I've been pretty calm this week. Races are races, but today was a B race, and besides, there was the curse.
Which, of course, hadn't completely left town. I was sick last week - not debilitatingly so, but I did miss a day of work. For those keeping track, that would be 3 of my last 4 half marathons have involved being sick right before the race.
Still, this was the mildest of the three. I hadn't felt terribly debilitated last week. It hadn't felt like it had undone me or sapped my energy at all.
I barely gave the race a thought yesterday. Sure, I hung around the house as much as I could, and tried not to exert myself. And I drank water in abundance. But other than that, it was a usual Saturday. Well, without the run.
The alarm went off a little early this morning. My wife gave my hand a quick squeeze, and instructed me to go "sub-two". Cheerios and milk, lots of water. A few bathroom trips. A computer game or two in the dark. Usual Sunday morning stuff.
I was out the door before 7. Found the course, but couldn't quite figure where people were parking, so grabbed an empty lot a short walk from the start. Of course, there were no bathrooms near the start line, so everyone was walking past me towards the public washrooms. I followed along, happily. On the way out, I ran into a couple of friends from training, and got a ride to the start line with them. The start line, where 299 of 300 competitors were parked. /sigh
Still, we sat in the warm car and chatted until just before race time. The temperature was a pleasant -1C, but there was a wind from the east. The course ran mainly north/south, so the wind would mostly be a crosswind. Since there wasn't much shelter from the wind, the car was by far the better choice.
Anyways, at 5 minutes to, we headed for the start line. Ran into quite a few friends. Before we got too cold, we were off.
The course was 4 loops of 5km each, then a quick out and back to make up the difference to 21.1km. My goal was to run 27 minutes for the first 5km, stay comfortable for the next 5km, then decide from there. For the start, was determined to start conservatively. If I was destined for a good day, then the start would leave me with plenty in the tank. If I was destined to struggle, then at least I wouldn't have gone out too hard.
Anyways, I ran the first kilometer in 6:00. Like last year, G and K took off ahead of me. This year, though, I had a scheme. Let them take off ahead. I'd reel them in later, if the day went well. Second kilometer was too fast, 5:00. I tried to settle into comfort. Relax. The third kilometer was slower. I'm not sure what my splits were, but I know I finished the first loop in 26:45. More importantly, I felt really good.
The goal for the second lap was to stay comfortable. Kilometers 6 and 7 were done in 5:00 each. Too fast. I was feeling a tiny bit winded. Between the 6 and 7 kilometer marks, a guy kept surging every time I went to pass him. Wasn't sure what was up, but I guess I was offending him. Anyways, I eventually got ahead of him, but decided half a kilometer later to back off a bit. Kilometer 8 was 5:15 or so. I was now around 2:00 over a 5:00/km pace. Just past the 8km mark, I heard someone come right up on my shoulder, breathing heavily, and sit there. I didn't need to look to know who it was. Whatever. I hope I didn't offend the guy at some point, but then again, this is a race, not Sunday tea. He went by me eventually, as did another guy. Off you go. I'm saving myself for the second half.
My 10km split was something like 52:00. Maybe it was 52:15, not sure. Anyways, the second lap was definitely faster than the first. Did I feel ok? Was it time to pick it up a bit? Yes, and yes please.
The 11th kilometer was run in something like 4:50. I repassed the surger somewhere in here. The 12th kilometer was 4:50. The next kilometer was the hilliest, and I think I ran closer to a 5:00. I was starting to count backwards. 9km to go. Just another day on the treadmill. I think I missed my split at 13km, because at 14km I was at 1:11:25, and my watch made no sense to me. I also thought that I was supposed to take a drink from my gatorade bottle, so I did. But the drinks were scheduled for every 4km. You know, 4, 8, 12, 14.... Gah! What the mind does in exertion.
Still, I was feeling good. Also, I was reeling in my 5:00/km deficit. From over 2 minutes behind, I was down under +1:30. The only drawback was that K and G weren't getting an inch closer. Every turnaround, they were stubbornly the same distance ahead of me. (Good for them!)
My split for 15 escapes me. I mean, I know I looked. I know I did some mental math based on it. But it might has well have happened on a different planet. It's gone, now.
Besides, 16km was more interesting 5km to go. I crossed at 1:20:55, I think. The deficit to the magic pace was under a minute. I felt like I could do 25 minutes for the last 5.1km. That put me very, very close to 1:45. Did I want that? You bet I did.
I'm still convinced that I've run something close to 1:45 in training. But races, with exact measurement of distance and time, are what matters. My PB in an actual race is over 1:52. The disparity bothers me.
Anyways, 5km left has a comfortable feeling. Heck, I run 5km at least 5 times a week normally, don't I? It was time to step it up just a little bit more.
Unfortunately, the wind had started to switch. Rather than being out of the east, it was out of the southeast, meaning it was somewhat in my face. I tried to keep myself moving forward, and reel people in.
I don't remember the splits for 17 or 18, but I think my gap went down like 30 seconds over the distance. I distinctly remember seeing +0:25 at some point.
Around 18.5km, I looked up, and saw a green jacket in front of me. I vaguely remembered the woman being way ahead of my at like 5km, and telling myself "I'll catch her". You know, one of those silly things you do when you're mentally telling yourself that it's ok to be starting slow. Anyways, there she was, right in front of me. She'd been in front of K & G every time I'd seen her. (Hey, where were they, anyways?)
Anyways, green jacket lady must have been surging, because I wasn't getting by her. Still, with less than 3km to go, I knew I wasnt' slowing down. So I stuck to my pace, and let her stick to hers.
Besides, there was a bit of a problem. Maybe it was just the crosswind, but my left knee felt tight. Awkward. I couldn't exaclty say how, though. Maybe the IT or hamstring was getting tight? I didn't exactly back off my intensity, but I kept a close eye on the knee.
My 19km split, I remember very clearly. 1:34:55. Boom! I was under 5:00/km. Just like that! I'd made up 2:00, and felt...well pretty good. Strength-wise, I was fine. The knee wasn't getting any worse, so I forgot about it.
I passed green jacket lady with a kilometer and a half to go. I felt like I had strength, and speed, to spare. I started thinking of all the sub-5:00/km runs I'd done, both on the treadmill and outside; especially on the treadmill, I guess, where it was generally easier. I felt like they were all paying off in spades. This was only my third run over 16km in months and months, but the distance wasn't doing me in. The pace wasn't doing me in. We passed the finish line (no 20km split), and started the out and back.
I took it easier on the out loop. Well, easier is a relative term. Let's be more precise. I kicked it up a notch on the way out, and kicked it up again on the way back. Seriously, the last 550m or so I was flying. One very nice lady gave me an encouraging word as I blew by her with 400m to go. Every 4:30 pace workout on the treadmill was being sent mental thanks.
When I saw the gun clock, it was at 1:44:1x. I was pretty sure I could make sub-1:45 easily, but of course when a huge PB is staring you in the face, you go faster. Mush, mush! Whee! It's fun, too, which never hurts.
I stopped my watch in 1:44:24, as I crossed the line. Official gun time was 1:44:34. I cleared my PB by over 8 minutes.
Mentally, the huge PB was a shock. I didn't give myself much chance at sub-1:50 before the race. My 27 minute first loop works out to something like a 1:53 half - right around my old PB. I'd been putting in high mileage weeks, but with only 2 runs over 16km, I was convinced that I would fade on the last loop.
On the other side of the coin, the result is a huge endorsement of the training plan I've been following. Those tough back-to-back runs midweek HAVE been paying off. The higher paces shorter runs have been paying off. I was able to increase my pace over the course of the race, without destroying myself. My legs held up to the distance. Maybe all that added distance taught them to.
Anyways, I'm thrilled with the result. (How can an 8 minute PB NOT thrill you?)
Afterwards, we headed to the Arrow and Loon for breakfast. They were much better organized than last year. The indoor courtyard was open this year. Ok, the lines were still long and slow, but come on, all you can yeat bacon? Pasta? Eggs? Pancakes and french toast? Bacon? How good is that? (Did I mention bacon? And let me tell you, I wasn't dainty about how much bacon ended up on my plate.)
Oh, and now I'm eating cookies as I blog.
Actually, now I'm off to have a shower. It's overdue, and I deserve it!