As I stood crammed in the starting corral, roasting under the already scorching sun, I glanced over at the countdown clock. 10 minutes and 18 seconds to go. Ugh, this is always the longest ten minutes. At this point, you just want to get started. You just want to run. You don’t want to stand there and get inside your own head. So instead of thinking about the race I had before me, I took a moment to think back. Think back on my incredible running journey, when it hit me.
It’s been 5 years since I ran my very first race. The 2012 Army Run. The thought of that blew me away.
Before running that first race, I wasn't much of a runner. I would go out for the occasional 3km loop around the canal, sometimes a full 5km if I was feeling dangerous. That was until one day when Katie, who I’d only been dating for about a year at the time, had the great idea that we should run a half marathon.
“Sure.” I said nonchalantly, completely unaware of the incredible impact that my off-the-cuff agreement would have on my life in the coming years. But at the time, it was just another thing to do. Whitewater rafting? Yeah! Play some tennis? Why not? Go to that random concert on a Sunday night? I’m in. How was this any different?
The difference here was that this simple act of willingness to try something new - something that I was not good at and had nearly zero experience with - would light a fiery burning passion deep inside me, completely and utterly changing my life. Who knew? I sure didn't.
My first half-marathon
That whole summer, Katie and I trained. We trained hard. I quickly got addicted. I loved being outside. I loved the structure that a training plan provided. I loved seeing progress, each and every week. Getting faster. Running further. I loved it all. Oh, and I loved the race. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn’t know how to fuel, how to pace, or how to dress. Lord knows I had no form. Here’s me, five years ago, in my very first race. Check out those sweet basketball shorts.
But I killed it. I ran a 1:34 in my very first half marathon, and with that, I was hooked. Less than a week later I signed up for the Ottawa Marathon the following spring. The rest, as they say, is history.
(Quick lesson to be learned here: Try new things. Eat new foods. Meet new people. Go new places. It will change your life.)
That brings me back to today. The final countdown was on.
“Five, Four, Three, Two, One…”
A loud boom from the traditional Army Run cannon sounded and we were off. Back in the present. Ready to run my race.
As I took off the start line with 6,700 other runners, I reminded myself of my race plan. “Take it easy” I cautioned myself. “Stick to your pace.” This race, unlike most others I’ve run, was not about going as fast as possible. It was not about getting a personal best. This race was a dress rehearsal. A dress rehearsal for the Chicago Marathon, which was a mere three weeks away. The goal today was to try everything out - nutrition, fuelling, hydration, clothing, pacing, drafting, kicking - everything that I would need come marathon day on October 8th. From a time perspective, my stated goal before the race was to run a 1:28:something. I wanted to cross that finish line in about the same time I’d plan on finishing the first half of Chicago.
Battling the heat - again
Once again, it was a hot day. By the time the race started it was already in the mid 20’s, with temperatures sure to rise to nearly 30 degrees by the latter half of the race. While this was equal parts annoying and worrisome, part of me welcomed the nasty conditions. Why? Well, what if it’s hot in Chicago? Don’t I want to know how to approach racing in the heat? Don’t I want to know how my body will react? So I didn't let the thought of the hot weather bother me. I hit every water station, ran through every misting machine and grabbed every sponge along the way. And somehow, I did okay with the heat. Maybe a lot of it was my mental state - think negative and bad things will happen. Think positive and good things will happen.
Going out fast
My first two kilometres, as always, were far too fast. My goal pace was a 4:10-4:12, yet those first two were under 4 minutes per kilometres. I scaled back and hit the next few between 4:06 and 4:14. By the time I entered Quebec at about the 8th kilometre, I had found my groove. I was cruising, still holding back, and feeling fine. Back over the bridge into Ontario at the 11km mark, we headed north up Sussex Drive to one of the nicer parts of the course, a beautiful section that brings you right through Rideau Hall. Not only is it very scenic, but it was shady - a welcome change to the mid-summer heat that we were experiencing.
At the 15km mark, we headed back towards downtown for the classic final stretch - down Sussex and onto Colonel By which brings incredible crowds along the Rideau Canal. This is where things truly started to hurt last year - but this year was a different story. I’ve significantly upped my training game, and I could feel it. Kilometres we’re almost effortlessly flipping by, right on pace. 4:09, 4:11, 4:12, 4:10, 4:08. As nearly everyone around me was struggling to hold on, I was feeling stronger than ever. From that 15km mark to the finish I passed 15 runners (10 of which I passed in the final kilometre), pegging them off one at a time, bringing my overall placement from 58th to 43rd. Nothing - nothing - feels better in a race than having extra gas in the tank when everyone else is fading.
As I passed the 18th kilometre mark, I decided it was time for a bit of a kick, which looked like this:
- 19th km: 4:03 pace
- 20th km: 3:58 pace
- 21st km: 3:53 pace
- Final 100m: 3:36 pace
As I drove hard down that final stretch I watched as the clock above the finish line ticked towards 1 hour and 28 minutes. Despite some uncomfortable chafing issues, a huge smiled engulfed my face as I knew I had totally nailed this race. Right on target. I came across the finish line with a gun time of 1:28:01 and an official chip time of 1:27:57. 43rd overall, 4th in my category. Elated, I dished out high fives and hugs to other racers, volunteers, and of course members of our armed forces. What an awesome race this is. This was my fourth Army Run - it never gets old.
Kudos all around
Kudos to everyone who raced on Sunday. It was a hell of a hot day. That took a lot of guts and perseverance to stick it out. Congrats to my wife, Katie, who finished her 4th half marathon and hung in there through the brutal heat (again). The girl needs to find herself a nice, cool race someday. She always gets dealt shitty weather. Thanks to Dave for his coaching and words of wisdom along the course. Props to my OCRC crew for their cheering and support, and to all my fellow Ott City Runners who killed their races.
Three weeks to go, folks. As I enter my taper phase, I am both nervous and excited for what’s to come in Chicago. I can’t wait. This is going to be awesome.
One final thought before I go. Sending a special shout out and good luck vibes to my buddy Scott Henry who is running the Berlin Marathon this weekend. Scotty's gonna go real fast and get his BQ. You got this bud!