Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ottawa Half-Marathon 2009

I love the Ottawa race weekend. There are always so many racers and people to cheer us on. This year was no different with the half marathon selling out again at over 10,000 racers.

We got to downtown at about 8:30am, about half an hour before the start. There weren't too many parkings available so Alex dropped me off near the start line so I could get a move on the pre-race rituals of lining up for the washroom and do my stretching. He was able to find parking in time to meet me again before the start of the race, where he took this picture where I look very confident:
I then tried to find a way to enter the Orange corral. The fences had to be moved a bit to make room for all the extra runners. You would have thought we were some kind of livestock getting herded towards the slaughter house. Once in there with everyone close to one another, it got hot real quick, why did I have to wear a black shirt?? People were packed so tight, I couldn't even turn around to reach my water bottle. I waited about 5 to 10 minutes until finally the race started. It took me a little less than 2 minutes to reach the start line where Alex had taken a position somewhere to get a good picture of me warming up. I didn't even see him, but here is what he got:
The start felt pretty slow but the Garmin was telling me I was doing pretty good so I didn't push it. I'm used to starting way back in the corral and having to make my way up to the front, so that probably explains it. While I didn't feel like the superstar runner passing everyone, like I usually do, I still felt pretty strong. I was a bit thirsty early on so bringing my own water was definitively a saving point. My bottle was already almost empty by the time I reached the second water station.

Everyone went by parliament hill, the national archives and then the war museum. Ottawa has so many great landmarks you don't ever get bored while running this course. When we got into Gatineau, a huge banner welcomed us. They really have started to get involved in the race weekend, that is great! I skipped the first water station since I was carrying my own water. I took advantage of the slowdown created by the runners stopping for water to get myself in a space where there was a bit more room to move around.

Don't get me wrong here, I love Hull and it has tons of character and charm. But the next leg of the race was not my favorite last year and again this year it felt odd. The course takes a short detour through downtown Hull where you can see some unique sights such as dilapidated houses and be cheered on by patrons from a local drinking hole that stepped outside for a bit of fresh air. Definitively a unique experience. And hilly too. This is probably the hilliest part of the course which caused the Garmin to annoy me a bit about being slow and it brought me back into gear. Once we emerged from the historical portion of the Hull leg, we are greeted by the Museum of Civilization. From this point on, it is a course I run often at lunchtime, so I knew every little detail. I grabbed a powergel pack from the friendly race volunteers and kept chugging along. I don't really use the powergel during races but I can always use it later.

Coming back into Ottawa, we crossed the Alexandra bridge which is undergoing renovations. I was glad to be back into Ottawa as there are always more, much more, cheerers and supporters. Thank you guys for giving me a second wind with you hurrays and whistles. I must have been pretty deep into the zone since I don't really remember how hard it was. I remember thinking I was going pretty hard and needed to keep going hard in order to meet my goal. I settled into a routine at the water stations where I would gulp the sports drink cup (splashing myself all over in the process), then proceed to splash a cup of water over my head, arms and face and take another cup of water that I would store in my bottle for sipping in between the water stations. That's a pretty good rhythm that I will probably use again the future. The water stations weren't that sparse in between, despite the joking of a volunteer that his water station (fairly early in the race) was the last one for 16km. I find it more efficient to drink out of a bottle and also to drink smaller amounts, more often, so the bottle was a great idea. My only issue with the water station is that some of the sports drinks were mixed a bit too thin for my taste and that they never had the blue flavor ;) At one station, I almost drowned myself when I splashed the water into my nose by accident, hehehe. It was refreshing that's for sure.

Continuing on, my next focus point would be Pretoria bridge, where I knew Alex would be waiting for me if everything went according to plans. Never mind my pre-race calculations that I would be there at 10:30 (how did I ever calculate that, I'm not sure even now), even if it was only about 10 he was already there. Seeing him gave me such a power boost. It was so good to see his beautiful smiling face and his arm waiving at me. I knew he'd be upset for me doing so in such a public place, but I had no choice but to yell out how much I loved him. He took this great action picture of me:
Going alongside the Rideau Canal and seeing the finishers on the other side on their way to victory in weather that I thought was pretty hot made me want to jump in and swim across :) I kept going past Landsdown park and under the beautiful Bank Street bridge, knowing the turnaround point was coming up shortly.

I remember thinking how well it was going. In every race, there is a point where you know you will meet your goal or not. This point was between Bank Street and Bronson for me. I realized that unless something major happened, I would beat my PB. The only question then was by how much and whether or not I could come in under 1:40. So I kept pushing and pushing, knowing that whatever happened, I would have done my best and left nothing on the course. The usual lull that I experience in a half marathon at about km 16 didn't really bother me this time around. I enjoyed the sights at Dow's lake (briefly) and then I was on the final stretch to the finish. My marathon experience of last year probably prepared me for longer distances, making a half more enjoyable...

As I closed in on the finish line, kilometer by kilometer, the spectators got even denser and the shouts of encouragement even louder. By the time I made it to Pretoria bridge, the roar of the crowd was no longer distinct shouts for individual athletes but an overwhelming energy surge meant to propel us runners faster. I literally drank those encouragements in as I steadily increased my speed towards the finish line. When I saw that 1km marker, I knew I was in for a treat. I could taste the finish already, goosebumps everywhere on my hot sweaty body. I didn't feel my legs anymore, the surge of adrenalin was so intense, the focus so sharp. This was life in full detail, high definition and surround sound. If I needed a reason to run, this would be it. At the 500m marker, I knew it was time to let it all out. All I could focus on was the space between runners where I could pass them. The crowds on both sides and even overhead on the platform were now a peripheral part of my experience. The Garmin tells me I went 19.4km/h. I believe it.

Then, this happened:
Again, Alex found a way to position himself just right to get that perfect shot. I don't know how he does it but I'm really thankful. Here is the official stat:

Place TimeChipPaceCat. PlaceGender
6661:41:52.21:40:24.9 4:50 77/419563/39150:42:50

Interesting fact that I came in 666 :) In a deep field of 10,000 athletes I feel pretty good. 77 out of 419 for my age group feels pretty awesome as well. I have my work cut out for me next year if I want to improve my time further. My ranking may get a boost as I will move on to the next category. We shall see then. My focus for now is a week of recovery and a look at my game plan for the summer to switch into triathlon mode.

For the stats oriented folks, here are all the numbers:
You can see my speed was mostly even in the zone that I programmed the Garmin to keep me in. My slowest kilometers were the first and 19th, with everything else under 4:50. The last "lap" is 1.39km, bringing my pace at 4:22min/km.
M Spd

Here is the medal this year. It's one of those rotating things:
I called my mom after the race to tell her I was safe and that I had reached my objective. Her first question was how much weight I had lost. Lol. I run for fun and to push the limit, if there is weight loss it's purely side effects. With the pasta dinner the night before, the sports drinks during the race and the after race bagel, yogurt and banana, I don't think there's a calorie deficiency in this runner.

We met up with a friend after the race and went to Harvey's for our free burgers. We got really lucky at the Elgin street location at around 11:30 there was no lineup. By the time we left there was at least 30 minutes of waiting. We enjoyed our snack in the sunshine and then headed home for a much deserved shower followed by a nap.

I'm feeling pretty good today. My runner's high is dissipating and I do have some pain in my legs when I go down the stairs ;)

I'd like to thank Alex for all his support throughout the year, putting up with my training and providing some spectacular photography on top of his moral support and post-race leg massages. Also a big thank you to all the race volunteers, cheerers, family, friends and anonymous people who made this race the best one ever for me. Oh, yeah, organizers and sponsors also: thank you!


  1. Hi there - just found your blog through Marlene's. Congrats on your awesome time and the pics are great! It must be so terrific running in a race with so many. And HOW COOL is it that you get your time on the back of the medal?! LOVE it!

  2. Good job on your race, wasn't it crazy at the start!!!

    So? Next year the marathon???

  3. Excellent race report! It was a bit of a blur for me, so I enjoyed reading about the course from your perspective.

    You ran a strong race! Congrats!!!

  4. Lily, been there done that. My schedule is not running friendly as it used to be, so I am trying a new challenge: a triathlon in the fall. I'll see you at the Canadian if you go ahead with your plan...

  5. CONGRATS on your PR!! You sure do look like you're having fun in that one photo where you're waving. Great race report. I look forward to hearing about your delve into triathlons.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog!