Race Report and Reflection: Mississauga half marathon

This post will serve as my official “race report,” nine days after the fact.  For the runners in the crowd, I hope you’ll like the tactical parts of this report, and for the never-give-up-ers, I hope you’ll like the rest of it:

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Thank you to Jodie for the photo. #teamtap #teamnuun

You see, I ran in the Mississauga half marathon on Sunday, May 6th, and finally met my goal of qualifying for the 2019 New York marathon.  I say finally, because I’ve failed at this goal twice before, both times in spectacular fashion with lots of tears, walking, and self-doubt.  In June of 2017, in my first attempt to qualify, I went out fast and the wheels came off on a 40C day.  I walked a good portion of my second attempt in September 2017; another 40C day in which I got caught up in race day adrenaline and went too hard out of the gate.  It’s an error that I continue to make, a lesson I can’t seem to grasp, a mistake that I’ve repeated far too many times- and going out too fast is the kiss of death for a distance runner.  But with roughly twenty-five years of running and racing under my belt, and more than fifteen years of marathoning experience, it’s still so hard to follow a race plan.

The thing is, if you’re doing it right, you’re usually training on tired legs.  Training plans have peaks and valleys of mileage, but endurance training requires, well, endurance.  Runners are often accustomed to a certain amount leg heaviness and fatigue throughout their training cycles; in fact, a Sunday does not feel like a true Sunday if I don’t have that welcomed you-ran-damn-hard achy leg feeling all day.  Masochism?  Perhaps.  But ask a runner, they’ll tell you: tired legs are earned.  However, a few weeks out from race day, runners transition into their taper.  A taper is a period of time, usually 2-3 weeks in length, whereby running mileage drops way back to allow for recovery.  A taper can make or break a race, and when executed properly, it gets you to a point where you can toe the line feeling fit and fast.

For my last few races in particular, I’ve tapered really well.  I’ve listened to my body, I’ve dropped my mileage, I’ve focused on rest, hydration, nutrition, and mobility.  I’ve come to the line feeling great.  And I’ve gone out recklessly fast.  But the thing is, I’ve always done that.  I’ve always been a go-out-fast runner who red lines in the second half of the race and holds on for dear life.  Yet as I’ve gotten older, my body wants a different strategy; I can no longer fake a race plan and beat the system, and I’m learning that my mid-race rally and recover is not what it once was.

So with careful thought and consultation, and the 1:37 NYC qualifying time looming large, my race plan was this:

  • 0-5km: 4:40/km pace (this is a very comfortable pace for me; my long runs are usually in the 4:50/km pace, so this is just slightly faster)
  • 5-10km: 4:35/km pace
  • 10-15km: 4:30/km pace
  • 15-19km: getting progressively faster, aiming for 4:20 pace by 19km
  • 19-21km: 4:15/km pace
  • Goal: progressive build, negative split.
  • ‘A’ goal: sub-1:35
  • ‘B’ goal: sub-1:37 (1:37 is my NYC qualifying time)

The mantras in my head were:

  • HAVE FUN
  • Start slow
  • Run faster, not harder
  • Let the hills carry you down
  • HAVE FUN

What actually happened:

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My split times remained pretty steady throughout; a novel race strategy for me!

  • I ran into two training partners at the starting area who were running the full marathon, targeting a steady 4:29-4:34/km pace.  I ran the first 7km with them, and they kept me hovering around 4:30/km pace.  (thank you Jose and Steve, I surely would’ve gone out too fast yet again, because I was feeling great!)
  • I picked it up on kilometres 7-15.  Much of this section is downhill, and I tried to open up my stride.  I was feeling great, and had the 1:35 pace bunny in my sights.  I passed him at 16km.
  • I started to suffer around 17km.
  • My pace started to deteriorate around 19km, but I was able to pick it back up at 20km.
  • I got really dizzy immediately after finishing and had to take a knee; surprising, since my heart rate stayed low the entire race and I did not red line at all.
  • My husband and kids met me at the finish line (and were able to live-track me on the raceday app!).
  • My dear friend Michaela also ran the half and also met the NYC standard.  I saw her in the finishing chute; I hadn’t known she was running, and she hadn’t told anyone, so as not to put more pressure on me or on her.   You see how running is such a mental game?
  • I gave it everything I had.
  • I HAD FUN.

Interestingly, this was the 15th annual Mississauga race weekend, and in the inaugural race in 2004, Michaela and I also ran: she came in 1st place and I came in 3rd.  This year, however, I finished in 1:34:02, a full 11 minutes slower than my personal best. And yet, this race was my proudest.  That eleven minute gap between my best and my present represents a husband, two babies, a career, and a life far more full and content than I ever could have imagined.  Gone are my student days, my 110km/week days, my podium days.  Now I’ve got two impressionable little people and a finish line full of hugs and tears, always tears.

I had tears that at that finish line too, but they were oh-so-happy tears.

 

 

 


The Butterdome lesson.

It is amazing what our bodies can do.  In my work, I see injuries recover and people become healthier versions of themselves on the daily.  In my personal life, I am surrounded by runners and Crossfitters, and I see them push themselves to the limits.  And yet, after 12 years in practice and a few decades in sport, I still marvel at the anatomy, the physiology, and the ability of our bodies to adapt, to habituate, to endure.

Let me tell you a story:

This story is about a girl who loves to run.

It’s the early 90’s, in the small town of Sundre, Alberta, and this girl is running the finishing stretch of her County’s cross-country meet.  The meet is being held on her home course, on Sundre’s infamous Snake Hill, and the finishing stretch is along its most feared section, “The Scar.”  The Scar is a punishing portion of trail that traverses the entire side of the hill, complete with a gruelling incline and a bird’s eye view of the finish line.  This girl can hear the crowd below, this girl can feel the adrenaline surging, this girl’s happiness and fulfillment builds.  She can’t articulate it yet, but she can feel it, and she knows she’s found what she loves.

This girl is me.

You see, my high school English teacher was also the cross-country coach, and she took me under her wing.  I trained with a very small group of runners after school, usually just three or four of us running alongside Mrs. Leslie.  We’d head to Snake Hill and we’d run hill repeats, kilometre loops, strides along the trails.  We’d run in the cold Alberta snow and we’d run in the fading light of dusk.  She taught me the power of my legs and my lungs, the welcomed full-body fatigue of a workout, and the sense of accomplishment of a race well run.  It’s only now, as a teacher’s spouse, that I realize the commitment she had to us and the sacrifices she made to share her love of running.  If there’s one person to point to in my running career, it’s her.  She changed my world and burst open a decades-long love affair with a sport that has now become a part of my identity.

I went to the University of Calgary and became a member of the cross-country and track teams.  I was a red-shirt Dino, racing only occasionally, often choosing parties and late nights over the early-morning miles on my training schedule.  My lack of commitment was never more obvious than when I called my Dad in panicked tears, only minutes ahead of my 1000m heat at the University of Alberta’s iconic Butterdome.  “What if I’m last?” I cried, “I’ll be so humiliated.”  In fact, I was last.  But I learned a hard lesson that day: you can’t fake hard work.  There are no shortcuts in running, no cheats, no cutting corners, no easy results.

Then came marathons, and Boston, my coveted finisher’s gold medal at the Around the Bay 30K in 2004, and my third-place finish at the inaugural Mississauga half-marathon.  I was in my twenties, running 100km weeks and going to school, planning my life around my runs, instead of the opposite.  Real-life responsibilities hadn’t quite begun, and I was content to run unceremoniously in a pre-Garmin, pre-Strava, pre-Social Media world.

Running has shifted to more of a background role in my life over the last decade, as I’ve had my children and consistently chosen the convenience and efficiency of CrossFit workouts.  But over the past couple of years, as my kids have grown, so too have my freedom and flexibility, and my mileage has begun to increase once again.  I’ve joined a new running club, and for the past three months I’ve been training hard with them, aiming for some Spring races that I haven’t thought about in years.  I’ve been noticing big changes in my fitness lately and having some breakthrough workouts, and that’s what has prompted this post.  It’s the Butterdome lesson again: you can’t fake hard work.

The 5:30am hill repeats, that 4:45am wake-ups, the -20ºC long runs; it’s all coming together.  It is amazing what our bodies can do.

But you can’t fake hard work.

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The University of Alberta’s Butterdome track.


Goal Board

This is a New Year post of sorts.  One year ago, on January 1st, 2017, I wrote up a “Goal Board.”  Not a “vision board,” per se, as is the buzzword, but semantics do matter, and a “Goal Board” sits better with me.

Last year’s Goal Board was on a big piece of white bristol board, with lots of bullet points, arrows, and colours.  I wrote it at our dining room table, using fresh new markers that Santa brought my children, and it organized my ideas in a way that I was surprised I couldn’t experience through thought alone.  Then again, I’m a visual learner and I love to write, so getting ideas onto paper matches my personality.  This year, my kids wanted in on the action, so it was a family affair in the dining room, with fresh bristol board, new Santa markers (St. Nick is the practical sort around here), and lots of conversation.

My five year-old’s Goal Board looks like this:

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Not a traditional Goal Board perhaps, but she’s got a lot of what’s important to her on there, and she learned that 2081 is different than 2018.  She’s proudly hung her masterpiece on her bedroom wall.

My eight year-old, meanwhile, came up with this:

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He wants to save $25 (which he’s begun doing by shovelling driveways in our neighborhood), learn how to do a cartwheel and a trampoline front flip, get a shutout in hockey, and do a 360° roll with his drone.

Now, I’m not quite transparent enough to share my entire Goal Board with you here for all to see, but I will share with you this section, which focuses on an important part of my world: running.IMG_7902

These three goals all fly in the face of the fear that nitpicks at the back of my brain whenever I sign up for a race or set a lofty pace goal.  “You can’t run that fast,” it says, “what if you fail?”  In fact, let’s call a spade a spade, I had two big running “failures” in 2017:

But I also had some great successes, like running a several-minute Personal Best to win the Moon in June 10K, being awarded the Most Accomplished Runner award from the Burlington Runner’s Club, and watching 39-year-old Lyndsay Tessier come in second place at the Canadian Marathon Championships in Toronto.

Enough success to keep me determined and enough failure to keep me trying.  Enough limits being pushed and enough self-imposed barriers being broken. Enough early mornings and enough late nights, enough work put in, enough dreams being chased, enough shooting for the moon, and enough aiming higher and higher.

Be brave, my Goal Board screams to me.  Be brave.

And in case you didn’t notice, this post isn’t even about running after all.

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Be brave.