Monday, September 21, 2009

Race Report: Run For The Grapes Half Marathon

Honestly, I didn't know what to expect when I arrived in St. Catherines Sunday morning for the Run For The Grapes Half Marathon. I'd never heard of the race before and despite travelling through St. Catherines quite often, I've never really stopped to take a look around.

Overall, it was a great experience. The 500 or so entrants made it just the perfect size race, not too crowded, yet you were in contact with other human beings at all times. The weather was incredible. I would put the start line temperature at around 15 degrees Celsius and according to my internal thermometer it never rose above 20 degrees during the race. However, my internal thermometer has never been known to be incredibly accurate! Add to that, sunshine and a slight breeze and the conditions were very comfortable.

My one concern was the lack of washroom facilities at the start / finish line. By my count, there were only 6 portapoddies available for around 1000 runners (there was also a 5k event). I may have been misinformed because I did see runners entering a government building adjacent to the start area. It didn't bother me much as the parking spot I chose was in a perfect treed corner of a lot near the start...

The course was nice. For maybe the first and last 5km, we ran through the downtown and residential areas of St. Catherines. The in-between 10 or 11km were run on rural roads to the west of the city. Most of the rural route was through vineyards. I was a little misconceived by the elevation profile on the official website. It looked to me like it would be a fairly hilly course. It wasn't. I didn't actually look at the elevation intervals on the profile map beforehand and they were indeed quite small.

An interesting quirk about the race was the periodic 'cannon fire' in the vineyards. Also called 'bird-bangers', these are propane powered blasts to scare the birds away from the grapes. There were a few times when I was zoned in on my running and one of the blasts would scare the shit out of me. These periodic adrenaline boosts are probably partly responsible for me shaving 10 minutes off my last half marathon time.

I would also like to apologize to the female runner that was ahead of me at around the 14km mark. I looked up and saw her move from one side of the road to the other as if in search of something. I then forgot about it and zoned out. Soon after, I heard rustling in the bush at the side of the road. For some reason, despite not hearing any barking, my active imagination assured me that a farm dog was loose and about to rush through the bushes at me at any time. I, of course, craned my neck to see where this 'dog' might be. When I realized, too late, that it was the unfortunate female runner having what seemed to be a very urgent and possibly painful pit stop, I was rather embarrassed. At least, I didn't yell out to those behind me, "Watch out for the dog!"

If the goodies are one of the reasons you enter races, I have to say that the shirt and medal were the best I've ever seen. If parking and convenience are on your list, this was also one of the best. Despite the fact that St. Catherines doesn't have free parking on Sundays like a lot of municipalities, the parking was a very reasonable flat rate of $2 and was steps away from the start / finish.

As for my personal race, I started strong and remained strong. I concentrated on turnover rate and not getting lazy and moving to a longer, slower stride. My time was 1 hour 51 minutes and although not my personal best, it was 10 minutes better than the Mississauga Half earlier this year and not far behind my best ever at the Toronto International a few years ago. My goals for the race were to complete the race injury-free - which I did; To beat 2 hours - which I did; To enjoy my experience from start to finish - which I did; To partake in the wine festival that the race was a part of - which I did not...

My race rating for this run will follow shortly.

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