The worst part about being late this time was that I was supposed to meet two co-workers at a specific time and place that we selected earlier in the week. As I wandered into the vast crowd of athletes I noticed the cargo vans packing up so I pulled up beside the first one in line and got dressed quickly into my running gear, grabbed a few carbs from my bag and handed my extra gear over to the crew as they were sliding down the door. With this important duty off my checklist, I headed out to find my friends and hopefully get in a bathroom break before the gun. As luck would have it, I happened upon them only a minute into the search as they were waiting in line at the bank of port-a-potties. Looking at the time and the line up to get to the bathroom, I realized I would not have time to wait any longer so I wished them good luck and headed to the front of the pack.
As I made my way along the sidewalk to the starting line I could sense the excitement in the air and had a bad feeling I was not going to get to my time slot to hit the starting mats with the other runners of my pace. I scrambled up the side of the mob of people and got up near the front just as the gun went off. It took a couple of stutter steps to get in line with the crowd right before the starting banner and then I was off through the traffic. Although, runners were asked to line up according to estimated finish times, many were not in the right spot so I had a lot of weaving to do to find open daylight to allow me to settle into a pace. The downhill nature of the run made it difficult to tell if I had gone out too fast but my legs were feeling fresh so I decided to stick to that speed until the first KM marker and then adjust gears if needed. The marker didn’t seem to take long to reach and a voice on the megaphone clearly barked out the time so there was no need to pull back my long sleeves to check my watch. 3:44 for the first tenth of the race felt about right so I held that pace and continued down the unusually traffic free street and through Police patrolled intersection after intersection.
We rapidly hit the next KM marker with the group around me holding a steady pace, pretty much identical to the first split. With two k’s under our belts we continued down the steep hills of Yonge Street and were joyfully greeted from an overhead bridge by a vocal group of fans that pushed us along to our first slightly uphill grade of the race. I still felt strong and knew the upcoming climb (the only real uphill of any visible slope) would not wear on me at this stage of the race so I pushed on maintaining my pace and concentrating on my task ahead.
During the third KM we encountered another speedy decline that sent us speeding down the open street near Summerhill station and under another bridge then back to a more gradual decent to the lake as we passed St. Clair Street.
By this point of the race I had become accustomed to running with several members in the group so I knew which section of the road they preferred and was able to visualize the next portion of the race. We continued along past Bloor Street and came up on the fifth KM flags at 19:18 of the official time. I felt like I had a lot left in the tank at this point but knew the land was going to flatten out soon. Also weighing in on my course management was the wind coming from my left side that I figured we would be running straight into it once we turned east further down the street at Adelaide.
The crowds were great down this stretch of Yonge and the urban music near Dundas Square was a timely pick-me-up and a fresh diversion from the analytical stats turning in my mind. Heading further along Yonge, to areas more familiar to me, I was a lot more certain of the upcoming terrain allowing me to prepare for the left turn at Adelaide. This occurred just after seven kilometres and I was actually able to sling shot past a bunch of runners who took the turn too wide due to the number of people reaching that point bunched up like grapes. Footing on this stretch of the course was a little dicey due to the streetcar tacks laid down the middle of the road and, with the next turn to the right side, I settled close to the curb to avoid getting caught up on one of the rails. We traveled east along Adelaide for roughly 900 metres before turning back to the south on Sherbourne. This was a quick little feeder road to our sprint down Lakeshore, in the cool shadows of the Gardner Expressway. Hitting Lakeshore West we lined out in a string of runners with the wind to our backs. The nine KM marker approached but I didn’t dare look at my watch as I didn’t want to loose my focus and break the pace in my rubber legs. With less then half a kilometer left we hit the Air Canada Centre and I knew exactly how much track was left so I put it into high gear ready for a great finishing kick. The second last turn on to York brought the finish banner into site and I just tried to hold off any challenges from behind. With only 300 metres to go one caught and passed me and we made our final turn for home on Bremner. I thought he had me with his sudden burst of speed but I was not going down without a fight and just as I hit my kick his engine stuttered and stalled and I was able to regain my position from him about five metre from the timing mats.
I looked at the official time and was relieved to see the time very close to the time I visualized the past few weeks and was even happier when I looked at my stop watch to see 23 seconds less (which was true as per Sportstats.ca).
Now that the race is over I have had some time to look back on the event as a whole and not just the race itself. The weather was fantastic and just perfect for running. The opportunity to test your abilities against some of the very best runners from Canada, and even the World, is simply amazing. The volunteers on the course, the police at all those intersections and folks at the finish area were all very friendly and respectful of the athletes making my experience a positive one. Even when I came late to hand over my bag they did not complain or turn me away. They were careful taking the chip off my race shoes so they were not damaged. The crew recovered my bag quickly so I was able to stay warm and dry off in no time at all and the folks at the drink and food stations had an endless supply of treats so I could re-fuel. The only issue I had with the whole event, and it would not deter me from entering again, was getting to the start via TTC. From my house it just takes too long by bus and with all the road closures. It is one area I will have to plan a little better next year so that I can get a proper warm up and fuelling in before hitting my marks.
Overall, it was a fun race with great atmosphere (cheering crowds and music along the way) and terrific volunteers. I would recommend to all runners looking for an early race in the season. I will be back to improve on my PB, with asterisk.