Recently, on a sunny but blustery spring day I set off to preview the new Times Colonist 10K course. While the organizers have set the new loop course to deal with the increase in participants and subsequent congestion, I think that the new course also showcases the city in a wonderful way, while maintaining a competitive course structure for racing. Starting at the corner of Government and Belleville Streets, runners will be sent off flanked by iconic Empress, Legislature and sparkling Inner Harbour. The course takes runners first along the artsy and fashionable Johnson Street mall and into Fairfield, one of Victoria’s oldest and most beautiful neighbourhoods. After a cruise along the tree lined streets of Fairfield, runners are directed out to the ocean and scenic Dallas Road, at which point the race assumes the same final 5km as previous years, which includes the long stretch along past Beacon Hill Park, past the Ogden Point Breakwater and then the multiple corners back to the finish at the Inner Harbour.
I always look at a course before racing it. Previewing a course takes the mystery out of racing and gives you concrete landmarks to focus on during the race. Knowing where the hills are, the corners and the straight stretches, including areas likely to be windy or calm is an integral part of setting up a pacing and racing strategy and getting ready for race day. Over the last four kilometres of the race, as the legs start to tire, knowing how long you have to run is a good way to push through the final moments of discomfort.
Here is my take on the new course, with tips for both beginners looking for pacing and completion cues, and more seasoned athletes looking for personal best times.
Whether the new course is ‘fast’ or not remains to be seen after the runners test it out on race day, however I would say that the first four kilometres are rolling and this requires some expertise. Very fit runners will be able to absorb the fast start as their legs will be fresh, and be able to take momentum in the rollers around Johnson and Vancouver, but for beginners I would advise to pace conservatively over the first three kilometres of the course so as not to go out too fast with excitement through town, and leaving too much energy on the early rollers.
Start: It’s easy to get excited here with the beautiful inner harbour adding inspiration to the morning. There will be plenty of spectators on the causeway in front of the Empress and along Wharf Street. The first kilometer is open and flat along Wharf to Johnson so a good place for competitive runners to get out to a fast start or for the novice to find space and a comfortable pace.
1-3K Mark: A right turn onto Johnson at 1 km brings the first uphill stretch of the race and the start of the rolling section which lasts for 2 km. The Johnson Street hill is not a huge incline, and the steepest block is up to Government, then it rises and flattens at Douglas, and again at Blanshard. Runners should be thinking ‘light’ and ‘quick and relaxed’ on the hill, working on getting up the rise effortlessly by using the arms well and breathing deeply. Focus on getting to the end of each block well. Novice races will want to make sure they are running their own race and not ‘sprinting’ to keep up with others is all the excitement. The end of the first uphill section comes just before 2 km at Quadra, and then there is a fast section down around the corner onto Vancouver, and past Frontrunners. Use gravity and try to carry momentum past View Street and up the hill across Fort and to Burdett, where you get to feel the pull of gravity again as you turn left onto flatter Richardson and get to find your rhythm all the way to Moss Street in the heart of Fairfield.
3-4K Mark: Moss Street is a long straight stretch where runners can really start to find a rhythm and enjoy the race in this beautiful neighbourhood. A sharp left at May Street gives a short 20m uphill surge before a 1 km gradual downhill to Memorial and the Ross Bay Cemetery. For runners hanging on for personal bests, maintaining contact up this little surge will be important. At this point, just before 5 km, the course returns to the old route at Dallas Rd and for those who have run the race previously, it is the same as always.
5-7K Mark: This is where the race typically starts to feel hard and runners should expect discomfort to rise and have some strong positive thoughts here. What’s there not to love about the last 5 km of the TC 10K? The only major hill of the race appears right after the 5 km mark, as runners climb past Clover Point (just keep focussing on the top of the hill, pretending there is a magnet with your name on it, pulling yourself up mentally) to wind their way past the bottom of Cook Street and Beacon Hill Park. This section can be windy (on the day I did my preview run, there was a strong Westerly blowing which slowed me down a lot, although the kite surfers were having a blast.) and knowing that you might be up against a headwind is always good to anticipate. Work on relaxing and being calm into the wind, and know that everybody has the same wind to deal with.
7K Mark: There will be a lot of cheering around the beautiful Beacon Hill Park and when you get to Mile ‘0’ and the Terry Fox Memorial, you start the wonderful fast downhill to Ogden Point. There is about 3 km to go at this point in the race and you can now start counting down the minutes left until you cross the finish line. Knowing that you have 10 or 15 or 20 minutes left to run is positive information! You should feel gravity working for you in the section (“Fly! Glide!”) as you start your push for the finish, and just past the Duck Pond you will be able to see the tall red and white striped towers of the Coast Guard station less than one kilometre away, which stand at about the 8 km mark of the course.
8K Mark: When you get to Ogden Pt and start the journey through James Bay to the inner Harbour, you should be drawing on all your resources to finish as strongly as possible. You can remind yourself to relax, to focus on good form, recall all the dedication and training you have done to get here, tell yourself to be tough. There is only 2 km to go!
9K Mark: Just before 9 km you can see the massive glass topped condo of Shoal Point. Starting here, at Erie, there are seven (7!) corners to run through before the finish! I try to run through these corners like an elastic band, slingshotting past each one. As you get closer, the roof of the Empress comes into view, then the IMAX sign on the Royal BC Museum. As you round the last bend onto the finishing stretch on Belleville, the old Wax Museum building (which is now covered in scaffolding) is the last main landmark to focus on, and about halfway between you and the finish, before you round the slight curve and see the finish line banners. With people lining the street, finding energy to finish strong is not a problem! It is often the effort of the last two kilometres that makes your race: how deep into the well can your source your inner and outer strength? Celebrate your efforts and soak it all up!
One of the beauties of the new course will be the protection from wind afforded by running first through the downtown core and then Fairfield, and the ability to run tangents and the course more freely without the out and back crowds. I will miss the energy and passion of running home against the thick wall of runners still heading out, but I love the new loop course, the wide start, and the opportunity to run through downtown.
There you have it, the sort of comprehensive course preparation I do and do with all of my athletes before a big race!
RunforJoy Founder Lucy Smith is a 6 time Winner of the Times Colonist 10K and 19 time Canadian Champion in running and multisport. She has run various incarnations of the course over the last 20 years and looks forward to testing it out as a 50 year old this year!
Writing the Running Life
For 30 years I pursued a high performance career and traveled the world. This blog melds this experience with my coaching and passion to support excellence in others.