After spending a week in San Francisco, I was back in Ottawa for week 17 of my training. With my first race of the season coming up on Saturday, I went out Monday after work to run a half marathon test run, just to prove to myself where I was at. I felt a bit guilty that I had slacked a little bit in San Francisco, so I had something to prove to myself. The result: a personal best half marathon, 1:31:22, over 3 minutes faster than my previous best. Confidence restored.
As I enter my last few weeks of training, I start to do speed interval training. This is different from my tempo and fartlek runs. These runs consist of a 2-3 km warm up followed by three 1.6km bursts of speed, with rests in between.
Chelsea, fresh off running the Boston Marathon, joined me on Thursday morning in the pouring rain to coach and push me on her bike. My target speed pace for these 1.6km bursts was 3:45. That’s fast.
1.6km isn’t all that far - but when you’re running it that fast, it can seem like 5km. As we started the first speed interval, I asked Chels to tell me stories of Boston. This both preoccupied my mind as I ran hard, but also acted as inspiration. Her stories were incredible and pushed me to run harder towards my ultimate goal of qualifying for Boston. My pace for the three speed splits today would be 3:42, 3:42 and 3:37. Feeling strong. And soaking wet.
The Wakefield Half Marathon Trail Run
Saturday was the big one - my first race of the season. Wakefield, a small quaint town about 40 minutes north of Ottawa in Quebec, is nestled on the edge of the Gatineau River, right alongside Gatineau Park. It also happens to be Chelsea’s hometown. In its 4th year, the “Wakefield Covered Bridge Run” has grown significantly, and now includes 5 events - 3km, 5km, 10km, 21.1 km half marathon trail run and a duathalon. Funds raised by the race go towards the Wakefield Recreation Association, and primarily served to helping preserve the picturesque and historical Wakefield Covered Bridge.
While the 3k, 5k and 10k racers run across the bridge, the half marathon runners take a slightly different course: straight uphill. That’s right. The race starts at the base of Vorlage Ski Hill, with the first 1/2 km going straight up the hill, a section appropriately dubbed “The Quad Buster”. With on and off rain all week, the course was pretty wet and muddy. As the group of 68 of us shuffled out of the start gate, we hit the quad buster hard. Rocks, loose mud, an burning quads.
As we finished the first hill, I noticed that I was near the front of the pack, with two guys right ahead of me. After the quad buster, we cut across the long grassy field and towards the Wakefield Mill and into Gatineau Park on trail 53. From there, the course consisted of loose, sloppy mud coated trails, grassy farmers fields, and rocky hills in the forrest.
Unlike most road runs where you can kind of zone out and focus on things like your timing and pace, a trail run forces you to be completely engaged. You’re constantly figuring out where your next step will be - side step around that rock, avoid this branch, leap over that puddle. It was treacherous. It wasn’t long before my feet and legs were completed soaked and covered in mud. Some sections of the course had makeshift wooden planks to help runners get through overly wet and muddy sections. On top of all of that, the hills were brutal. One after the next. Some long and never-ending, others steep and seemingly straight up hill. It was killer.
The soft ground made it difficult to keep your footing, and I found myself slipping and sliding around quite a bit. I used my new Merrell ALLOUT Fuse’s for the run, a shoe that was designed exactly for a course like this, and they were great. Merrell knows their trail running, that’s for sure.
From the top of the quad buster 1km in, there was a guy right on my heels pretty much the entire race. I never really saw him, but I could hear his footsteps and I knew he was right there. We chatted and joked occasionally about the conditions of the course as we were sinking into mud holes and ducking under branches. His presence kept me loose, but also drove me to run harder. I didn’t want him to pass me - I wouldn’t let it happen. I couple of times he came into my peripheral vision, but I always pushed ahead. I found him after the race, gave him a high five and thanked him for pushing me.
Around km 17, the course opened up a bit, allowing me to take off. From then on out I never heard his footsteps again. The final two kilometres were brutal. Kilometre 19 challenged us with one final, extremely steep hill up towards the cemetery and into the woods. This hill would have been difficult to hike on any given day, let alone the wet conditions and the fact that I’d already run nearly 20km.
As I came out of the woods, the course brought you onto a road where volunteers guided me towards the finish, yelling “the last stretch!” as I passed. I came around a corner onto the final 1/2 km straightaway where I saw two spectators in the distance. Before long I realized it was Katie and Chelsea, and I gave them a fist pump. They cheered me on and high fived me as I passed, really helping me push to the finish line.
Here’s a shot that Katie snapped of me approaching the finish line from a distance.
1 hour, 36 minutes, and 20 seconds. 4th place overall, 2nd in my category (Men 20-29).
Not my fastest run, but definitely one of the toughest, most rewarding races I have ever been a part of. I was exhausted and muddy, but extremely proud with the result.
Since I was scheduled to run 30km this weekend as part of my training, Chelsea and I ran a 9km after the race. With an enormous hunger, and some jelly legs, Katie and I headed home, ate burritos, and had an epic nap.
The marathon is only 3 weeks away. As I continue to work on my speed during this time, my distances begin to taper. We’re in the final stretch here folks. Let’s finish strong.