The PEI marathon was last weekend. It was my 21st "long run with a dossard", technically my 20th marathon and the second of four back-to-back marathon weekends. It was a pretty rockstar weekend.
Ian Blokland picked Nick Tentomas and myself up and we headed to PEI via New Glasgow to pick up Kevin Tulloch. The ferry crossing was a bit choppy, a bit too choppy for me and I felt pretty green all the way across to the island. One wonders if Nick felt the same, if not for different reasons. Kevin had 75 marathons under his belt, Ian 45 and my total is above while Nick had two. We were telling marathon stories all the way across and, that runners ten commandments meme thing doing the rounds on Facebook notwithstanding, I was feeling a touch inadequate!
I don't think it helped that when I tweeted a picture of the three of them, that damn autocorrect autocorrected Nick's name to No K Tentomas.
Sign in was pretty rock-star, we just walked right up to the volunteers. Strangely, there were five lining up for the marathon whilst there was no-one else for any other distance. The race-kit was pretty damn good: t-shirt, dossard and a double-sidedsheet of letter-paper with all the details for the weekend. No plastic bag, no bazillion fliers for local races you'll never do. Nice and green; I didn't get anything I didn't need, want or use. Of course, everyone likes schwag - no key-ring, pen, Advil or bottle-openner, but I can live without that. I also got my pace-bunny stuff from Running Room, which was a bit more traditional (apart from the sign and the ears); a bag, bunch of fliers and coupons and two single-serving packs of Cherios!
Getting to the race hotel was even better.
"Hi, I have a reservation"
"Certainly Sir, the name?"
"Dacanay, that's D-A-C..."
The desk-clerk, Isabelle, was Filipino! First time EVER I haven't had to spell my name. For Isabelle it just like Smith. Win!
The hotel was pretty good. I know that Ian and Nick got a better rate at the Quality Inn downtown and it was only a 5 minute walk from the finish, but the Holiday Inn had breakfast on at 05:00 for runners. Isabelle apologized that they'd only have coffee, cereal and fruit but they didn't think the runners would need the bacon and eggs. Clearly, she didn't know who she was talking to.
Speaking of which, to the three people who independently posted the following on my Facebook page.
Thanks, I got it.
Race morning felt pretty rock-star. I slept well. Breakfast was nice and peaceful. Funnily, there was on-one at breakfast at 5 and the 6 o'clock shuttle to the Confederation Centre wasn't full either. I'm not a morning person and it was nice to ease gently into the day. Yes, I wasn't racing but 26.2 is still quite the distance and whilst I'm fully committed to being a "professional" pace-bunny on the course, it's nice to have peace and quiet to get one's head into the right space before you start. We walked off the shuttle bus onto a nice coach for the 15 minute drive to the start at Brackely Beach. Once more, when the coach left it wasn't full.
When we got there it was brrr cold, 3C with a -1C wind-chill apparently. The bus driver let us stay on the coach. It even had a bathroom. Talk about feeling like a pro, a 2/3rds full bus, room to get ready in the warm and also attend to that last minute call of nature. To add to the pro-feel, our bus was scheduled as a baggage bus, to take runners' bags back to the finish, so we were able to walk off the bus, put our bag in the trunk and head to the start, No queues, no hordes of people. Very relaxing, under the circumstances.
After a short warm-up and trash-talking from the timers, I lined up a few rows back of the front. A couple of people latched on to me in the start corral. A pace-bunny is combination best friend, personal trainer, race advisor, comedian and drill sergeant, I went through the usual talk in the start corral in best-friend/trainer mode, "I'm here to run for you", "it's not my race it's yours", "yes, we'll ten-and-one at a 4:45 km & a power-walk" and "we'll periodically reassess our strategy". It's funny, but from experience I know that the people you start with are not the people you'll finish with so I also had to show a bit of steel "If you get dropped I'll come back for you, but only once" and "I will run 3:30 so if there's one thing certain in the next 26 miles, I will cross that like at 11:30 a.m! "
A small group coalesced around me after the start. Funny, but I think I'm getting a rep as a pace-bunny as a couple of people told me they'd run with me before for that pace! I remember Rachel for sure, we'd been together at Bluenose. Then there was Matt. Even though I was the bunny, he was our saviour as he'd remind me about walk-breaks. I often forget walk-breaks, not because I'm being a git, but I honestly forget!
The first half, to the start of the Confederation Trail was quite uneventful, we ended up a minute or so ahead but we were running conservatively and trying not to "bank time". The group stayed at three people or so, with some guys drifting in and our of our orbit as their continuous run pace and our walk/run pace precessed in and out of phase. The real fun started when we hit the Trail.
I remember the trail as a bit of a power-suck from when I ran in '04 and it hadn't changed. We went from an easy 4:43 pace (told you we were a bit fast) to busting ourselves to stay on pace. I gave the group a choice: slow down to 5 min/k continuous pace or keep on 10-1 but work harder to keep on pace. The consensus was the stay to the 10-1. The race as a whole started to break up and spread out here, both as the pace and the running surface started to bite. Soon we were passing fading runners. I stayed cheery and told each one we were 3:30 and 10-1, we were taking a walk-break in x minutes and they were welcome to hop on the train and join us. Nearly everyone we passed hopped on board. At one point I must have had ten following my ears. It thinned out as some people were dropped and others used us as a psychological boost to get through a tough kilometer and took off again at their goal pace.
Our group exploded for real when we got off the trail at 34km. I really felt for Matt, who told us at 18km he felt like he usually does at 36km, so goodness knows how he felt at nearly 36. The guy hung tough though. I was in a bit of a quandary as the group splintered, as we'd all worked so well together and to come apart so close to the finish felt wrong. I looked at my watch and realised that I was slower than goal pace and dropping everyone, but had to press on and on target.
Two people came with me, Anita Howard and Kristen Gough. I asked them how to run this, slow down and continuous run it in or speed up and 10-1. They both looked at me, as we were going uphill into the wind and said they'd rather continuous run it in a 5 minute kilometres s speeding up wasn't an option.
Those last 8 km were hard; tough rolling hills from 34 to 40 kms, not top mention a freshening head-wind, but Anita and Kristen hung on. Now, I was in my pace-bunny drill sergeant persona, encouraging and cajoling them up the hill and then rallying them to do it all over again. We picked up another guy who had been dangling off the front of the group on the trail. The three of us pressed on to the finish. Anita and Kristen slowly dropped off the back but Enrique, the other guy, hung in and even lifted it at the finish.
I came in at 3:30:09 and a pace of 5:01; not bad at all. What's even better was at least two PBs; Anita and Enrique. I call that a job well done. I took off my bib (to the thanks for the timers) and headed back up the course to run the rest of my guys in. I met them all on the road and was able to congratulate each and every one. I ran in to the finish with a few of them too. All of them finished in 3:42 or less. The race-director met me as I crossed the line for the last time and said she'd never seen a pace-bunny do that before. I was a bit surprised. After all, we'd all started this adventure together, shared the road together, it seemed wrong to finish and just bugger off without seeing them finish too.
Talking about finishes; egg-on-a-stick in the recovery tent?
Also talking about finishes, big kudos to Nick "No-K" Tentomas, with a massive 2:57, first time sub-3. Ian was his personal pace-bunny and also got some personal marathon redemption, finishing his first marathon after injury and is so stoked he's going to do it again in Moncton this Sunday. Kevin, the last musketeer, did a respectable 3:05.
I felt OK through he race, but my legs didn't have the pep and lift they'd had at Valley. Some of it was surely the cold, but some of it must have been some accumulated fatigue. So, going into Moncton this weekend, I've really taken my foot off the gas and taken three days off. Something I haven't done in a long time. It feels really weird: I'm sure I've gained 5 kilos and can no longer run for the bus. Still. we'll find out in Moncton. Still not sure about Dublin, should I floor it or walk it? Answers on a postcard.....