Saturday, October 3, 2015

This Frog Ran the Toad

I guess this will be part race report, and part the usual travel blog - only this trip is significantly less "exotic" than the others that make their way onto this blog.

It was an early start today - up to finish packing and get everything in the car for both the Run for the Toad 25km in Paris, Ontario, and then head straight to Montreal for the night.  Yes, to those of you who are astute enough to pick up on it. Paris is in the opposite direction from Montreal. Sigh. It will be a long drive after the race!

I've heard great things about the Run for the Toad for years, but this is my first attempt at it. 25km is basically a half-marathon, and the trail will be soft on my legs.  Great tune-up for Scotiabank Marathon, right?  It's a trail race, so it's not like it will draw much talent; I shouldn't have to work hard...... Except that this year the line-up includes Terence Attema (who won Around the Bay 30km in the spring) and Thomas Omwenga (admittedly far from his best shape, but he has a 2:10 marathon to his name from 2004). It doesn't exactly help when there is a strong and cold wind blowing.

The race set-up certainly lived up to expectations - loads of volunteers to help with parking, an extensive "tent city" with booths of all sorts of vendors and therapists, plenty of washrooms (critical for race day), and an autumn theme everywhere with gourds and hay bales (even gourds in the washrooms!).  This was all set amidst a beautiful conservation area:

I didn't see Terence at the start line, but I didn't actually know what Terence looks like, so that doesn't mean much. I did see Thomas, and a few other fast-looking guys. I went out easy for the first km (thanks to Paul Kemp for that tip), and slowly reeled in the lead pack of Thomas and a surprisingly stocky looking guy who was really moving! (At the start line, I think someone whispered that was Joseph Hespeler, but I also don't know who Joseph Hespeler is....) As I passed him, Thomas told me he was using the race as a training run (not comforting to know that if he beats me), and then I pulled ahead of the other guy into the lead. I was feeling good, and the pace felt in control, so I figured I would see if I could hurt the unknown guy by dropping the pace. I clocked some speedy downhills....but he kept on right behind me.  Who is this guy?

By halfway through the first loop, my legs were starting to feel the effects of cross-country; it's so tiring to run without the rebound effect of hard road! I let the unknown guy take the lead and stuck with him for a while, watching him slow down on the uphills, but really hammer fast on the downhills. I had heard of "Skeleton Hill" in the late stages of each loop, and I figured I'd see how he fared on that.  I can handle uphills better than most, so if he's struggling, maybe that's where I can make a decisive move.

Skeleton Hill is not deserving of the name. Sure, it's steep, but it's also very short.  Even if one were to walk, it wouldn't take very long to crest it.  It didn't take my unknown competitor long at all to climb it, and then he took full advantage of the subsequent downhills to put distance on me before the end of the first 12.5km loop. At halfway, I was 20 seconds back and just in line with record-setting pace.  Before the first km of the second loop, I was more than 20 seconds back.  I guess the leading guy was taking a stab at that record.  Good luck to him, because I was quickly realizing I would have real trouble holding the pace for a second loop.

For me, the second loop was largely uneventful.  I couldn't see the first place guy.  I couldn't see the third place guy.  I had very little interest in pushing hard, and had no idea of my pace (Garmin doesn't work very well on winding trails). I didn't get passed, but the only people I passed were in the 50km, or maybe the back-of-the-packers in the 25km. Bruce Lewis-Watts, my swim coach from Ironman training days, was out on course, and he made sure there was plenty of support for me around his aid station.  That was a great boost! (Thanks Bruce!) I finished in 1:29:28 in second place.  As I crossed the line, I heard them announce that Terence Attema had won in 1:27.  That was Terence?!!?  I guess I understand why I couldn't put him to shame on those hills!  Later, I learned that 1:29 is pretty quick on that course.  I'm pleased enough with that result.

While the early parts of the race lived up to every expectation, the post-race brought about some frustrations. As Mindy crossed the finish line, the announcer congratulated her for her 5th place finish. Great! When the results were posted, though, she was listed as 9th.  What?  Later, revised results were posted that showed her as 6th, which would normally mean she'd win her age category.  Not bad! Except that....when we went to claim her award, we were told they had given it to someone else. Never entirely clear whether they gave it to one of the top 5 in a duplication of awards, or to the first woman listed as 6th when Mindy was identified as 9th. In addition, the post-race banquet served all the hot food cold because the generator was not working. Due to a separate electricity issue, the showers on-site were also not working.  Notwithstanding all this, still worth doing, and I will return next year.

Aside from the actual receipt of my prize, the post-race highlight may have been discovering Endurance Tap, a maple syrup-based energy gel that tastes awesome! I picked up a bunch of those to try out on some longer workouts, and we promised to put the bug in Steve's ear at Ajax Running Free to start carrying them.

We finally were on our way shortly after 2pm. Montreal is about 6 hours away.  Then we hit traffic on the highway.....I don't think we're making it to Montreal tonight.  We'll be tired and cranky long before we get there, and this evening is supposed to be fun.  We debated just going home for the night, but then that's a long drive to Quebec City tomorrow morning......

Gananoque!  I've been here plenty of times to hop aboard my grandfather's boat, but I've never been there as a destination unto itself. After calling around to several places we found online (all booked up for the evening), Mindy stumbled upon Beaver Hall, a beautiful Georgian-era B&B that had a room available!

Beaver Hall was a great place to stay - friendly hosts, beautiful building, spacious rooms, and as clean as if it were run by the Dutch. (The hosts are Dutch). We are working on plans to return.  The amazing cuisine at Riva restaurant right next door rounded out the evening.  That food was decadent!

Exhausted, we made our way to bed.

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