Monday, 27 January 2014

#116 The one where I run a race in -25 degrees

As of 10 a.m. this morning, there are now only twelve weeks to go until the 118th running of the Boston Marathon on Monday 21st April. 

Needless to say that if you haven't started training... you're only several weeks behind! 

Yet many of us are likely feeling behind regardless and it's not for a lack of trying. It's more likely due to an abundance of majorly miserable and totally intolerable winter weather! As it turns out, today just happens to be another one of those days to feature blowing snow/flurries, wild winds and considerable cold in Toronto with a current wind chill of -25! This has become entirely expected/normal as the winter of hell (anti-hell?!) in most of Eastern Canada continues to wreak havoc on us harriers (and pretty much everyone else too). 

Training through the month of January has to date, been largely unenjoyable. In some cases, downright unbearable and impossible. For me, it has meant far too many trips to the dingy condo gym to test my mental fortitude on the dreaded treadmill/hamster-wheel, and several outdoor sessions cut short, missed, or modified due to un-runnable roads and unkind conditions. All that said, I've still managed to #JustKeepRunning through the worst of what's been thrown at us, and logged some descent mileage including a few fast workouts/speedy sessions at the popular and oh-so-pleasant Monarch Park Stadium track in Toronto's east end. 

This was party validated yesterday, during the first fitness test of the spring cycle, when I and thirteen of my fellow Lungs traveled to Burlington, ON for the always popular and exceptionally organized Robbie Burns 8K

Conditions on race morning could be described as a "mixed bag". It was certainly cold with the temperature hovering around -15 and a "feels like factor"/wind chill of -20! Luckily, the roads were clear and not too slippery and the southwesterly winds seemed to be holding off.

After keeping warm for as long as possible before the race, the BLT crew hit the streets for a brief "warm-up" which really only served to cool us down. Normally we'd do some strides or short speed work, but no one seemed keen to do anything other than trudge along. 3K was more than enough for me at which point I was more than happy to head back inside the local high school (which also served as the race headquarters) to warm up for a few precious minutes before the start. Race time was 9:30 a.m. and so with as few minutes as I could spare, I joined the 800 or so other runners to line up for the start. Multiple world-record holder and Octogenarian extraordinaire Ed Whitlock was present to start the race off for us and just like that, it was go time. 

And they're off! Turns out 1 in 800 wore shorts. He also happened to win the race.
As is often the case, the details of the race are overwhelmingly underwhelming. I wasn't far back of the leaders right up until the first K (which I found strange... was I fast or were they slow?), which is when the pack(s) really started to separate. By 2K, I was all alone (as is often the case) and had worked my way into 7th spot. At 3K I had passed and been passed by the top female (Rachel Hannah is simply flying these days!), and shortly after, could hear someone quickly closing on me (damn, I must be slowing down). I soon realized it was my fellow BLT teammate Ross Bain, who was running very smoothly and effortlessly cruised by after we shared some friendly words. This turned out to be about the best thing to happen as I convinced myself not to let him go and together we ran all the way to 7.5K, maintaining a near steady pace (we actually got faster!) and around 6K, overtook a runner who had fallen off the lead group. There was a stiff but not overly strong headwind between 5 and 7K and again for the slight uphill final K to the finish. Running side by side with Ross, I knew that I would not be able to out kick him in the final few hundred meters, so upon seeing the BLT cheering station at ~7.5K (super shout out to the loud and enthusiastic BLT cheerleaders Dave Clark and Lyndsay Tessier), I made the slightest move and put a gap between Ross and I. It seemed to have worked as I could no longer hear him behind me when I made the final turn with ~300m to the finish. I then realized that I had also made up a great deal of ground on the two runners ahead of me, but knew that catching them would not be possible. I put in a final push and was only slightly disappointed to see the clock read 26:5X as I crossed the line. 

As it turns out, I ran 26:56, which was 3 seconds faster than the previous year (Hooray for PBs), but also good for 6th overall, which is a 3 place improvement. My Garmin splits would also show that I ran about a ten second negative split and my per K pace didn't deviate by more than 5 seconds (i.e it was a well run race on my part and I was able to finish strong). Subsequent analysis also suggests that my result was in fact something to be quite proud of as the winning time (25:41) was a full 40 seconds slower than the previous year! Furthermore, of the 9 Black Lungs who ran in both 2013 and 2014, finish times were on average 22 seconds slower this year compared to last (and only 2 of us improved at all). Nevertheless, as a team we once again performed exceptionally well. All 14 Lungs finished in the top 40 (with 6 in the top 15) and we also captured 10 age-group awards. It wasn't the fastest day in terms of finishing times, but our placing was on par or better than what we could have expected. Well done to all my BLT teammates for another great showing and team effort. Huge congrats also to the top female, Rachel Hannah, who was 5th overall in a time of 26:54 and only 3 seconds off the 10+year old course record!

The Black Lungs: We run almost as well as we pose!
Next up will be an increased emphasis on endurance (not that I don't run a lot already) where we'll start to really ramp up the mileage (to between 80 -100 miles) for the next three weeks before having a taper/down week in prep for a Half (Peterborough) in late Feb. The weather doesn't look to be getting better any time soon, but that won't deter me too much. Onwards and forwards...

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