Monday, June 2, 2014

A non-racer's race report - Ottawa Race Weekend

On May 24-25 (yes, this blog post is late), hordes of the sweaty, the carb-loading, the hopped-up-on-electrolytes, and the wicking-fabric-and-compression-sock-clad descended on Ottawa as the city celebrated the 40th anniversary of Ottawa Race Weekend. From the 2k, 5k and 10k runs on Saturday evening to the half and full marathons on Sunday morning, 48,000 runners of all shapes, sizes, ages and skill-levels joined together to participate in the fun. 

I was NOT one of those runners. 

If you've read this post, then you know why. If you haven't, what are you waiting for? Go read it!

(Or read this recap instead:)

- I'm too non-conformist to do something that has become so mainstream;
- Some people need the throngs and a training schedule to motivate them. I'm not one of those people;  
- Going for a run is my way of having alone time, and there is nothing less alone than being surrounded by 48,000 strangers;
- The only sentient being I like to spend time with on my runs is Fergus, who is the BEST running companion. Partly because he keeps unwanted company away from me; and
- My whole athletic life is best described as one giant injury, interspersed with moments of non-injury.

So basically, I don't run marathons because I don't like people and because I have convinced myself that my TFL and my knees and my groin and my multitude of other injuries could not withstand the extra mileage without demanding payment in the form of years shaved off my running life. Which means lost time for me to do one of the things I love most in the world - go for early morning runs with Fergus. If I only have a certain number of kilometres left, then I'd rather drag them out for as long as I can. Or at least until Fergus retires his paws. Because let's face it - that furry little gong show needs his exercise or else he will drive Hubby and I to drink more than we already do! 

So THAT is why I did not join the 48,000 runners in their pursuit of the finish line. 

All of that said, I still love Ottawa Race Weekend. Because I love running. And the weekend is a celebration of all things running. It's exciting stuff! Like on Friday morning before the races began, when Fergus and I were out running along the river behind Parliament Hill and were passed by a group of elite runners out for their last "slow-and-easy" run before the marathon. I knew they were elite runners because their "slow-and-easy" pace smoked our own respectable 5:30, making it look like we were merely crawling along. Slow as they made me feel, I got all giddy thinking that I had possibly just shared the path with the soon-to-be winner of the marathon.

I also have a number of friends who run in the half- and marathon. And so, with the marathon starting at 7am on Sunday, Hubby and I got up bright and early, abandoned the ritual walk with Fergus, and made our way down to the 9-ish-km mark on the course. We wanted to make sure we would get there in time to see the elite runners blow through. And blow through they did, sometime around the 23 or 24 minute mark (I wasn't paying attention to the pace car). With their long strides and effortless breathing, they were pure poetry in motion. About 20 minutes later, the crowd of runners thickened as pace group after pace group made its way down the street, still early enough in the race that the runners were all smiles. Hubby and I saw a few of the friends we had come to see, and excitedly yelled out to them as they ran past. And we cheered for the thousands of people we didn't know, some who were clearly seasoned pros, and others who were obvious first-timers, many of them thanking the spectators as they ran by. 

The church on the corner of Fairmont and Wellington marked the 9k-ish mark

Had to round a pretty sharp corner before continuing into Hintonburg

As the crowd of runners started to whittle down, we headed home where we were greeted by a very excitable Fergus who was not at all impressed that he had not yet had his morning walk. So he and I took off to his favourite place on earth, the Arboretum. After about an hour of working out his demons by playing fetch, swimming and chasing other dogs, we started to make our way home. Except that I'd misjudged the time and our way out of the Arboretum was blocked by the half-marathoners who were now coming down the Queen Elizabeth parkway in droves. 

The high-point of the half-marathon - Queen Elizabeth Drive is FULL of runners

While I hadn't intended on it, Fergus and I made our way over to Carling Avenue where I split the next 45 minutes between keeping an eye out for friends of mine who were running the half and keeping Fergus from barking and jumping into the crowd to run along. Thanks to the liver treats I had in my pocket, he was remarkably well-behaved, even earning a few compliments from dog-loving runners as they went by. 

The half-marathoners making their way down Carling Avenue

And Fergus clearly enjoyed the atmosphere. Because when the crowd thinned enough for us to dash across the street to make our way home, he kept pulling me back towards the runners. Clearly, I'm not the only one who gets excited by race weekend in our household!

"I'm not ready to go yet! There are still lots of runners coming through here!"

So mesmerized by the runners...

We got home just in time for me to make my way down to the finish line to celebrate with a few friends who had completed the marathon, including Fergus' second favourite running companion - my neighbour, Kate - who has taken him out for a few 20+km runs while training for this race. She was positively elated, having broken the 4 hour mark and shaving over 20 minutes off her previous time to set a new PR. So off we went to a local pub for a well-deserved pint (it's tough being a supportive neighbour and spectator!)

As I sat there and listened to the runners breaking down their races, I couldn't help but be inspired by what they had accomplished. And not just them. Ottawa Race Weekend is filled with stories, big and small, about triumph. Like the fact that the winner of the marathon set not only a course record but a record on Canadian soil with his time of 2:06:54. Or the 22-year-old autistic man who ran his first marathon ever, coming in at 2:39:21 and capturing 28th place. Or the woman we saw wearing a shirt that said "Keep calm and fuck cancer" on the front and "I run for Judy" on the back. Or the runners who thank the spectators for coming out to cheer them on, as though we are the ones doing all the hard work. More than one moment and more than one story brought on goose-bumps, and maybe even a tear or two. 

And so, the real lesson here is that I might have to start leaving town on Ottawa Race Weekend. Before I get so inspired that I abandon my disdain for marathon training and jump into the fray myself. Who knows. Maybe you'll see me on the course next year. 

Cheer for me if you do, okay?