A few seconds before the start of my 30K race, the rain fell, and the runners behind me sort of groaned. Minutes earlier, after greeting some of my running friends, I peered up at the clouds that were carrying a light spritzer, and watched as the puffs glided east, fast. Good news: there would be a tailwind. Bad news: a headwind too.
Last week, coach sent us our Wednesday workout, saying it'd be a lighter one since so many of us were racing the 30k A Midsummers Run. Wednesday, I ran a marathon, instead of long slow miles, I ran at a non-threatening but taxing 4:49k pace. It was the equivalent of a 3:23 effort but with stops built in, but still, a 4:49.
Texting with my training partner Mike earlier Saturday, we discussed possibilities. Would I use it as a marathon pace run, maybe start slightly slower then ramp up to my marathon pace of 4:26s (for a 3:07ish marathon), then hold and attack the last 5k. Then Mike told me his instructions: start at 4:20s then go faster.
Then it made perfect sense. I thought about all of the paces we having been nailing in the last two training seasons. We started in January with intervals at 4:20, quickly lowering them to 4:10s then 4:05s. By the last few months, we've been doing 1-3k intervals at 3:45s to 3:50s. Our tempos were being done at 4:15 and faster. My half in early March was run in 4:14s and I ran the 30k Around the Bay later that month in 4:25s. So according to coach, it was go time.
A year ago, I would have run this at marathon pace, even slower. A year ago, I would be scared to test my limits. This year, I've been learning that to test your limits, you have to push them.
4:20? It took me a split second to tell Mike "lets do it!"
We lined up near the front and started with no fanfare, perfect. The field quickly spread and we were just ahead of a loud talking pacer, the 2:15. Mike and I regulated the pace but for some reason, he was on our tails, telling his runners he would be doing even splits. We hit the first kilometer in 4:21. Perfect. He hit it in 4:23 and I put up my hand, with three fingers closed, and shouted "seven seconds!" It was the last time I would hear the pace group as we kept our gears going and he peeled back.
I'm well known to be a metronome during races, but hitting dead on pace right away was a special feeling. We had a mini out and back as we headed to Cherry street, where we got to feel the tailwind (it was strong) and headwind (also). I love the route for this Midsummers, as it's run on routes I normally tackle on solo long runs. I know the route well and that's always an advantage when racing. Our next few kilometers were a little varying, slowing to 4:26, then as a result speeding up to 4:15s. The cadence felt okay. My breathing was good, telling me I had some cardio room, and it felt on the easy edge of comfortably hard, that special feeling when you're long distance pace running
Splits: 4:21, 4:21, 4:26, 4:16, 4:15
We got into Unwin and headed toward Leslie Spit where we would do a loop. For me, this would be the first huge test of the day. How would running into a strong headwind hit me. Were my legs not ready for a long effort after Wednesday. Could my cardio handle it. Mike and I were running alongside, barely talking as we usually do, occasionally calling each of our kilometer splits. The push into the wind was tough, and I reminded myself of the effort it took during my spring marathon, where I ran a good portion into strong winds to a BQ. We were joined by a third runner who was right behind us, which in retrospect helped us push the pace. We took a gel, then the other runner took the lead, maybe because he wanted to share the load.
This is the part that is scary, but good scary. We were nailing 4:20s. Split after split, even with hills, wind, winding roads, we were hitting 4:20s, 4:19s, 4:21s. The three of us joined another pack of around 6 runners, merging, losing some in the process. The effort was increasing and you could hear it in our breaths but the turnaround was coming. We spotted three team mates on their way back from the lighthouse roundabout, and it boosted our spirits. We rounded the tip of the spit and back onto the course. The game was on
Splits: 4:20, 4:20, 4:19, 4:21, 4:18, 4:19, 4:14
With the wind at our back, and now seeing runners on the way back, our pace started to increase. A few times, we chatted about easing a tad, or as I put it, "let's save some gas for the end." Saw lots of runner friends, including the 15k folk who were now on the course. The fast rolling clouds had now swept through, and the winds were lessening. As we exited the park, I felt good. Crazy good.
Splits: 4:16, 4:21, 4:17, 4:18
The next part of part of the race visits Ashbridges Bay though Leslie St and Lakeshore, stretches of road and I felt at this point like it was go time. It was just past the half and I was starting the whole assessment thing again. How were my legs, cadence, soreness, cardio? It all felt smooth, that rare feeling when you're running at a fast pace and actually felt that you could either go on for awhile or put on an extra gear. Mike and I were trying not to go out too fast, though. We entered into the Bay and with it the series of winding road, wood chipped trail and boardwalk. Saw a few of our up teammates again on the out and back portions. It really looked like everyone was having a great day. We hit the half marathon mark in 1:30:07, a real solid pace. The 20k mark was already a huge marker for me, and by then, other than a slightly complaining tummy that I could keep at bay, I felt I could handle the rest of the race.
Splits: 4:18, 4:14, 4:20, 4:18, 4:20, 4:15, 4:17
I compared how I felt at this point, more than 24k in, to how I felt in the first few kilometers of a tempo run, where I'm doing them in 4:10 to 4:15. I could do the rest of the race at tempo, was the overwhelming thought. We did a 4:25 on the stretch on Lakeshore and I quickly tried to adjust the next split back on pace. Mike by then was on my shoulder instead of beside me, so I tried to speed up to give him a chance to surge back with me, but he ended up still behind. At some point , I decided to just continue at the pace and heed coach's advice to close the race fast.
There were only a few 30k runners ahead of me by then but we also merged with the 15k runners by this point. So what was 4:20s became 4:15. I ran on the other side of the pylons as I swept through the course, picking up a few 30k runners who gave chase but ultimately did this alone. It was a really good feeling for three kilometers, as if I was refinding my stride. I thought of the marathon and how I felt at 37k and said to myself that 26k in is nothing. Don't get me wrong, it was an effort, I was running hard, but I had room. Plenty as it turns out.
Splits: 4:25, 4:21, 4:15, 4:14, 4:13
Get me to the mile mark, I told myself, playing mental games. I could close it within a mile. By 2k, the finish felt 2 miles away but I continued to hammer. I ignored the 15k runners as I ran up Cherry and across Commissioners. I knew I couldn't reliably pace myself with them so I just focused on my own form. It occured to me during this spell that I had no clue what a 4:20 pace would end up. I had no time to do the research but I had a feeling that it was a 2:10. Months ago, I looked at a sub 2:10 30k as a near impossibility. Today, I looked at the total time with two kilometers to go. The number looked sweet.
Closed the 29th kilometer at 4:03. I had enough gas to continue at that pace. So I just threw away pace plans. Now was the time to buy myself some seconds. Saw friends, teammates as I rounded the last corner. So pumped. I had just run a marathon three days earlier and now I was on my way to a PB, most likely a sub 2:10. Passed the finish line with my fastest kilometer of 4:01, and saw the time. 2:08:49.
Wow. No words. The feeling was more, okay done, mission accomplished. Amazing night. I have no regrets running a marathon on Wednesday. I have no thoughts really about what would had happened if I had actually done a mini taper. The result is stunning but logical. It says that the training, the miles, the streak, the intensity and the experience - my 13th 30k race - would bring me a performance that I had always dreamed of. This was my first race as a masters. I'm feeling I'm only starting to see what I'm capable of. And that's pretty freaking cool.