2016 Race #2: Cambridge Mill 8K, Cambridge, ON

Date: May 1, 2016
Gun Time: 33:42
Chip Time: 33:39
Placing Overall: 14th out of 124
Placing in Age Group: 2nd out of 13 (M40-49)
Theme Song: Changes“, David Bowie

Well. Back to the scene of Fat Dad’s near breakdown, and subsequent reinvention as a runner, thankfully. I speak of course of that day about three years ago (God, has it been three years already?) where this same race nearly killed me. That was the first running of the Cambridge Mill Race, and in the intervening three years, the course has changed not a whit, so I was really interested to see how I could do now that I’m, you know, in a lot better shape than I was. My course record was set in the second annual running, and while faster than the 41:55 I clocked the first time, it was still 40:09, and given I’ve since run the distance under 36 minutes I expected to be a good deal faster than that.

This race was going to offer me the opportunity to be on the other side of the registration table, since it’s put on by my club the Cambridge Harriers and I agreed to volunteer with set up and bag check.We were to gather at Highland Public School by the start line at the ungodly hour of 7AM (note: I am not a morning runner or, for that matter, a morning person) and the day didn’t start particularly well when I went out to my car to find the right rear tire nearly flat at 6:30. Fortunately my kids were in bed and didn’t hear the inventive string of cuss words I snarled as I got the jack out and put my spare on. At 6:30 in the morning. Did I mention it was raining? Yeah. It was raining too. Whatever. Up yours, universe.

Things did get better quickly, as at the set up we had a donation of great coffee from the Grand Cafe. And, also, donuts. Lots and lots of donuts. Like, about 17 boxes of them. In Canada, donuts are a staple food, especially if they are maple glazed, which is like Canada on Canada. There were many many maple glazed donuts. So, yeah. That helped my mood a lot.

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Bring on the runners!

So, the first part of the day was spent getting bibs for competitors, checking bags, and standing in the rather cold misty rain that was coming down. The race was relatively small, with about 120 participants in the 8K, another 10 teams of 2 doing a 2x4K relay, and 70 or so kids doing the 1K Chipmunk Chase. Everything went as smoothly as could be expected, except when, right before the kids race, the starting gate, um, fell down.

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The oh so proud starting gate. Minutes before it collapsed.

I was a fair distance away at the time and was envisioning the children sobbing forlornly, deprived of their race by the flaccid pile of canvas blocking the line. (At least, they were sobbing in my imagination. In reality I’m pretty sure they just stood there looking bemused). Eventually the timing guys got the generator going again (it had died unexpectedly) and the gate was restored to its former inflated glory, allowing the kids to show their athletic prowess after all, though I think the starter pistol scared the bejesus out of a few of them. My kids weren’t in this one, as Brendan has kind of outgrown the kids races (and had baseball practice later in the day anyway) and Dana didn’t want to run without her brother.

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“Let’s just trample the thing.”

Eventually I was able to extricate myself from volunteering so that I could warm up for the 8K. The advantage to my having wrestled with this course before was, naturally, that I knew it very well and was clear on what to expect. The first several hundred yards was a relatively steep downhill section to the banks of the Grand River, along which we would run for the next 2.5K or so. I was in the lead pack of runners and moving along well. The conditions at racetime were perfect, as it turned out – the rain stopped, there was very little wind, and the temperature was in the low 40s. My goal, based on my recent 5K times, was to go under 34 minutes. I felt like this was realistic though the course was a pretty technical one with a lot of hills. I roared through the halfway mark and the turn away from the river into a series of uphill grades. This is where things got tougher and I definitely slowed a bit, but still felt really strong and I wasn’t giving up ground to any of the other runners. The last obstacle was the steep uphill at 6.5K, which I detailed in my previous post about this race and which has become rather infamous among local runners of this event. In the back of my mind I remembered how hard it had been to get up the thing the first couple of times I ran, and used that as motivation. And you know what? I dominated that motherfucker this time. Seriously.

Swinging into the uphill grade to the finish gate I felt better than I’ve ever felt finishing a race, striding down the stretch. The only blemish was I let Jason Hankins, another Harrier, pass me at the end (he was in full sprint at the time and had I known a $50 GC to a nice restaurant was at stake for winning our age category, I’d have tried to sprint too, or at least tripped him as surreptitiously as possible). Lori and the kids showed up to cheer at the finish, and I was really happy with my time, which was a PR by a substantial margin on a pretty tough course.

So, this race was nice, and I guess a bit of an hors d’oeuvre before the main course of the Buffalo Half Marathon, which is coming up at the end of the month. Cambridge Mill Race doesn’t like to give out T-shirts every year so I got this weird head-wrap thing with my race kit. Little sore the day after but I have a feeling all the work is going to pay off when I get to Buffalo. Can’t wait.

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The Polar Vortex, and its General Suckitude

I shouldn’t be complaining again about the weather. After all, I was fortunate enough to be in the southern sunshine for almost the entire month from mid-February to mid-March, plus we had a record for warmth in December and the rest of March after returning wasn’t terrible either.

It’s just, when you get to April, it’s supposed to be all daffodils and bunny rabbits and chirping birds and such. Not this:

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Yeah, this is what it looked like where I live. Last weekend. IN GODDAMN APRIL.

So, the weatherman tells me it’s because of the polar vortex. You know things are bad when you see a weatherman and you have an irrational and nearly uncontrollable urge to punch him in the mouth. Or I suppose punch the TV since I rarely run into weathermen in person. Lucky for them, I guess.

I mean, seriously, WTF?

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I have developed a pathological hatred of the color blue.

This actually started with an ice storm on Easter weekend. Ice storms aren’t very conducive to outdoor running, or driving, or, you know, pretty much anything not indoors. And this one was hideous enough that even the trees looked sad and defeated:

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We are the trees of Ontario. See us despair.

This vortex has been vortexing (vorticing? or whatever it is vortices do, besides make shit cold) over us for awhile now and it seems it’s not going to piss off back north for another few days. So, I looked at the prospective weather for my race in London on Sunday, and, well, -5C with -10C windchill (that’s 23 with 14 windchill if you speak Fahrenheit). The normal temperature for this year is 8C (mid forties).

And I’m wussing out. Screw it. I haven’t made any secret of the fact that I hate running in the cold. I’m going to pick up a race in the summer instead; the Angus Glen 5 miler, I think, run on the cart paths of the golf course that hosts the Canadian Open, which is kind of neat. And it will be a sane temperature in July when it’s held. So, the next race will be my local, the Cambridge Mill 8K, on the first of May. God help the weatherman if any vortices try to intervene…

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.

The 2015 competitive season wraps up.

So, I’m done racing for 2015. I reached my goal of 12 competitive events today at the YMCA 5K Jingle Bell run. Despite spending part of the year injured, I’d say it was a success.

Some statistics, because I’m wired that way. Overall, I did 126 kilometers of racing, equivalent to around three marathons. The 12 races broke down as five 5K runs, one 8K run, three 10K runs, and three half-marathons.

In 2015, I also had:

8 PRs

4 top-15 finishes

3 top-10 finishes

1 top-5 finish

4 top 3 finishes in my age group

and I cut my 5K PR from 21:06 down to 20:06 by the end of the year.

Race reports to come from the last three races including the Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon. Also, I have a new crazy plan which involves running half marathons in as many of the US national parks as possible, and I’m going to hopefully start with a 25K race in the Everglades Ultras series in February… but more on that later.

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All 2015’s bling, pictured.