The Streets of London… Ontario
In my own mind, much had ridden on the 2011 Sun Run two weeks prior. Not only because it was my 38th birthday, but also because I knew I was in shape to hit (a time in) the 35s for the first time… or maybe better. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go to plan. I’ve had eating issues for a large portion of my running career and, though I now have things largely under control, once in a while I take my eye off the ball… and it hits me where it hurts.
An impromptu chicken teriyaki pre-race meal (Saturday eve.) was the kick in the cojones this time. I didn’t have to make any emergency pitstops just west of Spanish Banks — but it did slow me down during the mid-part of the race, as much as I tried to block out the very-yucky feeling of a teriyaki-ed stomach. My 3:35 per K average dropped to 3:48 for Ks 5-9 and my hopes of a Sub-36 time and PB hit the skids. I rallied to still break 37 mins (36:54) — fueled by the phenomenal crowd support — but it very definitely wasn’t my finest hour.
What I needed was another race hot on the heels of the Sun Run to stride out some frustration. And, as luck would have it, that opportunity came in the form of a half-marathon in London (Ontario) last Sunday (May 1). I was principally in London (Canada’s version) to visit my aunt, uncle and cousins who I’d not seen since Christmas 2008, but tied it in with the weekend of the Forest City Road Races — an annual running festival based at the city’s own Victoria Park. The half-marathon kicked off first — at 8am — and took us down through the University of Western Ontario (UWO), the Old North residential district and then back downtown via Richmond St. and the park system (yes, I clearly copied that last bit straight off the race website).
My cousin Jon crewed for me and cousin Jamie also came out to cheer me on just after the start. It was a smallish race, so I knew I’d likely be in the Top 10 — my time from this year’s First Half (1:20:30) would have got me 3rd last year — I was even thinking I could possibly win the thing! Well, a boy can dream.
And I didn’t take ANY chances on the pre-race nutritional front this time. No nuts, bran, fibre or Unidentifed Flying (teriyaki-type) Sauces for that night-before meal. Just 3lb of rice, some scrambled egg, cucumber, tomatoes and stir-fried mushrooms. Plus some rice milk either side of ZZZ-land — and a gel an hour before.
The gun fired and I watched a guy called Matt Suda (who I’d seen at Runner’s Choice when I’d bought some gels 24 hrs earlier) go straight to the front. He looked pretty quick and I’d heard him, on the start-line, say he was looking to run 1:17. There was a pack of about five of us initially — and I was tucked in at the back. We weaved through the streets of downtown London for a while, before heading to the UWO campus and striding through their quarters. Our pack of five broke into a 1-3-1 formation, with the guys in 2nd-to-4th carving out a gap on me. But my times through the early miles were solid, if a fraction fast: 5:43 (Oops! Don’t recall it being too downhill); 5:55; 6:07; 6:01. OK, the average was still a little quick, but I did have (some members of) my family watching.
Through 4 miles I was in 5th place and comfortably ahead of 6th, who I think was the First Lady (with as much pluck and spirit as Michelle Obama). A lead-looking bike had drawn up close to me at one point during Mile 3 — and presumably there was a fast lady not too far behind it. I didn’t look back, just focused on the group of three now about 100 yards ahead of me and running as a tight cluster. To make it onto the overall podium today, I was going to have to reel in this trio.
Mile 5 was a little slower — 6:10 — but I was still on Sub-80 pace (as I so often am for the first 5 miles), hitting 30 mins smack on the nose as I crossed the border into Mile 6 territory. A bit of a hill greeted us during this section; perhaps 3/4 of a mile in distance and enough to sap some of the life out of my legs. 6:32 for this mile reflected that. But Mile 7 was a more respectable 6:14 and Mile 8 6:07, as I focused on catching the group of 3.
Around this point, one of the three broke away in pursuit of the now out-of-sight Suda — though he would ultimately finish some five minutes back in 2nd. I clocked 6:24 for Mile 9 — another hilly (well, more ‘bumpy’) section proving a spanner in my works. But I pressed on, sensing the 4th place guy was there for the taking. A 6:19 (for Mile 10) kept me in the game, before another hilly section slowed me to a 6:33 for Mile 11. I was now feeling it in my legs and tried to dig in.
A 6:28 for the penultimate mile took me within striking distance of 4th and, with the 20k marker in sight and Victoria Park (and the finish) waiting just around the corner, I powered (well, power-shuffled) into 4th place and set about trying to ramp up my pace for the final 1.1k. We negotiated the Central Avenue width, then Talbot St. length of VP, before making the turn into Dufferin and sprinting for the finish. My man in 3rd was way ahead of me at 20k, but I managed to haul him in somewhat… though the $100 for third overall would remain tantalizingly out of reach; nine seconds’ worth.
But I was very satisfied with 4th overall — my finishing time was 1:22:31 (1:22:29 chip) — and I even bagged a back-pack for winning my (M35-39) age group. Not a bad morning’s work and I was happy I’d ‘earned my breakfast’.
I felt for the 10k guys who set off at 10am — 10 minutes after the heavens had opened and drenched them before the race had got underway. But they braved the elements stoutly, and the winner still managed a time in the low 35s.
My attentions now turn to Sandcastle 10k (in White Rock), where I’ll have another bash at a Sub-36 — and then the Scotiabank Half in late June, where I’ll be sweating blood and bone marrow to finally break that elusive 80-minute mark.
Big thanks to Kintec, New Balance, SmartWool socks and the excellent organizers of the Forest City Road Races.