The last two runnings of The County Marathon I served as the 3:30 full marathon pacer and while I knew that the goal was to finish within about 60 seconds (either way) of the target time I somehow managed to cross the last timing mats at precisely 3:29:40. With those two bunny stats in the record books I had to take a shot at the trifecta.
I was grateful to have once again been contacted by the pacer team lead Erin McDougall to help out at this year's edition of the race, and to have been able to make the road trip for a third year in a row with my good friend Lewis (who would be a pacer for the half-marathon for a second time). Lewis and I had hoped to perhaps see a few more of our fellow RunNinjas join us for this weekend extravaganza but alas conflicting race goals (e.g. Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon) and other obligations left it to us to carry the torch for MEC Barrie out in Picton.
A few changes had been implemented to the 2016 race due to some construction that has affected the main street in Picton, so the finishing stretch of the race route had changed along with the race kit pick-up site. In previous years the pick-up/mini expo had taken place at the Crystal Palace located by the old finish line but this year we headed to the Essroc Arena right by the start line of the full marathon. The expo has always been a no-muss no-fuss affair with a line-less kit pick-up, usual chat with race director Kailey and technical advisor Tim and a brief browse of the Runners' Choice retail booth. This year was not much different, but it definitely had even more of an 'economy' feel to it - the physical space was smaller, as pacers we were provided with simple cardboard bunny ears (not laminated as in previous years - read on for more about this ...) to affix to our own hats or provided wooden dowels, and safety vests in place of the oft-expected technical race shirts.
I'm not complaining ... the cheezies went down nicely!
Not wanting to throw too many variables into the mix Lewis and I checked in to the same hotel we'd stayed at two years' prior (Mastersons Motel) in nearby Napanee and also took in our dinnertime meal at the same restaurant we'd hit up for three trips in a row now.
After dinner all that was left was to put the finishing touches on our race day outfits, take in a little Blue Jays action, and konk out for the night (at 8pm for me).
While waiting in the Essroc Arena for the call to head to the starting corral I met up with Erin and the favourite to win this year's full marathon - Evans Maiko from Kenya.
Does it look like Maiko is ready to rock it? :)
Gilbert Kiptoo had been the winner from the past few years and was unable to join in for 2016, but Maiko was his friend and running partner (both now living in Hamilton during the race season in Canada) and so it was great to meet him and chat for a little bit. He seemed a little on the anxious side given that this was his first experience at The County Marathon ... but let's not confuse anxiety with nervousness. He had a definite air of confidence surrounding him.
At the start I found a few folks who were aiming to go 3:30 for the day, including Richard who had run with me last year and remembered me trying to coax him along. I laid out my plan to try to hit even halfway splits, noting that the hill at around 37km is a notorious point at which the pace group does tend to splinter (if it's stuck together for that long).
Yep - my first ever run in the Skechers GOMeb Speed Elite was a marathon. Don't do this at home kids!
Our gang was a decently sized one, and in the pack were a former third-place finisher at The County Marathon (Ken), a guy who'd represented Canada in the 2013 ITU Duathalon World Champtionships (Lee), and someone who traveled from Stayner to run his first marathon ever (Gabe). Everyone was chatty enough, sharing stories of favourite races and what drew them to Picton for this particular event. It was great to see how we even formed a sense of community as one other runner noted that Gabe had lost a pin from his race bib and it was about to go flying - so Ken offered up an extra safety pin that he happened to have tucked in a pocket in his shorts!
While the pack seemed to spread out by about the 20k mark we were all still within shouting distance (for me, as I tried to send out words of encouragement and the occasional tip about running tangents, even efforts into the wind/uphill and taking nutrition before you feel you need it) and managing to stay up on our target pace by 25-40 seconds. It was great to cross the halfway mark and high-five Lewis as he waited for the half-marathon to start, as well as my friends Dave and Sandy who were also serving as pacers for the day. Passing by the start point for the half-marathon while the racers are all still waiting to begin is a rush because we get the benefit of going through a bit of a cheer tunnel, and it's truly invigorating.
Half-way split: 1:44:24
Things strung out earlier than I expected for our group with Lee experiencing some hamstring spasms and everyone else slowly drifting off of the back by the 23k marker. By the 25k point I picked up Amanda (who was quiet due to having her earbuds in and being somewhat more reserved in personality I gather) and Hillary (who had started out fast with a friend but then backed off when the pace was much richer than she'd planned for). Hillary was running only her second marathon but was hopeful to clock another BQ (she'd managed to scrape in a BQ in her first race but had a conflict for the 2017 Boston Marathon so did not register). In the course of our chatting I discovered that she was a classically-trained vocalist enrolled in a post-grad degree in vocal performance and had toured Italy with an opera production ... talk about interesting characters you meet on the run!
Hillary, Amanda and I managed to hang together through the marathoner's graveyard (28k-32k, just after which Amanda began to drop off the pace). One of the things that I noted for myself was that while I was watching to see how consistently we were staying in front of the prescribed pace-band splits at each kilometre marker I neglected to pay as close attention to my own fueling pattern. It may have been because I was fiddling so often with my bristol-board bunny ears that kept drooping and slapping the side of my head - here's where it would have been handy to have the ears laminated again as that would have kept them upright and not a physical distraction. In any event I was taking gels rather haphazardly as a result although to no detrimental effect it seemed - perhaps because I was hovering within a comfortable-ish effort level. Still, this is something that I'll need to be more focused on in a few weeks as I go for my own new PB at the Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope.
As we approached the 'big climb' at 37.5k I offered a few words of encouragement to Hillary (who was now just a couple of metres behind me with each step) and kept the speed on cruise control. We entered downtown Picton and with the weather having turned out to be absolutely gorgeous (closing in 20°C and mostly sunny, where the forecast leading up to race-day had predicted drizzly, cool, breezy conditions) there were a good number of spectators lining the main street and based on the gap between cheers & applause I could tell that Hillary was only a few seconds behind me without even having to look.
The 2016 route detour took us off of the main drag and through a few side streets - which honestly was a pleasant change as there were again more people sitting out on the front lawns rooting us on to the finish, and closer to the road than they might have been on the double-wide main thoroughfare. With a quick right and final left we entered the 300m straightaway to the finish line that still essentially ended up adjacent to the Crystal Palace. Hillary was giving it a strong finish and so I slowed ever-so-slightly to let her stay ahead of me in the finishing chute and cross in an impressive 3:29:38.
That left me crossing in 3:29:42.
Two seconds over. :P
I hung out in the finishing straightaway to cheer on Amanda, Gabe, Ken, Lee, Laura, John and a few others (nevermind having to wait for Lewis to finish as the 2:10 half pacer). During this time I saw Tim (the race technical director) speedily attending to a half-marathoner who was wobbling terribly on the second last turn, only half a kilometre from the finish. He waved for additional help so I ran down to the finish line to notify Kailey and the on-site medical team, and together we ran back to meet Tim who was now with the downed Dean on the grass at the roadside. A bike patrol police officer was also there to help by this point as well as some of the local residents who brought water and a blanket for Dean. He was responsive and aware of his surroundings but blurred in speech and slightly drooling - on spec it appeared to be a case of dehydration, but we left it up to the paramedics who arrived by ambulance just a couple of minutes after I returned with the medical volunteers. After Dean was taken away by ambulance I didn't hear how he fared, so I'm hoping for the best.
After Lewis came in (at a spot-on 2:10:01!) we hung around a bit for the awards ceremony to see Maiko claim his trophy, and also (to my great pleasure) to see Hillary claim third female overall!
Kenyan dominance continues at The County Marathon!
It was another great time in a beautiful part of our province - I would again wholeheartedly recommend The County Marathon as an event to put on your list of potential fall races. The people are great, the competition top-notch and the scenery not to be missed!
Race gear for the 2016 County Marathon:
- Special edition MEC RUN technical shirt
- Skechers Performance split short
- DeFeet Levitator Trail socks
- Skechers GOMeb Speed Elite
- Epson Runsense SF-810 GPS watch