashed by snowstorms.

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Half marathon? What half marathon?

Now, the problem with all this for me was trying to exercise some restraint in the days leading up to the race, which was, well, basically impossible given the many, many available enticements. Instead of juicing and eating light protein laden meals, I was guzzling rum and Medalla Light and chowing down on spit-roasted pig. I ate mountains of tostones and mofongo and justified it by telling myself I was carbo-loading. And, I decided to take a few days off running because I had a shin that was a little tweaked, but probably took more time than was necessary, to the point that I was feeling pretty sluggish.

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Ah, mofongo. My delicious, delicious nemesis.

When I did run, most of my outings were in a place called Betances where we had a house rented. On the one hand, it was great, because there was little traffic and east of town the scene became decidedly rural and beautiful, my route crossing rivers and meandering under 30 foot coconut palms. On the other, Betances, like a lot of places in Puerto Rico, has a rather large contingent of stray dogs. On the first day, they eyed the strangely pasty interloper in their midst suspiciously, but didn’t do much else. On my second run, though, there was a lot more growling, and I noted one bitch, some kind of hound with droopy nipples and weird grey eyes, was paying me close attention, following me for a few minutes. On my final run there, I met this same dog on my return from running a few blocks away from the house. Bemused, I watched it sprint away from me in the direction I was going, barking like mad, and then all of a sudden four other dogs appeared out of nowhere and the motherfuckers chased me for a block and a half, only stopping when I stooped to pick up a large rock and hurled it at one of them, my heart jackhammering in my chest. Later, as we left town, I saw a guy out running who was carrying a rather large stick with him. Lesson learned.

We traveled with another family, friends of ours, on this trip, and unfortunately a rather nasty cold was making the rounds among them, so I spent most of the second week of the trip bathing in Purell. Somehow I managed to avoid getting sick, and was up at 4:30 in the morning to make the drive from the Punta Las Marias area where we were staying to the Caribe Hilton and Sixto Escobar Park, which were ground zero for the race. I had not been able to catch the race expo, since we were not able to make it back to San Juan in time, so I had to spring for VIP packet pick-up on race day, which was quickly and easily handled at the front desk of the Hilton. I blundered around for a bit in the dark trying to figure out where to go, eventually locating the starting chute off the street, behind Sixto Escobar Stadium. The runners were starting to gather there, and I checked my morning bag and started to do a bit of dynamic stretching. This race has featured a marathon and half every year until this iteration, which dropped the marathon for some reason and added a 10K instead. About 1200 runners were gathered to do the two races, with the half set to start at 6AM just as first light was starting to reach across the sky and a bright moon hung in front of us like a fat, round lantern. In true island fashion, the gun was delayed about 10 minutes while the policia ensured that the course was clear. Here’s a pretty good video of the start taken by another runner with a Go-Pro (not sure how you’d run with one, but I guess people run with pacer signs too).

This was beyond any doubt the most beautiful race I have ever run. We looped up past the 15th-century Spanish forts San Juan is so famous for, Castillo de San Cristobal and El Morro, and around the outside of the old town’s walls, past prime examples of colonial architecture and over cobblestoned streets. The sun was rising over the towers lining Condado as we crossed the bridge over the laguna and headed into the convention center area. People were out in the streets even at this early hour to cheer us on, and I tried to maintain a steady pace as we headed south along Calle Marginal beside Highway 1.

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I still look pretty fresh here, but not for long.

A couple of things were becoming fairly evident by this time. One, there was no place on the course where the time was being displayed, so I had no idea how fast I was going. I felt like it was a pretty good clip, but I couldn’t be sure. Two, it was really, really freaking sticky and uncomfortable. The heat and humidity were way beyond what I trained in whilst in Cuba, so I adopted a strategy of taking two cups at each aid station, one of water and one of Gatorade. The Gatorade, I drank. The water, I dumped on my head. For the first 7 or 8 miles, this sufficed.

I took comfort in the fact that as I went through miles 7-10 I was actually passing people on the course. It seemed that some of the other runners were struggling even more than I was. As we bent west and headed through Condado on Avenida Ashford some old guy jogging ended up on the course and a bunch of us had to go around him. There didn’t seem to be a course marshal around to tell him to get out of the way, and I’m really not sure what he thought he was doing, as there was lots of space on the sidewalk (there was no indication that he was in the race at all).

Things started to get tough as I hit the Dos Hermanos Bridge at the end of Ashford and headed back toward Old San Juan. A crosswind was making life a little miserable and the sodden, heavy air was starting to take its toll. Also, the sun was high enough that it was really starting to get hot. I was grunting with exertion, trying to hold some kind of pace. We were starting to hit the last of the 10K stragglers now, and the route followed a bike path past the Capitol building and then bent right up a pretty steep hill to rejoin Calle Luis Munoz Rivera back to Escobar Park and the finish. I dealt with the hill all right, but all the juice seemed to go out of my legs shortly after. I had about a mile and a half to go, and I was completely spent. I slowed to a walk for a few seconds just to steady myself, and then gave it one last push. I always get energized to see the finishing gate at any race, and this was no exception, and I actually managed to work up a sprint and pass three more people in the finishing chute. Initially, I couldn’t even see where they had the finishing line clock; I turned around and noted it was just above 1:40. Damn.

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Little slower than I wanted, but I got there.

Collecting my medal, and a whole bunch of food (protein pack, various bars, the usual banana, no mofongo though) I sat in the park for a few minutes, exhausted, slowly dumping a bottle of Aquafina on my head. It was actually possible to go over to Escambron Beach and jump right in the water, but I was too damned tired to do it.

So, no PR in PR. (See what I did there? Heh.) In the end, I probably could have done better in this one, and indeed missed an age group award by a mere 32 seconds, but I’m going to treat it as motivation for next time. I really did enjoy this race, and with a little better preparation would definitely do it again. It was generally pretty well run and a lot of fun too. Puerto Rico, te amo.

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2017 Race #1: Re-Fridgee-Eighter 8 Mile, Waterloo, ON

Date: February 12, 2017
Gun Time: 57:29
Chip Time: 57:25
Placing Overall: 18th out of 76
Placing in Age Group: 2nd out of 6 (M40-44)
Theme Song: “Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow”, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

It seemed like it had been an age since I had last run a real competition, and I had been looking forward to 2017’s debut with great anticipation. I was in the midst of a training cycle for the Puerto Rico Half Marathon, which, this being February, had largely been inside on the treadmill. I did, however, buy a pair of those Yaktrax things that you slip over your shoes and have the spike-and-coil combination on the bottom for traction on icy winter surfaces. I was still ambivalent about them after a 10 mile run the weekend prior where it felt like my feet weighed about 50 pounds (the snow sticks to the bottom of them, you see) and it seemed they rendered running outside a choice between one of two evils. So, I was delighted to see, in the days leading up to this race, that it looked like the weather was going to be fairly benign, with a 45 degree Saturday the day before, and temperatures in the mid 30s on race day with, possibly, a little rain dampening the proceedings.

O, ye capricious gods of Southern Ontario weather, it seems you are still angry with me.

I awoke on race day to find that our yard was buried in 4 inches of fresh snow from a storm that no one predicted. Lori, no doubt hoping to stay inside next to the fireplace, asked me if I really, seriously, planned to run that day given the conditions, which suddenly were calling for an additional 2 inches of fresh powder over the course of the morning. I assured her that nothing would keep me from competing and watched her face fall a little. Trooper that she is, she helped me pack the kids into the car and off we went to RIM Park in Waterloo where the race was being held (normally we can drive up there in 25 minutes, but on this day it took us nearly an hour).

I’d signed Brendan up for the 3K the day before, and he was keen to run, having dropped some extra weight that he had accumulated last summer sitting around playing PlayStation (he’s deeply into basketball now and in much better shape). We sat in the community center waiting for the race to begin, and I sized up the competition. There was an 8K and an 8 mile being run, and the field in the 8 mile was shaping up to be a very fast one, with several elites taking part, including a couple of Canadian Olympic Team members. I went into this one hoping for a sub-56-minute time and a top 3 placing in my age group, and though the sub-56 seemed exceedingly unlikely I felt like I could still acquit myself fairly well.

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The snow let up a bit for the start, and we all crowded outside into the freezing cold. Brendan and I had been working on a choreographed pre-race handshake celebration thing that we busted out to the amusement of some of the other runners. “Gotta let them know we’re in the house,” as I said to B.

Anyway, the horn went and off we trudged into the heavy snow. The first 500 meters or so hadn’t been plowed and were very sludgy, but then we turned onto the road and things got a bit better, at least for a while. I rolled through the first mile at a 6:45 pace, down a hill and around a sloppy, slippery corner. I remember thinking to myself that if conditions didn’t worsen, maybe the race would be faster than I expected.

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Rounding a corner with a bit of a sly grin. I might not have been smiling if I’d known how much the course would deteriorate.

Worsen, they did, however.

The snow started to fall furiously shortly after, and to make matters worse the 8 milers had to detour through a residential neighborhood where the streets hadn’t been plowed at all. The footing was treacherous, and negotiating the white drifts was like running through heavy, wet sand. My calves and quads were getting pretty sore by the time we got through this section and into a second loop of the previous major streets, which by now were also snow covered. I was keeping my pace but starting to struggle a little at around mile 6.

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This should give an idea of what we had to deal with.

Meanwhile, B had blazed through the 3K (which wasn’t chip timed, but he didn’t care) and was the fourth to cross the line, and the first one under 18.

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The boy’s all right.

I put everything I had into the last couple of miles. I seemed to get a bit of a second wind with a mile to go, and managed to pass a couple of runners en route to the finish, and we were starting to catch up to the back of the pack of 8K runners, which meant steering around some slower people.  The last 500 meters was over the unplowed section again, which wasn’t the easiest way to finish. I think I let out a couple of fairly inventive cuss words, in fact. But, I managed to hump my way over the line in a little over 57 minutes, and was pretty much OK with it.

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Drafting. It didn’t help much given the footing.

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First race of the year, in the books.

We all went inside where hot coffee and pizza were waiting. A live band was playing, too, and Dana and Brendan got their groove on a little bit. I bumped into one of my former students who had run the 8K and we commiserated about the conditions. I was happy to see that I had a podium finish in my age group, and went to collect my medal. Somehow, the winner of the 8K had done it in a blazing 24 minutes and change, which was a bit mind-boggling to me. Everybody else struggled. Even Krista DuChene, an Olympic Marathoner, struggled to do the 8 mile in under 50 minutes. I figure I would have been about 3 minutes faster in dry conditions. Oh well. The next race I’m running will present a different challenge: Puerto Rico will be very hot and humid, though I did get 35 miles of training done in similar conditions last week in Cuba. Anything without snowdrifts will be a welcome change.

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