Monday, March 30, 2020

Race Report: Manitoba Marathon

Midrace photo at the Unisphere
My weekend began with an early morning wake up on Saturday to get dressed for a 10K. The Queens 10K is the third race of New York Road Runners' Five Borough Series, and brings more than 11,000 runners to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. I was singing "God Bless America" for Wave 2, and was requested to be there by 7:50 to sing for the 8:15am start.  I arrived around 7:30, in time to hear the national anthem sung quite nicely by Woodside Sunnyside Runners' Juli Borst, and also cheer on the runners in Wave 1!  Before long, wave 2 started to line up, and I got up to the mic to sing, before jumping into the corrals to run.  As usual, it was a warm race - I was glad to have applied some sunblock, as that sun was definitely beaming down on us, as those clear skies and 61° temps rose over the course of the next hour.
Singing "God Bless America"

Official photo by Gameface Media
I felt really great as we made our way through the park, a course reminiscent of the six loops I did only eight weeks earlier.  The flatness of the course was helpful - and in the end, I posted my fastest 10K time I've ever run, a 52:39 - enough to bring my "best pace" with NYRR down to 8:28/mile pace, which should help me move to some faster corrals with their races in the future.  It took about three minutes off of my PR, and I also ran negative splits: a 26:27 first 5K and 26:12 second 5K!

I didn't stick around for long, because I had an afternoon flight to catch and still needed to stop home so I could shower and then grab my backpack.  The flight was from Newark Airport, so getting there involved having to take the subway to Penn Station, then the NJ Transit to the airport's RailLink, then the AirTrain to the terminal.  I got to the airport with more than enough time, and my flight, headed to Toronto, boarded on time for our 1pm departure.

Excited to have a new 10K PR!
However, departing on time was not to be -- shortly after taxiing and preparing to take off, as we stood in a short line for the runway, the pilot came on the speaker to tell us that there was an aircraft incident on the runway, and air traffic control had shut the airport down.  As we saw emergency vehicles rushing toward the runway from our plane's windows, we would later learn (mostly from passengers, including myself, surfing Twitter) that a United Airlines plane from Denver had undergone a hard landing that damaged the forward landing gear, eventually skidding off the runway, and rendering the aircraft disabled.  Thankfully noone was injured, but flights slated to arrive at Newark were diverted to other airports in the area or held at their origins until the passengers on the disabled aircraft were safely deplaned, and the airplane was towed off of the runway.

The pilot shut the engine off, and we were prepared to sit on the tarmac for as long as we could (a maximum of 4 hours, per FAA rules) since we had excess fuel, though some other planes had turned back around to let their passengers off and likely cancel their flights. But luckily around 2:30pm, the pilot came back on the speaker saying the airport had reopened, and we were going to leave. We ended up taking off at 2:53pm, nearly two hours late. We landed in Toronto at 3:56pm, and taxied to our gate, needing to wait for a plane to push back before we were finally parked. Luckily the flight attendants requested passengers to give priority to those of us trying to make connections in deplaning.

My flight, per my itinerary, started boarding at 4, so in a rush, I was finally let off the plane at 4:10. I still have to go through Canadian customs, so I’m running, and I’m the first one through to the customs area. The border agent understands the situation and waves me right through. I literally sprint out of there to find my gate, which it turns out I have to be bused to. Thankfully, there’s a bus there waiting, and I get on... after a minute or two of “come on, come on, let’s go!!!”, we’re moving... slowly... and I burst out of the bus and sprint to my gate.  I get there at 4:25pm, ten minutes before the slated departure time... only to find that my flight to Winnipeg still hadn’t started boarding. All that extra running for nothing!

Arriving at YWG!
We actually are delayed leaving for Winnipeg due to a faulty lavatory in the back of the plane, but once they fix that issue, we're all boarded and get on with our flight.  We land in Winnipeg about an hour late, and Seth is there to pick me up, having landed earlier in the day (after a crazy travel day himself - missing his connecting flight the night before in Minneapolis due to a late incoming aircraft from his departure point of Miami)  We head straight for The Forks Market, a large riverside food hall featuring great local offerings and local maker and retail vendors, located at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in Downtown Winnipeg.  I enjoy a delicious flatiron steak from Simon's Steaks in the food court, as well as some local craft beers on tap from The Common. We also check out the view from above, as the market also features a six story tower with a viewing platform, featuring interpretive panels with information on the site's history.  Afterward, we decide to head to one more brewery, Stone Angel Brewing Company, before heading back to the hotel to catch some z's before the morning's race.
At a Canadian National Railroad train model at The Forks
The Forks 
Inside the Forks Market
One last brewery stop before heading to bed
With Marathon Maniacs in IG Field
We were up by 5:45, and out the door by 6 to get to the start on the campus of the University of Manitoba, only 15 minutes away.  Seth had arranged to get onsite parking, so we were able to get past a police barricade already up for the race, and head straight there, walking right across the street to Investors Group Field (IG Field), home to the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and the stadium where the finish line and bag drop was located. We also met with members of Marathon Maniacs for a quick photo there before we headed out to the startline on the road adjacent to the stadium.

The race had corrals set up, which was odd for a small race, but we grouped ourselves as requested, and I found myself near the 4:15 pacer.  Like the previous week in Halifax, I told him that I would likely run ahead of him, but he would catch up to me at around the 25K mark.  After the national anthem was sung (with a couple lines in French, just like last week!) we were off, and on this cloudy and windless 55° day, we headed northeast on Chancellor Matheson Road, turning left onto University Crescent and past the stadium, which we wouldn't see again until our race finish. The road was super flat - and it would stay flat for the entire race, save for one climb along an onramp.

Heading to the Pembina Highway
The road curved past some underutilized field space past the stadium, with marathoners on the left lanes, and half marathoners on the right lanes.  After passing through a more residential section, the two groups merged as we were directed onto the closed off northbound lanes of Route 42, or the Pembina Highway. We then turned right, descending down the offramp, onto Bishop Grandin Boulevard, where we ran along the shoulder, crossing the Red River, then turning left onto River Road into the district of St. Vital.  The morning's cloudy sky looked quite pretty with the sun shining behind it, and while I had my sunglasses on, I knew I didn't really need them... the sun wasn't going to come out anytime soon!

Early on in the race with Budi
I had ran into my friend Budi at the start, so we ran these first couple miles together.  But it was obvious that the speed I was going was a bit tough for Budi, as I could hear him struggling for breath.  We'd gone about 20 minutes, running around 8 1/2 minute miles for the first two miles, which was likely much faster than he was used to.  Our first water station appeared about 2.25 miles in, and I quickly lost sight of him after that.  After all - I wasn't planning on stopping to take a walk break until the 29 minute mark. At the same time, Seth was running at a pretty strong clip as well, and after awhile, he asked what pace we were running - it seems, his watch was telling him he was barely getting past ten minute miles.  He quickly eased back when he realized how fast he was going.  We would actually hit the 5K mark in about 27 minutes - which made our pace just under 9 minutes a mile.

St. Mary's Road
We turned right onto St. Vital Road, continuing through this largely residential neighborhood, then turned left onto Dunkirk Drive, where before long, the road started to follow the curve of the Red River, not far from where we were running.  The road took us right next to the Winnipeg Canoe Club, and just past there, the split where half marathoners turned left, while marathoners turned right onto Kingston Row, and onto Rosewarne Avenue.  We turned left onto St. Mary's Road, continuing our way northward, and alongside the Red River, turning left then onto Lyndale Drive, as it followed the edge of Lyndale Drive Park through the edge of the neighborhood of Norwood West in St. Boniface, the centre of Manitoba's French community.
Running alongside the Red River on Lyndale Drive
River Arch on the Norwood Bridge
We'd take a tiny uphill onto St. Mary's Road once again, where we would cross over the Norwood Bridge and find ourselves with views of the downtown ahead of us.  On the bridge was a sculpture known as "River Arch," commissioned by the City of Winnipeg and was the winning proposal in a national competition by artist Catherine Widgery. The sculpture is made of stone, stainless steel, aluminum, gold leaf, and concrete, and includes an arch and two 40ft columns, each topped with golden sheaves of wheat. The arch bears a pixellated image from a photograph of a harvested field and each column bears a sculpture of the head of a bison on each side of the base.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights
We crossed over the Red River once again, hugging the single lane we had dedicated to us runners as we also crossed over the Assiniboine River, being not too far from the confluence of the two rivers.  With the distinctive spire of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights piercing the skyline, we found ourselves with Bonnycastle Park to our left, as we turned left onto Assiniboine Avenue, a key route through Winnipeg's downtown. Running by the area's highrises, we eventually found ourselves passing in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building, a neoclassical building from 1920 that stands 253 feet tall, with its dome supporting the Golden Boy statue, a gold covered bronze statue based on the style of the Roman god Mercury.  I stopped here for a quick photo as runners went by, and continued on, but before long spotted a very familiar looking shirt on one of the runners as he sped by.
Downtown Winnipeg
Running by the Manitoba Legislative Building
Entering Wolseley
I would introduce myself to Tim, who was a Winnipeg Frontrunner, and he was wearing an FRNY Pride Run shirt from a few years back, which got us to chatting for a little bit!  The course crossed Osborne Street onto Granite Way, and we followed the path as it zigzagged its way down into one of the neighborhoods forming one of the many bends of the river, eventually turning left onto Wolseley Avenue.  All the while, the 4:00 marathon pacer was right on our tail, and while I stopped to take my walk break (now down to 19 and 1 in the second hour of the race), I would end up running with them for a short period of time. We were now running through the neighborhood of Wolseley, a desirable residential area that is sometimes affectionately known as "The Granola Belt," for its largely "hippie" clientele that rejuvenated and gentrified the area starting in the 1970s and 1980s.  After catching up with Tim once again, he mentioned that with the race in June, it's usually quite warm, and with that, this particular neighborhood is overrun with canker worms and caterpillars that end up falling in water cups and dropping from trees onto runners; the unseasonably cooler weather dissuaded that from happening this year!

Running through Wolseley
As we progressed through Wolseley, I realized I was running pretty fast -- we had passed the 11 mile mark, and my Garmin was registering my elapsed time being 1:40:13.  Considering I've been running sub ten minute miles, there was a very strong chance I would run a sub-two hour half marathon time, something I've only accomplished once before, and it was at a downhill half marathon in Utah back in 2015! Having broken my marathon PR twice, and running quite fast 5Ks as of late, in addition to the 10K PR I set the day before this race, it was somewhat not a surprise that I'd be running as fast as I was. However, to be continuing to run as quickly this far into the race, some five minutes faster than even my fastest half splits from immediate previous marathons, was "uncharted territory" for me.  Tim stayed along with me as we continued the next couple miles staying ahead of the 4 hour pacer. We left Wolseley, turning right onto Raglan Road, as we began a stretch heading westward along Portage Avenue, crossing the 13 mile mark and staying ahead.  Though there was no timing mat to register my half marathon time, my Garmin registered a 1:58:10 at the 13 mile mark, even with the 13 mile sign we ran past.
Not long after the halfway point on Portage Avenue!
Entering Assiniboine Park
Tim had warned that the second half would start off a bit boring, and he was right.  I let the 4 hour pacer and her crew pass as I stayed not far behind her over the next mile.  After running on the largely commercial Portage Avenue, we turned left through the entrance of Assiniboine Park.  Heading south now, we cross over the concrete Assiniboine River Park Bidge over the Assiniboine River, and into the heart of the park.  Snaking down the paved pathway through the park, we ran by people casually strolling through, as we passed the Pavilion Gallery Museum, home to the largest collections of works by renowed 20th Century Manitoban artists Ivan Eyre, Walter J. Phillips, and Clarence Tillenius.

Pavilion Gallery Museum
We turned left onto Assiniboine Park Drive, and emerged out of the park onto Wellington Crescent, where we began a lengthy run, first through the neighborhood of Old Tuxedo, as we ran alongside the bends of the river, then into the street's namesake neighborhood, one of Winnipeg's wealthier neighborhoods - and it showed; a sizeable grassy median separated huge homes on both sides of this street.  We ran along Wellington Crescent for about 2.5 miles, from when we exited the park, until we finally turned onto Guelph Street.  The monotony managed to make my split times lag a little, and I recorded miles closer to ten minutes, including what would be my slowest mile split the entire race, a 10:14 at mile 17.  I was slightly annoyed by a guy on a bicycle clearly riding alongside his wife who was near me and running the same pace as me, and he had to be asked by an official race marshal (also on a bike) to move off to the sidewalk a couple times.

One of the regular spectators
along the route
We now began our southward route back toward the finish line, first on the narrow Guelph Street in the neighborhood of Crescentwood, then along the slightly wider Harrow Street cutting through the neighborhoods of Rockwood and Grant Park.  For maybe the fifth or sixth time, we were cheered on by a few spectators who were wholly committed to cheering for us runners at multiple spots in the course - I'm sure they had a specific runner who they were cheering for that was running right around the same pace as me but was not far behind (or in front of) me - but they were noticeable in their Winnipeg Jets "hockey sweaters."  So as I ran by, I made sure to take a selfie with one of them who was eagerly giving out high fives to runners.  We were now getting close to three hours into the race, and that's when the rain started.

At first, it was pretty light... just a few drops here and there.  The forecast had originally called for rain throughout the morning, but as Sunday drew near, the rain looked like it would be reserved for later in the day, with a slighter chance around the 10 o'clock hour... exactly three hours into the race.  Thankfully, with the temperate weather and lack of wind, the rain, as it started to come down a little stronger, wasn't much of a nuisance. In fact, my pace managed to quicken a little, and I hit the 19 mile mark in a 9:29 pace, my fastest since the halfway point, and 2 1/2 minutes before my Garmin hit the three hour mark. I realized that if I managed to run 10 minute miles between that point and the finish, I could run a PR at this marathon.

So that's what my modus operandi was for the remaining 7.2 miles of the race.  Manage to do this all in 70-75 minutes, and I'd have yet another PR on my hands. The road curved slightly as we ran past the Manitoba Electrical Museum, then we turned right onto the Pembina Highway and the area of Fort Garry.  After passing underneath the tracks of the Canadian National Railways mainline, we found ourselves on the first and only significant "uphill" that I could remember in the entire race... a barely 1/4 mile circular onramp that quickly came right back down as we continued along the opposite side of the Pembina Highway continuing to head south.   After passing the 20 mile mark, we veered left onto Point Road, where we ran into yet another largely residential neighborhood known as Wildwood.

Oakenwald Avenue
The rain was coming down harder as we pushed our way down Oakenwald Avenue, turning right onto North Drive, then following the edge of this area on South Drive, once again hugging the bends of (this time) the Red River.  At Stratford Road, we ran through Crescent Drive Park, where we hit the 23 mile mark, and at one point, passing a spin class positioned right alongside the roadway pushing us runners through the last few miles of the race.  The miles ticked by, and I stayed true to my goals... in fact, a few of the mile splits I was hitting were just under 10 minutes per mile!  With two miles two go, I knew I was going to PR.

The 40K mark!
We turned left onto the Pembina Highway, just as the rain started to dissipate. We were left to run along the shoulder of the road, which at times was filled with puddles, but I continued to push on through, even cresting the slight hill at the 40K mark and shortly thereafter the 25 mile mark.  My Garmin read 3:58 as I passed it, and then we were led back to University Crescent as we made our final push to the finish line.

Getting close to the finish at IG Field
I kept a strong pace, as IG Field came into view.  I wondered how much I could manage and how many minutes under my current PR of 4:16:00, which I made only two weeks earlier, I could run. The finish line was inside the stadium, with runners appearing on the jumbotron as we make our final dash on the turf field to the end of the race.  This was a change made in 2017, as runners used to finish on the outdoor track located next door. We turned left as we ran down the seemingly endless road that took us through to the entrance to the field.  I heard my name on the loudspeakers as I sprinted my way to the finish line.  4:11:02.  I had managed to beat a PR that stood for only two weeks by nearly five minutes.  It would be the THIRD time I had managed to break my marathon PR this year.

Celebrating with a new PR and bling!
Overjoyed, I came through the finish chute and grabbed my medal, and instantly got my photo taken by photographers.  Out of breath, I managed to mention that this was my 108th marathon, and 17th this year, and ended up getting interviewed by a journalist about my thoughts on the race.  Marathoners were led into the field, where we could get some food, and I stuck around while waiting for Seth, who would finish about twenty minutes later.  Starting to get cold from being soaked from the hour of rain, and knowing he had a flight to catch, I had him take my headstand photo inside the stadium, before we left to get to the car so I could get my backpack and a warm change of clothes.  Thankfully, the shirt that came with the race entry was longsleeved, so I pulled that on, then went back into the stadium to find Wally from the Winnipeg Frontrunners, who Budi was staying with, and also offered to drive me back to the airport after brunch.
Victory Headstand inside IG Field!
Celebrating with fellow Front Runners
I found them staying warm inside one of the stadium's heated rooms, where I also met another one of his teammates, Andrew, and we chatted for a bit before realizing Budi was close to finishing.  We went down to the stadium to cheer him in, but somehow missed him, so after finding him, we all made our way to the shuttle buses that took us to Wally's car located offsite.  After dropping Andrew off at his home, Wally took us to The Tallest Poppy, a restaurant in the neighborhood of West Broadway, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods. We had an hour to eat, and while it nearly took the entire time for our food to come out, we chowed down pretty quickly and closed our checks before heading out so that I could make my flight.
Enjoying brunch at The Tallest Poppy
My chicken fried steak in the shape of Manitoba!
Wally took me to the airport, and with only a few flights that afternoon, I got through security fairly quickly, and to my gate just before we started boarding.  After a flight back to Toronto, I made it back to New York that night, thrilled to come home with a new PR... in fact, two from the weekend.  And it was also my 14th weekend in a row for a distance race - my last marathon before a well deserved three week break!

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