Whitby International Half Marathon

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!

Thanks to my good friend Shannon for coming out and snapping this pic!

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!

Advertisements

Sporting Life 10K

On Sunday I ran my 8th Sporting Life 10K with Nolan’s Dream Chasers. Together we raised almost $15,000.00 for Camp Ooch this year and not-so-little-anymore Nolan completed the entire race for his second time!

I seemed to recover pretty quickly from Martian and surprised myself with a strong workout last week, so I thought I might have a good chance at beating my ancient PB of 43:08 from 2011 (even though the pace still seemed insanely fast if I let myself think about it).

Mark dropped a few of us off near the start and we killed time with several pit stops, photo bomb ops, chatting with Jonathan (so nice to finally meet you!) and finally a short warm-up jog. Soon it was time to line up in the red corral and we were off!

I knew I needed better than 4:18/KM in order to PB and my plan was to pretty much run like hell and try to hold on – very scientific and strategic! In the past I have often found that the first few kilometres fly by almost effortlessly and if anything I need to hold back to make sure I’m not overdoing it. This time I felt like I had to work for it right out of the gates. I guess that’s to be expected running at paces in the ~4:15 range which is a whole new territory for me right now.

The course is significantly downhill, especially for the first half, so I tried to take advantage as much as possible and avoided hitting the brakes. There’s something so magical about this race – tearing down the middle of Yonge Street in downtown Toronto knowing that there are over 20,000 runners following behind. I loved everything except the strong, lingering smell of bacon wafting out of some restaurants. I tried to take it all in and enjoy myself while sneaking glances at my watch just often enough to keep myself honest. Several times I looked down and thought “I can not run this fast!” Except I guess I can!

4:16, 4:12, 4:16, 4:08, 4:19

I felt like I was working a bit harder than I would have liked hitting the 5K (21:17), but it’s also been a long time since I’ve raced this distance so I just pushed that thought right out of my head and kept working. Shortly before 7K we made the turn off Yonge Street and I knew the course would be mostly flat to the finish – which basically feels uphill after so much downhill. It suddenly felt so hard and I had a minor meltdown in the 8th kilometre, slowing way more than I should have. Thankfully seeing that 4:26 split pissed me off enough to dig deeper and find my pace again. I was even chanting (softly) aloud to myself “Come on! Come on!” as I worked to convince the legs to push just a little harder.

I was so happy and surprised to see my good buddy Quinton around the 9K mark. He seems to pop up at every single race I do and I love it! He gave me enough of a boost to haul ass toward the finish.

At last I was crossing the bridge on Bathurst and making the turn into Fort York. My friend Erin (Nolan’s Mom) was cheering in her usual spot on the home stretch and gave me the biggest cheers. Thank you Erin!

I knew it was going to be close and had to bust my ass down the home stretch. When I was close enough to see the clock I looked up and there was Andy jumping up and down waiting for me just over the line. I think I must have run straight into him without slowing down, squeaking in just a hair under 43.

4:14, 4:19, 4:26, 4:19, 4:12, 0:15 (80m garmin nubbin)

42:59
536/18500 overall
82/10552 females
16/1687 F30-34

The best part was meeting up with our Newmarket Road Runners gang after the finish, all of whom had great races. We are so very proud of all of them and I can’t even express how it feels to see our athletes proudly wearing our team shirts.

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!