Ottawa Marathon Recap

The shorter version…

I ran 2:31:45 for 23rd overall in the Ottawa Marathon on Sunday. This was not the result I wanted and nearly seven minutes shy of my goal. I set a target of 2:25 and I think I had the ability to run a lot closer to that time but blew it by running the first 25 km too fast. I really paid for that over the final 17 km as my pace slowed by over a minute per km and I crossed the finish line barely capable of maintaining my everyday ‘easy’ training pace. I didn’t mentally check-out or pull up because I was disappointed; I just had no energy to keep my legs going.

How not to pace a marathon
How not to pace a marathon

What happened? I decided to stick with a pack that was running too fast for me and my pride prevented me from taking heed of the warning signs that I should slow down. I remember seeing 5:27/mile pace on my watch and knowing that I had only trained for 5:30 to 5:34/mile pace. I kept telling myself to stick with the pack to help block the wind but in retrospect, I don’t think the wind was too bad and the pack didn’t really block much of it anyway. I tricked myself into thinking that because I was well-rested that going a little faster than planned would be fine. I should have stuck with my earlier plan of running the first half more conservatively and I think I could have come away with better result. 2:31:45 is still a 10-minute improvement from the 2:41 I ran in Waterloo last spring so I won’t complain too much.

More than anything, I’m happy to have made it through a training cycle healthy and able to race after failing to make the starting line for the Hamilton marathon. In the process of training for Ottawa, I improved my half marathon PB from 1:11:15 to 1:09:29 and my 10K PB from 32:58 to 31:00 (downhill) so I feel like I can classify Ottawa as an outlier and carry the momentum from this training cycle forward into the next.

Thanks to everyone who followed and cheered me along! It was great to read all the words of encouragement following the race, despite my disappointment with the result. I’ll be taking a couple weeks off to recover and then will be getting back into it. On deck, I’ve got the St Clair River Run 10K in July leading up to the Toronto Waterfront marathon in October.

The longer version…

I’ve written up more details about how my race went below, but first here’s a quick summary of what else happened at the Ottawa Race weekend. Besides the marathon on Sunday morning, the Ottawa Race weekend included a stacked 10K on Saturday evening which featured the Canadian Championship race and a field full of guys capable of running under 31 minutes. That was a blast to watch! Eric Gillis, Kelly Wiebe, Matt Loiselle, and Sami Jibril laid down some wicked fast times. The top Canadian women put on a good show too, with Lanni Marchant winning the Canadian title in 31:48 and Natasha Wodak 2nd with 31:58. Shout out to David Freake for running 31:53! If you’re interested, you can watch the replay of that race over at

In the marathon, Rob Watson, Lucas McAneney, and Terence Attema – three of the elite Canadians – had good races and finished 8th, 9th, and 10th overall. Shout out to Rob Brouillette for running 2:41:08 for a new PB!

Rachel Hannah, who is an incredible Canadian distance runner debuted in the marathon at 2:33 and a minute ahead of her goal. The night before, I saw her spectating at the 10K and wondered why in the world she wasn’t racing! It was great to see her surpass her goal and cross the line as the first Canadian woman!


The goal of the final two weeks before the race were to reduce mileage, get some pop back in my legs, eat lots of carbs, sleep as much as possible, try to iron out any kinks (foam roller, chiro, physio, massage), and make it to race day well-rested and ready to run hard. In the final week, I had to battle a bit of a cold or sore throat thing that made its way into my home. My wife, kids, and I were all battling it to some degree so I shortened one run and skipped another to give my immune system a break. I think by Friday I was feeling about 90%. My legs and joints all felt great heading into the race and I felt primed for a good run.

Week 21/22

  • M: Rest. [XT] Strength, core, and mobility exercises.
  • T: 60′ easy with strides. [XT] Foam roller for glutes, hamstrings, quads.
  • W: 60′ easy. [XT] Strength and core exercises.
  • T: 60′ easy with 3×1-mile at threshold pace (5:11, 5:07, 5:07). [XT] Physio session.
  • F: 60′ easy with strides. [XT] Core and mobility exercises. Foam roller.
  • S: 45′ jog.
  • S: 75′ easy with 15′ at goal marathon pace (2.7 miles @ 5:26/mile).

Week 22/22

  • M: 60′ easy with strides.
  • T: 45′ jog. [XT] Chiro session to make sure everything was smooth.
  • W: 45′ easy with 3×3′ at goal marathon pace (5:29/mile, 5:29/mile, 5:16/mile).
  • T: Rest. [XT] Massage.
  • F: 30′ jog before drive to Ottawa.
  • S: 30′ jog in Ottawa. [XT] Mobility exercises.
  • S: Race day.

Race Day

I woke up around 3:40 AM and my brain started going so there was no falling back asleep. I walked around downtown Gatineau, looking for a Tim Hortons but apparently the Québécois do not drink coffee. Or at least not at 5 in the morning.

My family and I made it to the start line with lots of time to spare which was good as I forgot my race shoes and sunglasses in the car. I warmed up by running back to the car to get my race bag and then did a few strides from the start line. This was the first time I was in an elite field and had access to the start line area for warming up and man it was nice! I spotted my wife and kids along start line chute and jogged over for a good luck hug and kiss. To add to the excitement of race day, Krista Duchene flagged me down and said ‘hi’ which was a big surprise and so cool to meet such an amazing Canadian runner! (Krista recently qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympics with her run in Rotterdam in April. She grew up in Alvinston, Ontario!)

Best wishes from my biggest fans

On the starting line, I found Dancan Kasia and the pack of women he was pacing at 2:23-2:25 and lined up behind them, maybe 4 or 5 people back. We went through the first mile too fast but eventually evened out the pace to finish the first 5K in 17:15 (3:27/km). The next two 5K splits were a little faster than I should have, both under 17 minutes, but I was doing my best to stay on the back of the chase pack of African women so I wouldn’t have to fight the wind.


This faster-than-planned pace was probably my undoing, as I felt pretty dead after 25K with a whole lot of race left. And just as my legs were tiring, we had crossed over into Gatineau and it seemed we had left the flat behind as there were several modest hills to battle for the remainder of the race. These just added to my misery. For the next 10K, I struggled to keep the pace under 5:40/mile and then 5:50/mile, and at some point I was running over 6:00/mile. I was alone at this point of the race and the pack I had tried to hang onto kept pulling further and further away.

I was feeling completely out of gas but I also felt like I couldn’t intake any more fluid so I wasn’t drinking much from my bottles. I was using the sponges to drench my head and neck and taking water to dump on my head as it was warming up. I knew I was in rough shape and had a lot of race left to go. As a few people passed me, I tried picking up the pace to latch onto them but those surges were pretty short-lived. I was on a self-inflicted death march for the final 17K, legs on fire and breathing way too heavily. I knew my shot at 2:25 was gone and somewhere along the route I heard someone shout I was on pace for 2:30. That was disappointing to hear but there was nothing I could do to go any faster. I continued trudging along and was passed by two men in the last 2-3K.


I finally came across the line in 2:31:45. I learned a hard lesson about pacing conservatively and that will be something I hope to improve next time! Here are my split times:

  • 5K: 17:15
  • 10K: 16:53 (34:07)
  • 15K: 17:00 (51:06)
  • 20K: ~17:15 (~1:08:23)
  • 25K: ~16:56 (1:25:19)
  • 30K: 18:05 (1:43:23)
  • 35K: 18:15 (2:01:38)
  • 40K: 20:28 (2:22:06)
  • 42.2K: 9:40 (2:31:45, 1st half in 1:12:11, 2nd half in 1:19:34)

8 Comments Add yours

  1. A great write up Aaron. Once again congratulations and all the best in the future. Keep training hard and you will be surprising yourself race after race with more successes!

    1. Aaron Cooper says:

      Thanks Rob. Same to you buddy! Enjoy some rest after Ottawa and then get back after it!

  2. David Freake says:

    First off my friend. Like I mentioned before 2:31 is no reflection of the type of runner you have turned into throughout this last cycle. You are 100% a 2:24-2:25 athlete. And next time out you will run that time, I know that for a fact.

    It’s crazy when you hear some coaches say “You really have to feel like your holding back that first half”. But it’s true from what I hear, you want to feel like you’ve gone out too slow. The marathon is just so long and unforgiving. That said you still ran 2:31 not feeling good after 25km. Your going to get that sub 2:25 at STWM.

    How you looked at your performances in relation to John Mason is dead on. That’s where you are and who knows how much faster you will be after the next segment/cycle. I’m thrilled to be able to follow along and love how you document everything.

    It’s also super inspirational that your doing this with a family and gives me hope that with good time management when my girl and I get to that point I can make it work as well.

    Sorry I didn’t get to see you and chat but I’m sure we will cross paths again this year. I saw you and cheered as you passed the Westin.

    Thank’s for the shoutout, and I just linked you up on my blogroll. This is a diamond in the rough and more people need to follow how your progressing.

    Cheers brother,
    Enjoy the recovery and down time! :).

    1. Aaron Cooper says:

      Thanks for all the kind words, Dave! It’s always a balancing act with kids but as runners like Krista Duchene and Eric Gillis have shown, it can be done! Maybe we can grab a beer after STWM this fall. Good luck at the Half champs next weekend! I’ll be watching that one for sure.

  3. Lauren says:

    Incredible! Way to go Aaron!!! Anyone who doesn’t run doesn’t appreciate the mental games that are played during a race. This was a great read!! :)

    1. Aaron Cooper says:

      Very true! Good luck at the Boys Home run if you’re doing it again this year, Lauren!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Aaron, great recap. Congratulations on the big pb. Your logic was very good at the time. All serious racers have had to make those same calls at one point or another—-do I stay or do I go? There are pitfalls to both. You are gaining valuable experience and improving. There is much more to you than results on a paper. Those that know the real you know there are very big things to come and I can tell from your tone that you know that too. Great to hear you and Krista found each other. The running community is a small world. Hopefully we cross paths in the park this summer.

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