Martian Marathon

After an inspiring and exciting trip to the Boston Marathon with our friend Andy and his family, I came home just in time to pack up again and head out to Michigan for the Martian Marathon. Five of us piled into a minivan on Friday morning for our next marathon trip and the ~5 hours flew by with lots of Boston story-telling, strategizing for Saturday’s race and general road trip silliness. We met up with some more friends at the alien-themed expo before checking into our AirBNB in adorable Ferndale just outside Dearborn, MI. The house, town and Pop’s Italian Restaurant were all exactly as awesome as I remembered from last year.

I was full of nerves and excitement on race morning. I knew I was as ready as I could possibly be after the best training cycle of my life including some significant breakthroughs and the first PBs that I have seen in 6 years. With last minute hugs and pep talks, the crew saw me off with tears in my eyes. I felt very prepared and confident but I knowall too well that anything can happen on race day – especially when it’s a marathon. I tend to put too many of my emotional eggs in the goal race basket, as Andy likes to say, so it can feel overwhelming.

On Mark and Andy’s advice, my plan was to start 10-15 seconds/KM slower than goal pace for at least a few kilometres with the hopes of making it all back with a big negative split later. The Martian course is very conducive to this strategy – I would describe the majority of the course as gently rolling, but it is net downhill from the final turn-around at 26K to the finish.

I held back consciously as I eased into the race, though my first splits weren’t quite as conservative as I had intended. It was very quiet on the course with only 200 people finishing the marathon so I mostly found myself running alone. I didn’t mind the quiet and just cruised along listening to music.

There are some small loops around residential areas in the early miles which appear annoying on paper but actually weren’t bad at all. If anything, I found that it helped break up the race. I soon eased into goal pace and started hitting every split at 5:00, give or take a couple of seconds. I felt ready to settle in for the long haul. The gang surprised me by popping up at 10K which gave me the biggest boost (and resulted in the accidental 4:51 lap below, oops!).

KM 1 – 10: 5:11, 5:04, 5:08, 5:04, 5:00, 5:01, 5:00, 5:02 (gel), 5:00, 4:51

It was pretty uneventful from there to the turn-around. Everything was going how it was supposed to, I felt good and knew my friend Katie would be jumping in with me shortly. Sure enough everyone was waiting for me with some awesome cheers just after 27K and Katie joined me with her bunny ears, a sign on her back and her trademark enthusiasm.

KM 11 – 26: 5:02, 5:06, 4:57, 4:58, 5:03, 5:00 (gel), 4:57, 4:58, 5:02, 5:00, 4:58, 5:00, 4:56, 4:59 (gel), 4:55, 5:00

I knew I was in good hands and just had to follow her. Unfortunately I felt myself fading gradually from about 30K; I just couldn’t seem to keep my legs moving the way I wanted to and my pace was slipping. Andy, Matt and Erin popped up a bunch more times over the next little while and it was so good to see them every time. I later found out that they had to do some very creative driving and clambering up and down embankments in order to see me – never a dull moment! I did my best not to show how badly I was feeling as my legs grew more and more tired and my goal time slipped out of reach.

KM 27 – 35: 4:59, 4:56, 5:03, 5:13 (gel), 5:18, 5:31, 5:59, 5:39, 5:35

By 35K I was sneaking walk breaks despite Katie’s urgings to keep going. She was amazing and said everything I needed to hear but I just couldn’t seem to dig any deeper. Andy obviously noticed from the sidelines that we needed back-up because suddenly I had him running beside me too – in jeans for 6+KM! For the rest of the race I had the best support crew anyone could ask for and they kept me plodding along the best that I could when all I wanted to do was sit on the side of the road and cry. I think that when I started feeling tired long before I thought I should have, I threw in the towel mentally and proceeded to have a pity party for several kilometres. When I started talking about needing to do this all over again, they reminded me that all I had to worry about right now was finishing this race. They told me over and over that I was doing a lot better than I thought I was. They counted down the miles with me, lied about how much farther I had to go (like true friends, lol!) and urged me to get out of my head.

After glancing at my garmin at 40K for the thousandth time I realized that I still had a shot at 3:40 and managed to pick up the pace a bit. Finally, after Andy told me 17 times that there were only 500m to go, we were making the final turn and I saw the rest of my crew cheering like crazy as I hauled myself over the line in 3:39:15 for a BQ and the fastest marathon I have run since 2011.

KM 36 – 42.2: 5:57 (gel), 5:24, 5:38, 5:49, 5:39, 5:23, 5:24, 1:20 (0.3)

3:39:15
45/202 overall
6/67 females
2/11 F30-34

It wasn’t the race that I wanted or trained for but I can’t be too disappointed with those results and it’s hard to feel bad about anything with the amazing support I had all day. I had plenty to celebrate and celebrate we did!

It’s natural to look back and wonder “what went wrong” and we’ve hashed out some theories from high humidity (though temp was good) to nutrition in the days before to being surrounded by sick people leading up to the race and a generally hectic week. It could be any, all or none of those and while I think it’s beneficial to look back and assess the outcome, I don’t want to dwell on “what went wrong.” Sometimes we just have an off day in running and that can happen on race day just as easily as any other time. The marathon is a beast where so many factors can influence the outcome and that’s part of what makes it so enticing, why we keep coming back for more. If every marathon went exactly according to plan, I think it would lose some of the appeal. Every once in a while, everything lines up perfectly and we get the race of our dreams – the one we fantasize about during our training runs, the one where we finish victoriously with arms in the air. I know I’ll have more races like that and it will be so much more satisfying because of experiences like this one.

I had a good cry after the race with my friends holding me up and someone said “those better be happy tears!” to which I answered “I don’t know what they are.” It’s been an emotional few days for me and I am still processing all of it, but I’m focusing on the positives and how far I have come this year. I’ve been training at paces that I never thought possible and the time on the clock last Saturday doesn’t take that away from me. I’m just getting started!

Around the Bay 30K Race Report

On Sunday I ran my 4th Around the Bay 30K, the oldest road race around and easily one of my favourites. With my goal marathon coming up in just 4 weeks, we decided that the best course of action would be to treat it as a glorified training run for some solid goal marathon pace practice. Luckily my good friend Katie had the same strategy and pace goals so we planned to run together.

Race weekend started with two long but fun days at the expo with NRR Online Coaching. We chatted with lots of runners about our business and many of my “internet friends” stopped by to say hello too!

A few of us drove to Hamilton together Sunday morning and we were relieved to see that the forecasted rain seemed to be holding off for us. We parked at the YMCA (where they allow us to use showers after), bundled up in our throw-aways and took a quick pic before heading to the start.

In honour of Canada’s 150th year, they passed a huge Canadian flag over us as the anthem played while we lined up in the start corral. It was a pretty cool moment! I spotted Quinton on the sidelines as we started (this guy pops up everywhere!) and he gave me some awesome pre-race vibes.

Our plan for the first 9K was to warm-up at a comfortable 5:20-5:30 pace. It was pretty crowded to start so we just settled in and went with the flow as much as possible. A few splits came in slightly faster than planned but we mostly kept ourselves in check and cruised along on target. Other than the very industrial sights and smells (ew) and plenty of wind, this section was pretty uneventful.

First 9 – 5:29, 5:19, 5:12, 5:22, 5:15, 5:20, 5:23, 5:16 (gel), 5:16

After 9K Katie and I looked at each other and said “Ready?” Yep! It was time to get to work and pick up the pace to our target 5:00. This meant we had to start working our way through some crowds to pass, which was a nice mental boost and also made the kilometres fly by. It wasn’t long before we passed the 2:40 pace group. Ivanka spotted me at one point and it was nice to exchange a brief hello!

Katie and I chit-chatted here and there and also interacted with some of the more enthusiastic spectators, but we both had music playing quietly in the background and mostly just zoned out and did our thing. The pace was feeling really good and I was optimistic that it was going to be a great day.

Around 17K I heard Mari screaming my name and saw Emma behind the camera. Thanks for the awesome support and this amazing capture! Katie is having fun, I swear! I think she said “Does everyone know you??” 

10-19 – 4:57, 4:59, 4:59, 4:57, 4:59, 5:02, 4:58 (gel), 4:57, 4:55, 4:59

We knew the hills were coming but reminded each other as the terrain started to roll that this was just like any old Sunday run for us. We’ve had some really hilly long runs recently and this wasn’t going to be anything we couldn’t handle. We took them one at a time and quickly recovered on the downhills.

Around 25K I could tell that Katie had a lot more energy in the tank than I did. She would bound up the hills and then slow down at the top to wait for me. I told her at one point to go on ahead if she wanted to, but she gave me a firm “No! We are doing this together, now let’s go!” It was just what I needed to hear to rally for a strong finish. Before we knew it, we were at the top of Valley Inn Road where volunteers and spectators were promising that it was downhill to the finish!

20-27 –  4:54, 4:57, 5:00, 4:52, 4:57 (gel), 4:50, 4:43, 4:58

Running down York Boulevard is one of the best home stretches of any race, with the perfect gentle downhill grade all the way to the stadium. We passed the infamous grim reaper, the crowds were picking up and we found ourselves flying past people all over the place. We passed the 2:35 pace bunnies and I pointed them out saying “That’s my 30K PB!” Not anymore! Katie was in turbo mode running a few steps ahead of me and urging me on. Seriously, she wasn’t the least bit tired. I couldn’t believe how fast we were running every time I glanced down at my watch. We were hitting my half marathon PB pace at kilometre 29, and 30 was even faster!

Suddenly we were making the turn into the stadium and it was the best feeling to have run the entire race together and executed our plan perfectly. Katie grabbed my hand and we ran across the finish line with the biggest smiles and two shiny new PBs!

28-30 – 4:44, 4:36, 4:21, 4:32 (260m garmin nubbin)

2:31:48
811/4243 overall
178/2018 Females
45/245 F30-34

I couldn’t have asked for a better day out there. I’m so proud of our race and it gave us both the biggest confidence boost for our upcoming goal marathons.

We believe we can

so we will

Chilly Half Marathon Race Report

Chilly Half is one of my favourite races! I love the early March timing because it makes for a great season opener to test the legs after a couple months of winter training. The course is flat, fast and scenic along the lake with the double out-and-back affording many opportunities to see other friends racing. I had so much fun seeing many of my favourite “internet friends” along the way, either running or cheering on the sidelines. You all gave me such a boost! (Hi Sam! Hi Nicole! Hi Alex! Hi Laura! Hi Mari! Hi Quinton! Hi Kenny! Hi Marci!).

This year I was extra excited going into the race because I’ve had the best training cycle of my life so far this year and felt more than ready to get a race on my resume to match the training paces on my watch that leave me stunned week after week. I finally felt I had a good shot at beating my long-standing PB of 1:40 from my 2011 “heydey.” It’s been a long road clawing my way back since then with various injuries and setbacks, weight gain and weight loss (then gain and loss again…) and a lot of mental barriers that I needed to break through.

I was lucky to have Andy offer to pace me this year and knew I was in good hands (stay tuned) since he has helped me through several tough workouts and races. Nothing was going to stop me! And then I came down with a nasty head cold on Saturday – ugh, worst timing! I had a minor meltdown and a major pity party but thanks to many good friends who lifted my spirits and helped boost my confidence again, I was ready to give it a shot. Luckily I didn’t feel any worse on Sunday morning and Advil Cold + Sinus took the edge off my stuffy head.

It was a cold, windy morning and we were getting a lot of surprised expressions and comments on the bare legs before the race. I started doubting the decision but knew I would rather be a little bit cold for racing. We visited the port-o-potties, took a couple of pics and then stayed warm in the car until it was time to head to the start line.

We had planned to start on the slower side of goal pace, targeting 4:40 to 4:50 to ease into it. It took a lot of reminders from Andy because I was raring to go as we made our way along the first out-and-back section. It was very crowded through here, though, so I was glad not to be weaving around trying desperately to hit a specific pace.

It was amazing to see Mark and Greta cheering us on around 5K. Still feeling great at this point! We had a good laugh about re-creating a photo op from 2013 (below) and then it was time to get to work.

1-5: 4:52, 4:40, 4:44, 4:40, 4:34

We dropped the pace to around 4:30 as planned and I was still feeling pretty good for a while. It was around 10K that I started to feel the effort was taking more of a toll than I’d hoped. I just felt drained and I’d like to think it was the effects of my cold kicking in. The wind was really wearing on me too and I just tried to focus on getting to the 13K turn-around in the hopes that there would be a reprieve. All the while Andy was keeping me distracted and entertained, reminding me to drink and fuel and also keeping me on pace.

6-13: 4:32, 4:29 (gel), 4:30, 4:33, 4:32, 4:32, 4:31, 4:38

Finally we turned around and it was a mental boost to be heading back toward the finish. Somehow, it was still windy! w-t-f! I told myself it was just an 8K LT run from here (although that sounded really hard at that point). It was fun to look for friends who were racing, exchanging high fives and cheers, or sometimes just a wave when I was really feeling the exhaustion. My pace started slipping slightly around 15K, although looking back I was surprised to see that I managed to keep every lap at 4:45 or faster. It felt like I was moving much slower than that! Andy pulled out all the stops to keep me going and I just tried to keep chasing him.

14-18:  4:30 (gel), 4:39, 4:35, 4:45, 4:40

Finally we were counting down the last few kilometres and I managed to pick the pace back up slightly. Our friend Katie caught up along this stretch and I was so happy to see her looking strong. She gave me the biggest, loudest cheers and I could tell she had tons of energy so we sent her on her way to a massive PB finish! I tried to keep up but my legs just weren’t having it, so I settled on keeping her in my sights.

19-21.1: 4:44, 4:37, 4:27, 5:02 (nubbin)

At last we were approaching the final turn and could see Mark and Greta cheering and snapping pics. It took everything I had to push up that final stretch to the finish line. Even though I had been looking at my Garmin constantly (despite Andy’s urgings not to… oops!), it was an overwhelming moment to see the time on the clock up ahead and know I was finishing in 1:37:xx.

And then, this happened:

Jump to 40 seconds in the clip below and prepare to be impressed:

I had a little bit of help going down, a lot of help getting up, and then we were over the line all in a matter of seconds.

1:37:26
351/2351 overall
73/1234 females
18/148 F30-34

I ran Chilly Half last year in 1:55 and was shocked and thrilled with that time when I was just starting to establish some consistency in my training again for the first time in many years. To improve by 18 minutes in a year is astounding to me, but believe me – I have fought for every one of those minutes over the last 12 months. For years I doubted whether I could ever get back to my former fitness level, let alone beyond. Even as I have clocked faster and faster splits in my training this year, I still questioned whether it would translate to a corresponding result on race day. I have a bad habit of getting hung up on numbers that scare me and for a long time I was still battling a lot of hang-ups over my 2014 injury (yes, I still tape my knee).

I’m so grateful to my coaches Mark and Andy (conveniently, my husband and good friend) who always believe in me when I question myself and have patiently guided and supported me through countless ups and downs along the way. Sharing all of it with the rest of my running family is the icing on the cake!

Boxing Day 10-Miler

On Monday we made our way to Hamilton for our 5th Boxing Day 10-Miler and one last race of the year. It was a dicey start to the day as we slid down the ice-covered driveway and drove through pouring rain on the way there, but the conditions ended up being close to perfect. It was comfortably cold with just wet roads to deal with by the time we started at noon.

Every race should begin with piano and preaching in the YMCA chapel!

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After a few solid workouts in the weeks leading up to the race, I realized I could quite comfortably chase a PB – which would be my first PB at any distance since 2011. Long overdue, I’d say! My previous 10-mile best was 1:25 but with some urging from my coaches (aka husband Mark and friend Andy), we decided that sub-1:20 was a realistic target. My Garmin has been acting up recently and recording all of my runs far short, but luckily Mark and Andy agreed to provide pacing and support so I was able to ignore my watch and rely on them. #blessed

I did wear my Garmin anyway, just to see how far off it was, but turned it inward so I couldn’t see the screen every time I habitually glanced at my wrist. The splits included below are slightly off since I clocked a few hundred metres short overall. And yes, my new Garmin is on the way. 🙂

There was a crowded start as usual but it helped us stick to our plan of starting off easy and relaxed. A bit of weaving was necessary, but it soon opened up so we could settle in. It was weird not to be looking at my Garmin but I knew I was in good hands and found myself cruising pretty comfortably with Andy’s re-assurance that we were right where we needed to be.

KM 1 to 5 – 5:14, 4:56, 4:55, 4:54, 4:57

I love this route, especially around Bayfront Park and on the path alongside the harbour. We saw several swans and thought of our friend Greta who would have described it as “just like being on vacation.”

map

There’s a long-ish climb toward the turn-around (8K split @ 5:07) although it was much shorter than I remembered. I even said so out loud and another runner declared it “long enough!” Canadian marathon champ and all-around awesome guy Reid Coolsaet was out on the course along this stretch and I had a slight fan-girl/creepy-stalker moment when I hollered out his name after passing him (because I was too busy looking at his dog as we ran by to realize it was him.) Pretty cool that he came out to cheer me us on!

KM 6 to 10 – 5:00, 4:57, 5:07, 4:44, 4:48

I was starting to feel the effort after about 10K and it was time to turn on some music and zone out a bit. I resisted the urge to peak at the overall time on my Garmin and really had no idea where we were in terms of pace, although it felt like I was having an awesome race. Andy was running a little bit ahead and I knew he was trying to pull me along so I kept my eyes on him and kept pushing, always looking for the next mile marker and counting them down.

There are a couple of decent hills in the last 2 miles and it took a lot of will to get my legs moving quickly again after each one. Finally we hit the long straight-away to the finish and I could just barely make out the red of the finish clock in the distance, still having no clue what it was going to read. Andy urged me ahead, Mark continued pulling me along and I gave it all I had.

KM 11 to 16 – 4:44, 4:48, 4:49, 4:41, 4:53, 4:33*
*pace for the partial KM recorded on my watch

1:17:42
first half 40:11 | second half 37:31
140/503 overall
31/216 females
8/20 F30-34

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Road2Hope Marathon

After Erie in September, I recovered quickly and felt that I had another marathon in me this year. I set my sights on Road2Hope and wanted to take another stab at a 3:45. I had a few big training weeks and some really solid workouts that left me feeling strong and confident going in to the race – I definitely felt that I was in better shape than I had been at Erie and the conditions were looking just about perfect. Temperatures in the 5-15C range, light wind and clear skies made it a beautiful day to run.

We were spoiled with an awesome support crew once again and the usual pre-race shenanigans did a great job at keeping my nerves in check. We met up with the rest of our group for good lucks, hugs and photos and before we knew it, it was time to line up for the 7:30 start.

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I am generally most comfortable racing solo (until the end when I’ll take all the help I can get!) so I was ready to just turn up the music and do my thing. I enjoyed the quiet country roads and views from the escarpment during the first half, although I did find it a lot hillier than I was expecting. I didn’t talk to anyone at all, but zoned out and tried to stay in the moment. I decided to try gelling earlier this time and had a Gu every 6K. I opted not to carry any bottles but took a cup of water and a cup of gatorade form each aid station (every 3k), slowing only slightly to grab them.

5:18, 5:19, 5:22, 5:17, 5:17, 5:17, 5:16, 5:24, 5:15, 5:21

I was surprised to seeing our support crew cheering at 12.5K and it was the best thing ever. I could still hear them screaming even as I carried on a couple hundred metres down the road and I didn’t stop smiling for ages. What a boost – hence the 5:11 split below. Oops!

5:16, 5;21, 5:11, 5:20, 5:15, 5:15, 5:16, 5:20, 5:14, 5:18

My first half split was just under 1:52, which was exactly where I wanted to be. At 22k we hit the downhill for 6k and I was careful to keep my pace controlled. I only sped up by about 5s/km and instead took advantage of the benefit of less effort. Before I knew it we were climbing the off-ramp at 28k. I hated the next section on the trail, as I have in the past,  with its tricky footing (those bricks?!) and short, steep hills. My legs were also feeling a little wobbly from the downhill and all I could think was WTF!

5:18, 5:24, 5:10, 5:17, 5:11, 5:15, 5:15, 5:25, 5:25, 5:42

What a nice surprise when I spotted my friend Luis running toward me with the biggest grin on his face! He made this tough section fly by, filling me in on how everyone else was doing, taking my sweaty wrist pouch and gloves for me and giving me water. The next thing I knew we were hitting the waterfront at 31k and I got to see the whole gang again for a much-needed boost.

Andy jumped in with me here to take me through the rest of the race. I told him I was feeling a bit tired, to which he said “that’s ok!” I remember thinking, easy for you to say… lol. I told him where I was in terms of pace and then settled in to follow him to the finish.

It was awesome to see Laura out cheering on the trail – thanks for the pic!

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I felt myself starting to fade at about 34k – the same place it happened at Erie. My pace only slipped slightly (5-10s/km) but I knew it was about to get very tough. I told myself to just hang in there until the turn-around and then it would feel easier to be running toward the finish. HAHAHAHA! Not so much. Andy kept telling me how well I was doing (I remember thinking, liar!) and told me to quit looking at my Garmin. Finally I just took it off and handed it to him because it was only frustrating me. He pulled out all the stops to keep me going – pointing out how many people we were passing and telling me we were sucking up all of their energy as we did so (this felt like some kind of messed up video game in my delirious head at this point), waving his arms around to pump up the crowds and telling all kinds of random people my name.

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I wanted to walk so badly and kept promising myself I could walk at 37k, then 38k, then 39k. But I never did. I hadn’t walked a step of that race so far and this was no time to start. Plus, I’m pretty sure Andy would have yelled at me! I think I only said 3 words during this section and they were “I can’t” and “ughhhh”. I didn’t feel like drinking anything anymore but Andy kept handing me cups of water and gatorade from his bottle so I forced them down. He was telling me that this was just like the final few KMs of the Tottenham trail where we finished many of my key workouts together, always with a negative split. I wanted to pick up the pace so badly but I just could not will my legs to go any faster.

5:10, 5:16, 5:15, 5:22, 5:23, 5:32, 5:34, 5:36, 5:36, 5:42

#letitgo socks working their magic

#letitgo socks working their magic

Finally we were passing 40k and our fantastic group of supporters were screaming my name. I made Andy tell me what time my Garmin was showing when we passed 41k (3:40) which added a 4th word to my vocabulary: “f*ck!” Finally, mercifully, I could see the finish and Andy pointed out one last person that I needed to pass. I have no idea if I did or not but somehow I got over that line.

5:36, 5:28

3:46:37
325/778  overall
73/293  females
8/31  F30-34

Admittedly, I was (am) a little disappointed not to get that 3:45 but I am damn proud of a 3:46. Last year at Road2Hope I struggled through a 2:04 half marathon wondering if I would ever run a marathon again. This year I was able to run three, improving with each one, and I’m starting to believe I might even be able to chase my 6-year-old PB again next year.

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A super duper huge congratulations to hubby who ran a 3:08:48 for a new PB and BQ! 

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