It’s amazing what an 8-day, 90k hike can do to your legs!
In 2015, I ran my very first MEC race, the 1/2 marathon at Confederation Park in Hamilton. I was hoping for a PB and my first sub 2-hour 1/2 marathon. Instead, I ran to a disappointing 2:06:04.7. Last fall, I ran the Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope 1/2 marathon, hoping for that elusive sub 2-hour race. Unfortunately, I finished in a time of 2:03:41. I didn’t seem able to get close to my 2:00:31 time from November 2014, also at the Road2Hope.
I was looking for a PB and redemption this spring when I planned to do the MEC race again. I almost decided to do the Mississauga 1/2 marathon on May 1 instead, but couldn’t face getting up at 4 AM to be there in time for a 7 AM start. Plus you can’t beat a $20 MEC race! And then I went and hiked a very hilly 90k over 8 days at Killarney Provincial Park, coming home just 9 days before the race, and with very tired legs. In fact, just a few days ago it seemed a bit ridiculous to be running a 1/2 marathon this weekend! I decided to just turn it into a training run, since I needed to do the distance anyway for Ironman Syracuse 70.3 (1/2 ironman) training, which is in just 4 weeks!
So, with Alasdair also planning to take this race as a training run, we set out for the park and arrived when race kit pick-up started at 7:30 AM.
We had plenty of time to kill before the 9 AM start, which we alternately spent getting ready in the car/relaxing and joining the ever-growing bathroom lineups (no portapotties – real toilets with running water, soap, and functioning hand dryers!). There was a pretty massive lineup for the women’s bathrooms just before the race – some women resorted to using the men’s bathroom.
With 10 seconds to go I started RunKeeper on my phone (with a 10 second delay) and when the race began, I started my watch. Despite planning not to “race”, I started off quickly and decided to see what my legs could do! Usually, my cardio is the limiting factor, but I figured today it might be my legs. It was a congested start, despite the fact that there were only around 600 runners (the majority in the 5k and 10k races). I had to weave around people and avoid those who were slowing suddenly in front of me or changing directions. Before 1k some people had already stopped running and were walking.
I ran the first couple of kilometres at a pace of about 5 min 18 seconds per km, which is too fast for me. The race starts through the parking lot and along a service road, but joins the waterfront trail before the 2 km marker. When we hit the path, some people on bikes decided to cut in front of several runners (including me) and walk their bikes across in front of us. I remember commenting to the guy beside me, “timing could have been better!” We ended up running together and chatting a bit for the next 4 km, until he reached the turnaround point for the 10k. It helped to pass the time. After we separated, it wasn’t long before I spotted Alasdair just ahead getting water near the 7k marker. I was surprised, given that normally he would be much further ahead of me, but he really was doing this race as a training run, looking like he was out for an easy jog in the park! I, on the other hand, was working hard and wondering how long I would be able to hold the pace. Alasdair had no idea how close I was to him.
I had a gel around 9k, which I grabbed from my water belt as soon as I spotted a water station coming up so I could wash it down! I got water at a few other stations, walking a few steps and having just a couple of sips before continuing on. At one of the water stations I said to the volunteers, “See that guy in blue up there? That’s my husband and you were supposed to trip him!” The man laughed and told me he’d do it when Alasdair returned. I gave him the thumbs up as I passed. “Twice!” he yelled. I laughed and gave him two thumbs up!
At 13.2k, we had to turn back toward the pier to do a “loop back”. At 14.75k, we once again turned back toward the finish line, this time for good! I don’t usually like these out and back sections put in just to add distance, but I didn’t mind this one. It meant that I got to see Alasdair more often!
Soon I passed the “trip him” aid station again, where the volunteer said, “I didn’t see your husband!” But after the race when Alasdair and I were comparing race notes, I mentioned my tripping comment and it suddenly made sense to him why he heard people talking about tripping someone (he was close enough to have heard some of the conversation)!
Unfortunately my phone wasn’t in sync with the km markers, telling me a little bit early that I’d reached the next km. And every time, my pace was slowing by 1 second per kilometre.
I spent the first part of the race wondering whether I could hold the pace, but eventually started wondering if I could hold it long enough to get a PB! This was not at all in the plans for today, but it was becoming a possibility.
When I hit 14km, I knew that if I ran no slower than 6 min per km I would finish in under 2 hours with a 2 minute buffer. It became a mental battle, as I seemed to need to put in the same effort to maintain my ever slowing pace. I could easily have given up on the 2-hour race and slowed down even further. Instead, I decided to push myself and suffer until the end.
With 13k to go, my buffer was shrinking, and continued to do so as I kept running.
Sometimes during races, there’s someone running a similar pace who helps keep me going. Today, a guy in a green shirt would play that role for me.
I’m not sure when I began relying on the guy in the green shirt to keep the pace up, but I had spotted him near the beginning of the race as we leapfrogged one another a few times. With between 3 and 4k to go, he started taking a few breaks from running – I think he just stopped. At about 3k to go, he stopped and I told him, “You have to keep going, you’re my pace setter!” He was surprised to hear that. I told him there was less than 3k to go, and he said, “Let’s do this!” Unfortunately, I was continuing to slow down and wasn’t able to stay with him.
With 3k to go, I had about 19 minutes to come in under 2-hours. My pace had slowed to more than 6 minutes per km.
With 2k to go, I had about 13 minutes left…
With 1k to go, I still had around 7 minutes, but that last km seemed to take forever. We turned off the waterfront trail, and while I had in my head that we would run straight to the finish line, we actually had to run back up to the road, along the road (where I spotted Alasdair cheering for me, telling me that I could still do it!), into the parking lot, and around the corner to the finish line. I kept looking at my watch and started believing that I wouldn’t meet my goal. With just 3 minutes left it seemed like I’d never reach the end. When I turned into the parking lot, saw the finish line and saw that I still had 1 minute to break the 2-hour barrier, I knew I could do it!
Just before the last turn to the finish, a woman yelled that I could finish under 2 hours. And… I did! My official time was 1:59:29.4, for an official distance (according to the race course maps) of 21.15k, which is actually 50m further than the 1/2 marathon distance). Immediately past the finish line I grabbed a cup of water and kept walking for a bit.
After the race I met Sureel (the green shirt guy) and chatted with him for a few minutes. Through walking and then running (and changing his diet), he lost 120 pounds in the last 2 years. Amazing!
I found Alasdair, tried some Nuun (electrolyte drink) and hated it, grabbed a banana, got a long sleeved shirt, had my shake and stretched.
Despite Alasdair having taken the first half of the race easy, he picked it up and finished in a time of 1:47:49.6, with gas left in the tank!
Had there been age group awards, I would have been on the podium! Instead, there were awards for the top 3 men and top 3 women.
On a day when I set out to do a training run, and on still-tired Killarney legs, I somehow managed to get a PB! Clearly my training is paying off!
Time: 1:59:29.4 (5:39.8 min/km)
Women 40-49: 3/6
All runners: 60/111