Monday, 26 March 2012

#58: The Fool on the Hill

Prologue: 'The Fool...' wasn't me. I love the hills!

Around the Bay Race Report

The first thing I'll say is that despite finishing some 18 minutes behind him, I can say with confidence that my race likely felt much better than Reid Coolsaet’s seem too. I'd suggest you all read his terrific blog ('Float On') including his own recap of his winning race from yesterday. And here is one from Canadian Running: 'Coolsaet thrills...'

So because I have a tendency to write long-winded accounts which border on excessive (being succinct was never my style), I'm going to try something new and just 'briefly' discuss what I felt I did well and which led to my near 'perfect' (recall that it's subjective) performance at ATB.

1) I trained for it. Now now, before you roll your eyes and say "Well duh!" I'll try to explain what I mean. My training has been near perfect for the past 7 weeks. That includes two monster weeks where I ran 150+km in two successive weeks before 'tapering' for yesterday’s race (where I still managed to hit 116k for the week including the race). I've been completely pain and injury free and had terrific workouts and long runs . I did some specific hill training in the weeks prior to the race to build some strength in my legs and also ensured my endurance was sufficient and my fuelling strategy was set (I took 3 gels yesterday; one 15min before the start and another at 10 and 18k). I knew I was fully fit going into the race so was feeling confident in my ability.

2) I was mentally prepared. You can't underestimate the importance of this! Most people don't even know what it means. It means visualizing your race from start to finish and 'running' it over and over in your head; especially the tough parts and the final k's. This also means considering different scenarios including the ideal outcome and several variations of it in case things are out of your control (think the weather). It means building confidence in yourself by looking back at your training and considering what you're doing right as well as accounting for what you’re doing wrong. It means studying the course, reading race reviews and getting excited/hyped up for the event. It means believing in yourself!

3) I had a plan. Actually, we had a plan and unfortunately it didn't materialize for all of us. Darren, Doyle and I had our eyes set on a 1:52:30 (3:45/k) and had each 10k split carefully planned prior to the race. This included 37:00 (3:42/k) for the first 10k; 37:30 (3:45/k) for second (10-20k) and 38:00 (3:48/k) for the final 10 (20-30k) to account for the hills. We planned to work together to get those splits and take turns drafting and keeping the pace. Sadly, Doyle dropped off before 5k with a calf injury and I lost Darren around 15k when I decided to maintain ~3:43 pace for the second 10k. In the end my pacing was near perfect: 37:04 for 0-10k; 37:11 for 10-20k and an amazing 37:05 for the final 20-30k. This also equates to a near equal split of 55:38 for the first 15k and 55:40 for the second. Once again, this goes to show that running an equal split is probably the best pacing strategy. Note: In order for your race plan to be successful, you need to be realistic about your goals and paces. This means using a recent race result in which you felt good and did your best to predict other performances. This can be done using common online calculators like McMillan and Daniels (VDOT).

4) I tapered. Some might argue that a week running 116k is not a real taper but with mostly easy running all week and slightly decreased mileage it sure felt like one. I took the day off on Saturday and only ran 8k on Friday too so felt well rested. I also fueled (read carbo-loaded) in the two or three days leading up to the race including an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet on Friday evening; a massive pancake breakfast on Saturday morning and spaghetti in the evening. I was sipping on OJ and Gatorade at pretty much all times in between. I also got plenty of sleep from Thursday night right up until Sunday morning which can often be difficult to get.

So with that in mind I'll just briefly (okay, perhaps not so briefly) detail how the race went. It started early Sunday morning when I instinctively woke up about two minutes before my alarm was set to go off at 6am. I ate a standard pre-race breakfast of toast and PB with a bottle of Gatorade then did that other early morning stuff and was ready to go. I biked the 6k to High Park and caught the team bus to Hamilton where we arrived with plenty of time. The weather was absolutely perfect: Overcast, cool (8 degrees) and practically no wind. I changed into my gear (Adidas Boston 2 and orange socks on my feet; shorts and a Longboat tee) and we just sorta hung around Copps Coliseum until about 9:10 then went out and did a short (2k) warmup and made a final pit stop in the bushes. We didn't have the 'Front of the Pack' sticker we were supposed to but managed to talk our way into the start corral and get right to the front. I saw Reid warming up and wished him luck on his attempt to break the course record of 1:32:22 (he would end up winning the race but missing the record by about a minute). We eagerly waited several minutes until the start and jostled back and forth. I wish my teammates luck and was ready to go. The gun went off and so did we. Darren, Doyle and I were all close together and worked our way out of the pack running to the side. The first km flew by in 3:35 (I said repeatedly that we shouldn't go faster than 3:40…first km fail!). An old guy ahead of us stunk really back so we decided to pick it up to pass him. We continued to pass the masses one at a time and work our way forward. At one point Rob C came up from behind and told us we were running slow which we weren't but we nonetheless picked it up slightly. It was then when we lost Doyle who probably shouldn't have even started due to a bad cold and a lower calf injury. He would stay in the race until ~15k but smartly chose to bow out and take a bus back. I/we will need each other for the big event in May so it's important we get healthy and play things smart at this point. As my close friend and training partner, I was not happy to leave him behind but knew it had to happen. Another time, it will happen to me! Darren and I thus continued on, picking off individual runners one or two at a time and keeping a fairly consistent pace of 3:42. We hit the 10k at 37:04 which was right on track and then tried to settle into a groove and get comfortable. I was feeling good but could tell he was struggling to keep pace and I wasn't entirely surprised that he dropped back just before 15k. I was somewhat shocked to be running solo this early in the race considering that all my visualizations had involved the three of us running together well into the hills. Nevertheless I kept things consistent and was able to maintain a 3:43 pace for those middle km's as I crossed the bridge and entered into Burlington. I took a gel just after 10k and again at 18k and was pleasantly surprised at how good my legs felt as I entered the rolling hills at 19k. I knew this was where the race was set to begin and knew it was time to dig deep and concentrate. I cruised up the hills and tried to pick up the pace going down. I actually felt better doing the former and felt that was my strength. I passed about three guys between 20 and 25k during which point I hit the half-marathon mark of 21.1k in 1:18:20 (my third fastest time ever). It was during a particular long downhill stretch that I got passed for the first time on the day by a guy who told me he'd been following me for the past 15k. I quickly put him out of my mind and focused on my own race. I continued along the course as we left North Shore Blvd and got on Plains Road heading west. As we passed a cheering mass of kids at the 23k mark, I was starting to look forward to the final point of interest which is the massive downhill leading to the final ‘monster’ hill. I flew down the hill past the 25k mark and set my mind on attacking what was about to come. I crossed the little wooden bridge and tried not to look up to the top (which you can't see anyway). I knew it was only about 500m long so would take 2min at the most. Once again I amazed even myself as I flew up the hill with relative ease. In the process and about right in the midst of the hill at 26k, I managed to pass the guy who had just previously passed me and finish strong right to the top. I made the turn onto York Blvd and knew it was only about 3k left to go. I got my legs back right away and was already flying across the bridge. I couldn't be sure how quickly I was moving in those final 3 k's and refused to look at my watch (I would later see that my final 5k was done in 18:10; with splits of 3:37, 3:45, 3:42, 3:36 and 3:30). I recall seeing Timo, one of our club coaches, as well as the Grim Reaper around 28k but then focused entirely on the finish. I passed one more guy during the stretch and could only vaguely make out a large group of runners well ahead. Copps couldn't come soon enough but I still felt remarkably good given the circumstances. I passed the large crowds of spectators with about 400m to go which was enough to get me through the final stretch as I round the bend and made the steep decline down the ramp before making that final turn into the arena and looking up to see the finish. Reading 1:51:xx on the clock, I made a final sprint and a small gesture to the crowds. I looked up to see 1:51:20 as I crossed the line and was immediately relieved at the opportunity to stop. I was then able to revel in my accomplishment and had a big grin on my face when I got the gold medal (sub 2hrs) for the second straight year. I waited at the finish for the others to come in and surely, one by one, they did. First Darren, just off our initial goal time, then Roger, Rob, Davey, the Belg and Hiddleston. I knew then that Doyle must have bowed out and later found out that Gerardo had as well. We congratulated each other and made our way through the post-run corrals with the food, photos and Gatorade. I had blistering on my right foot so removed my shoes and walked around barefoot which felt great (maybe there is something to that) and returned to our team section in Copps to change and relax as we awaited the others to finish. We eventually got a great team photo of the 40 or so finishers from Longboat and made our way back to Toronto by bus. It was turning out to be a beautiful day and so the remainder of it was spent drinking cold beer and enjoying the company of my fellow LBers. Race days are the best days... and even more so when you set a PB!

Epilogue: I call it the 'Residual Race Effect' and it usually only takes place the day or two immediately after a race. I went for a scheduled 10 miler today and felt amazing. I ran way faster than I should have (4:16/k) but felt incredible throughout. I went over the previous days performance in my head and am almost convinced I self-initiated a 'runner's high' as I basked in warm sunshine and a sense of self-satisfaction. I know the pain, soreness and fatigue will come; but perhaps not until late tomorrow or the next day. Anyone else get this or am I just crazy?! Regardless, it sure feels good while it lasts...and I'm hoping it lasts awhile.

Next up: An easy recovery week with descent mileage (130k) and a tough long run on Sunday. Then it's 2 weeks of high mileage and several key speed workouts before beginning the 3 week taper to Goodlife. I've also got a 10-miler race planned for Good Friday in Burlington but may back out since it doesn't make sense for what we want to achieve. Last tune-up race will be the Yonge St 10k on 22 April where we'll run a fast downhill course and hope to win the team category. Recent race results suggest that a 2:45 is not only comfortably within grasp, but that it may be too conservative. 2:42 is tentatively the new target.

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