Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Sudbury Rocks! Half Marathon Weekend

In many ways, this would be a special half marathon: we would be visiting Mike's family in his hometown, the town where I grew up from about the age of 9: Sudbury, Ontario. Mike and our sister-in-law were going to do the 5K. Also, the race would be on Mother's Day, and it is also Mike's mom's birthday!

Living as we do now in the flatlands of the industrial southwest of Ontario, I am always delighted at the change in scenery when we take the long (9 hours!) trip to our old stomping grounds in the north.

 We left on Friday, and mind you, things don't change much for the first 3 hours or so - just flat road and flat fields, but....

After bypassing Toronto on the 407 tollroad, and weaving through the heavy traffic on the 400, things began to change rather rapidly. The land begins to roll rather like rural England. Between Barrie and Moonstone, there are many roadside woodlots carpeted in white trilliums (our Provincial flower).
 Once we passed Port Severn, we knew we were now in Northern Ontario. The land changes dramatically to flat shelves of rock topped with windblown trees. This was the stomping ground of our "National Artists", the Group of Seven, and yes, the trees really do look like this painting by A.J. Casson:

Soon you're on highway 69, the main N-S link. There's an interesting phenomenon that occurs on this highway from here to Sudbury: little inukshuk (usually around a foot or two high) created on the top of every rock-cut or rocky outcropping (and there are a lot of them; some very, very high and precipitous). These little inuit-inspired rock men seem to have almost taken the place of graffiti painted on the rocks, a kind of "I was here" (a substitution of which I heartily approve!).:

The first "Moose Crossing"  and "Snowmobile Crossing" signs you see also indicate that you're not in Kansas any more! Lots of wetlands skirting the highway (most of them the work of beavers damming extant creeks) are the perfect habitat for the moose (although when I think "moose", somehow the phrase "Eenie meenie chili beanie" always comes to mind). Also, many snowmobile trails actually cross the highway!
Illustration of warning sign - moose crossing

As we drove north, the seasons seemed to go in reverse: we left Windsor in early summer and arrived in Sudbury to  early spring! The trees (mostly white and silver birch) were just getting their first tiny bright green leaves, and some shrubs were just beginning to flower. Here I inspect some "bug flowers" with our 3-year-old niece. She calls them this because the bees like them!

We arrived about 6:30 pm, just in time for dinner and wine! Saturday we would pick up our gear at the marathon expo, then on to the race on Sunday.

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We picked up our bibs, chips and shirts at the Saturday expo at the YMCA (the site of the start/finish). I use the term "expo" loosely as there really was only one retailer there (the Running Room), and the prices were exactly what they charge in their store!...did I mention that this is a relatively small marathon, albeit a Boston Qualifier? There was a lot of info on other Northern marathons and races, though.
We had a big blowout family party on Saturday evening, it being not only Mother's Day but also Mike's mom's birthday! There were aunts and uncles, nieces and others in attendance. I was good and mainly continued to hydrate with water, although I did have a celebratory glass of red wine.

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After little (almost no) sleep on Saturday night for no apparent reason (not just me, but Mike as well), I was up and doing my pre-marathon prep by 6:30. Mike dropped me off to do my warmup and drills by 7:25 for a 7:55 start at the Y. He and Lynne (our sister-in-law) would start the 5K later at 9:00. By chance, a childhood and teen-years friend of Mike with whom he had lost touch and who was now living in Toronto was re-discovered on FB because he was going to run the 5K! More on Doug later.
Things were very well oganised, and it being a relatively small event, it was easy to get into a (very disgusting) porta-potty and to the start line. They also had the YMCA open for restrooms and gear drop, but it was a mob scene. On a funny note, a new and very funky candy store next to the Y opened at 7:30 for any last-minute sugar fixes! There were also a couple of cafes that opened especially early for marathoners.
The weather was gorgeous: 49F and sunny, with a high later in the day of 68F. I joined the BOTPC (Back of the Pack Club), a real psychological advantage I find because you get passed by few and end up passing quite a few!
Although the course had been described as flat and fast, it really was a series of large rolling hills interspersed with flat bits. Sudbury is, after all, built in and around rocky hills. We would pretty much circumnavigate the city today! I was not feeling my mojo and had a lot of trouble finding my comfortable pace; maybe it was the hills, but more likely because I went out a tad too fast. I would suffer for this in the doldrums of the middle miles. We really ended up doing an urban/suburban route with the exception of Minnow Lake and Lake Ramsay. This is a bit of a shame as there is so much incredible natural beauty around the city, but that would have made the route far too hilly. There were lots of aid stations and lots of volunteers out and about, and a large police presence making sure we didn't get flattened by motorists.
Although I passed a couple of runners, there was a space when I was virtually alone: runners ahead, runners/walkers behind and me in the middle in my own little racewalking world. The course was always extremely well marked, however, with people at every turn to make sure you didn't get lost. They were very enthusiastic and boosted my spirit as I trucked along. I started catching up to bunches of runners and at around mile 9 I started targeting some of them to pass. I must say they were some of the nicest runners I've encountered, complimenting my pace and and commenting positively on my speed and mode of transport. I wasn't winded, so was able to talk to them as I pulled up beside them....some of them were breathing rather heavily, though. At about mile 12.5, the first full marathon runner passed us (they did two loops of the half course), and he was obviously way out in front because no other fulls passed me for the rest of the race. Just before this, I finally came up beside one girl whose blue shirt I had been chasing since mile 5 or so. She was a very nice young first half-marathoner who was starting to get a bit tired and welcomed the company. We approached the finish together and I told her when to pump in the last bit of gas based on my Garmin distance. Off she went! [I saw her again after the end of the chute and we high-fived each other]. As I came around the corner to come into the finish chute, I started hearing my name being shouted. As they didn't put our names on our bibs, this made me look around. There, on the sidelines, was the clan: Mike, Lynne, our cousin, aunt and uncle and Doug, the friend I mentioned earlier as well as his brother! They had come down to the finish or waited quite a while after their race to cheer me in!!!!! This is the first time this has happened and it was quite a rush! Really made me feel special! 

Checking out my cheering section!

Afterwards, pics with the racers, and an interesting conversation with Doug about the Ontario Racewalkers and the races they do in Toronto. Apparently he knows the head racewalking coach really well!!! A somewhat local lead (Toronto is four hours away)!

The intrepid racers: Doug, me, Lynne and Mike

Doug is a real runner and came first in his age/gender group for the 5K! Mike and Lynne took it easy (so they said) and had identical times of 46:29 (Mike's knee seems to be healing well after that injury last year). My time for the completely racewalked half was 2:38 (a duplicate of my PB in Columbus! Considering I didn't feel I did that well in this race, I was pretty darned happy with this result!).  I learned a few lessons about strategy and technique in this race that I hope will be applied in future ones. The 5K field was HUGE; the half and full marathon not so much. They didn't post half walking times separately, but there was a full marathon walk posted separately. Only two people finished it (sisters), with exactly the same time of 8:52 (ouch). They had given an early (6:00 am) start for the full walkers.
Back to Mike's family's place for a sauna, more great food and company. It really is like staying at a luxury hotel and spa, and his family always treats me Soooooo well! It was quite wonderful to visit with them!
Our long drive home on Monday was uneventful with relatively light traffic, and the seasons started going forward again. Back to warm Windsor and early summer.

A good time was had by all!


  1. Great race report Deb! I love how you described that part of the counrty. Sounds beautiful!


  2. 2:38 is one heckuva racewalking pace! Fast!

    Fun going north (back in seasons) for 9 hours - nice way for you to describe it. Sounds like it was a great weekend for you guys.

    I want to join the BOTPC too!

  3. Great job, Deb! 2:38 is awesome for a half! Spending time with family and friends is a bonus!