Done! I finished the Chilly Half Marathon in 2:02:14! While I was hoping for a finish time less than 2 hours, I think I can say I left it all out there on the course, and there wasn’t going to be a faster finish for me no matter what I did. Let’s get into some details...
My wife dropped me off in downtown Burlington sometime after 9:30 and took the kids on a play-date rather than try to keep them happy in the sub-zero (Celsius, in case you’re reading this in the U.S.A!) temperatures. City Hall was open and available to stay warm and take bathroom breaks, but I found it so crowded I wouldn’t have been able to guess where the back of the line was, so I opted to use a local Subway restaurant instead (I later bought cookies from them to make up for mooching).
As the start time approached people started lining up in the corrals according to what their estimated finish time would be. I saw some pace bunnies struggling to get to the right position (hint: 1:55 is faster than 2:00), but I’ve never used them much myself (I’ll try to keep my eyes open for them but I use my Garmin instead). Having the crowd fill in help stave off the cold a little bit, but just about everybody had to jog on the spot a little to stay warm, whether or not that was their usual pre-race habit.
There seemed to be a false start where the crowd started to advance, then stopped, but finally (about 10:10 or so) we were off. I had plenty of time to start my music playing and start both Endomondo and my Garmin before crossing the start line chip sensor (the chips are disposable ones attached to the race bib - very convenient).
Straight down Brant street toward the lakeshore and then a right (west) we went. Once I start running, I usually warm up right away, but this time I think it was at least 2 km before my fingertips stopped hurting. I hadn’t taken as detailed a look at the race course as I should have: I knew we were heading toward the Burlington Skyway bridge, but would we actually be running on it? That would be a unique experience but also very cold... the western turn-around point was at the base of the bridge.
I was feeling good, and though there was temptation, I kept myself from running too fast so that there would be plenty left in the tank (both fuel/energy wise, and from a muscle fatigue perspective). I was nearing the start point (about 5 km) when I noticed my phone was playing from the intended running playlist, but rather shuffling between the whole collection (neat Endomondo feature: if you go to the link and click 'Playlist' on the left, you'll see what I was listening to!); the Scherzo from Beethoven's 9th was not what I had in mind! I took a walk break at the top of a hill and made the change.
My Garmin did something weird and I have yet to figure out why: it gave me lap alerts for every kilometer about 330m early, even by it's own measurement. For example, it called lap 10 complete at 9.67 km and lap 11 complete at 10.67 km. I got used to that, and actually found it handy to show how that particular kilometre was 'trending'. At the actual kilometre markings, I still had the Endomondo app calling out my pace times.
One thing I did better than usual on this race was not over-hydrate, but I still found myself needing to take a pit stop around the 13 km mark. I had increased my pace in anticipation of the rest and lost time, so I don't feel like this actually cost me anything in terms of my average pace.
With the course having two out and backs, there were plenty of opportunities to see other racers going the other way and maybe even a few high fives. There weren't as many of these as I would have expected, but I'm one of the worst people for that sort of thing - I was fairly focused on running my race. In fact, I later realized that I hadn't enjoyed the view of the lake at all, I think the flat light of the overcast day made me forget about the water.
I found that my heart rate was occasionally getting too high even when my pace was lower than I wanted it. The trick I found was to take my hat off; as I cooled off, my heart rate seemed to get lower for faster running.
My Achilles tendons were flaring up increasingly as the kilometres ticked off, but I was keeping the kind of pace I wanted: mostly around 5:40 to 5:45 km. I thought that was the pace I wanted for a 2 hour time, and according to my original plan 5:42 should have been it, but as I neared 16 km I began to realize the math was wrong - upon review I see there were a few 6 minute kilometres. I think I knew it was too late to make changes, but I couldn't give up either. I started increasing my pace, and after the 18 km mark I really started hauling it (there is no tomorrow!)
At the 20 km mark, I got a call from my wife. I tried to ignore it, but ultimately took the call; thanks to the Jaybirds, I didn't have to stop or slow down to fiddle with the phone. She was having trouble finding parking and ultimately she and the boys wouldn't be at the finish line in time to see me cross, but I couldn't hear a word of that at the time. Nor would she have been able to make out my guttural grunts and gasps as I was giving it my all on the last kilometre.
As I crossed the finish line, I stopped the Garmin and saw 2:02. I was a little disappointed, but not too much, as I didn't really feel like I had made any real mistakes on the course or done a poor job of training for the race. One of the volunteers handed me a bottle of water, and I think he was checking my level of consciousness the way they do for Ironman finishers... I got my breath back and a hold of myself and thanked him properly. There were good post-race snacks, including PowerBar protein bars, bananas, and juice boxes.
Once I had reunited with my family, we looked for one of the restaurants that would be serving chilli and beer without being to crowded for a family with two small kids. We found Melodia, and though they didn't have seating in their main floor area, they were nice enough to open their second floor for us (they would later fill up to the point where they needed that space too). We added to our meal of chilli (and a Carlsberg that went down soooo nicely) a Mediterranean inspired cheeseburger and grilled cheese (on a pita!). I tried hard to keep our kids from ruining their nice tablecloths, but it ended up being me who spilled a whole bowl of chilli on the floor... I hope my tip made up for the inconvenience!
I had a Epsom salt bath when I got home and I've been taking it easy ever since - I think the last of my muscle soreness will be gone by the time you read this. I'd really recommend this event - I think I might do it again next year. At any rate, I want to make a March/Mid-winter race a tradition; training for it has kept me more focused and disciplined, and the outdoor runs have done a lot to keep my winter mood up.