Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The County Half Marathon Race Report

A few months ago, one of our friends from the tri club mentioned that he was going to race the County Half Marathon for the 10th time in a row, in the heart of the scenic Prince Edward County, 3h east of Toronto. I figured that there must have been a good reason for him to go back year after year, and he told us that we should find out by ourselves, by running it as well. That sounded just like the challenge I would take to keep my legs moving. A month after our A race, and why not after all? I knew that I wasn't going to break any records, I just wanted to make the fun last longer.

And so after Muskoka 70.3 I took the time to rest and let the legs get into a new groove. I still ran a few times a week, but the volume did not exceed 38km and 7.5h of training in total per week, including a bike ride here and there, one swim and a strength training workout. Most runs with the exception of a hard 15k (race pace less 20sec/km) a week before the race, were all "easy pace", although I managed to stay under 6min/km each time, and more or less in Z2, by some mystery of physiology. However, halfway during the month, I started having these weird pains in my knees. Shooting pain from all angles, but they would not last more than 2-3 minutes at a time. After I finished running, my knees would get really hot and pulse for almost an hour. A few days before the race I finally went to see my massage therapist who told me that my knees were ok, but my hips, IT bands and hamstrings were all extremely tight, and that they were pulling on the knee tendons from all sides. I just had to stretch more often and keep applying ice. So what did I do? I freaked out, of course.

I cancelled all remaining workouts for the week and put my feet up in the hope of giving them as much rest as I could. The one thing that I could not fathom, was to DNF on a race "for fun". On Friday, when the time came to drive to the cottage that we rented for the weekend, I was totally unprepared. I had not even packed. I rushed home from work and managed to get our bags ready in a record time (by my standards anyway) and one hour later we were on our way, direction Wellington, PEC.

Once arrived at destination, we settled in, then I left the boys watch TV and I headed over to another one of the cottages on the property, where Nicole and 25 of her girlfriends were #retreat-ing in style, a yearly tradition from what I've heard. I had a drink and tried to keep my mind occupied until time came to call it a night. Riri 1- Irrational Fear 0. Thank you, pear cider.

The next morning we went on a little adventure in Sandbanks Provincial Park, the site of long sandy beaches and a very still and peaceful Lake Ontario, both desert at this time of the year. We all walked on the beach and enjoyed these moments of pure bliss, which filled our minds with much happier memories than 10 years ago when we last visited the place (my then 18 months old son broke his elbow 30 minutes after arriving at the campground).
The beach looks like a best kept secret
Not much changed in 10 years
I think I like it here
The Beach Boys
In the afternoon we went to Crystal Palace in Picton to pick up our race kit, a very fancy name for this stylish barn.
The Crystal Palace, Picton
A lovely barn that is
The expo didn't have much to rave about, but the race atmosphere was almost palpable, even a full day ahead. This marathon is definitely an event that Picton folk are proud of, and you could tell by the number of volunteers of all ages buzzing around. This year, it was also the 10th anniversary of the race and there were all kinds of displays to remind visitors how memorable this event has been so far.
The race kit included a reusable bag, a long sleeve tshirt, a pair of socks and some cereal bars. The chip was in the bib. Yay for new technology!
Look at that big ass medal!!
The T-shirt parade
A plaque for the regulars ;-)
After the race pick up we went back to the cottage, but not before we "sampled" some of the city's best baked goods, because it was all part of the carb loading ritual, I guess. Then we relaxed some more, until it was time to prepare dinner. We ended the night with s'mores by the fire and another drink with the gals. I love the cottage life! All races should include some down time like this.

I went to bed at 10:30pm, worried that I wouldn't be able to sleep well. But to my surprise, it was quite the uneventful night. Woke up at 6am, had a shower, ate a banana, then Nicole came to pick us up at 7am so we can drive back to Picton where the buses were going to take us to the start of the half marathon. Did I mention that it was pouring outside? I knew it was going to be a rainy day, so I decided to wear my grey Muskoka finisher tshirt and my running skirt, with the tri short underneath. We can change our colors, but we're still triathletes at heart. ;-) And to finish the metaphor of my outfit, I opted for my compression rainbow socks, because you know, after the rain, the rainbow... get it? ;-) A bit of voodoo magic, hoping for the sun to come out eventually.

In Picton we stopped at Tim Hortons for breakfast. Our race start was going to be at 10am, which was a bit tricky food wise. I had a bagel with cream cheese and an orange juice. I was on the fence about buying something sweet but I wasn't really feeling like eating more junk. So when Nicole offered an apple, I happily accepted it.

It was cold and damp outside, but by this time the rain had stopped. I was however glad that I had chosen to wear a throw away sweater since it was very chilly and my Raynaud's was acting up already. Nicole came to the rescue once more and gave me a pair of gloves!! Isn't she an angel, this girl?! Once I put them on, I felt a million times better. Can't you tell? Here we are playing with the spirits and exorcising the race demons with one silly pose at a time.

It just felt like the right thing to do
In case you didn't know, the race start was at a cemetery. The music was rather fabulous I should say, it may have gotten everyone dancing in their graves. There were two big tents where most of the participants were waiting for the time to pass by. Some of us went to cheer on the marathon runners, but the first guys were too fast and we didn't get a chance to see them. I decided to do a few warm up runs up and down the street because I could feel my legs getting numb. Went to the port-a-potty once, but the second time I went to pee in the corn field because I couldn't get myself to line up and stand still for so long.
I did something naughty
Zin found our friend James and they were busy talking race strategy and finish times. I was eager to start running already! Knees were not bothering me, and not to tempt the devil, I totally ignored any negative thoughts. I was not wearing my GPS watch and the plan was to race by feel, nice and relaxed. Training run, nothing more. With a medal at the end. And fun, lots of it. At the last moment I remembered that I had my iPhone with me, so I put on Runkeeper to keep me company. Nicole is a much faster runner, so she was only going to run 3k with me before putting on the turbo. How excited were we? This much!
All teeth!!
A quick countdown, and we were off! I almost started too fast, but Nicole, a real pacer, yo, had the pace in check and was letting me know when we needed to slow down. I need to run with her more! The 3km went by fast, then she took off like the energizer Bunny, just as the rain started coming down on us fast and furious. I only managed to snap a few pics before I decided to tuck the phone away to avoid water damage. The Rainkeeper lady kept on talking, announcing the pace at each km with her monotonous voice. And just like her monotonous voice, my splits were astoundingly (is that a word?) constant. 5:38, 5:38, 5:37, 5:38, 5:37, 5:39 etc. These are the only numbers I heard the entire time, almost like a broken record.
Turning a corner
And on your right, Lake Ontario.
This feels just magical
The splits were like music to my ear. I was feeling happy like a squirrel, sporting a grin bigger than my face. And then I gave myself the mission to keep this pace. This would get me under 2h, exactly what I had dreamed of for a training run, only if the heart was going to get on board. I was running relaxed, legs like a metronome. As soon as Nicole left, I noticed a guy was following not too far behind me, and told myself, maybe he likes hearing the Runkeeper lady, let's not disappoint him. Can I pull another 5:38? What about this one with the slight downhill? 5:37, but of course.
I ate my first pack of Clif blocks between km 5-8, and another one between km 15-18. I only drank when I was thirsty, mostly after the gummies. The rain turned into a violent downpour and the wind showed up too. I could care less. I noticed my skirt was "foaming" while rubbing against the tri short. My mind went wandering whether it still had soap in it. I could see the raindrops hanging onto the edge of my cap's visor for minutes at a time, eventually falling down... When I was drinking water, half of it ended down my tshirt since I would not bother slowing down. Why care? I was dripping wet from every inch of fabric I was wearing. It was exhilarating. I was yelling thanks to the volunteers who were braving the elements with us, and to the people who came out to cheer on us, a never ending display of umbrellas and drenched parkas. Some people were cheering from their porches so they don't get wet. Buses full of relay runners were passing us and we exchanged more cheers. It was indeed all the fun I could have asked for. Why didn't I do the full marathon so it could last longer?
With 3km to go, the guy running behind me passed me and I told myself that I had made a good pace bunny that day. For him and for myself as well. Unknowingly, we pushed each other and I was so glad to see that he hang on and was going to finish strong.
Last stretch
Soon afterwards I was on the home stretch, back in downtown Picton. My heart was now beating a bit harder because of the few hills that I had just powered through, but I was decided not to slow down and get my under 2h. I sprinted the last 200m and crossed the finish line at the same time as the 2h pace bunny in 1:59:21 official chip time.
My day was complete. I was given a gianormous commemorative medal, special 10th anniversary, which I had engraved on the spot with my time for $4. Back inside the Crystal Palace, I found Zin, Nicole and James, all proud and happy finishers. Zin officially completed his first half marathon in, wait for it... 1:36:58. Say whaaaat?! That's it, I am calling him the Zinster from now on.

We changed into dry clothes, then we all ate our post race food, including beer from a local brewery. Since we had to go back to the cottage for the check out, we didn't spend too much time with the other runners, but I would have liked to be there when James got his plaque for having run all 10 editions of the event. I bet he must be a local celebrity by now. And so we got back to the cottage, cleaned up and packed, then by 3pm started our drive back to Toronto. Thankfully we had no traffic and 3h later we were pulling into our driveway.

In the end, I can only say great things about this race. It's a small event, given the number of participants, but a big deal for the locals. The organization, swag, food, volunteers, water stations were all just perfect. Plus, this is an official Boston qualifier race for those who do the full, in a beautiful setting and 95% flat. You cannot ask for more from a race. Definitely on my shortlist for future marathons and favorite races to do over and over again.

It was a lot of fun to run this race with hubbs and great friends around! Thank you and congrats to all!


  1. Super pretty race! Might be worth adding to my bucket list :)

    1. and everytime I see you wearing them, it makes me want to go home and pull on my rainbow sugois too...

    2. It's the most perfect race I've been to, from an organization standpoint. Add in the scenery and the atmosphere and I don't see how you would not want to go back. The Sugois are still my best compression socks, I wear them all the time. I may need another pair soon :-)

  2. Fantastic race report! congrats! And I'm wildly jealous of those socks. WANT!

  3. Glad you enjoyed it! It was great meeting you in my neck of the woods! See you next year!

  4. Reading this in prep for Sunday! Nice work last year....woo hoo for the sub 2:00.