The anticipation for this event was large, seeing it was my first running race in just over 6 months. In fact, it brought back feelings similar to that of my very first race.
The day started early with a 7 am carpool up to Courtenay. I was excited to be sharing a ride with two master superstar runners, Gary Duncan and Brian Connan. I chatted off their ears on the way up, and I was as excited for this race as if I were a little boy at the playground.
On the way up, we eventually got to the topic of predicted times, and I reluctantly told them that I was just hoping to go sub 1:30 for this event. They were far more specific with their predicted times.
At the registration hall, it was awesome to see so many familiar faces. This was actually half of the reason I signed up for the race. I knew seeing the familiar faces and competing against my friends would provide me with the motivation to train even harder in the weeks that lie ahead. After all, this race for me was a 'tester' race. It was going to truly test the condition of my knee and truly test my fitness level. I had a pretty good idea of my fitness level, but until you test it under racing conditions, you never know for certain.
After the typical warm-up, I placed myself in about the 3rd row from the front. I wished my neighbors good luck, and then we were off.
And what a cool feeling it was to be racing. A feeling of exhilaration struck me immediately, and I said to myself, "I am racing again!".
The excited feeling then turned into a mental bewilderment of how my pacing was doing. Not having raced recently, and focusing on doing slower, longer training runs, made it difficult at best to know what my pace was. However, the 1k marker seemed to come quickly and I was satisfied with my 3:47. The next k was right around 4 minutes, and by this time, people were beginning to sort themselves out with their positioning in the race. I was happy with where I was and I ran side-by-side with Catrin Jones (a steady 1:25 half marathoner) until about km 7.
At around this time in the race, a slow but steady uphill climb seemed to be upon us. I had been pre-warmed by another fellow runner that there was a bit of a hill at this point, and that was totally fine by me. The more hills, the merrier. I hate flat road courses. Boring.
I had hoped that I would pick some people off going up the hill, but I resisted the temptation. This was a half marathon course after all, and a friendly burst so early on in the race could haunt me later in the race. I knew this, and just cruised along at the same pace. At the 10k mark, I was pleased to see that I was at 40:34. This was a decent time, and I was hopeful that the flat/downhill 2nd half of the course would better my pacing even further. However, I would find this somewhat difficult as my pace seemed to drop in the middle stage of the race. The pack that I was running with slowly dropped me. I was still feeling fine, but the fact of the matter is that my body will resort to my ultra pace (my training pace) if I lose my concentration.
I tried to make the most of the gentle downhills that lay in the next few kilometres ahead, but I was not going any faster than anybody else around me. Perhaps my lack of running any hills in the last 6 months is to blame for this lack of enthusiasm. However, I was still holding my own, and I was definitely hanging in there.
At the 15k mark, I was passed by fellow Harrier John Catterall and my watch showed 1:00:24. Not bad. I was still hammering out a 4 min./km. pace, and I was setting myself up for a good finish if I could hold it together.
I had hopes of completing the race at a 4 min./km. pace, but this dream was short-lived after km 15. The pavement flattened out, and the reality of having to maintain a downhill pace now on the flat was not very likely. Nevertheless, I still could see Andrew Green and his crew up ahead and catching them was not totally out of the question.
At around km 17, I was totally shocked when Matthias Shoek passed me. I had not seen him at all in the race, and now it seemed he was kicking his way to the finish line hard. He encouraged me to keep up with him, but he was on quite a kick, and I did not have the gas to follow him. I did however manage to catch back up to John Catterall, and I was looking good with 2k to go. It seemed to me at this point that I was not going to catch anyone infront of me (as they were around 30 sec. infront) and I knew there was nobody hot on my heels. I ran my best for the last 2k and finished strong.
The last stretch of the race was very cool. With nobody around me, the crowd had no choice but to cheer for me as I came in. It felt awesome. I crossed the line in a time of 1:25:51.
This time for me was simply superb. My expectation was just to get under 1:30, so this was quite something for me. I secretly thought I could have gone under 1:25, but until the race plays out, you just never know. Overall, I finished 42nd out of 540 runners. Considering this was my first race in 6 months, to come within 1 minute of my Personal Best, is simply awesome. I knew my training was going well, and this result now confirms some of my thinking and training. This result is also validation for me that (a) my knee is close to 100% (as there was no pain during or after the race) and (b) that all the hard work in the rehab stage was worth it. I worked hard during this time, and my quick recovery time was the reward.
After the race, I was forced to stick around for the awards ceremony. I have never actually done this, as I have always been eager to get home and help out with the family. Just before the awards, I found out that the top 10 in each age group win ribbons. I never knew of this, and I suspected maybe I had been winning ribbons in my races in past years. Hmm.
Sure enough, when my age group was called out, I took the stage to take 7th place in my age group. I was flattered. Upon return, I checked the results on the computer, and sure enough, I should have actually won 6 other ribbons for such races. Damn. Maybe I will stick around for the awards ceremonies from now on!
Back to training now, 6 weeks to go before my 50k race. Yeha!