Run Ajax Waterfront Half Marathon (Race recap)

Last Sunday, I ran my sixth half-marathon! It feels good to have reminded my body what it feels like to run that distance again. 🙂

Ajax is about a 45 min drive away from Toronto, which translates into a very early wake up to get there. Luckily, our teammate Alan was kind enough to drive us up there.

Although my official Fall goal race is the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon (STWM), I was really looking forward to running the Run Ajax Waterfront Half-Marathon for a few reasons:

  • I wanted to get comfortable running the half-marathon distance again. I can do long slow runs up to and beyond 21.1km, but the idea of running that far at a harder effort really intimidated me.
  • I wanted to practice race fueling. I have an extremely sensitive stomach with issues that I can’t seem to mimic during training runs. My interval sessions are too short, and my long runs are too relaxed. I also wanted to practice carb loading (the kind that doesn’t involve eating an entire pizza and an entire package of spaghetti even if that’s what I WANT to do), and my pre-race breakfast.
  • I wanted to gain some mental fitness. This is by far my biggest weakness when it comes to running races. As soon as I get tired, I tend to fall into this negative cycle that results in me stopping to walk and then crossing the finish line feeling disappointed that I didn’t push harder.
  • I wanted to learn how to run my own race. I had never really run with a pacer until my last half in 2011 when Mike met me for the second half of the race. And then this year, for one reason or another, I ended up running almost all of my goal races with a pacing help. As much as I love shutting off my mind and following someone else, I wanted to needed to remember how to race alone.
My teammates are ridiculously good looking. And fast.

As a side note, when I finally decided to commit to it, the race director very generously gave Mike and me free entries as a thank you for promoting their race. Amazing. Thank you so much!

Random insertion of a sunrise picture because it was pretty.

I was nervous about this race. I am really intimidated by racing in general – and although I have a desire to push myself and get faster, I’ve realized that I’m kind of afraid of running uncomfortably. Sometimes I jokingly (but not so jokingly) classify myself as a lazy runner. I can run for hours at a nice comfortable conversational pace, but I really struggle to run at a sustained effort for, oh, anything more than a kilometer without breaks. I thought running a bunch of 5Ks earlier this year would give  me more racing experience and help build my mental fitness, but all it made me do was dread running fast because that distance is PAINFUL! I really want to change that and bust out some PBs, but I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to get out of my head.

Side note: we were eaten alive by mosquitos while waiting to pick up our bibs. I don’t know why there were so many, but they love me and I hate them.

Oh, did I mention I ran this race on tired legs? I was fully expecting to have a reduced long run the week before and an “easier” interval session on Wednesday, but nope! Business as usual until a few shorter easy runs on Friday and Saturday. I jokingly whined to my coach about it, but I do completely trust his judgment and knew there was probably a  method to his “madness” when it came to not tapering me as much as I expecting him to for this race.

The race

Adjusting my ipod. Yes, this was the first race I ran with music. Blah blah blah, it’s cheating, blah blah blah. But I had to distract myself from obsessing over my breathing or having nothing to do but analyze my pace during the race. It helped.

KM Splits: (1) 5:10 (2)5:10 (3) 5:11 (4) 5:08 (5) 5:12

I was worried about the weather. I also know from past experience that I tend to fall apart when it’s too hot. While it was cool in the morning, it was forcasted to be 20C+ by the end of the race (conveniently, when I’d be the most tired…). I was so nervous that I asked my coach for a “heat adjusted” race plan just in case. LOL. Anyway, so I ran the first few kms intentionally at a conservative pace. I was also trying to get used to watching my own pace (yes, I decided not to run “naked”… not ready for that yet). I felt good. I was working, but not that hard. I’m happy with how I ran the first 5km.

KM Splits: (6) 5:11 (7) 5:10 (8) 5:21 (water stop+gel) (9) 5:05 (10) 5:08

I meant to pick it up a little at this point, but my mouth started feeling a little dry so I got a little distracted from keeping an eye out for a water table and lots some focus. I didn’t want to push it until I had taken in some water. When I finally saw the table, I took my gel before I hit the water table and tried to gracefully drink the water without stopping. Yeah, no. I started choking on the water and just came to a full stop to finish it. I’ve got to work on this because I know I wasted a little too much time. After I started up again, I tried to pick up the pace to make up for some lost time. It helped to consciously move my legs faster and I kept it up for the next few kms.

KM Splits: (11) 5:08 (12) 5:15 (13) 5:20 (rolling hills section) (14) 5:08 (15) 5:12

Until we hit the rolling hills. Damn. Mike and I had looked at the course route the night before and he determined that the hills weren’t too bad. I knew there was going to be a hill to deal with in the last few kms of the race, but I somehow “forgot” that there was an entire section of rolling hills in the middle of the course. Sigh… These hit me hard. Every hill felt like a mountain and I just focused on keeping strong and not obsessing about my pace too much. I glanced down at my watch at one point and when I saw the slower pace, I forced myself not to look at it again so that I wouldn’t start to feel too defeated. This section wasn’t pretty, but I’m really glad that I didn’t slow down even more than I did. I told myself to keep going until I hit the water table at 16km. Then I could take a break if I really needed to. I’m happy with how I handled this section. I knew it was a risk to push hard given that it was roughly half way through the course, so I played it safe and I don’t regret it.

KM Splits: (16) 5:30 (water stop+gel) (17) 5:10 (18) 5:25 (water stop) (19) 5:24 (20) 5:09 (21) 4:55

When I saw the water table at 16km, I pulled out my gel to take it in advance but I could barely swallow it. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to take it without water, so I stopped and spent a some time taking my gel and taking 3 cups of water – 2 to drink, and 1 to pour over myself to stay cool. I probably looked ridiculous at this point, but it’s a good thing I couldn’t see myself. I remember feeling the fatigue at 18km and took another break at the water stop to pour more over myself. I felt my body slowing down and as my pace began to slow down as well, I did something I’ve never really done before – I pulled myself out of it. I just screamed out “No!” (thankfully nobody was around me) and willed my legs to start moving faster. Somehow, that gave me a second wind that I needed and I found myself picking up the pace again. I was feeling really good and knew I was hitting the final stretch. Then I hit the final hill just past the last water stop at 18km. Yeah… the night before, Mike and I looked at this hill and determined it was around 400m. So that’s what I was prepared for. Also, at this point, the 1:50 bunny came out of nowhere and caught up to me. I had passed her early on in the race and was shocked when I saw her. I knew it meant that I must have slowed down by a lot. Whatever. All I knew was that I did NOT want her to pass me!

So I trudged up the hill, which turned out to be over 1km, but had the 1:50 bunny not caught up to me, I probably would have run up that hill a lot more slowly than I did. I saw Mike just as I hit the top of the hill and he told me that the rest of the section to the finish was all downhill. I told myself to pick up the pace one last time and just GO. I definitely felt it in the end (I’m scared to see any finish line pictures. I hope I don’t). But I made it across the line and was so happy to see that I had managed to squeak in under 1:50. 🙂

Official time: 1:49:31

Post race thoughts

I did it! Although I didn’t quite hit the paces my coach gave me, I still feel really proud of this race for a few reasons:

  • I got some solid half-marathon experience and now racing 21.1km doesn’t feel nearly as intimidating as it did.
  • I managed to overcome my desire to give up when it started to get hard at the end of the race. Sure, my paces got a slower as the race went on, but I never really felt at any point that I couldn’t finish the race. And experiencing first hand, the ability to make myself run faster to… run faster, was a huge eye-opener.
  • It wasn’t really ideal racing conditions – it was a lot hotter than I was expecting it to be (16-20C) with very little shade, and kind of hilly. My next half *should* be cooler and it’s supposed to be a lot more flat. Yes!
  • Oh, and I picked up a new PB from my previous best time of 1:53:56.

The next day, I went for a “very easy” 30 minute run and was expecting to be hurting all over. I wasn’t. This afternoon, I went for another easy 30 minute run and I felt really fresh. WHAT!? In the past, I’ve always had to take a few weeks off of running completely after a half-marathon. I’ve heard that going for a run the day after a race can help speed recovery, but I was always too sore to even attempt going for a run. I’m amazed at how my body is responding to this latest training cycle, and I’m becoming a big believer in the power of recovery runs.

So overall, I’m happy with my experience on Sunday. I finished the race feeling excited for STWM and a little more confident than I was before.

Most of my teammates went to get food after the race. I went to get a free massage.

The Run Ajax race itself was so well organized and fun. Since we came from out of town, we drove in the morning of the race and pick up our bibs an hour before the race started without any hassle. The field was small, which means that I was running alone for most of the race but I actually preferred the quiet. It allowed me to zone out and not get distracted by other people around me. After the race was over, I managed to get a sweet massage for free and we ate some pizza slices and cookies. Not bad, Ajax, not bad at all. Definitely adding this to my race calendar next year and this time, I will be prepared for those hills!!!




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