I awoke at 4:40am on race morning and launched into action. This was not nearly as painful as it could have been because it was the night we went off daylight savings time and thus only felt like 5:40am to my body. I quickly made some oats and tea for breakfast, gathered my pre packed bags and hit to road to Hamilton at around 5:10am. The drive was uneventful and I arrived at Confederation Park around 6:15am. I was able to pick up my race bib and shirt, make a quick pit stop and immediately board a waiting school bus for the ride up to the finish line. While on the bus I ate a banana with some peanut butter and drank about 300mL of water. The start line was at Saltfleet High School (or as I prefer to think of it, Star Fleet High School) and the runners were gathered in the gym waiting for the start. I settled into a comfy spot at around 6:45 am and had 1.5 hours to kill before the start of the race. The time passed quickly and soon enough I had checked my bag, listened to the national anthem and found myself heading over to the start line.
In the start corral I met up with the 4:00 pace group. I spoke to the pace bunny and he said that his plan was to run a 5:30 pace stopping to walk for approximately 30 seconds at each aid station (which were supposed to come every 3km). I suppose that would have worked out to a 5:41 average but I didn’t think it was the plan for me. Basically I didn’t think I could manage a 5:30 pace even with the walk breaks. So I decided to go it alone and try to average 5:41. I planned to walk through aid stations but expected that my natural variation in pace would account for any time lost there.
1 – 10km: 0:57:05 (avg 5:43 min/km)
The race started and we headed out of the school parking lot and out onto country roads. My first freak out occurred in the first kilometer when I realized that I couldn’t feel my toes. This happens when my feet get cold but I guess I hadn’t realized that my feet were that cold! I reasoned that as I ran they would warm up and the feeling would return. Despite the fact that I started right behind the 4:00 pace bunny and was averaging exactly a 5:41 pace I got passed by literally hundreds of runners in the first few kilometers. I resisted the urge to speed up and focused how good it would feel to pass runners in the later stages of the race. My nutrition plan was to take 100cal gels at around the 8, 16, 24 and 32 km marks. I also had 4 eload electrolyte caps that I planned to take in the second half of the race. I took a gel in the ninth kilometer and just kept cruising along.
11 – 20km: 0:56:47 (avg 5:41 min/km)
Most of this quarter was run on an out and back section of country roads. It was here that I truly appreciated how fast the field running this race was. In my previous races I’ve been around the mid pack but in this race I was definitely closer to the back of the pack. I saw the race leaders go by and the eventually the various pace groups went by heading in the other direction. The 3:20 and 3:30 pace groups were particularly big. In fact the 3:30 group looked like an army of fitness. There was a bit of a headwind in this section so I was very happy when I made the turn and got to enjoy a tailwind for a change. My pace was fairly consistent in this section ranging from a 5:30 – 5:49. I took a gel around 17km and continued to take water and/or eload at each water stop. I don’t usually train with eload but it definitely tasted weak to me.
21 – 30km: 0:55:35 (avg 5:34 min/km)
The half way point was not officially marked. After I hit the 20km mark I looked approximately 100m up the road and created my own half marathon mark. When I hit it I looked at my watch and it read exactly 2:00:00. So goal 1a was accomplished. I had not gone out too fast but I wasn’t feeling as good as I would have hoped for only being halfway done. My right IT band was hurting and I just didn’t feel springy. My cardio was feeling fine but I really wasn’t sure how I was going to muster another half marathon out of my legs. Truth be told I’d had some concerns about my right leg going into the race. In last last few weeks of training I’d had sporadic problems with my ankle, calf and quad. I’d start the run with some tightness that would tend to go away after a few kilometers but it wasn’t consistent. I took my taper quite easy but I had three pain free runs in the week before the race so I thought I was good to go.
During the 23rd kilometer we entered the Red Hill parkway and started descending. My first downhill kilometer split was 5:08. I wanted to take advantage of the downhill without thrashing my quads too much. The fun part of running on the highway was that I really got to focus on running the tangets on the course and I was very happy to be on nice smooth asphalt. Once again my right ITB was not happy though so I made the tactical decision to stop monitoring my pace. My thought process was that I would still push myself to run hard but I didn’t want to risk getting down on myself if I started to see my splits getting higher and higher. We came off the highway in the 29th kilometer.
31 – 40km: 0:57:34 (avg 5:45 min/km)
During this section of the course we were running from the highway to the lake along miscellaneous city roads. It wasn’t a particular scenic route and since I’m not familiar with the city I really didn’t know where I was at any given time. Granted I didn’t really care that much at this point. Eventually we made it to Beach Drive which is one block over from the shore of Lake Ontario for the second out and back portion of the route. At this point the distance was taking its toll on the field and my fellow runners were definitely slowing down and taking more walk breaks. I resolved to only walk at water stations but I was struggling to maintain focus and block out the pain in my hip.
The turn back occurred at approximately the 35 km mark. This water station had no eload which I was unimpressed with but the volunteers were enthusiastic. The route back was on a multiuse trail right along the shore of Lake Ontario. I was now 7km from the finish and felt a little revitalized. I realized the the pain in my hip, while not enjoyable, wasn’t getting any worse so if I could just run through it I’d still be able to finish strong. I kept picking off runners and trying to run as fast as I could.
40 – 42.2km: 13:47 avg 6:16 min/km*
When I hit 40km I looked at my watch for the first time in over an hour. Honestly I didn’t know what I would see. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d been on pace for a 4:10 finish. As it turns out I saw that a sub four hour finish was still in reach. When I hit my lap button at the 41km mark my total time was 3:52:26. I was totally thrilled because I though I had about 7:30 to run the last 1.2km and that was totally doable. I saw my friend Laura in the last kilometer and gave here a wave feeling pumped that I was going to achieve my goal. We kept running along the trail for quite a while and then all of a sudden took a right hand turn onto a gravel pathway. I could not believe we were running on gravel this late in the race (and this was coarse gravel not nice smooth gravel). I kept looking for the 42km sign but it never came. When we turned off the gravel I got my first glimpse of the finish line and it looked so far away. I glanced down at my watch and saw that I now had less than a minute if I was going to break four hours and judging the distance to the finish line I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I was crushed. How did this happen? I’d been running hard all this time. It didn’t make sense.
I ran strong through through to the finish sprinting the last 100m (generating quite a cheer from the crowd). When I crossed the finish line I hit my Garmin and it read 4:00:49. Darn!
After crossing the finish line I doubled over in exhaustion and was immediately grabbed by a friendly medical volunteer. I told her I was fine and just needed a minute. Laura found me and the medical volunteer was satisfied I wasn’t going to pass out on her (although she did mention my hands were cold). I grabbed a banana and a hot cup of lentil soup and Laura and I sat on the grass surveying the sceen.
*According to Laura at least one of the pace bunnies that had finished ahead of me had missed their time and commented about the last last km. According to my Garmin last 1.2km of the course were actually 1.6 km long and it took me 8:21 to cover the distance. If the distance was 1.2km that would be a 5:44 pace. If it was 1.6km my pace would be 5:02 which is much closer to how I felt I was running. There was been much discussion of this long finish on various running websites and discussion boards. In the days after the race the race director released the following statement:
“The Marathon course has been certified and is accurate. However, during course set up the km markers on the Red Hill Valley Parkway were short by 400m, resulting in the last km being 400m further.”
I suspect the error might have occurred around the 28km mark since my 27th kilometer was measured (by my Garmin) at only 840m. The total distance measured by my Garmin was 42.3km which is certainly reasonable given the margin of error of GPS unit and the fact that I may not have run the most direct route from the start line to the finish line. So at the end of the day I’ve accepted that I ran a 4:00:48 marathon but I’m a little upset I had my excitement of finishing in sub four hours crushed at the very last moment.
I feel good about the fact that I only ran a 48 second positive split and a personal best is nothing to be disappointed in. I’m also glad that I was able to push through my ITB problem but clearly its an issue that needs to be addressed. I’ve decided to take 7-10 days completely off running. My plan for the next two months is to do enough training to complete the Goofy Challenge but I definitely will not be running that race with a time goal.