Last Monday, Dave and I went to Hamilton so that I could race the Boxing Day Ten Miler. While time and place are important to me, I was using the race mostly to see where I am at in terms of my own fitness. Since the beginning of December, my running has consisted of, well, just running. There has been no speed work, no tempos, and no hill practices. My busy month of work and family activities and the icy streets have resulted in a slight drop in my weekly mileage so I had just one goal: to run as fast as I can and feel good. I was really hoping that I could race in under 75 minutes.
Based on how my running had been going this fall, I felt that I could run that. I was up for the challenge of racing the day after Christmas, on a course with gentle rolling hills and a noon start. “If nothing else,” I told myself, “I’ll get in a good run and spend some time with Monica.”
Monica is one of my training partners. We run together when we can, which usually only means once a week. If I’m lucky, it ends up on a day when I am running long; when I am unlucky, it’s a day when she is doing intervals. Monica was also going into the Ten Miler with a “casual” attitude; it was just a post-Christmas tempo run. Unlike me, though, Monica has been doing all of the right things in her training and she was bound to have a strong race.
On the drive out to Hamilton, it poured. Over Christmas weekend, temperatures rose to slightly above zero, so the precipitation was rain – heavy rain. Most of it had passed by the time the race started but we still had some drizzle and a cold rain that leaves a chilled to the bone feeling. I actually didn’t mind it because the rain kept the temperatures a little more comfortable for racing.
There were, however, a few things that I didn’t like about the race. There were several problems with the start, for example, as most of us had no idea of the direction we were to start in; that’s an important detail in any race. Secondly, all runners in the 4 mile run and 10 miler began at the same time, which is so unusual in today’s road racing scene. I know that I am not alone in wishing that there were two starts, one for each group; even a 5 minute delay would have helped alleviate some of the congestion. There was also a bit of chaos in how the actual start was managed. The race director announced “Two Minutes!” Runners put on their race faces, and the race director said, “Go!” without any extra warning, no horn, nothing – just “Go.” People scrambled forward, surprised by the casual approach.
Hamilton is nicknamed “Steeltown” after the steel-making industry and, on Monday, the skies were as grey as its name. We can’t control the weather but the course would have been a lot nicer on a sunny day. Even when we ran along Bayfront, which is normally a scenic area, we had nothing but concrete, barren trees, grey water and grey skies. The first 5K were downhill or flat. I went out too fast for the first two kilometres, which is easy to do on a downhill start, and spent the next three dialing my pace back under control. By the time I hit the 8K mark (around 36:50), I felt that I had my pace exactly where I wanted it to be. Of course, every downhill is followed by a climb and we had a long one between 8K and 9/10K (it’s a bit of a blur right now). Then we ran up and down the hilly roads/paths until we had a last gradual (and long) climb to the finish. I ran 1:14:20 – mission accomplished. We headed inside, changed into warm clothes and had some hot tomato soup. Yum!
And I felt great. Monica ran a speedy 64 minutes and complained about being sore the next day. Not me! My legs felt fresh and ready to go. Obviously, I could have pushed myself more.
Both of us finished second in our age groups and that leaves me with my final criticism of the race: the awards. First, the finisher’s medal had a “95th year” ribbon on it, but this was the 96th year. I, as did several other runners, felt that we were given leftovers from 2015. Similarly, we were given a bronze coloured buckle for our second place finish. I questioned it – twice because it seemed so odd that ours was bronze but the 3rd place was more silver – but they insisted that we had the correct awards. I still feel like there was an error, or we were given leftovers from previous races when runners did earn belt buckles for running within a certain time. It’s not a big deal, but it irks my sometimes-ocd personality.
I know exactly where I lost to the first place winner, who finished less than a minute ahead of me. At the second last aid station, I stopped to make sure that I was getting Gatorade into me as I felt my sugar levels were dropping a bit; that’s where she passed me there. But rather than push myself to chase her, I simply started running again. Had I known that she was in my age group, I definitely would have given myself a good kick in the butt. Just before we climbed the last hill, I saw that the gap between us had narrowed, but I still didn’t feel the need to chase her down. After the awards, I wish that I had. Next time.
I got what I wanted out of the Boxing Day Ten Miler: a decent race, a baseline to build on in 2017, time with a friend. What I didn’t quite expect, though, was a boost in my confidence again – the realization that I am stronger than I think. Bring on 2017!