aka: TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK
This past Sunday was the 20th running of the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington, Ontario. I had signed up right away after the race last year when the call was out for $50 registrations... or had I?
So, it turns out, I HAD attempted to register, but my payment never went through. I ended up paying full price for the race. Good thing it was a good one!
The plan was to go out with the 1:50 pace bunny and hold with them until the turn around 13.5k. From then, the thought was to pick it up if I was feeling good, or to stick with them until the end and then finish strong. This assumed a number of things: The pace bunny would be bang on pace (5:12/km), the weather would be good (no ice or snow or headwind), and that I'd actually, finally have a good race for the first time in over two and a half years.
Not too much to ask.
I knew a few things going in: 1) Sam, Emma, Ivanka and I would start together, 2) I'd run with music, 3) I'd run this one for me and no one else (sorry Sam, Emma, and Ivanka). I was nervous going into this, my 19th half marathon and 49th (!!!) race. I wanted so, so, so badly to have a good race. One where I didn't shit the bed (literally or figuratively) as Sam says. I needed a race where my mind didn't break down on me either. To be honest, I knew in my heart of hearts that I could hold the damn pace - I'd been doing a lot of random 1 miles at this pace over my treadmill runs, but I didn't know if my mind could take it. Thus the music. Music is a huge mental help for me, something I needed to go back and remember. It was sad to not run and joke with Sam during the good parts as usual, but I'm confident she understood.
Race day dawned a bit colder than predicted. CRAP!!! Do I change my planned outfit? Will my sweet-ass PUMA Clash by Rhianna Tights hold up to the -1c? Maybe I should grab a heavier top? In the end, I stuck with what I had planned to wear, mainly because everything else was in the laundry and I wanted to wear those sweet, sweet tights, dammit. I ate my now typical pre-long run breakfast of plain oatmeal, made with water, topped with brown sugar and chased with a small apple juice. I tempted fate and had a small coffee. With the 10am start time, I figured I was good to go on the coffee. I grabbed a banana and some powerade to have while waiting.
I met up with Sam and Ivanka right on cue at 8am and by 8:25 we were sitting in the theatre at the Performing Arts Centre waiting for the race to begin. Emma and her husband got there about 20 minutes later and we all checked bags, ate bananas, cued playlists and got race ready. 3 trips to the bathroom and two shoe removals for me (to warm up my feet!) and we were ready to hit the corrals.
Right away, we found the 1:50 pace bunnies. There were two! Both continuous! WooHoo! Then, they started talking about running at 5:16/km pace (wrong) and being told to race for gun time (wrong). Whatever, this race was for me - they'd be a good target and help to keep the pace in check for the first few KM. The gun went off and so did the bunnies and the five of us (Emma's husband started with us; poor guy was battling the end of a cold and it wasn't his day). The bunnies started quicker than 5:16 and even 5:12, but no worry. They were going for gun pace afterall and had about 45-60s to make up. I stayed right with them. Sam stayed right with me. Emma, Ivanka and Steve were all lost.
I sang a few lyrics to Sam when good songs came through my playlist in the first 3k. I couldn't really hear her much, but it didn't matter. I was still taking the advice that Robin had provided before Ottawa last year and was conserving energy for running, not high-fiving and talking. After the turn, Sam said to me, "These guys [pace bunnies] are running too fast! We have to let them go." I agreed of course and tried to reel in the pace, but it was just one of those days where the pace came easy.
5:08-5:10-5:08-5:08-5:05-5:08-5:06-5:07-5:07-5:12. 10k Total: 51:19 I'm not sure I've ever paced my own racing so well.
Smarter this time about what I needed to get through the race in terms of nutrition, I had decided to carry Powerade in my handheld. I also stopped at water stations and grabbed water quickly. I didn't take the time to walk through them in the first half and they had no effect on my overall pace. I coupled this with half a gel at 6k and the other half at 9k. Sam had been bugging me lately about nutrition and I figured that I would use this race to experiment a bit if nothing else. I continued to take water at each station and had a final and full GU gel at 14k. I felt great the entire time; my stomach did not complain once.
After 10k, the race gets interesting if you've run it before and know what to expect. You begin to anticipate the elites and faster runners coming at you as the course is an out and back. There isn't much spectator support running out east, but what I did notice this year was that the course, while basically flat, has enough small, small rollers to keep things interesting. Sometime before the turn, I realized that I had lost Sam at a water station. I figured she'd catch me eventually. I figured that if something bad had happened, she either 1) didn't tell me as she could see how in the zone I was, or 2) would have told me so I knew not to expect her. Sure enough, so caught me back up and told me promptly, "You're running way too fast! I've got a 4:40 here!" I reminded her that she would show a faster split as she was just running hard to catch me. That made sense to both of us (phew) and we continued on. I was so in the zone.
The turn around came and none too soon; I needed to get there for my mental game. It had been super strong thus far with nothing threatening it, but making the turn at 13.5k means that you can count down the rest of the race and force yourself to stay on pace dammit-its-only-eight-k-more. Sam's husband was at the turnaround and she dropped off her water bottle to him and I said "Hi." We saw Emma shortly after the turn (yay, looking good) and could still see the 1:50 guys ahead of us. They must have settled in to about a 5:05/km pace based on the gap.
Right around here, we also came up to a kind of unofficial pace group. There was a clear leader (a tall blonde in a pink coat) and a clear group running with her. She was telling the group that they were perfectly on pace and that the plan was to hold on for these next 8k. Seeing her face and hearing her voice made me realize that it was Michelle. I asked her what the pace they were holding at was, "5:12-5:16" Perfect. We had enough time banked to hang with them. "Sam, let's stay with this group. This is Michelle. She's a track Super-Star."
Michelle, though smiling, was puzzled - "How do you... how do I...?" "Instagram" I managed to breath out. And then I left Sam and Michelle to chat about ages and BQs and I just followed. Ah, the beauty of a pacer running the speed they say and you just hanging on.
We had picked up a slight headwind after the turn, but it died down quickly (or I got used to it). I was happy to have my vest after hating my life with the tailwind on the way out (where I was super hot). My mental ability threatened starting at 16k, but I held firm. I WAS doing this today. I WAS not failing. I WOULDN'T let myself down. And so I ran. I took the final water station with a bit of a walk, but nothing lost - the KMs were still coming well within target, if not so even.
5:07-5:08-5:15-5:08-5:13-5:12-5:11-5:08-5:07, Total 11-19k: 46:29
As we came up to the 20th kilometre, Sam began to separate from the pace group. She veered over to the north side of the road as I did. I was behind her, but clearly saw what she was doing. She was making sure she didn't lose me when I made my way over to hit the 20k route marker (Every half. Always). Cheerleader by OMI was blasting in my ears and Sam was in full on cheerleader mode. "Let's go, Let's go!! C'mon!!!" Oh God, Sam my legs are lead, but I'm going as fast as I can. I'm not going to stop. I AM going to do this. We are going sub 1:50. We have time.
20 was my slowest kilometre of the bunch at 5:21. There was nothing here to slow me down... no hill or even slight rise, so I don't know why I slowed so much. I kept chasing Sam though. As always, I was chasing Sam to the end.
Let's go!!! RUN!!! Let's GOOOOOO!!! Jackman Styles!!!!
KM 21: 5:09
And I'm thinking 800m, 2x around the track.You got it, you got it. Saw Hi to Mari for me Sam. (Mari was at Brant and Lakeshore).
I'm pushing and Sam goes (as she does, damn finish kick). I see Mari and give her my only high-five of this race because I'm hitting all God-damned goals today and I'm feeling amazing. I hit Brant and see the crowd. And I run straight down the middle, watching Sam finish 5 seconds ahead of me and I wave my arms up and down, "Make some noise crowd! Celebrate me!!!" I even pulled a Usain Bolt move (I was in PUMA after all). And I cross the finish line and Sam tackles me and I know, this is what I needed. These people, these friends, this work. This is why I race. And this, this is the road to BQ. I know it.