2015 Race #10: Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon, Toronto, ON

Date: October 18, 2015
Gun Time: 1:39:01
Chip Time: 1:37:49
Placing Overall: 729th out of 10220
Placing in Age Group: 93rd out of 674 (M40-44)
Theme Song: Going the Distance“, Cake

It was weird how this race kind of snuck up on me. With a lot of changes happening in my personal life and plenty to distract me, I suddenly realized one day in early September that I had a half marathon in six weeks and I hadn’t really done anything to ramp up my mileage from my weekly maintenance totals or even to start preparations. The good news was that I had been putting lots of speedwork in with the 5K races and I felt absolutely tip top physically. So, I thought I’d ensure I at least got a couple of 10+ mile training runs in, which I did four and two weeks prior to the race date. These went well, so I rested for most of the week prior and got up on a cool Sunday morning ready to give it a go.

I had a bit of an adventure getting down to University and Dundas where the start was. All the promotion for the event warned against trying to drive downtown because of the 20,000 plus people that would be attending, so I figured I’d leave my car near Bloor and Christie and take the TTC down to Osgoode which would give me plenty of time to warm up and get to the starting corral. An added bonus was I wouldn’t have to pay a crapload for parking and get stuck in the jam of people trying to get out of downtown after. Smart, right?

Well, starting gun was at 9AM, and I got to Christie subway station at 7:45, as planned, after a trouble free drive into the city. The day was looking to be a perfect one for running, with no wind and the temperature around 40 degrees. I could feel the adrenaline start to pump as it always does on race day as I fished for a token and made to enter the building.

My next thought: Why is the door locked?

And on the heels of that: Oh shit. It’s Sunday.

The subway, you see, doesn’t start running until 9AM on Sundays in Toronto. NYC we are not.

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No TTC for you!

This was really annoying given the city made it plain it didn’t want people driving downtown, but it didn’t give us what would be the best alternative in terms of transportation down there. So, I had to decide whether I wanted to try and drive over and try to find parking, or take a bus, or what. I decided I’d briskly walk the 2 and a half miles or so instead and treat it as a warmup. This ended up working out OK and I’d be able to take the subway back to the car and get out of town fairly easily.

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Off we go.

I still was able to get down to Nathan Phillips Square and find the bag check in plenty of time for the race, and made my way to Corral A after doing some light stretching. There was the usual banter from the organizers in the countdown to the gun, and Jean Paul Bedard was going to be running his third consecutive marathon distance in 18 hours, which is pretty damned impressive. Even better, he was doing it to raise funds to support victims of sexual abuse. Good on him – and you really should read his story, it’s quite affecting. Kathleen Wynne did make an appearance in this one, running the first 5K with Jean Paul and firing the starting gun. I tried to stick near the 1:40 pacer, who was from Kitchener near where I work, with the overall strategy of staying close to him until midrace and then upping to negative splits to try to break the 1:40 mark. The start was the usual surge-forward-and-stop that you get in big races, and this was the biggest one I had ever been in. We streamed up University Avenue and as is typical for me I was trying to control my pace and not let the adrenaline take over.

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Jean-Paul Bedard, with the premier to his right.

As we rounded Queen’s Park Circle, though, I was cruising along and before I knew it, I had passed the pacer by a considerable distance as we ran along Bloor Street. We bore left onto Dufferin to head south toward the lake and I felt like I was trying to hold back enough that I wouldn’t die in the second half of the race, but was still going at a pretty good clip. It helped that this stretch was all downhill, though I found myself having to keep an eye on the streetcar tracks in order to avoid tripping.

Now I was pretty much neck and neck with the 3:05 marathon pacer and thinking, damn, am I going to regret this later? I don’t run with a Garmin or anything like that – I typically like to run by feel, so I really had no way of knowing what my pace was. We surged over the Gardiner Expressway and onto Lake Shore Boulevard, and I concentrated on keeping pace and form. Hitting the 10K split, I was rather astonished to see that my split was below 46 minutes, which meant that with the time taken to reach the start line after the gun I was probably under 45 minutes for the first 10K (it turned out to be 44:32).

We also had a good view by this time of the race leaders coming back along Lake Shore, which was quite a marvel. Soon I reached the turnaround just past KM 12 and started heading back toward downtown, which suddenly seemed very far away. Gut check time started around KM 14. I could feel my legs starting to fade and my hamstrings were tightening up. A steel band along the side of the road perked me up briefly, but at the next water stop I had to take a short 20 seconds and stretch things out. I could tell my pace was dropping by the rapidity with which the 3:05 pacer was running away from me. This is where the lack of work going in really hurt me. Soon I was running alongside the 3:15 pace group and willing myself to try to stay with them. Unsuccessfully. By KM 18, as we were in the shadow of the office towers, they were at least 50 yards ahead of me.

I kept waiting for that 1:40 pacer to come up behind me, but it wasn’t happening (little did I know he would actually end up finishing around 1:42). I got a real boost from the cheering throngs that were lining Lake Shore at the turn onto Bay Street and the final stretch. Gritting my teeth, I watched the distance markers pass. 20KM, 1KM to go, then 800m, then 600. They seemed to be moving by awfully slowly. I went around the bend with 200m to go and could see Nathan Phillips Square, and finally the finish line. With a glance at the clock I allowed myself a smile as it was still at 1:38 and change. I crossed as it flipped over to 1:39 and trotted over to grab my medal relieved and happy. Mission accomplished – my first sub 1:40 time.

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The finish line crowds were good. And pretty loud.

One thing that’s nice about finishing with the first hundred runners in a big race is that there aren’t any lines for food afterward, but I wasn’t terribly impressed with the offerings (bagel + cream cheese + cookie + banana = boring). I considered sticking around for some entertainment and a beer, but with the family not there and fatigue setting in I decided I would just get out of Dodge and head home for a sleep and something more substantial to eat. So I can’t comment on the post race festivities. Maybe next time.

I would deem the last major event of my year an unqualified success. It was a fast course, great weather, no major problems, and I really think I can go faster with some better prep. I was sore for a couple of days after, but rested up properly this time, and it was on to the final two events of the year.

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2015 Race #4: Syracuse Half Marathon, Syracuse, NY

Date: March 22, 2015
Gun Time: 1:43:51
Chip Time: 1:43:38
Placing Overall: 303rd out of 2773
Placing in Age Group: 27th out of 136
Theme Song: (Tie) Arcade Fire, “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” and Foreigner, “Cold As Ice

Ah, the first weekend of spring. Rebirth. Renewal. Return of green and warmth, and druids dancing around Stonehenge and stuff.

Except, um, if you live in Central New York State. And to be fair, most of Canada.

I had only ever been to Syracuse for a very brief overnight visit during a college road trip, and I have to say, we really enjoyed the city on race weekend. A cold rain washing over us on the I-90 as we approached the city gave way to clear skies later in the day. The kids loved the Museum of Science and Technology, we had some great eats downtown, and though we missed the NCAA tournament games at the Carrier Dome by a week, we took in a Syracuse Crunch hockey game at the War Memorial Arena (the home team losing a close one to rival Utica). I felt good and rested as I turned in for the night, having taken 3 days off to rest and prepare for the half which was to start the next morning at 8AM. Packet pick-up earlier in the day at Fleet Feet in East Syracuse had been extremely well organized and I got a nice quarter-zip pullover for registering, in addition to a couple of cans of Red Bull, which I decided I’d stay away from until the race, given my, ahem, problems with the last half (I came well armed with Imodium and was careful with fibre the day before and that’s all anyone probably wants to know about that).

Rising at 6AM I was raring to hit the bricks. I knew it would be cold from the forecast, but looking out the window, um, this.

I believe the air may have turned blue for a second and it had nothing to do with the cold, if you know what I mean.

Facing the prospect of running 13.1 with seriously crappy footing, I nonetheless headed down to the OnCenter a few blocks away, where the race expo and starting line were. This was a large race, with 3500 spots sold out before race day, and given that the temperature at race time was in the teens with close to zero windchill, most of us were huddled inside the building, waiting for the starting gun.

 

It has to be said, though, that this was an extremely well organized race. There were clear directions given to runners, the race expo was solid, and it felt like a smaller competition despite the number of participants. The only blip of the day was the delay of the start time by 15 minutes, which was presumably done so that the city workers could get the course as clear as possible. Eventually we all gathered outside in the starting corral, and I lined up near the 8:00 mile pace sign, shivering with the other runners. After the anthem, the gun mercifully went off, and thankful for the opportunity to generate some warmth, off we all went.

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Snaking out of downtown, we headed up a long incline along James Street into the pleasant Eastwood neighborhood. Two things became evident to me fairly quickly. Firstly, the organizers and city had done a magnificent job of clearing the course – the footing was not a problem at all during the entire duration of the race (big kudos to you guys for this). And secondly, there were hills on this course. Quite a few hills actually.

So, yet another flaw exposed in the training. I need to run more hills.

Now, the elevation gain on the course wasn’t enormous, but it was a good 400 feet, and it was clear early that this was slowing me down somewhat. Periodically I would turn a corner and curse to myself as another upslope came into view. On the other hand, most of the gain was in the first half of the race, so at least we weren’t expected to climb when more fatigued at the end. As well, we were greeted by a long and much appreciated downhill at around mile 8 as the course headed to Inner Harbor and back downtown.

There were also more hardy Syracuse natives out to cheer us than I expected given the weather. I saw one kid holding a sign reading “Hurry Up, I’m Freezing!” and gave him a thumbs up. It was really nice to have the support of the locals in the harsh cold.

Running past our hotel I wondered whether Lori and the kids would be waiting outside for me to pass by, but they weren’t. It turned out that they were not aware of the late start and thought they missed me. I soldiered on through mile 11 or so. By this time a PR was not a possibility based on my splits, but I was still going to be able to run a sub 8:00 mile for the race if I kept pace. Heading down the last straightaway I was tired but still felt good enough to pick it up a bit, and crossed the line in 1:43:51. I could hear my son shout my name, and I looked over to see my family standing there, teeth chattering.

“Hunghh hhhnnn huhhn,” I said, approximately. My lower jaw had become so numb I couldn’t really move it, and we quickly moved inside to get warmed up.

So, not a PR, but a cool medal, post race pancakes, bacon, and sausage helped a lot, and there was a live band playing. And I felt pretty good about my performance under the circumstances. I would definitely run this race again, and indeed probably will next year. There’s lots to like about Syracuse and the race was really enjoyable.

I just hope it’s a bit warmer next year.

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2015 Race #2: Paradise Coast Half Marathon, Naples, FL

Date: February 15, 2015
Gun Time: 1:40:32
Chip Time: 1:40:21
Placing Overall: 43rd out of 427
Placing in Age Group: 9th out of 25 (M40-44)
Theme Song: The Cramps, “I Can’t Hardly Stand It

A warning before we get started with this post – it gets a little, shall we say, scatological. And not in a cuss word sort of way. So you may want to bear that in mind before reading.

I wasn’t supposed to run this race. The plan had been to run a competitive half marathon to sort of gauge where I was at prior to enrolling in my first marathon in May, but I had decided on (and in fact had registered for) the Syracuse Half Marathon in March. It was just that… the training was going so damn well, and I felt so strong, that I made a snap decision to head to Naples for this one as well. We were vacationing about 40 minutes drive north in Cape Coral, it made sense from a scheduling perspective, and with a couple of 13 mile runs already under my belt I felt like doing it wouldn’t be a problem, and would give me an idea of what I could do early in training.

The drive from Ontario to the gulf coast of Florida is a long one, and when you have kids it’s not like you want to dawdle. This meant that my diet in the couple of days previous to the half marathon (I was running it at 6AM the day after a late evening arrival in Cape Coral) consisted of, well, Golden Corral buffets and McDonald’s fries. In other words, not exactly the stuff of which Hal Higdon would approve.

Now, some foreshadowing, courtesy of Runner’s World magazine:

Runners’ Colitis is a term used to describe an exercise-induced form of colitis that is usually a temporary condition, brought on by long mileage or the intensity of a run, in other words, physical stress… consider your diet [prior to racing].

In other words, said diet was about to make a rather unwelcome contribution to my day.

Lori and the kids showed no interest in accompanying me to Naples at 5:30 in the morning, and so I arrived at the Florida Sports Park (home of the “World Famous Swamp Buggy Races”, whatever they are) in the cool morning air to get ready for the race.

After grabbing a coffee (in retrospect, given subsequent events, probably another poor decision) I did my stretching and got to the starting corral as the sun was coming up. The temperature was about 50F at the start of the race and with the course being flat and no wind it looked like perfect conditions were to be the order of the day, especially in comparison with the ones I had been running in at home.

The race was a small one, with about 500 participants running the marathon and half combined, and about four-fifths of these doing the half. We were off into the cool Florida morning at 6:45AM and my first official half marathon was underway. Trying to keep my pace controlled, I breezed through the first mile in 7:30. My pace felt comfortable, conditions were perfect, and the miles started to roll by as I passed palm groves and gated communities. My goal going into the race was to run sub 1:45, and it certainly seemed to be playing out that way early on.

Lely resort

The first hint of a problem started to emerge around mile 6. The sport drink I had just taken at an aid station did not seem to be sitting right. The following is a quick synopsis of my thought process for the next few miles:

Mile 7: Shit, cramping. Ow, ow, ow. How is it possible to have a cold sweat on my forehead when it’s 70 degrees out and I’m running?

Mile 7.5: Running around a lake now. Feel like I’m gonna crap myself. OK. Don’t stop. Wow, that guy’s totally sprinting for the portajohns. Guess I’m not the only one. Godspeed, brother.

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Mile 8.5: OK. OK. No big deal. Hold your pace. Just gotta get through a couple more miles and OH GOD DID SOME COME OUT? I THINK SOME CAME OUT. Wait, no. Maybe. Just keep running.

Mile 10: Jesus, 3 more miles to go? C’mon. Hold it in. Damn, my legs are sore now too.

At this point, I checked my split (1:14:30) and calculated that sub 1:40 was still possibly in play, despite struggling with my pace due to cramping. A long, brutal straightaway that seemed to go on forever dominated the end of the race and despite my troubles I (pardon the pun) gutted things out to the last stretch and the entry to the Sports Park. Being so close to the finish was energizing and I couldn’t help smiling as I came within sight of the finish, even if it was more of a grimace.

Then I saw the time on the finish line clock was 1:35:30. What the hell? The last 3 miles were a bit fuzzy due to my efforts to keep my insides in, but I didn’t think there was any way that I was that fast. After grabbing my medal and some water at the finish, it was off to the portajohns myself. Fortunately I finished fairly early compared to most of the runners and there were no lines.

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I recovered sufficiently to grab a slab of post race pizza and it soon became evident that there was beer on offer. And it was free. At least, the Budweiser, and Bud Light were. The guy behind me asked for a Stella, and was told he would be charged for it.

“I’ll go get my wallet,” he sighed, stomping off.

A man of discerning taste, apparently. Me, I’m good with free.

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Sitting in the Florida sunshine afterward, aforementioned cold beer in hand, I felt a lot better. It soon became clear that the organizational skills of Elite Events, who were coordinating the race for the first time this year, were, uh, a bit lacking. For example, it took them forever to announce the winners of the various age groups, or even figure out who they were. My posted time and placing changed several times after the race, and there were no monitors where times could be checked. And most egregious of all, how the hell can you allow the bloody finish line clock to be off by 5 whole minutes???

Nevertheless, gastro troubles aside, I was happy with my run and my time. I was guaranteed a PR anyway and the fact that I pretty much crushed my goal was gratifying. Plus, lessons were learned for future races, even if said lessons were learned the hard way…

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