One thing to love about living in Eastern Ontario: The fall colours. When those leaves turn from green to all shades of yellow, red, and purple, illuminated by sunlight, contrasting the blue October skies, we know: the best running season of the year just started. This year I finally managed to sign up for Somersault’s Fall Colours Marathon — 42.2km of running through the far eastern parts of Ottawa.
[This report is also available on Medium]
No specific preparation
This year has been somewhat special for me in terms of running; after such a long time without any sports competitions I took my running to a new level in 2022, being excited about all those events coming back to life. I’d already run almost 2500km by the beginning of October, and this race would be my fifth marathon since I started with Winterman in February. It took me 7 years to run my first five marathons, and only 8 months to run five more.
This one was yet another experiment in my running journey. In July, I ran Nova Scotia Marathon after four weeks of almost no training due to sickness, and enjoyed the race. This time around, I hadn’t done any long training runs (above 25km) since Ironman Canada in August, six weeks ago. I knew that my overall fitness was good, and that I had another marathon in me, but I really wasn’t sure how it would turn out.
I planned to keep it easy and wanted stick to a conservative 5:20min/km pace for the whole run. This would allow me hopefully to comfortably finish in well below four hours. After an exhausting running season, I didn’t want to push it too hard, and the rolling hills on the map didn’t really look promising to make this course a candidate for a personal best.
A couple hundred athletes had registered for this grassroot event, almost one hundred of which were in for the marathon distance. It was cold and rainy that morning, and I think I wasn’t the only one questioning my choice of clothing: shorts, a long-sleeved shirt over one base layer. I was freezing! Just walking those 200m from the car to the starting line seemed to be a challenge and I did not look forward to running for multiple hours.
The venue was great though — in the back of Cumberland Heritage Village Museum there was enough space for all runners to gather and watch the inaugural Wedding Dress Dash that Adam and Elizabeth (owners of Somersault and two great human beings) had organized prior to the main event start. About a dozen folks ran a 1km fun race in their wedding dresses!
A hilly course
It was still pretty cold and cloudy, when all marathoners and half-marathoners started their race at 9am sharp; but luckily the rain had stopped. Here we go again, on the way to finish my 10th marathon overall!
The course was a 10.5km out-and-back design, to be done twice in order to reach 42km. I knew it was going to be a bit hilly, but the scenery was just beautiful: colourful trees along calm backroads, mostly well maintained asphalt, small neighbourhoods. We didn’t have the roads all for ourselves, but the car traffic wasn’t much, and there was always a running lane marked by little yellow cones, that made it not only easy for the runners to find their way, but also for the drivers to be attentive.
The first 10km to the turn-around point felt great. Although I through my 5:20 plan out of the window right after the first kilometer, my pace of 4:50min/km felt very natural and sustainable. I went slower up the hills, and faster down, but even without checking my watch that speed seemed to make sense to me so I decided to not slow down.
That first hour went by quickly. Hundreds of people on the course, and soon enough there would be the fast half-marathoners already coming towards the slower ones. While many people prefer to run loops, I don’t really mind out-and-back courses: not only do you get an idea how many runners are in front of you, but it is also just more fun to see and greet and smile to those other competitors that come towards you.
It took me 1h45m to finish the first half. I still felt great. The sun broke through the clouds and made the fall colors shine even brighter. So enjoyable!
I’ve completed enough marathons, though, to know that it doesn’t mean anything when you feel great at 10k. Or even at 20. Or 25. The marathon itself only starts at KM30 or later, and only then you know if how you paced yourself throughout the first two thirds of the run smartly; or not.
The second half: much hillier
That second half was going to be much lonelier. All the half-marathoners turned around to the finish line, and from now on the running crowd on the street was about to get smaller and smaller. I’m used to running on my own though, and solitude on a run is nothing I’m scared of. What I fear are hills, though, when they seem to become steeper and steeper the longer you run. I did not remember that first climb to be so exhaustingly hard on the first loop! It felt like I’d massively slow down. My watch told me differently, and overall, I was keeping the pace.
At around KM25 the mental game started. Still averaging below 4:50min/km, my mind started playing tricks on me. “Why don’t you just slow down, or walk for a bit? You’d still be able to finish, maybe even under 4 hours.” I didn’t have any major discomfort, nothing that I hadn’t felt before. Sure, my hips started to get stiff, and my back started to hurt, and my legs were tired. But no real pain, no blisters, and no physical exhaustion were present. It was my brain that expected my body to shut down anytime now, that tried to slow me down. Realizing that, I kept pushing. It wasn’t the right time to slow down.
Arriving at the turnaround point the second time was a great motivator; all that was left now were 11 more kilometers, with a net downhill! The weather was still great, despite the cold wind, and I kept passing runners that seemed to feel worse than I. When would my body force me to walk? Or stop? So far, I hadn’t even stopped at any water station, just zooming through without slowing down, while taking my doses of Gatorade.
It was at KM35 when I started to really feel my thighs almost closing up; only 7km to go, but this feeling was really concerning. I knew that any moment cramps could start; but I also knew that slowing down wouldn’t necessarily change anything. I think it was the downhills that made it hard for my legs. My energy levels were still ok, and I kept telling myself to just do the next kilometer. And the next. This was also the time when I started calculating a possible finish time: a trajectory of sub 3h30m really motivated me to keep pushing. Having ran the course three times by now already, I knew what was coming; a long downhill at around KM37, and then a final climb at the end. So close!
Finishing strong but tired
When there were only 3km to go, I started to verbally push myself. Up that last hill. I could hear the announcer at the finish line. I entered the venue, and only had 500 meters to go on gravel. My Garmin watch already showed 42.2km, and my whole body hurt, but those last 500 meters were so much fun… just realizing that I did it once again, in a respectable time, and in a beautiful area. Marathon #10 done!
Immediately after finishing my body shut down. I hardly could move and had to sit down right away. That feeling of accomplishment after a big race beats everything, though, even though this time around the endorphins weren’t able to numb the pain… but they had hot chocolate! Much needed to start some recovery — there’s at least one more marathon on my plate for this year…
- Somersault pulls off great races. After Winterman Marathon in February and the Early Bird Triathlon in May, this was my third event with them this year
- The course is well worth running
- No medal this time — turns out I accidentally signed up for race-insurance instead for a medal. I got a medal for the pics at least 😉
- My nutrition plan worked perfectly this time: I had 500 calories of tailwind diluted into 1400ml of water on my back, and had emptied it just 2km before the finish. On top of that I took advantage of on-course nutrition (Gatorade) at every water station on the second half
- Finished 3rd of my age group, and 6th overall!
- Pacing was perfect for a hilly and late-season marathon.
- That was my second-fastest marathon overall; which is surprising given the hilly profile