You’re not going to win. You’re not going to loose. All that’s at stake is a little bit of ego, and you’ve trained hard. What the hell is there to be nervous about? Go have some fun. You earned it.
This is what I told myself in the days leading up to Sunday’s Around the Bay Race. I was confident and I knew I was fit enough. But as usual before key events, my stomach was in tighter knots than my legs in peak training weeks.
Around the Bay is North America’s oldest road race, and the 2014 iteration marks it’s 120th anniversary. It was also my first goal race of 2014, my first race over 21.1km, and my third race ever.
My goal was aggressive: 2:20:xx. I ran my first Half Marathon in November in 1:38:56, an average pace of 4:41/km. They say to dial back your pace when going up in distance. But fuck that. Sometime in December I decided to transition to 30k and then Marathon distances while keeping my 4:40/km pace. Because fuck it, I’m 28 and fit and have been running for just a little over 18 months. Why the hell not.
So ya, 2:20:xx. That would put me somewhere in the top 7-9% of finishers, but still a solid 5min shy of a nice silver finishers medal (<2:15, Gold for <2:00, bronze for everyone else).
I had some stomach issues the Saturday before- not hungry, cramping, feeling of fullness. But I stuffed my face anyway and drank plenty of water. Sunday morning I had the same breakfast I’ve had everyday for nearly 6 months- Kashi, milk, banana, coffee- and threw in an apple and some almonds for good measure. But still I couldn’t shake the cramps.
I was worried that I had over done the training, but this turned out to be a false flag. The first week of the taper I felt terrible: slow, heavy, sore legs, and tired, always tired. I was certain I was overtrained, and that my peak week-100km with B2B long runs-had ruined me. But the legs loosened up with some tempo intervals and strides, and by Friday afternoon I was feeling pretty good. Check out the plan I built here. There was some revising along the way-I made a few of the speed workouts harder for some reason-but mostly this is what I did.
There was much tweeting about the weather and what to wear in the days leading up to the race. The forecast originally called for 2-4C and sunny with a little wind, then changed to -2-2C, sunny, and quite windy. I was committed to shorts no matter what. Up top I went with a Patagonia Capilene 2 half-zip base layer, lululemon running t-shirt, a brand spanking new New Balance singlet, and the greatest shorts of all time: Patagonia ProStrider 5″. And gloves. And of course, my Ray-Bans. I brought along jacket and toque just in case, but didn’t end up needing them. I ran in some 1.5-week-old Wave Hitogami’s, and they were great. Love those shoes.
It turned out to be a perfect day for running- probably about 4-6C, sunny, with not enough sustained wind to really be bothered by. My nose got a little pink. I could have done with only 1 of my 2 top layers, and I took the gloves off at about 20km.
But not all my gear worked: my Garmin 220, my swanky, reliable, new GPS watch, failed on me. It was money all winter, but couldn’t get a GPS lock on a shakeout run on Saturday. It seemed like it would work on Sunday, but crapped out. More on that later.
My plan here was to go out conservative: 4:45 to 4:40 splits and settle in. I took off way to quick in my HM in November and paid for it down the stretch and I wanted to be smarter this time around. I lined up in B corral between the 2:15 and 2:20 pace bunnies- probably should have been farther back, but whatever.
When the gun went I took off. I caught the 2:15 bunny and blew by him. My watch read 5:10/km-ish, so I figured whatever. Around 1km it was reading 5:15/km and I was passing people. I figured, shit, I better pick this up. I started seeing red coloured race bibs; A Corral bibs. I was making gains on the top runners in the field. 5:00 pace, apparently.
Around 4km I asked a guy what pace he had: “’bout 4:10.”
Fuuuuuck. Not only was my watch- and only guarantee of steady pacing- toasted, but I was about to run a sub-21 5k. Not the way I wanted to start.
I slowed it down a bit, reset the watch, watched some people go by and pulled it together. Around 8km I asked another guy: “Hey man, what pace you got?” “4:25ish.” Shit. I couldn’t run slow enough and the watch wasn’t going to cooperate. Around here I got passed by some guys I know on twitter- guys who were aiming for 2:12:xx (check out A whole lot of soles). I dialled it back some more and started manually clicking my splits. This helped a lot, mentally anyway. It was nice to gain some token of control.
I was 45:28 at the 10k marker, nearly a full minute ahead of the 46:40 I wanted. This stretch was probably the toughest for me. I was running blind and getting passed, and those km are kind of in a no-man’s land between ‘feeling fresh’ and ‘nearly done.’ I felt vulnerable, and kind of lost. I downed a gel at 10km and gagged hard but forced it down. I had no problems in training with the GU flavours I brought along, but my stomach was not ok with things on race day. Even getting water down was tough. I knew the GI issues weren’t enough to slow me down unless they affected my water and gel plan so I just powered on.
I was 1:08:43 at 15km, I wanted 1:10:00. I was ok-calm, comfortable and strong-but worried. I realized this was going to be tough, and that I would need to win the mental game to make up for the fast start. I knew I was ahead of the 2:20 pace bunny at least, and the guarantee that I nearly a minute and a half in the bank already meant I could pull back if things went south and still be ok.
I’m really impressed by my ability to clock off steady 4:30-4:40 splits without a watch. I was going on feel alone and pretty much on auto pilot. Tempo runs, baby. This might be the most valuable lesson of the race: that I can run by feel, if a little fast.
At 20km I was 1:32:12. I wanted 1:33:20. Still had a minute in the bank. Two things happened as I finished up the section on Beach Blvd. and turned on to North Shore Blvd. in Burlington. First, the 2:20 pace bunny caught me. I panicked a bit, since I thought I was ahead of schedule, but then overheard him saying he was about a minute fast. Phew. Second, the turn to North Shore around 18km means that the hills are coming. I think most racers find this worrying, and probably the toughest part of the course. But had run out and backs on this stretch of road all winter. This was my road, and these were my hills, and I had a plan: take the hills even effort, and open up on the downslopes to gain the time back and flush the legs.
This was a great plan. I felt strong and didn’t redline up any of the small rollers or the first big set of hills at LaSalle Park- where my Mom was waiting with her camera. Fuck ya, Mom. I was starting to hurt, but was ok. By this point the 2:20 bunny was gone. He was charging up the hills, running even pace up and down. The first few rollers he would put about 10m on me, then I would gain it back on the downside, but the gap kept getting bigger. I was clicking splits around 4:38 (I think) so I let the bunny go. At the top of LaSalle hill I tried to take a GU and only got about half of it down. I brought 3, planning to take one at 45min and one at 1:30. This meant I had an extra to take around the 22-25km mark if I wanted it. And I would.
LaSalle hill is a tricky one- it’s a long, slow rise followed almost immediately by a downhill. This is nice. However, the downhill is maybe 200m long and followed immediately by a another hill roughly 400m long. This is not nice. I cruised through these without really getting into trouble, but I was getting close. Just past the second hill I started jockeying with a few guys who I would end up running with until the end, one of whom was about 6-3 and wearing a white top. I ran into ‘big white’ after the race and he commented that I was running well and ended up pacing him for about 5km before we started going back and forth. I told him he should have helped me out and took the lead for a few km, since he was clearly not getting any drafting advantage behind my 5-7, 135 frame. We chuckled, congratulated each other, and went our ways.
At about 23km- nearing the end of North Shore Blvd, about to turn on to Plains rd.- some cyclists decided to join the race. Fuck those two guys. Im going to rant for a minute. There’s a couple of sharp 90 degree turns in the course here, so runners take the tangent. Now, I saw many cyclists out for a ride along the course-you know, the guys in full bike suits and shit. Fine, we’ve got one lane blocked off, you stay in the other. Cool. But for some unbelievable reason two cyclists- in hindsight definitely NOT associated with the race- decided they needed to take the tangent at the exact same time me and Big White were. These guys weren’t biking fast, they were just assholes. They actually cut me off. I was partially stunned, and outraged. Partly because wasn’t sure at the time if they were associated with the race, and partly because couldn’t believe they were doing this, I just barely muttered “Oh Fuck off!” Dude heard me, no doubt, but I wish I gave him a push. The road is marked off, there’s about 9500 of us out there. And you guys came from behind me, which means you clearly say the long line of runners. And on your leisurely Sunday ride you NEEDED to take that tangent. Fuck you, dude.
I coasted along Plains rd. and opened it up down a long hill into the vally. Somewhere along here I took my 3rd GU and got it all down with minimal gagging. Ya! Victories! Near the bottom of the valley there was an awesome guy hanging out blasting We Will Rock You on repeat. Apparently he’s there every year. I high fived the shit out of him. I credit him with the energy I needed to get up the big ass hill. Best supporter along the entire race course: the timing, the song, his attitude, everything. Thanks man.
My splits were still looking ok so I ran steady effort up the hill, grunting and yelling and hooting because God Dammit that was my fucking hill. I passed a bunch of people doubled over and walking. I got close to redlining in the last 100m but kept it steady. Big White said at the top “that was tough.” “Ya,” was all I managed.
I did a lot of hill work, and focused on active recovery during long runs. It wasn’t fun. I had a few long runs that involved sprinting up hills and then pushing forward (instead of catching your breath/recovering as in intervals) to build endurance and get the body to recover at pace. Doing this in the middle of 28-30km runs fucking sucked. But it paid off and I recovered very quickly from these hills, even after my fast start.
We passed the Grim Reaper, and this is where things really got tough. I had energy but yy legs were toast. The last 3km were all about guts. I tried to pick it up at 27 but probably ran steady, got passed a few times but I knew I’d get them back. My calves started to cramp up along this stretch, not bad enough to stop me, but bad enough that I knew this was about it. I kicked it at 28km and really pushed- clicking off 4:34 and 4:20 splits on the home stretch. I reeled in a few people and closed about 200m on a largish group of runners. By the 29km marker I was redlining and knew it it was down to how much guts I had left.
They had a clock posted where you turn into Copps Coliseum (First Ontario Place?), and this is where the finish line is. When I saw those big red digits flashing 2:20:09 I knew I had made it. Man, what a great feeling. I ended up crossing the line at 2:20:21 on the gun and 2:19:51 chip. Nailed it.
Post-Race & Thoughts
It took to a while to recover, and I got to hang out with my Dad, Step-Mom and her Sister (Step-Aunt?) while chilling out. I was pumped up, once my stomach settled, anyway. I’m finally just coming down from the accomplishment now- Wednesday evening. I grabbed lunch from NaRoma Pizza Bar with my Mom and her boyfriend before heading home to sleep and eat and rest on Sunday. Awesome times all around.
This was tough. It was a long training period-16 weeks-and a long, cold winter. My plan was on the money and had me fit enough that even when I had to cut a run a few times to let the legs rest I didn’t miss a beat.
Big thanks and shout out to everyone who helped along the way and to my friends who dealt with me all winter when this was the only thing I wanted to talk about- looking at you Mike, Kait, Jen, and Amy.
I’m committed to a couple trail runs: the MEC ONE 12.5km in Dundas in a couple weeks and the Sulphur Springs Trail Run 25km at the end of May. Really pumped for the Sulphur Springs run. They do 10k, 25k, 50k, 50mi, and 100mi distances that weekend. Badass.
I’m thinking about signing up for the Goodlife Toronto Half-Marathon in early May to see if I can’t shave a few minutes of my time from last fall. I think I could run 1:35:xx, which is a pretty big jump from my previous 1:38:56. Full marathon in the fall for sure: 4:40/km=3:17ish. Alright.