Yesterday was marathon number 13 for me and my 7th consecutive one here at home. It was my latest effort and chasing a so far elusive Boston qualifying time.
Race Weekend here in Ottawa has become one of my favourite weekends of the year and this year’s experience did nothing to change that. It is a great event both in terms of organization and crowd support and something our city can really take pride in.
A surprise 1:30 pb in a half-marathon in April left no doubt in mind that I was ready to take a shot at a sub 3:10 marathon again. Two weeks of just over 100 km in mileage before I started to taper certainly helped keep me confident as well.
The conditions to start the marathon yesterday were great with it being overcast and cool. Unfortunately with a forecasted high of 27 I knew I would likely have to deal with the heat at some point during the race.
If you have followed my training at all this year you will know that I tried running a few races at shorter distances without my Garmin. Since the results were positive I planned to do the same yesterday, although this time I did have it on my wrist as a back-up plan in case I lost track of the 3:10 pace bunny.
As planned I started with the 3:10 pace bunny who advised runners around him that he was aiming for a 3:08-3:09 finish to give a buffer to those aiming for a Boston qualifying time. That fit right in with my plan and I planned to stick with the group.
For those not familiar with it here is what the course looks like…
The first 5 km sees you leave downtown and head down along the Rideau Canal after passing the War Memorial. The crowds are pretty big at the start but start to thin out as you head to the canal since it is still early. I was lucky to spot my family in the crowd a few hundred metres after we started. I crossed the mat at the 5 km mark in 22:16 which had me right on pace.
The next 5 km of the course takes runners away from the canal and back to a residential area. Once again this year we were greeted by a samba band and and a large crowd lining the street as soon as we turned on to Wellington at the 9 km mark. I find it hard not to get caught up in the moment and start running faster when I hit this part of the course. I crossed the 10 km mat in 43:57 which had me on pace for a 3:04 finish.
The next 5 km of the course was quieter as the crowds thinned out and we headed toward the Ottawa River Parkway via a complex of government buildings. This portion of the course can be tough if you are struggling or the weather is bad. I was still feeling good at this point and was still with the 3:10 pace bunny. I crossed the 15 km mat in 1:06 which still had me slightly ahead of my goal time.
The next stretch, also along the parkway, went well. At this point we were once again greeted by large crowds in front of the War Museum as we headed across the Ottawa River into Quebec. This section of the course tends to be hillier and includes several turns. Fortunately for runners the organizers made slight changes this year to remove a hill and some of the turns. I was still going strong at this point and crossed the halfway point in 1:32:45 which still had me ahead of pace.
Following the halway point the course wound through downtown Gatineau and back the river where we crossed back into Ottawa. I hit the 25 km 1:49:27 mark just before crossing the river. It was just after this point last year that I started to suffer calf cramps that slowed me down the rest of the way. At this point yesterday I was still going strong with no signs of oncoming muscle cramps.
Once back in Ottawa we headed down Sussex Dr. past the residences of the Prime Minister and the Governor General. This stretch is an out and back stretch and as I was reaching the 27 mark I saw Canadian runner Rob Watson headed back downtown toward the finish. Shortly after the lead women went by me. Out and back stretches can be demoralizing but I was still feeling strong at this point. I hit the 30 km mat in 2:12:17. By this time I had lost a couple of minutes but I was still with the 3:10 group and was still ahead of schedule.
The 30-32 km stretch is another quiet one since it is once along along the river parkway. It can be another tough point of the race depending on how you feel or the weather. I was still going strong at this point despite the fact it was starting to get hot. After the 32 km mark the course heads back into another residential area where crowds are once again out to support the runners. Around the 35 km mark I fell back of the pace bunny but could still see him ahead of me. I crossed the mat in 2:35 which had me on pace for a 3:08 finish.
Unfortunately the next stretch is the one that broke me yesterday. I tried to keep pushing ahead but my quads started burning and were feeling heavier. I knew the water station at the 36 km mark would have a large and boisterous crowd and hoped that would help push me through. Since I was starting to stuggle I decided to walk through the water station as I grabbed a drink and water to dump over my head. If you’ve run a marathon before you’ll know it is very difficult to get going again when you stop this late. I struggled to get back into my rhythm from this point on.
Following that water station the next stretch involves heading back onto Sussex for the previously mentioned out and back portion. I stopped a couple more times along this stretch for water and sponges to cool off. Once I hit the 38 km mark I knew there would be big crowds lining the rest of the course and hoped to draw from that to make a final push to the finish line. I crossed the 40 km mat in 3:00:57 knowing I would still be close to a 3:10 finish but not quick enough to qualify for Boston.
I managed to push myself across the finish line in 3:12:17, once again close to my Boston qualifying time but not quite was I was aiming for. On a positive note it was a new personal best time, 8 seconds faster than my time here two years ago. That is certainly something to be happy about.
Next up will be the Philadelphia Marathon in November. One of the benefits of getting older is moving up in age categories. Starting in the fall I will gain an extra 5:00 to my Boston qualifying time. Hopefully I will be able to put that to use and get that elusive qualifying time. A repeat of yesterday’s run would confirm my presence in Boston in 2017.