Race report – Ottawa Marathon

Race Date: May 24, 2015

I chose this race as my second marathon because I love the vibe of the city of Ottawa on race weekend. I ran my second half marathon there in 2012 and was really impressed with how excited and welcoming to all the out of town runners the city is.

This was going to be a much different experience for me than the Chicago Marathon was. Although the weekend has about 48,000 runners in 5 different races throughout the weekend, only 5,000 of those were running the marathon. The crowds running my pace would be much sparser than they were in Chicago and I would be running this race, all 42.2km, alone. Totally on my own. With the spotty training I had in the final few weeks leading up to the race due to injury, I had decided to take all pressure off myself. I hadn’t run anything longer than 16km in 4-5 weeks so I had no idea how long my legs would hold out. I had a comfortable, slow pace I was going to run at, and the only goal I had was to complete the race. Based on the pace I had settled on, and allowing for extra walk breaks and additional slow-downs throughout the race that meant a finish time of about 6 hours.

We arrived on Friday which gave us plenty of time to pick up our race kit, shop the expo (a few times), get caught up with friends and relax the day before the race.

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Race kit pick-up and Expo at the Shaw Centre

The race started at 7am so it was great that our hotel was a short 5 minute walk to the start, and with no cut off time to be in the corral, this would allow us to sleep a little longer, prepare in a more relaxed atmosphere and avoid the long lineups at the start line port-a-potties (which is always a bonus). The weather was forecast at 12 celsius at the start of the race climbing to 24 celsius by the time I was expecting to finish. I settled on a light weight tank and my favourite running skirt. I brought arm warmers in case I needed them until I got going but on the way to the start I quickly realized they would not be needed so dropped them in Mike’s bag-check bag.

In the corral I met up with two of my clinic training buddies Stuart and Greg. We chatted for a couple minutes before the gun went off and we started inching our way up to the line. We wished each other a good race, I crossed the mat and started my Garmin and within a few seconds Stuart and Greg were gone.

The first 10km went pretty smoothly. I saw Ginny at 1km cheering us on before her race began in a couple hours. I waved, gave her a high five and carried on down along the canal. That first km was a little fast but I soon settled into my running pace of about 7:25 – 7:30 m/k20x30-OTAX0780m. The runners thinned out pretty quickly but there were still a good number of people around me. The crowd support through here was great. There were tons of people out at 7:00 on a Sunday morning cheering everyone on. I high fived all the kids along the route, the weather was perfect. Cloudy, cool.

The next 10km was a little more challenging. It took us through Tunney’s Pasture and out onto Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway for an out and back before carrying on across the bridge over to Hull. It was at the beginning of this section, around 12km that I started feeling a rubbing on the bottom of my right foot. I stopped just as I turned into Tunney’s Pasture to take off my shoe and sock and used my Chapstick like body glide to stop the rubbing (a trick I learned while training for Chicago through a really hot summer). It seemed to do to the trick. As I headed out to the Parkway I wondered if I would see anyone I knew since it was an out and back section. I looked across the highway at the runners going the other way and spotted Mike coming out of a water station and waved. Not much further along, I spotted Stuart and Greg just heading into that same water station. The temperature was starting to heat up and the sun had come out. It was getting warm on the Parkway with no shady areas to cool us down. Just after I got to the turnaround point I was passed by the 5:30 pace bunny and her small group of runners. It was also along this stretch of the Parkway that we came to our first sponge station. To date, this is the best thing I have ever experienced on a race course. It’s brilliant!”

By the halfway mark I was starting to feel my legs getting tired. Really tired. And the rubbing had started again on the bottom of my foot. Just past the 21km mat I had to stop and apply Chapstick to the bottom of my foot again. Once applied I was back up and running. But my legs were prematurely done. It was around 22km and I had already started taking extra walk breaks. The results of not getting in much running the weeks leading up to the race. The runners had definitely thinned out by this point. The course ran about 5km around Hull and at about 24km I found myself merging with the half marathon participants. There were hordes of people. Running really fast. And I was getting overhauled by them. I looked around and saw the 1:50 pace bunny among the crowds. I started to feel really overwhelmed. Who did I think I was running a full marathon when all these other people were clearly better runners than I was? 20x30-OUAA2996It was really demoralizing. Maybe I’ll just run it in with the half marathon people. Call it quits. And then I heard someone call my name. I looked to my left and saw another friend, Sean, who was running the half. Sean with his big smile, waving at me. I waved back. It gave me a big lift and I was able to continue running over the Alexandra Bridge with its spectacular view back over to Ottawa with all those half marathon runners. Once across the bridge I felt a sense of pride as I made the left turn on Sussex Dr. for the marathon course while the others went right. Here I saw a ton of runners on their way back (they were at 37km and I was at 28km). I looked for, but didn’t see anyone here. At 29km I had to stop one last time to reapply the Chapstick on my foot. This would be the last time. I never felt the rubbing again after this.

From 30km to 38km it was really desolate. There were little to no spectators along this section and runners were few and far between. In fact most of the people around me were burning out and walking.20x30-OTBG1753 I was just happy to be adding some running in there. By this point I couldn’t run more than 2 minutes at a time. The positive was that the sun had gone away and it was cooling down a bit. The support at most of the water stations was still great though. Everyone was energetic and supportive. Helping us refill our bottles, giving us whatever we needed. In fact it was somewhere along here that I saw the best cheering squad. I’m not sure who they were, but they were all dressed in red. And even this far into the race, with so few runners coming through, they kept the energy going. They were excited, funny, and made me laugh. And they made us all feel like we were special.

The last 4km had a lot more spectators. It’s amazing how much crowd support can affect your race. At this point I started to look for other friends from our run community, Doug and Sam, who were going to be cheering around the 40km mark. I wasn’t sure if they would still be there this late in the race but I watched for them anyway. As I approached the turn toward the 40km mat I saw Doug and Sam. They had seen me coming and were coming out onto the road to cheer me on! I was so happy to see them. They gave me high fives and told me I was doing great and it was just what I needed to push through that last 2km. I was able to run a little longer than the 2 minute intervals and the last km brought me back to my original pace from the beginning of the race. Heading to the finish line I saw Mike, Ginny and James waving at me from the VIP area. More support. Big smile. Crossed the line. Happy.

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This race was so different than my first marathon experience. Everyone told me that any marathon I ran after Chicago would be anticlimactic since Chicago was so amazing. I wouldn’t say it was anticlimactic though. This race was harder. The course was more challenging with many small inclines everywhere, it’s a smaller race so there was a lot less runners for me to draw off and I was on my own. I’ve never run that long or that far on my own before.

It was a very humbling experience. One I will never forget.

Besides my usual group of amazing running buddies and of course my partner in life Mike, I really need to give a special thanks to my coaches Vince, Chuck and Kathryn who were always supportive and so accommodating to everyone in our clinic. I learned more from you all in the last 5 months than I ever could have asked for. Also a big thanks to all of my clinic buddies. We were a small but tough group and it’s been a pleasure getting to know all of you.

Official time: 6:04:43.6

Ottawa Race Shirt

Final check-in before race day

In six days I’ll be running my second marathon. Just typing those words is terrifying to me. I haven’t run any long runs since April 12th at which time I felt pretty great. Me and GinnyIt was the third week in a row with a long run in the 30km range.The pain in my right leg was only a little niggling, I felt strong, and I enjoyed a gorgeous spring run that day running the first 16km with Ginny and the last 16km by myself. It was on that run, about 25km in, that I caught myself from a near fall and further strained my right hamstring and that’s when all my troubles began. Since my last post 16 days ago, I’ve had 12 days of complete rest (even walking was painful), missed my last 2 long runs in the training schedule, and had 2 of the most painful runs I’ve ever experienced. The pain in my right leg has moved into my left leg as well and I have been struggling with myself for 2 weeks knowing that I am probably not in any shape to run a marathon. FullSizeRender (4)I was having a hard time coming to terms with that. I don’t quit. Anything. I kept telling myself (as stupid as it sounds, even to me) that I’d rather go out on the course, try my hardest and not finish, than not try at all. I had to try everything I could think of to keep this commitment I made to myself 6 months ago. This past Saturday I had a 16km race pace scheduled and decided that this run was going to be the final deciding factor as to whether I was going to run Ottawa or not. I went into the run in full race day gear, with a slower race pace in mind, popped a mild muscle relaxant before we started and hoped that this would be enough of a tweak to have a pain-free 16km run. The result was interesting to say the least. The run was totally pain-free which was great, but also, since then, I have had almost no pain at all in either of my legs even though I’ve been pretty active and gone on a number of extremely longs walks. So, barring anything crazy happening in the next few days, the decision to run has been made. I’m still terrified. I’ll be running the whole race on my own. I had been hoping to use one of the last long runs to test my mental ability by running it solo, but those runs never happened. The longest I’ve ever run by myself is about 21km, about 2.5 hours. I’m expecting to have a slow finish, somewhere longer than 5.5 hours, and I have no idea what to expect mentally. I’m keeping a positive attitude (nobody would know how terrified I am unless they read this), I’ve filled my iPod with favourite 80s music that I haven’t heard in years to keep my mind occupied and outside of itself, and I’m going to run just run the race 1km at a time. Of course, if I feel like I can’t finish, I won’t risk further injury by plowing through. I’m not that crazy. But at least I’ll know that I tried my hardest, pushed myself as far as I could, and that’s all I can ask of myself. IMG_0360 (1)

22 Days and Counting

It’s been a tough month or so since Around the Bay. My troublesome right hamstring took a turn for the worse a few weeks ago when I took a near tumble and strained it causing further injury. I’ve been struggling with myself trying to do the right thing by resting it, but the fear that I’m going to lose everything I’ve done over the past 4 months has kept me from really giving it a good rest. Until finally, this past Tuesday I realized I just can’t keep running through the pain.

Right from the start of that run, my leg felt sore. Worse than usual. I thought that once I warmed up it would feel better. And it did. Not 100%, but the pain that I was feeling gave way to the familiar ache of the last few months and I continued on my way. Slowly. The difference was that I noticed at the end of the run that my right leg, felt as fatigued as it normally would after I run 25-30km. In fact it felt more fatigued that it did after I ran Around the Bay. The thing was, that I had just run 7.6km.

It was then that I had to concede. I have more issues with that leg than I’ve been letting myself believe. I could not deny it any longer. I decided that was it. No more running until after I saw my physiotherapist a few days later where I would need to make a game plan to get me to the start line of my second marathon.

So after another assessment, the plan as it stands right now is lots of calf stretching, light hamstring stretching, physio treatments twice a week and no running. In fact absolutely no activity that engages my hamstrings at all. Not an easy task. I’m hoping that another week and a half of rest along with the physiotherapy will allow me to get in some easy runs for the last 10-14 days before the marathon. We’ll reassess at each treatment to see where I stand.

Right now, the challenges are: trying to figure out how to get in some cardio workouts doing an activity that does not include activating my hamstring, and keeping myself from going completely bonkers. It’s like going through the taper crazies but you’re not supposed to be tapering yet.

To paraphrase something my very wise running buddy Ginny recently said, for the next few weeks I’ll need to control the struggle between the smart and stubborn runners on my shoulders yapping their opinions at me.

If all goes well, the smart runner will win the fight and make it to the race.

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