Saturday morning, 8:45 AM. I’m lost in the details of tying my shoe perfectly before the race starts. Not too tight, but just right. Every intricacy is a need to keep the mental stability leading into a race. It’s like pressure of being the quarterback, the starting pitcher, or goalie. Initially we build these basic regularities and they grow to be the norm of every race. To prepare ourselves for, what in minutes, will hopefully be the best that we can be and the release of all that building energy and antipation!
This morning I was certain I was ready. That nervousness and exuberant energy was absolute. Lately a good race for me represents an erratic stomach on the morning of the event. It’s a horrible feeling and from what I can discern, it’s completely related to nerves. This morning I was nervous! My hometown race: my sanctuary. Since the moment Stittsville got the race, 9 Run Run (2010), I have been proud to run the 1/2 marathon and race where I have spent so much time running/training. The course is filled with great views of fall colours. When you’re running the course you can capture the feeling of peacefulness and solidarity that you can’t get in a lot of races. Though as visual as it is, the course has many challenges that make it a worthy adversary.
I toe up to the front of the start line just before the countdown begins. My hand to my watch I’m ready to go. “3,2,1!” And I’m off, I feel exhilarated with every step. I’m leading when a young lad jumps to the front. He must be hitting 3:20/KM. My plan is to maintain 3:30/KM for two kilometers and see what happens. We veer left onto Main Street. I have a goal: top 3 in my hometown race, this is my mantra!
I check my watch, right on pace. We’re about a kilometer in when the young lad who was leading falls off. As that happens, an older runner passes me to take first. He seems experienced and has a strong pace. I don’t want to get over zealous and my pace was right on schedule, so I tuck behind him thinking that I can let him take some of the wind. Shortly after that we take a right onto Flewellyn Rd. We’ve arrived at the stretch of the race that goes on for what seems an eternity and the headwind actually feels stronger heading this direction. We’re keeping pace at about 3:50 and I’m quite comfortable, here at 4KM deep, that this is the leading pace. It didn’t take long for me to learn that the pace would have to be faster to keep my spot, as a tall dude passes both me and the leader going what seemed like 10 seconds faster per kilometer. We’re about 6 or 7KM in at this point. It only took this runner a few minutes to gain a good distance on us, he was wheeling!
I decided that it was time to change plans. I still felt good, and even fighting a strong headwind, I was able to grit a concerted effort pace that had me aiming to catch up to the leader. By the time I had reached the 10KM marker, I had another guy pass me, I was starting to cramp up in my lung at this point. I had run the Scotiabank Toronto Half Marathon the weekend previous. In Toronto I had a major side stitch. I got advice from Zone 3 coach Rick Hellard during the race, he said “Exhale more, it will help” I remembered this and immediately started to change my breathing. Fortunately I was able to keep the cramp away for the rest of the race. (“Thanks Rick, you rule!”) I was still starting to feel the effects of the wind and hills, it was slowly grinding me down. We hit the fifth long hill. Not steep, but long. This is when my mantra really had to carry me through the rest of the race. My body ached to be finished.
11KM: we’re on our way back towards the start line, following the Trans Canada Trail from Jinkinson Rd. Now I know the hills are pretty much done, and that I’ll have a tailwind heading back. I’m maintaining focus on the 2 guys in front of me, I’m consumed with trying to catch up to them. I figure doing my best will keep me far enough ahead of those behind me. The down grade feels great and I’m able to pick my pace to 3:30-3:45. I’m picturing the finish line, and that soon enough all of this pain can end. 15KM, then 16KM, then 17KM… I’m getting stronger as we go and slowly creating less space between me and the 2nd place runner. By 18KM I’ve sold myself on the idea of possibly catching him. I never caught him, though this was nice motivation to get me to the finish line!
I exit the Trans Canada path and back onto the street where the race started with about 800 meters to go. I see the 2nd place guy just ahead and give it my everything to catch up to him. So close! But I am ecstatic at my result from 11th place the two previous years, to finally accomplishing 3rd. You’ve got to love when absolutely everything falls into place and goes like you planned. The game plan perfectly executed. I usually start off with a base plan and go from there. I come out fast, I evaluate when I may need to make up time because of hills, and that last 6KM is my time to shine. It’s all out, excruciating mental anguish, but it’s what I love about racing I guess. I like the last 6KM to empty the tank and to reaffirm to myself when it’s all over, that I left it all out there. The best part from this race is that it’s without self criticism, I’m just excited to get better and improve. I’m excited for what’s next!
Here’s to you and leaving it all out there!