Sunday, September 22, 2013

What I did this summer

Taking stock of a season, I tallied the numbers that piled up. The tracking software tells me I ran 729.3 miles (or 1,173 kilometres). So much ground was covered, that I was in motion for 97 hours and 46 minutes over the course of three months. I watched the longest day arrive, and lamented in the waning weeks when I'd fight to fit longer runs in the after-work hours against the fading sun.

On this, the last day of summer, the chill had hit, forcing me to abandon my singlet for a T-shirt and I was still cold half way into the run. Some two hours into my 32 kilometre run -- the last big run of this training program -- I spotted dozens of other runners going long, and we traded waves and nods. Race season is on, and you can see it on everyone's faces. They're friendly yet hardened, relaxed but with purpose. We're on the job.

The first days of fall and the pre-taper weeks has us all rushing out there to complete the training. After 14-16 weeks of buildup, what started off as a 12 miler Sunday has gradually built up to 20 miles, and not to put a damper on our shared passion, but hell, this is hard.

Work, marathoners, know, comes in the form of long hours on the roads, nagging injuries we're keeping at bay, patience we're trying to manage and the all important goals we make and the frank test: Are we where we thought we'd be.

My training for Chicago began the second I crossed the finish line in Ottawa in May. I had set ambitious goals, to regain the form I had in the past. For my 25th marathon -- back at the race that was my first -- I wanted to see what purposeful preparation and a more holistic view of training could bring me.

I started eating like an athlete again. (And with the running, I dropped back down to an ideal race weight -- 16 pounds dropped. I know, that's burying the story but I think the weight adjusted to my training and food choices, not by crash dieting.)

Kale smoothie -- Pretty much my breakfast every day.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Race report: MEC Toronto Race Six Half Marathon

I really don't race half marathons. Since my main focus is the marathon, half marathon races -- if done at all -- have been treated as catered pace runs. I've run 11 21.1Ks, compared with 24 fulls and out of the last six half marathons, twice I was a 1:45 pace bunny, three times I used them as marathon pace runs.

(MEC Toronto race six results 2013 5K/10K/21.1K)

I was just looking at my race stats and my personal best (a 1:31:33) was done in 2007, well before my peak running years of 2008-09. I think there's tonne of value in entering a half, though -- I get to run in a race setting, I can practice taking in water and -- in the case of training -- it's much easier to do a pace run in a race setting versus doing it on your own long training run.

The MEC Race series is relatively new to Toronto, I believe it's only in its second year. I only heard about it by chance -- and that's saying something, since I consider myself pretty plugged into the running scene. I'm a member of MEC and have seen the signs in store, but never took the equipment store as a running organizer.

I heard about this race, which was held at the Leslie Spit, offering the 5K, 10K and 21.1K. (They have an upcoming 5/10/15 race in late October.) There were other races, including the Longboat 10K/5K, which attracted about 1,500 people, and the Yorkville 5K. But since I was scheduled for a 18 mile run with 14 miles at pace, I signed up for a mere $15. No medal, no T-Shirt (though we did get a neat little bag), no frills. Perfect price.

My plan was to use it as a pacer, and to make sure I wasn't too exuberant,  I ran the 9K to the start line at around a 5:10 km pace. It was a pretty small race, about 230 people for all three distances, 77 for the half. Bumped into Marlene and Mark and met Stan and another runner who reads this blog after the race (I want so say your name is Clay but I'm in a daze after the race!).

The knee was okay -- still not 100% as I'm hoping the taper rest will bring it closer to normal. Pace, by the way, is technically a 1:40.

Here's what the start corral looked like:

Yes, that small.

Pretty awesome eh?

Okay, so I do the Leslie Spit a tonne to get my long miles in, so I know the route very well. The path we took, the long way hugging the shore, is my preferred route, though I knew that this year, there's about a 800 metre section that's on gravel. We spaced out nicely and I just focused on the pace, seeing where I was pacewise, what felt comfortable. Getting a quick setting for who was running around me. I was soon trailing a runner with one behind me and a cluster of six runners probably 60 metres ahead of me.  Nothing much to note except my fuel belt -- which included my iPhone tucked into the side pocket -- was giving me major difficulties, shifted a lot to the side. I fiddled with it for half the race. Need to figure out how to get it comfortable

The gravel part also featured pools of water, so we kind of had to find our own zigzaggy path. As I'm tailing four other runners, it was pretty amusing as everyone was taking a slightly different route.

Splits: 4:33, 4:41, 4:35, 4:38, 4:36

We hit the base of the lighthouse, back to the start. It's here I realized we were running with a tailwind on the way out, because I could really feel the wind -- really was pushing us back.

Back along the same path in reverse, past the puddles, and we saw the 10K and 5Ks. I was at this point getting closer to the 4:30 pace, feeling good and strong.

Splits: 4:38, 4:23, 4:35, 4:35, 4:28

We hit the start line, on the way back out. At this point, I had run 19K including my warmup. Smartly, I had taken three gels with me and I had taken two (one before the race, one at 8K). Now knowing that there was a tailwind, I figured it was good time to plan out the rest of the race.

I once learned a good way to race the half marathon. A 10 mile run (16K) with a 5K race at the end. My plan was to attack the last 11K, and if my fitness was holding, then 'race' that last 5K. I started by using the tailwind in my favour. I had no runners really in sight so I was running solo, but was gaining on other runners.

The decision to attack meant I was throwing away the marathon pace run, but that was already out the door since I was no where near the 4:40/4:45 pace.

There was a slight issue. Ragweed, to which I'm really sensitive to. I took an Aerius before the race, but as the race was going on, a small amount of mucus was building up. Gross, yes, but worse off is it blocks your airwaves. I was able to clear my lungs, ahem, by the usual methods. Luckily I don't think it really hit me that hard.

Splits: 4:32, 4:28, 4:29, 4:28, 4:28

By the time I hit the lighthouse, I had passed another three runners, including a runner and her friend/coach who was really trying to push her to keep on pace. I'm going to assume she was aiming at 1:35. Remind me never to get a coach to run with me and shout at me when I'm having a bad day. No positive talk ain't going to make me better if I'm flagging by the 15K mark.

At the lighthouse turnaround, I had two runners ahead of me within sight. I knew we had the headwind, but I also realized that this was the time to do the race. So I just focused on the running and pretended I was doing close to tempo work, albeit a little tired doing so.

Passed a few more runners and by the 19K mark, I came alongside a runner, wanting to urge him on. I felt great, even within the end, and since I knew the course so well, I could sense the finish. Pushed the second last kilometre to 4:20, then really pushed the last (4:13).

About halfway into the race, I knew I was set for around a 1:37 half. By the final 5K, I knew I was lowering the pace enough to get into the 1:35 range, so I was happy to get it in at 1:35:20.

Splits: 4:27, 4:25, 4:26, 4:29, 4:20, 4:13

Have to work at the finish line photo.

Although I didn't use the race as an all-out effort, I did push the pace faster than I had planned -- in essence, I did a progressively faster MP run, ending at tempo. So that's another quality run in the bank. I ended the race with a 5.5K cool down run for 22 miles or 35.5K overall on the day.

My knee issues aside, I'm feeling great about this season. It's too bad I've missed all the trackwork so far, but I'm not going to risk injury with 5K race pace, so I'm putting priority on pace work, endurance and keeping my leg healthy.

Two weeks until the taper!