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.
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.
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.
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.