It was mild and rained all day long on Saturday as we drove to Burlington with some friends for race kit pick-up. Swag was decent:
Hubs and I spent the remainder of the day getting organized, relaxing, fueling up and checking the weather forecast obsessively. It was only looking worse as the day went on (35 kph+ winds, snow overnight, flash freezing with a steep temperature drop) and we were giving up on hopes of a PR.
While hubs started trying to find an alternative half marathon that could fit in our schedules, suggesting weekend trips with 14 hours drives, I devised a modified race day strategy. I knew that Kenny was pacing the 1:45 group and also trust him as a reliable pacer, so after chatting back and forth on Dailymile I decided I would tuck in with his group from the start to (a)
Since we would be running into the wind on the way out, I hoped that sticking with the group would leave me enough juice to pick it up after the turn-around and make up enough time to squeeze out a slight PR. That was the best possible outcome in my mind.
We woke up early Sunday morning to a ton of snow. It's usually not a good sign when you start race morning like this:
Hubs shovelled us out as I frantically asked friends in Burlington what the conditions were like; their replies were unanimous: cold, windy, icy and lots of fresh snow. It was not looking good, but we still had a race to get to. After the usual morning routine, we piled some friends into the car and made the trek to Burlington. The drive was not very fun and took a lot longer than usual, but we had allowed plenty of time.
We found a parking spot pretty close to the start/finish area, gathered our stuff and shuffled along the snowy sidewalks to the host hotel. It was nice having somewhere warm to use the washrooms and wait. We met up with some of our friends and the time passed pretty quickly. Hubs set out for a 5K warm-up, but returned shortly after to report that it was way too sloppy on the sidewalks (roads were still open to traffic) so he wasn't going to bother. Hubs then decided to forget his PR goal of sub-1:31 and run with a friend of ours instead. It was really not looking good for the race...
After a few trips back and forth to the car and several washroom stops, it was soon time to line up. I found Kenny pretty easily in the crowded corral with his 1:45 ears and sign (complete with "snow" disclaimer) and also got to meet blog-reader Sam (hi Sam!). We chatted a little about the wind, the footing and strategy, but for the most part it was going to be a game of "wait and see." Even Kenny was a little nervous about pacing a 1:45 (which would typically be a walk in the park for him) in these conditions.
There was no turning back now.
KM 1-5 - 5:02, 4:49, 5:00, 5:01, 4:51
We quickly realized that we had lined up too far back and faced some severe congestion. It was worthless to attempt jockeying at least until the initial right turn (a couple hundred metres into the race), which Kenny had scoped out and warned us that it was very sloppy. Once we were onto Lakeshore, it was time to weave our way through the masses.
I think it took us a few K's to settle in to our pace and find a groove with less passing required. Kenny announced that we had reached "cruising speed" and it felt great to me.
The roads were pretty messy with snow, slush, ice and puddles, but we were able to run in the clear-ish tracks that had been created by cars before the roads were closed. We were now running north-east with the heavy winds reportedly from the north. It was definitely noticeable, but also a lot more bearable than I had expected. I didn't need to use Kenny as my wind-blocker afterall, and instead found myself running to the side or even up in front.
I felt myself gradually picking up the pace. With the winds and roads much more manageable than I had anticipated, so I realized that I didn't need to continue holding back. I owed it to myself to see what I could do.
KM 6-10 - 4:54, 4:47, 4:49, 4:51, 4:49
I was feeling good and the kilometres were ticking by pretty quickly. The pace felt natural and I didn't have to look at my Garmin constantly to maintain it. I concentrated on that "comfortably hard" effort that I have gotten to know so well, and I knew that all of my tempo runs were paying off. I ended up turning on my iPod and zoning out to the music.
I took a gel at 7K and continued drinking regularly from my 10-oz handheld. I was really happy to have it because the water stations were pretty crazy, especially in the earlier miles.
KM 11-15 - 4:48, 4:47, 4:42, 4:46, 5:54
I knew the turn-around was coming up at 12.5 and from there I'd be on my way back. I saw hubs along this stretch and discovered that he had decided to take off on his own as well. I hoped that meant he was having a good race; we gave each other the thumbs up. I saw a couple other friends who were running ahead of me as we approached the turn.
We hung a left, heading uphill and straight into that north wind for a short stretch to the turn-around. Shortly after making the turn I spotted Kenny with his 1:45 sign and he gave me some nice encouragement.
After turning back on to Lakeshore, I was immediately warm. I unzipped my outer layer and decided to toss my fleece neck-warmer. I also tucked my gloves into the back of my pants. The sun had come out, the wind was (mostly) behind us and the roads seemed to be more wet and less snowy from here on.
I sucked back a second gel at 14K and refilled my handheld on the run at one of the water stations - dumping most of it on my hand in the process, of course.
KM 16-20 - 4:46, 4:52, 4:46, 4:51, 4:47
I always look forward to the 16K mark of a half marathon; just 5K to go. I did a quick "systems check", knew I was feeling strong enough to maintain the pace and felt pretty confident that I had a nice PR in the bag. I felt my mood lift noticeably on this last stretch and started chatting up the police officers, volunteers and spectators. I was having a great race and I wanted the world to know!
At each kilometre marker, I would glance at my Garmin and do some quick math to estimate a finish time. I was pretty sure it was going to be 1:42:XX, by far exceeding my expectations for this day.
Time was flying by and before I knew it, I only had a few to go. At this point, there is no question that I was tired. It seemed to come in waves where one minute I felt like I could run all day and the next I didn't think I could possibly keep running. Luckily, my legs seemed to be on auto pilot and they just kept going.
KM 21 - 21.1 - 4:35, 4:10 (0.1)
I turned off my music in the final kilometre so I would be able to enjoy cheers from
I spotted hubs waiting for me on the side and he jumped in with me, taking my water bottle. I asked about his race, but he refused to tell me, saying "Just worry about your race for now."
He let me go as I made the final turn to the finish, uphill and back into the wind, but it didn't make a difference at that point. Some friends called out to me from the side as I enjoyed my "victory lap" to the finish line. One of the things I love about this race is that you turn the corner, and it's right there.
I threw my arms in the air as I crossed the finish line, taking a moment to process what I had just done. On a day that started off with barely a glimmer of hope, I ran a solid race with a strong consistent pace and nailed my goal. Does it get any better than that? There is nothing like the feeling of crossing the finish line to the tune of a new PR, seeing weeks and months of hard work paying off.
Not a bad way to kick off my 2011 race season!
Chip time: 1:42:22
Pace: 4:51/KM (7:48/mi)
And congrats to hubs on his 1:30:40 PR finish!