while i did not cap off the season on a high note, it was nonetheless an excellent experience and has me poised to take on 2014 with as much vigour and determination as ever.
it was only a couple of weeks ago that i was last at confederation park to race the MEC burlington race series five (10k). that day it was a rather demure place - but on the saturday that i visited the hamilton marathon expo it was buzzing with people as the 5k and 10k races were slated for that day.
overcast, cool and rainy, it was not the most pleasant day to be traipsing around the field at the park. to the credit of the Hamilton Marathon organizers, it was not a complicated task retrieving the race kit (one tent) and then perusing the expo vendors (tent next door). it helps that i'd been here last year and knew the drill, but all the same it was very straightforward.
i actually find the road2hope expo to be just the right size - not too much in the way of promotions from other races, just a couple of local running store retailers (peddling the expected 3-for-$5.00 gel deals), and some nutrition freebies/taste tests. especially appreciated was the latter, as the honeymaxx sports drink being served on-course was not one that i'd tried - but with the tasting booth set-up i was able to at least figure out how easy it would be to down ... and the lemon-lime went down just fine.
after collecting everything that i needed (for me and for trevor), it was a quick turnaround for the 100 minute drive back home.
lewis, trevor and i made the trip down to burlington together early (5:00 am) on sunday morning - the saving grace for us was that it was the 'fall back' part of the daylight savings time observance, so we were all pretty wide-eyed and bushy-tailed for that time of the day.
we arrived at one of the parking lots near the start line (lewis' intention was to volunteer, so we didn't have to park at the finish line and shuttlebus up) and quickly made our way in the building at arcelor-mittal park. we hoped to spot our friends norm and kathleen (both first time marathoners) and their families, as well as connect with stan. a bit of stretching ensued, as well as porta-potty lineups, but alas no norm, kathleen or stan.
trevor and i headed out for a few kms of warmup, during which time we did come across stan. he looked ready to rock, as he was aiming for a sub-2:50 time. we noted that the conditions were decent, albeit a bit on the breezy side. when the sun peeked out it was quite refreshing - and when shrouded behind cover, the temps snuck closer toward bone-chilling.
as the cattle call to lineup in the starting chute was issued, we managed to spot kathleen doing her final line-up for relief, and so was able to wish her the best. trevor and i then introduced ourselves to the 3:15 pacer (since that was my goal - remember that) who was a jovial and encouraging cat named harvey.
i should have known that edging our way closer to the front (ahead of harvey and the 3:15ers) was a precursor of things to come.
fast forward ...
the first 21km were really quite uneventful, in all of the right ways. the route which winds through the hamilton mountain countryside was enjoyable and tranquil. trevor was again a courteous and efficient pacer, pointing me toward the flattest part of the road, allowing me to take the tightest tangents, and giving me the regular thumbs-up to indicating that we were on track. i had a few conversations with other runners here and there, but really limited the chit-chat as my coach this summer told me that talking uses up energy, so to keep it in reserve instead. from time to time it was convenient/helpful to tuck in behind a taller runner and draft as the wind was a noticeable factor in various open stretches of road.
as we started to crest our way toward the parkway and longest downhill stretch of the race, i started to breakaway from trevor and fell in with two other runners as we took turns drafting and leading.
related digression: there's a verse from the christian scriptures that goes like this ...
"I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate." ~ romans 7:15 (new living translation)
at this point of the game i was on pace for a 3:10 marathon. while padding my ego, that was not the game plan. and i was hoping beyond hope that this would not come back to bite me in the butt.
25k ... 26k ... 27k ... 28k ... 29k .... 30k. so far so good. no breathing problems à la erie marathon. still on track with a 4:32/km pace, having fought the wind on the parkway.
♪ ♫ ♩ ♬ i believe i can fly ... ♩ ♬ ♪ ♫
well, i don't think that i need to tell you what happened next.
the trusty ol' GPS watch started to feed back to me that my kilometre splits were creeping up toward 5:00 per. then i started to watch as some familiar faces stride past me. i feared the worst as at around 33km i heard what sounded like one of the pace bunnies pumping our motivational words to his pack of runners - and they were drawing closer and closer.
sure enough, it was our man harvey.
honestly, i was surprised to see about 12 runners still hanging with 3:15 harvey. last year at this point, there were only about four runners with the 3:15 pacer, of which i was one. knowing that i'd made it to the 35km mark with the 3:15 group last year, i grit my teeth and tried my hardest to stick with this pack before they lost me.
but to no avail.
the feet were failing me now. the stride turnover could not keep up, and painfully i watched the 3:15 pull toward the horizon without me. it was quite deflating knowing that i was not going to be able to hit my target once again, but all the same i pushed and pushed - one km at a time - and somehow did manage to regain some form for the finishing straightaway.
crossed the line in 3:25:10 and immediately had my left hamstring seize up like crazy. couldn't walk, but thankfully my pal lewis was there to greet me/hold me up/escort me to the medical tent. i only needed a bit of water and a quick sit in the 'waiting room' chair, but it was my first interaction with the nurses at any race. i'm one step closer to being like one of my idols, yuki kawauchi, who pretty much passes out at the conclusion of every marathon.
lewis and i waited for trevor to finish - i'd assumed he'd be more or less right behind me (given his 3:38 finish in mississauga) but apparently quad spasms overtook him and it was past the 4hr mark before he crossed the finish. i managed to also see kathleen cross (absolutely elated), but had to dash before norm completed the race. i was truly bummed about that, as this was a bucket list item for him - to complete a marathon by the time that he turned 50.
the trip home was pretty serene for lewis, as he drove with two dopey (and sleepy) passengers. i felt a bit nauseous along the way - not as bad as stan mind you - but it was probably a combination of fatigue and too many post-race pizza fingers.
so another BQ opportunity missed. i will still some time to process it all, but i think that the big lessons for me were:
- don't be so dumb next time - there's a reason that absolutely everyone warns of going out too fast. i'm confident that my conditioning would have seen me much closer to 3:15 had i run the first half more conservatively.
- i can run a marathon non-stop. i'd never done that before - all of my other races i'd walked through most of the aid stations.
- a spasm can be worked out while still moving. at 35k my right hamstring went completely, but i determined not to stop running - and while there were several metres of modified stride, eventually i regained full elasticity and use.
- the fueling formula is still a bit of a mystery. my first marathon involved five full gels - this one only needed three.
- i like training on higher mileage plans, like 100-120km per week.
what's next? well, i'm thinking of taking on a trail ultra next summer, as well as possibly pacing a friend of mine through a 100km run for charity in the late winter. as far as BQ opportunities go, look for me at mississauga in may once again.