Monday, September 26, 2011

3:14:40, but not easy…

Anyone who has read my report of the Ottawa Marathon last year might get the impression that I found the race to be quite easy. Well, compared to yesterday’s Adirondack Marathon, it was easy.

The story begins a couple of weeks ago, when I realized that I had been too slow to register for the Montreal Marathon before it sold out. I decided that it would be crazy to waste all that marathon training and found that there was a marathon only 217 km away in Schroon Lake, New York. Instead of an urban course, I would be tackling rolling hills on the roads surrounding Schroon Lake. I figured that this would disrupt my rhythm as it would be more than a matter of maintaining a pace on a flat course (which was all I really had to do in Ottawa). I had not really trained on hills, so in the past few days, I made sure that all my training runs took place on Mount Royal. Was it too little, too late? At least it was something.

Alex and I found a motel a couple of towns over from Schroon Lake. We headed down on Saturday afternoon so I would have time to complete my registration and drive the course before the pasta dinner for which we had tickets. After registering and walking around the lovely town of Schroon Lake, I decided I did not see the point in driving the course. I preferred to just take the roads as they came during the race. We enjoyed a lovely dinner at the Word of Life restaurant and drove around the area a bit on the way to our hotel. The drive to the hotel took me on the road that would make up the last 10 km of the race, albeit in the opposite direction. I noted that there were not many flat areas and that we runners would almost always be climbing or descending. At the motel, Alex did some work on her laptop while I ate Chips Ahoy and corn chips while watching reality cooking shows. I turned in at 11:15 and set my alarm for 7:00 am. The plan was to wake up, eat, and head over to the race site, where the marathon would begin at 9:00 am. As was the case last year, I had a lousy night’s sleep. When I woke, I immediately ate a piece of carrot cake and a honey-dipped donut, and drank a bottle of chocolate milk. The plan was not to eat anything more until the race, to avoid that heavy feeling. I also planned to eat a Powergel 5 minutes before the race and another at every 45-minute interval. I wore my lucky socks, my almost new Brooks Adrenaline GTS11, a running tank top and all-in-one shorts. I also wore my old Bollé sunglasses and a white running cap (lesson learned last year, always wear a hat!).

 When we arrived at the site of the race, I was feeling quite fit and motivated, but I can’t say that I was full of energy. The temperature was warmer than expected, maybe 18 degrees, and it was supposed to climb to 25 later in the day when the clouds cleared. Everything went smoothly, except that there were not many bathrooms available and I had to wait in line to use one. Luckily, I had time to spare as we had arrived quite early. I was not that motivated to warm up, but I went out for about 5 minutes at a medium pace. There were about 250 runners lined up at the start, and I saw the pace-setter for those who wanted to run 3:30 near the front of the group. I placed myself in front of that group, and realized that there were not that many people near the front. I was not sure what to expect time-wise, but I figured it was extremely unlikely I would be my Ottawa time of 3:09:45 due to the nature of the course. I really had no idea how many minutes I would give up due to the course. I had looked at the results of previous years and noted that the winner usually came in around 2:40. I didn’t know if that time (not that fast for a race winner) was a reflection on the quality of the field or the difficulty of the course. I figured that if I could come in under 3:15, it would be a strong performance.

The race started right on schedule and immediately, I found myself blocked by slower runners. I had to dash around them before I could find some open area. After a short while, I was able to hit my normal pace of 4:30 as the small field spread out. There were only about 20 people ahead of me. I noticed that in the first couple of kilometres, the pace was on, but I was unable to keep my heart rate under 150, as I had planned to. Also, the elevation began to change very early on and my pace in the first few kilometres was all over the place. I felt that I was probably going a bit too fast for the conditions, but it’s not easy to just tell yourself to slow down, especially when you are in a race. I could still see the leaders in the distance at the 3km mark, which I took as a bad sign, as those guys would be finishing 30 minutes ahead of me. Part of me wanted to see if I could handle a whole marathon at a heart rate of 150 bpm, so I did not slow down too much. Most other runners seemed to settle into a rhythm and only a single runner passed me after the 30-minute point. I noticed he was gaining on me in every single hill and eventually, he passed me after a long hill. The downhill portions were not that helpful, as they were quite steep. This meant that they were over too quickly and that you had no real choice but to take big steps and get pulled down the hill. I would have preferred a long gradual downhill slope. In the first part of the race, my kilometer times varied between 4:09 and 4:57. I occasionally checked my average kilometer time on my watch, and it was in the 4:33 range. I was not feeling strong, but it was hard to know if it was because I was pushing too hard or simply because of all the hills. I had noted on the elevation map that most of the hills seemed to be in the first half of the race, but I knew from my drive to the motel that there were long, gradual slopes on the final 10 km stretch. I was taking my gels on schedule and drinking water or Powerade at every station, slowing to a walk for a couple of steps to make sure I was drinking properly. Often, I would gauge my speed by comparing it with the speed of others. I was almost always in sight of at least one other runner, either gaining on them or watching them pull slowly away. Just before the halfway point, I spotted Alex, who had taken a bus for the half-marathoners (they started at the halfway point one hour after us) and was waiting on the course to cheer me on. As usual, this was quite a boost. At the halfway point, I was feeling OK, partly because I knew the toughest hills were behind me. My half-marathon time was 1:36:46, which was not terrible. However, I knew there was absolutely no chance for a personal best. Still, I felt I was not too far behind the top ten and no one had passed me in a long time. Looking at the results, I can see that at the halfway point, I was in 14th position. I eventually caught and passed the guy who had passed me on the hills. I was not too happy when the sun popped out from behind the clouds, as this was not supposed to happen until the afternoon. I had not expected the heat to factor into the race, but it looked like it would. I was glad I was wearing a hat and sunglasses. As I ran on, I was beginning to suffer and feel that maybe I had pushed too hard on the hills. A spectator announced to me that I was heading into 5 miles of flat and, luckily, this turned out to be true. I put in 6 kilometers in a row between 4:29 and 4:33, but by kilometer 28, I could no longer keep up the pace. I was really hoping that I could keep a reasonable pace until the end of the race and was looking forward to the 32 km point, when there would be only 10 km remaining. I began to catch the slower participants in the half marathon (there were 499 of them) and, as the runners I caught were faster and faster, it began harder to distinguish if the people I was passing were marathoners or half-marathoners. The number bibs allowed to know with a quick glance, however.

As my kilometer times slipped into the 4:40’s and once to 4:54 (km 32), I was in damage control mode, just trying to survive until the end of the race. I was feeling quite tired, but not to the point where I was hitting the proverbial wall. I was not in any kind of pain. No one was passing me, and every once in a while I would pass another marathoner. One guy was dressed all in black with a shaved head and no hat. I was glad I was not him, as the sun was unrelenting. I found myself looking for patches of shade to run in. Luckily, there were quite a few, as there are many trees along the road around Schroon Lake. Many half-marathoners had encouraging words for me, and I was so tired I could not really thank them, except with a thumbs-up.  In the last few kilometers, the road was constantly sloping gradually up or down. I was managing kilometers between 4:36 and 4:48 and each time I came upon a long gradual uphill slope, I hoped it was the last. Only when I hit km 40 did I realize there would be no more long slopes. There was a long downhill slope into the town and I managed km 41 in 4:23. I was feeling like crap and there was a final shorter uphill slope into the town. I did not have anything left in the tank that would allow me to accelerate into the town, but I wasn’t slowing down too much either. I glanced over my shoulder to see if any marathoners were catching up to me, but I didn’t think any were. I spotted Alex on the side of the road and she began to run alongside me. I was happy to see her, but afraid she would injure herself running with her leather boots (she did not, and later reminded me she was used to running faster than that to catch buses). I managed a 4:39 for kilometre 42 and I saw the 90-degree turn to the finish line up ahead. I cannot remember ever being more glad to see a finish line as I completed the turn. I managed a pace of 4:16 for the last  stretch and crossed the line. A girl asked me if I needed help removing the timing chip from my shoe, and I could not imagine a harder task at the time than doing it myself.  My time was 3:14:43 on the clock (3:14:40 chip time), which meant my second half-marathon was a 1:37:54, a little over a minute slower than the first half. After my chip was removed, someone handed me a water bottle and I was greeted by my parents, my brother and my sister, who had decided to come down to Schroon Lake to see the race finish. I was exhausted and needed to sit down on the grass near the finish area. I barely drank any water as I just lay on the grass for a while. I recovered after a couple of minutes and was able to sit up and talk. I was not at all hungry, probably because I was full of Powergel, water and Powerade. Alex joined us and filled out the medical form so I could get a free massage. I was feeling better and better, although I was still not hungry. My legs were stiff, but I didn’t have any knee or hip pain, as I had had in Ottawa. I was anxiously awaiting the results to see if I had made it into the top ten.

When the results were posted, I was shown as 7th over all (this was later corrected to 8th) and 2nd in the men aged 35-39. The winner had done a 2:41, with 2nd through 4th in the same minute at 2:57. The next runner ahead of me was three minutes ahead and the next behind me, the top woman, almost three minutes back. There were 255 finishers. In lieu of a trophy, I received a bottle of maple syrup for my class podium finish.

I am really quite happy with the result. No one had caught me in the whole second half of the race. I managed not to slow down too much despite not feeling too hot for a good portion of the race. The training paid off (thanks again to Christian for preparing a tough but super useful training plan) and allowed me to achieve what was maybe the best physical accomplishment of my life. I also have to thank Alex for supporting me not only during the training period, but during actual training sessions while accompanying me on her bike. I am not qualified for Boston, but there are still 11 months left to get that done, right?

Here is the table of my kilometre times and info:
Waiting for the start (that's me in red)
Coming up on the halfway point
At the finish with Alex
At the trophy (syrup) presentation


  1. Génial ! Félicitations ! En lisant ton texte, on a vraiment l'impression que tu vas craquer avant la fin tellement ça avait l'air dur ! Bravo d'avoir tenu le pace jusqu'au bout. Tu as un sacré moral !

  2. Super avec le dénivelé ce n'est pas évident. sur un parcours plat le 3h est dans les jambes. Le test 1h23-24 au semi.