Sunday, August 18, 2013

Race report: A Midsummer Night's Run 30K 2013

When construction moved my favourite summer race to the Toronto Islands, I knew it'd be a challenge for the organizers. The ferries, the looping course and the island weekend crowd would make the gong show factor very likely. I totally get how it would have been hard to get 2700 runners onto the island to get going for three races.

Midsummer Night's Run race results 2013 here

So when a whole bunch of us procrastinators made it to the ferry terminal 1.5 hours before the 30K start, I think some of us started to worry. I made it across fine with minutes to spare but quite a few runners didn't -- a buddy of mine started 15 minutes after the starting gun, passing the majority of the field on the way to a stellar finish.

Leave it to us to all line up at the ferry dock at 4:20 p.m. for a 5:30 p.m. race start. 

Anyways, I could talk about the negatives, but I'll say this -- Midsummer's is still my favourite long distance race in summer, where you combine a mid-marathon training cycle pace run, a challenging course and a chance to reconnect with old friends over beer.

A few notes on the race organization:

  • Many of us should have went over to the Island earlier. If they hold it there again, I'd probably buy another 30 minutes. I'm sure others would have gone an hour earlier
  • The start line was hard to find. And pacers were grouped way too close together for my liking (for a field of less than 700 we had the 2:40 and 3:00 pacers 10 feet apart.)
  • Lighting post race was a challenge -- that's why the baseball field at the old site was such a good venue
  • Bag check -- wow, a big line to check yours in and some had to wait a bit for the second truck post-race
  • Marshalls were fairly good, but unclear about where the 30Kers needed to go after doing three loops of the boardwalk. I'm glad I did my research. 
  • Epic lineup after the race for the ferry -- not their fault, just is what it is.

I entered into this race season the best fitness in four years. Quite appropriately, my last sub 2:20 30K was run at Midsummer's, a 2:16:17 pace run on my way to my best marathon that fall. Since then, my seven 30K races (Around the Bay and Midsummer's) ranged from 2:20:27 to 2:29:57. In March, I did Around the Bay in 2:24:28 in a time I was really happy with, given the fitness I had at the time.

(Past Midsummer's Race reports: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008)

My goal was 2:20 or 4:40 kilometres/7:30 miles. I knew it was a distinct possibility since in my last two 20 milers in the past month I'd hit 2:24 and 2:22 30Ks on a self-paced long run.

Even with my knee issues -- that I had isolated as an IT band issue and stretched and treated -- I thought it'd be wise to start at 2:20, then "see how it went."


First 10K: 4:34, 4:34, 4:41, 4:45, 4:44, 4:38, 4:36, 4:40, 4:38, 4:45 (46:49)
Despite the crowded course, we were able to get into our pace quite quickly and I took my time to catch up to the 2:20 pacer. The first kilometre featured an interesting hairpin turn and I realized at that time that a lot of the kilometre signs were coming in 250 metres early. With that, I just trusted my Garmin to give me feedback.

My knee wasn't feeling all that bad -- all the stretching, icing and a few Tylenols I took earlier in the day meant I was running as close to normal stride as I could. When you're running full marathon pace, you really can't be altering your form too much -- if you do, you'll break down over a long race.

I brought three gels, two waterbottles and a quarter bottle of Gatorade with me. There were enough water stops and I made sure to hydrate properly, it not to just get more practice grabbing and drinking (you can never practice enough and I consider myself fairly good at it). The path was fairly tight and a fair bit of weaving had to happen.

At some point, I was alongside the 2:20 when he and another runner started to talk about training mileage, all I can remember was this:

Pacer: I usually peak at 130K
Runner: Wow, that's a lot, I'm up to about 80K

I look down at my Garmin and it's showing 4:50 pace, 10 seconds off -- so letting them continue their conversation, I sped back up to 4:40 pace, leaving the group behind. So the rest of the race, I'm basically running alone, tailing, running alongside others, and just relying on my own feedback.

Second 10K: 4:35, 4:29, 4:31, 4:37, 4:33, 4:34, 4:30, 4:33, 4:36, 4:28 (45:46)
Yeah, the boardwalk. Everyone wants to talk about it -- and we had to deal with it three times. It was bouncy, uneven, and hard to really build some pace with it. That said, I was able to fight through it and really just focus on leg turnover while trying to listen to my breathing to put in the appropriate effort.

On our second loop of the course, we overtook the back of the 15K runners, which meant a lot of weaving. I spent much of the second loop saying "on your left" to make enough room for me to squeeze by the runners. It was some work to maintain pace while you are overtaking the runners, and I tried never to go overboard. To everyone's credit, runners were great about moving in when I called out.

Somewhere I think on this loop, the 2:20 pacer comes tearing past me -- going at a very fast clip, being tailed by two runners. They were working really hard and I let them go. I caught up with one of the runners who couldn't keep up and noted that the pacer was working hard. Much later, when I finally caught up to the pacer, I joked whether he was teaching people how to surge in a race. He noted he was 1:30 ahead of pace, which is quite a lot, given he was behind pace in the first 10K.

I took my second gel at 17K and was feeling good. Once I hit the 20K mark, I started to count down the miles, thinking about how much energy I had left.

Third 10K: 4:35, 4:29, 4:33, 4:32, 4:31, 4:35, 4:29, 4:28, 4:24, 4:28 (45:00)
The third go at the boardwalk was a little crowded. Now I was converging on fellow 30Kers on their second loop, so they were tired, I was tired. I had hooked up for about 5K with another runner who was going at 4:30s and together we put down some stellar splits, ranging from 4:29 to 4:33. In retrospect, it was this running together that got me at a faster pace for the final 10K, even on the boardwalk and grass areas.

Again, we were trying to make room to the left of the other 30Kers. Somewhere in the boardwalk, I lost her behind me and I just kept on pressing. I passed Nicole and her 3:00 pace group on the final turn off the third boardwalk loop, and started headed for home, on a windy path. Took my last gel at around 25K.

Part of me was using the last 4-5 miles as a mental state of mind as if I were doing tempo work. What I love about LT runs during marathon training is it puts you way out of your comfort zone, and I find that it's the closest you'll find in everyday running to the pain you'll feel during racing. So I put myself in that mode, and just focused on fast running, even with the rises and falls on the trail, and trying to get room to pass other runners. I was also gaining on other 30Kers.

We hit the fountain, and I asked quickly what to do at that point -- but I knew that I had to be going for the finish, not another loop, so I turned right when the other 30Kers on their second loop went left. I had about a mile to go so I knew it was right. The last mile was kind of hilarious, a bridge you had to climb (and really the only hill) followed by dodging pedestrians and running on grass. It was pretty much the closest I've been to cross country running since elementary school. I was gaining on other 30Kers and hammered my fastest kilometer at 29 (4:24) and followed it up with another sub 4:30 to finish.

Through all of this, I had no clue what my final time would be, but checking my watch at various points and knowing I was ahead of the 2:20, I knew I had a nice cushion for a 2:17 or 2:18 finish.

As it turns out, it was a chip time of 2:17:34, pretty much the midway point between 2:15 and 2:20, or a 4:35 K pace. Finished 33rd overall (by gun time) Also, I put in a negative split, first half in 1:09:43, second in 1:07:52.

Huge breakthrough for me -- fastest 30K in years and in the ballpark of 2009. I think on a flat paved course, I could have bought another minute or so overall. Bottom line, even with my knee injury, I had the fitness this year, and with five more solid weeks of training before taper, I got a little more work to do to lock it in.

Midsummer's has always been the test of a season for me -- and I'm sure for others. For now, I'll just be happy that it signifies the work -- the Pfitzinger training program, the diet, the strength workouts -- is paying off.

My finish, in animated GIF style!

The reward: medal and more than a few beers!


Andrea said...

Nice job (and gif set). I laughed at your "yeah the boardwalk..." Good job maintaining your pace on it. I was worried about face planting to slowed down a bit.

macnic said...

Great race, Kenny! Thanks so much for your support throughout! You did so amazing! The fall is looking so awesome for you!

Robin said...

Fantastic result, congratulations Kenny!