2017 Race #3: Run for Retina Research 5K, London, ON

Date: April 9, 2017
Gun Time: 19:57
Chip Time: 19:54
Placing Overall: 6th out of 278
Placing in Age Group: 2nd out of 24 (M40-49)
Theme Song: You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son“, Wolf Parade

You know, it’s a good thing I’m not as lazy a runner as I am a blogger. I realized today that I haven’t posted on this thing in over two months. So, I think it’s time to do a couple of updates and race reports. The most important goal I reached in the interim was finally running a sub-20 5K after trying for a couple of years. I’d like to say I discovered some sort of magic training regimen or was noshing down on radioactive quinoa or something, but really, I didn’t go into the race doing anything different than usual.

This race was the one I opted not to do in a freak early April snowstorm last year. I probably would have opted for the 10K, but my son wanted to run too, and so we packed into the car early on a Sunday morning to make the 45 minute drive over to London. In addition to the 2.5, 5, and 10K races there was also a half marathon to be run as part of this event, and runners were starting to gather at Springbank Park, where the events would be run on the asphalt trails along the Thames River. (Yes, the London in Canada has a Thames River. No London Eye, though. Or Buckingham Palace or Beefeaters or any crap like that. But hey, they do have the Guy Lombardo Pavilion!)

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Anybody remember Guy Lombardo? Probably not, since he predates even me. Anyway, he was from London. Happy New Year!

I’ll admit I had designs of a sub-20 in my head at the time. Even though I hadn’t been doing any really heavy training, I had just finished a pretty successful half marathon training cycle, and the weather was perfect; little wind, sunny, cool. The course was flat as a board. And given some of the times I had the previous fall I felt like the elusive barrier was in reach. We got our race kits, which contained a pretty nice quarter zip, and lined up for coffee at the Tim Horton’s wagon which was thankfully present. The 5K was the third of the three races to start, so we had to wait a bit while the half marathoners and 10K runners got going.

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Inside the Lombardo Pavilion, waiting to start.

As we lined up at the start, we endured a set of complicated instructions from the race marshal. Don’t turn around at the 2.5K turnaround pylon – check. (I would hope that I would notice the difference between 2.5 and 1.25K). If you hit Storybook Gardens you’ve gone too far. (Uh, OK). I decided to stay behind the people in front of me, and hope a simple out and back wasn’t beyond my comprehension. I wished Brendan good luck (his goal was to go under 28 minutes) and then the horn went and we were off. Once again, there were lots of youngsters in this race, but a bunch of them were wearing gear from a local London track club, and they were fast. I settled in behind a young girl with fiery red hair, with several other teenagers opening a gap ahead of me. There wasn’t much to say about the race itself – as I’ve already noted, it was flat, calm, and fast. I eventually passed red-haired girl (I found out later she was 12, and she finished right behind me, so good on her) and hit the turnaround to head back, feeling pretty good. A thirty-ish guy steamed past me after the turn, but I put myself in about 6th or 7th place, and vowed to hold there if possible. On the way back, we were greeted by the sight of a rather forlorn looking goose, standing over a broken egg. This made me feel kinda bad. Goddamn humans, trampling through everything. We suck.

Now, I had this vision in my head about what it would be like to finally break the 20 minute mark. I would come into the final stretch, legs pumping. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” or something equally cheesy would be pulsing through my head. I would see the finish line clock starting in a 1, and would flash a conquerer’s smile. I would puff out my chest, arms raised, and bellow like a Viking as I crossed the line, and maybe even grab a banana and spike it like a football to punctuate the poignant moment.

Here’s what really happened:

The last stretch was down a hill with the finish line around a sharp corner. While I appreciated the downhill, I couldn’t see the clock, and so didn’t know if I was at 20 minutes or how close I was. As I rounded the corner and crossed the line, I looked up and realized… the clock was counting the time for the previous 10K race.

Goddammit. No Viking yell. No banana spiking. Only mental arithmetic. How anticlimactic.

My math told me, based on when the 10K started, that I was probably just under 20 minutes, but I had no way of telling officially. B came rolling in a few minutes later (looking exhausted – he really wanted to please his old man I think) and he was totally befuddled by the clock. I reassured him that he wasn’t as slow as the time indicated, which mollified him.

A peek at the official posted results confirmed that we had both reached our goals, I at 19:54, and B at 26:58 (he finished 49th). There was no awards ceremony, but $25,000 was raised for research into macular degeneration, which was great. So, another goal to cross off the list. I guess I’m going to have to set some more challenges soon. And, there’s still the marathon looming in my consciousness. Getting closer, step by step…

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The requisite selfie.

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2017 Race #1: Re-Fridgee-Eighter 8 Mile, Waterloo, ON

Date: February 12, 2017
Gun Time: 57:29
Chip Time: 57:25
Placing Overall: 18th out of 76
Placing in Age Group: 2nd out of 6 (M40-44)
Theme Song: “Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow”, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

It seemed like it had been an age since I had last run a real competition, and I had been looking forward to 2017’s debut with great anticipation. I was in the midst of a training cycle for the Puerto Rico Half Marathon, which, this being February, had largely been inside on the treadmill. I did, however, buy a pair of those Yaktrax things that you slip over your shoes and have the spike-and-coil combination on the bottom for traction on icy winter surfaces. I was still ambivalent about them after a 10 mile run the weekend prior where it felt like my feet weighed about 50 pounds (the snow sticks to the bottom of them, you see) and it seemed they rendered running outside a choice between one of two evils. So, I was delighted to see, in the days leading up to this race, that it looked like the weather was going to be fairly benign, with a 45 degree Saturday the day before, and temperatures in the mid 30s on race day with, possibly, a little rain dampening the proceedings.

O, ye capricious gods of Southern Ontario weather, it seems you are still angry with me.

I awoke on race day to find that our yard was buried in 4 inches of fresh snow from a storm that no one predicted. Lori, no doubt hoping to stay inside next to the fireplace, asked me if I really, seriously, planned to run that day given the conditions, which suddenly were calling for an additional 2 inches of fresh powder over the course of the morning. I assured her that nothing would keep me from competing and watched her face fall a little. Trooper that she is, she helped me pack the kids into the car and off we went to RIM Park in Waterloo where the race was being held (normally we can drive up there in 25 minutes, but on this day it took us nearly an hour).

I’d signed Brendan up for the 3K the day before, and he was keen to run, having dropped some extra weight that he had accumulated last summer sitting around playing PlayStation (he’s deeply into basketball now and in much better shape). We sat in the community center waiting for the race to begin, and I sized up the competition. There was an 8K and an 8 mile being run, and the field in the 8 mile was shaping up to be a very fast one, with several elites taking part, including a couple of Canadian Olympic Team members. I went into this one hoping for a sub-56-minute time and a top 3 placing in my age group, and though the sub-56 seemed exceedingly unlikely I felt like I could still acquit myself fairly well.

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The snow let up a bit for the start, and we all crowded outside into the freezing cold. Brendan and I had been working on a choreographed pre-race handshake celebration thing that we busted out to the amusement of some of the other runners. “Gotta let them know we’re in the house,” as I said to B.

Anyway, the horn went and off we trudged into the heavy snow. The first 500 meters or so hadn’t been plowed and were very sludgy, but then we turned onto the road and things got a bit better, at least for a while. I rolled through the first mile at a 6:45 pace, down a hill and around a sloppy, slippery corner. I remember thinking to myself that if conditions didn’t worsen, maybe the race would be faster than I expected.

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Rounding a corner with a bit of a sly grin. I might not have been smiling if I’d known how much the course would deteriorate.

Worsen, they did, however.

The snow started to fall furiously shortly after, and to make matters worse the 8 milers had to detour through a residential neighborhood where the streets hadn’t been plowed at all. The footing was treacherous, and negotiating the white drifts was like running through heavy, wet sand. My calves and quads were getting pretty sore by the time we got through this section and into a second loop of the previous major streets, which by now were also snow covered. I was keeping my pace but starting to struggle a little at around mile 6.

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This should give an idea of what we had to deal with.

Meanwhile, B had blazed through the 3K (which wasn’t chip timed, but he didn’t care) and was the fourth to cross the line, and the first one under 18.

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The boy’s all right.

I put everything I had into the last couple of miles. I seemed to get a bit of a second wind with a mile to go, and managed to pass a couple of runners en route to the finish, and we were starting to catch up to the back of the pack of 8K runners, which meant steering around some slower people.  The last 500 meters was over the unplowed section again, which wasn’t the easiest way to finish. I think I let out a couple of fairly inventive cuss words, in fact. But, I managed to hump my way over the line in a little over 57 minutes, and was pretty much OK with it.

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Drafting. It didn’t help much given the footing.

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First race of the year, in the books.

We all went inside where hot coffee and pizza were waiting. A live band was playing, too, and Dana and Brendan got their groove on a little bit. I bumped into one of my former students who had run the 8K and we commiserated about the conditions. I was happy to see that I had a podium finish in my age group, and went to collect my medal. Somehow, the winner of the 8K had done it in a blazing 24 minutes and change, which was a bit mind-boggling to me. Everybody else struggled. Even Krista DuChene, an Olympic Marathoner, struggled to do the 8 mile in under 50 minutes. I figure I would have been about 3 minutes faster in dry conditions. Oh well. The next race I’m running will present a different challenge: Puerto Rico will be very hot and humid, though I did get 35 miles of training done in similar conditions last week in Cuba. Anything without snowdrifts will be a welcome change.

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2016 Recap, and plans for 2017.

So, the holidays are upon us, and it’s time to reflect on another year.

I had some pretty grand plans for this year, and well, not all of them came to fruition. Nevertheless, I’m pretty happy with how things went. I ended up getting a respiratory infection that took me out for part of October, so I had to cut a couple of events, unfortunately. I don’t intend to do any more competitions until February, so let’s look back at 2016.

Going into this year I had a few goals:

PR in the 8K – Check. I ran 33:39 in the only one I did this year, the Cambridge Mill Race.
PR in the 10K – Check. Again, I only ran one, but it was 41:17 in San Francisco, an utter dismantling of my old PR.
PR in the half marathon – Check. 1:35:46 in Buffalo.
Sub 20:00 5K – Not quite. Best I did was 20:09 in Chicago.
Finish a marathon – Nope. Could not fit a proper training schedule into what turned out to be a rather topsy-turvy year.

So, in 7 races, I had:

One victory (in the Harvest Quarter Marathon)
Two second-place finishes (in the KW Kids with Cancer Run and the Lurie Cancer Survivors Run in Chicago)
Two top-15 finishes (Laurier Loop, Cambridge Mill Race)
One top-20 finish (San Francisco Giant Race 10K, which it should be noted had almost 6,000 participants. This is probably the race I’m proudest of this year.)
One top-100 finish (out of almost 4,000 in the Buffalo Half Marathon).

Not bad for an old guy.

As for next year, still some stuff to work on. Right now, the plan is to do the Re-Fridgee-Eighter 8K (or possibly the 8-mile, which is also part of the event) in February, the Puerto Rico Half Marathon in March, the Mercedes-Benz 10K in Oakville in April (if I can fit it into my schedule – they still haven’t announced the date), the GoodLife Toronto 10K in May, and a new local trail race, the Conquer the Canuck 25K, in June. We shall see if this holds up.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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 #6: The Giant Race 10K, San Francisco, CA

Date: September 11, 2016
Gun Time: 41:29
Chip Time: 41:17
Placing Overall: 17th out of 5497
Placing in Age Group: 2nd out of 260
Theme Song: Embarcadero“, Paul Desmond

My son and I are both big baseball fans, and several months ago we were having a conversation about which big league parks we’d most like to see a road game in. He is a rabid Toronto Blue Jays fan, and I’m, well, still a fan but slightly less emotionally involved than I used to be (22 years between playoff appearances will do that to one). As I recall, the list we came up with went something like this:

  1. Wrigley Field
  2. AT&T Park
  3. Camden Yards
  4. Dodger Stadium
  5. Fenway Park

We actually checked off the first one this summer on a road trip to Chicago, and now my son has a crazy plan to see ALL the MLB parks (he’s ten, so it may take him awhile). Much to his chagrin, however, his old man beat him to AT&T Park. Though, I didn’t see a game there. Perhaps I should explain.

I am not really a San Francisco Giants fan, although I have nothing against them – they play way over in the NL West, and we Blue Jays devotees tend not to pay much attention to the senior circuit. However, I do travel to San Francisco for conferences at least once or twice a year, and I love running there. Not only is the temperature usually ideal, but it’s a beautiful place, and though Nob Hill is a bit daunting, I could happily spend every day running up and down the Embarcadero (if I could actually afford to live in the Bay Area, which I can’t).

Running in San Francisco is not without its quirks, of course. Aside from the fact that the hills take some getting used to, I’ve been accosted by a schizophrenic screaming incoherencies at me at 5:30 in the morning (“What an asshole”, muttered a city worker to me, having observed said encounter, and I wholeheartedly agreed) and had my shoes thrown up on once by a homeless guy on another early run. These rather gritty incidents aside, at least going for a run in the city has the virtue of never being boring. Usually I’m in town in January, when events seem to be few and far between, but my recent September conference coincided with the SF Giant Race, which not only fit my schedule but was run right along one of my favorite routes in the world, and finished on the outfield warning track of AT&T park. Sign me up, I thought.

My son was envious, but mollified by the fact that I would take lots of pictures and would give him the Brandon Crawford bobblehead that was included in the race kit (he loves those things and I really would have little use for it). I took a break from my conferencing on the Friday morning before the race to visit the stadium and the expo and pick up my race kit, which gave me an early peek at the stadium and its environs.

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AT&T on a typically sunny San Francisco morning.

The kit pick-up was well organized, and I wandered through the concourse looking at some of the exhibitions, which included the typical pre-race odds and sods. It was a beautiful day, and I lingered a bit before heading to the lower level of the stadium to pick up the bobblehead, which was handed out beside the exit, and then left to return to conferencing. The race organizers suggested coming outside of peak times (identified as late afternoon Friday and Saturday) and I’m glad I did, since the various races included nearly 20,000 participants between the half-marathon, 5K, and 10K.

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Brandon, in all his bobbly head, scraggly-haired, short wearin’, flag-wavin’ glory.

Sunday morning dawned cool and cloudy, and I warmed up by trotting the mile and a half or so from my hotel down to 2nd and King in front of the stadium in anticipation of the 7AM gun. The race would start in waves, with the sub 45 minute 10K and faster half-marathoners in the lead corral, followed by two corrals of slower runners. It took me a ridiculous amount of time to find the bag check, as it was situated way down 3rd Street on the other side of McCovey Cove in front of Parking Lot A, but eventually I got my stuff dropped off after snapping a few blurry pics with my cruddy phone camera.

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Ooooh, twinkly palm trees.

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Team RWB, ready to roll.

This being Patriot Day, team RWB was given the prominence it deserved, leading the charge out of the start gate after the anthem was played. I settled into a fast pace with the Bay Bridge looming ahead. It was maybe 50 degrees by now, and the cool weather was a blessing after the heat I had been training in. I felt like I could be pretty fast, given that I’d been doing 35 mpw lately with a lot of tempo running. Settling in behind a team of four female runners who were moving at a good clip, I watched the landmarks roll by; the Bay Bridge, the Ferry Building, the various piers. In front of Pier 9, we were serenaded by a full-on marching band, which I thought was pretty cool.

I felt strong, was still comfortably using a 3/2 breathing pattern, and really quickly seemed to be getting closer to Fisherman’s Wharf where the turnaround was. As we branched off from the Embarcadero onto Jefferson and I saw the clock at the turnaround, I was initially a bit taken aback that it was at about 18:00. I hit the timing mat at about 18:30, but realized that actually I was a bit short of 5K, so I wasn’t quite as fast as I thought (though doubtless I hit the 5K mark, which was about 300 yards back down the street, in under 20 flat).

Coming back was, well, interesting. Because, see, when you have a combined 9,000 runners running up one side of a city street, it gets a bit crowded. By now there was a thin line of leaders in the 10K coming back to the finish, and we hit the glut of second wave runners head on at about the 6K mark. They basically took up the whole width of the street, which meant that we had to depend on them to get the hell our of our way to avoid flattening them. In theory, we were supposed to be given the extreme left hand side of the sidewalk; in practice, that really didn’t happen. I was slowly catching up to the runner ahead of me, and so in addition to cutting wind resistance she was kind of acting to part the crowds for me as well. The nice part was that we were getting tons of encouragement and smiles from the runners we passed, and that helped a lot as the legs started to complain.

I had switched to a 2/2 pattern by now and was trying to maintain the pace, but it was getting difficult with a somewhat brisk wind in our faces. Nevertheless, I still seemed to be passing people on the back stretch, and eventually the last of the slower stragglers coming in the opposite direction were out of our way and things were wide open to the finish. I had settled in behind another female runner as we approached the stadium and passed the start gate, and unfortunately for her she took a wrong turn, not going wide enough going around the corner to the entry gate to the stadium, and I was able to pass her (her consolation was she was the female champion anyway, as it turned out). I started sprinting as I hit the inside of the stadium and the covered warning track leading to the finish line, and noted with glee the clock was still at 41 minutes, and my PR was toast.

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised with my result. I guess San Francisco brings out the best in me. Second in my age group was a definite surprise, and I got a wicked award on posterboard that I can put in a frame if I want. This was a fun race, with lots of goodies, and I would absolutely recommend trying it out, whether you’re a Giants fan or not. And as for me, I can tick off a couple of my to do items for this year – I ran my age (and then some) in a 1oK, and I got to hang out on the field of a major league ballpark. Sorry, son. Hope you enjoy your bobblehead, though.

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2015 Race #6: Huron Shore Rotary 10K, Southampton, ON

Date: June 6, 2015
Gun Time: 43:36
Chip Time: 43:34
Placing Overall: 10th out of 174
Placing in Age Group: 4th out of 19 (M 40-49)
Theme Song:Bittersweet Symphony“, The Verve

“You know, maybe we could ditch the city and move here,” my wife said.

 

I’ll admit the idea had some appeal. After all, Southampton has its charms. Quaint cottages, long strands of tan sand sweeping along the cerulean shores of Lake Huron, and all that. Small towns are very convivial places and we were both raised in one, and small town races, too, have a different vibe to them than the bigger city-based ones. The Huron Shore run was no exception. This was to be the replacement event for the Oakville 10K that I missed when I was hurt, and I felt great going in. And notably, my son, at eight years old, having apparently falling prey to the running bug, was to run his first timed race, and would be in the starting corral with me. We had been out a couple of times earlier in the week already and despite the fact that he would be one of the younger kids in the 3K race, he was raring to go (and seemingly slightly nervous).

There was additional motivation for me as well in this one. As I mentioned before, I have a close family member with gastric cancer who is now reaching the end stages of her disease. It has been very difficult. Though I was able to successfully raise several hundred dollars for Debbie’s Dream foundation in Cleveland, the fact that I didn’t run the marathon made me feel like I had some unfinished business, and so I decided that this race was gonna be dedicated to her and I was going to go absolutely all out. The race proceeds were partially going to an expansion of the cancer center at the Owen Sound Hospital, so I felt that was fitting.

It helped that conditions that morning were pretty much letter perfect for running. The sun was shining, temperatures were in the mid to high 50s, and the wind was limited to a fresh breeze of maybe 10 miles an hour or so out of the northeast. The race had a compact but surprisingly robust little runners expo (held, naturally, in the hockey arena, this being rural Ontario) and we were greeted warmly by the volunteers manning the registration tables. Everything was very well organized, and there were a lot of the townspeople out just strolling around the festivities and lending support to the event.

The half-marathoners were already out on the course when we got there, and the next event was the kids’ fun run, which was loudly cheered by the spectators. There’s something about watching a gaggle of 4- to 6-year olds charging down the street, legs pumping, some accompanied by their huffing parents, that’s enough to warm the cockles of any runner. My daughter was in their number, and indeed went so far as to hurdle a fallen competitor on the way to the finish line (rather than stop and ask if the other child was OK, of course, which maybe wasn’t the most sporting of acts but there was nothing that was going to keep her from that finish line).

The 3K (reserved for the teens and kids), 5K, and 10K runners were all slated to start at the same time, and my son got loose by warming up rather demonstratively to the strains of “Uptown Funk”. I passed out handfuls of jellybeans to the kids (and scarfed a few myself) and we posed together for a dual-generational photo in all our athletic glory just before the races were about to begin. In the corral, I looked proudly at the boy, who was bouncing with pent-up energy. I searched for something to say that wouldn’t sound like a bad sports cliche.

The runners. Doin' what runners do. Kinda.

The runners. Doin’ what runners do. Kinda.

“Don’t be afraid to push yourself,” I told him. “One thing you’ll learn about running distance is that sometimes it feels tough to keep going. But don’t ever quit, because in the end, it always hurts more to quit than to see the race through.”

“I won’t. Good luck, Dad,” he replied, smiling a smile that I know I’ll remember for a long time. As we counted down to the gun, I said a quick prayer to whatever capricious gods might be listening, and promised I’d do my best to live up to the advice I’d just offered.

Focus now, focus. SPEED.

Focus now, focus. SPEED.

Near the front of the pack, I set a fast pace. The course was an out and back along the waterfront, and this created a bit of a problem at the 3K turnaround because the race marshal there needed to be a bit more vocal about the fact that the kids running the 3K were about to miss it. This led to one of the kids, maybe 11 years old, doing a sudden reversal of direction right in front of me and I nearly steamrolled right over him. As it was, I only ended up having to break stride for a moment, but, being in the throes of competition I did end up fixing him with a bit of a baleful glance (which I felt kind of bad about later, but, you know, heat of the moment and all that).

I felt extremely strong early in the race, and the wind was more or less pushing me along, which I was enjoying at the time but knew would come back to bite me later. When the 5K runners turned around I knew I was pretty close to the front of the 10K group. I pushed hard, knowing that I had a good chance of at least an age-group placing given that the race wasn’t huge and I was making such good progress. Things got tougher, as expected, when we hit the 10K turnaround and I had to run smack into a wind that was a little brisker than at the start of the race, since we were facing the open waters of Lake Huron at that point. The faster half-marathoners had started to return by then and we ran alongside a few of them as the course took us into a side loop which was needed to make up the entirety of the 10K distance. By kilometer 7 my legs were loudly complaining at me, but I still felt I had enough left in the tank to keep a strong pace to the finish. We were starting to pass the 5K walkers now, and it took a bit of energy to get around them at times, but mostly they stayed out of our way. The course was flat as a board, which certainly suited me as I’m not much of a hill guy. As I rounded the last corner, I could see that the time was still under 44 minutes which was a bit of a pleasant shock – I knew I’d been pretty fast, but I wouldn’t have bet on that kind of a time. Thanking the aforementioned capricious gods, I had reserve enough to power to the finish in a near sprint, with my family cheering me on, and crossed the line with a fist pump.

I believe there may be a beer in my near future.

I believe there may be a beer in my near future.

So, having set out to honor my loved one’s struggle with cancer, and do right by my son, my feelings were bittersweet; but I was pleased, and felt I had done my best. I shattered my old 10K PR by more than a minute, and in the end I did get on the podium, since the winner of my age group was one of the top three overall and the organizers gave medals to the next three fastest in the group accordingly.

On the podium. We're blurry because... we're just so damn fast.

On the podium. We’re blurry because… we’re just so damn fast.

And my son took my advice and didn’t quit – he finished 14th out of 41 in a race where he was maybe the 6th youngest participant. I envy him, as his best racing days are ahead of him. And the old man will always be there to give advice (whether he wants it or not, I’ll wager).

The future. Which will no doubt be faster than I could ever hope to be.

The future. Which will no doubt be faster than I could ever hope to be.