The County Marathon and Half Marathon (formerly known as PEC), is a beautiful run through the roads from Sandbanks Provincial Park and the roads to Picton. With the roads surrounded by trees and Fall colours, roads blocked of traffic, you can enjoy a country run on paved roads. This race is advertised as “flat” but be sure to check the map and elevation change in the last 6 km. Those rolling hills (beginning with a solid 500 m hill) can sure do wonders on your legs at the end of a hard effort. I ran this course in the summer while camping at Sandbanks to familiarize myself with the flat roadway, and keep an eye on those rolling hills. I counted them (4), named them (#1 that wasn’t so bad, #2 the yummy diner hill, #3 the Liquor Store hill, #4 Oh my God who put a Hill at the end!!), then I paced them carefully. In the end, the training run wasn’t too difficult.
As race week approached I began to get anxious. This half marathon would be 5 weeks before my final race of the season — the Hamilton marathon. With the busy life I lead I knew recovering quickly would be essential. Therefore, I questioned whether I should give’er or just go marathon pace. If I was sensible I would go marathon pace. But no, I couldn’t be sensible. And then the weather predictions put a damper on my plans (to say the least). How can you give’er when facing up to 50km/hr winds, rain, and frigid cold? By race morning I knew I would be facing the wind when climbing those rolling hills in the last 6km.
My race prep plan was bang on but sometimes Murphy’s law intervenes. Race kit pick up the day before was quick and easy — some cool socks with the bright green shirt, some food samples, and a sample of Xilarate. Dinner and bedtime were all reasonable with no real surprises. Unfortunately, my youngest son had a terrible cough all night so sleep just simply didn’t happen. I’ve had worse. I arrived at the Crystal Palace to catch the bus to the start of the half with plenty of time for a warm up at the start. Somehow, however, the ample buses they had didn’t move the bus line fast enough so we ended up freezing in line for a solid 40 minutes. The start line for the half was at the mid-point for the full. On a good weather day, all would be well. Good weather this was not! We were shivering frozen once we arrived at the start. Fellow runners huddled in the 2 tents they had set up. I managed a quick pee break and chip pick up before I started on the warm up. I managed only a 2km jog before I had to decide how I would be dressed for the race — gloves? tights? shorts? long sleeve? It’s tough to figure out on such a cold day. T-shirt, shorts, arm warmers, and gloves it was. I wished I had gone for tights as my legs were cold for much of the run.
At the start corral I made a quick plan with a running friend to run together for as long as we could. A quick scan of the front lines told me we had a strong female contingent. But no pressure today. I turned my watch to average pace and decided to ignore elapsed time. This isn’t the way I run for a PB, but it is the way I enjoy a race. For the first 5-7 km my pace was comfortable, as I forced myself to hold back a little, knowing the wind and hills were coming. My friend decided the pace was too fast so I ended up on my own. I passed by many full marathoners and relay runners and gave a quick cheer to each person I passed. At each relay station a small crowd cheered the runners along. Otherwise, the weather kept spectators at bay. Normally, I dislike running alone in races, but this time if the running crowd thinned I just kept on plugging away, enjoying the motion of my legs. Is it possible to enjoy running in the cold? Yes, it is!
And then there were hills…. that first hill (500 metres or so) seemed like Heartbreak Hill. Many of the marathoners I passed on this hill certainly seemed heartbroken as the wind, hills, and the distance (this comes at 37km) took their toll and forced many to walk this hill. My legs were tired (clearly those hill sprints on Thursday were NOT a good idea) so I just told myself to take one step at a time. At times the wind was strong enough that I felt like I wasn’t moving. As I suspected, I lost quite a bit of time on those rollers. The nearest halfer in front was quite a distance ahead so it was up to me and only me to get through this. Coming up the Liquor Store hill (hill#3), I snagged a last Xilarate and reminded myself that it was time to give it. With about 2km to go I knew I had to bring it on and run down the main street like I was being chased by another female contender. With no one close to me, I almost felt like a winner! I had no idea of my time, and I didn’t care.
The last 500 metres of the race were a blur but memorable at the same time. The spectators on the Main St were few but enthusiastic. I kept my focus but tried to nod appreciation. My husband and two litlte boys were standing and ringing bells at the corner before the final turn. It was nice to see them before the finish for the final push. Upon turning the corner I could see the finish banner…uphill. Why?! It seemed like a mile away but surely it was only 400 metres with just enough of any uphill rise to make you want to say the worst words in your head. I noted with panic that there was a line of runners running side by side ahead of me, making an impassible wall. Thankfully, one heard me coming and made room for me to pass. They must have been a relay team working together. I came through with finish with a 1:29:51…not my original goal but a PB all the same. Given the weather, and running free from closely watching the watch, I’ll take the time with a smile.
I landed a 3rd female overall, and a $50 prize. This is one race that believes in rewarding the winners with cash. Ample food for the runners in the Crystal Palace, along with Tim’s coffee and free beer made for a welcome recovery. I didn’t partake in the massages in one of the other buildings. Despite the cold, my boys still wanted to play at the park, with my husband supervising (thank heavens!). It turned out my lips were blue for hours and my fingers didn’t regain full sensation until the next day.
It is a well-organized race that certainly deserves attention. However, don’t be fooled by the description of it being “flat”. Every runner finds those rolling hills startlingly difficult at the end of a hard effort. I would do it again, if not for a lightning fast run, but for the beautiful country roads and the excellent organization of the race.