Race Report: 2017 BMO Vancouver Marathon

Another BMO Vancouver Marathon is in the books.

This was my fourth time running in Vancouver and my 11th marathon overall. It went about how I expected it to, with a decent enough first half, and a tough last 10km.

Looking back over my training, it was clear that this wouldn’t be a PB race. I fell running eight weeks before race day and fractured two ribs on my right side. I lost two full weeks of training including two 32km long runs. Even once I could run again, it was more three weeks until I was really back on track.

It could have been worse. I was very aggressive in returning to running and pushed hard to get a couple of runs in the 29-32km range in. In the end, I was about 200km shy of my usual mileage over the 18 week training program heading into the race.

The Start

The weather was perfect with sunny skies and temps around 8ºC at the start. I arrived about an hour before the race began and stayed warm in the sun before heading to the corrals about 8:15 A.M.

After the usual pre-race festivities, we were off. The first couple of kilometres are a steady uphill, so I took it a little easy with splits of 5:21 and 5:05 over the first two kilometres. I felt good. No issues at all with any pains or anything.

From there it’s a bit of a rolling run. Sometimes there’s small uphill sections, and sometimes it’s a bit downhill. My next few splits reflected this with a 4:57, 5:11, 4:53 and a 4:49 through six km.

There’s a fairly long downhill here and km seven was a 4:41, followed by a 4:59 as we head up a bit and towards the bit Camosun hill between nine and ten km.

Camosun, Pacific Spirit and UBC

The hill was no issue. I flipped my watch over to the heart rate screen to make sure I kept things in the 150-155bpm range. I ran the km before the hill in 5:51, and the King of the Hill section in 5:50. The climb continues for a while still and my next few splits reflected that continued effort.

I was running within myself and looking forward to the long downhill to come. 5:18, 5:13, 5:24, 5:04 and 5:09 took me through 15km and on the UBC Campus.

The next four kilometres take you through UBC with different buildings a residences to look at. You also get your first glimpses across to the the Islands. 5:04, 5:05, 5:06, 5:04 took me through 19km. I was in the zone, and running really well here. It felt easy and I was in a happy place and pace.

Down the Hill

At 20km you veer left and start a nice long hill down to Spanish Banks. I opened things up a bit here and let the hill do some of the work. The views to the west are stunning and provide a mental boost. 4:55, 4:48, 5:02, 5:00 through 23km.

There’s another fairly steep uphill to get from Spanish Banks to Jericho. I slowed the pace a bit to tackle it and then got back on track with a 5:31 and a 5:08. My legs were starting to tire, but I was happy to have made it this far without feeling too much fatigue.

The gels were starting to upset my tummy a bit here. I’m not sure why as I normally don’t have any issues with that. I actually felt like throwing up for a minute or two and took some water at one of the aid stations to see it that would help.

Point Grey was out in force again with great cheering and signs. The views across to Stanley Park were mentally helpful. 5:31. 5:08, 5:24, 5:29 and 5:31 through 28km with some signs that the last third of the race would be tough.

Burrard Bridge I Hate You

Oh goodie. The Burrard Bridge was next. I decided that I would run up and over again. She won’t defeat me! There’s a long downhill on the other side and I pledged to run at least to the start of the Seawall section. 5:40, 5:58 got me up and over.

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I walked for the first time down the steep section that gets you onto the Seawall. I knew that was it for any chance of a good time, but it was fine. I walked for a short time there just before 32km and again a kilometre later. I was hoping to revert to 10s and ones, but even that would be a struggle. Oh well.

Seawall, Seawall and More Seawall

5:36, 6:17, 6:00, 6:16 and 6:30 through 35km. I was happy with those splits but that Seawall section is brutal mentally. It just goes on and on.

I walked more than I would have liked, but some of that was related to the tummy issues which returned. I had the legs here to at least keep on moving at a decent walking pace. Mentally I was fine and my mood was positive. I would have a decent finish and I was focused on saving some energy to run the last kilometre. 8:00, 8:08, 7:34 and 7:18 took me through 39km with a lot of people passing me. I was around Brockton Point now and the Coast Hotel and Coal Harbour was in front of me.

The Finish

A 7:06 and 8:13 for kilometres 40 and 41 show I was still walking more than running, but when I hit the 1km to go sign, I decided I would run it in. That uphill finish is killer, but at least you can see all the way up to the line. I ran up at a decent pace and enjoyed the atmosphere.

My Garmin was tracking about 300m long throughout so my last full split was 7:33 followed by a 600m split of 3:21 or 5:12/km pace. Turned out I had some strength left in those legs after all.

I crossed the line in 4:04:11 but that really didn’t matter to me. I got the stunning medal from a volunteer and took the quick exit for the Prestige Club members that gave me easy access to the Coast Hotel.

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To be back up in the room within five minutes of finishing is a real treat and it makes the Coast Hotel ideal. I called Mac and Ginny and showed off my medal.

Average Time, Great Day, Personal Awesome

I love this race. It’s really the best marathon around. Getting to run it for the fourth time was a great treat and I’m super thankful that I have the financial resources to do it, along with the support of my family.

I thought a lot about the marathon during this run, and considered making this my last one. Maybe it will be, and maybe it won’t. Whatever the case, I’ll be easing back on the running for the rest of the year and working in some strength training and stretching as well.

Deep down inside I know I’ll probably run 42.2km again. When? Who knows. But not for at least 51 weeks.

Race Report: 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

The marathon is a cruel sport. You do the work, you train hard, you deserve better and it sometimes just eats you up and spits you out. But after ten of these things, I’ve learned that sometimes the time on the watch isn’t the most important part.

I put in the work on this one. Five days a week, no missed runs, extra mileage on all the long runs. I was ready to go and run a personal best and hopefully come in under 3:30 for the first time. In the back of my mind, thoughts of a Boston Qualifier of 3:25 were there as well.

The weather wasn’t great. It was way warmer than it should be for mid=October in Toronto and there was a threat of rain and gusty winds. But it was dry as we waited in the red corral for the 8:45am start.

The first 10km

The horn sounded and we were off. I ran near the 3:25 pace bunny and group, thinking I would run about 4:50/km and position myself for a strong finish. I ran a similar strategy in Ottawa in 2015, running with the 3:30 pace group, and that served me well. 4:50/km is comfortable for me and I’ve run that pace over 30km at Around the Bay twice.

The first five kilometres clicked off quickly. I eased back on the uphills and ran well down Bathurst.

Along the Lakeshore section, we watched for the elites coming back towards downtown. I saw the lead marathoners, and then cheered Krista and Rachel on their way west. By the turnaround at 12km, I was feeling okay, but there was something not quite right. My upper body was starting to feel tight and strange.

If I clenched a fist, my hand locked up and if I swung my head left or right, I got a weird feeling in my neck and head. Not good. This is not something new, but I usually don’t start to feel like this until way later in the race.

Feeling off, but running okay

I kept pace with the 3:25 group still and continued along the route towards downtown. The hill near the Rogers Centre was find and while I dropped back a bit from the bunny, I was able to work back up to them by the turn onto Queens Quay.

The halfway mark was crossed at 1:41:56. Nice! I did the math and realized I was still in decent shape, but in the back of my mind, I knew that things were not going to be easy on the back half of the course.

Into the Canary District meant a few hills to deal with. I was running well here still, but it was getting tougher to maintain the pace under 5:00/km. The 3:25 bunny and his group had pulled away a bit, but I was still in contact around the 24km turnaround. Not for long…

The wheels fall off

Coming out of the Canary District, the next challenge was the hill over the DVP. I heard Diane cheering at the turn onto Eastern and I was already starting to really struggle to keep pace.

By the turn from Eastern onto Carlaw, I was out of gas. It falls apart that quick in the marathon. One minute you can run 4:50/km and then then next that feels like an impossible task.

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An unhappy runner with about 2km to go. This is the face of someone who just wants the race to be over.

I stopped an contemplated walking up to Queen to catch a streetcar back downtown. That’s how crap I was feeling. But I thought about how I was still ahead of the 3:30 group and how I had put in all the training. So I decided to finish what I had started no matter what.

I walked for a bit, then started running again off and on towards the Beach. Around 31km there was an ambulance tending to a runner who was down. That’s way too early to be seeing people in trouble.

The struggle continues

Here I was, still ahead of the 3:30 group and I wasn’t the only one walking. I’ve never seen that before. Something about the conditions was really taking a toll on runners.

I kept it going towards the turnaround in the Beaches. Heather passed me now along with the 3:30 and 3:35 pace groups. It’s really disheartening to have those groups pass you because it makes it clear that your time is slipping away. There would be no PB today, and probably the finish time would be nothing to get excited about. I was thinking about 4 hours again as I had in Ottawa and working towards that.

Around 36km Ashley passed me and I tried to run with her for a bit as we had done in Ottawa. Unlike that day where I ran with her for a good hour, this time I couldn’t hold the pace and so I dropped back and walked a bit again.

Running buddies for life

37km, and then 38km passed and then a familiar face was coming down the road towards me. Nicole, who was my longtime running buddy going back to before our first marathons was out to cheer. We walked, ran, chatted and swore for a then next two kilometres. I was thankful to have a good friend to share the misery here. She’s been battling a knee injury for a couple of years and I reminded myself that I could at least be out here running at a pace that both of us used to dream of.

She dropped off at the far side of the DVP and I saw Diane and Erin from the Canary District marathon clinic. I decided it was time to run as much as I could from there to the finish. I had about 2.2km to go and no legs left at all. More friends cheering, and a little more walking.

The 4 hour mark was out of reach and I really didn’t care. I’ve run marathons between 3:36 and 4:13 and after ten of them, the finish time only really matters if it’s a personal best.

Finished…

Around the corner onto Bay and the finish was finally in sight. I was happy to have pushed through and not quit. I was happy to almost be done. I walked a bit up Bay, which sucked because I hate to be the person walking in the last 500m. But I had so little push left that I couldn’t keep it moving up the road. I saw Mac on the side and that was the little kick of adrenaline to get me through the last minute or two.

Across the finish line and I stopped my watch at 4:01 something. I didn’t really even look at the time. It didn’t matter to me. Finishing was the goal by the end today and I had done that.

What’s next? I don’t know. I’m frustrated by my two results this year. I put in a ton of work and didn’t get rewarded on race day with the time I was after. Maybe a break from the stress of marathon training would be good. A part of me wants to never run one again.

This marathon thing has a way of drawing you back, even after it beats you down. Maybe that desire to pay it back for the crap it’s given me is what will have me out there running another one in the future.

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.

runottawaheat
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.

Race Report: 2016 Around the Bay Road Race

PB’ed by a couple of minutes, ran even splits throughout and finished with my two fastest kilometres of the day. I’d say that’s a pretty great race!

Weather concerns

The day started with an early wake up due to gusty winds shaking the house. Not a good sign! I figured they would die down overnight and maybe we’d be fine once the sun came up?

I drove out to Hamilton with a stop at Starbucks for a bacon and egg sandwich and a latte. That’s a new pre-race meal for me, but since we are living in a kitchenless house, the usual english muffins with peanut butter was not an option. I drank about half the latte, thinking the milk probably wasn’t a great idea.

Parking was easy. As usual I scored a spot at City Hall (free) and walked the two blocks down to FirstOntario Centre to get ready. Miguel showed up with my bib and timing chip and I chatted with Mike and Linda about how many layers to wear.

I decided on a long sleeve, arm warmers and my running jacket with BMO gloves and a light running toque. I figured the middle section along the lake would be cold, and thought it would be better to be a bit warm elsewhere, than freezing for 10km.

Time to run

We wandered out to the B Corral about 9:20am and awaited the start with everyone else. We totally missed the horn and all of the pre-race festivities. All of a sudden the throng started moving and we realized we were off!

The first kilometre was very comfortable. We slotted in about 25m back from the 2:30 pace bunny and found our stride. We saw running friend Wing here and chatted with here for a bit through the first km split.

5:15 – 1km. Good pace, maybe a bit slow? Whatever. It was busy.

The next few kilometres were flat and maybe a bit downhill and things started to spread out a bit and we had more running room to work with. We made the turn from James onto Burlington and noted our splits were a bit faster now.

4:53 – 2km
4:46 – 3km
4:56 – 4km

Into a groove

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Nearly halfway.

Welcome to the worst of Hamilton. Nothing like running through an industrial area with nothing to look at and no spectators. We were up and down on and off an elevated highway. That meant three or four hills and my hip started saying hello on the last one. Not good!

4:47 – 5km
4:55 – 6km
4:56 – 7Km
4:57 – 8km
4:49 – 9km

My splits were good and consistent here, but probably a bit faster than I had planned to run. Whatever…we were with the 2:30 bunny still and things were feeling fine. It was warm with the sun blazing down and the wind at our backs. I had my hat off and jacket unzipped now and then.

The hip says hi

Next up was the exit from the highway, around the off ramp and over the 10km mat. This was also the last hill for the next little bit and that was a good thing because when I tried to drive forward up that hill, my hip and IT band were really making themselves known.

4:46 – 10km
4:52 – 11km

On to Beach Blvd we went. As expected, it got cold as soon as we hit the lake section. I was super glad to have the jacket here and I felt comfortable with my choice of attire. I told Miguel that I thought I was in a bit of trouble with the hip and that maybe things would get bad through the hills. He remarked that his foot was getting sore and that it might be a tough second half for him as well. Thankfully, we have a good rapport when we race together and there’s an understanding that it’s every runner for themselves and there’s no pressure to hold back if one of us is slower.

By the time I got to the lift bridge, I was feeling okay. At 13km I took two Tylenol to see if that would help with the hip and over the next little bit I could feel things calming down. The gel from 8km was also working well.

4:53 – 12km
4:52 – 13km
4:52 – 14km
4:47 – 15km

Halfway home

I crossed the halfway at 1:13:23. I didn’t look at my watch after 14km so I had no idea what my split was except that it was under 1:15. Not bad, but could I hold this pace to the end? Somewhere around here Miguel dropped back. I looked back a few times over the next few kilometres but I didn’t see him anymore…I figured his foot injury started bugging him and that he eased back a bit to make sure he could finish.

From the bridge, it’s a few kilometres along the highway until you make the left turn onto North Shore Blvd. Then the hills start.

4:47 – 16km
4:42 – 17km
4:52 – 18km

Through the hills

I found that if I drove forward with my left leg and eased up a bit on the right side, that I could hold my pace up the hills and not cause too much stress on my IT and hip. That was good! The hills here are rolling and relentless, but I felt really strong and ran them well. I didn’t look at my watch at all, so I had no idea whether I was still running the same pace. Whatever…it felt good.

4:51 – 19km
4:53 – 20km
5:03 – 21km
5:03 – 22km
4:58 – 23km

The Lasalle Park hill and the one after that are both long and grinding. But 5:03kms for both of those is pretty solid! I was gaining confidence now.

Around 24km you make the turn onto Plains Rd. Since the big hill is still under construction this year, this turn marks the last of the big inclines. Great news! My hip was good, and I survived the hills again. I grabbed a banana from some family handing them out and ate it. Time to push the pace a bit and bring this home.

5:06 – 24km
4:56 – 25km
4:55 – 26km
4:55 – 27km

Pushing to the finish

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Even splits from start to finish.

The finish is in sight here and it’s a long, gradual downhill to the end. I passed the Grim Reaper and told him “Not this year” as usual. Shortly after, I saw a runner stretching out his calf and said, “Let’s go! Let’s finish this up.” We chatted for a bit and decided to run it in as strongly as we could.

I didn’t know I had that much left and when he pushed the pace, I said “Go! You’re stronger than me…see you in the chute.” He said I had promised to run it in with him, so I had no choice but to give it some more effort.

4:59 – 28km
4:43 – 29km (what?)

The last kilometre is awesome in Hamilton. You can see the FirstOntario Centre getting closer and the crowds here are thick, encouraging you to the finish. It’s also downhill! I was running fast tempo pace now and feeling great. Only the turn down the hill to the finish inside the arena remained.

4:37 – 30km

My fastest kilometre was the last one. Awesome. I pushed it hard to the finish and stopped my watch. 2:26:55. A personal best by over a minute. My best Around the Bay by far, and probably the best I’ve ever felt at the end of a long race. My Dutch buddy came over to congratulate me on a job well done and I thanked him for the push that got me in under 2:27.

My best 30km

All in all, a great day and a real confidence booster with the Ottawa Marathon coming up in eight weeks. It’s clear that despite an early setback with a foot injury and some hip/IT band issues of late, that I’m still stronger and faster than last year.

There’s still more training to do, but I’m hopeful I can put in another great performance over 42.2km in Ottawa in May.

Race Report: 2015 Pints to Pasta Half Marathon

Since I was in Portland, I figured I might as well run the Pints to Pasta Half Marathon this weekend.

I probably should have looked at the course map a little more closely, although I suspect I would have signed up anyways.

This race is best described as poorly organized with a hellishly hilly route.

Lots of runners, not enough buses

The poorly organized part: fortunately the 10km was most affected by this while the half marathon suffered only from a delayed start. I seriously beat many of the 10km runners to the start line and I ran the 10km course in reverse as part of the half.

They had 2,000 people to shuttle to the start, and only two buses. It was a mess at the finish. A real shame. Runners were as much as 75 minutes late to the 10km start as a result, and many didn’t get to run at all.

Hills, hills and more hills

The hellish route part: this was the toughest half marathon I’ve ever raced. The first 1.8km were a steep uphill and that was just the first of what seemed like a never-ending series of long grinding climbs.

The worst part? It was an out-and-back so anytime we ran a downhill, it meant that we’d have to run the uphill on the way back.

The last 1.8km was a steep downhill blast that destroyed my legs. I ran a 4:30 and a 4:37 last two kilometres, to give you a sense of the grade. That was on very tired legs.

Here’s the elevation chart for reference. We’re talking 20% grades in two places and long, awful climbs up and over the bridge.

p2p-elevation
Yep. That’s a >20% grade going up at the start, and down at the finish. Oh, and a 2.5km climb from 17 to 19.5km.

52nd place, and top (also lone) Canadian!

As for the race itself, I was super happy with my run. I ran a 1:41:59 to finish 51st overall (out of 568 runners). I was 7th (out of 41) in my age group and ran my third fastest half ever on a really challenging course. Oh, and top Canadian!

I was hoping to run about a 1:45 given the route and amount of training I’ve done over the summer, and did far better than that.

I’m glad I ran it.

Race Report: 2015 Ottawa Marathon

The plan going into this one was to see if I could get my time down below 3:40. That was an ambitious goal, but I had run a sub-2:30 30km at Around the Bay, so it seemed pretty doable.

Race morning weather was a touch warm, but with a heavy overcast. That was a welcome sight as the forecast had called for sunny skies and warm temps starting around 14ºC and climbing to close to 20ºC by the time I expected to finish.

The usual opening ceremonies happened including a nice shout out from John Stanton for the Team Awesome runners on course in the marathon.

I was with the 3:35 pace bunny in the yellow corral and planned to stick just ahead of him for as long as I could in the race.

The start

The horn sounded and we were off. The course starts with a decent climb up Elgin to the War Memorial which kept things reasonable early on. It was a bit congested, but not too bad.

1kmGinny was waiting around 1km so I stuck to the right side and saw her there. A mere 41.2km to go.

The first few kilometres are along the east side of the canal and you get to run this stretch again near the end of the course. We passed the 39km banner here and I wondered how I’d be feeling more than three hours later when we ran this stretch again.

Next we ran across the Pretoria Bridge and then the left turn onto Queen Elizabeth Drive on the west side of the canal. I was running well here and had bridged up to the 3:30 pace bunny who was just a few metres ahead at the start.

His pace felt a bit more comfortable to me but I wondered if it might be a bit too fast. Perhaps I’d pay the price later? I knew I could run 30km at that pace based on my Around the Bay run, and I’d put in a ton of training since then.

  • 1km – 4:56
  • 2km – 5:05
  • 3km – 4:56
  • 4km – 4:55
  • 5km – 4:53 (25:24 at 5km)
  • 6km – 4:53

The kilometres were clicking by quickly and the skies were staying overcast. We had a bit of sun around Dow’s Lake that illustrated what it would be like without the cloud cover and it wasn’t something I was looking forward to experiencing for a few hours.

Hintonburg and Lebreton Flats

Through Hintonburg the crowds swelled and provided some energy to the runners. There’s lots to look at on this stretch with shops and some new construction as well.

We made the turn around Westboro to head back east for a bit and I struck up a conversation with a guy in an Around the Bay hat. We chatted about the 3:30 bunny (who was pacing perfectly) and about our past races.

Crowd support was decent along this stretch with some good signs and lots of encouragement. The water stations were well run and the volunteers did a great job.

  • 7km – 4:49
  • 8km – 4:49
  • 9km – 4:48
  • 10km – 4:48 (49:41 at 10km)
  • 11km – 4:49
  • 12km – 4:45
  • 13km – 4:54
  • 14km – 4:52

Next up was the section I was looking forward to the least – the out-and-back along Sir John A Macdonald Parkway. This stretch lacks any real cheering and the camber of the road takes a bit of a toll. At least the Ottawa River provided a nice view to the north.

Gatineau’s hills

Finally the turn north into Gatineau came into view just around the Canadian War Museum. The crowds were big here again as it wasn’t far from downtown and the start area. We crossed over the bridge into Quebec, ran the short steep climb onto Boul. Alexandre Taché and Rue Montcalm.

  • 15km – 4:53 (1:14:19 at 15km)
  • 16km – 4:49
  • 17km – 4:53
  • 18km – 4:51
  • 19km – 4:58
  • 20km – 4:46
  • 21km – 4:55 (1:44:21 at 21.1km)

My half marathon split was 1:44:21.

I looked for @RebeccaRuns at the 22km water station she was running with the students from CW but missed her. No time to stop for a chat anyways.

I was still with the 3:30 group here which meant for some consistent splits. I was feeling really, really good.

The hills of Gatineau are a constant companion, so making the left turn to head past the Museum of History was nice as it meant we were shortly heading over the Alexandra Bridge back to Ottawa.

Back to Ottawa

That bridge is flat, but you have to climb to get on it, and then there’s a steady climb up to Sussex to contend with. The crowds are great here, providing energy and encouragement all the way up the hill.

sportstatsIt was left onto Sussex Drive now and north to the far end of the course. I was still with the 3:30 group and at 24km I realized I had about 18 minutes in the bank on my personal best. The kilometres were still clicking off around the 4:55/km range. Good stuff.

  • 22km – 4:58
  • 23km – 4:55
  • 24km – 4:56
  • 25km – 4:59 (2:03:19 at 25km)
  • 26km – 4:48
  • 27km – 5:10
  • 28km – 4:47

I ran out past the Prime Minister’s place (couldn’t be bothered to come out to cheer again this year) and then into Rockcliffe Park.

This section is tough. The sun came out and brought the heat for a bit here and the crowds were gone. I crossed the 30km mat a couple of seconds off my Around the Bay PB. By that point in Hamilton my pace was dropping, but today I was still running 5:00/km.

Rockcliffe

Around 32km the heat really showed up and I eased back a bit. The bunny and his group of 3:30 runners started slowly pulling away from me now, but I was okay with that. I didn’t expect to run with them through the finish, but I was hoping to keep up the pace for a few more kilometres.

The next few splits were around 5:15/km which made me pretty happy. I felt a lot slower than that now, but I was still running pretty quickly on tired legs.

  • 29km – 4:57
  • 30km – 4:57 (2:29:01 at 30km)
  • 31km – 5:02
  • 32km – 4:49
  • 33km – 5:09
  • 34km – 5:18

I grabbed a blue freezie around 35km (thanks to the family handing those out) and that cooled me off a bit. The overcast had also returned which literally took off some of the heat.

Around 37km I saw Mike Lin heading out on the other side of the course. I still had the 3:30 group in sight but they were slowly but surely pulling away from me. I didn’t care. A huge PB was happening and I was going to finish well under my 3:39:59 ‘A” goal.

Soon the crowds would swell again and they would take me through to the finish along the canal.

Rideau Canal and the finish

At 39km the half marathoners merged onto the route and suddenly I had people passing me on both sides. I stuck to the right side and looked across the canal to the finish on the other side. I could hear the crowd over there cheering runners to the line. Both sides of the course were lined with people cheering us through to the finish.

I saw a girl struggling here who was close to going down. I stopped to make sure it was just her legs. She was talking fine and making complete sense and we were about 50m from the aid station so I pushed on. That cost me a few seconds, but I know others would do the same for me if I ended up in that position.

  • 35km – 5:16 (2:54:50 at 35km)
  • 36km – 5:16
  • 37km – 5:25
  • 38km – 5:40
  • 39km – 5:43
  • 40km – 5:42 (3:23:06 at 40km)

I grabbed another freezie and pushed on towards the Pretoria Bridge and the final turns. I knew it was about 1.3km from the bridge to the finish thanks to the Friendship Run on Saturday so I started doing the math around here to figure out what I could do for a finish time.

The blingThe 3:35 bunny and his group came by and I tried to stick with them but didn’t have enough left in my legs to do it. I figured a 3:35:XX was possible if I kept pushing, but I was also thinking back to the night before when I witnessed a guy drop at the finish line. He needed CPR and a defibrilator to be revived. I had no intention of being that guy, although it was my legs that were slowing me down here, not my cardio.

I have a personal rule that I don’t push it hard at the end so I kept my pace going as much as I could, but not overstressing things. I came across the line and stopped my watch.

  • 41km – 5:54 (my worst kilometre of the race)
  • 42km – 5:42

3:36:01. A personal best by 12:29. Amazing. My best run ever.

Race Report: 2014 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon

Let’s cut to the chase. It was a great day, perfect for running. I ran a strong race and came up seven seconds shy of my half marathon personal best. I’m happy.

Pre-race

I met up with Miguel near the start chute and we walked up to the red corral to get ready to go. I had forgotten my gels in the car, but I grabbed some banana loaf at Starbucks and figured that would be fine since it was the half, and not a full marathon.

In the corral we found Jeffrey, Emily, Sean, Heather and a few other friends from the Downtown Yonge Running Room. We all talked about running a 1:40 and made plans to go out at about 4:40/km pace.

It wasn’t long before the anthem was sung and we were off.

The Route

Start to 3km

The first kilometre or two is uphill, so I planned to take it a bit easy and make back the time down Bathurst St. We ran the first kilometre in 4:51. Not bad, but Miguel decided we should make that up right away and picked up the pace. Emily and I dropped back a little bit and I yelled up that we didn’t need to gain it all back right away.

Kilometre 2 was 4:46. Again, reasonable. We were a bit behind, but there was no panic since the next file kilometres were pretty much all downhill.

Then the pace picked up. 4:38 for kilometre three.

Down Bathurst and past Fort York

Here we go. 4:25, 4:22, 4:20 and we were almost at the Lakeshore in much better shape thanks to some nice downhill running. It felt fast, but not too fast. I did say to Miguel that I didn’t think I could hold that pace to the end. But after seeing that we had been running 4:20/km, I felt better. I didn’t need to. That 4:20 is likely not quite that fast as we ran under the Gardiner here and the Garmin track was a bit off.

Lakeshore heading west

This part of the route is kind of dull. We weren’t passing the runners heading back yet, and there’s not much crowd support. But that let me settle into a groove. Miguel ran away a bit here and I spent some time running with Andrew Young who was running the full, and with another couple of friends.

4:27, 4:42, 4:44 and 10km was done. I felt like I was slipping a bit and made the decision to push the pace a bit and see whether I could make a run at a PB. I took a gel (picked up at the aid station) and immediately regretted it. Yuck…salty and gross. It turned my stomach a bit later on as well.

Lakeshore heading east

After the turn I picked up the pace and time passed quickly as I spent the next three kilometres scanning the throng heading the other way on Lakeshore. I saw a few friends including Laural who was running her first full marathon.

4:35, 4:37, 4:38, 4:44 and 4:45 through 15km. Now we’re moving and making good time. And getting a bit concerned about a little hip thing I’ve got going on.

Heading up the hills, I felt little twinges from my left hip. I made the mistake of hopping on a weird zero impact treadmill machine at the expo and strained things a bit in the few minutes I “ran” on it. Dumb.

As long as I didn’t push too hard up the hills, it was fine. I used my right leg to push forward and everything was fine. But in the back of my mind I kept worrying that when the time came to push to the finish that it would leave me hobbling.

To 20km and the turn north

4:44, 4:47, 4:40 and 4:37. The 4:47 was the uphill by the Rogers Centre. I decided to start pushing at 19km to try and hit the PB time of 1:38:25. I remember the turn at 20km where the marathoners went south and the half marathoners went north. I was happy to be making the left turn.

Finish strong

The tunnel under the tracks on Bay messes everything up on the Garmin and coming out of there, the buildings of downtown does the same. I have no idea what my split was here as a result.

1km to go

When I got to 20km, I knew I really needed to go to get the PB I was after. I saw some friends cheering on Bay and gave a glance and a quick little wave. No time to say hi…there was work to do.

500m to go and I remember looking down at my watch and realizing that I probably couldn’t make it to the finish in time. I hoped maybe I started the watch a few seconds early and pushed harder.

200m to go and I made the left-right turn and saw the finish. Shit…not enough time to get there. But I kept going and ran across the line. 1:38:32.

Seven seconds

Seven seconds off my PB set a couple of years ago in Hamilton. That day I ran well through about 18km, and then held on through the finish. Today, I ran strong from the very first step right through to the last. The course was tougher, and my running was better.

All in all, a great run on a great day.

Race Report: 2014 BMO Vancouver Marathon

I’m going to start at the end: 3:48:30.

That’s a new personal best for the marathon by 5:29 and a full 20 minutes better than I last ran this course in 2012. I’m pretty happy.

Rain. It was bound to happen.

It was raining this morning when I got up. That was expected as the forecast called for a 100% chance of light rain all day and light winds. I left for the start pretty early which normally would be a dumb idea for a wet race.

racedayweather-300x300However, I bought the Platinum Package for $99 which included a VIP tent at the start to chill out in. They had a heater and despite getting there soaked including wet shoes and socks, within a half hour or so, I was dry and comfortable. The other bonus was private, luxury ports-potties. No lineups, and flush toilets! Win!

About five minutes before the race we did the bag check (also VIP) and walked out into the rain. By now it was more of a misty drizzle instead of the steady rain the half marathoners left in.

The start

Then anthem was sung, and the countdown started. I crossed the line about a minute after the gun and we were off.

The first couple of kilometres are uphill, and I resolved to run them fairly easy. 5:11, 4:59 and 4:54. So much for that idea.

I was feeling good and the weather was much better than expected, so I just ran what felt comfortable. Lately that’s been around 5:00/km and today was no different. Kilometres 4 and 5 were run in 5:03 and 4:55 respectively.

Then the course starts heading downhill for a bit. I stuck with the same effort which meant a faster pace with 4:46 and 4:45 for kilometres 6 and 7. Kilometres 8 and 9 were 5:00 and 5:13 as they had a bit of incline and I convinced myself to ease it back a bit. I took a gel at 8km as scheduled.

Camosun you don’t scare me

Then comes the hill known as Camosun. This thing is a monster. 7% grade for 900m with some more hill on either end to keep you honest. I ran kilometre 10 in 5:39 and 11 in 5:38. That felt good and my heart rate and effort were controlled. I was glad to have it behind me, but it’s far from the end of the hills on this course.

It’s another 4km to the campus of UBC. There’s a new little out and back section here too and that was uphill for the run north, downhill for the run south. 5:11, 5:15, 5:05 and 5:07. Time for UBC.

UBC

The campus is nice. It really is. But all I could think about was getting to the big downhill section and banking some time. 4:59, 5:08, 5:06, 5:04. Pretty consistent through here as it’s fairly flat and easy running. It was also cold and a bit breezy. For the first time I thought maybe long sleeves would have been smart.

The hill! 4:40 and 4:53 for kilometres 20 and 21. My half split was 1:47:15 which was a touch fast, but I didn’t feel like it was too fast.

Spanish Banks, Jericho

I saw Jon Suk here and that was a nice boost to the psyche. It was also starting to rain lightly again as we ran along Spanish Banks towards Jericho. 5:05, 5:05 and 5:30. There was a decent hill there for kilometre 24 and I eased back to keep things under control.

Jericho is next and the residents really get out to support the runners through here. That provided a decent boost, as did the gel I took at kilometre 24. I remember thinking I couldn’t believe that I’d already run 25km. I felt tired, but time was passing quickly. 5:13, 5:23 and 5:24 for kilometres 25-27. I was slowing a bit.

The Burrard Bridge

Then the gel kicked in and the crowds picked up and I got things back together with a 5:11 for kilometre 28. It was short lived and the Burrard Bridge was coming up soon. 5:32 for kilometre 29 and then 5:48 up and over the bridge. I was glad to be done with that as it’s the last real hill before the finish stretch.

Kilometre 31 is down hill and then you hop on the Seawall. I ran it in 5:15 and then was surprise to see Kirsty (who I ran the 2012 race with). She ran along side for a half a kilometre so I kept the pace up and ran a 5:16.

Seawall…the long, tough Seawall

The Seawall is my nemesis. It killed me in 2012 and I ended up walking a lot of it. I was much more prepared mentally this time around and I had a good ten minutes in my pocket to play with over the last 10km. I resolved to not walk this time.

5:30, 5:38, 5:42 and I was through 35km and had just 7km to go. Don’t kid yourself. The Seawall is long. I still hadn’t run under the Lions Gate Bridge and I was really starting to tire. My pace over the next few kilometres reflected that. 6:01, 6:22, 6:31. I was hurting. But I was running.

Brockton to the finish

The Lighthouse was in sight and I knew that meant three kilometres to go. A big PB was within reach if I could just keep running decently. 6:27 to the Lighthouse. I started getting a rush of energy thinking about the finish now. 6:04 to the yacht club which was the turnaround for the Friendship Run on Saturday. 2km from here.

Finally…done with the last of the Seawall and could see the crowds starting to pick up. Lots of encouragement here from spectators urging us to the finish. 6:16 and the turn up Denman was in sight. 1.2km to go. Still running. Time to dip into the reserves for the run up to the finish.

I ran a 6:23 here to get within sight of the line. I passed Jon again and he said I was looking strong. A huge PB was waiting at the finish along with a medal and a hot shower. It was pouring ran and I was cold and wet and ready to stop.

Finisher

Through the finish and none other than John Stanton of the Running Room was there to put a medal over my head. I thanked him again for everything he does and told him I wouldn’t have accomplished what I have in the last six years without his stores and the Running Room community.

And then my right leg totally seized up. I could barely walk, but luckily I had the VIP bag check pickup inside my hotel. I got my bag in a lovely conference room on the third floor and called Ginny and Mac on FaceTime. My phone was constantly beeping with notifications of Facebook likes, texts and Tweets.

Twenty minutes after I finished I was in my hotel room for a nice hot shower and I was finally warm again.

Best race ever, and my best race ever

I know I faded in the last 7km but I also knew that I would. I banked up some time early and held on for a five-and-a-half-minute PB. I wouldn’t change a thing about the race. I think I ran it about as well as I could, and I know I didn’t leave anything out there. Other than a bathroom stop around 10km and a few steps at a water station at 39km, I ran this thing from start to finish.

I love the Vancouver Marathon. I’ve never run it well, and until today, I’d never run it under four hours. Considering that this is a much tougher course than the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, I’m really proud of my result today.

Best marathon ever.

Race Report: 2014 Around the Bay Road Race

The 2014 Around the Bay Road Race was really my first chance to see where I was at since my PB in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October, 2012.

racelogo11I haven’t run Around the Bay in two years, and I haven’t run a real race since the fall of 2012. I ran a half and full marathon last year, but I didn’t put in the training for either race since the spring half came just six weeks after my elbow surgery and the fall marathon was done on just eight weeks training.

Leading up to race day, I didn’t think too much about a time goal, but I did want to do better than my 2:43 AtB personal best (2:43). I’d come close to 2:45 for 30km in a few training runs this winter, so a new PB was well within reach.

Start to 5km

The course was a bit different this year to avoid crossing a set of train tracks that held up a good number of runners last year.

We started in front of FirstOntario Centre as usual, but made a quick left north on James St. That section was congested and Miguel and I kept things in control, but started picking off runners as we ran north towards the lake.

1 5:17

A good first kilometre, slowed a bit by traffic, but about what I had planned to run.

2 5:01
3 5:03
4 5:06
5 5:01

The next four kilometres reveal nice consistent splits as we continued to make our way through the traffic and past some of the big pace groups. I started behind the 3:00 pace bunny so we had to get through them and a 2:45 group that spread wide across the road.

Burlington St. to 10km

The new route features a trio of decent on-ramp hills that take you up onto something like the Gardiner Expressway – an elevated highway through some of the worst industrial areas of Hamilton. It smelled, and the road was not in great shape.

But I ran well through here, passing another pacer with a wide gaggle of followers (I think the 2:40 group). I let Miguel go a bit here as he picked up the pace and I held back a bit up a long climb around 8km.

6 5:05
7 4:57
8 5:06
9 4:58
10 4:54

To the lakeshore!

I took the 360º offramp just before 10km very smartly, hugging the inside to avoid running any extra distance. I had almost reeled Miguel in by this point, taking advantage of some downhill running to up the pace a bit heading to the first split mat and the first relay exchange.

I passed Miguel around 11km and didn’t look back.

The gel I took at about 8km kicked in and I felt great running along Beach Blvd. Much better than the last time I “ran” it during the Hamilton Marathon last November.

I was continuing to pass runners and saw a few familiar faces including Quinn who was running great.

11 4:59
12 4:55
13 4:50
14 4:54
15 4:55

Lift Bridge to the left turn

The 15km mat came and went, and we crossed the lift bridge and the weird metal surface felt weird underfoot as usual.

I was still running great here and I took my second gel around 16km. I worried that maybe I waited a few minutes too long to take the gel, but it kicked in nicely and the legs felt great again.

There was a bit of wind around 17 or 18km as we exited onto North Shore, but not too bad all things considered.

16 4:54
15 4:55
16 4:54
17 5:02

And now, the hills

It’s always a great feeling to make the turn onto North Shore Blvd. because you are finally heading towards the finish. It feels like you’re making the turn to home.

But it also signals the start of the hilly section. Gulp.

I was still running well at this point, and the hills weren’t bothering me much. The run up to Lasalle Park was good and I really enjoyed the DJ and cheering section through this stretch. Great energy!

18 4:56
19 5:03
20 4:59
21 5:01

Now for the tough part

Here’s where it really gets hilly and where you need to push hard to maintain your pace and earn your PB. I grabbed a half of a banana from some awesome people here and ate it heading up the hill. I thought about skipping my last gel because of this, and then admonished myself for even considering it. One of the three keys I posted the night before the race was “Don’t forget the gels in the latter stages.” I took the gel at 24km.

@yumke My keys: 1. Go out strong, but not too fast. 2. Stay within myself through 10-18km. 3. Don’t forget the gels in the latter stages.
— James Koole (@jameskoole) March 29, 2014

22 5:07
23 5:07
24 5:11
25 5:13

All that remained now was the big hill, and the 4km run to the finish.

We Will Rock You, “The Hill” and the Grim Reaper

Down the hill to the cemetery, and I high fived the little person on the chair playing “We Will Rock You”. Around the Bay is a race full of tradition.

I looked across the valley to peek at the big hill on the other side, and then re-focused on the task at hand. I ran across the little bridge and resolved to run up and over the hill. I hadn’t walked a single step yet, not even a slow down through the water stations and I had no plans to change that.

I ran up the hill, under the rail bridge, passing dozens of runners walking on either side. The crowd really helps here, encouraging you to keep running. I felt pretty good but I also paid special attention to my heart rate and breathing to make sure I didn’t push too hard.

I crested the hill and backed off the pace a bit to regroup through the left turn onto York towards the finish. I felt tired for the first time and started running some numbers in my head. 2:30 was out of the question, but a PB was still easily attainable assuming I kept up a good pace to the end.

26 5:00
27 5:35
28 5:29

The finish

IMG_6011-225x300Two kilometres to go and I had a huge PB locked up. The only question that remained was whether I could beat 2:35 and finish strong. The crowd was amazing, lining the street over the last kilometre to the finish at the FirstOntario Centre. I started thinking about making that turn, and coming down the ramp.

29 5:33
30 5:10

I moved over to the left side of the road and swung out wide to reduce the tightness of the turn before running down the ramp towards that last right turn and the 50m finish sprint. I love this part of Around the Bay – you emerge into this loud, bright arena like you are a rock star. I found higher gear and ran across the line.

Finish: 2:33:39

Lessons learned

Looking back at my keys to the race:

  1. Go out strong, but not too fast. ✔
  2. Stay within myself through 10-18km. ✔
  3. Don’t forget the gels in the latter stages. ✔

Mission accomplished.

I started smart, and ran my race through the first 10km despite Miguel running a bit faster than me and the ever present temptation to try to bank some time early.

Through the flat middle section I ran a quicker pace, but never too fast. I banked a minute or two here to use in the hills and at the finish, but made sure to save enough energy for the last 5km.

I took my gels, and added fuel to the tank as required. While I faded a bit in the last 5km, I still had enough to run 5:30/km through the finish to grab a 10 minute PB.

atbpace1

Looking forward to the BMO Vancouver Marathon in five weeks, I’ll probably shorten up the time between gels just a bit to avoid the touch of fatigue I felt at 15km and again around 25km.

Other than that, it was a perfect race for me and one of the best runs of my life.

Race Report: 2012 Hamilton Road2Hope Half Marathon

I haven’t done a big race report in a while and I also haven’t run a half marathon in a while (since May, 2011). So I’ll break both of those streaks with a rundown of my race in Hamilton this past weekend.

As mentioned, I haven’t raced 21.1km in a long time (Ottawa 2011 – 1:44:08 which was my PB) and while I’ve done a ton of runs over the half marathon distance, I figured it would be a good way to end the 2012 season by seeing what I was capable of over that distance.

In the back of my mind I’ve always wanted to get down under the 1:40 mark, and with a fast course, the Hamilton Road2Hope Half Marathon offered a nice opportunity to go for it. I figured out the required pace (4:44/km) and amped up my training after the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon to get the feel of running that pace.

Race Day

Race day arrived and after the short bus ride up to the start, it was a waiting game while the full marathoners started their race. At about 8:25am we set out to run the half. I was totally relaxed, feeling more than ready to run a good race in some pretty decent weather.

The temperature was about 3ºC with light winds from the northwest (that factored in later). Tights, two t-shirts and my new arm warmers were the perfect choice.

Off the start I noticed right away that this was no ordinary field of runners. This was a fast group! I was running fast and so was everyone around me. The first kilometre ticked by in 4:33. Solid! But maybe too fast? Kilometre two was run in 4:29 – probably a bit too fast and I knew it. I was breathing a bit hard and experience told me to ease back a touch. The next three kilometres were a bit slower – 4:37, 4:35 and 4:36 – as I backed off the early pace a wee bit.

I about died after trying to eat an orange slice right at 4km – the juice went down the wrong way and I was a coughing mess for thirty seconds. It’s really hard to breathe when you are choking, so that cost me a few seconds while I recovered.

Red Hill Valley Parkway

Then the big hill – alright! Let’s bank some time! 4:31, 4:19, 4:23 and 4:29 got me through 9km. I was planning to run 4:20’s down the hill, but I wasn’t really paying much attention to my pace. Instead it was about running comfortably fast when the course allowed it.

4:34 for kilometre 10 and 45:00 through 10k. Just 25 seconds off my 10k PB set at the 2010 Sporting Life 10k.

4:32 and 4:38 in kilometres 11 and 12 got me through to the end of the highway portion and onto the trail section. The 4:38 included the uphill section off the highway and over the highway on Barton St.

Trails, Wind and Cheering

The next bit was tough – a short, steep downhill, and uphill unpaved trail section. I slowed up a bit, especially on what turned out to be the biggest hill on the course. That’s assuming a 4:51 is considered slowing up.

Then it was over the QEW on the pedestrian bridge – this marked the first appearance of the northwesterly wind that reminded me it was cold out and that there was still work to do. 4:40, 4:43, 4:44 and I was down along the lake on the trail, and out onto Beach Road. Crowd support in that section was great and I saw the lead half marathoners heading back towards the finish.

The next kilometre was the toughest – heading away from the finish, into the wind and running out of energy. 4:43 and 4:48 got me through 17 and 18km and past the turn to head for home. I passed Alex who was struggling with cramps and kept running, knowing I had a PB for sure and a really good shot at a sub-1:40 time if nothing bad happened to my legs.

Big Finish

I ran a 4:43 for kilometre 19 and at this point I knew that I had my sub-1:40 for sure. I saw Rich heading the other way and watched the marathon leaders fight the traffic along the narrow trail with slower half marathoners not realizing that the top runners were trying to pass.

Crowd support was great along this stretch and so was my pace. I ran a 4:55 for kilometre 20 and kept pushing hard to get the best time I could. It would have been easy to relax and cruise home to a 1:39 and change, but I wanted the absolute best time possible and I kept pushing as much as I could.

4:56 for kilometre 21 and it was just the last turn, up the hill and then down the 100m finish straight. Boom – across the line in 1:38:25.

Running every kilometre under 5:00 was a big accomplishment. Not walking a single step was a big accomplishment (I sailed through all the water stations without even thinking about stopping as I was carrying a half bottle of Q Energy Drink). Running strongly through the finish was a big accomplishment.

Setting a huge new half marathon personal best by almost six minutes was a huge accomplishment.