Last Sunday morning, I listened to my husband tell me that I should wear my race bib to the Chilly Half Marathon upside down. “Be 999,” he said. “That’s a fun number.”
“No way. This is the number that I was assigned so this is the number that I am going to wear. Besides, now if I have a bad race, I can blame it on the number and everyone will understand.”
Even though I had the worst number imaginable, I didn’t really care. I actually thought it was a little funny. In fact, it helped me to relax a little; I knew that this wasn’t going to be one of my faster halfs, but I did want it to be a respectable race. In November, I squeaked under 1:40 on a downhill course (1:39:59), and I raced in 1:42 on the Chilly course last winter. This year, anything under 1:40 would be good. Maybe Bib 666 would let me run like the devil.
Knowing how a lot of people react when they see or hear ‘666’, I wore my jacket to Burlington and I kept it on as long as I could while warming up. Just before the start of the race, we listened to race director Kelly Arnott, the mayor of Burlington who welcomed and thanked Kelly for the fundraising that her event does for the city, and a minister who wished us a good race. I was tempted to ask the minister to bless me before I ran, thinking a bit of divine intervention might counteract the devil’s number. Instead, I just took off my jacket and hoped that no one would notice.
My race plan was to go out at an 8 minute mile pace and bring it down to 7:30 by the 3rd mile. Even with a windy start, my first mile was 7:38. “Too fast,” I told myself. “Bring it down.” The next few miles were under 7:30 but I was feeling strong. On this out and back course, I was really looking forward to turning around when the wind would push me home for the last 5 miles, but that did not happen. If anything, the wind seemed stronger; surprisingly, my mile splits stayed fairly consistent. I was having a good day.
I picked up my pace quite a bit in the last mile, dropping down to 7:19. When I made the last turn before the finish line, I could barely see the time on the clock change from 1:36 to 1:37. I was excited that I was finishing under 1:40 but also knew that I had some work to do if I wanted to keep my time under 1:38. I tried and, while my legs felt like they were turning over faster, they were just holding steady. Regardless, I finished in 1:38:12, fast enough for a third place finish in my age group and 88th of 1200 women. I was especially happy as this was the fastest half marathon that I have run in a long time; maybe there is a bit of a speed demon in me after all.
Last Sunday was the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington, Ontario. This race has become a staple on the winter running scene in southern Ontario and, with a few thousands participants, it has also become quite competitive. This year, it was the half-marathon championship race for the Ontario Masters Athletics, a few Olympians (Reid Coolsaet and Krista Duchene) and other national level athletes like Lucas McAneney were on the line, as were hundreds more who were looking for a challenge and a fast time.
Me? In December, I wanted this to be a goal race, one in which to push myself to achieve a certain time. But winter’s dark, Mama N’s ice and cold, and my nasty bruise from slipping on the ice put that plan on the backburner. I still had the race in sight, but my goal changed to finish while feeling strong – and I was totally okay with that. For me, the Chilly Half had become a ‘no pressure’ race.
On Friday night after work, I hustled to Burlington to pick up my race kit and bib. When I got there, I stopped to chat with Lucas McAneney from The Running Room and told him that I needed to find my race number. Lucas told me that they had been emailed but, somehow, I missed it. I was directed to a girl with a terminal who told me “6, 6…..6.”
“What?” I questioned. “Are you kidding me?” She passed me the terminal and I saw my name with 666 below it. I could only shake my head and laugh as I went to pick up my bib. The ladies handing them out stood still when they saw my number, looked at each other and were speechless until one commented “You could always wear it upside down.”
I went back to visit Lucas and told him that I liked my number better before I knew what it was. “Ya, I don’t have a very good one,” he said. “I got 13.” At least I wasn’t alone.
When I got home, Dave told me that he could have saved me the trip to the expo and picked up my kit when he was in Burlington the next day. “Are you kidding?
I asked. “Getting this number myself totally made the drive in rush hour traffic worth it.” When he saw it, Dave also suggested wearing it upside down.
At yoga that night, my friend, Monica, suggested that I ask the race director to exchange my bib for another number. “No way,” I said. “This is the bib that I was assigned so this is the number that I am going to wear.”
And I did. On Sunday morning, I got dressed and pinned my bib to my singlet, ready to race. But that is another post.
The Eggnog Jog may sound like a friendly race but it is on an unforgiving course. After a quick downhill first mile, you spend the next 5-6 kilometres climbing hills until the roads flatten and you can finally cruise along a downward slope into the finish. It’s the kind of route that leaves you thinking “never again.”
I’ve raced this course 4 or 5 times and each time I do, I finish thinking “never again”. Yesterday was no different. In fact, yesterday, I realized how much the race is like delivering a baby. Even though I always complain about how much the course hurt, the memories of that pain somehow subside, I end up registering again and the cycle repeats itself.
There are many reasons that I like the Eggnog Jog. As much as I hate to admit it, I do like hills; I would far rather push myself up and down a hill than do speedwork running around an oval. Also, being an early December race, unpredictable weather can also be challenging; this race tends to fall on one of the first really cold days that winter bring and, as expected, Sunday was cold. We started to feel the chilling effects of the Alberta clipper and, in Georgetown, we also had the first snow of the season, which just happened to arrive about 20 minutes into the race, resulting in some slippery road surfaces. Lastly, with local triathlons, duathlons, and marathons finished for 2017, this race can draw some strong competition. Sure enough, the competition arrived.
Meet Lynn Bourque, another masters runner who is also my age. We met years ago as competitors but have become friends, dubbing ourselves Betty and Veronica. This fall, we both raced the Oakville 10K together, finishing 0.9 seconds apart. At the Hamilton Road2Hope Half-marathon, we started in a downpour so we decided to work together; within the first kilometre, I watched Lynn pull ahead of me and it wasn’t long before she was out of sight. I was excited to see her in Georgetown, but I was also nervous about potentially jostling with her for position over a few kilometres of hills.
I took the start of the race conservatively as I knew the hills were waiting near the 3K mark to test me for the next 5-6 kilometres. During the fast downhill start, I watched many women, including Lynn, push ahead of me. As much as I wanted to keep up, and I knew that I could for a while, I knew that the smarter thing to do was hold back so that I had more to push myself up the hills when I needed to. By 5K, I had caught up to all of the women who had passed me at the start, and I spent the last half of the race trying to stay ahead of one. I turned my pace up a few notches when we finally hit the flats, and it became a game of catch and release until the last two kilometres, when she pulled ahead enough to gain 27 seconds by the finish. I was quite happy to learn later that she was 20-24, less than of half my age!
In the end, I crossed the finish line in 50:53, which gave me an average pace of 4:43 per kilometre (remember, it is a 10.8K course), a 7th place finish on the female side and a first place 40+ finish for women. Even though my time was about 90 seconds slower than it was two years ago, I am really happy with my result as this fall has been about running, racing and having fun. If I can do that and still run relatively well, I’m doing something right. This makes it easy to finish 2017 with some big hairy goals for 2018 – but I’m not ready to verbalize those just yet.
Last Monday, Dave and I went to Hamilton so that I could race the Boxing Day Ten Miler. While time and place are important to me, I was using the race mostly to see where I am at in terms of my own fitness. Since the beginning of December, my running has consisted of, well, just running. There has been no speed work, no tempos, and no hill practices. My busy month of work and family activities and the icy streets have resulted in a slight drop in my weekly mileage so I had just one goal: to run as fast as I can and feel good. I was really hoping that I could race in under 75 minutes.
Based on how my running had been going this fall, I felt that I could run that. I was up for the challenge of racing the day after Christmas, on a course with gentle rolling hills and a noon start. “If nothing else,” I told myself, “I’ll get in a good run and spend some time with Monica.”
Monica is one of my training partners. We run together when we can, which usually only means once a week. If I’m lucky, it ends up on a day when I am running long; when I am unlucky, it’s a day when she is doing intervals. Monica was also going into the Ten Miler with a “casual” attitude; it was just a post-Christmas tempo run. Unlike me, though, Monica has been doing all of the right things in her training and she was bound to have a strong race.
On the drive out to Hamilton, it poured. Over Christmas weekend, temperatures rose to slightly above zero, so the precipitation was rain – heavy rain. Most of it had passed by the time the race started but we still had some drizzle and a cold rain that leaves a chilled to the bone feeling. I actually didn’t mind it because the rain kept the temperatures a little more comfortable for racing.
There were, however, a few things that I didn’t like about the race. There were several problems with the start, for example, as most of us had no idea of the direction we were to start in; that’s an important detail in any race. Secondly, all runners in the 4 mile run and 10 miler began at the same time, which is so unusual in today’s road racing scene. I know that I am not alone in wishing that there were two starts, one for each group; even a 5 minute delay would have helped alleviate some of the congestion. There was also a bit of chaos in how the actual start was managed. The race director announced “Two Minutes!” Runners put on their race faces, and the race director said, “Go!” without any extra warning, no horn, nothing – just “Go.” People scrambled forward, surprised by the casual approach.
Hamilton is nicknamed “Steeltown” after the steel-making industry and, on Monday, the skies were as grey as its name. We can’t control the weather but the course would have been a lot nicer on a sunny day. Even when we ran along Bayfront, which is normally a scenic area, we had nothing but concrete, barren trees, grey water and grey skies. The first 5K were downhill or flat. I went out too fast for the first two kilometres, which is easy to do on a downhill start, and spent the next three dialing my pace back under control. By the time I hit the 8K mark (around 36:50), I felt that I had my pace exactly where I wanted it to be. Of course, every downhill is followed by a climb and we had a long one between 8K and 9/10K (it’s a bit of a blur right now). Then we ran up and down the hilly roads/paths until we had a last gradual (and long) climb to the finish. I ran 1:14:20 – mission accomplished. We headed inside, changed into warm clothes and had some hot tomato soup. Yum!
And I felt great. Monica ran a speedy 64 minutes and complained about being sore the next day. Not me! My legs felt fresh and ready to go. Obviously, I could have pushed myself more.
Both of us finished second in our age groups and that leaves me with my final criticism of the race: the awards. First, the finisher’s medal had a “95th year” ribbon on it, but this was the 96th year. I, as did several other runners, felt that we were given leftovers from 2015. Similarly, we were given a bronze coloured buckle for our second place finish. I questioned it – twice because it seemed so odd that ours was bronze but the 3rd place was more silver – but they insisted that we had the correct awards. I still feel like there was an error, or we were given leftovers from previous races when runners did earn belt buckles for running within a certain time. It’s not a big deal, but it irks my sometimes-ocd personality.
I know exactly where I lost to the first place winner, who finished less than a minute ahead of me. At the second last aid station, I stopped to make sure that I was getting Gatorade into me as I felt my sugar levels were dropping a bit; that’s where she passed me there. But rather than push myself to chase her, I simply started running again. Had I known that she was in my age group, I definitely would have given myself a good kick in the butt. Just before we climbed the last hill, I saw that the gap between us had narrowed, but I still didn’t feel the need to chase her down. After the awards, I wish that I had. Next time.
I got what I wanted out of the Boxing Day Ten Miler: a decent race, a baseline to build on in 2017, time with a friend. What I didn’t quite expect, though, was a boost in my confidence again – the realization that I am stronger than I think. Bring on 2017!
I’m not usually one for setting resolutions when the year changes, but I do set goals. Then I revisit them, revise them, and chase new dreams. In 2016, my goal was to become physically stronger as a runner. While my race times weren’t stellar, they were good enough to earn age group awards and earn a spot to compete in the Canadian 5K Championship race. It was a year of running based on raw talent – running without tempos, speedwork, or hill training.
In the past few weeks, while laying out my training plan for Boston, I’ve realized two things. First, I am a fairly decent runner, but I’m nearing the end of my age group (50-54) so I have to do something different if I want to stay competitive. Secondly, I am stronger than I think. In my past two races, I really just wanted to see how I would run, hoping to finish the Road2Hope Half-Marathon (November) in under 1:40 and the Boxing Day Ten Miler (December) in less than 75 minutes. I ran 1:37 and 74 minutes, respectively, and I felt good. Obviously, my base is solid; it is time to change my training.
So my 2017 goal is to bump up my training and cross-training in terms of distance, intensity and frequency. This month, my plan is to add speedwork and/hills into my running but I am absolutely terrified of doing either in the dark, especially when it’s icy. And let’s be frank; I don’t like either of them anyway. I’d rather just run. But like so many other things that are good for me, speedwork and hills must be run if I am going to be in shape for Boston. By running right after work, on the streets that surround my school, I should be able to get in a decent workout before daylight is lost.
During my marathon prep, I am also going to increase my cycling (windtrainer miles) so that I can strengthen my quads and be ready for the Boston hills. My core is another area for me to focus on, which can easily be strengthened with consistency at the yoga studio and indoor climbing gym.
These goals are not part of a new year; they simply coincide with it as part of my plan for Boston. They are in place to help me become better than I am and the runner that I aspire to be.
This 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. 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.
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.
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.
The Eggnog Jog is a popular race which runs out of the Terra Cotta Conservation Area, just north west of Toronto. It is 10.8K, is unusual distance but the country roads in the area make a 10K route difficult unless it is an out and back course. Regardless, the race draws over 600 participants; every year, it sells out so my husband and I registered early for it. This was my first race after the Chicago Marathon and the mid-December date gave me enough time to recover and work on regaining my speed.
Since the beginning of November, I spent my Saturday mornings focusing on speed work. Knowing that the course has a challenging elevation, I incorporated hill training, mile repeats, and shorter intervals in those workouts as I could do them in daylight. On the other running days of the week, I tempoed, did a long run (with my longest run at 17K) and just ran for the love of it. I headed back to the yoga studio on Friday nights (and, by the way, yoga on Friday followed by speedwork on Saturday makes for tired abs on Sunday morning). Everything felt right. I was ready and, hopefully, going to race a sub-50 minute race.
Dave likes this race because of the later start (10:30 a.m.). I like it for the challenge. The elevation drops about 100 metres over the first 2K and then climbs over 120 metres for the next 5-6K; the finish is a fast 400 metre downhill.
One of the biggest challenges that morning was deciding what to wear. I had my LVA singlet, Saucony Sayonaras, and Sweaty band – but did I need one layer or two; tights, capris or a running skirt? It poured in the morning and temperatures were hovering over 0 degrees at the start, so I opted for a t-shirt with my Running Skirt long sleeve and my tights. I was worried about being over-dressed but, as it turned out, my gear was perfect for the day.
Despite the training I had done, when I started the race, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I had 3 goals: to run as fast as I could, watch my pacing and try not to let any women pass me. I took the first 2K conservatively as I knew that I had to start an evil climb right after. In those first kilometres, I heard a woman talking to a man – something about keeping up – and picked up my pace enough to open a bit of a gap. From that point on, I didn’t hear her again.
Once I got to 3K, I started to play cat and mouse with a few men. They would run ahead of me, I would pass them, they would work to pass me again….It became a vicious cycle. At 7K, another male runner caught up to us and, then, another at 8K. I tried to stay with them but they were both stronger than I was – and finished less than a minute of me. Once I got to 9K, I turned on what power I had left and gave myself another boost at 10K.
As I made the last turn towards the 400 metre finish, I focussed on stretching out my legs, which was tough to do when my quads were still burning from the rolling hills. I saw the clock read 48:something and gave it everything I had to finish in 49:12. About 20 seconds later, another woman ran in and called me a “powerhouse.” Never in my entire life have I been called a powerhouse; it felt great.
I had no idea where I was in the final standings. I felt that I was close to the top but, as I didn’t see any women ahead of me, I didn’t know if I was chasing 2 or 3 or more. I was thrilled when I found out that I finished Third Overall. It was a great way to end the season.
This course was tough and I promised my husband that I would do my cooldown by running back out so that I could cheer him in. I tried to convince a few other runners who finished ahead of me to jog with me and they looked at me as though I had horns coming out or my head. So off I went on my own; the things we do for love. I found Dave around the 9K mark and ran with him until we neared the finish line, when I let him close his race alone.
Both Dave and I got what we wanted out of the Eggnog Jog. Dave wanted a goal race, a chance to push himself to run the 10.8K distance regardless of the time it took. Me, I wanted a goal of running a sub-50 and I got that. Best of all, though, was the chance we had to race together.