Can you tell it’s been one of those weeks? I’ve been trying to write this since Monday…
On Sunday we kicked off race season with our first one of the year: the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington. This was my 19th half marathon and my 4th time at Chilly. Each of my three previous years at this event has brought pretty big PRs so it was somewhat disheartening to know that was not going to happen this year, but I am in a different place with my training and was prepared to make the most of the day.
I was generally feeling a little “blasé” the day before and you’d never guess I had a race the next morning – especially my first race in 5 months! Hubs and I got some really exciting news on Saturday (details to come!) so that took me even further from race mode. Still, I went about my usual preparations and tried to get pumped up. It was nice not to be feeling nervous, though I still couldn’t sleep very well due to afore-mentioned excitement.
We woke up Sunday to a cold, windy and sunny morning – not as bad as we had anticipated. We knew we would be contending with a pretty strong headwind for a good portion of the race, but the temp was not too low and the sun would keep things warm, so it was hard to decide what to wear. In the end, I went with tights, a tank top, a fleecy half-zip on top, 2 pairs of light gloves (one to toss) and a headband. I’ve run this race in everything from shorts and a tee to full winter gear, so this year we were somewhere in the middle.
We had a smooth drive to Burlington and got there early enough for a great parking spot on a side street right near the start/finish. We were invited into the Performing Arts Centre to keep warm before the race and easily found some friends inside.
Most of our group decided to line up and start together and we were all buzzing with pre-race energy. I was finally starting to get excited. A few of us were aiming for around the same pace and I was glad to know I would have some company at least for a little while. I was loosely aiming for a 1:45 finish, but figured that was a stretch goal.
It started off very crowded. I usually try to avoid weaving, but in this case it was impossible. We were jammed together like sardines with hoards of runners ahead of us who should have been much farther back. We worked our way through the crowds and it remained congested for pretty much the entire first 5K.
Three of us had managed to stay together until this point, but we gradually started separating as we each found our own paces. I was feeling pretty good and finding that the sub-5:00 kilometres were not nearly as difficult as I’d expected.
The biggest mistake I made was not carrying my own water, which I always do for half marathons or longer. The water stations were impossible to navigate – only set up on one side and not nearly enough volunteers. I lost tons of time trying to get a cup each time, but I knew I shouldn’t skip any since I was working up a good sweat. Most cups turned out to be full of ice, but I tried to get a good gulp of water each time (every 3K or so).
KM 6-10: 4:50 – 4:51 – 4:53 (gel) – 4:53 – 4:54
By KM 7 or 8 I was plugging along on my own. I turned on my music, which provided a welcome distraction and helped me find a good groove. I remember having a wave of euphoria and just feeling really happy to be out there racing. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it! I was soaking up the gorgeous day, the support of people out cheering on the course and the energy of other runners. Whatever my finish time turned out to be, I was happy with the day.
KM 11-15: 4:58 – 4:46 – 4:50 – 4:48 – 5:00 (gel)
The course is an out-and-back, with the majority along the lake shore. I loved looking out for hubs and friends in the throngs of oncoming runners both on my way out and back. I got to see everybody a couple of times and it always gave me a great boost.
We hit the turn-around at 13K and I excited to be headed back towards the finish, counting down single digit kilometres now and feeling pretty good. I knew I was well on track for sub-1:45 and just had to maintain ~5:00 KMs to do so with room to spare. I was tiring, but I was pretty sure I could sustain it. We hit a pretty noticeable head wind on the way back, but I didn’t let it mess with me. If anything, it made me feel a little more comfortable since I had really warmed up by that point.
[It’s amazing how wind can affect people so differently in the same race. I have heard from many that they really struggled once we turned in to the wind, but it didn’t bother me at all this time. On the other hand, the headwind on the home stretch at the Toronto Marathon in October nearly killed me while I heard from others that it was no big deal. I think the slightest challenge with the conditions can pose a problem for someone who is having a tough race, but if you are killing it out there, nothing is going to get in the way!]
KM 16-20: 4:54 – 4:57 – 4:52 – 4:50 – 4:48
This course is nice and flat with only a couple of gradual inclines. I would slow ever so slightly on the uphills, but always made up the time. A couple of times I caught myself being tempted to ease up since I wasn’t chasing a PR and it was getting tougher later in the race. I had to quickly shut off those thoughts and remind myself that I had no reason to hold back except laziness, and there was no slacking off now.
I made the final turn with a short uphill to the finish line. I was definitely working at this point, as clearly illustrated in the photo below. No arms-in-the-air and goofy grin posing this year, but I was very pleased with the result.
KM 21: 4:38 – 0:30 (last 0.1)
We rallied up with everyone from the group and swapped stories and high fives, with PRs and break-throughs all around. Sharing the experience and seeing my friends succeed made the day so much sweeter.
This race restored my running mojo as well as some of my confidence. It felt so good to get out and race.
Hubs had an amazing race, running 1:28:46 for his first sub-1:30 half and crushing his PR from this race last year.