Tamarack Ottawa Half Marathon

01 Jun 2018

Race information


Goal Description Completed?
A 1:39:00 Yes
B 1:37:00 Yes
C 1:35:00 Yes


The Ottawa Half is actually a run along the way to my broader goal for the summer: a 50km trail run in August. Last summer I had intended on doing the Rock ‘n Roll Montreal half as my first official race. I’ve done the distance before and even treated particular runs as personal races, but never done the real thing. When the Montreal full was cancelled because of the heat wave, my trip partner was no longer going, so I dropped out as well. An ankle injury shortly thereafter kept me from doing the Toronto Waterfront run as a make-up, so after an entire summer of training, I still had not done my first race. What I should have done is trained through the winter and done the first available race of 2018, but instead I let 2017’s work go to waste and complained about it constantly like any proper adult. Then in March, I set my goals for the 2018 season, started doing early morning snow-rain-lousy Canadian weather runs and a proper routine, and the first of many events this season would be a half marathon in my hometown.

In training I had my personal best half marathon finishes around 1:37:30~, but I was nervous about how viable that actually was for a few reasons: for starters, I only vaguely trusted my phone’s GPS; and then the fact that running by myself I was only ever competing against my own traitorous feet, but I was worried a race would bring out my competitive streak and I’d push harder, earlier and thus struggle to maintain my speed. So my A goal was me being, I thought, sensible about what first-race jitters would do; my B goal was a desire for a new personal best; and my C goal was, I thought, unicorns and rainbows rather than realistic.

Race Start

The start was a bit rocky, because I had moved myself to the frontmost corral, but got stuck behind the 1:45:00 and 1:40:00 pace runners, which, when things got going, proved to be a massive wall of bodies that I was trapped behind. Getting through it meant a fair amount of weaving, bobbing, and sprinting. In retrospect, that may have been a good push out of the gate, but it felt like a foolish way to start things off when I could have easily avoided it.

Kilometre 5

At the 5km mark I was in trouble. I had not really been checking my pace and I realized that I had pulled off a PB: almost a full minute faster (19:27~ according to Strava). That was not a good sign given that my best prior 5km had come at the end of last season’s training. There was no way that I was going to be able to sustain that pace for very long, so I needed to slow down dramatically if I wanted to avoid a very early crash to my very first race.

Kilometre 10 & 11

At the 10km mark I was in trouble. Again, I had hit a new PB (40:28). Between the water stations and the couple of nameless heads that I was keeping up with, I couldn’t get myself to slow down. I continued to be concerned about the point at which my idiocy was going to catch up to me. Shortly after this we hit the nutrition station. Throughout my training I had been having a nibble of my fruitbar at the 45 minute mark on long runs, but the nuun water every 3km was a blessing I was unprepared for. Some folks afterwards complained about the flavour, but I did not notice at the time: I was too busy running faster than I should have to notice.

I grabbed an orange slice as I ran by, but struggled to get it in my mouth effectively, let alone remove the rind and chew. I also grabbed some gel/sugar/cube things as I struggled to perform an exercise toddlers can pull off right after naptime: the Orange Peel Smile. I hope there is not a photo of that anywhere, because I have no idea why I did it or who I was performing for. Plus that whole needing to use my mouth to breathe thing.

At this point, I stated to check in with my heart rate and do some pace calculations. There were no designated pace runners ahead of me, because I had rushed by them at the start. So time to think it through myself. For starters, I was sitting around 167bpm. Not actually much higher than my non-expert knowledge felt was appropriate. I was starting to think that maybe I was going to run right by the Wall I had been dreading for the last six kilometres. My 4:03 average pace (!) was never going to hold, but my goal time was still possible even if the back end of the run had me slow down to five minute kilometres – and I didn’t see how I would fall back that much given how good I was feeling. Rather than coming up with a new goal time on the fly, I decided to keep a closer eye on my splits and heart rate, letting my body run the show for a little while instead of my brain.

Kilometre 16

It was here that, for whatever reason, proved to be the most demoralizing part of the run: I had four splits in a row all around 4:20~ range, and then slowed to 4:48 as I passed the 16km flag. According to my watch, this was the second steepest climb of the course, but I still felt pissed off at myself. Contrary to what 11km Steven had said to himself, 12-16km Steven had realized a sub-1:30:00 finish was on the table, but not if there was that much of a slowdown. So I ate the second of whatever candy things that I had gathered back at the nutrition station and started to wonder what they were, why it was okay to just grab candy from children at the side of the road, and if they had licked them first. Oh, I also picked up the pace and watched my heart rate steadily climb.

This also happened to be the most beautiful part of the course: going back into Ottawa from Hull over the river with Parliament on the right. If there was a split to slow down and appreciate the view, this would have been it. This is also a spot I have mentally tagged as Deception Point, because the finish is so very close as the crow flies, but the course loops around to turn 2km into 5km. Apparently it is even worse for the full marathon folks, who it presumably sucks to be. I certainly felt bad for them as I raced by.

Kilometre 17 - End

The end of the race kind of blurs together. I remember that there was a freezie at one point, which mostly melted in my hand as I tried to push by folks with more tired legs than I. I had stopped checking my watch almost altogether for two reasons: one, the course got a bit narrow and I was worried about veering into someone; and two, I had decided to run as hard as I could until I couldn’t anymore. This photo should be a pretty good indicator of how that plan was suiting me in the last few hundred metres. Note, I am not the guy gleefully running off to the side for high fives nor am I the dude who was busy qualifying for Boston (sorry for creeping you Guy, but you crushed it at the end: 20 full minutes ahead of the time needed for your age group. Great job). No, I’m bib 13062 trying desperately to lead this pack to the finish with eyes wide shut (and, if I’m not mistake, Fall Out Boy in my ears). Special thanks to the dude sitting on his lawn with a hose in that last kilometre. Sponges and misting stations ain’t got nothing on the kindness of strangers.

The giant timer at the end read 1:28:00 from where I started to be able to see it. There is the smallest bit of regret that I did not push even harder at the end, although I am not sure there was available energy available at that point: the final 100 metres were run at a 4:02 pace, very close to my first kilometre’s 4:00. Sure, if I could have shaved five seconds somewhere I would have shaved five seconds off somewhere, but when you’ve beaten even your most optimistic goal, you should just take the win. So I did.


Overall, I can’t say I have any complaints: it was a great run and a nice high point to start the season (and my race ‘career’). Clearly this was a good pit stop along the way to the 50km in August, and my training for that served my well here. I did veer off that plan a bit to have a taper week, which was a good move and I’ll repeat something like that for any other races I do before my ultra. There are a few minor tweaks to be made about starting position and perhaps starting a bit slower, but staying more consistent throughout (time to do some reading on pace training I guess). I also need a new running pouch for my phone, because the one I bought for this race won’t be usable again next time. Other than that, we’ll see. I’m doing a couple shorter distance races before August, so I’ll be able to test out whether I can really pull off PB 5 and 10km runs. But, as it stands, I’m feeling great.