I had the Mississauga Half Marathon marked on my calendar as soon as I experienced the disappointment of last fall’s Hamilton Half. I think most readers of the blog know how frustrated runners were by the bad course measurement at Road2Hope so I needed to test out another course and Mississauga seemed like a good fit for my schedule.
With race morning finally here, I was very excited to make my way over to the Square One Shopping Centre to hit the starting line. I live pretty close, and the early start (7:30am) meant very little traffic on the roads, so it was a quick commute which brought me into the parking area about an hour and a half before the official start time. This gave me plenty of time to slowly prepare my gear and get some more nutrition in before dropping off my bag for the beginning of the point to point run.
As forecasted, the weather was not very nice on this rainy, windy spring morning so I kept dry and warm inside the car for a number of minutes. I was actually not too worried about the drizzle and cool temperatures but was not too pleased with the direction and speed of the wind we would have to battle for a majority of the race.
With just under an hour to go, I decided to walk over to the main gathering area for my final preparations and to see if I could find any friends in the crowd. With about five thousand people starting at this position, it can be tough to spot folks (especially when most are wearing extra gear so picking jerseys is not an option) but I did manage to get in a few pre-race good lucks with some fellow Falcons and online buddies.
Finally, the wait was over and it was go time. I grabbed a spot in the first corral and noticed some of the faces and names (on their bib) around me so I did not want to be right on the line as this would only force me to start out far too quick off the gun. Settling in the second row, behind local elite Predrag Mladenovic, I cautiously started my 21.1k journey down to the lake. Judging from past results, I assumed I should be around top 20 so I just wanted to stay back from the leaders and ease into a smooth rhythm.
For the first five km we had the wind to our backs. This was a section I should have padded the pace stats a little more for later in the race but I started chatting with one of the marathon runners and fell off my target a notch. He was doing his first full and was interested in my experiences. Never one to turn down a chance to talk racing, I continued gabbing until I finally noticed my slow start around the 3.5k area. When I realized this slip in speed, it was time for a downhill portion to the Credit River bridge so I used the down slope to help pick up the pace.
Just after the five kilometre marker, I turned south on Mississauga Road for an eleven km section through the beautiful estate area of the city. To my surprise, the wind was slowing us much more through this stretch than I imagined. At this point I was running solo and could not protect myself from the elements so I had to focus and tried to keep as close to the game plan as possible.
A little further down the road the course turned left into the University of Toronto, Mississauga where we all did a loop around the campus. I could now hear some footsteps so I hoped that this person would gradually work past me so I could rest in their draft for a while. This did not happen as soon as I thought and I was getting tired pushing through the breeze. Thankfully, once we got to the University Recreation Centre, he finally made his move. I got on right away and we reached the 8k timing mat together (he started a little farther back so it looks like he was quicker to this point) before cresting the large hill on Mississauga Road dropping us into the valley.
He descended faster than I and I could tell he was trying to pick up some lost time as well. At the intersection of Dundas and Mississauga Rd, he started to add more time between the two of us but I ran a very tight line through the curves of the next section to get back on his heels before the climb at 10k. We reached that marker in 37:30 (3:45 pace, which would have been the plan given more favourable wind conditions) so I was now worried that I had fallen well behind where I need to be to battle a head wind during the final 4.5k along the lake shore.
By the time we had climbed to the top, I had taken the front position of our twosome and was trying to get back up to speed as quickly as possible. I did a shoulder check to make sure he was locked on and was happy to see him following closely. I led for a few hundred more metres before he picked up his pace and started to swing through. With only one runner in striking distance (about 300m ahead of me), and nobody directly behind, I figured this may be the only guy that could team up to help cut through the gusty air.
As he pulled up beside me, I asked what his goal was and he mentioned he was trying to hit 3:45 splits but had zoned out for a bit. He was now struggling through the breeze to make up ground so was onboard to work together and try to get back on track.
For the next five kilometres we took turns pulling off the front and saving energy on the back. We were making strides on the gentleman ahead and I was starting to plan the next bridge hoping we could create a threesome. Passing by Lakeshore Blvd, we made it down to the 16k marker slightly slower than 3:45 pace so I knew it was going to be a huge task to pick up time once we reached the bottom of Mississauga Road where we had to turn left to begin our tour along the coast of Lake Ontario.
When we finally funneled onto the asphalt trail, the force of the wind hammered us dead on. This brought out a few select curse words from my mouth and I knew it was now time to dig very deep into reserves. Unfortunately, only seconds into the turn I could tell I was starting to lose my team mate.
Just a few metres ahead, though, was the gentleman we gradually brought back to us so I hoped he had some horses left for the home stretch. I finally pulled up beside him on the walkway over the river and told him he could jump on because we would be wounded ducks trying it solo. He hooked on and we started our push through the mix of side streets and paths along the south end of Port Credit.
I was exerting every last bit of energy counting down the final steps of the race. With one kilometre to go, I picked up the pace again but my fellow racer was not able to respond and fell off a few seconds behind. We had actually worked our way closer to another fading runner but it would take a massive effort this late to grab another position. I used the slight glimmer of hope to produce a final sprint around the bay and up to the finish line. This brought me within seven seconds of a top ten and eighteen seconds away from the elusive sub 1:20:00.
After getting through the timing mats, I waited to thank the two racers I had worked with and was happy to hear that they were appreciated of the team work. I may have missed my goal but was proud of my effort under less than ideal weather conditions. There will be other attempts and new goals down the road!
I then gulped down some fuel and recovery drinks and made a smart decision to visit the massage tent. This is the first time I have taken advantage of this resource at a race and must say it was the best idea of the day! Next, it was time to warm up in some dry clothes and hang out friends as we checked out the results and waited for some others to wrap up their journeys.
On a parting note, I must give a big round of applause for all the great volunteers and spectators (especially the fellow Falcons!) for braving the crappy conditions. It is very much appreciated!