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

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

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

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

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

Jesse Ketchum School, complete with track.

Jesse Ketchum School, complete with track.

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

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

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

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

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

Not a perfect day, alas.

Not a perfect day, alas.

The elites, getting ready to roll.

The elites, getting ready to roll.

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

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

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

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

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

Geez, I look pretty well coiffed under the circumstances.

Geez, I look pretty well coiffed under the circumstances.

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

Yeah. I did that.

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

Down the stretch, PR in sight.

Down the stretch, PR in sight.

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

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

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

The bling.

The bling.

My teeny tiny running gear. Nice race kit though.

My teeny tiny running gear. Nice race kit though.