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Robbie Burns 8k

Race: Robbie Burns 8k
Where: Burlington, ON
Date: January 27, 2013

The Legend of Johnny Jogger – Part 7

So early in the season, no one should have been in proper shape for this race. Any shape aside from pudgy. Yet the results of the day speak much differently. I use 30 minutes as a solid time for an 8k. On this basis, a staggering 49 entrants broke through. I have searched 10 years of online results and conclude this year’s Robbie Burns race can lay claim as the fastest and deepest 8k race in Ontario. Maybe ever.

8k races tend to be smaller affairs, maybe 8 to 10 racers breaking 30 minutes. The HSRO (a much tougher race by comparison) is now a distant second, and their sub-30 numbers have card carrying elites in their ranks. On the other hand, I would wager all the finishers at Robbie hold down day jobs and most still buy their running shoes.

This was indeed a working man’s race – such a tribute to Robbie Burns (the farmer) himself! As history recalls, Robbie Burns was a horrible farmer, not much better at bookkeeping, and Scotland’s most cherished poet. We sing his famous song on the first minutes of New Year’s Day – Auld Lang Syne.

Injury found me exactly three weeks before the race, and I started fishing the next day looking for someone to take my bib. I had been looking forward to having a go at 28 flat. Instead fate dealt me a time out.

A week off, then a very tentative reintroduction to the roads the next, left exactly one week to race day and still no bites on my bib. My Pal John Tranter (age 60) emailed me indicating he was going for sub-29. My word. John ran a 28:47 to win the 2005 Alfie Shrubb, and he hasn’t cracked 30 minutes in an 8k since. John was expecting some huge improvements with his new coach and training regimen. But a sub-29 and at eight years older? I would have to witness this one first hand, and no better place than behind him on the race course.

One week to go: On the Tuesday I did the McMillan 5k prep workout (basically 3 sets of 3 x 400 at race pace). On Thursday I dropped six 200 m strides into a 13k run. Aside from the race itself, that was all my speed work for January! I let John know I was racing, but there was no way I would be in 29 minute shape. But secretly I was curious: so much speed, hill and distance training done in December – I suspected this little bit of speed work was all I needed to awaken the beast slumbering in my legs.

There is one aspect of John’s preparation that needs to be documented: the hangover. It is one of his secret ingredients and I told him best be sure to arrive prepared! That he did. A Blue Rodeo concert, 6 or 7 pints (could be more or less – the count is understandably a bit fuzzy) and four hours of sleep the night before had him in prime shape. And I was not much better, with a terrible 5 hour toss and turn session and serious thoughts of diving back under the covers when the alarm bell rang. As it turned out later, I was hatching a nasty stomach virus.

The course is a 2k by 2k square up Brant, east along Fairview, south down Guelph Line and return west along the Lakeshore. Not as flat as the Casablanca 8k, but close. January can turn up the frost pain, but today we would enjoy a wind-free romp in balmy -7C under sunny skies upon dry roads. According to the race MC, Robbie Burns once penned a short poem about winter in Canada: “Christ, its cold!” But that was not today.

We did a slow warm up and took our places after we were piped to the starting line. The first km seemed to go by a bit tentatively – I was expecting some sluggish legs. Yet 3:32 was in the books at the 1k marker and John was creeping ahead. We had a good one going! I pushed to close the distance but did not make any ground on him for the next 2k – John kept it strong and was making me work for it.

Turning south onto Guelph Line, the slight downhill grade gave me an opportunity to reel in John. I joined him not much past the 4k marker. Up to this point John had not looked behind, yet the first thing he said was: “I know the sound of that stride anywhere.” And this is where training pals come in so handy, because I have stretched John to his limit on so many tempo runs. His breathing was not near his limit, so I picked up the pace and told him to move it. We took km 5 in 3:33, 17:53 total had elapsed. John was already pacing better than his best 5k time from 2012. But that was just about it for me.

I put in one more strong km to get us past the 6k marker. Each time John’s pace wavered, I barked some encouragement at him. When we hit the small hill on the Lakeshore before Brant Street, I sent John and he went. The last km up to the finish was just so long, the slight climb taking its toll. I tried to reel John in before the finish but no chance. The old man had gotten the better of me, as I knew he would. John took his age group in 28:54 and I took my age group (minus top master) in 28:59. A wonderful accomplishment for John and a pleasant surprise for me! I have no doubts that John’s time will hold as the number age group time in for 2013.

Here were our splits:

1k: 3:32
2k: 3:34 (7:06)
3k: 3:39 (10:45)
4k: 3:35 (14:20)
5k: 3:33 (17:53)
6k: 3:39 (21:32)
7k: 3:41 (25:31)
8k: 3:43 (28:57)

Ed Whitlock should be worried now. His 60 year age records are on shaky ground.

So many runners find themselves in such fine shape so early in the season. I am already behind my group of peers, older or just better, everyone just keeps getting faster! Of particular note are the newly formed Black Lungs who had 10 finishers inside the top 30. These guys have recently separated from the Longboat Runners, unfortunately with some hard feelings. Yet they are already feeding off each others’ performances and have a sage coach guiding them to huge PB’s. They will ensure my own race days are completed with honest efforts for years to come.

The year is off to a great start, full of great expectations. The GTA running scene has never been in better shape.


Previous: The Legend of Johnny Jogger Part 6

Next: The Legend of Johnny Jogger Part 8


Born and raised in Hamilton & Stoney Creek. Ran X-Country in high school, but not really special at it - a middle of the pack finisher. But then again, really didn't know how to train. Didn't run after Gr 12 due to nasty shin splints. Really never ran in proper shoes back then. Didn't try to run again until age 30. Then tried. And tried. And tried. Shin splints every time. Finally got it going for good at 38 in proper shoes and I have vowed never, ever, to stop running again.

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