Forest City Road Races 2011

About a month ago John and I ran in the Forest City Road Races. He ran a PR in the 5K and I opted for the 10K.

For pre-race fuel the night before we made this vegan Pesto Gnocchi Soup from the Post Punk Kitchen. It was a great way to get some carbs that stuck with me for the race, and it made enough for leftovers. A+.

John and I both ran the 5K at Forest City RR last year, and the set up was pretty similar this time. The race leaves from Victoria Park in downtown London, home of the tamest squirrels I've ever seen. This one sort of looked at me as I walked by, and (because I'm weird) I said, "Hey, little buddy," and he ran right over, expecting me to have food.

Back to the race. The 5K started at 8:30, but the 10K didn't start until 10:00 - I'm guessing to allow people the chance to run both. It was sort of an inconvenience, but by the time John finished running we only had an hour to stand around, stretch, and for me to warm up.

The camera didn't exactly cooperate, but here's a picture of the 5K start. If you look hard enough you can see John's red hair on the right hand side.

The runners rounding the first corner. John was out of sight by the time I got this picture.

After about 20 minutes I knew it was time to head to the finish line on a different side of the park. John wanted to beat 23 minutes and I wanted to get a picture of him.

He was alone for a lot of the race - faster than the bulk of the runners, but not fast enough to be with the lead pack. It seemed like he was one of the first ones in - 30th over all, pretty good for a race this big. In the picture above he was gesturing to the crowd to cheer for him, and they did, especially after I yelled "GO JOOOOOOHN GOOOOOO!!!!" really loudly.

His time was just over 22 minutes, so he accomplished his goal. But now, like you'd expect, he really wants to beat 22 minutes. His time earned him 3rd in his age group. That place didn't come with its own award in this race, but I'm still really proud of him. It's a tough race to try to place in, the biggest in town.

It rained on the 5K runners briefly, but the weather looked like it would hold out until the end of the 10k. Not so. It sprinkled while we waited to congregate at the starting line. And with about 6 or 7 minutes until the start, it really began to rain serious rain. My feet were wet before I started running. The temperature felt colder than I expected (I think it was in the lower 40s with wind), so I kept the fleece jacket on that I planned to give to John to hold. I was definitely under dressed and wished I had some gloves. My hands were numb before we even started moving. It wasn't pretty. But what are you gonna do? I don't skip training runs because of the rain, and I sure as hell wouldn't skip a race that I'd payed for and trained for for months just because it's raining. Hail, maybe. Lightening, definitely. But it was just cold and windy and raining, so we ran anyways.

Despite the wind and rain, it was still manageable. I got a nasty side stitch in the first mile, but I slowed the pace a little and it gradually went away. There were a couple of hills, but the really tough one was in the last mile, and by then I just wanted to be done, so I kept moving. My goal was to set a new PR (my old one was about 64 minutes from the Halloween Haunting) and run a strong race. When I passed the 5K mark at 30:30, I knew it would be hard to break 60 minutes (the goal at the back of my mind), but that I could still set a new PR. We wound through campus and then Gibbons Park, one of my all time favorite running spots, and it was nice to run in such a familiar setting.
Somewhere in park I met up with this women who I talked with at the starting line. She and I knew we had similar time goals, and I drafted off of her for a little while before she started a conversation. We agreed to stick together and I appreciated her so much. She suggested we take the 9th KM easy so we could go fast on the last KM, and I agreed. She said it was important to her to stick with someone as much as possible, and I told her she was helping me a lot. And that's true - I was struggling mentally more than anything, my fleece was soaked and heavy, my shoes were filled with water, I was freezing, and my allergies picked up this week so I was also fairly congested. Not ideal conditions. But with a running partner it's easier to ignore all that stuff. I know I would have run a lot slower without her.
As we rounded the corner back to Victoria Park, we agreed to start really increasing the pace at a certain spot, and I lost her before the finish line. I looked for her afterward to say thank you, but I couldn't find her, and I was too exhausted to wander around much. John walked with me through the food tent and we sat down in another so that I could re-group and get out of the rain.

The only passable picture he took after the race. John LOVES goofy pictures of me in situations like this. And I hate them.

My time was 61:13 on my watch, and the chip time was about 15 seconds later (I think), so I was pleased. I still feel like I can do better and break 60 - or go significantly under 60 - but that goal will have to wait. Better weather would help, but crappy weather is always a possibility, so I don't like using it as an excuse. This race definitely reminded me of how it can be easier to run in the winter than in the spring. I plan to run during the comps, only 2-3 days a week, and nothing longer than 4 miles. It's not a time to focus on running, obviously, but a 30 minute exercise session is supposed to be really good for you brain, and I know that it helps me clear my head and reduce stress. So I'll run, but without a race date set afterward. There will be more 5Ks and 10Ks, and I know that sub-60 time is within my reach.

As I post this, we have 2.5 days left in the comps! They are due on Monday and I have a lot to catch up on with the blog, so I'll probably do a comps-round-up post. John and I also have some exciting plans for the rest of the summer that I'd like to write about here, too. Hope you're enjoying the summer weather!


Niagara Mini-Vacation, April 2011 - Part 3

Our second day at Niagara on the Lake didn't go as planned, but we made the most of it.

The forecast was for thunderstorms on day 1 and scattered showers with partial sunshine on day 2, both with temperatures in the 55-60 range. But the storms didn't behave like they predicted, and they sort of missed NOTL on day 1 to come back for round two later on day 2. There was a terrible wind storm from the front, and it pretty much knocked out power all over town for the whole day.

It's weird to talk about storms when I look at these photos, just like it was when we glanced out the window that day. It was beautiful! What's the problem?!

This tree and dozens of others hit power lines, fences, and in a couple of nasty cases, people's homes. It was not good.

We didn't see all the downed trees right away. Our first stop was to find some diner breakfast food in Virgil, a little spot between the Hilton Garden Inn and NOTL proper. The first place we saw had a sign for all-day, $2.99 breakfast, but their power was only half on, and their cash register was down. Instead, we went across the street to Silk's, who also had a $2.99 breakfast. Perfect.

I can only speak for their breakfast special, but it was just what we were looking for. Plus they had electricity, even though they were within walking distance of the first place we tried. If/when we go back to NOTL, we plan to keep that place in mind.

Though only half of the street we visited in Virgil had power, and the wind was so strong you could hardly open the car door, we pressed on, figuring it was a good day for inside activities like drinking wine.

Signs for wineries, popping up on every road.

Niagara on the Lake has a fabulous website where you can find all sorts of info about what to do there. They have a separate page for wineries, which they group by location. John and I spent some time reading reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor, as well as the wineries' websites, trying to get a sense of the range of prices, hours, and a feel for the place. We had a couple in mind before hand, and they were both on the free NOTL tourist map from the hotel. But we also just sort of stopped where it was convenient as we drove around. Like I mentioned, there are dozens. You could drive down almost any road and see a sign for multiple wineries. The highway signs start advertising them just as you enter Niagara.

I took the photos above while we drove along the Niagara Parkway, a strip along the Niagara River with a lot of B&Bs and wineries, and a 34 KM running/cycling path. This place is like runner heaven and I was sort of disappointed that we didn't get to try any of that out.

Since the weather was sort of nuts that day, some places were in better shape than others to have customers. We stopped at one place that was only sort of open, and the woman working there seemed to have a lot to take care of and she was only one working, so we excused ourselves and went looking elsewhere.

This picture pretty much sums up the day. Storm damage, wineries, and a pretty good experience, even if the weather was nuts. Our two favorite places were Reif Estate Winery and Strewn Winery, and unfortunately I don't have any photos of either one.

Reif was our first stop, and when we got there I wasn't sure it was open. There was a sign on the door, directing us to another entrance, as their main double doors were too vulnerable to wind damage. They didn't have power, and I was sure they were just letting us in to tell us they were closed. Instead, they pointed us toward the bar and a server came over to chat us up. He made an awkward joke that I can't remember and then said, "Go on, laugh! It's a crazy day! Just enjoy it." We really appreciated their attitude toward the whole thing.
We tried four red wines - the Magician (a shiraz/pinot blend, my personal favorite), a Shiraz, Pinot, and Meritage, and ended up buying the Shiraz to have with some spicy fish for our last meal before the comps start. Normally they give you one complimentary taste, and then the next three cost between $1-5.* They also have a $5 tour that we planned to take, had the power been on. When we purchased the wine, however, they didn't include any charge for the tasting, and I thought was pretty classy of them. Maybe it was because their power was out and it was a weird visit, or for some other reason, I don't know. We would definitely like to go back there next time we visit and see the whole place, since there was a lot that we missed in the dark.

I think Strewn was John's favorite. Again, when we pulled up I wasn't sure they were open, but there were probably ten cars parked out front. Just as we opened the doors, two women came out into the foyer area to greet us and said, "The power just came back on!" And John said back, "Obviously. We brought it with us." They have a restaurant and a cooking school with a huge range of classes and packages. It's something we'd love to try in the future. One lady asked if we were there for lunch and said that they weren't ready to open the restaurant at all, since they only just had power. But since we were just there to taste wine, they were happy to serve us, and a very nice lady showed us the tasting room.
Strewn had two sort of tiers of tasting. The first only features wines that are $20 and under, and the other side of the room has their reserve line, that they call Terroir. We stayed on the $20-and-under side of the room, but we did try one red Terroir wine blend that they call the Strewn Three and we bought a bottle of it on sale to take home and save for a special occasion.
My favorite of the white wines was the 2009 Barrel Aged Chardonnay, which we bought and plan to drink after the comps. Their wines are mostly very affordable and the tastes were only fifty cents, so it's a great place to visit for people like me and John.

Still, there were probably a dozen other wineries that looked interesting to us. Since the power was still out all over town, we decided to head home a few hours earlier than planned. But the wind was still so strong that the O. P. P. closed the expressway. We decided to kill a little time at an outlet mall near by. It was nothing to write home about, but not a bad way to spend time while waiting for the wind to die down. The power outage meant that we didn't get to visit as many little stores in NOTL as we planned, so between that and the wineries, we have plenty to do when we go there again. And since it's so close by and such a lovely place to visit, we definitely plan to take another trip to Niagara on the Lake.

*A note about wine tasting: the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO, or "Lick-bow" to my classmates) allows you to taste four wines at each winery in the province, so the fact that you have to pay per taste didn't really bother me as much. Even if we had to pay for them at Reif, it wouldn't have added too much to our bill. That is, unless you want to taste icewine, the local specialty, since it tends to cost a bit more. I've tried it before and am not such a big fan, so we didn't think it was worth the money. But the region does have an Ice Wine Festival that might be fun to check out, if you're into that kind of wine.