The course for "The Winter Run" was purported to be along a fast and flat route (a wonderful marketing approach if you want to try to up your registrations) following the Martin Goodman Trail beside the shore of Lake Ontario. Add to that the fact that downtown Toronto shows pretty much no evidence of winter (certainly not coming from Barrie) I went into the event feeling fairly confident about being able to test myself, and perhaps establishing a new benchmark for short-distance speed.
So it was a very foggy Sunday morning that Lewis, our friend Mike and his girlfriend Becky set out down highway 400. We were set to meet up with our Aussie RunNinjas companion Rad who had recently moved down to The Big Smoke for a reunion of sorts (nothing like a race to bring friends together!). Our arrival was earlier enough for Lewis to connect with the MEC staff there (being an MEC employee himself) to assist with some of the set-up while the rest of us attended to whatever pre-race preparations would normally occupy our time. For my part I was able to nab a couple of easy miles, a short dynamic stretching routine and some strides while observing the solid turnout of runners for this brisk morning competition.
The race itself was offered as a 10k or a 5k, with the 10k runners setting out first at 9:00am. This allowed me to cheer Lewis, Mike, Becky and Rad out on the course as they all opted to test themselves over the double-loop track before I started with the 5k-ers at 9:10am. Standing in the corral awaiting our starter's horn I spied several "Toronto Olympic Club" singlets on spry teenaged legs so I knew that there was some speed that was about to show up, but I chose to lineup near the front of the pack anyway. Whether or not this served me well in the end is still up for debate.
Contender or pretender? Time will tell ...!
The out-and-back course did turn out to be reasonably flat (about a 6m variation overall) but my warm-up jog revealed that the outward bound half would be into a noticeable headwind. Still, with clear pavement (aside from a few patches of smeared goose droppings) and the opportunity to don shorts in mid-winter (raw temperature was about 4°C) there were fast times available out there. As it turned out I kept pace with the lead pack for about the first kilometre (going out at around 3:39/km pace) but afterwards fell off although I was still feeling reasonably good. At the halfway turnaround I had the experience that no veteran racer wants to have - being passed by competitors that you'd passed earlier - but it was obvious that I didn't have much more oomph to give over the last 2.5 km.
Or did I?
I 'latched' onto one of the runners who was sporting a Black Toe "Race Team" singlet and did my best not to let him out of reach. Huffing and puffing my way past some of the slower 10k runners who were still on their first loop I kept pace through to the last 750m, at which point I tried to recruit my 'stride legs' to see if I could pick up the pace - which I did, passing my Black Toe pace rabbit across the finish line. It was reminiscent of my final 2k at last spring's Chilly Half where Roger from the Longboat Runners pulled me through to a strong finish, and this day's home stretch left me wondering whether or not I'd given it my all out on course.
All in all it was good enough for a new PB by 4 seconds. Not quite the time that I was hoping for, but hey, anytime you can raise the bar is a good day.
After crossing the timing mat I immediately turned around to head back out along the route to spot my friends. I was able to see that Mike was turning in a solid result in solo fourth position, while Rad and Lewis were also both running strong a little further back. I continued against the flow of runners (garnering a number of odd looks at this guy with a 5k bib toodling out along the grass) to try to find Becky who was tackling her first 10k race, and managed to find just having started her home half. While sporting a big smile she was apparently dealing with some nasty knee pain, so I was happy to run alongside offering words of encouragement while she gutted it out in admirable fashion. Mike and Rad also came back to join us over the final kilometre and it was a great finish for everyone.
Post-race we didn't hang out for any presentation ceremonies (as none of us were on the podium) but instead connected with Rad's girlfriend Emily and went out for a hearty brunch at the downtown Cora's restaurant. It was the perfect way to wrap up a most enjoyable morning - and kudos to MEC Toronto for a really well-executed event, rivaling the best that MEC Barrie has to offer ...!