Abstract (for trevor): 1:49:05, 14th place. One of the best races of my life.
The weather network had promised me a sunny day on Sunday. For at least a week the forecast had been for partly cloudy skies with a high of near 11 degrees. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Instead, we were treated to 5-6 degree weather with a thick blanket of cloud obscuring all but the grayest of light. It wasn't pretty, but for running it was ideal.
The finishing chute was relatively empty, save for Per and I. When I first saw the clock it said 1:48:55. I had not looked at my cumulative time once, relying only on my kilometer splits for feedback. We pushed toward the line, a huge smile starting to emerge as I realized that I had just run a time I previously thought was out of my league. My gold goal. My secret hope. I only learned Per's name after exchanging an exultant hug. You see, we were the last. I had just finished running with him for one hour, forty-nine minutes, and five seconds, the whole time unaware of his name. He is from Montreal. We had both come to Hamilton to share in something that turned out to be pretty special for each of us.
The last two kilometers were the hardest. I know that this is often the case, but there was one more guy to catch. And it wasn't that I was physically exhausted, because while fatigued, I still felt good; it was the mental aspect of pushing just that seven minutes more that was hard. The hills were done and it was all about holding pace now. I was falling off the pace a little, so Per took a pull. We pulled up beside the "guy" in front of us, only to see that this "guy" was more like a boy - he was in the 15-19 age group and had run alone for pretty much the whole race - a gutsy effort to be sure. We passed him, offered words of encouragement, and pushed toward the Copps Coliseum.
The downhill leading into "Heartbreak Hill" had a midget with one leg playing "We Will Rock You" by Queen. I had gapped Per a little on the downhill, not with any intention of leaving him but as a result of me just running downhill a little faster. I looked over to the midget and called out "This is where it gets fun!" 26 km down, one hill left. This is about the only place I remember from my Around the Bay initiation 11 years ago, when I ran 2:36. And the lone memory lingering in my mind is of me swearing at someone encouraging me to move from a slow walk into a more running like gait. I hated that person. But this day I smiled knowing that I still had energy left and that the miles of hills I had run since this time last year would serve me well. I crossed the wooden bridge, noticing my footfalls were a little heavy, and turned left up "Heartbreak Hill". It was a steady climb, but nothing worse than what we have in Victoria. I kept form and cadence in the forefront of my mind and smoothly ascended. I smiled, knowing from my splits that I was going to have a decent time. Per caught me on the hill and as we crested, I urged him to get his cadence going again - we had time to make up. It was about 400m later that I saw Gord Pauls, owner of Hamilton's Runners' Den. It was he, among others, but he most vehemently, that told me I was to go for 1:49. I scoffed at this idea only four days early over Hot Chocolate (Second Cup's Vanilla Bean Hot Chocolate - my new favourite). While I had no idea of my position, he did, and cheered me madly at that point. Mike's earlier blog about laying it out there came to mind, as did other's belief in my running fitness. I began to believe as well.
The halfway point found four of us running together. We had just watched a relay runner run past us - with only 15k to run, he was shortly out of sight. We had once again reeled in the Asics guy. He had been going well, but Per and I had been steady. I wondered if he would come back again, but it was Per's push that brought him back. Mat Reid, Per, and I had only earlier quickly discussed the idea of picking up the pace. I was concerned that this was a bit early to push. Mat said as much (“We are on 1:50 pace”), but I think that Per had other thoughts in mind. With Asics guy back in the fold, the pace picked up over the next couple of kilometers and, as Mat fell of the pace, I was faced with a decision – do I push and possibly blow up, or settle in and stay with Mat, a guy who I know from results and reputation is a good runner. Was he making the smarter choice? Staying in control now to run harder later? I decided to stick in with Per and Asics, staying in their draft, a place I had found quite comfortable up until then. I checked my heart rate as we put some distance between and noticed that it was still around 168, not much different from the 165 I had seen for the previous 18km. “When does this race get hilly?”
What? Had Asics really just asked about the hills? I assured him that they were coming, and a kilometer later, with the first one under us, Per and I left him behind.
I look around. There are still 6 people running in this group. 10k down. The clock on course read 36:33. That is a bit quick, but I felt good. I had lost sight of the group that was in front of us. The wind coming off the water was chilly. I no longer felt my fingers. (Usually that is no too much of an issue – I mean, how much do you use your fingers in a 30k race? But the inability to control fine motor movements would prove to make removing the gel from inside my glove at 21k a difficult task. However, ingenious use of teeth and visual reference for my fingers allowed me to get at least half of that gel out before dropping it at the feet of a kind water station volunteer.) We splayed out like a flock of Canadian Geese flying south, each of trying to gain any energy we could from a draft position. I still felt good and was surprised at the ease with which the kilometers were moving under my feet.
The first kilometer felt easy. I wanted to go out easy. It was actually my goal. Jasper and I had discussed going out around 4:00/km for the first couple of kilometers before bringing down the pace. I had readjusted that time to about 3:50/km so that I would have a shot at 1:50. So it was with surprise that I saw 3:33 after the first kilometer. Too say I was worried would be accurate. I wasn’t freaking out, but I was a little concerned that I would pay for this later. I switched my watch from cumulative time to lap splits, so that the only time I saw was the kilometer splits. I knew I was to be running 3:42/km, so I definitely was aware that 10 seconds too fast could have some bad consequences I was sitting in a group of about 8-10 people. There were some guys that looked like they were used to being here and there were some guys who looked like they were, uh, not used to being here. We ticked off 3:36, 3:39, 3:40 for the few kilometers, all of which I felt like I was holding back. This was disconcerting because I didn’t want to let go of this group, but I wasn’t prepared to be running this fast this early.
Lining up on the start line, I longed for the familiar faces of Victoria. I know I can always count on Bob Reid, or Rob Reid, or Sylvan Smith at the start, allowing me to sneak in near the front. This time though, with no one I knew there, I had to use all my cunning to get to the front. I snuck through gates and around the timing mats, lining up behind the Kenyans and other elites – those with low bib numbers. I had done a 12-minute light warm up prior to searching for a bathroom, eventually found one in McDonald’s. The warm up was a little abbreviated, but the plan was to use the first few kilometers for warm-up. The count down occurred, the horn went, and I settled into what I thought was a comfortable pace, unaware of what was about to occur.