When I was looking for a half to race after my spring goal marathon, I settled on the Whitby International, a first for me. I knew a couple of friends who had run it, the date worked well and it sounded like a good option without going too far from home. It’s a very small race and I knew it was going to be low-key, but otherwise I didn’t really know what to expect. There is very limited information on the website and no pre-race communication; I had to email the race director just to find out if we could pick up our bibs on race morning (thankfully, yes).
We showed up at Heydenshore Pavilion Sunday morning to find a couple of helpful volunteers handing out bibs and cotton t-shirts, and a small handful of runners milling about; it felt more like a community 5K than a marathon which was actually kind of cool! After taking advantage of the indoor washrooms and doing a bit of people-watching, we decided to hide out in the car til start time. It was windy and threatening rain so we waited until until a few minutes before the scheduled start to head over. The race ended up starting late and we also found out at the last second that the full marathon runners (all 36 of them) would go first and we would set off 5 minutes later. I was glad I still had my jacket and left it on until the last minute before handing it off to Andy who was playing chauffeur and support crew for the day.
The route was out-and-back, mostly on the paved waterfront path with a few short sections on roads and some mixed terrain including boardwalk and a steel bridge. It was somewhat winding with lots of small ups and downs – nothing major but enough to challenge the legs. The route is advertised as mostly flat, but I wouldn’t describe it that way personally. All in all I would say it is not ideal for an all-out race effort, but it was enjoyable and only moderately difficult. It was also very quiet with less than 50 people in the half.
With a casual 3-2-1, we were off! I had planned to target about a 4:40 pace to start, gradually working down to 4:30 which would give me a new PB. I knew my fitness level was better than Chilly Half, but I wasn’t quite feeling distance-race ready after several weeks of low mileage and limited workouts in the off season. But, as Andy reminded me just before the start, this was just a bonus race and would give me a great workout regardless. No harm in going out to see what happens!
I realized immediately that I was going to be in for more of a challenge than expected when we were running straight into a strong, gusty headwind which would continue for the majority of the first half. I tried to hold a conservative pace but I was also running in the top 10 and got a bit swept up in that excitement.
1 to 5: 4:35, 4:38, 4:37, 4:35, 4:38
I was steadily passing marathoners who had started earlier – they had to complete this out-and-back course twice and all I could think was how glad I was that I wouldn’t have to face the wind again. It was wearing on me and I faded in the last few kilometres toward the half way mark when the gusts seemed to pick up even more. Nearing the turn I was counting runners heading back and found myself in 6th or 7th place, and 2nd female. The gap wasn’t very big and I wondered if I might have a shot at chasing her down on the way back.
I was surprised to see that Mark wasn’t very far behind me. He’s just getting back in training again and planned on a ~1:45 finish. He was clearly well ahead of that target!
6 to 10: 4:40 (gel), 4:47, 4:44, 4:58, 4:38
I was hoping to feel great and pick up the pace easily with the wind behind me, but it just didn’t happen. I was a bit too spent from the first half and my legs felt heavy. It was a strange feeling because I wasn’t out of breath at all and found myself thanking volunteers and cheering everyone on as they made their way to the turn-around. Usually that doesn’t happen when I’m spent so I felt I should be able to run faster, but I just could not seem to get my legs going.
11 to 15: 4:36, 4:45 (gel), 4:32, 4:47, 4:37
Andy hopped in with me at about 16K and I tried to explain what was going on as he assured me that I was doing great. I fell in step behind him as he pointed out the first place female just up ahead and said that she was in a lot worse shape than I was. I knew I wasn’t going to have a PB at this point so keeping her in my sights and trying desperately to close the distance became the perfect distraction to keep working.
It took a lot of fight not to give in and let up on the effort completely. The little rolling hills felt like mountains and my legs were fighting me on every step. Andy kept encouraging me along and promising that I was closing the gap on the lead female and drawing her in. I didn’t really believe him and knew it was almost impossible as we entered the final kilometre, but enjoyed the fantasy anyway. It’s not every day I get to chase the winner in a half marathon!
16 to 21: 4:56 (1/2 gel), 4:48, 4:39, 4:45, 4:37, 4:38
Finally the finish line! Mark ended up finishing just seconds behind me – he had a great race but held back at the end like a gentleman so I could “win.” 😉
I collected my prize (sadly no podium!) and congratulated the winner. It wasn’t quite the run I hoped for but after spending 6 years with a 1:40:06 monkey on my back, it feels pretty good to finish a second half marathon well under 1:40. It’s a good place to be as we kick off summer training!