Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Road to Hope Half Marathon - Nov 6, 2011 Race Report

I signed up for this race a little late, not knowing what my fall was going to be like.   After some decent training, I thought I was ready to make an attempt at a fast paced half marathon.   I've only done one other stand up half marathon race in the 8 years since we moved back from Bermuda, and that was the Run for the Grapes in St. Catherines.   That was a few years ago and I thought I had run a decent race finishing in about 1:28 or so.

I knew that the Road to Hope course is a net downhill, so I thought it was a perfect race to try and go after a NYC marathon qualifying spot.   To do that, I had to run under 1:23 for my AG.   That works out to about a 3:55/K pace, and although I'm totally comfortable doing that for a 10K, I've never attempted to run that fast for a full half marathon.  

Conditions on race day were more than ideal (for the most part), as we had a nice south wind and dry sunny skies.    Darryl Huras (also from New Hamburg) and I showed up at Confederation Park in Hamilton around 7am or so and quickly picked up our race kits and grabbed our gear bags before hopping on one of the many school buses that were there to shuttle the racers to the start line out at a high school up on the Niagara escarpment (key word UP!).

By the time Darryl and I arrived, there were already a lot of people in the school keeping warm and loose.   We quickly found an open space up stairs in one of the hallways to get into our running gear and pack up our bags for the bag check.   After dropping our bags off at the bag check, we headed out to the running track to do a few warm up laps and some stretching to loosen up.   Before we knew it, the marathon had started and in a few more minutes, so would the half.

While at the start line, I ran into Larry Bradley who was also running the half with the aid of his coach Tyler Lord pacing him to a planned sub 1:19 finish time.   That was well faster than I had really wanted to go, so although it would have been great to start off fast with them, I really wanted to do what I thought I could handle.

Shortly after 8:30am, the starting gun went off and the race was on!

I knew that we had a few kilometers before we were going to hit the downhill section of the race on the Red Hill Valley Parkway, but the beginning of the race also seemed pretty fast.   The wind was from the south and we were running west at this point, but it seemed to be at our backs.   There were also a few slight downhill grades, so I was pretty much cruising along, hardly working doing about 3:45 K's.   Darryl and I were both shooting to go sub 1:23, but right from the start, I pulled away, as he wasn't too comfortable going out at this pace (more on this later though!).   At about 3.5 or 4K, we made a couple right hand turns before making a left onto the on ramp to get on the parkway.   At this point, the pace really picked up.   The next several kilometers as we ran down the escarpment with the wind at our backs, I was easily doing sub 3:40 K's.  I think kilometer 5 to 6 was at a 3:28 pace!   I was running in a small group with two other guys, so I was just tucked in with them and was flying along.

When we went through the 10K marker, I wasn't really surprised that I was almost on my 10K PB time.   The fastest 10K I've ever run is 37:04, and I believe I passed the 10K marker in this race in 37:10.   I'm pretty sure that if I was only running the first 10K of this course, I could have done it in about 35 minutes!  Wow!

Just past the 10K marker, we got off the parkway and onto Barton street.   This is where the race started to get tougher.   We had to go uphill to get to Barton and then we were dealing with a cross wind.   It wasn't too long though before we got onto Woodward Ave., which is also part of the Around the Bay course.   Just before the 12K marker, there is a set of train tracks, and when I was only a few hundred meters from them, the lights started to go off and I thought what the fuck???   Anyway, the arms went down and sure enough, an Amtrak passenger train was crossing the road.  Luckily though, it was short and before long, the arms were going back up.   Perfect timing really, as the arms started to go up when I was only about 10m from the tracks.   I didn't have to slow down at all.

The course continued down Woodward before finally going under the QEW and getting on Beach Blvd. (again, same as the ATB course).   At this point, I was running closer to 3:50-4:00/K's on average, and this would continue until we turned right off of Beach Blvd and got on the Lakefront trail at about the 16K marker.   This is where things started going fairly quickly downhill.   We were now running east back to the finish line at Confederation Park and had to deal with a nasty southeast wind whenever there was an open area.

The fast pace that I started out at was quickly catching up with me and I found myself struggling to do 4:00-4:05 K's.   I'm sure that a few of the last K's in the race might have been over 4:10.   For some weird reason, my Garmin did not save this race, so I don't have the ability to look back and see what I was really doing in the last few K.   All I was really concerned about was getting to the finish line!!

So as I said earlier, I never saw Darryl once the race started, and I had no idea where he was.   I did look back a few times but never saw him, so I wasn't sure.  Well, with only 1K to go, he caught me, which was great (for him at least!).   I thought "Cool, we can finish together again like we did at ATB", but that was not to be.   He had more juice than me in the final stretch and I just couldn't keep up.   Finally, we passed the finish area and had to make a very short loop around before coming back to the finish line.   I was very happy to see that line, as I really didn't have much left to go any further.

In the end, I finished in 1:21:59, beating my goal time by just over a minute, which is awesome.   Darryl finished 12 seconds ahead of me, meaning that if we both wanted to, we could go to the NYC marathon in 2012.   Having Boston and NYC under my belt would seem sufficient from a marathoning perspective.


Here is some cool finish line video showing both Darryl and I finishing:

So overall, I was very happy with my time, but just a bit disappointed in how I couldn't manage to finish as strong as I would have liked.   Overall, I finished 34th out of 1,721 runners and 8th in my AG out of 87.   Unfortunately, in the last few K, I likely gave up 7 or 8 spots overall, and possibly even 5th place in my AG and maybe a podium??   Not sure really, but at least I kept pushing when I really didn't have much left.   I know that feeling will come in handy when the Ironman training kicks in again next year for Mont Tremblant.

This is the last race of the year, and now it's time to get organized for a solid off season.   Hopefully more swimming and I'd like to keep a good amount of base mileage going for running, but likely back off on some of the distance runs.

It's been a good year and I look forward to another one next year!