Monday, May 2, 2011

Just Out of Reach

I was certain that I did not want to run the Forest City Road Races Half Marathon two weeks before the GoodLIfe Toronto Marathon, but when I decided to take a step back from running the full and I added this race to my calendar.

Our training group has been running the race route during our Sunday long runs. It’s a bit meandering at times, particularly when you come out of the park and head in to Old North but all in all the course has a little bit of everything.

My game plan was not to have a game plan and over-think this run too much. It was an expensive catered training run with a bonus cotton long-sleeve t-shirt. I contemplated any number of pacing strategies, none of which would result in anything close to a PR. Like any race, you just sort of take what the day offers.

I was up early to eat and theoretically get organized. I didn’t do any prep work the night before. The weather had been so unsettled, I figured that I’d make my clothing decisions once I had been outside to go pick up a coffee and breakfast sandwich from Tim Horton’s. So at 4:30 in the morning, the ground was dry, the temperature in the high 40F’s to low 50F’s. (9-11C for those of you born after metrification) The forecast was calling for some rain between 8 and 11 am. The radar show isolated showers without much accumulation. I opted for shorts and cycling jersey with no hydration belt. I tossed three gels in the back pocket of the jersey and would drink from the aid stations.

Packed up and ready to go, I decided to grab a couple of transparent garbage bags. One for the starting line in case it did rain, and I pulled my race bag apart and put all my dry post race clothes in it. While we had a “tent” for our running clinic I didn’t trust my post race comfort to chance.

Around 7:30, I arrived at the park, found our “tent” and discovered that it was a lot cooler and windier than it had been earlier in the morning. I contemplated putting on a jacket and wind pants, while I was wrapped in a blanket waiting to walk across the park to the starting line. Gillian was feeling the cold as well, and borrowed a spare pair of gloves. In the end, we stuck with our original clothing choices, hoping that the 10 degrees that you warm up while running were enough. Paul, one of the owners of Runners’ Choice and Half Marathon clinic leader cautioned us on overdressing, we’d be warm enough once we started moving.

Once on the starting line, and sheltered by the other runners, it didn’t seem quite as cold. Gillian passed off the gloves and I kept mine on.

The start of the race has many quick turns before we finally get to Queens Ave and some straight road. Congestion wasn’t too bad and Gillian and I eased off a tiny bit when she checked her watch and saw a 4:40min/km pace. (For those keeping score at home a 5min/km pace is equal to an 8 minute mile)

There was a group of four or five guys ahead of me having an animated discussion about what they were doing and I heard “five minute pace” mentioned more than once. Checking my watch, I saw my current pace was 4:56. I had my race plan.

Three weeks prior, on the first warm spring day, I had run 10km at a 5 minute pace. I knew I could get halfway through the race at that pace. Could I get further, I’d know more in an hour.

The group wasn’t really five, it was four and I was quietly tucked in behind them about 10 feet back. Judging by the amount of conversation, they weren’t pushing the pace beyond their abilities. The other nice thing is they were consistent. Any time I checked my watch, the same 4:56 was there.

As we were leaving the University along Sunset , I saw KO and waved to her. I could manage a quick, “I’m under five” as we ran past her and towards the park. We ran through our mile repeat markings painted in bright orange on the path and I thought to myself, “I’ll be back”. We loop this part of the course. You could see the 7km marker and then the 18km marker not too far apart.

At 8 km, we leave the park up our first sustained hill. Just up the hill, another running friend was cheering on the side of the road. I think we surprised each other as I ran past. It had just started to rain enough that my shirt was getting wet.


My Pacers Kevin & Scott
 As our pack finished the climb and settled in to running the streets of Old North, I thanked my pacers for their consistency. They good naturedly encouraged me to quit drafting and take the lead for a bit. I countered that perhaps leading them for the last two hundred meters of the race could be misconstrued as cherry picking. More importantly, the rain stopped.

At the 10km mark, one of my pacers said his good-byes to the group. Since I had been running from behind, I had no idea he wasn’t wearing a race bib. The group was now down to three, two pacers and me.

Three more kilometers took us to the next challenge, the hills along Windemere. We were still booking along at pace and at one point I even considered pushing up and leading for a bit. I held back and kept it nice and even, focusing on form and arm swing. As we made the turn on to Richmond and started heading back to the University, my pacers seemed to pick it up just a bit. The gap wasn’t large but I was falling back.

There is a sneaky little under the bridge loop at Ross Park that provides the Race Director a street crossing with having anyone manage traffic. Entering the path to go under the bridge was Graham, recently back from his Boston Marathon. Graham was going to run Gillian in the last 5km. A quick waist level high five and off to the University Gates.

My pacers were maybe 30 feet ahead of me now. I didn’t go after them, content to keep them in my sight.

I went past KO for the second somewhere between the University and the Park, I muttered something about “still just below five”. Through the park, I saw Graham’s wife Dianne, and Beccs was cheering around the 19km mark.

I wasn’t running out of gas but I was beginning to tighten up. My right side seemed to be most affected, starting right at the belt line of the lower back, through the hamstring and in to the calf. That familiar little hitch, I adjusted my stride knowing I wasn’t going to be able to open up. I also knew that any chance of a PR was slowly slipping away. Out of the park at Ann Street and down Talbot, I watched my pacers 100 meters ahead, then they made the turn at Central and towards the Park and finish line.

I muttered to myself about my stupid body and continued to work the nest pace I could manage. A couple people passed me but not too many.

I was close to cramping along Wellington, made the turn on Dufferin and saw the clock approaching 1:47. Waved to Dan in the announcer’s booth and heard my name as I crossed the line. My official chip time was 1:46:47 (my Garmin 1:46:49) and my pacers finished in 1:45:30 a 5:01 pace

A medal hung around my neck, a bottle of water, and trip in to the food booth, all in quick succession. Out of the finishers’ tent and it was raining, not a gentle sprinkle but a cold torrent. I was cold, a shivering, not a happy Jeff cold. But I was done. No running in the rain. What a misery that would have been.

I didn’t get a chance to see Gillian finish, she PR’d in 1:51:18 She’s a natural 5:20 runner, she finished with a 5:19 pace. Graham paced her in those final 5km. She will, without a doubt, break the 4 hour mark in the Toronto Marathon in two weeks.

What about me, what did I learn?

I learned I made the right call. I’m not ready for another marathon. My conditioning for a full isn’t there, and my body isn’t ready for the distance. There is something “out of whack” in lower body, from my lower back down the entire kinetic chain. My calves may not be the issue but the result of a different problem. Precisely what is wrong, I don’t know. I guess I’m a work in progress

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