Missing the Scotia Toronto Waterfront Marathon a few weeks ago, I thought I would just pack it in for the season and take some time to rest and recuperate. Thankfully, other people had better ideas and I soon found myself gearing up for the Hamilton Road to Hope Half Marathon. I had put in a lot of work for the marathon and my coach did not want to see me waste all the effort so he recommended this date for me to compete.
Having raced this particular event last year, I knew it was a fast course but I still had to be ready and on my game to hit the time he had in mind for me. So I took the three weeks and made a very solid push in training to get myself ready to go sub 1:20 in Hamilton. As luck would have it, Tyler made a last minute change to his schedule to help pace my effort. Heading into the race with this support, I was feeling very good about my chances.
On Sunday morning, I grabbed my gear and headed towards the Hammer. On my way, I picked up Tyler and we drove to Confederation Park (the finish area) to catch the shuttle bus up the hill to the starting line. During the ride we discussed the strategy of the day so I knew what to expect and where I wanted to be in relation to his position on the course.
When we arrived at the high school (our warming centre), we grabbed a spot in one of the halls and I slowly prepared my kit for the race. I was not sure how warm it would feel come gun time so I was taking a long time deciding what to wear. As I weighed my clothing options, I had a chance to chat with Laura G (FMCT) and Luke Ehgoetz. Laura was gearing up for the full so she had a bit of a head start and was just about to make her way over to the line. Luke was running the half with us so I was interested to see what his game plan was for the 21.1k.
After we discussed this, and checked in our bags, it was time for a quick warm up outside. It was incredible running weather so I ended up ditching the short sleeve technical shirt I had under my top and just went with tri top and gloves on this early November morning.
At the start line, I tucked in behind Tyler and let him lead out of the tight chute. Unfortunately, I did not battle very hard once the gun sounded and I found myself falling off the pace, getting stuck behind some folks that were not hitting the pace the lead group was pushing. With a sharp right turn about 100 metres out of the school driveway, I had to wait to get around the corner before I could negotiate the crowd and then bridge up to the group I wanted to be running with. I wasn’t expecting to generate this kind of acceleration in this part of the run so once I caught up to Tyler I just sat on his heels for a few minutes to get the heart rate back down.
Over the next few kilometres we kept things under control, hanging slightly back from the chase group (the solo leader was well ahead of them). A few times I felt the urge to surge up to one of the other small packs in between us and the chase but Coach T wisely held me back keeping me just under our targeted pace across the flats leading up to the Red Hill Valley Parkway.
Just after the 5k marker we arrived at the downhill section as we merged onto the expressway. We had the benefit of a solid tailwind at this point so Tyler pumped up the pace and I just stuck on his tail. Most of the small groups were now strung out down the road so we just ran our own pace and did not worry about working with anyone else, for the time being.
On the decent, I was cruising along quicker than planned but I was doing well staying with my coach for most of this drop towards the lake, usually following him or just behind the twosome or threesome he was pulling along. This held true until the 8k area when I made a mental mistake trying to grab a cup of energy drink from an aid station. I missed the first one when I took my eyes off the cup and had to scramble to reach for another before passing through the zone. This brief lapse in focus seemed to knock me slightly off their pace and a gap opened up between myself and Tyler, Hugo Reyes and Michael Enright.
Tyler had mentioned Hugo’s talent level (as we watched him charge out at the start of the race) so when Tyler started to run beside Mr. Reyes, I figured they were going for a much quicker time than I could manage. My new plan was to just try and keep my gap around a hundred metres back. With the wind helping I knew I would be OK to work alone for the moment but I also knew once we changed direction, in a few thousand metres onto Barton, I would be expending a lot of extra energy going solo.
As I reached the 10k sign, I looked at my watch (35:23) to notice I was around ten seconds ahead of last year’s pace. This had me a little worried as I remember how much time I gave back in the last half of the run in 2010 and I felt like I was struggling a lot earlier this year. Shortly after the sign, I started to climb up the exit ramp from the expressway and decided to skip the aid station that would have added a few extra metres (on the far side of the curve). I saw Tyler, Hugo, Michael and another runner all head towards the volunteers so I hoped that my shorter route to Barton would allow me grab onto the back of their line to find some protection from the wind.
Similar to 2010, the wind was slowing everyone down along this short detour to Woodward Avenue. Tyler was now pushing ahead of the rest of us and looking very strong as I joined in behind Hugo and Michael. Once we turned right onto Woodward, we enjoyed more assistance from the wind and I just let my legs go and led the group for a few minutes with my coach a little ways up the road.
Over the next few kilometres, the three of us kept swapping positions leading the small pack to the lake front portion of the course. The cross wind was pretty tough along Beach Blvd as Hugo and Michael started to fade a little so I decided to just run on my own and try to chase down Tyler who was now about 50 metres up the street. When we finally reached the turnaround at 16k, I was not too far off but realized it would be a mistake to bridge up since the last five kilometres were going to be killer with the winds howling from our right.
On our way along the lake front path to the finish line, Michael ended up catching and pulling past me with about 4k to go. My form was getting very ugly at this point and I could not match his speed to work with him (to be honest, I don’t think there was any place to hide from the wind from the direction it was coming from so I just tried to use a training course landmarks to get me closer to the line as fast as possible). The Brooklin, Ontario native eventually hit a wall with about 2.5k to the line and I slowly got around him. He held on for a few hundred feet until a twosome from the London area smoothly glided past us, knocking both of us out of the top ten.
I had nothing left in the tank but Michael seemed to have a little juice and tried to track them down. He eventually came up six seconds short of their time and I was another eight behind him. I was just happy to reach the tape before having to crawl.
I ended up breaking through in 1:17:40 and finishing 12th overall and 2nd in my Age Group. Tyler also set a PB finishing 45 seconds ahead of me in 8th position. Thanks Coach!
Congrats to everyone on their races in Hamilton! Great work by Luke to easily beat his goal and qualify for New York in 2011!