Race Recap: Huntsville Half Marathon a.k.a. Band On The Run

I had vowed to do Band On the Run this year after missing out the year before due to a certain procedure being performed.  In fact, at last year’s Angus Glen Half-Marathon, we hatched a plot for my friends John and Tina to visit us at the cottage and for John to do the race together.  Though our schedule was crazy enough that the plan was touch and go for a while, I’m happy to say that we all did the Huntsville Half Marathon last Saturday.


We drove up to the cottage on the Friday night, and traffic was not kind so we got to bed much later than one likes to before a race.  Fortunately, the kids slept well, and we didn’t feel too rough the next morning.  Though we parked and got to the race site on time, somehow we dallied in saying goodbye to the kids (who would be watched by Tina and my mother – thanks again!) and we only put ourselves in the back of the very small corral a few seconds before the start of the race.


Before the race, I had tried to do some analysis to come up with the right pace and thus a good goal for finishing time, or at least a rough estimate.  The problem was I hadn’t run a half-marathon type distance this season, and my longest run was the 5 Peaks Heart Lake Conservation Area Trail Race.  I figured that 16 km of trails was worth at least 18 km of road in terms of training, but I doubted it would give a good estimate of speed.  I also tried looking at training runs and figuring out an average speed that would keep me in Zone 2 of my heart rate.  That proved difficult visually; the graphs spike up and down in a way that’s difficult to simply eye-ball.  I even tried exporting my data into a spreadsheet and doing some analysis that way, but the numbers didn’t work, or at least, I couldn’t make them work for the time I could afford on the effort.  There’s probably another post in there – the raw data probably needs to be smoothed out by some algorithms to be usable.

My final strategy before the race began was to simply set an alert on my Garmin to go off if my heart rate went into Zone 3.  I had 3 gels on me, and I took the first before the start… it has a lot of caffeine.


The course starts climbing right away… and my heart rate alarm went off before I had gone 300m.  I tried to slow my pace, but there didn’t seem to be a pace more than a crawl that was going to keep me in Zone 2, so I reset the alarm to go off if I crossed into Zone 4, and I tried to keep an eye on the absolute value of my heart rate, and simply be conservative for the first third to half of the race.  Maybe it was the hill climbing, maybe it was the caffeine, but without much recent experience at the half-marathon distance, I knew I had to be conservative.

The climbing continued.  I was a little shocked to see so many people walking within the first 2 km of a half-marathon, but there was a great sense of community, and I joked with people at the appearance of each new incline as if the hills were a novelty, and not becoming tedious.  The race had promised musicians at regular intervals, and they delivered for at least the first 7 km.  The race course at one point crossed Highway 60, which they couldn’t close for the race completely, and a police officer stopped traffic so that runners could cross in batches.  I was impressed, because some people in front of me must have had to wait a little, but I don’t think this contributed any significant delay.

Seen on my run: clowns on bikes, fire trucks, bagpipers. 

Like I said, there was a great sense of community in this race, even though the number of runners was small – from the back of the pack, there was only 22 seconds difference between gun and chip time for me.  I was impressed by how often spectators seemed to know runners by name,  though Huntsville is a major hub of cottage country and population swells seasonally, I guess it’s really just a small town when it comes down to it.  In the first third of the race course, I also found my new favourite race sign…

Yeah, that’s right… potty humour.  I’m not even sorry.


I heard someone mention that we’d be visiting Arrowhead Provincial Park, and I could tell by the route we were taking that they were right.  The park’s front gate had porta-potties, an aid station and a great musician; I can’t remember what he played when I was on my way in, but he played R.E.M.’s “The One I Love” on my way out, and it was awesome.


While the park’s road was more peaceful for traffic, and provided shade and some of the nicest scenery on the run, it was also the biggest climb.  I saw John on the way in, he had already hit the turn-around at 10 km and was moving fast.  He told me it was only 3 more hills then corrected himself to 2.  He was actually right the first time.

The last musician I saw before the turn-around point was playing the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey”, and I joined in with my own “HO” and “HEY”s which probably only confused everyone else; I guess they don’t know that’s my jam…

As soon as I hit the turn-around I felt some relief.  I knew I’d have lots of downhill to look forward to, and I congratulated myself for playing it safe and leaving plenty in the tank to try and get a really significant negative split.  Up until that point, I’d been running at a pace that would have netted me 2:15 finish time, and that’s being optimistic.  I saw my wife around the same spot that John had gone by me, and we shared a kiss for luck.  She was smiling when we saw each other, which I took to be a good sign, as I knew the hills would be rough on her.  That moment definitely gave me another little boost.

I really picked up the pace for the last half; I took my gels, didn’t have any more bathroom breaks, and generally paid more attention to the pace than my heart rate.  The route seemed a little deserted by that point, and I crossed the Main Street Bridge and ducked into the alleyway that led to the finish line.  Shark Boy and the Lightning Kid (along with my mother, John and Tina) were all there to give me my finish line hugs.

The Lightning Kid with makeshift sun-protection as it had gotten quite sunny.

My finishing time was 2:06:05 which gives me an average pace of 6:00 per km.  I’m pretty happy with that, even if the total time was well over 2 hours or even 2:05.  What I’m proudest of is the negative split.  I did the first 10 km with a 6:24/km pace, and the final 11 with a 5:29/km pace.  Or, put another way, the first 10 km took me 1:04 and the next 11 km took me 0:54:45… now that’s a negative split!



We did have to wait a while for my wife.  Apparently the last 3 km were the worst for her; like I said, it was a tough course.  It was nice, however, being able to spot her crossing the bridge to alert the boys to her arrival – I cheered her on from under the bridge and she pulled out some last effort to break back into a run.  Once she came down the alley, Shark Boy accompanied her on the last stretch, and the Lightning Kid let me know he did not want to be left out.  The race announcer took note of the whole family coming into the finish line and it was a nice moment.


We slowly (painfully), made our way back to the car and headed home, with a stop at Kawartha Dairy for ice cream.  We had beer and ribs for lunch and took a dip in the lake to cool off our inflamed joints and muscles.

We did want to attend the music festival… all the runners were entitled to it, and the Lightning Kid got a kick out of dancing and making a spectacle of himself last year.  We arrived a bit into the head-liner’s show.  It was the Joel Plaskett Emergency, and they were a lot of fun.  Joel Plaskett managed to put some fun word-play into his lyrics and even mash-up covers into his own songs.  His son Shannon (less than 5 years old by my rough estimate) danced and took videos from up on stage which only added to the fun, family-oriented vibe.  People were dancing and having fun with their kids in front of the stage, and the Lightning Kid was not to be left out; Joel Plaskett even called out to him as “the kid in the Spider-Man hat”.


Having live music to enhance the whole musical theme of the Band On The Run race really makes for a whole day of fun and fitness, and I already can’t wait till next year.

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