Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Winterman Half Marathon Race Report

We headed to Ottawa to run the Winterman half marathon last weekendIt starts at the Canadian War Museum and is organized into a 5.275km out and back -- four times for a half and eight times for a full.

There were PLENTY of things that I didn't like the sound of:
  • February race date during our harshest winter in a very long time;
  • Ottawa race city, which is typically colder and snowier than Toronto;
  • Out and back four times?  Are you crazy?; and
  • 8:30 start time.  In February.  In Ottawa.

And we signed up anyway because:
  • there are precious few opportunities in February to race instead of doing a lonely training long run;
  • I've long been embarrassed that I've only ever been to the capital once, and that was on business;
  • the boys were willing to come with us -- they're 17 and 15, so there won't be many more times; and
  • we were taking the VIA train, another thing I've never done.

We treated ourselves to business class on the train, which included a pre-boarding lounge with free coffee (my favourite), preferred seating and a meal.  We left Saturday morning and arrived about four hours later; not much slower than flying if you count the airport security and runway lineups.  Add in free wifi and no cell phone restrictions and I think it's my new favourite way to travel.  

We stayed about one kilometer from the Museum, so Phil went to get the race kits on foot.  Swag bags were pretty standard, and included long sleeve shirts that are unfortunately cotton, but look kinda cool.  We were set to go out for dinner and I thought it wise to check our gear to make sure we didn't forget anything.  We're not used to these destination races, and can get away with last minute organization since we're usually at home.  I was proud that I had remembered my watch, earphones, sunglasses, layers of wicking clothes, extra warm SmartWool socks, toque, neck warmer and mittens.  I had even packed spiky shoe things in case the course was snow covered.  I'm so smart.  Except I forgot my running jacket.  For a February race in Ottawa.  Awesome.

It was after 6:30pm on a Saturday and Ottawa pretty much closes when the sun goes down.  We asked at the front desk if there was a WalMart or Target nearby, hoping that those chains stayed open later everywhere.  The hotel lady wrinkled her nose as if the mere suggestion of discount shopping smelled bad and asked what we needed.  She suggested going to the Rideau Centre instead, a short walk away, and was sure it was open until 9pm.  In fact, she "checked" her handy computer to verify this.  So off we went to the mall -- discovering that it was open until 9:00, except the stores in it all closed at 7:00.  We arrived at 7:05.  Awesome.

Love you, Walmart.
The Rideau Centre is along the Canal, so we set the boys up to skate on the famous ice rink while we hightailed it by cab to Walmart.  I've never been so happy to seen an "OPEN" sign in my life.  The best option was a small man's running jacket, which left enough room for two or three layers.  24 bucks.  We also found fleece gloves/scarf/hat combo packs on sale for 5 bucks each -- too good to pass up!  Also grabbed some yogurt and fruit for breakfast and were completely relieved.

We woke up bright and early Sunday and immediately checked The Weather Network; it was -17°C.  Awesome.  We put on all the clothes we had, and I added one of those Walmart scarves on top of my neckwarmer.  And we took a cab the one kilometer to the start -- please don't judge.

We stayed inside the Museum until the start, which was nice and warm.
 It seemed like everyone else was dressed much less warmly than we were -- I guess we're the Toronto wusses.  I'm okay with that.  We sang O Canada (always makes me catch my breath) and the race started with the VERY loud and real live cannon firing at the end of a count down. 

I thought I would hate the repeated out and backs, but it wasn't so bad.  It was hilly, but at least you knew what to expect after the first lap.   It was a little tough mentally finishing the third lap and heading out for another as many were veering left to the finish, but that's distance racing for ya -- there's always the low point.  

The volunteers were amazing.  There were water/Gatorade stations at the start and turnaround point of the lap, and by the 3rd lap you felt like the people handing out drinks were family.  I chose to take Gatorade or water only at one end, so every 5k ish, as that's my plan for fueling the marathon in May. You also knew where the photographers were, so could plan your expressions.  I can't imagine doing it 8 times for a marathon, but 4 was alright.  I had the right number of layers too -- there were warm spots and cool spots, and it stayed cold but the sun was shining, so I was able to put my hood up or down and take my gloves on and off throughout.  There was, as there inevitably is, a guy running in bare legs, but his skin looked sunburnt it was so red.

Top 10 coolest medal.
I treated this race like a training run, and though I pushed myself harder than I do running solo, I wasn't expecting a PR.  Even so, it was my second fastest ever half (2:19:13), only slower than Hamilton, which has a gradual downhill to flat.   I am getting better, slowly but surely.  I came THIS close to placing in my age group too -- fourth out of eleven -- so there's a reason to return.  Phil was happy with his 1:52 finish.

You can't see it, but there were ice crystals in my hair.

I will definitely do this race again.  It was incredibly well organized and, while there weren't a huge number of supporters, the repetitive course allowed for the same few to cheer for you again and again.  It was very clear where to go, even though there were shorter turning points for a 5k and 10k.  Perhaps a bit crowded at the start with all the races going at the same time, but it stopped me from going out too quick.

Next up:  Chilly Half in two weeks, a favourite 5k for St. Patrick's Day (ish) that the boys have also signed up for, and I'm hunting down a bib for the Around the Bay 30K on March 30.