Race Report: Toronto Women’s Half Marathon 2016

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.

IMG_2077

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.

IMG_2080

 

I wrote out my race plan to stay focused.

race plan

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.

IMG_2273

Mandy sent me a text and proved the race organizers wrong – it would be a day for a PB!

IMG_2272

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

Advertisements

How I Accidentally Ran My Happiest Race

 

The longest I had run since my last marathon in October was 18km. So I knew, on Saturday, that the 25km I had signed up for was probably not going to happen. If it was sunny, I might not have switched to the 15km option (in other words, I might have been not-so-wise). However, a chilly wet day sealed the deal in favour of the smarter choice.

The race was the Seaton Soaker. It’s a trail race that has a slightly surreal overtone, for me, as it starts and finishes at my old high school. To say I wasn’t a runner back then would be an understatement: I loathed running. And yet, for the third year in a row now, I’ve come here to run around in the trails behind the school. A lot can change in 10+ years!

In any case, to set the stage, here is a rundown of race morning: Kevin and I woke at 6am with the intention of being on the road by 6:45. Kevin, who had been training more purposefully for the 25km, had an 8am start for his race, and we would have to do kit pickup before that. As readers will quickly learn, I am not particularly a morning person, and it will come as no surprise to those who know me that we were a little late in getting out (particularly as I forgot both my coffee and my water bottle and had to run back to the apartment twice to retrieve them). On the drive there, Kevin realized he had forgotten his GPS watch…oops!

When I made the decision to switch to the 15km distance, I briefly thought about trying to beat my previous time on the 15km course from 2014, but I realized that it was unlikely to happen that day. Not only was there was the rain and mud, I was also battling a pretty raging head cold. So, giving up on any particular time goal, I offered Kevin my GPS watch.

When we arrived, I was pleased to discover that switching distances was straightforward. We picked up our kits and Kevin hurried out to make his start. The 15km didn’t start until 8:30, so I had some time to hit the bathroom and have a wardrobe crisis. What do you wear when it’s 8C and raining and you’ll be running for around two hours? I was in shorts and a tee, but looking around at all the other runners in their tights and shells and long sleeves had me second-guessing. I did what I always do in these situations, and texted my dear friend Mandy, who was also signed up for the 15km. After texting not only about what to wear, but also informing her of how many poops I had taken that morning (hey! it’s important!), I made my way to the starting line.

I decided I would try to track the race with RunKeeper on my phone, as I’m not sure I’ve ever run a race that I didn’t track with GPS. But when I opened the app, it informed me that I was actually down by the waterfront… in Whitby… Well, there went that idea. I would truly be running this one tech-free.

A couple of minutes before the start, I saw Mandy, and ran over to give her a hug. Seaton is a special race for Mandy as well — it was her first ultramarathon! Now, not only is Mandy a badass ultra runner, but she recently did another pretty incredible thing and grew a little human inside of her, who she brought into the world six months ago. Since then she’s been getting out with the jogging stroller, and her goal was to run about half of the race and hike the rest when she needed to.

seaton1

Mandy and I are frequent run partners. We even did 30km of my first marathon together! She’s been a constant presence as I’ve progressed in my running, but this was the first race that we had started together in a fair while. So when the race began, we just naturally fell into step, chatting as the pack set out.

The initial 2-3km of the course goes down a field, out by the side of a road, and then onto a narrow section of single track made narrower by the presence of a beaver dam this year.  The going was fairly slow to start because of the lack of passing room and the muddy footing.  That was fine by both of us, since I’d thrown my time goals out and Mandy just wanted to run as much as she was able. Pace wasn’t an issue. Still, when we got to one of the first hills, the track widened and we began passing people as we hiked up.

From then on it was mostly just the two of us, occasionally being passed, or encountering lead runners coming back in the other direction, but mostly remarkably quiet considering the number of participants out in the trails. We stopped for water at the aid stations and we walked/hiked up the larger hills. But mostly we just ran.

We ran and we talked and we marvelled at how much easier it all felt when we were running side by side. In no time we were at the halfway mark. I felt good. I checked in with  Mandy – she felt good, too. We decided to keep going on together, as long as we felt good!

On the way back, we turned a corner, and Mandy said, “I see flashes!” Considering the rain that had been off and on throughout the race, my immediate thought was, “lightning?” “No,” she said. “A photographer!” We have photos from the marathon that we ran together, looking like total goofballs. They’re some of both of our favourite race photos, because we just look like we’re having the best time, and we were. So we struck a couple of poses as we ran by!

And then, just like that, it was time for the river crossing. The water was lower than I expected, and although it was cold, it was fun! After the crossing, the finish is only about 2km away. We realized we were going to run the whole thing together, and I got a huge burst of tingly endorphins. I was bursting with happiness and pride for Mandy; she hadn’t expected to run the whole thing, yet here she was, doing just that, like a boss. And here I was, happy and thankful that this is a thing that I get to do, that this is a thing that my body can do, even if I’d filled an entire pocket pack of Kleenex with my snot (sorry if that sounds gross, but imagine how much grosser it felt!).

The 2km to the finish breezed by, although we were both getting a bit tired (I turned my foot on a root, and Mandy took a little tumble, but we’re both OK!). We crested the last hill before the field where the finish line stood. Together, we crossed the finish line smiling. Despite having run many races together, this was the first time that we crossed at the same time. Our amazing friend Emily was there to capture some truly fantastic photos of us (thanks, Emily!).

finish3

Kevin also had a remarkable race – he finished the 25km course in a blistering 2:08, shaving 20 minutes off his time from last year and placing 9th in his age group (if he’d run with that time last year, he’d have placed 2nd!). I guess he really did need that watch more than me! Hah!

finish1

And that’s it! Afterwards, Mandy told me that we ran a negative split – she had checked the time at the halfway point. I think that might have been another first for both of us!

I’m grateful to have friends like Mandy to run with. I’m proud of her for exceeding her expectations. She has never stopped being an inspiration to me, not even for a second. I’m also grateful to be able to go out and run for a couple hours on trails. And I’m surprised to find myself grateful to have run without my watch or RunKeeper, but completely letting go of the compulsion to track allowed me to revel in the pure joy of it all.