Sunday, 4 March 2012

#51: Flying

What a day for our club (Longboat) and for our runners. The Chilly Half Marathon did not disappoint in producing fast times today. PBs for myself, Doyle, Darren, Bellamy, Rob C (at age 52), Gerardo, Simon V (by 4min), Kevin G (Gough; by 9min!), other Kevin G (Gallagher; and after 8 years!) and Melinda too! What a day indeed! Congrats everyone (including Roger, Hiddleston, Davey (we all have those days), Kathleen (keep at it and it will come), Chris and Kim McPeake, Christine, Gillian, Melissa, Tony...and any other LBers I am forgetting) on your amazing times and efforts today. Also to George for being their for much needed psychological support along the route. All the feathers were flying! A special thanks to my tenacious training partners and great friends, Doyle and Darren for not beating me today and always pushing me to achieve better; and to Rob C and Rog for their continued commitment to coaching and runner development.

Clearly something must be working and I'm going to say that the Rob C program (the 'RCP!'; adapted from Squires) may deserve a great deal of the credit. If you're on it, stay there. If you're not, come aboard. We're running hard, we're running often and we're running healthy. The workouts are tough on hard days, the easy days are just easy enough and the mileage is manageable. Let's hope we can ride this wave all the way to the end of May!

So a (not so brief) race report.

The Chilly Half in downtown Burlington, ON. 21.1k. My time: 1:16:39 (1:16:44). Chip time is what counts right?! 3:38/k. 11th overall. 10th male. 3rd in age group, 25-29, but the other two guys finished 2nd and 3rd overall so I was lucky to claim the 1st prize title. I'll take it.

The weather. The weather seemed to be the topic of discussion leading up to the day. Wild winds were predicted and we were starting to regret not going to Peterborough the week before which saw near perfect conditions and fast times too (well done Steve, Gregoire, Laura, Todd and others). Luckily the winds really didn't materialize and stayed fairly calm at a brisk 10-20kph. I won't say they didn't have an impact, but they weren't nearly as bad as we had feared. It was indeed Chilly in the early morning and leading up to the race: probably around -5 to -10C. Overcast skies and some snow flurries also greeted us in Burlington but by the time the race started the sun came out and it turned out to be a beautiful day for the most part. No need to complain about the weather, it was fine.

The course. Mostly flat as advertised although it had some gradual rollers which kept things interesting and also worked to my benefit. I actually like hills, not really in a race but these were just fine. In fact, I was almost able to convince myself that those long straight stretches along Lakeshore Dr were always going downhill. It couldn't really be true but I made myself believe it was. The out and back wasn't too bad either. Two of them really at 3k and then at 13k which again, keeps things interesting and honest. Again, no complaints here.

The race. It started at 10:05 which is unusual but turned out to be a good time. I did my warm up alone (2.5k with a few strides at race pace) since I couldn't find the guys and found a nice bush for a last minute pit-stop (#1!). My father brought me to the race so I was able to change out of my warm up gear just before going to the start. That worked really well. At about 10, I went to the start and thought I got pretty close to the front of the pack. But when the gun eventually went off, I found myself way back of the lead pack and having to weave my way through a huge mass of people. Why do slow(er) people go straight to the front? This frustrates me to no end. Please be honest about your abilities and line up appropriately. You have no reason to be at the front and it only slows everyone down; like traffic! Plus, that's why there's chip time.

So anyway, here I am snaking my way through all these slower runners (no offense or anything, but when you’re 11th overall out of 3300 people, most everyone is a “slower” runner) and trying to catch up with my people and get towards the front. I didn't see Doyle anywhere which makes me believe he made sure he was behind me on the line so that if we ended up with the same time (like Robbie Burns, and St. Catherine’s...and Ingersoll!) he could claim victory based on chip time. I'm onto you Michael. So I'm looking everywhere for him and I go by Rob and Rog and Bellamy and Davey and David and see Darren up ahead but still no Doyle. I bet he was watching me though! I got in behind Darren and we just started picking people off. All the ones that go out way too fast. We made the first turn and continued to do this for a while before Darren slowly sped ahead and build a slowly increasing gap on me. I wasn't ready to chase at this point. I was thus running largely on my own. At around 7k, I passed some guy who wouldn't let me go. For at least 3k he just kept huffing and puffing behind me and was clearly in over his head. I actually wanted to tell him to stop being so stupid and run a pace he could sustain but I felt he has to learn that for himself. It was around this point when I had some pain and discomfort in my stomach and side and was quite worried that my pre-race fuelling strategy may have let me down (Oma's pancakes surely couldn't miss) but I was able to concentrate on my breathing and get comfortable and so it abided in a km or so. At one point when I was about to lose the puffer guy, I realized someone else was on my shoulder and guess who it was. Of course, it was Michael. Even though Darren had created a massive gap between us, we both agreed we would work to minimize that lead slowly and claw him back in the end (sorry Darren but it had to be done). Doyle said something about us running too hard which I honestly didn't think was true so I kept my current pace and carried on. I don't look at my watch too often while racing but I do recall seeing one split of 3:42 which discouraged me slightly and so I picked up the pace. I really had no idea how fast I was going but I knew it felt fast. Today was going to be a good day... if I could hold on.

The second turnaround came later than I expected since I was confused as to why the leaders still hadn't passed going the other way, even at 12k. The turn eventually came a little after 13k and my first thought was concern with the wind which clearly was blowing around and now coming more or less directly in my face. The turnaround also gave me a brief glance as to how far back Doyle was (not much) and also the larger field of runners. At one point during any race, I always think about the fact that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of runners right behind chasing me and it honestly scares the hell out of me and motivates me NEVER to give up. When I saw all the guys behind me and many familiar faces among them, I was again motivated to keep this up and get to the line before them.

The only guy I passed in those last 8k was Darren and I came up to him around 14k and knew I had him beat. At one point he must have sensed it and looked back (bad idea Darren) to see me and made a small surge forward while I just kept cruising at my now consistent pace of what must have been around 3:38/k. I came up alongside him shortly after and told him to get behind me to draft and that we'd work together. That's the last I saw of him because I just kept going and didn't see him again (I won't be able to say that too often). I can also say that I wasn't passed by a single runner during the entire race today (not even briefly) which seems to be an effective strategy. Start conservative and get stronger. It's not easy to do but seems to work. Fading (from the front) is both physically and mentally exhausting and not recommended.

With only a few k's left to go, I was beginning to dig deep and hold on for dear life. The only time I checked my watch for the time was when I passed the 16k mark where I wanted to see my 10-mile split. After having a bad experience at my first (and only) attempt at the distance last August (Acura) where I didn't break 60min, I knew this time I must have done it in a big way. Sure enough, at 16.1km my time was ~58:40 and I knew I was in good position with only 5k left to go. The only things I remember after this were: a) How come all these hills are downhill? That can't possibly be true. b) There are A LOT of people behind me; hopefully they all feel as terrible as I do right now and c) Holy shit. Doyle is probably right behind you. Speed up! I also started doing what I expect everyone does at this point in a race. Counting down the mile (km) markers and doing really bad math trying to tell yourself you only have x min left!

The only real 'problem' I had on the day was that in the late stages of the race (the last 5k), my eyes/vision went all wonky and in a bad state. They must have been semi-frozen and I couldn't see all that well so I simply concentrated on the yellow dividing line and kept driving forward. I also sung/hummed "I Will Survive" in my head as it had been playing earlier at a water station and was thus the last song in my short-term memory. It was appropriate. I thought I was slowing down but the splits on my watch viewed afterwards proved otherwise. In the end, I ran a negative split (another successful race strategy). 38:24 for the first half. 38:15 for the second. The last km is always a welcome one and was definitely the most painful one today. I was ecstatic to see the cheering fans at the final turn but sadly was in no state to acknowledge or thank them. I heard my Dad cheer my name as I made the turn and then realized it was still a fair ways up to the finish (really only like 300m) and the wind was howling. I gave what little I had left (it wasn't much) and couldn't believe when I saw the clock: 1:16! It hit 1:16:30 and I 'sprinted' my way across the line a couple seconds later. I did a Tiger Woods fist pump knowing I had just finished the best race of my life and then proceeded to breathe deeply and sat down for a few seconds.

Of course I forgot to stop my watch (I haven't done this on time ever!) which I didn't realize until about two minutes later (1:18:xx but still good for 2:42/k). I was glad to see Doyle finish not too far behind me with Darren slightly after him. 11, 12, 13. Never too far apart! I watched the others finish, most all of them with PBs and we eventually made our way through the finishing queue, collected yet but another medal, and went off for a cool down jog. It was here, after about 2k's at a snail’s pace that my body fully and completely rebelled against everything I had just put it through and I struggled for breath and had terrible cramps and side stiches. Probably an electrolyte issue since I hadn't drank or ate anything since 7am (not hydrating or fuelling during a race is definitely NOT an effective strategy but one I continue to endorse for all races up to the Half distance). I slowly hobbled my way back to the finisher’s area and immediately downed three orange juice boxes and caught up with some other LBers. A short while later we went for free beer and chili and then arrived late for the awards ceremony where most of our guys and gals claimed a prize. It had been a good day, for some (myself included) a great day, and would be a good sign for what was still to come.

There are now 3 weeks before Around the Bay (30k) in Hamilton and 9 weeks to the Goodlife Marathon on 05 May. For now, it's time to take it easy, recover, rest and probably run some more. Starting with the 16k tomorrow morning...

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