Tuesday, April 30, 2019

2019 Forest City Road Race Half Marathon Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike
I’m back. After taking most of last year off and suffering the fitness consequences, it was time to once again don the Sparkle Visor. I did get to do a few races in 2018 but they were all ‘fun’ races…it was now time for me to get competitive again. I have worked hard to get myself back on track in 2019, hopping back on the bike and getting my butt back in the pool. Jackson also wanted to get more serious with triathlon so we joined Balance Point, a local club that offers a kid’s program. We’ve both been able to enjoy some of the group training offered and it has been a good motivation for both of us.

First race up on the 2019 calendar is one of my favourites, the Forest City Road Race Half Marathon. It is my hometown race and this would be my sixth time running it. It is also the race that I set my current PR at back in 2017 so I know I can do well here. I had some extra motivation as well as I turned 40 late last year so I would be competing as a Masters athlete for the first time, beginning a new chapter of my athletic life. To top the day off, Jackson would be running the 5K all on his own. We had a really good training 5K run a few days earlier and he had his eyes set on a new PR.

The forecast was not pretty heading up to race day with predictions of rain, snow, wind and cold temperatures, but as we left the house to head downtown the weather was looking just about perfect for racing. It was still cool but there was very little wind and most importantly it was dry…a great start to the day. We arrived at Victoria Park and Jackson and I went for a short little warmup run to get the legs ready to race. We met up with some other friends, caught up with some folks I hadn’t seen since last season and then headed over to start line. I took a quick look at the guys up at the front and knew right away that they would be out of sight in no time…with Josh Lumani, Seth Marcaccio, Matthew Farquharson and Brandon Laan all toeing the line it was sure to be a fast race up front. There were a few older guys kicking around that were sure to put up a good challenge so the race was going to be tight.

Start to Western University (1K-5K, 19:23, 3:52/km)

The horn went off to start the race and sure enough the four rabbits were off and quickly out of sight. I was 5th off the line but before we even made the second turn around the park another young guy went by me, seemingly huffing and puffing already, so I paid him no mind. I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to last and the gap never grew too much. I checked in on my pace and I was where I had wanted to be for the start, clocking a 3:41 opening kilometer. I was shooting for a steady 3:55/km overall pace but I knew I would always go out quick on this course as we get a nice steady descent for the first couple kilometres heading out of downtown. I kept the pace rich as we made the turn onto Wharncliffe and the climb up towards the University. It was around this turn that I started to hear some feet behind me and a few cheers for another runner as well. Fast Out of the Gate Guy was still up ahead but well within reach. I ran through the intersection at Oxford Street and Michelle was there in the Jeep cheering me on...it was a nice surprise seeing her there and spurred me on as I ran through one of the bigger climbs on the course up Western Road. It was great running along this stretch though as the road was finally repaired last year and unlike years past I didn’t have to dodge any potholes…it used to be like craters of the moon it was so bad, so this was a big improvement!

Western to Old North (6K-10K, 19:24, 3:52/km)

I made the turn into Western University and grabbed a high five from Ken Eastwood to power me on my way. I cruised down the hill at a good clip and used the elevation change to up my pace a touch…I was now almost entirely caught up to Fast Out of the Gate Guy. I grabbed my first energy chew of the day knowing that we were about to hit an aid station and choked it down. When we turned out of the University and came to the aid station I ran past the first few cups and then asked for water…apparently they decided to have Gatorade first/water second at the first aid station that we had already run past, but water first/Gatorade second at this one. Great. I made sure to ask for water right away and not assume anything every time I drank the rest of the race. We entered Gibbons Park at this point and those steps that I could hear behind me were now right on me. A runner pulled up beside me and we introduced ourselves. My new running partner was Brian Murphy, a guy I knew of but had never actually met. He’s a super-fast Masters athlete, way faster than me, so I knew I would have my work cut out for me if I was going to hang with him. Together we ran through the park and chased down Fast Out of the Gate Guy, who was flagging a bit just as we were passing the London Pacers aid station/party and about to hit the meat of the run…the St James Street hill and climb through Old North. We hit the hill and reeled him in up towards the top of the climb, all three of us now running together. The Police and volunteers were doing a great job throughout the course controlling traffic for us but as we came up to the four-way stop at Waterloo Street I noticed that there wasn’t anyone stopping traffic here. I was right beside Fast Out of the Gate Guy and saw that there was a Porsche SUV coming across the intersection in front of us…my runner’s instinct kicked in, having seen this situation too many times before. “Watch that car”, I said, “he’s going to go.” Sure enough the SUV went, then stopped, went again and finally decided to actually stop. He must have seen the stream of runners coming and figured there would be too many witnesses. It didn’t slow us, just a little bit of a hitch and most importantly we were through safely. At the next corner there were two volunteers along with a Police Officer and I told them that the last intersection didn’t have anyone on it and cars were going through…not sure if they sent anyone back but I had done all I could.

Old North to Western (11K-15K, 19:45, 3:57/km)

Right after turning off of St James Street Brian and I left Fast Out of the Gate Guy in our wake. We were running side by side and despite the good paces we were putting out we both seemed strong and in control. We wound our way through the beautiful Old North neighbourhood and down streets I have run plenty of times over the years and took in cheers from the people that live along the route. I heard the familiar sounds of the bagpipes up ahead as we made our way down Victoria Street and my Scottish heritage came out in a big grin…I can’t hear the pipes and not think of my Grandad, always good memories. In typical runner fashion, Brian and I were talking about upcoming races we had on our schedules. He mentioned that he was doing the Ottawa Marathon in about a month’s time and this race he was just going to run at marathon pace. I told him I was feeling good about my pace and then he dropped that on me, to which he then decided to mention that he had already done a 6-mile run before the race. Wow, this guy is a beast. I didn’t really expect his legs to get too tired either given that he was nearing the end of marathon training…this was like a Tuesday evening shakeout run for him! We made the left-hand turn out of Old North onto Adelaide Street and hit a little bit of wind for the first time all day really. It was hardly anything though, certainly nothing to worry about and less than I had ever experienced in my six years doing this race. Then all of a sudden we had company…another runner had caught us and neither Brian or I even heard him coming. We introduced ourselves and it turns out we knew who this guy was well, Paul Travaglini, and I had a pretty good idea that he would leave us behind pretty quickly. We chatted as we made the turn onto Windermere Road and predictably Paul was gone in no time. Brian and I kept right on each other’s shoulder though…occasionally one of us would pull ahead but the gap was never more than a stride or two. Brian lead the way through the corner of Windermere and Richmond as we headed back towards the University and there was the strongest headwind of the day to greet us. For the first time all day I wasn’t really able to answer and I was just hanging on to that stride or two gap. I was trying to respond but at 16K my legs just weren’t having it. My will kicked in and I didn’t let the elastic snap and pulled myself back up onto Brian’s shoulder as we turned back into Western.

Western to Gibbons (16K-20K, 19:15, 3:51/km)

A quick jaunt through Western and then we ducked back into the park system again. Whatever my legs had felt a couple kilometres ago was a memory as I was feeling pretty good again. Brian and I weren’t chatting as much anymore as we were both working hard and I’m sure he was feeling the extra miles he had put in earlier in the day. As we came down the little hill near the Gibbons Pool I gave the slightest of pushes and upped my pace just a touch…and I didn’t hear footsteps. I was pretty sure I had opened a small gap on Brian but there was no way I was going to look back to confirm. I ran through the Pacers aid station for the second time and heard cheers for Brian just a bit further back than they had been before and I kept pushing at the slightly quicker pace. Truth be told he probably had more in the tank but he was sticking to his coach’s plan of holding marathon pace, so I knew I couldn’t let up. I pushed up the hill and left the park at Ann Street towards the final big climb to the finish.

Talbot to Victoria Park Finish (20K-21.1K, 3:43/km)

Onto Talbot Street and I merged in with the tail end of the 5K race. I weaved through the runners and cheered them on to their finish and they cheered me on in return. I felt like I was slowing but knew that the climb was nearly over with as I turned onto Central Ave. I dug deep when I saw the 20K sign knowing that there was just a loop of Victoria Park between me and the finish line. I still didn’t know where Brian was and I wouldn’t hear footsteps anymore with so many other runners around, so I couldn’t let up at all. Running up to the final turn I could hear Michelle cheering up ahead. I think she was actually heckling me, telling me that I was lazy and the winner was done over 10 minutes ago. I made that final turn though and gave my best finishing kick. I saw the clock turn over 1:22 and was pleasantly surprised…I hadn’t looked at my time at all and didn’t realize it until now but I was going to have a new PR! I came across with a time of 1:22:07, which gave me 6th place overall and the Masters win. I turned after the finish and saw Brian coming down the chute, about 30 seconds behind. I congratulated him on a great race and thanked him for pushing me all day. Another minute later one of my Splash n Dash buddies, Matt Feltham. came through to round out the Masters podium.

Michelle and Jackson were at the railing waiting for me and I got to hear all about Jackson’s race…he kicked some 5K butt and ran a 23:38, his fastest 5K ever by a big margin. Awesome result for a 10 year old and one that a lot of adults would be proud to have! I was super happy for him. I came through the food area and got myself cleaned up before heading over to the event tent for the awards ceremony. I was able to catch up with a few other running and triathlon friends, then went up on stage and collected my $100 winner’s cheque. After that we packed up and went off to the Singing Chef to grab some brunch…some well-earned brunch! Let’s just say Jackson made short work of his Smurfberry Pancakes and my Denver Benny Bowl didn’t stand a chance.

Thanks for reading and consider yourselves warned…since I am back to racing that means I’m also back to writing long-winded race recaps!