Ottawa Race Weekend – Half-Marathon

The big test of the physiotherapy was here. I partially tore a muscle in my left calf on April 2 (and April 7 and April 20…) so my early season goal of 1:35 turned into an early season goal of just running. With some solid work and coaching from Aaron at PSI, the muscle has changed from painful to sore to stiff to not bad over the last 5 weeks. Now the big question remained – how much of the base that I built over the winter remained?

The conditions at the start were really nice – a touch of coolness and some lingering fog were almost ideal for running. My new target was to see how long I could stay with the 1:40 pace group and drop back if it proved too difficult. This was my first time I’d run in such a large event, with thousands of runners instead of hundreds. Once I got to the start, I realized why they are called corrals. I could see the 1:40 sign but there were probably a thousand between between me and it. On the plus side, it was a chance to run free at my own pace instead.

The run itself turned out to be fairly straightforward if you just put yourself in the moment. It was difficult to establish a good pace over the first three or four kilometers as the sheer volume of traffic dictated where and how fast you could go. My brief experiment with running to the side on the grass almost came to an inglorious conclusion when I didn’t see the first water station approaching – 10 feet from a self-imposed Gatorade shower…

The first highlight of the run for me was the stretch from Dow’s Lake to Tunney’s Pasture as we ran through the neighbourhoods. I’ve never been a big fan of Kiss, but you have to hand it to the garage bands who set up their equipment along the route to hammer out a few tunes for the passing runners. Note to race organizers: do everything you can to encourage this; the energy from Soca groups is extremely catchy.

The heat started to build by the midway point of the race, which normally wouldn’t be too big of a deal. With the late spring this year, there was the open question of how well the body has adjusted to the recent increase in temperature. It turned out to not be too bad with liberal dumpings of water on my head to keep cool, but I sure wouldn’t want to have started an hour or two later.

The stretch from the War Museum through Hull to Rideau was definitely the toughest portion as the course became decidely rolling. It wasn’t horrible but it definitely required concentration and a bit of goal planning – shorten the stride a little, keep the cadence high, ease off and rest a little on the downhills. The view from the Alexandra Bridge was worth the price of admission alone with beautiful vistas both up- and down-river.

The next big highlight for me was the finishing stretch from Rideau. The crowds were consistently three and four deep and very enthusiastic. I reminded me of the crowds you see on the climbs in the major cycling tours, complete with road narrowings to further amplify the affect. Amazing, I managed to make eye contact with Annika as I passed the Laurier bridge and exchanged a little wave and smile.

The last two kilometers became an exercise in mathematics and muscle memory from the training as I counted down the final minutes. The mind is always trying to trick you into slowing down or stopping, but the training runs are your proof that the mind can’t always be trusted. A final kick over the last 200 meters and I was home in 1:42:13. Not what I was hoping for at the start of the year, but very acceptable given the injury in April.

Big takeaways looking back over the race:

  • get to the corral earlier next year to avoid congestion on the road – the Garmin tells me I spent 150m+ weaving and going wide
  • my pacing is pretty good; the worst kilometer was 5:00 and it included a big uphill
  • your legs feel way better after the race when you wear compression socks – Zoot for the win!
  • my next shoes need to be a half size bigger