Race Report: Oakville Half Marathon

Oakville Half Marathon logoTwo days later, and I’m still enjoying the flow of endorphins from Sunday’s Oakville Half Marathon. It was a great day and a marvellous race. A significant one for me, in that, in my second barefoot half marathon (I’d previously done one shod and one in VFFs), I managed to set a new PB, with a finishing time of 1:58:03.8. That’s 5 minutes better than my previous PB (set while running shod at the Grimsby Half Marathon in February 2009), and a full 14 minutes better than my first barefoot half, the Mississauga Half Marathon, which I did in May of this year.

I did some good prep for this one. Though I kept generally to my “unstructured” training program/non-program, I made sure that, in the six weeks before Oakville, I did weekly hill repeat sessions. That made me stronger physically (obviously), but it also brought a new confidence about feeling strong. I owe a big thank you to fellow dailymilers Derek R. and BarefootApe for nudging me towards doing those hill sessions. They really did make a huge difference, and I’m grateful. Derek and Ape were also part (along with Chris G., Joshua, and others) of a great discussion on dailymile about how to find – and keep – one’s feet relaxed as speed and distance increase. It was one of those conversations where everyone has something valuable to contribute, and where everyone takes away some new and valuable learning. Great stuff. I’m indebted to all who took part.

On the other side of things, I did my own version of a taper, cutting down my distances drastically in the week before the half, mixing short fartlek sets and one “race pace” session into a very low kilometer week. That focused me nicely, gave me a sense of what it would be like to run at my target pace, and also helped me cope with my usual pre-race jitters and worries. Add to that the attention I paid to nutrition (even more than usual), and by the time race day came, I was all set.

Race day weather was nearly perfect – 16C at the start, 19C by the time I finished, a mix of sun and cloud, and a light wind. The course itself was good, and quite barefoot friendly. It started in Coronation Park in Oakville, went east through the downtown area, then north through a rather posh neighbourhood. (As if to prove that, each family group we passed in this particular neighbourhood consisted of Mum and Dad, 2.5 children, and a Labradoodle.) West again on suburban streets, past the downtown area, then a loop back to the park and the finish line. It was a good route in that there weren’t too many changes of direction, there were longish stretches where we ran in a some shade, and – thankfully – the pavement quality ranged from good to very good.

Oakville Half Marathon - from the ground

From the race start, my friend Pierre M. and I stayed close to the 2:00 pace bunny group. Our plan was to do that until we’d each settled on our paces, and then follow through in whatever ways made sense to each of us. There was the usual dodging and jostling through the crowds for the first 5K or so, then we turned north, and, as the crowds thinned out, we could run more freely.

At cruising speed on the Oakville Half

Pierre and I stayed together until about 13K or so, when he began to lag a little. I was constantly tweaking my form from the 10K mark on, as I was determined to hold my pace, and, if possible, boost it a little. I lagged too, shortly after the 15K mark, but picked it up again at 17K. In fact, there was short period between 17K and 19K where everything came together for me – body, mind, pace, and form all gelled in one harmonious whole. It was a good feeling, and one I want to experience again and again.

Proof that the hill repeats had paid off came in those last few kilometers of the race. In the past, I’ve sort of fallen apart near the end of a race, both physically and psychologically. This time, everything worked well. I came across the finish line strongly and smoothly, to a new PB.

At the finish line of the Oakville Half Marathon

Pierre finished in 2:05 and change, which was quite remarkable, given that this was his first half marathon and only his fourth race. Well done, my friend!

After the race finish, I had a few conversations with people who were curious about barefoot running and racing. In addition, four other people asked me what I thought of all the broken glass on the route at the 15K mark. Evidently, there were pieces of a broken vodka bottle all over the course pavement, in many large and small pieces. Broken glass? What broken glass? I didn’t see any, I really didn’t. At first, I thought that perhaps the bottle had broken after I’d run by. That didn’t seem likely, though, and after the race Pierre confirmed that he’d seen me run through the glass. Now, that’s a cause for both concern and pride. Concern, obviously, because I’m usually very good at scanning the ground in front of me. How could I have not seen that much broken glass? The pride comes from the feeling that perhaps I’d ramped up to some sort of ninja/flow/Zen level where I could actually run over broken glass. Fanciful thought, that, so I think I’ll stay with the concern angle, and try to pay much more attention to broken vodka bottles in the future.

As you can perhaps tell, I’m still very much on a high from it all. This was a very good day indeed, and one I won’t forget for a long time.


  1. NICE!! I love to see people running barefoot…especially over that distance!! You should be VERY proud!! I run in Vibrams, still working on improving my distance, however, after some time they start annoying me. I find that when I take them off my run improves. I think the looks I get are great, but MAN if more people could understand what they’re doing to their bodies!! Did you notice the other racers in the pics in your article? Heel pounders!! OUCH!!!

  2. Great job Alan and congrats on the PR. I had a thought on missing the glass – perhaps you in fact did see it and made the adjustments all on a subconscious level, you may do it more often than you’re even aware of. You’d think you’d remember something like that, but if there were other runners reacting to it, your focus may have been on adjusting to their course corrections. I’d bet you were on autopilot rather than just lucking out.

    1. I agree with you, Daniel, at least in principle. I certainly was very focused at that point in the race, so my form, both physically and mentally, was good. On the other hand, I was told that much of the glass was in very big pieces, which, focused or not, would have been hard to miss. I guess I’ll never know exactly what happened.

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