I’ve delayed writing this race report because I still feel unsettled. This was my return to racing after a year and a half. When I decided I was ready to run races again, I knew I wanted to do the Toronto Women’s Half. It was my first running race in 2014, and in 2015 I cheered for Steph. The race environment is friendly and positive, it’s well organized, there are free photos and a necklace finisher medal, and the course is mainly on the Don River Trail, which is my go-to running route.
Though my training wasn’t perfect, I felt prepared enough. I had essentially done the distance in training, so I was confident I could finish. My training goal had never been to get faster or run a PB – I wanted to finish and have fun.
When I picked up my race kit on Saturday, it was hot – unlike the weather we’d had in recent weeks. (For reference, it hailed 2 weeks prior.) The organizers sent an advisory email with recommendations for participants, and a warning that they may shorten the distance due to the weather.
Like I said, very well organized. I liked that they emphasized that it would not be a day for a PB. Even though I knew that was not going to happen for me, it was a good mindset for setting expectations for myself and the race.
In the evening, the nerves hit me like a ton of bricks. I wasn’t worried about anything specific, but rather had this general (and painful) sense of dread in my stomach and chest. I frantically gathered my race gear and post-race comforts to distract myself.
I wrote out my race plan to stay focused.
I texted with my sister, who lives in Virginia and was a bit dumfounded as to how temperatures in the low 80s qualified as “too hot.” I think I convinced her with the argument that nobody had been training in this weather, and the body needs time to acclimate.
I slept fairly well, had my normal breakfast, and re-read my race plan. Tim and I hopped in a cab and headed up to the park. Within a few minutes of arriving, I heard the announcement: the race would be shortened to a 12km.
My immediate reaction was frustration. Yes, it was going to be a hot and slow race, but I had trained for 21km, and I wanted to do 21km, damnit. Also, the shortest race I’ve ever done was a 15km. I’ve always been interested in going further rather than faster. I messaged Steph to tell her she didn’t need to come out, but was immediately shut down.
Mandy sent me a text and proved the race organizers wrong – it would be a day for a PB!
I tried to stay positive and focus on the fun. I really truly did. I did the goofy crowd warm up to “Uptown Funk.” I went over my race plan as I queued up in my corral. At 8:03am, it was run time!
Kilometers 1 – 2: Great! But I completely failed at my goal of taking it nice and slow at the beginning – 6:30/km turned into 5:49/kms. I rationalized with myself that it was okay to go faster, since it was a 12km. I mean, yes, but… 45 seconds faster? At the start of a hot race? Buddy.
Kilometer 3 – 5: I distinctly remember thinking that I was now so grateful that it would only be 12km. I think I could have run a very slow, unpleasant 21km, but it would have been ugly. My body was radiating heat and I was already dripping sweat. I took my first walk break (I like doing 20/1) and really had to convince myself to get moving again.
From a distance, I saw Steph in the banana costume, cheering people on. Oh how I love you, Steph. She didn’t see me until I was right next to her. I told her it was going okay, and that I was glad it wasn’t a half. She said she’d catch me after the turnaround.
Kilometer 6: Pottery Road turnaround. Was this the first water station? I think so. Things were foggy. For the first time, I took an extra cup of water to dump over my head. Turns out it’s pretty great, and not really cold when you’re a mobile furnace.
Kilometers 7 – 8: My math is getting pretty bad here as I am trying to figure out how to run a 12km. This is where tough feelings come into play. On the one hand, before the race started, the race director kept announcing that this would be a “fun run,” not a race. On the surface, I am on board. My goal is to have fun right? Fun run! But deep down, I’m stuck in the race mentality. So I’m trying to gauge my energy, which is super hard because I haven’t run in heat like this and I am definitely feeling it, and I’ve never done a race with a shorter distance. Initially I told myself to get the first 2km done, then think 10km for the rest, since I know what 10km feels like. Then somewhere along the line I switched to “finish half, then think about turning up the speed.” Okay, so was the halfway point at 6 or 7? And then there’s the other voice, the reasonable voice, telling me to not make a bad decision. Don’t push myself too hard, don’t worry about speeding up. This isn’t my half anymore. (But… but… but… racing!)
Kilometers 9-10: I’m slowing down. I’m feeling like crap. I’m getting random shivers. I take another walk break. Steph was biking along with me, being so encouraging and funny and wonderful. She asked if I wanted her to lay off, and I told her no, but I didn’t have the energy to talk back much. It’s like I was an iPhone that needed to go into airplane mode.
Kilometers 11-12: Who needs to think when your feet just go? I can do 2 kilometers. That’s less than 15 minutes. I can do this. Halfway up the hill out of the ravine, I walked. No shame in that game. From there, it was just imagining the finish line. In addition to water stations, this race boasts a station where they give out chocolate. I couldn’t even. I’m successful at picking my pace back up.
Kilometer 12.0 – 12.3: I was told this would be a 12km. LIES. I see the finish line. Oh, sweet finish line. I see Steph, Tim, Mandy, and Knox. I go as fast as I can, which still feels like I’m running through a wall of sand, or something equally uncomfortable.
I crossed the line, and a volunteer wrung out a wet cloth over the back of my neck. (Sidebar: Huge shout out to the volunteers. I tried to thank them all.) I’m feeling out of it as I walk over to meet everyone. The first thing I said to Tim was, “SHADE.” My brain was screaming at me to get out of the sun. My back was a gross sweaty mess from my hydration pack. I was getting the shivers again, and generally feeling inhuman. Tim had a nice cold Swell bottle of water. Delicious. I took off my shoes and slipped into flip flops (delicious), plopped down in the grass, and felt so grateful for my friends’ support, and became the heart eyes emoji looking at Knox.
Once I got home, it didn’t take long for the weird vibes and doubt to creep in. I had been telling Tim that I wanted a post-race pizza celebration. Did I even deserve it? I only ran 12k, not a half. Did I actually try my best? I certainly felt gassed, but how can you know? My goal was to have fun, but I don’t think I achieved that. I had also had an emotional build-up to running my first race after a year of injury, and the reality didn’t match up with my vision at all. And now it was over. I wanted to feel happy and grateful, and instead I felt frustrated and self-conscious. Did I do all of the things in my control to make it the best possible experience?
I’m doing a 10km race in a couple weeks with some girlfriends as a fun race. I don’t have a lot of emotional investment in it, so maybe this is another opportunity to try doing a race for fun. (You’d think I wouldn’t need to practice doing something for fun, but it seems like I do!) After the 10km, I have no concrete race plans until the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October. I think a lot of what I’m still feeling is a transition period into the start of marathon training, which will be the next 4+ months. It is exciting, but also daunting. I have a loose training plan worked out, but I still want to do some thinking about my goals for training and the race.
I’m feeling better after writing this. I’m reminded that no matter what happens on race day, it doesn’t take away from all the training you put in. It’s difficult to not have a racing mentality in a race, and that’s something I want to work on. And I know I need to be kinder to myself. I worked hard in tough conditions that were out of my control. I don’t know if I gave it everything I possibly had, but I know I was pretty close to 100%. That’s totally something worth celebrating.
Distance: 12.3km – Official Time: 01:15:19.7 – Average pace: 6:07/km