If you’re a runner and you live in Ottawa, why wouldn’t you want to participate in the Ottawa Race Weekend?
Up until last year, I had missed out on the Race Weekend’s events for a few consecutive years and the FOMO was real. I missed the feeling, the atmosphere, the support and just everything about this particular weekend. As long as I’m living in Ottawa and able, I’ll be at the start line of at least one of the event’s races.
For the last six weeks I’d been so caught up in the playoff run that the Sens were having that I almost forgot about everything else. The night they got eliminated from contention sucked (but I’ll save that for another post). The morning after, I knew I had to do something to get my mind off of it, and what better way than to run?
So I frantically searched for a bib last minute. The copious amounts of emails I had sent to people on Kijiji finally paid off as I had attained a half marathon bib at a great price. I’ll be completely honest though, that shortly after picking the bib up, I seriously began to question what I was doing. There was a slight part of me that thought I was crazy and wanted to back out. Fortunately, the other part of me felt confident in my abilities and fitness level. I had decided to go in with no expectations – there’d be no let down right? Zero expectations, no watch, no phone, no music, nothing. I just wanted to run for the sake of it. I wanted to run so I could take it all in, the sights and sounds of my city and of the unwavering crowd support. But mostly, I wanted to run because I love it.
Coming from a competitive running background, I’m so accustomed to being in a race and picking people off and pushing the pace. Honestly, as much fun as that is, I wanted none of it during this half. I had only ran one other half before, during last year’s Race Weekend. Being able to complete that in a decent time, while sick and in a very hot and humid environment gave me all the confidence in the world to complete this one despite my lack of training.
So there I was at the start line on the morning of the race. It was a gorgeous morning and I was stationed at the second last corral, running under the name Emma. I felt as calm as could be which was a novelty for me. In the past I’d been so accustomed to having pre-race jitters, which would typically manifest into detrimental physiological symptoms. There was none of that this time around.
After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, we were finally off. I took a look around and spotted the closest pace bunny – 2:20. Despite not wanting to push myself too hard, I also set the small goal of catching up to the 2:00 pace bunny and toyed with the idea of catching up to my girlfriend who was also running the race on whim! (she killed it btw).
Within the first 50m down Elgin, I heard my name and saw my parents enthusiastically waving and encouraging me which made me ecstatic, as they’ve hardly been able to see me race before. During the whole Elgin stretch, I had to tell myself to calm my pace as the energy was electric.
Elgin to Hintonburg felt great. The crowd support was tremendous, my breathing was easy, my legs felt nice and light and everything was going great. It definitely helped that I wasn’t running with a stopwatch or with music. The Nuun and water stations were lifesavers too!
At the 10k mark I remember being pleasantly surprised that it had already been 10k, I was still feeling amazing and I didn’t have any blisters or pain anywhere which was fantastic. I really didn’t start to feel it until I was approaching Quebec. The short uphill stretch on the Sir John A Macdonald Parkway was a bit tough but once it plateau’d it was smooth sailing. Once in Quebec, however, it got a bit more difficult. Blisters were becoming more apparent on my feet, my knees were aching, my absolutely soaked tank top was weighing me down, and the sun and heat became factors as well. At that point, I stuck to running in the shade wherever possible and decided to run shirtless which felt great.
The stretch leading up to the Alexandra Bridge was amazing. I felt like I pushed past the pain and just felt dialled in. The uphill leading up to the bridge was difficult, but manageable. I distinctly remember looking to my left and seeing a runner bent over the railing and throwing up, and a runner on the right collapsed on the ground. I had to constantly remind myself to be mindful of my pace, that I hadn’t trained and not to overdo it.
The last stretch from around Major’s Hill Park onwards was memorable. With some water and Nuun in hand, I felt refreshed and my legs surprisingly felt good. I felt like I was on to something. At a certain point in time, I heard a woman on the sidelines shout “great body!” which made me and others around me chuckle. I looked back, shouted thanks, and kept running between the throngs of people on each side.
Colonel By to Queen Elizabeth was tough. While my legs felt good, my knees began to hurt with every step. I got my mind off of it as I ran past the Lulu and Ott City Run Club cheer station, which gave me tons of energy.
On the final straightaway, with the finish line in sight I wanted nothing more than to just kick it. I’d been running at a modest pace the whole race and had plenty left in the tank. At about 100m to go, I vividly remember looking to my right and seeing a guy make eye contact with me as he began to kick to the finish. Seeing that was all I needed, as I began to pump my arms and actually pick up my legs and stride rate. I was thrilled with my finish and pumped that I hadn’t lost haha.
Post race, the limp wasn’t fun but I felt accomplished and pumped that I was able to run a good race, especially considering the circumstances. A while later, my friend Ashley looked up the results and I was thrilled to see them. I had ran a PB! I bested the previous year’s time by over a minute. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I had been around the 2 hour mark, just a shade above it, so I was elated to say the least!
Hearing that gave me tons of motivation. If I could run a 1:54 half without training, while stopping a few times to hydrate, thank volunteers, and converse unexpectedly with an acquaintance mid run, imagine if I actually trained and pushed myself?
I want the next half marathon I do to be more serious. I know that puts pressure on myself, but I also know I’m capable. I know I can run sub 1:40 and beyond that, I know I can run a 1:30. There’s nothing stopping me from attaining that and I look forward to putting in the effort and one day attaining that goal.
For anyone reading that has never participated in the Ottawa Race Weekend, do yourself a favour and sign up for next year’s edition. You won’t regret it. The running community in Ottawa is fantastic and so inclusive. I’m thrilled to be a part of it! A good starting point is the Ottawa City Run Club (@Ottcityrunclub on Instagram). They run every Tuesday night out of Dundonald Park, typically at 7:30pm.
As always, thanks for reading!