Race Report: Mercedes Benz Summer 5K

MB afterThis has been another summer when I haven’t planned a lot of racing as I had been training for the Victoria Marathon.  After making the decision to not marathon on the other side of the country, I started planning a race schedule with events closer to home.  The Summer 5K was at the top of my list; it was a new running event, and it was close to home.  Knowing that it was sponsored by Mercedes Benz and organized by vrPro, it was bound to be a good event.

On Sunday morning, my teen son who has been playing around with photography for the past few weeks, offered to come with me.  “I’m leaving early,” I warned him.  But the idea of practising action shots was calling him.  Just before 8:00, we pulled into the Mercedes Benz parking lot and, while I went to pick up my race kit, he caught a few more z’s.  The start was at 10:00 and it was already hot and sunny.

The volunteers from Mercedes Benz and Kelly Arnott of vrPRO were busy getting set up.  Registration was open, men were setting up the barbecue for the after-race, the Pearl Izumi van with its tent had just pulled in…and the bathrooms were ready – inside the building!  In fact, the bathroom facilities were one of the most exciting parts of the race: private stalls with doors with locks that actually worked, sinks with running water, paper towels, and mirrors.  It was the first time that I have had access to such a luxurious bathroom at a race.

Feeling anxious, I headed out about 15 minutes earlier than planned to warm up and was I ever glad I did!  When I registered for the race, I thought “Burlington – flat.  This should be a nice, easy course.”  The terrain seemed flat on the course video too.  But when I started to warm up, I realized how wrong I was.  As soon as I turned out of the parking lot, I faced a very slight incline, which became a bit steeper as I approached the 1K mark.  As I continued to run, I saw the course plateau a bit and breathed a sigh of relief, only to get to the top and – you guessed it – saw the road climb again.  I turned around to head back to the start to warm up and get my head into the game, realizing that I would have to carefully pace the first half of the race so that my legs wouldn’t fry at the end.

And that’s exactly what I did.  MB 1k check I checked my watch at 1K and my timing was exactly where I wanted it to be: 4:20.  The next 1500 metres were basically uphill and I knew there were a lot of women ahead of me.  “Keep it like this,” I told myself.  “You have 4 kilometres left to catch them in.”  It took 5 minutes to run the next kilometre (uphill), during which I picked my targets to pass, one by one.  Each time, I listened for their breathing to figure out how much space was behind me and how much more of a gap I needed to open.  There was one more in sight and she would not let me pass her.  When I moved right, she moved right; if I ran left, she ran left.  So much for a friendly local race.  I threw in a surge and fought to work my way around her and had the upper hand (or foot) at the halfway point.  Now, there were no women in sight – but I knew there were still 6 or 7 ahead, judging by a volunteer’s counting – and I faced the part of the course I had been dreading more: the downhill.

I hate running downhill.  In a race situation, it ends up being a real quad-buster for me, and I have avoided races like the Sporting Life 10K just because of the fast decline.  Here, all I needed to do was (1) keep my pace and (2) stay ahead of the women behind me.  It wasn’t long before I realized that keeping my pace was not enough as I could hear panting behind me; I was certain that it was the lady who kept cutting me off.

Final K
Approaching 4K.

Sure enough, it was and it wasn’t long before we were running neck and neck, each of us trying to pull ahead of the other.  Holding my pace was not going to happen; I had to pick it up. “Stay with her, Cynthia.  Fight it.”  We turned and the finish line was in sight.  Now we were on a relatively flatter surface but into the highway wind and with about 700 metres to go, I pulled ahead.  Silence.  I felt the awkward stillness of her feet stopping behind.  “Keep pushing.  You can’t be sure that was her.”  I stretched out my legs a little bit more, ensuring that I opened the gap a little more and hoped to catch two more gals who suddenly came into sight.  Both were slowly down and if there were a little more real estate, I probably could have caught them, but I ended up finishing seconds behind.

 

MB shoes
Samples of the Pearl Izumi shoes to take for a test run.

Was I happy with my time?  Not at all.  I finished in 22:39, which is slow for me.  However, the conditions were similar to the Beamsville Bench 5K that I raced last year and times were comparable.  I also finished in the top 10 (whoever was counting missed a few) and first in my age group, which earned me a pair of Pearl Izumi shoes.  Hooray for new shoes!

 

The reality, though, is I wasn’t training for this race.  It was a C-race; I just threw myself into it to see what I could do: race with my head, pick up the pace when I needed to, run tough.  My time wasn’t stellar but I can live with it, and it has given me some time goals to focus on while I keep chasing my dreams.

“This is Not a Race” Report: Run for the Toad Training Run

My husband, Dave,  has volunteered with the Run for the Toad 25k/50K trail race for a few years.  It’s one of the biggest trail races in Ontario, and several runners from other parts of Canada and the USA fly in to participate.  Dave has been wanting me to run it but the race always seems to conflict with my other running goals.

A few weeks ago, Dave asked me to participate in the training run weekend.  Basically, the event organizers organize a day of running on the trail loop (12.5K) so that their volunteers can practise for race day in October.  I ran the training event two years ago so running it again to measure where I am in my training made good sense.  But this time, I decided that I wanted to cover 25K and use it as part of my marathon training.

“Are you crazy?” Dave asked.  “It’s a tough course.  It’s like running 30K on the roads.”
“I’ll be fine,” I told him. “I ran 22K last week and the week before.  I have water stations and company to run with here.  I’ll be okay.”

Toad - KellyLynne and meOne of my training partners, Kelly-Lynne who eats trails for breakfast, decided to join me.  She knows the course well as her cross-country team trained on it when she was at Western University.  Her plan was to run 12.5K and, if she felt good, she would run more.

The run started at 9:00 and temperatures were going to climb to the mid-30’s.  I am fine running in heat but not when the sun is high.  We knew that we needed to slow the pace down, to run something comfortably so that we would finish and feel good.  My marathon pace is around 5 minutes/kilometre we thought 5:00 to 5:30 on this course was reasonable.  Like any other trail, though, you can’t really pace yourself other than by the “what feels right” pace.  So that ended up being the plan: run, talk, run and have some fun.

The hills: they were the challenge.  Within the first 3 kilometres, I told Kelly-Lynne that I didn’t remember the course being as hilly the last time that I ran it.  Ture to the nature of hills, though,  every hill that went up also went down.  Some of them seemed to climb forever and others seemed to go up at a 90 degree angle (especially Skeleton Hill, towards the end, which was  a complete calf-buster).  But the hills were doable as they were hiding under a canopy of trees.

For me, the toughest part of the course was dealing with the sun.  I was able to deal with the heat but when we came from out of the trails into the open, under the hot sun with no cloud coverage, I started to feel nauseous.  As soon as we got back into the shade, though, the sickness went away.

Toad - done!
Done!

Kelly-Lynne ended up running the entire 25K with me.  We realized at the end how well we actually covered the course as our second loop was only 3 minutes slower than our first – not bad with the change in temperature.  Also, quite a few runners around us dropped out during the second lap.  I think that running an easier pace played a big factor in our finishing, and the smart pacing was confirmed when, in the last kilometre, we passed a few runners who were way ahead of us earlier in the run.

 

Even though it wasn’t a race, I often had to remind myself of that.  I often wanted to pick up the pace but I kept turning the dial the other way, making sure that I slowed down and respected the heat.  It worked.

And now I have one more thing to consider as part of my fall racing.  After the weekend, I realize that I really do want to race this course one day.  Which year?  Only time will tell.

Race Recap: The Chicago Marathon

One of my greatest fears is sleeping through the alarm on the morning of a race.  The night before Chicago, I requested a wake-up call at the Hilton, set my alarm on my phone to go off at two different times, and set my watch alarm as the last call.  On Saturday night, my head hit the pillow by 10:30 and I slept until I heard the first ring at 4:30.

As I stared out the window into the darkness, I was glad that I had woken up earlier and earlier each Saturday morning for my long runs.   I was now use to pushing myself through the wee hours of the morning;  I was ready for this marathon.  Chicago - pre-marathon My headache from the day before was gone, but I felt flat, empty.   Something seemed to be missing.   I ate anyway, had a quick shower, got dressed and left Dave and the boys sleeping away as I headed towards the start line.

By 6:15, I had found myself a spot to relax before I had to get into the corral.  Aside from my running gear, I only wore a sweater that the oldest dude had outgrown.  Since I was going to toss it into a charity bin, I didn’t need to worry about the bag check.   All I had to do was keep warm, stay loose, and visit the porta-potty every now and then to make sure I was as empty as possible.

The first corral went out at 7:30 and mine (Corral B) started to move just minutes later.  From the moment I crossed the start line, I was amazed by the screaming crowds.  I expected that they would die down at some points but that never happened.  Block after block, mile after mile, the support was incredible.  Between the feeling of being pushed from behind and the sidelines cheering us on, I knew I would be able to finish the marathon.  All I needed to do was run those 8 minute miles, all 26.2 of them.

And I did – faster than that at first.  I glanced at my watch at every mile marker and realized that my pace was too fast and I tried to pull it back.  But the runners behind me kept pushing me forward.  And I felt good.  No, I felt great.   Mentally, this was going to be a tough race.  “Stay focused,” I told myself.  “Eight minute miles, eight minute miles…. Oh no!  How did I end up ahead of the 3:30 pace bunny?”

By  Mile 8, I felt my hamstrings start to tighten up on me.  The car ride from Oakville had caught up with me.  I tried to ignore it and looked for Dave, who was going to meet me around Mile 9.  He was nowhere to be seen.

By the end of the first hour, the skies were blue.  In fact, there was hardly any shade so I started to feel the slowly increasing heat.   At  Mile 10, I was starting to feel nauseous again.  “Focus.  Pull back a bit.  You’re doing fine but watch the pace.  Eight minute miles, eight minute miles….”

At Mile 12, I saw Marcia from Marcia’s Healthy Slice and her crew wildly cheer me along.  It was just the pick-me-up I needed.  Thanks to the superb water and Gatorade tables (2 city blocks long, on both sides of the road), I had more fuel in the tank.  My pacing was back to where I needed it to be and I was looking at a 1:45 half.

Dave finally appeared around 16k and again at 19K, where he ran with me for a few (2?) blocks.  “How are you feeling?” he asked, to which I replied, “My feet hurt and I need a bathroom.”  This was a marathon in which something always seemed to be bothering me.  But even though I felt sick, my feet hurt, and my legs were getting tighter and tighter, I looked around at the crowds of volunteers and spectators and thought “I want to come back next year.”

From that point, my marathon was a bit of a disaster.  It was hot.  Apparently, it was windy too, but I didn’t notice it because I was too busy noticing the aches and pains throughout my body.   I basically walked-ran the last 8 miles of the course and watched the 3:35 pace bunny run by, followed by the 3:40 and 3:45 pace bunnies.   By then, I was in the last 5 kilometres.  I was going to finish this marathon no matter what but, please, let’s get to the finish line with at least a BQ.

And I did.  I crossed the finish line in 3:51, which gives me a 9 minute window for Boston 2017.  That window can be opened a bit more and it has already has me thinking about winter and spring training and racing.

Chicago - Windy CityAfter finishing, I headed back to the hotel to meet Dave and the boys.   We packed our bags, checked out and did what every runner needs to do after a marathon – eat a huge bowl of fruit and spend hours walking around the city.  By evening, my legs felt great and were ready for the trip back home.

Even though I didn’t have a time goal, I was disappointed with my finish time and I realize now that I need to train for my next marathon with one in mind.  However, my goals in Chicago were met.  I made it to the start line and I crossed the finish line.  That’s all I set out to do.  Qualifying for Boston was a bonus and I am proud of that.   Despite the aches and pains, running Chicago was a fabulous experience and I want to go back next year.  I have left some unfinished business to take care of.

 

Running Like A Kenyan

run over obstaclesThis week, I faced what was probably the biggest challenge of my marathon training of the summer: finding time for the long run.  My schedule was busy enough with a few overnight shoots while prepping for back to school and keeping the boys busy in the second last week of summer.   Throwing marathon training into the mix was simply another test in creativity and time management.

LVA training run Oakville half
Members from Lions Valley Athletics about to coach runners training for the Oakville Half-Marathon.

Yesterday, my run club, Lions Valley Athletics, volunteered to organize a training run over all or part of the Oakville Half-Marathon course for participants.  It was a win-win for so many.  Runners had an opportunity to run the course, we collected donations for the Oakville-Milton Humane Society, and Lions Valley Athletics had the opportunity to give back to the running community.    While I wanted to focus on my own training – to run long on my own – it was a great opportunity for me  support other runners in their personal goals.  So I ran 18K on my own and finished at Coronation Park, where the group met.  After that, I ran another 17K with them, finishing the day’s mileage with 35K.

I was thrilled with hitting that distance (which equates to 22 miles).  It wasn’t just reaching it, though, that was important; it was what I learned along the way.  Since the training run was with new runners, the pace was slower than what I normally train at.  Knowing this, I made sure that my earlier run was at my marathon pace so that I could run like a Kenyan with the others.  You see, Kenyans run really slowly on their easy days so that their bodies can recover from the speed workouts and hard running that they do on others.  This is something that I’m not good at: mixing up the paces.  Coach Kevin and my friends often tease me about being a metronome because I tend to lock into a pace and hold it; the problem is I run that pace through the warm-up, workout and cool down.  Yesterday, I learned to slow my pace down.  I had to because that is what the other runners needed.  I learned how to “run like a Kenyan.”

Now I finally understand how much of a difference in variety of paces – from a marathon pace to an easier cool down pace – makes in how I feel the next day.  Today, my legs feel fresh.  I’m pleasantly tired, but I couldn’t wait to head out for an easy run this morning.   And the best part?  My feet don’t hurt – at all.

Yesterday, the ladies we coached through the route left feeling that they had a good run and are ready for their half-marathon in a few weeks.  Me, I left with a better understanding of pacing, the success of the longest run yet in my marathon cycle and satisfaction of supporting other runners.  It was truly a win-win.

When Dehydration Sets In

This summer, I have been trying to do my long runs on Fridays.  That lets me get them out of the way before the weekend and I don’t need to make that same time commitment to my training, leaving more time for the family.  Since school has been out, I’ve run 4 of my 7 long runs on Fridays and the other three on the weekends.

Getting yesterday’s 30K done was touch and go.  My oldest son worked late on Thursday night so he didn’t get home and to bed until 2:30.  Like most moms, when my son is out late, I am up late too – especially when I have to get him home.  The Littlest Dude, then, woke me up an hour after I climbed into bed and I ended up tossing and turning until daybreak.    When I should have been up and out for my long run, my pillow spoke to me; there was no way I was going to be able to run 30K on less than 4 hours of sleep.

I regretted listening as soon as I got up.  I was now facing a late afternoon run, which would have been fine as my other Friday runs have been in the late afternoon, but I had really wanted to get it out of the way early.   At 4:00, I finally headed out into the heat of the day.

It wasn’t actually that hot, especially compared to the temperatures we have had the few weeks before.  In fact, with the gentle breeze, I felt quite comfortable.  I stopped at a Rec Centre for water and a bathroom break 9K in, and again at the Soccer Club, another 9K later, for more water.  As usual, I had one GU gel somewhere in between.  I had more water at Coach Kevin’s house, who was going to run the last 8K with me, and I needed a bathroom again.  That should have been my first clue that I was heading towards the danger of dehydration.

It wasn’t even 2 km later when I suddenly started to feel tired.  I attributed it to my earlier pace. “I think I pushed harder than I needed to in the first part of my run.  I’m starting to feel it now.”  Soon after that, I had to stop.  “I’m feeling sick.”  We started to run when the nausea passed, but shortly after, I had to stop again.  The rest of the run was stop-go-stop-go until I felt an ache in my lower back; at that point, I knew I needed to stop and walk the rest of the way.

On the walk home, I tried to figure out why I was running so poorly.  I should have been able to handle the distance.  It was hot, but I had run close to the same distance in hotter and more humid weather.  I kept going back to the same reason: I ran too fast at the beginning.  When I got home, I realized what had actually happened; I had become dangerously dehydrated.

dying
Chilled and cramped after stretching. Dehydration had set in.

As soon as I walked in the door, I headed to a bottle of Gatorade.  Within minutes, I got the chills and shakes and had to put on some layers.  I stretched – especially my lower back – and fell asleep on the floor.   When I woke up an hour later, I drank some water.  Suddenly, I needed the bathroom; I was going to throw up.  After that, I broke out in a vicious sweat.  I crawled into bed, water bottle and Gatorade at my side, and slept for another 40 minutes.

When I got up again, it was dark.  The feelings of nausea had passed and I finally felt strong enough to shower.  Before doing so, I weighed myself and had dropped 4 pounds (and that was after taking in a litre of liquids!).

By the time I felt like eating, it was late evening.  I found leftover roasted potatoes and sausage from the night before – perfect!  One huge plate of spuds was exactly what my body needed!

This morning, I was feeling much better.  My weight is almost back up; I am still rehydrating and eating fruits and protein-rich foods.  The aches and pains are gone.  Today is now a non-planned day off running; tomorrow will be better.

rehydration
All set for a day of rehydration!

So, what went wrong?  1)  Pacing – I did go out too fast.  I ran the first 23k at a 4:45 (km) pace, when I should have been running a 5:00 kilometre.  2) Fluids – Even though I was drinking as much as I normally do, I didn’t get in enough.  It was hotter than I thought and I had no shade.  The faster pace/heat/low fluids was a bad combination.  3) Nutrition – I fuelled the day and night before, thinking I was running in the morning.  This left me feeling full so I probably hadn’t eaten enough through the day to fuel my late afternoon run.

What went right? 1) Even though the last part of my run was stop and go, I ran 30K, plus the 1.5K that I walked home at the end.  Now I can work with that distance, zone in on my pacing for a few weeks and build a little more.  2) Recognizing that I needed to stop.  I don’t want to think where I could be today if I hadn’t.  3) Family support: Once my boys saw the shape I was in when I got home, they are talking about riding with me so that I have liquids and company when I head out on my next long run.  Support vehicles are the best!

Everyone training for a marathon has to have one tough training run, one when they completely fall apart.  Yesterday, I had mine.  Thank goodness it is out of the way!