For six months now, I’ve had this date circled on my calendar. The Ottawa Marathon. All my training, even all the races I’ve done in the last few months, have all been pointing to this. I worried that I would succumb to the pressure I was placing on myself. That ended up not being the case. I enjoy sharing my journey, I enjoy putting all my chips in on one race. And I knew I couldn’t pick a better race.
Before I even got to Ottawa, I said that this would be a great weekend no matter what happens in the race. I still stand by that. From the moment I arrived, the atmosphere was just as electric as I remember and I could not recommend a race experience more highly than Ottawa Race Weekend.
The expo is a sea of people, but the venue is well equipped to handle it. There’s lots of great products, deals and interesting people to talk to. I met so many Instagram friends and just running friends, include a whole crew that came from Sherbrooke. My favourite part was getting to take a bus tour of the marathon course. It was great to see where I’d be running and our guide was hilarious. I highly recommend seeing the route of any race before you run.
Race morning came and it was a beautiful Sunday morning. Unfortunately, the weather was calling for warmer temperatures than we had been expecting. I wasn’t phased. I figured it wouldn’t get too hot too quick and I would just have to battle through the final km’s in the heat. I had mentally prepared for that.
I met up with my friend Rachel and we kept each other relaxed before the big race began. It’s always nice to have people to chat with before, and not get too caught up in the moment for me. My running buddy Mike was also there, so we all headed to the start line together before we parted for our different corrals.
I don’t have the race broken down into too may different segments. As the race began, there were a lot of people but I managed to get enough space to run my pace and not go too fast. I saw a buddy of mine from Sherbrooke early on, so we chatted a bit. However, I knew that if I’m running with him, I’m going to slow, so I left him shortly after. I remember being pleasantly surprised how much shade we had early on. I didn’t remember that from the tour, however the tour was at noon, so less shade at that time of day.
I tend to break my marathons down into six 7km segments. Each segment needs to be just under 30 min. I would even take a 30 minute 7k. The first two segments were bang on. Actually, each was about 30 seconds faster than I needed, so not right on, but not too fast either. For some reason, towards the end of the third segment, and nearing the halfway point, the negative self talk started to settle in. At one point I even got a stitch.
I was ready for this though. I managed to talk myself down, and as the pack I was running with seemed to pull away, I kept pulling them back in just to keep the mental edge of knowing I wasn’t being left behind. Their pace wasn’t really any faster than I wanted to be going.
As we reached the half way point, I saw that I reached the 21.1km point 1:30 earlier than I had planned to. Again, not too fast, and just a little bit faster than I had in Hamilton when I got my BQ. It was still a mental struggle, but I told myself I was ready, I had trained for this, and I was able.
At this point of the race, we entered Quebec where we would experience the biggest stretch of hills. They weren’t crazy, but it was definitely the hardest part of the course. My pace slowed a bit here but I was ok with that. I had gained some time in the first half and I though, I don’t need to fight these hills too much. I can lose a little time and conserve some energy for the latter half of the race. When the course levelled, I was back on pace. I lost a little time on the hills, but nothing significant.
I was happy to leave Quebec and cross back over the river into Ottawa. This truly is such a beautiful course from start to finish. The crowd is amazing throughout, especially the last several kilometres. Aid stations had misting zones, gels, Nuun and even some sponge stations. I loved all of it.
My fuelling strategy for this race was to take my GU gels every 40 minutes. I would take water on the front half of the race, and then switch over to Nuun ever other aid station on the back half. With the temperature warming, I took more water than I normally would. I took my first gel at 40 minutes but then every 30-35 minutes after that. I even grabbed an extra one from the aid stations.
When I finished 28km, I was 2/3 through the race and still ahead of my Hamilton time. This is where I started to struggle in Hamilton but I managed to keep going. It was the same story here, but this time, the result would be different. I told myself I would not stop, that I would keep going. However, as we were rounding a corner just after 30km, I found myself almost involuntarily stopping to walk. That caught me off guard but I managed to get my legs moving again before I actually did.
Not too much later, I made the choice to pull up. I couldn’t run. I just couldn’t do it. I stopped to take some walking steps but determined to walk hard. It was an aggressive walk because I didn’t want to lose too much time. I had fought this so hard because I knew, if I stop to walk once, it would be easier to do again. It would also make the last 12km more miserable than if I didn’t stop.
This break was my plan to reset my mind a little, reevaluate my goals and grab a quick rest. The 3:05 pace bunny had not passed me so I knew a BQ was still a realistic goal if I could just catch my breath a little and keep going. I managed to pick it up again and get moving. I was feeling good again and as long as that pace bunny didn’t pass me, I knew I’d be ok. It wouldn’t be the sub 3:00 I wanted, but I could still BQ.
It didn’t take long for the legs to give out again. about 2km later, after I had been feeling good after that quick breather, I couldn’t do it again. I was walking again. Now I was getting frustrated. It didn’t take long and my runner buddy Mike had caught up to me and was passing me. He cheered for me to come with him. I was happy to see him because I thought it would give me the boost and push I needed to get moving again. I decided to go with him. That lasted about 5 steps and then I just couldn’t go.
Now I knew I was in trouble. My goal from here on out was to make it 5k more, take a quick walk break, then finish the last 5k, knowing that my BQ was gone. I slowed up my pace considerably and I still couldn’t go another 5k without another walk break. I think I finished with about 5 walk breaks in total. The 3:05 pace bunny was long gone. The 3:10 had passed me as well. Then, with under 2km left to go, the 3:15 pacer passed me as well. That one was sad to me. I really didn’t want to fall that far.
As I came up on the finish, I was alone. There are tons of pictures because I was the only one to cross at that time. I managed to finish with a time of 3:17:09. And to be honest, at the moment I was proud that I pushed through and finished. I was completely ok with that time.
Ottawa is such a fun race. It was a great weekend, even without the result I had trained so hard for. I tried to enjoy it as much as possible. I highfived every kid and person I could. I clapped along with the bands. I tapped the signs and interacted with the crowd, all without breaking stride or using unnecessary energy. To the person handing out freezies towards the end, I love you! It was really a fun race if you take away the timing of it all.
As I finished, runner after runner was complaining about how hot it had gotten. I hadn’t noticed. At no point during the race did I think to myself, wow it’s hot out here. However, I do tend to sweat a lot, so maybe the heat affected me more than I realized and wore me down. Maybe I should’ve been taking more electrolytes earlier than I had started. I simply don’t know.
All in all, it wasn’t my day. It wasn’t the result I wanted. It would’ve been so perfect, so sweet to reach my goal there, but it wasn’t meant to be. That being said, I still had a great weekend and would love to be back next year. Not just for redemption, but because I can’t imagine a better race weekend.
There’s so much to process and reflect upon from this race. There are so many lessons learned, but I will save those for another day. 3:17:09. Not the day I wanted, but not a bad day. Thank you Ottawa.