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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
I 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.
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.