The short version…
I ran 2:28:12 at the Ottawa marathon yesterday. That’s three minutes faster than I’ve run a marathon in the past but several minutes slower than I thought I’d be capable of. In fact, 2:28 was my target in the fall of 2014 so I’m a little disillusioned with this result (and my result from last year). But the positives are that I made it through a training cycle healthy and I’m improving.
The longer version…
Two weeks out from the race, I ran a 34.5 km workout with 26.2 km at marathon pace (3:26/km) and it felt great so that became the goal pace (roughly a 2:25 marathon). I felt confident that I had done all I could reasonably accomplish in the 10 weeks I had to rebuild mileage and get workouts in before I had to taper for the race. All my workouts during the cycle had gone well. I felt fitter than I have been in the past. Would I have liked more weeks of training and more time to build mileage? Yes, but there wasn’t time unless I wanted to start creeping into the summer and stealing weeks from my fall training cycle. This was a last ditch effort to run a marathon for real first time in a year. But like I said, I felt I had done all I could to get ready.
After that 26 km race simulation workout, I only had a couple easy goal-pace runs to remind my legs of the pace and make sure it felt comfortable over the final two weeks. Things went off without a hitch except the weather turned from snow one week to record-breaking highs the next. The long-term forecast for southwestern Ontario was looking brutal leading up to the race; highs of 30+°C and lows in the high teens (the ideal temperature for running a marathon is closer to 5-8°C). A couple days before Ottawa (the day before I was to leave for the drive), I evaluated my options for other races. I didn’t want to bail on Ottawa but I definitely didn’t want to suffer through a scorching hot marathon for a time I wouldn’t be satisfied with. After all, the hard work in training had already taken place and that’s more important to my long-term plans than cashing in on that fitness at a race. I’ve always maintained that the only race more important than the current one is the next race. Every race is a stepping stone to the next. The fitness gained in training should be carried forward into the next cycle.
So I found a race in South Bend, Indiana the first weekend in June and the forecast was 10° cooler than Ottawa so that was really tempting. I talked it out with my wife and some friends and decided to go through with Ottawa. As we got closer to race day, the temperatures were coming down a bit and it didn’t look as terrible. My ‘hopeful’ race plan was to go through half in 1:12 and then magically find another gear to run the second half in 1:10 (2:22 at the finish). With the temperature where it was, I had to bail on that plan and wondered if I’d even be able to run sub-2:30. I decided to go for 2:25 or broke as there was significant prize money for the top three Canadians but you had to run 2:25. I figured the conditions weren’t ideal for my “A” goal so I might as well go for it.
The day before the marathon, I probably spent a bit too much time on foot getting to the technical meeting to hear about pacers and water bottle locations, and exploring the city, so I decided to skip my last shakeout jog. In hindsight, I probably should have tried to stay off my feet the day before the race.
Another factor leading up to the race was some poison ivy/oak that I had picked up the weekend before the race while helping my dad cut down dead trees. I had a couple sleepless nights battling the itchiness and fighting a sore throat as a result. The throat cleared up by Thursday but my arms and right leg were swollen and covered in painful blisters even as I stood on the starting line. I doubt this had any impact on my race, beyond affecting my sleep. Next time though, I’ll be more careful about avoiding strenuous activities the week before a goal race as I could have hurt my back hauling logs around just as easily.
In any case, race day finally came after one last sleepless night and I was up at 4:45 to eat a bagel, get dressed, and make my way to the start area. Mercifully, it was cooler than it had been all week as I jogged a short warm-up. The first 15-20 km of the race were mostly uneventful as I ran primarily with a pack that formed around the lead Ethiopian women. In that pack were fellow Canadians John Parrot running his debut and Nicholas Berrouard (who passed me in the final stages of the race last year). The only hiccup was that I had the water bottle table locations mixed up and I missed my first bottle at 5 km. I knew I had to be sure to get my next bottle at 10 km but I still was unsure of the location. All of a sudden, we were at 10 km and I saw my bottle out of the corner of my eye as I ran past it (I recognized it because of the bag of sour jujubes taped to the side). I had to stop, run back, grab it, and then spent the next km or two catching back up to the pack. I made sure to finish that whole bottle to make it worth it.
There were hundreds or maybe thousands of volunteers across the length of the race handing out water and sponges for cooling, food and gels, and even spraying misters/sprinklers. I took two or three cups of water at every stop, dumping them on my head to help evaporate heat and grabbed sponges every chance I got. I was doing my best to stay cool and comfortable.
As we got closer to the halfway mark and crossing into Gatineau, the hills started appearing. I’m sure they weren’t too horrendous but I get very little practice. They felt fine at the beginning but they slowly took their toll on my legs. I even remember feeling fine crossing the Alexandra bridge back into Ottawa (around 26 km?) when last year that part of the race was torturous so I was in a good place this time, feeling comfortable.
As we crossed back into Ottawa, the pack exploded, the two lead women split apart, and I found myself running with John Parrott (another Canadian) and Mok from Singapore who I had met the day before. We ran together roughly from 25 km to 35 km or thereabouts, doing a decent job of keeping the pace on target until I started falling off. Not drastically, but I was losing contact and eventually they were both out of my sight. Legs were getting tired and heavy. My stomach was starting to feel nauseated and I started to feel the rumblings of an impending bathroom break. The crowds cheering at this point in the race were awesome and, although my face certainly didn’t show it, it was very much appreciated! So many people were lining the streets out to support the runners!
I started to slow down and was overtaken by the lead woman somewhere around 40 km after I had pulled away from her somewhere around 28-30 km. I was really trying hard to
not crap myself maintain composure in front of all the people cheering and the live TV camera that was following the lead woman! The last km went by and I crossed in 2:28:12 (a 3 minute improvement from last year), 14th overall (an improvement from 23rd last year), and third Canadian behind Kip Kangogo (who ran a conservative 2:21, taking home the $5000 payday for top Canadian!) and John Parrott (who clocked a debut marathon of 2:26:09!).
I’m happy with the PB but I wanted more, obviously, or I wouldn’t have gone out at 2:25 pace! I figured with the forecasted heat, it was a long shot, although the heat wasn’t as bad as anticipated. I can’t be too upset; I gave it my best. My legs are thoroughly thrashed.
This result leaves me feeling a little disillusioned. Do I have much better in me after only improving from 2:31 to 2:28 after a whole year? Admittedly it was a year of ups and downs with a couple tendon injuries but 2:28 is the time I thought I’d run back in the fall of 2014 (a year-and-a-half ago)! And even last year—a whole year ago—I thought I might run 2:23-2:25 in Ottawa. Yet, here I am, now just running 2:28. I’m happy because it’s an improvement from last time and I’m happy that after some injury trouble last year I was able to make it through a short training cycle and get on a starting line… But I have questions unanswered. What more do I need to do? More weights? More hills? More miles? More speed work? More core work? Why have I been thinking I’m capable of faster results but failing to make it happen on race day? Am I naturally better suited for running shorter races? Maybe the 26.2 km race simulation workout I ran should have been on a hilly route to more closely mimc Ottawa. Maybe the weather during my training runs was a few degrees cooler than race day. Should I have adjusted my expectations based on those variables? Maybe. Probably. But I felt like I could do better and I wanted to do better.
Anyway, I’ve got a few weeks to think on this as I give my body some time to rest before I get back to it. Not sure what’s next on the immediate horizon but the Toronto Waterfront marathon will probably be my next goal race in October.
Regardless of the outcome or how I feel about my race, I appreciate everyone who cheered along, gave me a hug or a high five, and supported me in one way or another as I work on this hobby; most especially my wife and my parents! And the insane number of volunteers who helped put on an awesome weekend of road running in Ottawa!