Army Run Ottawa Half Marathon

23 Sep 2018

Race information

Goals

Goal Description Completed?
A 1:30:00 Yes-ish?
B 1:29:00 No
C 1:25:00 No

Training

After a chaotic summer, most of my race plans got thrown out of the window. I didn’t lose much in the way of training, but the races that I had intended to do all got cut for various reasons.

Having done a half back in May, I have been wanting to do a full to finish off the season – so I’ll be doing the Toronto Waterfront next month. This race was meant to be a bit of a tuneup in preparation for that, but I have been feeling pretty good about where my training has been and started to take this race more seriously. My C goal is an overly ambitious jump from my PB of 1:29:05, but it’s hard to overstate how confident I have felt over the last couple weeks. Feeling stronger and stronger with ever run.

My plan was to bank some time in the first 5km with a strong 3:50min/km pace, before settling into 4min/km. If all went well, I’d only be spending those spare seconds on the few mild inclines of the course. I didn’t really think I’d be able to maintain the pace needed to meet my C goal, but I wanted to strive for it. I made the last minute decision to wear my water belt so I could hydrate on my schedule, rather than the course organizers.

Going into race day, things felt good. Fresh legs. Hearty pasta dinner the night before. Peanut butter toast when I got up at 7:00 and a coffee on the way to the course for a 9:30 start.

Race Start

I am obviously not an elite runner, but I’ve learned that I am better served starting at the front of the pack. I usually clip along out of the gate a few seconds faster than I should before settling into race pace. However there still seems to be this mindset some folks have of needing to start as close to the front, even if they are going to immediately fall behind. So it was tight initially with more dodging and weaving than I wanted to do (Rhetorical Question: do I ever want to be dodging and weaving to start a race?).

That said, it was a nearly perfect start for my pace. Blew through the first kilometre at exactly 3:50. The second kilometre had me speeding up to a 3:33, which I knew was unsustainable, but I was feeling better than any of my training runs. After a couple of breaths, I prepared to calm myself down and settle into my plan.

Kilometre 2.1

Or not.

I still haven’t decided what it was, but the bottom dropped out on my stomach all of a sudden. There is no need for graphic detail, but I was immediately in severe bowel distress. It was not a question of whether I could run it out. It was a question of whether I could make it to the water station a kilometre away. The answer was a resounding no. The good news is that this happened right along an out-and-back portion of the course and there was an aid station just across the road. Part of me wonders what would have happened were that not the case: would I have forced myself to tough it out and been fine? Or would it have been an absolute disaster?

Either way, I peeled off and threw myself into a Porta Potty. Maybe it wasn’t actually a name brand Porta Potty, but just a generic portable toilet. Like a frisbee versus a flying disc. I didn’t muse over this point at the time, because I was fuming. Between the (incredible) racers I had been keeping up with, the crowd of people cheering at the sidelines, and a course photographer (who better not have turned the camera towards me in that moment), I felt like the whole world watched my race fell apart.

Yesterday I had felt like a 9:30am start was a wonderful luxury, but I’ve been debating whether it threw off my routine just enough to mess me up. I probably ate 45 minutes earlier than I would have. Was that enough? Or was I too lackadaisical with my coffee-drinking and stretched it longer than I should have? Or any number of other things. I am not going to spend the next four weeks speculating on what I did wrong and instead use all of my upcoming training runs as an opportunity to test different routines, because science!

If you’re curious how quickly someone can angrily use the washroom, Strava says I only stopped moving for 30 seconds. I think the less that is said about that, the better. In a sight that was probably hilarious to the runners who could see me, I flew out that toilet like a bat out of hell and right back onto the course.

Kilometre 10

When something goes wrong on a training run, you can stop, shake it off, and reset. Or you can keep going at a slower pace, knowing that you’ll get it next time. My running belt came unzipped a few weeks ago and I took the time to fix it before head back to finish my scheduled 19km. I didn’t much care, because there was nothing to be concerned about. It’s was just a run. No big deal.

If I’d been able to find that attitude in myself, it would have been little more than half a minute lost. It is not as if I had any illusions about winning the race (1:08:05? No thanks, Maxime Leboeuf – I do love watching him speed by when there are early out-and-backs though). Instead I let me get the better of me. All the way to the 10km marker, there were some lingering doubts whether I’d need another bathroom break, but that’s a lousy excuse. I started ignoring my pacing altogether, got fixated on the people who were passing me as I tried to restart my legs after the abrupt stop, and was generally beating myself up.

After 5km, I was still only 30 seconds off my PB time: 19:59. Sure, that meant I didn’t have the banked time that I wanted to, but that’s a 4min/km pace. After 10km, I was barely under 43:00. Not that I knew either detail at the time, because I had mentally checked out. Apparently some friends saw me around this point and said I looked dead-eyed, which matches how I felt.

Kilometre 15

I completely forgot to appreciate what I described back in May as my favorite part of the course: seeing Parliament from behind as we cross the bridge back into Ontario. However the moment I recognized that, I was able to snap myself a bit out of my funk and started to have fun with the run. I let the PB go. I tried to find my proper form again. I snacked the fruit bar I had brought, not because my body needed it, but because I wanted to. I was also high five-ing people on the sidelines and throwing my arms up in victory every time I passed a crowd. At one point I may have given the finger-guns to someone holding up a suggestive sign, because why not.

My pace never got back to what I had been aiming for, but I wasn’t trying to. I like running. Spending four, five, or six hours a week hitting the pavement isn’t something I do to get a personal record every time I train. Most of my days are spent thinking and working far too hard, so I really like the mix of adrenaline and blankness in my mind that comes from a good run. A race filled with spectators and competition is a very different environment, but the sentiment is still the same: do the best I can, but enjoy myself.

So I did.

To the End

I think this is fairly common, but Ottawa’s racing scene has pacers at a bunch of different speeds, so that you can let someone else keep track of that for you. In my last half, I never saw them after the starting the line, because the fastest pacer clocks in at 4:16min/km (a 1:30:00 time). At some point in this run, it became clear that I had slowed down enough that the 1:30:00 pacer was close behind me. If I had been paying more attention to other runners, I might have guessed as much from the number of folks who were passing me, but didn’t really care because I was too busy looking as uncool as possible (I can only imagine that I have ruined some people’s photos with my shenanigans. Sorrynotsorry).

That being said, I have enough competitive spirit in me that I didn’t want to do worse than my A goal for the race since it was still within my reach. I still was having fun and cheering on people as they passed me, but kept enough of an eye on the time to make that happen. With a helpful verbal push from the pacer right at the end, I did. Or at least close enough for government work. Those milliseconds. They getcha.

Post-race

I was about to type “Well this is what it feels like to have a bad race”, but that’s not even true, is it? Given where I’m at, 1:30:00 time is nothing to sneeze at. And the reality is that I pulled off that time despite having an unpleasant experience early on and pouting for the first half of the course. That’s a great sign of where I am at in my training. I have no illusions that I will be running the Toronto Marathon at a 4:02min/km pace, but I this race serves as a good reminder that I should be on track for my goal of 3:25:00.

And even if I don’t? Hopefully I’ll remember to have fun.

Ugh. Gross. Positivity.