This race report is long and detailed. I had such a positive experience running my first marathon that I want to capture and share everything about it.
My alarm went off at 4:45 am on race morning and I was out of bed in a flash. The first thing I did was eat my usual pre-race bowl of oats with honey and drink a half litre of water. I then got dressed for the race and pottered around sipping a mug of green tea and nibbling on a banana. Matt and Dad got up about a half hour after me and we pulled out of the driveway just before 6am. We drove downtown and were parked (for free!) at the World Exchange Plaza by about 6:20 am. I had butterflies in my stomach the whole way downtown but they were more due to excitement than to nerves.
The temperature that morning was around 11C and the forecast was for rain in the afternoon with possible showers in the late morning and a high of around 23C. This was perfect racing weather as I always prefer rain and clouds to sun and heat. I still wore sun block though, just in case the weather report was wrong!
I did basically no warm-up before the race. I did some jumping and light stretching but I figured I’d use the first few miles as a warm-up. Honestly I wanted to save all the energy I had for the race.
Ottawa had the most organized start of any race I’ve ever run. Runners had pre-assigned themselves to corrals based on expected finish times. I was in the green corral: 4:01-4:30. Your corral colour was clearly indicated on your bib but there was no one enforcing this so if training had gone really well or really bad you could re-seed yourself. I chatted with Matt and Dad and then jumped into the back end of my corral once they cut down the barriers and the runners started to compress into a single group. I never actually heard the gun go off but we started on time at 7am. It took me just over 2 minutes to get to the start line and from there I was off.
The Ottawa Marathon course had four distinct sections: Gatineau, Rockcliff, Colonel By and Prince of Wales/Queen Elizabeth which roughly divided the race into four quarters. Psychologically this is how I viewed the race so I’ve divided my race report up using these four parts.
Part 1 – Gatineau: 0 – 10K in 1:03:48 (10:16 min/mile, 6:23 min/km)
I spotted Matt and Dad just after I crossed the start line and gave them a wave. After a short uphill the course turned onto Wellington and we ran past Parliament Hill and the Supreme Court. I had to try hard to keep my pace moderate for the first few miles as it seemed like everyone around me was going faster than I wanted. Fortunately the course was wide and it looked like everyone was able to run as fast or slow as they wanted. After passing the new War Museum we crossed over into Gatineau.
I was aiming to run 10:30 miles but the first two came in at 10:00 exactly. This is where having the Garmin came in handy. The course was marked in kilometres but I used miles on my Garmin to dictate my walk breaks and monitor my pace since this is what I was used to from training. I took my first 1 minute walk break at the 2 mile point and then at each mile after that.
I carried a hand held 20 oz water bottle and 6 gels, 5 of which I would end up using. My plan was to take a gel at 4 mile intervals and drink Gatorade at every second or third water station. The water stations were roughly 3 km apart and all were well manned and well stocked.
There were a few small hills in Gatineau but they were speed bumps compared to the hills in Vancouver, Seattle and Kirkland so I barely noticed them. I spent most of this section leap frogging with the 4:30 pace group. They’d started behind me but I wasn’t sure by how much. I briefly considered running with the pace group but I decided that I just needed to run my own race which at the time I still thought meant trying to hit 10:30 miles. I had a 4:30 pace band with me so I figured that I didn’t really need to group anyway. I’m not very familiar with Gatineau so I didn’t have a good sense of where I was until we turned and ran past the Museum of Civilization. From there were crossed back into Ontario via the Alexandria Bridge.
I hit the 10 km mark in 1:03:38 which was just ahead of pace for a 4:30 marathon. Right after the 10 km banner I spotted Dad exactly where he said he’d be: on the right side of the course in front of the National Gallery. As I ran by I told him I was on pace for 4:30 and he signalled down the course to Matt who was positioned with my camera. As you can see from the photo below (the left one obviously) I was feeling great at 10 km.
Part 2 – Rockcliff: 10K – 21.1K in 1:09:34 (10:05 min/mile, 6:16 min/km)
Just after I made the turn onto Sussex Drive the marathon leaders came flying by in the other direction (see photo above right). They were through the half marathon point so were running approximately twice as fast as I was! I enjoyed the run down Sussex and seeing the rest of the elite men run by in the other direction. I also saw the three lead women just before the course split. We then continued along Sussex past the Prime Minister’s residence and Rideau Hall and into Rockcliff. Somewhere around kilometre 15 I noticed two women in front of me stop briefly on course to shake the hand of a man who was cheering at the end of (what I assume was) his driveway. I thought that this was a little curious since most people tend to hug or high five their friends and family on course not shake their hands. Then I noticed that other runners were also stopping to shake this man’s hand. When I got closer I realized that the man cheering was former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien! I stopped to shake his hand and thanked him for cheering. What a neat experience!
Another highlight of this section of the race was running by Ashbury College. They had flags flying across the road, music blasting and the most exciting water stop on course. I appreciated all the kids out early on a Sunday morning helping out. There were definitely more spectators here than in Gatineau but that makes sense since we were running through a residential area and it was now a more reasonable time in the morning!
I felt great all the way through this section of the course. I was targeting 10:20 mile at this point but I wasn’t very successful. In the end I averaged 10:05 miles from 10 km to the half but I’m sure I would have gone faster if I hadn’t been paying attention to pace. The only slight problem I felt was the start of a blister on the arch of the right foot. I’d never had blister problems in training and it wasn’t really painful so I decided to ignore it and hope it wouldn’t be a problem later.
I was still ahead of a 4:30 pace and I was happy that it looked like I was going to cross the half way point in under 2:15. I spotted Dad just before the half marathon banner and he jogged along side me as I told him the story of shaking Jean Chrétien’s hand. Matt was positioned just after the half marathon banner once again camera in hand. He too jogged with me as I told him about Jean Chrétien and reported that I’d crossed half in 2:13ish. In fact I’d run the first half in 2:13:22 which equates to 10:10 min/mile or 6:19 min/km.
Part 3 – Colonel By: 21.1K – 30K in 0:57:01 (10:19 min/mile, 6:24 min/km)
After the half marathon point the marathon course merged with the half marathon course and proceeded down Colonel By. The half marathon had started an hour and a half after the marathon and was at 11 km or so when the courses merged. The half marathoners I merged with were moving much faster than I was – the 1:50 pace ground passed me – and I found pacing to be very difficult. On the plus side there were a lot of spectators cheering in this section so that was exciting. Some time during this section of the course the rain began. It was very light at first but I grew steadily heavier for the rest of the race.
About 5 km down the road the courses split as the half marathoners crossed the Bronson Bridge and the marathoners continued down Colonel By. The course now seemed very empty without the half marathoners and their fans. I was still feeling pretty strong at this point but running was taking more concentration. I was no longer obsessively monitoring my pace. I just tried to run comfortably. I was however checking my pace band at the occasional km marker. I hit 30K at 3:10:23 which was about 1.5 minutes ahead of 4:30 pace.
Part 4 – Prince of Wales/Queen Elizabeth: 30K – 42.2K in 1:14:50 (9:52 min/mile, 6:08 min/km)
I passed the 20 mile mark and into uncharted territory somewhere in Vincent Massey Park. I knew that there was a good chance that my mother would be waiting for me at the corner of Prince of Wales and Baseline just after 33 km. As I approached the intersection I saw the familiar bright teal jacket of my sister. She’d flown in that morning on a red eye from Vancouver so I wasn’t really expecting her to come out to the race. I gave her a quick hug and my hand held water bottle because I felt confident I could rely on the water stations for the rest of the race and didn’t feel like carrying it anymore. She told me mom was down at the corner with her camera. I took the corner wide and smiled for the camera. I gave my Mom a high five and pressed on towards the finish.
At this point my legs and my butt were feeling tight and I could feel the blister on my right foot getting worse but I was still moving well. I was passing people much more often than I was being passed myself. I didn’t really start counting down the kilometres until there were 5 left. I kept taking my regular walk breaks but I was determined to walk no more than that. I really wanted to give it my all and finish in the best time I could. I’m not sure you could say that I dropped the hammer in the last 5 km but I certainly tried too. The rain was coming down pretty hard at this point and I just really wanted to be done.
I saw my Dad cheering at the side of the road just after the 41 km sign. As I ran by him I said something like “I can’t slow down and talk because if I do I might never start up again.” So true. I really tried to enjoy the finish but running took so much focus that I couldn’t really soak it all in. I saw the 750m to go sign and thought to myself “All I have to do is two laps of a track.” At the 500m to go sign I tried to put on a surge but it only lasted until the 400m to go sign. Somewhere around here Matt was at the side of the course. I didn’t see him until he called my name because I had finish line tunnel vision. The 300m, 200m and 100m signs came and went and I finished with my arms above my head in celebration.
I ran the last quarter of the course at a 9:52 min/mile making it my fastest paced quarter. My time for the second half of the course was 2:11:51 which is 10:03 min/mile or 6:15 min/km. I ran a negative split race which is nice. What amazes me even more than this is that I ran my first half marathon just over a year ago in a finish time of 2:10:42. At that time I never would have thought that I could have run so close to that time during the second half of a marathon!
My official chip marathon finish time was 4:25:13 (10:07 min/mile, 6:17 min/km).
I was in much better physical and mental shape at the end of my first marathon than at the end of my first half marathon last May. My number one mission at the finish line was to find a space blanket because as soon as I stopped moving I got cold very quickly in the rain. I got my medal and ate some yogurt and orange sections before making my way out of the runners’ area to meet up with Matt and Dad. There were so many people around and I was so dazed that I really didn’t think I’d be able to find them even though we had a pre-specified meeting point. Thankfully Matt found me. We picked up my checked bag and then headed back to the car and then home. Before we left Matt snapped a picture of me with my medal and space blanket. This is my I am a marathoner photo. And now that’s something I’ll be able to say for the rest of my life.
The last thing I need to do in order to make this race report complete is to send a big thank you out to Mom, Dad, Matt and Allison for coming out and cheering for me during the race. I got to see two of them at around the end of each quarter of the race and that always gave me something short term to look forward to while I was running. Thanks also to everyone who commented or emailed me good wishes before or after the marathon. And thank you to anyone who actually made it through and read to the end of my race report!