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Montreal Half-Marathon 2014, Oka 5km 2014 race reports

I’m fully aware that this is quite late. But in my new 2015 resolutions, I plan to be writing on this blog at least once a week. And to kick off things, this will be the first of a three part series that will be published this week. (Red text is Diana’s POV).

When we registered for the Montreal Half-Marathon in December 2013, neither me nor Diana had ever ran a half-marathon, triathlon or duathlon (at that point, my longest run was around 15km). when I registered, the Montreal Half-Marathon was our main race for 2014. Then a slew of races followed – 10k’s, half-marathons, duathlons, triathlons… At some point I lost sight of the Montreal Half-Marathon and mindlessly put it in the back of my mind as what we call a B race.

Once the excitement of the Esprit Triathlon faded, with my mind clear, I realized that you don’t put the Montreal Half-Marathon in your agenda as a B race. It is the main road race in the province. It is a 35000 people strong event, striding in Montreal streets. I could not show up and use it as a training session. I could at least make it as successful at the Isle-Aux-Coudres Half-Marathon. I picked up a training plan, I put biking and swimming aside for a period (I have all winter to get back into these) and spent September and October preparing for the half-marathon and the following race (Oka 5k). I also learned to stretch. My right knee has been thankful ever since.

This was the race for which I had the most anticipation, and have been preparing it for months. I diligently followed a training plan for a good 12 weeks to get ready for the Oasis half-marathon. It would not only be my first half-marathon, it would actually be the first time I ran a 21.1km distance, the highest distance I had run in training had been 17.3km.

The day before the race, we visited the expo and picked up our bibs. Purchased a few random sport equipment (shoes, sunglasses, sweaters, sports bars). Because we had registered so long ago, we had our starting corrals revised: I was now in corral #2, right after the professionals. How’s that for an ego boost? We then treated the pizza monsters (aka, the kids) to the Popessa while we had our traditional pre-race pasta and went back home to sleep early.

Unlike any other race I did this year, I had a hard time figuring out my race plan. I had done 4:43/km in Charlevoix, but I felt faster the week leading up to Montreal. I was therefore looking to improve my time. But on the other hand, Charlevoix was hilly at first and then very flat for the second half, while it was the other way around for Montreal. I feared I could not hold negative splits (running faster in the later portions of the race) because of the hills, but I also feared burning out early if I went too fast and then could not climb those hills at all. I also hesitated on the choice of shoes: trusted Kinvara or brand new Merrell.

On Saturday morning, I went out for a last pre-race training. Something short, 4km or so. I decided to wear my sockless triathlon shoes. And that’s when it all fell into place. There is nothing like running sockless, in an extremely light shoe. I just thought that I’d go all for it from the start, survive the hills, recover on the small descents and finish knowing I gave it all. I also decided to forego my hydration belt and use the water stations, pack three gels in my pockets and strap my phone around my arm to take Diana and our friend Remi in pictures.

The day of the race was an unusually hot late September day. The high atmosphere started in the metro on the way over (which was around 6am since our start was around 8:30am).

There was an electrifying feeling at the start on Jacques-Cartier Bridge. Runners left in waves, and I was in wave 10 (to which I had switched from 13 the day before, thanks to Guillaume. I should have even chosen a lower wave as I saw throughout the race). Because of all the waiting for the bathroom, I actually started in wave 11.

On a very nice and warm Sunday morning of September, our little trio of me, Diana and Remi took the metro and headed to the Jacques-Cartier bridge. When we arrived, the size of the event surprised me: I had not fathomed how much people 35000 person was, exactly! The whole bridge was covered with people in colored technical sweaters.

That actually led to the first issue of the day: bathrooms. One of my pre-race ritual is to drink 500mL of beet juice. First, compounds in beet juice will dilate blood vessels, increasing oxygen transport and second, it gives my mouth a blood red color so I can look like a crazed maniac – I found that people will move out of your way faster with it. Anyway… 500mL of fluids will tend to fill up a bladder nicely. Note to organizers: a ratio of 1 port-a-potty per 1000 runners is not adequate. Because my start time was getting close, I decided to skip the bathroom break and use one down the course if I really needed to.

Horn goes off once for the pros, then a minute later it goes off a second time for my corral: we are off! First thing I notice: there are a boatload of people. Even if I want to run at 4:30/km, I just can’t because there are too many people. It’s only after 1-2km that it starts to open up a little, when circling La Ronde (pun not intended). I speed up and get in a good rhythm.

Nothing much to say for the first 15km… While it makes sense to start from the Jacques-Cartier bridge, that means very few spectators on the Ste-Hélène and Notre-Dame islands. A few rock bands spread out here and there (it is a Rock’N’Roll Marathon series event after all), playing old songs (Funkytown!!!) – but otherwise no one to notice my new personal best on 10km.

Around 14km, near the Five Roses building, my pace slows down a little and at 15km, I’m averaging 4:31/km. I arrive in Old Montreal a little drained but ready to suck in the energy from the crowds that have started to appear, motivating the runners.

Or laughing at the runners maybe… Old Montreal means Place Jacques-Cartier and it’s fairly steep climb – which ended up killing me. No juice left at the top, and I can’t seem to be able to restart below 5:00/km. Second hill (Amherst) and third hill (Berry) just make sure to knock me in the ground. At least at Berry I know I’m almost done… After an endless series of right turns near Parc Lafontaine, I finally cross the finish line, completely exhausted.

And I would beat my personal record for half-marathon. Hurray! Official time: 1:38:49 –  a little faster than Charlevoix. 447th overall, 385th male, 82nd in my age group (M35-39). Well deserved beer for both me and Diana!

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I knew at this distance a smart strategy would be to take it a bit easier on the first half of the race in order to save energy to pick it up/sprint later on. However, the course on this particular race had hills in the final stretch, so the strategy had to be used in moderation. Most of my race was run at a slightly faster pace than goal (5:31min/km), picking up the pace prior to the hill section. Around km 16 was the first hill (Place Jacques Cartier in Old Montreal). I recuperated quite well from it (up to sprint pace) by the time I hit the next one around km 18 (Amherst). I had not completely recuperated from this one when I got to the final one (which was a little of a surprise since I was expecting 2 hills in the final stretch) at km 20 (Berri). After that, I thought I was done. I felt I was running so slow that there was no point, and I should just walk the rest of the way. A little voice shouted in me that there was less than 1km left and that even a slow jog would make a significant difference and just keep running. Analyzing my splits later one, I realized I was not as slow as I felt in the final stretch – never give up! I was able to sprint the final meters. The finish line was a winding road away, but so much emotion was waiting. After crossing the finish line at Parc Lafontaine, I have to admit to a few tears of pride. I finished with a time of 1:57:42 for the 21.3km distance (1:56 for 21.1km -pace of 5:32km/min) which ranked me top 9% women (top 12% in my age group (F35-39)).

I saw later that the course itself got criticized. That perhaps, more beautiful parts of Montreal (i.e., Ste-Catherine, St-Denis) would have been preferable to some that were chosen (such as La Ronde and the Formula1 track –which are dull). I did notice that some parts were narrow (such as on Concorde bridge) where passing was difficult. However, I really loved every minute of it, I felt so lucky that I was participating in this race in streets I had walked on in my life in other circumstances. I was so excited! The start was fluid, the spectators and the volunteers were great. I do have to mention that at the banana and water station, things got a bit slippery!

At the finish line, all I wanted was to see Guillaume and there were so many people that we couldn’t find eachother. We’ll know for next year that there are rally points designed to help find friends and family members. It took quite a few minutes, but we were so happy to find each other and share that day together. I knew it would be my biggest race of the year, and the day turned out to be perfect.

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After Montreal, this would leave me with a little more than one month to prepare for Oka. Where Montreal was an endurance, Oka was all about maintaining the fastest speed I could for 5km. Almost a full sprint from start to finish. A week after Montreal, I did a 3km test to see where I stood: 12:00 flush. 4:00 per km. My realistic goal for Oka was 21:00, my dream was 20:00 or below. So for a month I did lots of short and fast intervals.

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Then came the big day, with all the Lefebvre participating! Well, almost all of them, Lynne will be running the 5km next year (she just doesn’t know it yet).

How much can you say about a 5km race? Not much. I parked myself near the front before the gun went off, I gave everything I could, I questioned my sanity of doing these races for a few minutes, the other minutes where spent telling whatever was in my stomach to stay in my stomach.

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20:11. Almost. Very happy with this. 15th overall, 14th man (I got chicked!!!! And she was right in front of me, a little girl of no more than 15 – it does make you humble 🙂 ), 6th in M30-39.

Sub-20 in 2015 for sure 🙂

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Right after the Montreal half Marathon, we fell into training for a 5km race. This was quite a different training plan as the longest run of the week was often of 40-45min length. However, the goal was very different as it was there was a major pace objective. I wanted to run 5km in under 25min, so faster than 5min/km. To me, this pace seemed almost a ‘’sound barrier’’’ one, so it would be a difficult one to achieve. The temperature on the day of the race was chilly, similar to last year’s. This year, we had the added bonus of having both the girls as well as my sister-in-law race; a real family affair! Although it was the exact same course as last year, since this time I placed myself at the beginning of the pack, it felt and looked different. Much less people around me. I ran with my heart in my throat the whole time. The result was a chip time of 24:29min (pace of 4:54min/km) –64/680 overall, 19/492 Women, 6/145 in my age group (F30-39).

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A quick last word about Sabrina and Alexa, who did the 1k race. Sabrina went as fast as she could at the start (picture below sees me trying to follow her, I really didn’t expect that speed) – she will learn about pacing eventually as she got tired quite fast. For Alexa, she went as fast as her little legs could. Very proud of my two young athletes!

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Finally, big thank you to Grand-maman Lynne and Rémi to watch the kids while we were running and for taking extra pictures. We love our support crew (when they are not running with us anyway!)

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