Chocolate, wine and firefighters - what's not to like? This was all the motivation I needed to sign up for the Le Chocolat 1/2 marathon in Windsor, ON. The fact that the course was super flat was just a bonus. My friend saw the race online and we both signed up before we could change our minds. I invited my husband Corey along as well, but after being race sherpa to a car full of women at the Nike 15k in Toronto last summer, he gracefully declined. So my friend and I decided to make it a girls weekend.
Windsor is just a day's drive from Ottawa, and the directions are crazy easy: get on the 401 and drive 700 km. A bit of a long day, but we timed it out to avoid most of the Toronto traffic so it worked out alright. We arrived around dinner time Friday and settled into our hotel overlooking the Detroit skyline.
We decided to take a walk on Saturday to explore the area and get familiar with the race route. The starting point for the race was about 3k from our hotel; we took a walk down a different street than the race would be on, and about 2.5k of our 3k walk was through a kind of sketchy area. However, when we got closer to the start point, we went through the really nice neighbourhood of Walkerville, which has a very Hintonburg/Westboro type feel. We went into a few neat shops, stumbled across a craft market, and had some amazing wood fired pizza at Vito's Pizzeria Then a short walk to the Walkerville Brewery, which is the starting point of the race. In the interest of being prepared, I had to make sure I was very familiar with this spot:
The walk back to our hotel took us along part of the race route: Riverside Drive, running beside the Detroit River. The "expo" was in the hallway behind an outdoor stage along the river. It was a little strange - a mix of kit pickup, a kids booth for a Montessori school, and a booth from a sex shop (of which there are many in Windsor....I'm sure most of which we had walked by earlier). At the "expo" we talked with someone from Canadian Cardiac Care; they were doing research on heart rates of runners and gave you the option of having your heart rate monitored during the race. It was a great opportunity for them to get some research data and for us to get more detailed information than just bpm. The monitoring device was about the size of a smartphone and attached to your waist. I decided to pass since I was aiming for a PB and didn't want to have any new equipment on me, but my friend decided to give it a go. It was really interesting to see the results.
Race day was abnormally chilly for the beginning of May, about 3C. Cold for standing around at the start, but great temperature for running. The course was 4 repeats of a 5k section of Riverside Drive along the Detroit river, with a bit extra leading from and to the Walkerville Brewery to make up the half marathon distance. There was also a 5k and a 10k race using the same course which made things a bit congested in parts, but with a total of only 2200 people in all three races, it was manageable. For a smaller race, there were a surprising number of pace bunnies. I was aiming to finish between 2:15 and 2:20 (my PB before this was 2:26), so I decided to stick with the 2:15 pace bunny for a while and drop back as needed.
Having the race repeat along a 5k stretch was both a blessing and a curse: it made it easier to gauge my effort by being able to break the race into sections, but it also got a bit boring by the end. But going back and forth did mean that my friend and I were able to see each other several times along the course and cheer each other on. There were promises of firefighters at all the water stations, but I was focused enough that I only noticed a few of them. ;) The course itself was pancake flat...there was just a small bump in the road near the Ambassador Bridge. My Garmin data registered a 1m change in elevation over the entire course.
I managed to stay with the 2:15 pace bunny until about 18k where I started to struggle. Since I couldn't see her anymore by the last turn of the race, I figured that I would come in closer to 2:20, which would still be a PB by over 6 minutes for me. I rounded the last turn towards the brewery and saw the 2:15 bunny running in place about 300m from the finish line - turns out she had been running too fast and did not want to cross the finish line before her pace time. This gave me the last little push I needed and I gave everything across the line. I finished in 2:13:24, a PB by 13 minutes!! Since it was a smaller race, they didn't shoo me out of the finishing chute right away, so I was able to wait and see my friend finish a few minutes later; she also had a great race and finished with a 7 minute PB.
Every race has free bananas, but this one had a box of chocolate goodies at the end - I'll take this over a stale bagel any day! We took some time to have our pictures taken with some firefighters and they even let us pose in the truck!! After buying some sweatshirts from the brewery to ward off the cold, we walked a few km to have a post-race celebration burger at Mamo Burger .
Overall, this was a good race for a PB, very flat. While this was not a women's only race, it is definitely geared towards women and would make a good trip for a girls weekend. Windsor is not exactly a tourist mecca, but there's enough to do to keep yourself amused for a weekend. In terms of swag, this race is great - can't beat chocolate and two full bottles of wine!