Race Report: 2016 Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon

This one was a 12 round battle that ended in a split decision. But I finished and earned my medal on a day that was far from ideal for running 42.2km in Ottawa.

Hottawa lives up to it’s nickname

With a weather forecast that had organizers talking about the potential for an event cancellation in the days leading up to the race, I was just glad it was overcast when I peeked out the hotel room window on Sunday morning.

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The weather was the story in the days leading up to the race.

It was already 18ºC, but at least the sun wasn’t blazing down on us as we stood in the corrals waiting for the start of the 42nd Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon. I was still thinking about what pace to run and how the warm weather would factor in even in the few minutes before the horn sounded.

At 7:00 A.M. sharp it was go time and we shuffled forward until our corral got within a few metres of the start…hit start on the Garmin, and it’s time to run!

The first 5km

The course starts with an uphill to the War Memorial, then sweeps around to the right and down onto the Rideau Canal for the first time. The crowds were huge as usual with thousands out to see us off.

I settled in with the 3:35 pace bunny and decided to test that pace for a while. He was moving a bit faster than I would have expected this early on with splits in the 5:00 range over the first few kilometres rather than the 5:08 that his finish time would suggest. I suspect he was banking some time early to help his group out when the heat hit later.

5:00, 4:57, 4:54, 4:54 and 4:52 for the first 5km.

Feeling good through 10km

See a pattern there? That’s my happy zone and I was happy right there. I bridged up to the 3:30 pace group over the first 5km and felt comfortable with that pace as the skies remained cloudy and the breeze was cooling me nicely.

I took a gel at 7.5km (a bit early) and resolved to stick to that rate to keep well fueled throughout. The sprinklers and hoses were out already and I was dipping through the sprays to stay cool.

Hintonburg came out to cheer as usual and that was a lift around 10km that kept me going as the temperature began to climb.

4:54, 4:54, 4:51, 4:49, 4:54 for 6-10km.

Consistent through 15km

Consistency is something I’ve really worked on in the last year and it shows in my splits.

11-15km is enjoyable as you run through neighbourhoods in the Westboro area of Ottawa. The people are out to cheer and there’s lots to look at with new condo developments and shops lining the streets.

The water stations were killing it with some of the best volunteers I’ve ever seen at a race. “NUUN FIRST! WATER SECOND!” and there was tons of it. Massive kudos to the Run Ottawa crew and all the volunteers for making this race possible.

4:55, 4:48, 4:59, 4:58, 5:05 for 11-15km with some hills here and there.

The first signs that it’s not my day

The next 5km is tough as you leave the neighbourhoods and head along the river along Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway. There’s no shade, nobody cheering you on, and it’s a series of long steady inclines.

It was at the turnaround at 16km that I said to a Ali (who I’d been running with for about 10km now) that I was going to fade. I didn’t have the power in my legs anymore to hold the 4:55 pace the way I did early on and the heat was starting to get to me away from the shade of trees and buildings.

4:59, 5:08, 5:03, 5:11, 5:03 for 16-20km as the warmth built.

A little walk in Quebec

Over the bridge now and we were into Gatineau, Quebec. There’s a lot of hill on this side of the river and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I was losing the positive attitude I needed to keep running strong and the pace was slipping now as I watched the 3:30 bunny pull away with his group.

At 25km I did something I hadn’t done in a race in years. I stopped to walk for a bit. Things got ugly mentally through this section and I wasn’t having fun. It was warm, there were hills, and my race was going into the crapper.

Except I was still ahead of the 3:35 bunny and on PB pace. The problem was that I was fading and I knew that it was only a matter of time until the bunny and probably a few more passed me.

5:09, 5:22, 5:25, 5:48 for 21-25km.

The mental struggle begins, but a Team Awesome friend turns things around

After the walk I started to ask myself whether I really wanted to go another 17km and finish the race. I walked a bit more on the Alexandra Bridge approach, and then ran across and up the hill to 27km where Ginny and the girls were waiting. I stopped to talk to them and decided to finish it up no matter what.

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Team Awesome represent. Having a buddy to run with for 10km was a race saver. Thanks Ashley!

I told them I’d be done somewhere around four hours and not to worry – I wouldn’t push too hard in the heat. I ran off and immediately saw a fellow Team Awesome runner Ashley. I said “hi” and we ran together for what turned out to be the next 9km.

That was a turning point in the race for me. We were both struggling and to have someone to talk about it was a great help. We walked now and then but mostly ran. Sometimes one of us was a few metres ahead of the other but for the most part we ran shoulder to shoulder.

5:31, 6:44, 6:28, 5:51, 5:55 through 30km. Not great, but this was a hill-filled part of the route with not much spectator support or shade.

Rockcliffe…

The Rockcliffe section is terrible. No shade, and nobody to cheer you along…just a big parkway that finally ends at Birch Ave. where you turn south into a residential area. Ashley and I were still together here and we hit some sprinklers, filled up on colder water and ran decently.

I can’t express how awesome the people of Ottawa were; incredible with a real, genuine understanding of what runners were facing. They brought freezies, water and ice out. They had spray hoses and sprinklers. And they encouraged us to keep going.

6:04, 5:44, 6:03, 6:09, 5:45 through 35km.

On my own and things get tough

Ashley had more left than I did at this point and so I told her to run well and finish strong then watched as she slowly pulled away. Things got really tough now with the sun blazing through the light overcast and occasionally peeking through the clouds. It was hot and I was hitting every sprinkler and dumping water on my head at each water station. I walked a lot and talked to many runners as we just kept moving towards the finish. I wanted to be on Sussex at the Byword Market more than anything.

I knew if I go there that the crowds would be huge and the hills would be done.

6:13 for 36km and then…8:03. Let’s not talk about kilometre 37. It’s the last one before you turn left onto Sussex and back towards downtown. There’s a hill, you are out in the sun and it was awful.

6:47, 7:07 through 39km.

The energy of the crowd carries me home

Back on the Rideau and the spectators were awesome. The half marathoners were there now too and they were all struggling. Usually it’s the fast half runners, but with the earlier start to beat the heat, this year it was the slower runners and most of them were walking.

Some of my Toronto friends have a special cheer station at 40km and when I got there I stopped and enjoyed a little chit-chat and two freezies. The familiar faces of Doug, Samantha, Jon and Vince were a spirit lifter. Fresh off a little pep talk, I ran away to finish the last 2.2km.

6:14 for 40km, 7:20 for 41km (the stop was just after the 40km mark).

Finally over the bridge and onto the home stretch

The crowds were willing us all along to the finish and I decided to run it in. Aside from a small walk, I kept it going well. The 600m to go sign…then 500m…then 400m.

I could see the pedestrian bridge now and that meant the finish was right there. I ran to the left side to get close to the VIP area where Ginny and the girls were, then back to the right side to cross the line under the marathon clock.

6:22 for 42km and then across the finish…done. Marathon number nine complete in 3:58:48.

First half good...second half not so much.
First half good…second half not so much.

The good, the bad, the ugly

When you’ve run nine marathons, you get a better appreciation for how tough this race really is. Some days are good, some days are bad, and some days are ugly.

I’ve run a 3:36:01, a 4:13:43 and seven more in between. I know to celebrate the PBs and great runs, and to accept the others for what they are. Before the race I wrote this:

“On really bad days (like we may face in Ottawa), an ‘A’ goal might just be to finish with a smile on your face. Sometimes that’s the way it goes in this sport. After a few marathons, it’s easy to forget that simply finishing the race is a huge accomplishment in itself.”

IMG_2187I ran 42.2km in under four hours. Yeah, I walked a lot and no, it wasn’t the result I was hoping for. But it wasn’t my day on Sunday. It was too hot and I don’t run well in the heat, especially in the spring when nobody is acclimatized to it yet.

My training was solid and the first 22km showed it. Even in the heat I ran strong and felt good. If the weather was better, I know I could have run far better…maybe even another personal best.

But I finished it and learned more about how to take on this beast we call the marathon.

What’s next?

Lindsey wants to run the TO Waterfront 10km and I’ll do that with her in a few weeks. Over the summer I’m going to work on my speed and endurance and I’ll take on my 1:38:25 half marathon personal best in the fall.

Next spring I’ll be back to run another marathon somewhere and I’ll be chasing that 3:25 BQ time in marathon number ten.

Ottawa Marathon Training by the Numbers

Tomorrow I’ll be running my third Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon, and my ninth marathon overall.

As usual, it’s been quite the journey to get to the start line, ready to run. Traditionally, I’ve done a “training by the numbers” post before race day, and this year is no different.

Injuries, but no panic

Over the last 21 weeks, I’ve gone through a series of ups and downs that tested my resolve. I ran into a few more injuries than usual, trained through a huge house renovation, but through it all, I kept my eyes on the prize and didn’t panic.

Since January 1st, when I started training “for real” I’ve run a total of 944km over 91 individual runs. My biggest month was April, when I ran 233km.

stravaI had a couple of injuries that led to periods of days where I didn’t run at all. In February, I picked up a foot injury that cost me 8 full days of training and reduced my February mileage total to just 134km.

In May, I injured the outside of my foot and took a few days off to let it heal before resuming training.

Races and long runs

I raced once during this training cycle (Around the Bay Road Race 30km) and set a new personal best of 2:26:55.

My longest run was 33.4km (on my birthday, May 1). I ran over 30km just three times this year. I ran over 25km just five times which is probably one or two runs fewer than usual. I’ve run a half marathon (21.1km) or more nine times in 2016.

Goals, and hot weather

Heading into the race tomorrow, my goal was going to be to run under 3:30.That would have been another pretty big personal best, but I was fairly confident that was doable in the right conditions.

With the forecast calling for temperatures in the low to mid twenties with sun and humidity, I’ve altered those plans. If we get the benefit of cloud cover, or some rain sprinkles, the heat won’t be as much of a factor and I might aim to dip under 3:40 again. If it’s sunny, then I’ll be backing off from that and just focusing on finishing the race in good shape.

Every climb up the marathon training ladder is different. Each time I learn more about myself, and I gain more experience. While the weather has likely taken away any chance I might have had at inching closer to a Boston Marathon qualifying time, I know that I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and strength towards that ultimate goal.

Resetting Your Marathon Goals

With the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend weather forecast calling for warm temps and sunny skies, it might be time to rethink some of your marathon goals heading into the 2016 Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon.

It’s easy to focus on time goals when thinking about your upcoming race. That’s natural – we all measure our performance by the time it takes to run the distance. Pace bunnies, Boston Qualifier times and even things like timing chips all contribute to making time the main goal of most runners.

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I could do better on the consistency front. A goal for this year’s race!

But marathons are generally run outdoors and the environment can have a huge impact on how long it takes you to run your race. Running a marathon on a cloudy day with a temperature of 12ºC is going to yeild a better time than if the race was run under sunny skies at 25ºC.

Alternative goals

Here are some goals you can set on days where the weather or other factors aren’t in your favour for that PB time:

  • Set pace consistency goals: set a goal around a time difference between the first half and second half of your race. If you run smart, you’ll maintain your pace throughout and not see a dramatic fall-off in the second half. Or set a goal to maintain a specific pace over the last 5km (careful with this one in the heat).
  • Aim for a finishing position or percentile: take a look at a previous years’ results and see where you would have placed if you ran your PB that year. Then think about setting a goal to place better than that this year. All runners face the same conditions during the race, meaning that a goal of finishing in the top 20% of all runners in your gender/age group automatically adjusts for adverse conditions.
  • Just finish upright and smiling: on really bad days (like we may face in Ottawa), an ‘A’ goal might just be to finish with a smile on your face. Sometimes that’s the way it goes in this sport. After a few marathons, it’s easy to forget that simply finishing the race is a huge accomplishment in itself.
  • Set if/then time goals: come up with some time goals that account for the weather. For example: “If it’s sunny, my ‘A’ time goal will be 3:45. If it’s cloudy, then my ‘A’ goal will be 3:35.” In this way, you can have a couple of goals in mind that you can adopt mid-race depending on whether the folks over at The Weather Network got the forecast right or not.
  • Focus on your fundraising: a great race goal is to set a fundraising goal and then celebrate your accomplishment on race day. Aim to raise a certain amount of money and you’ll often be able to reach your ‘A’ goal before you even toe the start line.

Be realistic!

Whatever goals you set, it’s super important that you are realistic when you set them. It’s just one race, so while you’ve put in a lot of work leading up to the day, weather is one of those things that’s a wildcard.

The last thing you want to do is push yourself beyond the limits to try to acheive a goal that isn’t realistic for the day. Ending up with a DNF, in the hospital (or worse) because you failed to adapt your goals and effort to the day is the worst outcome.

Good luck on Sunday and here’s hoping you reach the realistic goals you’ve set!

Signs your Marathon Taper is Going Well

It’s a week before your marathon and you may be wondering if you are doing this taper thing correctly.

The taper is a period of a couple of weeks before your race where you ease back on the mileage run, and take things down a notch on the intensity scale.

Why taper

The goal of the taper is to get some rest and recovery for your tired body. Ideally, by the time you get to the start line on the morning of your race, you’ll be feeling well rested and ready to go.

taperHere’s some signs that you’re tapering well:

  • You feel good when you run: as you drop your weekly mileage, the runs should feel a bit easier and you should start feeling pretty good about your upcoming race. With less fatigue to deal with from aggressive training, your body will be thanking you.
  • Nagging injuries or aches and pains are clearing up: those shin splints, or that little bit of tendonitis should be slowly but surely getting better as the taper continues. Allowing for recovery is one of the key reasons to taper. Getting to the start line free from any aches and pains is the goal, so at this stage, it’s advisable to over-taper if that’s what it takes.
  • You’re going a little bit crazy: that nervous energy will start to build as you get closer to the race. The shorter, less intense runs don’t let you release that energy like normal. That’s good! That extra energy will come in handy on race day so resist the urge to go for those extra runs to get it out of your system.
  • You are sleeping well: overnight is when the body repairs itself. Make sure that you are getting eight hours or more a night to maximize that healing. With less running to do, you’ll be able to relax in the evenings and prepare for that solid night of shut eye.
  • You’ve got your race day routine and wardrobe figured out: now is the time to decide on a pair of race shoes and socks. Figure out a couple of different options for the various weather possibilities. Go to your local Running Room or running store and get your race day gels and sports drink so you don’t risk not being able to find it at the last minute.

Control the crazies

A lot of runners talk about the taper crazies in the last week before their race. But with a solid strategy in place to make the most of these last few days, you’ll be sitting pretty knowing that you’ve got everything under control.

Rest up, relax and enjoy some easy running as you’re probably not going to feel this strong and ready to go until the next time you taper.

Thanks to Phil Roeder for the photo.

Review: Pace! – Running Pace Calculator by Endorphin Apps

Looking to track your personal bests, or calculate target pace for your next race? Pace! – Running Pace Calculator by Endorphin Apps has you covered.

paceThis iOS app from the makers of Runcast lets you keep track of personal bests, and make a plan to set new ones. The app was recently updated to version 3.0 which brings metric and imperial measurements (automatically set based on your location), as well as a new design that makes it easy to enter new pace goals.

Easily plan, share and calculate

Once you’ve entered your race distance and goal time, you can call up splits for the race so you can make a pace band. Or share your goal on Twitter or Facebook with a neat image to make it official.

The app also includes a handy Boston Marathon Qualification calculator. Enter your birthday and gender, and the app will tell you your BQ time and pace.

Made by runners, for runners, the Pace app is a nice addition to your running toolkit.

Pace Screenshots

Available for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad

Pace from Endorphin Apps is available in the iOS App Store for $0.99 (USD) or $1.39 (CAD) App Store Link.

Marathon Training Ebbs and Flows

Marathon training has a rhythm to it. Some days you wonder how 42.2km will even be possible. Other days it feels so easy. Injuries flare up and you can’t run for a bit and you start to wonder if all that work will be for nothing. Then you run in spite of an injury and it clears itself up just like that.

Having been down the training road many times now, I know from experience that you need to stay positive during the ebbs and not get too overconfident in the flows.

Sunday was one of those days that marked the transition from ebb to flow. A low tide, as it were.

For about a week, I’d been nursing some foot pain, along with some mild/moderate tendonitis in my right knee. The foot pain was thanks to a bad shoe rub from last weekend’s 33km run that really irritated the top of my pinky toe knuckle.

The knee pain was something I’ve dealt with before, and was likely caused by a combination of a lot of downhill running at the Toronto Marathon, and maybe thanks to some gait changes due to that foot thing.

A little rest and some new shoes

I took a few days off running earlier in the week, mostly to let the toe thing get a little less irritated. I tried running on Tuesday evening, but it felt like I would be making things even worse, so I skipped that run, and the next two runs as well. That was a downer, but I was able to mostly stay positive while resting, icing and stretching.

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New kicks. In a 2E width.

On Saturday I laced up the shoes again and ran a fast 6km. Things were okay…the foot was a bit tender, but it was manageable and I didn’t feel like I was setting myself back. The knee never warmed up and was sore from start to finish. It felt like I was still in a bit of a hole, and time was ticking away…three weeks…three weeks.

I went out to the New Balance store and bought a new pair of shoes in the afternoon to get something with a wider forefoot. This was my first foray into moving up from the usual D width into the 2E width. It came with the revelation that there is such a thing as size 12.5. After years of shopping at the Running Room, I had come to believe that there was no such thing as they don’t stock half sizes in the upper reaches of the men’s sizing range.

At the New Balance Store, however, there are size 12.5 shoes. That meant I could go for a wider shoe (which I need), and not go for a longer shoe (which I don’t need). In the end, a size 12.5, 2E width of the New Balance 860v6 was just right.

That felt like a bit of a turning point. After months of shoe struggles and not being happy with anything I put my feet into, this seemed right. A new start.

Back at it

I broke all the rules Sunday morning and planned out a 20km route, laced up my brand new shoes and went for a run along the Martin Goodman Trail. My buddy Miguel joined me for the fun. It took about 5km to get into a groove and the knee and foot were…just okay.

But by 8km things were suddenly fine and I knew everything was going to be good for the race in three weeks. The knee warmed up and didn’t factor in to the run. The foot rub was a non-issue thanks to that wider shoe that’s the proper size. The sun was shining and the lake was beautiful. It was a great day to run.

I ended up tacking a few kilometres on at the end to get over 22km for the morning. I easily could have gone to 29km or more without issue and that gave me a great confidence boost after a pretty frustrating week of not running and trying to heal. I could feel the tide had turned.

More lessons learned

The takeaway, as always, is to trust the training and listen to your gut and body. Most importantly, I was reminded to go with the flow. My tendonitis is a ton better post-run, although I’ll keep icing, stretching and treating it with Voltaren. And a new pair of better fitting shoes was the prescription for an irritated foot.

The race is three weeks away now, and I’m feeling a ton better about where I stand. A little more injury management, some rest, and some smart training over the next 20 days will get me to race morning ready to go for a new PB on the streets of Ottawa.

Why a IAAF Gold Label Matters to All Runners

You may have heard that the Ottawa Marathon is an International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Gold Label race in 2016, joining the Ottawa 10km which was first awarded a Gold Label in 2015. But maybe you thought that didn’t really mean anything to the average, non-elite runner like you.

The IAAF Gold Label signifies to elite runners who may be considering participating that an event is of the highest calibre. That said, all runners whether elite or not, see real tangible benefits when they choose to run these high quality events.

What it means to be Gold

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Elites at the 2015 Ottawa Marathon.

Here’s a few of the IAAF Gold Label standards, with an eye to why the average runner should care:

  • International field – Gold Label events need to have elite runners from five or more different countries. This international aspect brings more excitement to the race and draws media coverage and fans out to cheer both elite and non-elite runners. If you love the fans cheering you on around the course, it’s the elites that bring many of them to the side of the road to watch the race.
  • Elites – speaking of elites, a Gold Label race needs to have a top quality field of elite runners. That means the race needs to feature runners who have gone under 2:10:30 (for men) and 2:28:00 (for women). Again, this brings excitement to the event and brings fans out to cheer.
  • Medical services – the quality and amount of medical services must be appropriate for the number of runners and conditions. While we all hope that nobody has to use medical services during the race, the truth is that for some runners who run into trouble, quality medical services on course can be a matter of life and death. IAAF Gold Label races are well staffed with fully trained medical personnel.
  • A measured and certified course – The last thing you want to find our after your race is that the course wasn’t exactly 42.2km. IAAF Gold Label races are measured and certified. There’s no chance you’ll be running a short or long course.
  • A good quality road surface, and a high quality route – IAAF Gold Label races are run on roads that are in good condition. There won’t be any potholes, cracks or other dangers that could trip you up or cause an ankle turn or a fall. And the course must be of a high quality with fewer twists and turns, and a reasonable amount of challenge.
  • All roads closed to traffic – to qualify for an IAAF Label, the entire course must be free of traffic. Unlike some races where you find yourself running next to a lane of traffic, or worse yet, being held to allow traffic to cross, IAAF Gold Label races have a fully closed course. That’s safer for runners and allows for a far better racing experience for all.
  • Aid stations – there must be an appropriate number of stations, adequately staffed by competent personnel. Gold Label races feature aid stations with high quality volunteers who are well-trained and ready to provide water, electrolyte drinks, gels and sponges to all athletes.
  • Video screen – your friends and spectators can enjoy TV coverage on a large screen while you run your race. A big screen must be provided for those watching the race around the finish.
  • Full video coverage in five countries – speaking of video coverage, IAAF Gold Label races must have live TV or Internet streamed coverage of the full race. That includes making it available in at least five countries. This means your friends and family can tune in and see that you are part of a world-class event. And you can watch the elites who out-ran you to the finish after you run your own marathon.

Run with the world’s best

As you can see, there’s lots of benefit to choosing an IAAF Gold Label race like the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon. While there are non-label marathons in many cities, you won’t find a better, safer, more enjoyable experience than one provided by an IAAF Gold Label race.

Running a truly world-class event is special. You’ll be running on the same course, on the same day as some of the best marathon runners in the world. How many other sports let you do that?

Photo by Pierre Lachaîne (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)