Back in the spring I agreed to join the Canadian Running Marathon Quest and run the Toronto Scotiabank Half Marathon. Why would I need to agree to run a Half Marathon, well, I agreed to run it as a member of “Team CouchtoKenyan”. Rebecca Gardiner had a challenge in mind after completing the Ottawa Marathon and how could a refuse to play a role in Operation Brother Smother.
In September, I was given my assignment. I’d offered to run behind Rebecca’s brother for 21.1 km stepping on his heels the entire time just to mess with him a bit, but this was to be a somewhat fair challenge. My job was to pace Rebecca to her goal of 1:55.
I’m not a great pacer, but I figured a little help from my trusty Garmin 305 and a relatively flat course and I could figure out how to run an average pace of 5:26 min/km.
Our good friends at Canadian Running Magazine were giving us the VIP treatment with the Marathon Quest program. Michal Kapral and crew had a room at the Sheraton overlooking the finish with private washrooms and bag check. Our post race refuelling was nicely tucked away and the comradery of the Questers was a welcome benefit.
Even better was the arrangement to meet the rest of the CouchtoKenyans and Rebecca’s parents at the private CouchtoKenyan lair at the starting line. This was the first time I got a good look at brother Mark and I’m glad I wasn’t chasing him. Heading to his private luxury box prerace, his incredibly bright red shoes looked fast but it was his walk that concerned me. This guy walked fast, running after him to try and step on his heels might not have been the bestest of plans.
Eventually realizing that we should get in to our starting corral, we walked the 90 seconds’ out the revolving door and past the elite corral to hear the starter announce , “One minute until the corrals close! One minute!”
In that jaw dropping, heart stopping moment we entered at the first corral possible, “Yellow” The Yellow corral is reserved for runners whose times are measured with fine Swiss timepiece’s in tenths of seconds, not sundials like us mere mortals.
Evidently the bouncers at the gate seen duly impressed that we had some affiliation with Kenya so we must belong in yellow corral, we were welcomed with smiles and not the usual all knowing glances of “Look at this guy, he thinks he can go the distance in those shoes.”
Thank goodness this wasn’t our first rodeo and we waited off to the side until our (mostly) correct corral came through. It wasn’t long. Our chip time was a bit less than two minutes off the starter’s clock time.
Our entourage weaved, wobble, jostled, and stumbled through the first 3 km finding our pace, shedding some extra water weight, and getting a feel for running in congestion with so many people.. With over 10,000 competitors the streets didn’t seem quite wide enough at times to maintain a constant pace. I also learned that my trusty Garmin does not deal will the glass and ivory towers of downtown Toronto. My wrist was telling me that we were running a 4:45 pace in elbow to elbow runners. Not even close. I began doing the pacing math using the kilometer markers and guessimate of five and a half minutes per kilometer. Running under the aptly named Gardiner Expressway the watch was virtually useless. It wasn’t until we reached the open spaces of Lakeshore Boulevard that I could use current pace as a benchmark for our time. Average pace wasn’t going to help, and distance on the watch was out by almost 750 meters.
Rebecca was running strong, we made sure to hold back and walk the water stops. If we made any mistakes at all, it was not getting back to pace coming out of the water stops. After 8km, we had about a one minute cushion.
Around then tenth kilometer the elite runners were coming out of the loop. The lead group had a bout a dozen, I wasn’t able to count there were just so many entangled arms and legs. Not far behind then was Reid Coolsaet. He was flying effortlessly over the ground. We also saw Michal Kapral before we reached the 12K mark and did the turnaround to bring it home.
So far, so good! On pace, on plan, nothing hurting, wash, rinse and repeat.
Rebecca had her second gel planned for 16K and I had mine there as well. Back to up and over the hill and then the final stretch under the Gardiner again. It was about the 17th kilometer that Becky knew she had a chance. She pushed the pace in an opening and was running a 4:45 with a fierce look of concentration and determination. I didn’t reel her it and let her go at her pace. By the 19th she was starting to run out of gas. We had a shot a finishing at 1:50, so I held the pace at 5:10. She was struggling but maintaining it. There was a bit of an uphill at the bottom of Bay Street that I forgot about.
At 20Km, I knew we’d done it., now to bring it home. I stayed just out of Becky’s reach, I knew exactly where she was and focussed on the sound from her iPod. There were signs every 100 meters counting down the last 500 meters. Lots of crowd support, with 200 left I told Becky, we have a shot at 1:50.
The finish line photos will eventually tell the story, we crossed the line together arms raised.
Becky smashed her goal time. She ran her race, called the shots and all I did was made sure she had a target to follow at the end.
If you want to know the results of Operation Brother Smother, read Becky’s blog.