I drove down to Hamilton on Saturday, and I'll admit I was still a bit nervous. It wasn't until I had crossed over the skyway, and could see parts of the course, that I got excited. My pre-race mantra of "I get to run tomorrow!" came back, and suddenly I was eager to race.
I drove to downtown Hamilton early on Sunday, and parked in the same place I did last year. They moved both the start and finish line this year, so I wanted some extra time to get my bearings. Fortunately, Copps Coliseum (the finish line) was right beside last year's pre-race washroom, and the start line was in sight of Copps. After watching the start of the walk at 8:30, I headed over to the RBF meeting place to collect my thoughts.
After a little while Ali showed up. She was very friendly, and we chatted about the course, running in general, the RBF, and of course the wonderful weather. Though the school which had been open in previous years was closed, we were able to stand directly out front and soak up the warm sunshine.
After a bit, we decided to check out the backup meeting place for Jon. When he didn't turn up there, we headed back to the school, and Ali ran back to the bus to change into something better suited to the nicer weather. While she was gone, I stretched a bit, and tried to get myself focused mentally. While I waited, Jon finally showed up. Long lineups had waylaid him, but he had outsmarted them, and had made it to the meeting place, albeit a few minutes late. Of course, now Ali was gone. So we waited for her. And waited. Could it be that Ali and Jon are never seen in the same place? Was I in the very presence of an alter ego?
Just when I was beginning to wonder ;) Ali returned. We talked some more RBF and such, and then suddenly it was time to get to the start line.
It seemed to me that the start area was narrower than in previous years, which made the line longer. Of course, it's not impossible that the crowds were just bigger this year. They said afterwards that there were 6800 runners. No matter how many lanes wide the road is, that many runners will take up some room.
Jon and I settled into the back, waving adieu to Ali, who was running with her group. We passed the time until the race started, and shuffled off towards the start line. When it was our turn, away we went!
We spent the first few kilometers together, chatting and relaxing. It's usually very easy to start too fast, and I wanted to do the first 5km in 27 minutes or so, so I had no qualms about taking it easy off the start. We missed the 1km marker in the crowds and the chatting, but we hit the 2km marker around 11:20 or so, I think.
I should note that my most optimistic goal time was 2:30, which is an even 5:00/km. I ran that pace at the Hypothermic Half, so I knew it was doable over some distance. Actually, my plan was to run the first 10km in 53 minutes and the second 10km in 52 minutes. From there, the hills start, and I figured I'd do whatever I could. Last year, I ran the 3 stages in 52/53/59, so I needed to focus on keeping something more for the end.
Another point worthy of note is that even if 5:00/km wasn't really all that realistic (and if you look at my breakdown in the previous paragraph it wasn't really), the math is very easy. Every kilometer marker runs by in a x:x0:00 or x:x5:00, so knowing how far ahead or behind of this pace you are is pretty easy. My reasonable goal was to break 2:40, or +10. My goal for the first 10km was +3.
Back to the race. The crowds were still pretty thick, both on the road, and beside, cheering. Unfortunately, cars had been allowed to park on the road overnight, and Jon and I kept having to squeeze into the crowd to run around them. Maybe a one-day bylaw is in order? Anyways, at 3km, we were something like +3:00, which worried me. I wanted an evenly paced 53 minute 10km. I didn't mind giving up a bit of time at the front, but now I was drifting off pace. Jon and I hit the first water station, but on the far side of it I said my goodbye, and took off on my own.
It's possible that I made a mistake next. Having set myself up with an easy start, I set about trying to hold a 5:00/km pace. It felt good, but while I'd been aiming for a 53 minute first 10km, I'd meant for it to be 53 minutes of taking it easy, not a few slow kilometers followed by a mad rush. Certainly, when I ran a sub-5:00 kilometer for the fifth kilometer, alarm bells went off.
Then again, based on how many ~5:00 kilometers I did put in, maybe I took it too easy on the start. In the end, I'll probably never know. Still, if I did start too slowly, that's a much better and less common error than the reverse.
At the 9km mark, I was still at +3, and was feeling pretty good. I'd needed a washroom break since before the start of the race, but it wasn't urgent, and I knew there would be a good opportunity around the Skyway, at the 15km mark. Right before the relay handoff at 10km, I saw a guy veer to the right, and take a pee break beside/behind a brick half-wall. What a great idea, I thought. I grabbed another half wall, and took my turn. It seemed like it took forever, and then I was back into it.
On the far side of the 10km mark (which I crossed at something like +4, though I may have been a bit under that), I stopped and had my first Power Gel (Vanilla!). I gulped it down as quickly as I could, walking up the overpass that was really the only hill in the first 17km. As soon as I was done, I was off again.
I hit the 11km mark at +4, which was fine. Along Beach Blvd, I focused on having a steady speed, and slowly moving past the people in front of me. The crowd was great along here, though many just watched instead of cheering. I missed the 12 km mark altogether, but I think I went through 13km in +4:20. I tried to pick it up from there, and I thought that I'd managed to stay around +4:00 to +4:30 through 15, but the official results seem to indicate that I was at +5:00. Still, at 15 km, I felt quite good, though I wasn't thanking the cheerers quite so often anymore.
We went over the lift bridge, and for a change I didn't look down through the metal grill at the waters of Lake Ontario below. I was just focused on the road in front of me, and each step. By the time I got to North Shore Blvd, past kilometer 17, I knew my time was slipping again, and I wasn't feeling all that speedy. Around 18km, I was +6. I saw the little girl from last year with the "Repeat After Me: I Love Hills!" sign, but I couldn't repeat it.
North Shore means rolling hills. They're gentle for the first 2.5 kilometers, though, and I sailed through them pretty well. I hit the 20km mark in +6:00. I was now one minute behind last year's time and, while I wasn't exactly ebullient, I knew I was having a better race than last year.
Last year, I ran 52, 53, then I really struggled. My pace dropped significantly, and I really suffered over the last 10km. For the whole last 10km, I tried hard to focus on the person in front of me, and tried not to let them drop me. As time went on, I NEEDED walk breaks, and I kept finding new people to try to mentally hold on to. This year, I was pleased to note that at the 20km mark, I was still very slowly reeling people in. After taking my second power gel, I made a mental note to try to catch someone with a yellow hat off in the distance.
In the rolling hills, I tried to use gravity to speed me up on the downhills, taking short steps and picking up my cadence. While I often passed people on the downhills, I seldom did on the uphills. There was a particularly steep hill on kilometer 21. When I got to the top, I gave myself a mental congrats. "You conquered the tough roller!" On kilometer 22, I met the last hill's big brother. Again, I conquered it. Again, the mental congrats. I went through kilometer 22 in +6:00. The race was getting tough, and while I wasn't feeling great, I was running very, very well.
Kilometer 23 broke out of the rolling hills, but finished with a right hand turn and uphill climb to Plains road on kilometer 24. I passed the 24km mark in +6:40, but I started to get some mental energy back. I knew I was getting close to the last 5km.
We turned onto Spring Garden road, and into the second last water station. I grabbed some Gatorade, and took off again. The hill sloped gently downwards as we passed 25km (+7:00). From experience, it's not good that the road was sloping down, because what goes down must come back up. The crowds picked up, though, and they cheered us on towards the famous hill. Eventually, we could see it, snaking away in front of us.
When I got to the bottom, I was philosophical. So I would lose a minute here. I'd known that all along. Let's just get up this thing. No walking this year. I can do this.
I got caught for a second behind some spectators who were walking up the hill. I'd complain, but they decided to cross to the outside of the hill at that moment, to get out of the way of runners, which I appreciated. I ran, but it wasn't a gazelle-like sprint. Rather, I relaxed, and kept myself moving. I tried to pump my arms a bit harder than usual, and focused on the ground 6 feet in front of me. Somewhere near the top of the hill, I passed 26km in +7:40. Only 40 seconds lost so far? Not bad at all!
When I hit the top, I tried to resume my former pace. I was breathing a bit heavily, but I knew that that would sort itself out. By the time I hit the 27km mark, it had. I was still around +7:40 I think, and I was pretty optimistic. At worst, I'd finish +8:00, but I now had the opportunity to push myself on the long downhill to the finish line. Maybe +7:00 wasn't impossible if things went well.
Around half a kilometer later, something happened that changed the race for me. It was something I'd never experienced before. Suddenly, I had a pain in the left side of my chest. It was very likely too low to be anything heart related (most likely a chest cramp of the breathing variety), but when I put my hand on hit I could feel my heart hammering in my chest. Well of course it was hammering, I was running a race! Still, I walked for a few seconds, until the pain subsided. When I started up again, I could feel it again. I backed off the pace until the pain subsided, and tried to hold the pace there.
Gone were the thoughts of +7, or even +8. I still wanted to finish in under 2:40, though, which meant under +10. I hit the 28km mark in +8:20 or so. Was there still time? It would be tight.
To tell the truth, other than the occasional spasm, I didn't have any more pain on the way in. I felt a bit light headed, though, and all my concentration was on keeping my pace under control. We went around a corner, and then I could see Copps Coliseum. It was 2:30:15 on my watch. From experience, though, I knew that the finish line was visible from a long way off.
I rolled through 29km in over +9 (+9:15?). I was gaining confidence, but I was also starting to get emotional. I was almost teary as I entered the corral alongside Copps. People were cheering, but I was almost disconnected from them. Then, we turned went down a sharp ramp, and there it was, the finish line. The time above the banner didn't make any sense, but then I remembered my watch. As I crossed, I checked. +9:48. Hurray!
Finishing the run didn't immediately make me feel better. I leaned on one of the sides of the corral, and just breathed heavily, letting it hold me up. I must have run fairly hard, I figured, because you could have knocked me over with a feather. I tried to keep moving, but suddenly felt the need to sit down, so I did.
Thereafter followed a few minutes of attention from the volunteer medical staff. They were very nice, and pushed a whole lot of Gatorade into me. After a few minutes off my feet and maybe a litre of liquids, I started to feel better.
So, in the end, I ran something like 54/52/54, for just under 2:40. It was a PB by over 4 minutes. If it hadn't been for the weird chest pain at the end, I would likely have run 54/52/52, which would have been amazing (considering the last 10k is easily the hardest).
All in all, this was a good result. I still have a ways to go to be able to maintain 5:00/km for long periods of time on anything but a perfect day. Still, I ran a lot of those kilometers at that pace, including a lot of them later in the race, under tough conditions. I can't help but by pleased with that.
I think I got a small reminder that I need to really focus on my electrolyte intake in these longer events. I AM a salty sweater, as indicated by my blog name, and I need to work very hard to replace the salt I sweat out. If more than half a litre of gatorade right after the race made me feel better, then chances are taking that much more DURING the race wouldn't have been unwise. I knew this, in the general sense, but I've just been issued a firm reminder.
The biggest downside to the race, I think, was the ITB pain I had after the race yesterday, and again today. My IT problems are starting to make me ask serious questions about my ability to train for a marathon.
As I drove home this morning, I drove over the skyway, and was presented with a brilliant view of the north shore. Behind the trees, the rolling hills were obscured from view, but my legs remembered them. The shore stretched on and on, and I was overwhelmed with the feeling of accomplishment. Sometimes, in running, we get used to "running distances", and we lose sight of just how far we really go. From high up on the Skyway, the north shore looks long and peaceful, and Burlington Bay looks enormous. To travel around it looks like a long journey. To run around it seemed like madness. To race around it, obsurd.
And yet, I did race around the bay. ALL the way around. Suddenly, all my plotting and scheming and reflecting on minutes won and lost seems strange. I suppose it's a madness that all runners share, but as I drove on, I was able to step outside of it, and marvel at my achievement as a non-runner would. It was an awesome race, and I had a fantastic run.