Monday, September 25, 2006

Nothing hurts like watching everyone else struggle against the challenge you blissfully managed to skip, because inevitably you will feel as though you are missing out. Because I ran the Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon today, I opted not to fast today, the first (or second, depending on who and where you are) day of Ramadan. It sounds incredulous, but I did do my research when I signed up for the race a month ago, and it showed Ramadan as beginning one or two days after. So much for staking life decisions, major or minor, on Wikipedia.

As for the race, let me first say that running long distances takes an appropriate balance of patience and aggression, this balance is commonly known as pacing. The best races are ones that only have involve aggression: I once ran a 10k that was a long, sustained drive for home from 3k onwards. The setup for today was a race that started in the dark (the sun came up as we started) with winds swirling around downtown Toronto. Sometimes on special days I wonder if the day knows just how special the day is; the press release had clearly been received on this day.

Warming up in the dark, I made eye contact with a thin man wearing a bushy mustache; who else could it be but the ageless Mr. Carter? The first mile was too aggressive (6:15) and it was here that Mr. Carter, the high school cross country coach whom I still call sir, blew by, muttering about the split. The easterly wind on the waterfront was vicious, making it impossible to run at times and wreaking havoc on the 4,000 runners behind me for kilometres 2-12. At times, it didn't even feel like a race was on.

I was on pace through 6 km (24:02), but I was working too hard in the 40 km/h wind. By 10k, I was 40 seconds off target (40:40) and almost a minute by 14 km (56:54), the two-thirds mark. The next three kilometres were some of the hardest I've ever run in a race (13:16). I lost a minute during this stretch. I settled down at that point and finished respectably in 1:26:48, placing me 68th in a massive field. Mr. Carter faded even worse than I did and was less than a minute and six spots ahead, though I had no idea. All things considered, this was a very good race, though I could use some lessons in patience when it comes to half marathons.

A big city race, marathon or otherwise, is a lot of fun to run and watch. No matter how distasteful the commercialism or the claustrophobia, the cheering crowds, cowbells and blaring music are a distinct element of road racing. Catching a glimpse of just how many people were behind me was simultaneously unnerving and embarassing. Most importantly, the streets of the country's largest downtown are closed off to have three huge footraces.

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