Last Sunday (Oct 19), I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon (STWM).
Yep, as if waking up at 5-something AM three weeks ago wasn’t fun enough, Mike and I did it all over again for the STWM – our official goal race for the Fall. I was kind of nervous.
This was a major comeback race for both Mike and me (read Mike’s recap here. He had an amazing race). In 2011, I ran the Full marathon course and crashed and burned so hard that I haven’t had the balls to train for another marathon since. As for Mike, while he ran a personal best that day, it came at a major cost to his mental and physical state that day. At the time, he said he wasn’t sure he’d ever run another half-marathon again. So we were pumped (yes and nervous) to come back three years later to tackle the course. Thanks to our amazing coach and training group, we felt healthy and ready. As one of my teammates Chuck would say, “it’s on like Donkey Kong!”.
Apparently this is the year of scoring pacing help for races, too. Before 2014, I had never really been paced during a race. I didn’t even realize that was a thing! But, Mike sort of forced himself on me earlier this year when he was tired of watching me finish races feeling defeated and disappointed that I didn’t try harder. If there was one thing he constantly told me I needed to work on this year, it was to build some confidence as a runner. He’s kind of awesome. <3 And then, a couple of weeks ago, my friend Eric casually offered to pace me because, apparently, I needed to “learn how to race”.
Well, okay, then. I know that opportunities like this don’t come up often, so I happily agreed. If you are reading this, Eric, thank you SO MUCH for pacing me on Sunday! I had a great race experience, and I learned so much. But more on that later.
The loose plan was to take the first uphill slow, “attack” the downhill, brace myself for a headwind on the way out west until the turnaround point, and then pick things up again with a potential tailwind to bank some time before the final uphill.
KM Splits: (1) 5:18 (2) 5:16 (3) 5:00 (4) 4:58 (5) 5:01
We started off slow. It felt soooo slow. I thought I had learned to not get too caught up in the energy of the crowd in the first few kilometers, but apparently I still need to hold myself back a little more. Eric told me to back off more times than I can count. It was a struggle to hold myself back, but he told me not to let the crowd pull me to run faster. I found this mentally tough, because I was already worrying about hitting my goal time, but I also knew that it was in my best interest to listen to Eric, and so I did. The first 1-2kms are slightly uphill, so it’s good we took it slow anyway. By the time we hit Bloor and it started to flatten out, I was still feeling fresh and comfortable. I guess that was Eric’s plan all along.
KM Splits: (6) 4:53 (7) 4:52 (8) 4:59 (9) 5:07 (10) 5:10
In my head, I thought “attacking” the downhill would feel fast. I was expecting my legs to start spinning and for my breath to start quickening. Instead, Eric repeatedly told me to slow down and hold back. I’m not going to lie – a part of me just wanted to ignore him and tear downhill. I mean, I was running a race! Shouldn’t I be running fast?? But this approach has always come back to haunt me later on in the race so I continued to listen to him. I’m so glad I did. As a side note, race adrenaline is clearly a real thing – although I didn’t check our pace on my watch, it FELT like we were running at a 5:30/km effort. It’s crazy how off my pacing estimates were. I took my one and only gel at the 9.5km mark and had no more than one cup of water. That was pretty much the only water I drank throughout the entire race.
On the way out west along the Lakeshore, my mind started to wander a bit. I checked in with myself a lot, repeatedly told myself to relax my shoulders, and was pleased to see that I was still feeling fresh and full of energy. But I was kind of distracted by how comfortable I felt. I kind of wanted to bottle up that feeling and stay there for the entire race. So far, this was turning out to be the easiest half-marathon I had ever run. Normally I’m already slightly out of breath and worrying about keeping my energy levels up within the first 10km. When we hit the 10km mark, I made the mistake of glancing at the elapsed time on the clock. It said 56 minutes or so and I panicked a little (a lot). I almost said something to Eric, but decided that there was no point – speeding up and trying to make up for lost time was going to be a waste of energy. But, if Eric hadn’t been there, I’m sure I would have given into panic and started pushing the pace. Again.. I’m glad I didn’t. Especially because in reality, I hit the 10km mark at 51:00 (the time was off because I started in the second wave). Ha!
KM Splits:(11) 4:54 (12) 5:00 (13) 4:59 (14) 4:55 (15) 5:02
Even though I eventually realized that my chip time was 5 minutes off from the gun time, I still had no idea where I stood in terms of my overall projected time. Despite getting a little distracted trying to work it out in my head (which was a pointless waste of energy since I can never do any type of math while I’m running), it was a welcome distraction because I always find that the turnaround point for the west side always feels like it’s farther away than it should be on this course. Once we hit the turnaround, I tried to psyche myself up for “letting go”, but Eric continued to hold me back. It wasn’t go time yet. I started to fear the feeling of discomfort since I was still feeling so great. I knew it was coming, though..
KM Splits: (16) 4:54 (17) 4:52 (18) 4:52 (19) 4:55 (20) 5:07 (21.1) 6:04
“Do you think you can pick it up a little?”, Eric casually asked me. My first instinct was to say no, but I thought back to the pep talk that my coach gave us right before the race and how he told us to embrace the pain when it started to get hard. The last thing he said was to do what we could to cross the finish line with no regrets. Historically, I’ve crossed the finish line filled with regret 90% of the time, and I was determined not to let it happen this time. So Eric sped up and I followed. I could feel the fatigue start to creep in, but I did my best to ignore it. I was NOT going to give up now!! I really started to feel it at 18km. That’s around the time when we have to start running up the stupid highway ramp. It’s not really much of an uphill, but it certainly feels that way at the end of the half. Eric tried to trick me by telling me it was the last hill, but I knew better. Mike and I had looked at the course map the night before and I had also run the last (real) uphill the week before as part of my long run. I knew what was coming and I was fully dreading it.
“Now we’re racing”, Eric said to me, as I felt myself fighting the urge to slow down and walk. I really felt like I was lagging at this point. Eric started running a little ahead of me and kept telling me that I had to WANT it, to hit my goal time (1:45:xx). I faltered a little here. I started to talk to myself in my head, negotiate.
“How much do you REALLY want this, Alison? I mean, you’re probably going to get a PB for sure at this point. Why not just call it a day and just cruise in at a more comfortable pace?”
I was tired. I wanted to stop. If Eric wasn’t there, I’m pretty sure I would have. I fought the urge to check my time. I was worried that whatever number I saw would psyche me out. I just focused on getting myself up that last hill so that I could finally stop running and take a damn break.
My official time was 1:46:08.
Maybe next time I’ll look at my watch to see if knowing how close I am to hitting my goal is dependent on a handful of seconds. 1:45:xx, I’ll get you next time!
Overall, I’m really happy with how this race went for a few reasons:
- I crossed the start line healthy. I’ve started the majority of my races filled with anxiety because some part of my body hurts and I’m just praying that it holds together throughout the race. Never once did I feel any sharp pains or mid-race injuries. I felt prepared and ready to run. I trusted in my training.
- The weather was amazing. I know weather is unpredictable and for me, less than ideal weather can throw off my confidence entirely. Yes, I know that there are a lot of different things you can do during training to help prepare you for anything on race day… but for now, my inexperienced self gets thrown off by it. So I was really happy that it was around 4 degrees and stayed that way throughout the entire race.
- I got a new PB! Before Ajax, my previous half marathon PB was 1:53:56. I was already happy with my 1:49:31 in Ajax, but shaving that down to 1:46:08 three weeks later was the icing on the cake.
- I ran a negative split despite the fact that the course ends on a slight uphill. My 10KM split was run at a 5:05/km pace, and the second 11.1KM split was run at a 4:58/km pace. I’ve never done that before!
- I learned the value of pacing myself, and what that could mean for building confidence throughout the majority of the half-marathon. I honestly felt like I was out for a slightly fast long run for the first 15km. Even though it got hard after that point, it still didn’t compare to the world of pain I felt at my last few half-marathons.
- I found my racing shoe! I survived the whole race in a lighter pair of shoes (Brooks PureCadence) without any major issues. I hadn’t logged too many runs in them before STWM so I knew it was a risk to wear them but I was dying to try them out and I’m so glad that they worked out.
- I had some unfinished business with the STWM course. I wanted to start and finish feeling healthy and happy with how I ran. I’m not the same runner I was when I ran this course for the first time in 2009. STWM was my very first half marathon, and when I crossed the finish line in 2:09:46, I was on top of the world. When I attempted the full marathon in 2011, I was traumatized and the bad memories kept me on the sidelines as a spectator for 3 years. I wanted to re-capture the feeling I had in 2009. I did.
So, obviously, I’m really happy with how this race turned out. I know I ran the race with my own two feet, but I am certain that I would have run it slower if it hadn’t been for Eric’s smart pacing and his pushing at the end. I personally can not wait until the next race, where I can try to put everything I’ve learned into practice. Running has been very kind to me this year, and I know that there are no guarantees (ever) that I’ll have such a successful injury-free year like this again.
Recovery this week has been tough – all I want to do is run and get back into training! But I know that’s silly and being impatient will only lead to early burnt out during the next training cycle. So I’ve been resting, spinning, and doing a few easy runs here and there. My body’s been feeling great, so that’s another win.
Happy. Excited for what’s to come next. Progress is motivating.