I needed to wrap my mind around this race first. It was an amazing day. It was a hot day. I performed better than I believed I would. I’m still shocked by it. But … because a picture says a thousand words, I’ll just go attach my finish photo from the half marathon here and lead off with that. I doubted every decision I made going into the weekend. I still did workouts throughout the week (12 miles of running (7 of those were medium-to-hard effort) and 7 spin classes) and only took one day off. I chose to wear my Saucony Kinvara 6s (flat and fast) instead of my Asics GEL-Cumulus (cushy and injury preventing), and was SO sure my calf aches would flare. I really haven’t been running all that much lately (20-28mi per week, and then about 7-8 spin classes on top of that). I didn’t do much speedwork (I’m the tempo queen and haaaaate speedwork), and my longest run was only 14 miles (I haven’t run 16 miles since my marathon in 2013).
But somehow it all came together on race day (like it always does).
It was ridiculously hot and humid the day of the race. As in, it was 94% humidity and 17°C when I woke up Sunday morning. Not my choice of racing weather, to say the least. I had my usual banana, oatmeal, egg, and peanut butter combo before heading out around 6:45am. I’m used to having coffee in the morning, but elected to have some pre-workout for the caffeine instead (sounded more appetizing than coffee when thinking about the heat). I’m lucky my body is used to both.
I walked the 2km to the start line (by far the most convenient way of getting there on a Sunday morning), checked my bag, had an Ensure High Protein, and had a bathroom stop before I walked toward the corrals. Yes, corrals, for a 5km road race. The Army Run is huge – 12,348 participants finished the 5k.
One thing I love about the Army Run is the fact that we acknowledge and appreciate the service of all our military, but with special focus on ill and injured soldiers and their families. Many proceeds and donations go to the Soldier On foundation, and it’s always inspiring to see the para-athletes take off before we do. The ill and injured athletes began 15 minutes before we did, and after watching their start and cheering them through the line, I found my way to my spot near the 22:30 pace bunny. That was my plan – run a conservative 22:30 5k and then try to hold on for a 1:37 half marathon. I had the overall goal of running the Commander’s Challenge in less than 2 hours, so this seemed like the best way to take on that goal.
The start was congested, mostly because there were a lot of people who weren’t in the correct corral. But after the first 500-700m it started to break up quite a bit. I hit the first mile in 6:24 and thought “Uh oh”. This was not the conservative start I had planned. I backed down a bit, but I was feeling good, so I didn’t completely back down (despite knowing there were 15 miles left to run …).
The rest of the race was scenic, but relatively uneventful. There was one moment when myself and the three athletes running in front of me nearly ran into a pair of para-athletes we had caught up to. For the most part, the para-athletes are well-marked and stick to the sides of the course, but I guess the three athletes running in front of me weren’t paying attention, and as they split around the pair, I wasn’t left with much notice. Thankfully no collision happened.
The second mile went by in 6:47. The third in 6:44. And I took it in at a 6:25 pace. Total time was 20:59, good enough for 17th female and 2nd in my age category.
I made my way through the finish, was handed a medal and grabbed Nuun, water, and a half banana before heading to an Ottawa City Run Club meet-up. I’m going to start running with them, and I’m super excited.
The 5km race started at 8am and the half started at 9:30am, meaning I had 1hr10min between my finish time and my next start time. While I needed the time, I almost wish they had been a bit closer together because it got so hot later. In the end, that was out of my control, and I went with it.
I took a Clif Gel 30min before the start, hit the washroom, and went back to the starting corrals. By this point, it was 24°C and the cloud cover that had sheltered us in the 5km was now gone. Time to make the best of the situation.
This course is the best – relatively flat and it takes you past all the best landmarks our Nation’s Capital has to offer. City Hall, the Parliament Buildings (from multiple views), the Ottawa River, the Prime Minister’s house, the Governor General’s house, the Rideau Canal … it’s so scenic.
I started out too fast (as I usually do), and I made the decision to try to hold on. I ran the first 5km in 21:49 and was feeling good! There were water stations every 3km. I carry a hand-held water when I run, so while I didn’t need to stop for water, I did grab water at the 6km mark and dumped it over my head to try to stay cool. There were sprinklers out at the water stations, too, and I ran through those through the rest of the race. I also grabbed a Nuun on the course at the 15(?)km water station because I was going through my handheld too quickly and wanted to save some in the case of an emergency (it got hot, I’m glad I played it this way. And the girl who I was trading spots back and forth with decided to stop, too, which was great for me!).
The second 5km was in 21:22, but then the heat and fatigue started to set in a bit. I took a gel close to 7mi in, which might have been a bit too late. I was intending to take one around 6.5mi, but I guess I just wasn’t paying close attention to the distance (probably a good thing). The third 5km was 23:05 and the fourth was 23:16, so while the wheels kind of fell off, I still managed to hold it together. There was one girl who, as I mentioned, kept switching up spots back and forth with me. We both knew quite a few people who were cheering or racing, so it passed the time to hear our names heard, have one of us take a bit of a lead, and then play catch-up with one another. I lost her at the 18km mark, but she came back with 700m to go and out-kicked me. I really didn’t have another gear left at that point. I think she started ahead of me in the corrals, though, because my chip time was faster than hers. I want to thank her for keeping me alert and racing.
Even though I started to slow down, I never let it get to me. I’m so proud of this. There were a few moments (namely, the hill at the 16km mark, around 17km when I noticed I had stopped sweating and was starting to feel cold, and when I caught a stitch around the 18km mark) when I wasn’t sure I could finished, but I pushed through. The thoughts were more “I don’t know if my body will make it” rather than “I want to stop”. Also, even though I slowed down, barely anyone passed me, so I think a lot of the field had slowed down as much, if not more, than I did.
Also, the people along the sideline cheering … They were exactly what I needed to keep that motivation sparked. There were so many friends out there, and they were all so genuinely excited for me. It made my heart very happy to feel so much love!!
I finished up with a 6:47 split through the finish, a 1:34:39 finish time (7:08 avg. page for a current era/post-injury PR!), 15th female of 3,418, and 5th in my age category.
For the Commander’s Challenge, the official female winner was a wheelchair athlete who finished her 5km in 12ish min and her half in 56min. While I think this is incredibly admirable and a huge feat, her times aren’t comparable to the rest of the field. I was the first female to finish behind her (total time 1:55:38), and the 20th overall of the 1800+ athletes who finished despite the heat and humidity. I could not be more proud or more excited.
Heading into winter training, the next goals are the marathon (hopefully BQ!) in May, possibly the Ragnar Relay in Niagara, and then tackling triathlon over the summer. I’m stoked, and this was a great way to show how far I’ve come and to launch me into the next cycle.
Can I just say how much I love being an athlete and love my body?
This feeling … it’s priceless.