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:
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:
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.