Like most ATB race mornings, I was up relatively early in order to get some breakfast in, well advance of the 9:30am start time. I usually still have my bike on the trainer this time of year, but given the amazing stretch of “summer-like” weather we’ve been having, I’ve already had it outside for many rides. Therefore, instead of my normal 10-15 minute early morning spin to wake the legs up, I decided to head out on my mountain bike and rip around the neighbourhood for 10 minutes. It was already a balmy 8 degrees at 6:15am. Sweet!
At 7am I picked up Darryl in New Hamburg and after that, went into Baden and picked up Patti Warr, who was also catching a ride into the Hammer with us.
Once again this year we had to make a small detour into Dundas to get our race kits at a friend’s house that had picked them up for all of us. This didn’t take long and by 8:30 or so, we were parked near Copp’s Coliseum in Hamilton (in a great new spot that Patti told us about!)
We made our way inside to use the restrooms and just stretch out a bit. The line-ups were unusually long this year, so by the time we were done, it was time to head outside and get to the race start. Since Darryl has qualified for front of the pack status (having a previous sub 2 hr time), we were able to just walk right into the front (I didn't qualify for this, but I just stayed with him anyway and got through).
We warmed up for 10 minutes or so, and then made our way to the starting line, about 5 or 6 rows from the front. Going into this race, I was hoping to once again do better than last year. I was running more and felt like I was running slightly faster and stronger this year than last, so realistically, something between 2hrs and 2:05 was what I was expecting. Going sub 2 was possible I thought, but it really wasn't my main goal going in. Darryl and I talked about hitting 10K in 39:30 or so and then reassessing how we felt from there.
Right at 9:30, without delay, the horn sounded and all 6,119 of us were off and running under warm sunny skies, by far the best weather this race has likely seen in a long, long time!
Here's some video of the start.
As usual, the start of this race is pretty fast, as there is a net downhill for 2K. I quickly did some weaving in and out and found a good line along the left side of the course until it opened up and everyone could just run their own speed. Darryl and I were pretty much running together through the first kilometre which we covered in 3:47, which felt VERY easy! I was unsure whether to back off or just keep running along at this comfortable pace. I decided that if it wasn't broke, I wasn't going to fix it. Therefore, instead of backing off to something like a 3:55-3:58 pace in order to hit 10K in 39:30, I would just continue on at the pace I was feeling good at.
As a result of this, I ended up losing Darryl, who took a more conservative approach to the first 10K. Somewhere around the 5K mark, the 2 hour pace bunny (and his posse) caught up to me. It was at that moment that I decided I was just going to stay with them and see how this race played out. I thought, if I don’t make the effort now to go sub 2, I will never be able to get that time back in the last half of the race, so I followed his lead and basically ran right behind him all the way to the 10K mark, which we went through in 38:21, well over a minute faster than I planned to do with Darryl. On a side note, Darryl hit 10K in 39:24, so he stuck with our original plan.
At 10K, the group of us was down to maybe 4 or 5, as we made our way up the small overpass hill and under the QEW and onto Beach Blvd. At this point, the race really levels off for 5 or so kilometres to the lift bridge. I was starting to feel a bit of fatigue but was still able to hold a good pace on average just under 3:55/K, which is a bit slower than the sub 3:50’s I was putting out in the first 10K. One new thing I saw this year was the guy cooking up bacon on the side of the road and handing it out. Damn, if this wasn't a race, I would have stopped for sure....yum...bacon!!
I carried on and hit the 15K half-way point in 58 minutes flat. This gave me a 2 minute cushion on a sub 2 hr race, which made me decide right there that I was officially going for it today! I knew the last half was going to be tough, but as long as I kept working, I thought I had a very real chance of hitting this goal.
The next few kilometres were still sub 4:00 (barely) as I made my way to Northshore Blvd. This is where we get slightly more crowd support thankfully, but this is also where the hills begin. By 18K, we start to see our first set of rollers. I never think they’re too bad and barely notice them until we get to the longer one at about 21K at LaSalle Park. This is one of the longest hills on the course and goes through more of a forested area, so there isn't much support either. Starting in the 18th kilometre, I would no longer see a sub 4:00 K until the end.
Not only was I beginning to feel a bit tired, my stomach wasn't sitting well. I think the late banana/peanut butter wrap I put down was too close to the race, and was honestly thinking it could come up at any point. Luckily, it never did, and I just continued to push along keeping a close watch on my splits and my avg. pace which continued to creep up slowly. I knew I couldn't rely on my avg. pace on my Garmin, because for some unknown reason, like prior years, my kilometres on the GPS kept coming up at least 100-150m before the actual race markers.
Eventually, I made it up to Plains Rd. West and Spring Gardens Rd. where it’s generally flat/downhill and usually with a great cheering section. I really needed that, I was really starting to lose some steam. As we passed Woodland Cemetery, the 2hr pace bunny caught up to me again. There was a pretty small group of guys with him, and I just hopped on board as we made the tough “quad-burning” downhill grind to the bridge before the Valley Inn Rd. hill. Of course, I had to give the midget his annual “high-five” for good luck!
After crossing the bridge, the final hill loomed large right in front of me. I wasn't feeling great at this point, so I really took it easy going up the hill. I thought to myself if I can just get to the top while still under the pace to go sub 2, I can just lay it all on the line in the final 3K to bring it home. About 1/3 and 2/3 of the way up the hill, I took a couple of quick walking breaks (only a couple of seconds really) to let things come down. The runners I was with weren't really getting away, so I wasn’t concerned.
Eventually, I got to the top feeling “ok” but not great. Just down the road was the 27K marker and when I got to it, my watch read just over 1:47. So with 3K to go, all I had to do was run under a 4:20 pace to come in under 2 hours. I knew this was totally possible, so I just focused on leaning forward and trying to make efficient (relative at this point) foot strikes as fast as possible. The 28th kilometre was at a 4:04 pace, and my garmin was at 1:51 I believe, so at this point, I really thought I was going to do it, as long as something brutal didn't present itself.
The last two K are downhill/flat as we run up to and past Copps coliseum. Both I did in under 4:00 (3:58 and 3:53 respectfully). As I approached the big downhill ramp into Copps, I just thought to myself, don’t wipe out here! I didn't, and made the final turn into Copps, with about 45 seconds to spare.
At this moment I hear “Hey, it’s me!!” and I look over to my right and it’s Darryl. Amazing I thought! I hadn't seen him all race and within only 20 metres to the finish line he catches up to me and we cross with the exact same time ( I officially beat him by 1/100 of a second...but hey, who’s counting right!). As it turns out, he saw me at the top of the big hill and he was likely only a few hundred metres back at that point. I didn't know it, but he spent those last 3K completely stalking me, finally catching me right at the finish line. I finished with an official time of 1:59:22. This put me in 8th spot in my AG out of 453 athletes and 81st overall in the race out of 6,119 runners.
In the finish line video below, you can see Darryl hammering it coming into Copps to catch me, and then finishing right beside me. I guess he could have blown right past me and kicked my butt, so I am thankful that he didn’t! His strategy to race a more consistent pace paid off for him.
Looking back, I averaged a 3:50/K pace for the first 15K and a 4:04/K pace for the final 15K. I’ve read a lot about negative splits (or even splits in races) and while I tend to agree with this, I don’t think this is the race to execute that. I knew from running this race for the 5th time that I really needed to put some time in the bank. Maybe I went out a bit too hard through 10K, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. I finally got my GOLD medal at this race, with time to spare (not a lot really, but at least it didn’t come down to the final seconds at the finish line!).
After grabbing my gold medal, we made our way underneath the stands to sit down and stretch out. One thing I noticed right away was that my left knee felt really good (or at least not sore or swollen like last year). I was definitely tired, but moving around was not too difficult. After walking through the food line and chatting with a few other racers, we finally made our way upstairs and to a restroom to get cleaned up a bit.
Just then, we ran into Patti, who had just finished as well. Perfect timing indeed! All three of us walked to our car, changed into some drier clothes and got out of town.
So overall, I was super happy with how this race ended up. I feel like I am in a good spot to start the spring/summer triathlon training and racing to hopefully do well at my “A” race, Ironman Mont Tremblant.