2016 Race #7: Harvest Quarter Marathon, Wellesley, ON

Date: September 24, 2016
Gun Time: 44:14
Chip Time: 44:14
Placing Overall: 1st out of 60
Placing in Age Group: 1st out of 2
Theme Song: The Weeknd, “The Hills

This was actually supposed to be my second half marathon of the year, but I haven’t been able to train the way I wanted to lately. My wife landed in the hospital with a back injury and since coming home has been hobbling around like an arthritic grandma, and so I had to take on a lot (read:all) of the household duties for awhile, which is pretty heavy when you have two youngsters in elementary school. I didn’t want to run undertrained, so I decided to scale back to the quarter marathon distance, figuring that a) I was still in pretty good shape to run to what amounted to a 10K race with pretensions, and b) I knew that I would at least run a PR, since I had never run the distance competitively before.

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In fact, from what I can see, there aren’t very many quarter marathons run anywhere; aside from this one there is one other one in Ontario, the Durham Quarter Marathon in Oshawa, and a handful of them in the US in Hartford, Baton Rouge, Katy TX, Houston, and a few other places. Most participants on this day were going to be running the half, with a smaller number of us being bussed out to the midpoint of the course for our race. The origins of this race are quite interesting. It’s out in rural Wellesley Township northwest of the city of Waterloo, run on gravel roads in Mennonite country. Tarah Korir, nee Tarah McKay, is a national class 10K and half marathon runner from the area who married Wesley Korir, a Kenyan who won the Boston Marathon a few years ago. When the couple lived in the area, people used to watch Wesley tearing around the area on training runs (he claimed the rolling gravel roads reminded him of some of the tracks he was used to training on back home in Kenya’s Rift Valley). Tarah and Wesley now live and train in Kenya, but they set up this race three years back to benefit the Kenyan Kids’ Foundation, which makes all kinds of investments in co0peratives benefiting the education and health of African children.

So, I got to the hockey arena (naturally) in tiny St. Clements, Ontario, where the half marathon was to be started and finished as an out-and-back. The quarter marathoners were put on yellow school buses and shipped out half way to run a point-to-point. I’d looked at the altitude chart for the race and noted that it was a net downhill, with a net elevation gain of negative 27 feet.

Overheard on the bus, from a whippet-thin lady of about 50: “Well, it’s mostly downhill, so it can’t be too bad.” (She spent most of the rest of the ride talking about a recent high altitude race in Utah she and her husband just did).

There was a small field of about 60 people, and the timers synchronized our start with the start of the half-marathon. I threw caution to the wind in this one, and took off at the start like I was shot out of a cannon. I figured I’d get a reasonable lead, and then settle in to a groove and ride the mostly downhill course for the rest of the way. It quickly became evident that the course was… ah… not exactly a downhill. In fact, it was seemingly endless hills of loose gravel. I was settling into my pace, but it was pretty tough slogging. The other problem was that there was a headwind I was fighting against, though it was only strong enough to be a bit annoying and not really a problem. The beginning of this race reminded me a bit of the 5K in Chicago earlier this year when I went out really fast and then died at the end, but I’m in a lot better shape now, and I didn’t feel like I was slowing down much. Stopped for a quick drink at the first water station at about mile 3, and kept on running the long straight stretch of rolling hills.

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The half marathoners heading out, and me coming back leading the quarter marathon.

In short order I started to see the leaders of the half marathon coming in the other direction, and I tipped a few of them a wave. Several of the runners coming the other way shouted encouragement. Now as I mentioned, this is Mennonite country, and shortly I was in the unusual situation of having a horse and buggy as a pace vehicle, which was definitely a first. It was rolling along in front of me and I was slowly catching up to it, which meant that dodging piles of manure was quite possibly going to be an added hazard soon. The Mennonites in the area were evidently quite amused by Korir back when he was ripping around the area, and some of them even took to timing him, so they weren’t completely unused to runners puffing along the roads. I waved to a couple of them who were standing at the end of a laneway and they waved back encouragingly.

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Rollin’.

The buggy eventually turned off the course and I was alone again. I chanced a look back and noted that there was another runner (Jeff Martin of H & P, against whom I’ve run before) about 30 seconds or so behind me. I was getting pretty tired by this point, but I resolved that I was not going to let anyone catch me from behind this time. Skipping the water station with about a mile to go, I turned south along the course onto asphalt to head back toward St. Clements. Now, I had a police car as a pace vehicle (nothing like having some variation), and I absolutely put everything I had into a kick, gasping lungfuls of air while trying to keep my body as quiet as possible to conserve energy. As I crossed the road into the arena complex I could tell I had it in the bag as I had opened a wide lead, and I raised my arms at the finish line with a smile for the first victory of the season after enduring a couple of bridesmaid finishes.

Afterwards Jeff came up to me and said “Man, how fast did you do that last km? I was 4:14 and you just ran away from me”. I couldn’t tell him, since I don’t wear a timing device, but I imagine it was down close to 4:00 flat, which is pretty good for the end of a 10-or-so K. All the speed running I’ve been doing is paying off and I had a really good final charge. Plus, I led the race wire-to-wire, which made me pretty happy. The runners coming in were wheezing about the hilliness of the course, which was considerable, but I hope next year I can do the half marathon, as this was a fun little race for a good cause.

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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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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.

A few things I learned in my failed marathon training attempt.

There’s a lot of stuff they don’t tell you as a neophyte would-be marathon runner.

I think I was a bit overconfident in trying to feel my way through the process. Somehow, I was under the impression that I could find an online plan, blindly follow it, and everything would work out. That clearly didn’t turn out to be the case at all. Things would probably have gone better if I had just tried to seek out some advice from friends of mine, and there are a few, who are veteran marathoners. Pride cometh before a fall, as they say.

So, for this post, I thought I’d look back and try to come up with some clear lessons learned, in order to help myself and maybe anyone else who reads this.

Here we go:

1. Marathon plans involving rigid running schedules and a specific number of miles don’t work for me.

break 4 or bust runners world

I felt like absolute shit after I ran my first 40-mile week, and I got hurt shortly after that. In addition to the problems with actually fitting all of the mileage into my schedule, I never felt like there was enough time for me to recover in between runs. The other thing I noticed was that it TOTALLY sucked all the enjoyment out of running for me. It really made me wonder about the concept of “junk miles”. A lot of the training I was doing was probably low quality miles where I was just slogging through and I don’t think it was helping me.

2. I was doing my training runs way too goddamn fast.

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The run I got hurt on was an 18 miler that I tried to do at an 8:15/mile pace because I struggle with running slow enough on long runs. This was a theme in training.

3. Going from being basically a couch potato to being a sub 4:00 marathoner in 6 months is probably not going to work for most people (it didn’t for me).

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Not me. But you get the idea.

I mean, holy crap. I read that sentence above again and I can’t believe I was so naive. I was really buoyed by some encouraging early results when I made the commitment to do a dozen races this year, but I was ignoring the clear fact that a marathon is so far removed from even the 1:40 half marathon I ran in February that it might as well be another sport. Building a base on which I could work toward the marathon should have been the priority, and it wasn’t. As a result, the overuse injuries killed me. The good news is, I have that base now.

4. I probably don’t need to run all that much to be successful, as long as I put in quality work.

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Yeah. This is how I felt sometimes.

I’m not saying I can do a marathon on 20 mile weeks. But consider this: I ran three half marathons this year. My fastest time came when I was “undertrained” and running… uh… 20 mile weeks. To be fair, I did throw runs of 8, 10, and 12 miles in there. The key was I did all my mileage at or near half marathon pace and added speedwork every couple of weeks. Yes, I did feel the lack of work in the second half of the race in Toronto and given my 10K split I should have been faster. But feeling great physically going in really helped.

5. I’m wayyyyyy faster at the shorter distances.

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Again not me. This is from the film “The Fast Runner”, which, apparently, is about a fast runner. I don’t run naked over ice floes. Usually.

My half marathon PR equates to a 21:17 5K, apparently. My real 5K time is almost down to 20:00 flat. I will continue to do a mix of distances, but my podium finishes in the 5K races have me thinking about leaning a little more toward these as opposed to the longer ones.

6. Half marathons are great, people are still impressed when you say you run them, and you can still, like, do stuff with the rest of the day after you finish one.

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Yeah, we know. You a bad bad man.

 

I gotta say the marathoners I saw in Cleveland did not look like they were doing well after finishing. Not that I am disparaging the marathon. I still want to run one. But, if your goal is to seem like a badass, you can probably get away with the shorter distance as long as your friends aren’t ultramarathoners or something.

7. On balance, I really prefer running in Florida in the winter.

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Hey, what do you know. I can reuse the photo.

 

Because, you know, genital nip and stuff. I also ran in San Francisco when I was there which was pleasant weather wise but, wow. Hills.

8. Don’t say you’re going to run a marathon for charity when it’s your first time.

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Yeesh. This was dumb. It’s pretty tough to admit to a bunch of people that have given you money that you can’t physically do the race. They were understanding. But still, don’t do it.

9. I’m still doing the damn marathon. But next time I’m gonna do it right.

It might not be next year, or the year after. But it is going to happen. Mark it down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brendan taking time out to wave.

Brendan taking time out to wave.

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

At the finish.

At the finish.

The younger, and handsomer, of the two runners.

The younger, and handsomer, of the two runners.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesse Ketchum School, complete with track.

Jesse Ketchum School, complete with track.

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

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

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

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

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

Not a perfect day, alas.

Not a perfect day, alas.

The elites, getting ready to roll.

The elites, getting ready to roll.

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

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

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

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

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

Geez, I look pretty well coiffed under the circumstances.

Geez, I look pretty well coiffed under the circumstances.

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

Yeah. I did that.

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

Down the stretch, PR in sight.

Down the stretch, PR in sight.

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

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

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

The bling.

The bling.

My teeny tiny running gear. Nice race kit though.

My teeny tiny running gear. Nice race kit though.

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

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

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

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

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

Ready to go. Balloon in hand.

Ready to go. Balloon in hand.

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

Up, up, and away.

Up, up, and away.

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

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

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

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

A good day, and a good cause.

A good day, and a good cause.

Well, sh*t is about to get real up in here…

…because I just officially signed up for both the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon and the Great Lakes Marathon Series.

Also, and probably more important, I will be fundraising for gastric cancer advocacy and research through supporting the Debbie’s Dream Foundation with my run, due to a close family member who has recently been stricken with the disease. Here is a link to my fundraising page: http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/mcfarlanetom/clevelandrun.

So it’s on. Can’t back out now. Also, thinking about getting one of the snazzy GLMS training shirts:

GLMS-Training-Shirt

They only take cheques (or, I guess, checks??) in US funds, so will have to work that one out…