The triathlon training blog of Phil Barnes

Race Report: ING Ottawa Half-Marathon; May 28, 2006.

This was going to be my “A” race for 2006. The half-marathon, 21.1 kilometers. I signed up in January, and assigned myself the goal of 1:45 for finish time. This was based on holding an average pace of 5 minutes per kilometre (approximately 8 minute miles).

I arrived at the start line five months later, with a training log filled with hap-hazard runs. Mostly runs in the 8K range, at a slow pace. A few shorter speed workouts. One or two longer tempo runs, and a couple of 17K runs. No formal or logical training plan – life always seems to get in the way, and I’m fine with that.

I joined my 6,000 fellow runners, and wedged myself into the starting grid, about half way between the 1:45 and 2:00 sections. I figured I didn’t want to go out too fast, and hoped that I’d be safe from getting trampled. I assumed the start would be fast regardless of where I was. I figured I’d be ideally located.

By 10:15 (official start time), it was a shaping up to be a hot day – no cloud cover, little wind and lots of sun. We started nudging up slowly, rounds of applause echoed as each wave crossed the “chip” start line. Our group crossed over the line. As we did, the starter announced something to the effect of, “remember, it’s a hot day today, adjust your pace, and remember to hydrate”.

We were off. I smiled, and pumped my fist as I crossed under the banner. The crowd of was unbelievable, runners as far as the eye could see. The pace seemed slow, it was impossible to run any faster than the group. I wasn’t worried, I assumed the group would thin out shortly, and I would be able to get into my rhythm.

1 Km 5:15, ok, not bad. A little disappointed, I definitely wanted to be sub 5 minutes, so that I would have some time in the bank. I was starting off, in debt already. But I wasn’t going to sweat 15 seconds. The group was still tightly packed.

2 Km 10:12 ish. Ok, not bad. I’m eating away at the deficit. The group was still tight, but beginning to loosen up. I started to run a little faster, and push up a bit.

Kilometers 2 to 7, running well. Not too fast, but not too slow. I’ve almost caught up to my goal pace. I’m pleasantly surprised with the number of spectators cheering along the way. But DAMN the sun is hot. We’re running right into it, with very little options for shade.

Kilometer 8, more or less around the top of Colonel By parkway, just past Carleton University: Initiate meltdown sequence. I don’t know if it was the slow gradual climb, or the combination of that plus the heat, but by this point I’m feeling drained. It’s not for lack of fluids – I have my fuel belt on, and have been sipping Gatorade and water at appropriate locations.

Kilometer 9-13 Hogg’s back to “the endless switchback”. There’s a point in the course (around here somewhere) where the course, double-backs on itself. So all of a sudden, you’re running along side other runners who are coming back. At this point, I was feeling rather fed up with the race, and it just seemed logical to me, to say, to heck with it, and cross over, skipping a chunk of the course. In retrospect, it seems totally absurd to have even entertained the idea – but mentally, I was just so fatigued. I did not take the shortcut, and I’m glad I didn’t. But, it gave me a totally new understanding of why some people might do this sort of thing. (Not that I’m condoning it.)

I did struggle through it. The switchback finally “vertexed”, and there was a station set up with an improvised garden hose/shower . It was very relieving to run through that. Running back against the oncoming runners, I noticed the 1:50 pace bunny. That group seemed to be at least 5 minutes behind me, so I was a little energised by that… until I realized that their chip time, may be 5 minutes behind me to begin with.

Run, run, run. It was sure hot. The run down Prince of Wales drive was were the steamroller started. For the first half of the race, I was mostly passing people. From this point on, I was mostly being passed. My complete mental state was shot. All I could think of was just finishing. I held on the glimmer of perhaps finishing at 1:50. My math skills weren’t the best at that point.

At the round-a-bout, across from the agricultural museum, I did the unthinkable…. I walked through a water station. The feelings of guilt and shame coupled with the agony in my thighs was crushing. I quickly got over that, and thought to myself, “Damn, this feels good. Hey, I’m running a half-marathon, I deserve this little luxury.”

I picked up the pace a bit.

Dow’s Lake… and my good deed. Around kilometre 16/17, we were picking up the slower Marathoners (their race started 3:15 before ours, and their last 21 km was on the same course). About 50 feet ahead of me, an old man (at least 65), took a tumble. The crowd was thin at that spot, but someone rushed to see to him. My race was shot, I took a beeline right to him, to help out. He was bleeding from the head, and a little disoriented. I had a full flask of water and Gatorade on me. And immediately offered it – he instinctively accepted. The lady in the crowd who was helping him, used a bit of my water to clean his forehead wound. He seemed to come around quickly.

I started off again. Only four more kilometres to go. I can do this in my sleep. I was running as fast as I could. But I was getting passed so often, it felt like I was running the wrong way on an escalator.

The crowd was getting thicker and thicker along the home stretch, and I was feeling more and more guilty. The crowd deserved to see happy responsive smiles to their enthusiasm and all I could muster up was grimace after grimace.

2 kilometers to go the 1:50 pace bunny catches up to me. I’m a little relieved. I’ll ride the bunny home, I think to myself. Surely, I can keep up to the 1:50 pace… that lasted for about 3 minutes.
Finally, 750 meters to go… 500 meters to go… suddenly, I can see the finish line… I give it all I have left. I can see the finish clock, it’s just rolled over 2 hours. I smile. Deep down inside, I know my chip time is less than that.

Thank God that’s over with!

What did I learn?
1) 1:45 is an excellent run for the half-marathon.
2) Hot weather and me, don’t mix so good!
3) I like running, and I don’t mind distance running. Fast running is best for shorter distances. Slow running is best for longer distances.
4) Marathon finishers are unbelievable
5) Half-Ironman + me = not gonna happen
6) Full Ironman = Are you F**** nuts?

I’m happy to have finished. I’m glad I have this race in my bag. At 9k, I knew I wasn’t going to get my finish time. I was a tad disappointed. But, I have no excuses. I trained as much as I could. I ran as fast as I could. I hydrated properly. I took my Gatorade properly. I didn’t get any cramps. I just got beat fair and square by a long hot race. I didn’t hold back. I didn’t quit.

PS: As always, special thanks goes out to my wife for her behind the scenes help, support, and putting up with my moodiness and hissy-fits.