Photograph by: Ashley Fraser, The Ottawa Citizen
This would be my first time competing at the Canadian Forces Running Championships in Ottawa as part of the Ottawa Race Weekend. I had run the Ottawa Marathon in 2004, but had never run the half here nor had I ever competed under the Canadian Forces banner. I was very thankful to have the opportunity to race in Ottawa as it meant I would get the chance to return to Ottawa and see my family. I was also very moved that I would get to race and represent the Canadian Forces.
I arrived to Ottawa on Thursday afternoon and was greeted at the airport by my father. It was a nice warm afternoon with temperatures in the high twenties. I was clearly overdressed arriving from Edmonton in jeans and a light sweater (when I had left Edmonton it was 4 degrees Celsius). Once back at my parents house I changed and headed out for a run, my first in almost two weeks. The last time I had run was on the 15th of May – a short easy recovery run. As a bit of an aside…I had been scrambling the last two weeks completing renos around our house in St Albert so we could get it on the market and had placed training on hold. My legs that afternoon felt sluggish but that was to be expected. I was subsequently able to get short runs in on Friday, a quality run with intervals at race pace, and Saturday so felt fairly comfortable going into the race on Sunday morning.
The problem I faced was I didn’t have a clear sense of what I was capable of running. I had run a 1:17:30 through the first half of the Las Vegas Marathon in December so figured 1:17 was a somewhat realistic goal. I knew I was in great shape but had not gotten in a couple key training runs in the last few weeks so was lacking feedback. I was also very unsure of how I was recovering from IM St George and was a little concerned that the lack of running over the last couple weeks may have eliminated my top end speed. I decided that 1:17 would be my goal and I would attempt to run and hold a 3:40/km pace.
Friday afternoon we had a mandatory meeting at Ottawa U for all Canadian Forces members racing during the weekend. We were given the standard brief of what to expect and then issued our race shirts along with some other goodies. After the meeting we headed over to the Ottawa Convention Centre for our “pasta” dinner. We got a great meal and a speech from Mr. Running Room, John Stanton; a very impressive man who has been an unbelievable ambassador for this sport. He has quite a few positive words to say about the military and some words of wisdom heading into the race. It was a great time chatting with old friends while meeting some new ones.
Saturday was race packet pick-up at the Ottawa Convention Centre. The Military PSP staff had arranged with the race organizers to have all our packages. This made life extremely simple. We showed up at the military booth, signed our waiver form, and were provided our packages – a total time of like 5 minutes. I swung over to the shirt counter picked up my free race shirt and then spent some time touring the expo. I made sure to stop by the Brooks booth to see if there they had any good specials and also to see if they had either the Brooks Cascadia or Brooks PureGrit. (More on why I was looking for these in a later blog edition). Unfortunately they didn’t have either. I toured the remainder of the expo to see if the Compressport crew was in town. And to my surprise/delight there they were. John was running the expo when I stopped by and introduced myself…well kinda introduced myself. As soon as I said Joel and sponsored by Compressport, John quickly said something along the lines of, “Joel from Edmonton right?.” I thought it was pretty neat that John, someone I had never actually met before, knew who I was. (I was a little embarrassed as I didn’t really know who John was) John and I discussed my experience at St George, how business was going at the expo, and then I excused myself and finished my tour of the expo.
Moving now to the big day…Sunday. I had managed to get only about five hours of sleep as I tossed and turned for a good hour or two prior to falling asleep on Saturday night. I awoke at 0515hs as I wanted to get a good breakfast into me while ensuring sufficient time for my stomach to digest. I went with what I knew had worked in the past: two eggs over easy, two pieces of toast w/ jam, a cup of coffee, and a banana. I was still feeling a little tired so elected to take a quick power nap; a quick fifteen minute nap made all the difference. I got changed and was ready to go at 0645hrs. We departed my parents at shortly after seven and headed over to pick-up my oldest sister Kelly. I thought it was pretty neat that my parents and oldest sister were coming out to cheer me on; moral support is always appreciated. We arrived downtown at around 0730hrs without incident and easily located a parking spot about a five minute walk from the start.
As there was still plenty of time before the start we just hung around out front of city hall and talked. I was a little nervous, but pretty excited at the same time. I think the nervousness was primarily caused by the uncertainty I faced going into the race. I had no clue of how my legs were going to respond and had done almost no running since IM St George (my own fault/choice). At approximately 0815hrs I decided it was time to start my warm-up. I did a couple minutes of light jogging up/down Laurier and then a few excels and I was ready to go. I moved to the start line with plenty of time to spare and was at this point extremely happy to have my dad at the race. It meant I could keep my warm clothes on until a few minute before the start and then hand them to my dad. It was ~14 degrees Celsius but there was a slight breeze from the south and it was overcast. As people started filling the blue coral, the first coral, my mind started to wonder. I didn’t recognize any familiar faces and I started wondering who in this coral was a threat…you honesty just can’t tell. I convinced myself not to worry about the competition and to just run my own race.
The horn went off at 0900hrs and we were off. I had managed to start right at the front on the left side. The temptation is always to go out really hard. I had told myself that this would be disastrous. Going out a little hard was ok, but I needed to check my pace early and often to ensure I did not overdo it. I checked my watch every couple hundred meters and tried to bring my pace into check, 3:40/km. I was running faster than that but there was another Canadian Forces member just off my shoulder so I figured I ‘d keep going at my 3:30-3:35/km pace and see what happened. There was no way I was looking over my shoulder to see who was behind me. I was told previously that looking over your shoulder is a sign that you’re struggling so I just kept the hammer down. The pace was faster than I had anticipated, but it felt comfortable and sustainable so I pressed on. At one point there was a couple kids along the road and it appeared they wanted high fives. So I did the honourable thing…swung to their side of the ride and gave each of the kids a high five as I ran past. The crowd in the area erupted cheering for the CF. I felt an extra surge of energy realizing the little joy I had brought to those kids. The early kilometers went by very quickly and before I knew it we were passing through Tunney’s Pasture. I went through the checkpoint at 10kms at ~36:00 and I knew it was only a matter of time before I was really going to be forced to focus to hold this pace.
The twelve kilometer marker passed very quickly thereafter and I just continued to put everything I had on the line. I had been running in a pack of runners 4-5 up to this point in the race. It was at this point that two of the runners (Jeremie and Andrew) really started to push (or perhaps I was just getting a little tired). As they surged I decided I was going with them. I have absolutely no clue what was happening behind me or if some of the other guys came with us as I never saw anyone else after this point. We crossed to the Gatineau side and were greeted by a couple small hills…definitely not comfortable but hey I like hills. A quick jaunt on the Quebec side and then the climb up and over the Ottawa River on the Alexandra Bridge…that climb sucked. I dropped back from the group I was in by a few meters as I was really struggling to hold their pace. I knew I only had a few kilometers to go and I was pretty confident that I could bring home first in the CF. I knew I just needed to stay strong.
The eighteen kilometer mark passed and I knew with three kilometers left I could hold it together and finish strong. The nineteen kilometer marker passed and shortly thereafter we made a right turn and crossed the canal. The twenty kilometer marker passed and it was at this point that I knew that I had the CF title. I picked up the pace and really started to push. I saw the 400m sign and then really started to surge, 300m even faster, 200m still faster, and then a final big kick to bring it home. I was greeted by a ½ marathon banner, I signalled upwards and in my mind said a silent prayer of thanks to my Father above for having given me the strength to finish. I was excited to have completed the race, ecstatic to have set a PB 1:16:22, and simply humbled to have won the CF Championships. It was an honour to be wearing the CF singlet and have received the amazing support of the crowd. My mind drifted back to Afghanistan and I was reminded of the ramp ceremonies I had participated in for fallen comrades. I was struck by the realization that these fallen comrades would never get to feel the support of this great nation. A nation they had died for while in a fight to secure freedom.
Photograph by: Jana Chytilova, Ottawa Citizen
Wow! What an amazing experience. The support the crowd showed for the CF was truly inspiring. It’s amazing to know that we as member of the CF are supported so well by the men and women of Canada.
It was a great race for me. I was happy to have finished 6th overall, 3rd in my age group, but most importantly first in the Canadian Forces Championships. I had given my best and set another PB in the process. The best part of the day however was being able to celebrate the race with family. Thanks Mom, Dad, Kelly, and Julia for coming out and sharing the experience with me.
Thanks to the crew at Compressport Canada for the continued support and Brian Grasky of Grasky Endurance Coaching for keeping me going. A special thanks to the PSP staff and CF running crew in Ottawa for making the CF Running Championships such a fantastic event.