Sunday, February 21, 2010

20th of February 2010 : Hypothermic Half-Marathon of Montreal

First competition of the season (January is too cold to run in Canada ;-). I have register to this event thanks to my ironman training buddy (Jocelyn Normandin aka "Le vieux" ;-) in order to test my running form early in the season.

My main event is Ironman lake placid (25th of july 2010) and, in Canadian winter, let's say that cycling is not so easy to practice (long trainer sessions are boring, to say the least) and so I'm focusing on swim and run since the November 2009. My running buddies ( have been very helpful with the run part of the equation : I never had such good sensation when running and I was able to run fast for long period of time.

As a consequence, I was confident and happy to wake up at 5:45 AM on the day of my birthday to drive (well, sleep ?) with Jocelyn to Montreal. The weather was OK in Sherbrooke : -5°C or so, light snow and light wind (in Sherbrooke). When we arrived in Montreal, snow was a bit more intense and wind stronger (the hypothermic half-marathon is run on islands in the middle of the Saint-Laurence river and it is more often than not colder and windier).

We were on site one hour before the start and we quickly pick up our race kit that include bib number and champion chip. We changed cloth to be ready for the, not so hypothermic, weather.

It was the first time I ran this course and, as often, it is difficult to estimate what to expect : don't know the circuit, first competition in winter for me, etc. Anyway, based in my training experience, I decided to set up for a 4:18 pace -> 1h30 half marathon). The circuit is a loop of 7 kilometers that has to be run three time.

The start was surprising because we were chatting and discussing. Anyway, we were in the first 100 runners I guess and because there were no info of where you should place yourself, lots of slower runner where in front of me. The first two kilometers were a bit painful and slow (4:30/4:40) because of this and I decided to run fast (4:00/km) for the next two kilometers in order to reach my goal.

On several sections of the circuit, black ice was hidden below a few inches of snow and I've seen several people glide and crash. In those area, I decided to go slowly and make sure that I don't felt instead of following my desired pace. Anyway, it really felt great until the small climb on the Gilles Villeneuve circuit where the wind was just in front us and cold. Ice started to form on my face (left eyebrow) and most of the runners at this point. This gave most of us a funny look I guess with beards, hairs, eaybrow becoming white and snowy.

At the end of each circuit, we have to climb a small hill to the start area and this was snowy and somehow icy as well : not great conditions. Anyway, first circuit  went well with 30 minutes and 30 seconds. A bit slower than my goal. I ran basically alone during the 4-7 first kilometers and then, most of the time, I was able to see for one or two other runners in front of me. With snow and wind this was a nice experience where, for long part of the circuit (where no public was present) we can really feel like we where alone in the world, running in the snow.

Second circuit was OK but I had a beginning of side stitch before the small hill climb on the Gilles Villeneuve circuit so I kind of slow down. However, I was passed by a guy with a pink hat (bib #475, V. Ruelle) and because my side stich was feeling better, I decided to follow as much as I can. We discussed a bit and his objectives were on par with mine : around 1h30 would be great !

After the climb, my side stich felt OK and and I ran a faster pace in order to try to keep my objective. Some guy crashed in the snow/ice in front of me. He went up quickly and started over and we exchanged a few words. This event keep my mind busy for the next 5-10 minutes : without focusing on it I was worried that this could happen to me. When my mind finnaly forgot this point, I was approaching the end of my second lap. Last hill and I can measure my time :  31:00. At this time, I knew that I will not finish this event below 1h30...

Anyway, I decided to give everything for the final lap and it started downhill (cool !) and I was in "pursuit" mode since a few kilometers : another athlete was in front of me and he was somehow my target for the next 2 kilometers. I finally catches with him 500m before the climb on the Gilles Villeneuve circuit. But it looks like I did not have any leg left and I was barely able to follow him now...

At this time, I was simply hoping to finish and I decided to enjoy the remaining of the course knowing well that my time will not be the one I expected. Mind tend to play games with you when it is hard and it was exactly what was happening to me. I kind of played with the idea and started to accept it when Mister pink cap cames from the back (I would say that I was running at 4:30/4:40 and he was running 4:15 for sure!).

It put my mind in action and I decided, on the fly, to follow him : it was happening at the same point (almost) of the lap as the second lap and I knew that it was the last difficulty. I was able to follow up to the end of the climb and after that I gave everything I could to keep him in my line of sight. We pass the last bridge where spectators cheers at us and it really helps me finishing strong.

The last hill was not so easy and I slides and almost crashed for the last turn before the final climb. I decided to push it as far as I could and I started to see some stars (halo in fact!) in my eyes but I can now hear the music and everyons cheering and encouraging us. I take left instead of straight on (I was not interested by another lap ;-) and this is the arrival gate ! Two mats and ... that's over. I chatted then with my mysterious Pink hat buddy and I thank him for his help for the last lap and I waited for Jocelyn and Marc.

O'all                                 Gun       Class       Gender  Pace   Chip
Place  Bib         Name              Time      Placing       Place   /Km   Time   City
----- ----- -----------------      ------- ----------------- ----- ----- ------- ----------
  1  222 Terry Gehl             1:17:09 HM40-49    1/87       1  3:40 1:17:09   St. Charles
20   475 Vincent Ruelle         1:32:51 HM30-39   11/121    20  4:25 1:32:47   MONTRÉAL   
 21  149 Benoit                 1:33:12 HM30-39   12/121     21  4:26 1:33:01   Sherbrooke
 41  405 Jocelyn                1:37:03 HM40-49   11/87      40  4:36 1:36:52   Sherbrooke
 90  102 Marc                   1:44:47 HM30-39   39/121     79  4:58 1:44:05   MontrĂ©al 
451  224 David Gelinas          2:46:22 HM30-39  121/121    278  7:54 2:45:43   Delson

In the preceding weeks, I did my regular Ironman training and this week I did my usual : swim (monday), run (tuesday), bike (wed), run (thursday) + swim (thursday), bike (friday) and my half-marathon (well, I did a "kind of" taper Thursday with some speed series and lot of recovery time but that's all).

Even with a regular training load, I had a great experience and I really enjoyed this race : I was able to control my pace even if I was a little short on the endurance side of things (at the speed I targeted) but still, I made enormous progress. Before that, my personal best on a similar distance was (Half marathon of Montreal/Scottia Bank 2009) with 1:35:05.6 on a regular race (no snow, no ice) later in the season.

Other reviews of the same race :

I really hope this will pay on the run for Ironman lake placid...

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