Race report: Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon

Race date: October 18, 2015

After I ran the Ottawa Marathon in May, I decided to take some time to finally look after my right hamstring. I signed up for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront half marathon, took a few weeks off from running, and then began a slow, and sometimes discouraging summer training cycle. My leg was healing, but I’d lost so much cardio throughout all of this that I couldn’t keep up with my usual running buddies anymore. I have always been a back of the packer, but I was now running behind the back of the pack. Alone. It was a very humbling time for me.

In the final couple of weeks before the race, I was starting to feel some improvement. Not being left behind right from the get go, feeling a little stronger. My final race pace runs had me at a 7:05m/km and feeling winded so I decided that my goal for the race would be to just run comfortably, stick to my 10 and 1s and try to come in around 2:30:00.

This was the third time I’ve done this race and each time has been a slightly different course. The current version of the course was by far my favourite.

It was a special day for me because1-_DSC5194 my daughters were there to watch me run a half marathon for the first time and Mike was going to be there taking hundreds of photos.

12115751_10156257660030160_2760446347450234148_nWe met up with Ginny and Julie before the race and walked over to the start together. I enjoyed being able to leave home 45 minutes before the race avoiding the pre-race port-a-potty situation and just getting comfortable in the corral.

It was a cool, crisp fall morning and we were all wearing throw away tops over our race gear along with gloves. I had on a jacket, gloves and arm warmers that I would either give to Mike if I saw him within the first 5k, or throw away if I missed him.

The plan was to start out together, but to run our own races. We all agree that training together is great, but on race day, it’s your race. You have to run it for yourself.

The race has both the full and half marathons starting together with each corral going off at 5 minute intervals. As we slowly walked up to the start line you could feel the excitement growing. We reached the mat at the start, shouted something like “let’s do this!” and we were off!

Right near the start I spotted Mike and the girls taking pictures and cheering us on. What a great way to start a race.

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I almost immediately fell just behind Ginny and Julie. Not because I couldn’t keep up, but rather because I really wanted to run this race alone. I didn’t want to be subconsciously running at a faster pace than I should be, potentially burning out prematurely.

The first 10km of the race took us through some of Toronto’s downtown neighbourhoods and landmarks. We ran up University through Queens Park turning onto Bloor and passing through Yorkville, the Royal Ontario Museum and then down Bathurst past Honest Ed’s (it will always be Honest Ed’s – even when they finally close for good). By 2km I had already taken off the jacket and tied it around my waist until I could find Mike. The arm warmers and glove came off shortly afterward. 1-_DSC6008At around 5km I saw Mike and the girls and prepared to stop for a second to give them my stuff. I had a hard time getting the jacket off my waist. The knot had tightened and my fingers were a bit cold so I lost a few seconds but not a big deal.

I continued down Bathurst, across the steel bridge, onto Fort York Blvd. and then began the long out and back on Lake Shore Blvd. where I moved into the centre of the street hoping to see some of my friends on their way back and was happy to see Andrew who was pacing a friend to a Guinness World Record for the fastest half marathon run in a suit. I also saw Colin, Melissa and Greg along the way.

I was running comfortably through the front half of the race, not putting any pressure on myself, and only glancing occasionally at my Garmin, but each time I did, I was happy, and even a bit surprised, to see that my laps were consistently well under a 6:50m/km pace. Even the laps that contained a walk break in them were in that range as well.

The back half of the race took us the rest of the way out along Lake Shore to the turnaround at Ellis and back into the city. I was still running a fairly consistent pace and feeling really great but knew that I had to run the hill up to Jameson along this stretch. This out and back along Lake Shore is one of my least favourite places to run. There is a park that runs adjacent to the street with a trail on it that is very heavily used by runners, cyclist, inline skaters. 16-145154Personally, I’ve never liked running it. I’ve always preferred to run on the streets in the city than to run in the parks. I need the stimulation to keep my mind occupied. But near the end of this training cycle, I ran the trail a few times. I think that may have helped. There were no mind games. I was running at a good pace and even when I got to the Jameson hill, it didn’t seem as big as it usually does.

17-145559As we approached the city again, we were treated to a spectacular view of our great city with its beautiful skyline and the CN Tower in all it’s splendor. I ran through the 18k water station that was run by some of our running community, and then made the final turn onto Bay St. with 1km left to go.

Everything was going fantastic. I had been running consistently throughout the race. And then, it happened. As usual with about 2km left to go, I looked at my Garmin, did a quick calculation, and confirmed that I was ahead of my 2:30:00 goal time. So, what do I do? With 1km left to go, I take a walk break. For no reason other than I could. It was just a short walk of a few seconds. Maybe 10 or 15. But it was the first of 3 short walks I took in the last km of the race. I guess in the grand scheme of things it didn’t make much difference in my overall time but I think this is what I really need to work on. It seems that every race, regardless of the distance, I talk myself into taking unscheduled, and most importantly unnecessary walk breaks near the end.

In the final stretch of the race, it was great to see the crowds getting thicker. I was able to see Sonia and Jonathan waving and taking pictures and just past them I saw James with his parents and the girls, and Maria and Miguel with Zach. It was great to have the support!

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All in all, I’m really happy with the result. I finished ahead of my goal, I had no pain from start to finish, and I ended the day celebrating another awesome race with a group of my family and running buddies both old, and new.  I can’t think of a better way to cap off the 2015 race season.

Official time: 2:25:36.7

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Race report: Mississauga Half Marathon

Race Date: May 4, 2014

One thing I’ve learned since I started running and participating in races is that there is a lesson learned in every race. Something I learn and take forward into future training cycles and races. This one, was no exception.

I signed up for this race because:

  1. Mike was running the full marathon and I’d be there anyway so I might as well run it
  2. To have a goal to carry me from Around the Bay to the beginning of marathon training
  3. I knew I’d be tired after Around the Bay and didn’t want to train too hard and I had heard it was a nice, downhill course so I figured it would be easy.

After training all winter for the Around the Bay 30k race, and with the Mississauga Half Marathon a mere five weeks later, I was able to ride my ATB training and maintain the long run distances I had been doing for a little longer to prepare for this race. Unfortunately, about a week before the race I developed a cough that was affecting my lung capacity and had to dial back the runs because I was having difficulty breathing. The day before the race I went out for a short 3k run to see how I felt. For a few hours afterwards, I was coughing like crazy. It wasn’t looking good.

Mississauga Marathon is a full weekend of events from a 2k kids run all the way up to the full marathon. The half and full both started together and had a combined total of about 3,000 runners. It was a nice, small event.

The morning of the race we headed out before the sun came up. It was an early 7:30am start and we needed to get to the start, find parking and check our bags before 7:00. We met up with Stacey and Julie, got ourselves organized with last minute preparations and headed into the start corral. It was nice to be in the corral this time with Mike as well as the ladies. Pictures1Just before the gun went off, the city’s mayor, 93 year old (Hurricane) Hazel McCallion said a few words wishing everyone luck and thanking them for participating and stayed to see us off.

After the gun went off, the four of us walked up to the start line together and it wasn’t more than a minute or two before we were each running our races and I was on my own. This was the first time in months that I had my iPod with me. I had broken my music habit and haven’t run with it at all since late last summer but I knew I’d be running this race alone and brought it along for company. It was a crisp spring morning with a fairly strong wind but the sun was nice and bright. At my first walk break I shed my top layer and tossed it to the side of the road and continued in my short sleeves and capris.

The first 6k took us west along Burnhamthorpe Rd W. A wide mostly flat/downhill road that was wide open. I was feeling much better than I thought I would and definitely better than I had all week. I was keeping a pace of between 6:30 – 6:50 min/k which was within my normal pace range for this distance.

The next 10k took us south down beautiful Mississauga Rd. with a short detour through the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus and then back onto Mississauga Rd. This is a beautiful tree lined residential neighbourhood filled with gorgeous homes that most of us can only dream of owning. There was a timing mat at 8k which was at the top of a small hill and as I passed I took a quick check of my Garmin and saw my time was 56:05. I took a mental note of the time and planned to check it again at 16k. Continuing along the wonderful downhill road, I ran through the intersection at Dundas St. and looked up and to the right as I passed my old hills training hill and was happy not to be running up it today. But a few minutes later that feeling slowly dissipated as I approached a hill equal in size. Of course. I’d been going downhill for so long, it was obvious that I’d have to go up again at some point. Why did I not know about this hill? I usually spend hours scouring race routes months in advance. But I hadn’t done more than take a quick glance at this one and unfortunately, I was not mentally prepared for it. I ran it pretty well, walking only the last quarter or so of it. Other than that hill, the rest of this section was lovely. No, I should really say the whole section was lovely. The hilly section included. It really is a beautiful part of the city. My pace through this section was holding at 6:40 – 6:55 min/k.

10291320_786382921379347_4529005889574923954_nAt around 16k the course moves off the street and onto the Waterfront Trail. I took a look at my Garmin and I was at 1:52:23. I had run the second 8k in the same time as the first. I was doing well. It was on this section of the course that the wind picked up and the bugs came out. They were everywhere! Everyone was batting them out of their faces and I’m sure I swallowed more than a few. I looked down and my red shirt was covered in black dots. Things started to fall apart slightly with about 3k to go. Physically I felt fine. My cough had held off for the most part, my legs were fine and I was breathing well. But, running on the trail, through the parks, is not my thing. Add in having to fight the strong wind and those bugs, and, well, I just lost focus. I took a few extra walk breaks and the finish felt like it would never come. My pace for the last section of the race dropped to 7:02 – 7:31 min/k.

My iPod had been a welcome distraction for the last 5km or so, but I took the earbuds out and tucked them into my top as I headed into the final stretch which took me around an inlet of water and up a slight incline and then turned into the finish chute where I was hit by a strong headwind that blew my hat right off with 30m to go! Knowing that I hadn’t broken any records, and the fact that it was my favourite hat, I decided to stop and pick it up. My hat firmly back on my head, I headed to the finish line where I saw Mayor McCallion standing cheering as I crossed the line.

This was one of the best organized races I have ever run. From the amazing race kit, to the free parking, free shuttle buses for participants and spectators before and after the race, and free bag check, to the exceptionally organized water/Gatorade stations every 2k along the course, to the many, many volunteers at every intersection on the course and at the start and finish areas, to the obvious support of the residents of Mississauga and Mayor McCallion who was at the start and finish lines. The race organizers and the city just made it so easy for everyone to enjoy the day. I will definitely run this race again.

What I learned from this race:

  1. Race for the right reasons
  2. Know the course – all of it
  3. You can never be too prepared for a race, but it’s easy to be under prepared
  4. Even an “easy” course can be hard if you’re not ready for it

 

Official time:      2:31:49.5

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Race Report – Hamilton Road2Hope Half Marathon

Race Date: November 3, 2013

I chose this race for my half marathon goal race this fall because it’s a bit later in the year which allowed me to spend the summer concentrating on trying to improve my short distance times and give me a few extra weeks to get in an abbreviated training cycle.

Even up to a few days before the race I hadn’t really given my goal much thought. To be quite honest, I signed up because I need to have goals in order to keep myself on track. My main goal for this year was my 5k training and with that finished (for now – stay tuned), I finally started to think about this race. The only goal I really had was to break my PB of 2:24:48.

Race morning was crisp, cold and windy. I was wearing long tights, a t-shirt, a long sleeve shirt, neck warmer, gloves and ear warmers as well as a throw away sweatshirt I would wear until the race started and I was warmed up. Thankfully there was an old school open for us to wait inside until the race began.Before the race

My buddy Ginny and I went out to the start corral together. We weren’t sure how long we would be together, but we would start out and see how things went. The first few kilometers we were trying to warm up but fighting that strong cold wind. I was so glad I was wearing that sweatshirt for the first 5 minutes or so before throwing it to the side of the road. The first 5k was spent navigating around people including walkers with poles. The road was flat and the people along the route were amazing. They had come out on such a cold morning to cheer everyone on. One man even brought orange slices to give out to the runners as we went by. We were keeping about a 6:22 pace which was right where I wanted to be.

Just past the 5k mark, we turned onto a highway and there began a 4km downhill with a spectacular view – fall colours, the city below, it was beautiful. It was this part of the course that I had been waiting for – a nice downhill where we would naturally pick up the speed a bit. Unfortunately, we were fighting a strong headwind for most of it and weren’t able to enjoy it as much as we should have. Although our speed did pick up to an average of about 6:15, we really had to fight for it. The highway portion of the run went from 5k to 11k. As cold and windy as it was, I really enjoyed this part of the race. Running downhill on a highway was amazing. It gave me a sense of freedom. There were people that came down onto the highway and others standing on the overhead bridges cheering and holding signs. There was even a group of drummers set up along the way that Ginny totally photo bombed as someone was taking a picture of them. It was hysterical! At 10k Ginny asked me what our time was. We were at 1:09:00. We realized that we could both be well on our way to those PBs we were hoping for!

The next part of the course was the hardest – the last 10k was along a gravel path, over a bridge and then 7k of an out and back along a flat, paved lakefront path to the finish line. If you know me, you know how much I hate, hate, hate running on paths or in parks. Within a minute or two of hitting the gravel section of the path we went up a short, fairly steep hill and I realized how much my butt hurt. A lot. In all the long runs I had ever run, I had never felt that before. I thought it was probably from the long downhill section we had just run.

As we moved along the path, my legs were getting heavy and our speed was slowing down to anywhere from 6:30 to 6:48.

Every so often Ginny would ask our time. Her Garmin had died around 8k and she was recalculating our finish time over and over. I was doing the same. That last 7k stretch was one of the hardest 7k runs I have ever done. More than once in the final 5k I was ready to pack it in. But Ginny kept going so I kept going. Watching our time, talking about what was coming up. Somewhere along the path, as the lead marathon runner passed us (for the second time), I had come to the realization that my PB may be out of reach for now, so my focus turned to Ginny. Keep moving, keep tracking… With about 1k to go we saw Mike snapping pictures. I almost missed him because he was crouched down low to the ground. This put a little bounce in our step because it meant we were almost there! One last look at our time told me that I was still within reach of my PB. Up a small incline and turn the last corner to the finish line. “Go for it” Ginny said (or something like that). I dug deep, found a little bit of energy and made one final push to the finish line. After I crossed, I turned around just in time to see Ginny cross a few seconds behind me. She had beaten her PB by over 5 minutes! I was so excited for her. She was overwhelmed with emotion and I was feeling it for her too. Myself, I bettered my PB by 1:35 and was quite happy with that considering I hadn’t really trained all that hard for this half marathon.

Overall it was a really well organized race with a nice course that, on another, less windy day, could have produced even more amazing results.

This race could have ended very differently if we hadn’t run together. As it was, we stuck together and ended up being our own support system to help each other attain our goals. Could I have any better running buddies? I don’t think so.

I am so, very happy for Ginny and her new PB!

Here’s to even bigger things in 2014. Did someone say “marathon”?

Official time: 2:23:13

After the race

Photos by Mike