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…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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B and his new feathered friend.

Also, FACE PAINTING!!!

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

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

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

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

So much for a negative split.

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

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Pizza time!

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

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I feel like the Rocky theme should be playing here.

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

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

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Not bad, kid.

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

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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 #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.

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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