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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2016 Recap, and plans for 2017.

So, the holidays are upon us, and it’s time to reflect on another year.

I had some pretty grand plans for this year, and well, not all of them came to fruition. Nevertheless, I’m pretty happy with how things went. I ended up getting a respiratory infection that took me out for part of October, so I had to cut a couple of events, unfortunately. I don’t intend to do any more competitions until February, so let’s look back at 2016.

Going into this year I had a few goals:

PR in the 8K – Check. I ran 33:39 in the only one I did this year, the Cambridge Mill Race.
PR in the 10K – Check. Again, I only ran one, but it was 41:17 in San Francisco, an utter dismantling of my old PR.
PR in the half marathon – Check. 1:35:46 in Buffalo.
Sub 20:00 5K – Not quite. Best I did was 20:09 in Chicago.
Finish a marathon – Nope. Could not fit a proper training schedule into what turned out to be a rather topsy-turvy year.

So, in 7 races, I had:

One victory (in the Harvest Quarter Marathon)
Two second-place finishes (in the KW Kids with Cancer Run and the Lurie Cancer Survivors Run in Chicago)
Two top-15 finishes (Laurier Loop, Cambridge Mill Race)
One top-20 finish (San Francisco Giant Race 10K, which it should be noted had almost 6,000 participants. This is probably the race I’m proudest of this year.)
One top-100 finish (out of almost 4,000 in the Buffalo Half Marathon).

Not bad for an old guy.

As for next year, still some stuff to work on. Right now, the plan is to do the Re-Fridgee-Eighter 8K (or possibly the 8-mile, which is also part of the event) in February, the Puerto Rico Half Marathon in March, the Mercedes-Benz 10K in Oakville in April (if I can fit it into my schedule – they still haven’t announced the date), the GoodLife Toronto 10K in May, and a new local trail race, the Conquer the Canuck 25K, in June. We shall see if this holds up.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

2016 Race #5: Kitchener Kids With Cancer 5K, Kitchener, ON

Date: August 28th, 2016
Gun Time: 20:58
Chip Time: 20:56
Placing Overall: 2nd out of 379
Placing in Age Group: 1st out of 33 (M40-49)
Theme Song: Clouds“, Zach Sobiech

Time to dust off the blog again. The summer was uneventful from a running perspective (not to mention screamingly hot) as there really aren’t any competitions in Ontario in June and July. I tried to get into the Angus Glen 5 miler on one of Canada’s most famous golf courses, but it was full by the time I tried to enter, and in any case it ended up still being about 90 degrees at 7PM the night it was run (my buddy John, a veteran marathoner, ran it and said it was brutal between the hills and the heat).

This race was the 3rd iteration of the one I ran and finished 5th in last year. Some changes for the better occurred in the interim, as it’s now part of the RunWaterloo series and had a welcome change of venue (last year’s race featured having to stop for cross traffic on the streets intersecting the trail). The new location was on the trails in Homer Watson Park and on the grounds of the Waterloo Region Museum in south Kitchener, and was thankfully bereft of cars requiring dodging. However, the course was a lot tougher than last year’s, involving a lot of hills and some tricky loose gravel sections, and the hot, muggy morning didn’t really help things.

B was running with me this time, despite the fact that the race didn’t have a parent child team category. I told him not to expect a fast time, since I certainly wasn’t given the course and conditions. The Dean of our faculty was running as well after I put a call out for fundraising and companions (my colleagues came through in a big way in this regard, so big ups to them) and given the promotional boost from RunWaterloo the field was a lot bigger this year, with an added 10K to bring people in.

There was a live band playing a mix of music (including “Fat Bottomed Girls” again at one point – what is it with cover bands playing that song at running events?) and the Empire even showed up, as you can see below.

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I find your lack of faith disturbing.

Anyway, the start time was delayed twice, largely because the parking was a shitshow and it was taking people 30 minutes to find a spot, and it also seemed like there were a lot of last minute entries. Eventually Paul Gibson, a pediatric oncologist from London, kicked things off by explaining why the Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario, the beneficiary of the run, was so important to patients and families. The band performed the national anthem, the horn went, and we were off into the muggy morning.

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Dr. Gibson, testifying.

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The (slightly delayed) start.

Once the usual phalanx of little kids at the front had sprinted the first 2oo meters of the race and dropped back out of the way, a couple of rather serious looking 14-year old girls in racing singlets took the lead. One of them was wearing University of Oregon gear which I found a bit odd, given that we are pretty remote from the Pacific Northwest, but no matter. They were passed by a young guy who blazed past them and was setting a pace that I didn’t feel I could match. I settled into about sixth and was feeling good as we passed through Doon Pioneer Village, complete with people in period costume. Have to say I’ve never run a race through the 18th century before. Feeling great as we reached the bottom of the first of the steep hills, I churned my way up, the way made somewhat treacherous by the gravelly surface. The course bent back around near the start and then up another hill to an out and back section.

It looked like the two young girls who had started so fast hadn’t reckoned on the hilly nature of the trail, and were fading a bit already. I blew past both of them on the undulating track and pushed forward. A helpful guy out walking his dog watched me pass and said, “Hey, you’re third”. Thanks dude, I thought.

So now it was a matter of holding my pace, which despite the tough course I seemed to be doing pretty easily. At the turnaround I could see that the first place guy was at least a minute ahead and I probably wasn’t going to be able to catch him, but I was definitely within striking distance of second. I passed B coming the other way and gave him the thumbs up, and focused on second place. By the time we reached the downhill stretch back to the finish line at about KM 4, I was right behind the other runner. I probably could have kicked and gone by him at this point; I had plenty left in the tank. I opted to be tactical and draft off him until the turn to the finish. I knew I wasn’t going to PR anyway and I felt it would be the best strategy to ensure second. It worked, too.

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Kicking to the finish, with full derp face on display.

Afterward, my son and I were talking to a guy who said he had lost over 100 pounds in the past year after gastric bypass surgery, and actually finished top 5 in the 30-39 group. This made me think that even though sometimes running becomes a bit of a drag, it’s never hard to find someone to inspire us further.

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That’s my boy.

So, my time was pretty slow for a 5K, but everyone’s was. Most people I talked to felt like the course was 45 seconds to a minute slower than a flat 5K would be. B did pretty well, finishing in 30:58 in 74th. Over $50,ooo was raised for pediatric cancer, which was the best thing of all. And hey, I’ll take two second place finishes in a row any day.

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2016 Race #4: Northwestern Lurie Cancer Survivors 5K and Walk, Chicago, IL

Date: June 5, 2016
Gun Time: Not measured
Chip Time: 20:09
Placing Overall: 2nd out of 443
Placing in Age Group: 1st out of 42 (M40-49)
Theme Song: Survivor“, Destiny’s Child (obviously.)

I wasn’t going to do a full on race report with this one. While a great event, the intent here was more to have fun rather than to intensely compete. I was in Chicago for a cancer conference I attend often, and I’ve started to look for races I can do when I travel for work. This one was kind of a no brainer, since the survival of cancer patients has been my raison d’etre, at least as far as work is concerned, for the last dozen years or so. It certainly made sense to celebrate the successes of the Lurie Cancer Center, even if they weren’t my successes personally.

I ah, kind of had a big night on Saturday though, having gone to Oriole Restaurant in the West Loop to indulge in their tasting menu with beverage pairings (which is amazing and if you are inclined to fine dining and in Chicago you have to check it out) and then a nightcap at Moneygun nearby, which does the best Pimm’s Cup I’ve ever had.

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The end result was that I woke up Sunday morning feeling, well, rather less than mint. For a minute I questioned whether I wanted to run at all. Nevertheless, I grabbed a coffee and croissant across the street from my hotel, and then warmed up by trotting down to Grant Park where the race was slated to start. I figured I’d take it easy and enjoy the course, which ran right along the waterfront past Buckingham Fountain and the Chicago Marina. The party was in full force when I got there, with a DJ, an emcee whipping up the crowd, and the survivors wearing purple shirts (and there were a LOT of purple shirts, which was a wonderful sight).

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The survivors gathered for a traditional photo after the walk.

There were some 3,000 folks gathered to do the walk, and around 500 to run the 5K, which was sold out. The opening ceremonies concluded with patient Hector Nunez and oncologist Mark Agulnik on stage talking about a marathon they ran together after Nunez’s life was saved by the team at Lurie after a diagnosis of head and neck cancer. It was a stirring moment and the patients I had seen over the years were certainly on my mind as we lined up in the corral for the start. Put into perspective, my piddly little hangover seemed awfully minor now. I resolved to give it my all right then and there (I doubt I could have turned off the competitive juices anyway).

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I’m in this picture. Somewhere.

So, I took off at a pretty fast pace at the gun, and moved into the front group of runners. The first few hundred yards was a slight downhill which traveled along Hutchison Field and then bent left toward the lake and through tunnels under Lakeshore Drive. We then turned north and ran along Lake Michigan. It occurred to me as I ran that I had now participated in races along the shores of four of the five Great Lakes (I will conquer you too, Superior. Someday. Not in winter though.)

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The race’s opening stretch.

Now, the funny thing is that I was passing people left and right, and as we moved onto the trail along the lake I actually surged into the lead. It didn’t feel like I was moving overly fast as I followed the guy on a bike that was acting as a pacer, but I guess I was, because I looked at the clock posted at the one mile mark and was astonished to see my split was 5:45.

Uh-oh, I thought.

There was no way I was going to be able to maintain a 5:45 pace, but I pushed on as hard as I could. By this time I had about a thirty yard lead over the rest of the pack. I did something I usually don’t do and took some water at the first aid station (it was hot that morning, and, well, hangover). So that enabled some other runners to catch up a bit (the girl at the station dropped the first cup as she was handing it to me and I could tell she felt bad – I told her not to worry). I was still leading as we reached the turnaround near the Marina and I started to head back south. By the start of mile 3 I was really feeling it and had slowed considerably. I thought of all those people I had known and helped treat for cancer over the years and tried to run for them. That old familiar burn in the quads and calves was asserting itself, and as I made the turn to go back under Lakeshore I was passed by another runner who kicked past me. I ground my teeth and pushed to stay with him, but the gap was widening.

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Apparently there were acrobats. But they were acrobating while I was running. So I didn’t see them.

I was out of gas, so victory was slipping away. I decided I wasn’t going to let anyone else pass me and given that I was going to treat this thing as a fun run, I was pretty much OK with second. I noted coming down the final stretch that a sub-20 wasn’t going to happen either (I told myself it was a sub-20 adjusted for hangover). I did manage to run my second fastest chip time ever (and presumably my fastest gun time too, since I started almost right on the line and it has to date has been 20:18 or something like that). Not a great tactical race, to be sure. I went out way too fast. But I was encouraged that I was still able to get close to 20 minutes and if I’d held back a bit at the start it might have happened.

After finishing I went and got some water, an apple and banana, and some pretzels, and went to sign the cancer survivors wall which had been set up. Trying to think of something pithy to say, I wrote the following:

“Surviving cancer is like running. When it gets really hard, you dig down deep and find the strength to go on.”

I think it summed up my sentiments nicely.

In the end, over $325,000 was raised for Lurie Cancer Center, and it truly was a celebration of life and living. And that’s the most important thing of all.

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2016 Race #1: Laurier Loop 5K, Waterloo, ON

Date: March 20, 2016
Gun Time: 20:37
Chip Time: 20:36
Placing Overall: 13th out of 182
Placing in Age Group: 2nd out of 8 (M40-44)
Placing Overall in Masters: 3rd out of 27
McFastlanes: 48:49, 1st of 5 parent child teams
Theme Song: Troy and Abed Spanish Rap from Community

The first day of spring arrived the day of the Laurier Loop, and it was, well, pretty cold.

It could have been much worse. I reminded myself of last year’s Syracuse half where it was freezing and we got 3 inches of snow the night before the race. We have no snow in Southern Ontario right now, and conditions lately have been surprisingly good. I had actually been getting outside. In my own neighborhood. In March. This is unusual, but I got some good work in for a couple of weeks before the race.

The Laurier Loop is in its 9th iteration, and it’s put on by the Alumni Association of Wilfred Laurier University. WLU is sort of my school’s rival institution in Waterloo, but it’s by and large a friendly rivalry, and I have access to their excellent Film Studies library through the Tri-University Group agreement, so who am I to complain? Plus an opportunity to beat some of their students like a drum in a 5K was certainly relished.

On the drive over to campus, my son Brendan entertained us with his rendition of the Troy and Abed Spanish rap from Community, which I for some reason decided to teach him in Costa Rica despite the fact that its nonsensical nature didn’t exactly result in him learning much usable Spanish. When I say entertained, I really mean he repeated it over, and over, as only a 9 year old could. (He particularly likes the line about the goat’s mustache being Cameron Diaz). We sorted out where to park and headed into the Science Building where crowds of runners were starting to gather. The kids made a beeline for the Laurier Golden Hawks mascot, because what kid doesn’t love a guy in a big fuzzy hawk suit?

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B and his new feathered friend.

Also, FACE PAINTING!!!

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Hell yeah. Dolphins and rainbows represent, y’all.

B and I did a quick warm up by doing a trot down Bricker Street near the start line. It was a sunny morning with very little wind, and other than the high 20s temperature the conditions were quite ideal for a race. I was a bit confused at first, because the course didn’t seem like it was laid out the way I had been led to expect by RunWaterloo’s website, and there were all these cones everywhere in places that didn’t make sense to me at first. It turned out the course layout had changed somewhat in order to obtain approval. As suggested by the race name, it was a 2.5K loop, but there was kind of a weird elongated s-curve with a couple of turnarounds that would send us up and down Bricker basically 3 times before re-entering the loop.

I wasn’t planning on getting a PR here anyway given my general out-of-shapeness, but it was clear this course was going to be a bit challenging given all the 180 degree turns we would have to do. B was a bit worried he wouldn’t be able to figure it out, but I tried my best to explain it to him, and told him he would be doing 2 loops and just to follow everyone else if he wasn’t sure where to go. I could tell he wanted to do his best because we were entered as a parent/child team (McFastlanes ride, er, run again!) and I assured him he’d be fine.

There were 2.5 and 10K runs starting at the same time, and the starting corral filled up as the Golden Hawk mascot got the runners pumped up. I wished B luck and soon the horn went and we were off. I maneuvered around the few slower runners who always seem to be right on the start line for some reason, and set a fast pace into the turn up Albert Street to University Avenue. The stretch along University was a slight downhill and I felt like I was gliding along well. I was pretty sure I was going too fast, however, and had really blistered out of the gate, so I tried to hold back a bit and conserve some energy, knowing the second loop would be harder. After a brief, slightly steeper uphill on King Street we turned into the odd S-section. Coming down the middle portion of the S it was strange to see the finish gate right there but not be able to head toward it, as we had to go past to the end of the street and make another 180 degree turn. What was a bit heartening was seeing all the people I was ahead of go past me on the left – one of these was B and I was able to give him a high-five as he went past. As I completed the S into the start gate I looked at the clock and saw that I had completed the first 2.5K in 10 minutes flat.

So much for a negative split.

The second loop was, as expected, harder, and I was really sucking wind as I turned the corner to do the downhill University stretch for the second time. This section was a godsend as it allowed me to keep pace and catch my breath a little bit. Heading into the S for the second and last time it was maddening having the starting gate so close but having to run past it twice (I really wanted to cut across but yeah, DQ. Plus, tough it out, right?) By this time, Dana and Lori were there cheering me on, and the legs found some strength for a last sprint that took me across the line in 20:37, which I’ll admit was a bit better than I expected (I would have been happy with anything under about 21:30 under the circumstances).

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Pizza time!

I went to get some water and then hollered at B when he came into view, exhorting him to the finish. He spent most of the S-bend pumping his arms in the air like he was winning the Boston Marathon (not really good running form, but the exuberance of youth and all that). He crossed the line in 28:12 and we went to grab some pizza and a bagel.

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I feel like the Rocky theme should be playing here.

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All hail the victors. In the parent/child category, anyway.

Given my time, I wasn’t that surprised to see I placed in my age group, but when I went to get my medal my name wasn’t there under M40-44. It turned out they had a top three for overall Masters and I was third, so that was pretty damn cool and certainly unexpected. And B finished second in the under-12 category, which he was tickled about. But the best part of all was that the McFastlanes won the parent/child (I pretty near had to peel B off the ceiling when I told him that).

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Not bad, kid.

So, a pretty great start to the year. B has got the running bug I think. There will likely be a few more McFastlanes appearances in the future. Now if I could just get Troy and Abed out of my head…

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Back to training, and the (delayed) beginning of the 2016 season.

It took me a hell of a lot longer than expected to get healthy after coming down with a respiratory infection in January. Fortunately for me, I was able to do some running down in the warmth of Florida and managed to avoid having to do any training in the February chill of the Great Lakes region. The “Extreme!” 5K I was supposed to do in the Orlando area? Yeah. Didn’t happen. Leaving aside the appeal of sitting poolside with a beer, I didn’t feel based on the runs I did that I was anywhere near being able to compete effectively. Every time I came back from a run I spent 5 minutes doubled over, coughing. To make matters worse, the sinus infection that plagued me in January seemed to be rallying.

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Ahh. Now, I was supposed to do something, wasn’t I? Something athletic? Forget it, just pass me another beer.

It took a few days, but by the time I was back in Ontario I felt like I was on the mend. Lucky me, I got to turn around later that week and head to Costa Rica on a family vacation. Bouncing around the backblocks of the country in a little rented 4 x 4 was tons of fun, but what really struck me was the number of Costa Ricans who are either runners or cyclers – we saw them everywhere, laboring up and down the many hills in the country. I did my best to join them over 17 days. Running in Central America poses some interesting challenges; the heat on the coast is like a blast furnace, the humidity can be overwhelming, the roads are pretty bad in parts of the country and you have to constantly be watching out for large vehicles that don’t really yield to those on foot, and especially in Guanacaste province in the dry season the dust thrown up by those vehicles can really be choking. Also, there are a lot of hills (which are great for training, but also which, as I mentioned before, I tend to be crappy on).

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We saw these guys everywhere in Costa Rica, especially on weekends along the coastal highway. Lots of runners, too.

 

Nevertheless, I got some good work in, and am now prepping for the Buffalo Half. Tomorrow is the Laurier Loop in Waterloo, ON, first event of the season. And since I’ll be traveling to Chicago and San Francisco for conferences, I added a couple of events in those places to the schedule. Should be fun.

 

A sporadic January. Plus more plans.

January, ecchhhh.

Running in January is hard for me for a few reasons. I teach 3rd and 4th year undergrad students as part of my university duties, and the only time of year both classes are in the building is in January and February due to the weird co-op schedule. This just means for the first few weeks of the year I am in the shit work wise, if you’ll pardon the expression. It’s hard to find running time when one is working 60+ hour weeks.

Then, there’s the obvious – the weather sucks. No getting around it. So an inordinate amount of time is spent on the hamster wheel, which is a bit disheartening. I do try to bundle up and get out there when I can, but if the footing is crappy (which it usually is) I tend to stay indoors. The dark doesn’t help either. Though Cambridge is kind of pretty in the winter.

 

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Nice to look at. Not so nice to run in.

My kids are great at sharing. One of the things they share is horrible mutant rhinoviruses from hell. So I’ve also been sick for a big chunk of the month, including a brutal sinus infection that I’m just getting over. I haven’t run in over a week, having seemingly spent most of my time boiling water for sinus irrigation (wouldn’t want the amoebae eating my brain, after all.)

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Yeah. Gross.

On the bright side, the toughest part of the year is almost over, and I’ve got my running schedule more or less set. I’m gonna stick with the 12 races per year target I set last year and tentatively things look like this:

Orlando Xtreme 5K, Apopka FL. I know, I know. 5K races aren’t “Xtreme”. There is a half marathon also being run as part of the day which I suppose is slightly more “Xtreme”. I had originally planned to run a race in the Everglades, but the cost of the race plus a 6 hour round trip drive plus the cost of a motel worked out to close to 450 CAD. So, some other time. Damn Canadian Peso. I doubt I’ll be too fast in this one given my lack of January activity, but we’ll call it a tuneup.

Laurier Loop 5K, Waterloo, ON. They moved this race from the fall, and I’m not too sure what the weather will hold for a late March race in Southern Ontario, but who cares. Plan on doing this one as a team with B (the McFastlanes return to strike terror into the field, in other words).

Run for Retina Research OE Canada INC 10k, London, ON. Never run a race in London, but it’s only an hour away. This one looks like it might be pretty good.

Cambridge Mill Race 8K, Cambridge, ON. My local, as previously described.

Buffalo Half Marathon, Buffalo, NY. Buffalo gets a bad rap from some quarters, but I really like it there. There’s way more cool stuff to do and see than it’s given credit for, and Buffalo people are great. I’m definitely looking forward to this one.

Peach Bud 10K, Stoney Creek, ON. The main reason for running this one is it’s midweek and fits into my schedule.

KW Run for POGO 5K, Kitchener, ON. I was delighted that they made this race part of the Run Waterloo series, because it’s such a great cause. Doubt I’ll finish in the top 5 again this year though as the level of competition is bound to go up considerably.

B & O Yorkville 5K, Toronto, ON. This time I’ll pay closer attention to the sizing of my race kit.

Harvest Half Marathon, Wellesley, ON. Nice quiet half marathon on country roads north of the city for my second long event of the year.

Oktoberfast Run 10K, Kitchener, ON. For those of you who don’t know, our city has the second biggest Oktoberfest celebration in the world after Munich, due to the huge numbers of German immigrants who settled here. This race has been run for years, is supposed to be very fast, and should be fun (though my suggestion would be beer stations instead of water on the course).

Road2Hope Hamilton Marathon, Hamilton, ON. The big enchilada. At this point, I’ve decided I’m going for it. It’s fast – the #1 BQ marathon in Canada (not that I’m expecting to BQ).

YMCA Jingle Bell 5K, Cambridge, ON. Might as well finish with a local.

This will probably change, but for now, onward and upward. Now, let’s get some more warm weather – it’s 43F here today (7C) so I might actually be able to get out there for a change…

 

My plans for 2016, or, wherefore art thou, marathon?

Well, it’s December here, and I gotta say that we’ve been pretty lucky with running weather as the temperatures for the most part have been several degrees above the norm. I went out and did a 44 minute 10K tempo run today in lovely 40 degree weather with calm winds and it felt great. This isn’t going to last forever, though, and it got me thinking about my race schedule for next year. I’ve got a few things figured out, but I also have a few questions. It’s getting somewhat difficult to work the weekend races in with my wife working 20 weekends a year and no one to watch the kids. Here’s what I know for sure.

  1. My next race is going to be in Florida in February, and it’s going to be in the Florida Everglades. Despite the fact that my dad’s going to be in Central Florida when I visit him, he expressed interest in making the 3 hour trip down to Fakahatchee Strand State Park so that I could do the 25K race that is part of the Everglades Ultras series in late February. This looks super cool, though I may be dodging some gators along the way, and we’ll see if El Nino decides to drench us with rain.
  2. I need a March race, and it’s not gonna be in Costa Rica. We’re heading down to Central America in early March, and I was really hoping to do the 10K race that was part of the Arenal Ultramarathon Series. Unfortunately, we are heading back that weekend and it’s just not going to work. There’s not a lot of choice when it comes to March races in Ontario. In fact, there’s none. Not sure what I’m gonna do about that yet.
  3. I’m going to do another three half-marathon-ish races in 2016. Right now I’ve got the Everglades 25K and the Buffalo Half as targets. I have to pick one out for the fall so that will require some thought. I’d love to travel to one, but have you seen the Canadian Peso’s exchange rate recently? Geesh.
  4. I’m definitely going to do the Kitchener Kids for Cancer Run again. Not only is it a good cause, but it’s now part of the Run Waterloo series, which I was really thrilled to see. They have a 10K this year as well.
  5. There will be another 12 competitive races in the plans for 2016. Don’t know how it’s going to break down yet, but it’s happening.

Here’s what I don’t know for sure (running schedule wise, I mean – there’s lots I don’t know about everything):

  1. Will there be a marathon in 2016? Man, I don’t know. Maybe. I’m gonna see how things go with the spring races. I think if it does happen, it will almost certainly be the last scheduled race in my area, Hamilton Road2Hope.
  2. Would the mystery race please sign in? There’s some talk about a trail race this spring here in Cambridge which sounds pretty killer. Have to see if it will work in my schedule, and indeed if it’s actually going to happen.
  3. Can I finally break the 20 minute barrier in the 5K? Hope so. I just started a new training regimen that’s a lot more formal. We’ll see if it works.
  4. Is this plan to do a series of races in the US National Parks viable? More on this later, but I really like the idea. Plus the family are all keen hikers. It may not be viable, because, Canadian Peso.

Anyway, I’m excited. Hope everyone has a great 2016.

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.

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.