A Great Day – A Great Race

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Howdy sports fans. As I write this post, I’m hurtling along the train tracks between Ottawa and Montreal. I’ve been in Montreal on business most of the week, and am only now finally getting a chance to write up a posting about the National Capital race weekend. Good thing I have a new computer, isn’t it? Hee hee. That’s another post in itself, but suffice it to say my mobility has greatly improved. Hmm, does that make me a yuppie again, since I’m young and upwardly mobile now? But I digress, this post is to fill you all in on how I managed to run a great half marathon, last weekend, and have a fun time doing it! Read on friends.

As most of you are aware, I’m now on my fifth year of running. I originally started running just to improve my performances in adventure races, but found out that running is something you have to stick to, and do a lot of, in order to improve. Without having an endurance base, it can take several years of training to get to a good place in terms of endurance. Luckily, I think I’ve finally found that place, and am now intent on capitalizing on my new running ability. As such, I like to take part in the National Capital Race weekend each May. I’ve also heard it’s the number one tourist weekend in Ottawa now. Crazy.

Earlier this year, I was suffering from some tendonitis in my left leg, so I had to take a considerable amount of time off from running in order to have physio and massage therapy. Due to this, I had taken the marathon out of my schedule of races for this year. After all, when I take part in my first full iron distance triathlon, I’ll be running my marathon, and it’ll be after swimming 4km and biking 180km! However, I decided that it would still be fine to sign up for the half marathon. It meant a lower volume of running training overall, and less likelihood of being injured for longer. Sounded like a decent proposition to me. However, as you may have guessed, I’m not one for trying things half-assed, and decided that my goal would be an hour and a half. I hadn’t done the math on the pace that required, I just knew that it was quick.

Training progressed well in the spring, and I even made some excellent new training friends, that are into triathlons, iron-distance races and so on. I joined them for long runs on Sundays, and also started going to swim practices with them. They shared the same general views I held on racing and training, being equally interested in fun as in fitness. With their company, I was regularly logging 20km runs on Sundays as it was. So the half marathon should be a piece of cake. To a degree, this was true. But when you factor in the effort required to go fast, it’s safe to say it still wasn’t going to be a piece of cake.

The couple weeks before the race, I actually dialed back the running again. My left leg started bothering me again, although in a different way. Also, I was traveling a bit more for work, and had the Raid Pulse race a week before NCM weekend. Needless to say, that made me a touch apprehensive when it finally came time to lace up the ole runners and toe the line. Even the morning of the race, my leg was sore, and I certainly didn’t feel “fast”. But I’m a trooper, and headed downtown with my number one fan and Paparazzi, Jody.

The day promised to be a dreary one. The sky was overcast and grey, with the promise of a bit of rain at some point. The bit of rain turned out to be pretty much a full day of rain, but luckily it held off for the first hour of my run. As I had submitted an expected finish time of 1h30mins, I was lucky enough to be seeded in the front corral. This is a huge help, as with about 8,000 people taking part in this race, things get very crowded. As it was, I ended up being about 10 rows back from the start when the gun went off.

I started off pushing hard, and really didn’t let up the whole race. Within the first kilometer, I spotted the 90 minute pace bunny, and planned to just let him mentally tow me to the finish. I just knew to stay ahead of him the whole race. The pacer was Dev Paul, a racer I admire quite a bit, and I knew he would be rock-solid as a pacer. We chatted a bit as we ran (as best as possible when you’re supposed to be pushing hard), and he was good at supporting those around him. He provided suggestions about where to run on the road, how to hold our fists, etc. etc. It wasn’t condescending at all, just helpful. The crowd in our time bracket wasn’t too thick, so our pace was relatively easy to maintain. For the first while, we had a tailwind, so Dev decided we should push a faster pace, with the expectation that we would need it when the wind was in our faces.

This strategy sounded fine by me, and it was amazing to watch the kilometers tick by. I can honestly say I’ve never run that fast before, other than when I’m doing 400m repeats. I think I polished off the first 5km in under 20m30s! Insanity. I was already worried about my ability to maintain that pace for the next three quarters of the race. However, I just gritted my teeth and ran hard. I also came down with a really bad stitch, that had me bent over a bit, clutching my side in pain, while still blazing down the asphalt. Once again, Dev was helpful, telling me to stand straight up instead, and take long deep breaths. Well, after 15 or so, the stitch subsided! Thanks again Dev.

The pace was definitely relentless to me, but that’s not to say I wasn’t enjoying the run. I got to chat with a few interesting folks as usual. One of the guys in our little group was a kid only 14 years old! I think he has a fast future ahead of him if he sticks to it. A few times along the course, I was also lifted up a bit by spotting Jody, as well as other friends cheering from the sidelines. Thanks gang. At about km 14, Dev told us that the trick was that with 5km to go, we should really turn on the afterburners, and run it like a 5k road race. Well, I’ve never run one, and didn’t know what that meant. I just assumed running my hardest would pay off. I’ll be honest, there were definitely times when I was tempted to shrink back, slow down, and let them get ahead, but that nagging little voice just kept telling me that I came to accomplish something specific, and nothing could prevent it.

It’s really amazing what you can do when you set your mind to it. The distance kept passing me by, and my pace was still solid. We’d dropped pace slightly as we wore on, but not by much. We started the race at about 4m6s per km, and it had crept up to about 4m10s per km. However, for those of you so inclined, that still meant that I would beat the hour and a half mark comfortably. With a few km to go, I really pushed hard. I started trying to distance myself a little from our pack, to make sure I was well within my goal time. I willed myself to ignore any pain and tiredness, and just push harder and harder. I had foregone any water, Gatorade and/or gels for this race, as it really wasn’t far or long enough to warrant it. It was the right decision for me that day.

One km to go, and things were definitely hard, but there was no doubt I’d make it easily under time. The crowds were getting heavier on the sidelines, and the adrenaline was flowing. It’s absolutely amazing just how far the last 400m seems to you in a race like this. In training, I would do 400m repeats in 1m30s, which really isn’t a long time, but after 20+km, it sure feels like it. The banked time came in very handy, as by the time I finally crossed under the banner, my watch had me pegged just a touch under 1h29m. My final chip time was 1h28m56s. That’s 14.4km/hr on average. Can you imagine. I’m still surprised at myself. Others had brushed it off, telling me, you’ll get that no problem, but I was never sure until I actually did it. I think that’s my happiest running result to date. A personal best by far.

After the inevitable finish line stumbles, I collected my lovely finishers medal and a space blanket to ward off the now-falling rain. I didn’t notice it so much during the race, but I now realized it was raining quite heavily. In no time, I was actually shivering. My mood however was red-hot, and I planned to back-track to where Amy had been standing to watch for my friends as they finished their events. Once at that spot, I was re-united with my awesome picture-taking gal Jody, as well as Amy and Liam. Eventually, the Lawson clan also joined us. We were there to see and cheer on Kev (running the full marathon) and Dave(running the half). We were also hoping to see Adam and Terri, both in the half, but we somehow missed them.

Eventually, I decided that enough was enough. Even with pants, a light jacket, and my space blanket, I was really starting to get the chills. I had invited everyone over to our place for a post-race barbecue, so Jody and I had to get home to get things set up. That, and I was really looking forward to my warm shower 🙂 The afternoon was a lovely time, with various friends popping over to have some good food, good drinks and just generally hang out. As is the tradition with my post-race BBQ, all racers are required to wear their race shirts and medals proudly, and that’s exactly what people did. It’s not boastful you see, it’s just that you deserve to feel good about your accomplishments, and I want everyone to be recognized for their excellent races. Kev informed me that my post-race BBQs are his favourite part of the race weekend, which really made my day too. Thanks Kev! All that, even though it was Amy’s birthday! Ha ha. Luckily, we had a nice big DQ ice cream cake there for her as well, which Kev had thoughtfully gotten ready Friday night.

As usual, the race weekend was a good time, and even though it rained and was much cooler than years past, the event was still well put together from top to bottom. Ottawa truly has a great city for putting on the races like this year after year. I guess I should also mention my standings, since they’re worth mentioning. Overall, I placed 182 in the race out of 7700+ racers! I was 26th in my age category of 500+. This apparently puts me in the top 5% of racers in my category. Isn’t that crazy?! Me?! A fast runner! I honestly never would have predicted this 5 years ago. When I get older, I should be a pretty reasonable age grouper I think! Congratulations to everyone else’s excellent race results as well. I think everyone walked (or limped, as the case may be) away with a result they should be proud of.

As always, take care of you and yours, and get out there and get active!

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