“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.

Knowing When to Say When

When I registered for the Chicago Marathon, I had forgotten how hard it can be to train through the summer heat.   Well, I didn’t entirely forget but I shrugged it off, thinking that this would be a typical summer with empty promises of hot weather.

Let’s keep in mind that this is Canadian hot – so nothing near the hot, dry heat that is felt through many parts of the United States and other parts of the world.  In Southern Ontario, I have to get up by 6:30 so that I can run in cooler temperatures, not at 4:30 like my Floridian friends.  But it’s all relative.

This past week, we had the first real heat wave that we have had in two summers.  23252-sunglasssunOn most days, temperatures were around 32 degrees (about 90F) but, when you added the humidity, it felt like 38C (about 100F).  What exactly does that mean?  At my hot yoga class on Monday night, they turned off the heat, closed the curtains to keep the sun out and we still walked away drenched; even then, it was hotter outside than it was inside.

Training-wise, the heat took its toll on me.  I ran my long run on Sunday and went through two bottles of Gatorade and lots of water in the 6 hours that followed; that was a personal record.  On Monday, I went to hot yoga at Power Yoga Canada; I trained with Lions Valley Athletics on Tuesday night, another sweat drencher.  On Wednesday night, due to family commitments, I kept my run short – 8K in feels like 35C heat.  By Thursday, I was done.

I had had it with the heat.  It, quite simply, had tired me out.   My feet were slightly swollen and I wasn’t sleeping well at night.  On Thursday, when the Littlest Dude asked if we could spend the whole day together, which meant no running for me,  I knew it was time to take a day off.  I needed the physical break but, more importantly, my son needed me.

Of course, I stressed over this.  I knew that the day off alone wouldn’t matter in the big picture but I worried about the drop in my weekly mileage.   I started to calculate ways to make it up over the rest of the week.  “Do I need to drop mileage next week too?” I wondered.   And what about next week’s mileage?

“ENOUGH!  It doesn’t matter.  It is one lousy day.  And it is one day that, for whatever reason, the Littlest Dude wants to spend with you.”  My inner voice set me straight.

And, as the week is wrapping up, the day off didn’t matter.  I ran yesterday and today, as planned, and I will tomorrow.  What matters is the Littlest Dude and making sure that he realizes that I am there for him when he needs me.  And when I do head to Chicago, he will be there, looking out for me.

My Triple H Day

Over the weekend, I complained about the hills at Saturday’s race, The Beamsville Bench.   The course (a 5K course over a 2.5K loop) started on an uphill for about 700m, plateaued and then dropped,  climbed again from 2k to 3K, flattened again, and climbed from 4K to the finish.  The hills were easier than the ones that I train on but, combined with the heat on the day of the race, I had nothing left to give for the last kilometre; my quads died.

Triple H Day
Dressed to tempo on one of the hottest days of the year.

When I described what I went through to my coach, his response was simple: more hill work.  Umm, no thank you; I have quite enough as it is.   But when this week’s training schedule arrived in our inboxes, today’s workout revealed the dreaded hill repeats.  On top of that, the GTA is in a middle of a heatwave and with high humidity, so our hill workout was guaranteed to be tough.   Oh joy!  Heat, humidity and hills.  What more could a girl want?

Normally, I don’t mind hill repeats.  They are hard, but each repeat is usually just a minute long so it ends quickly, especially when you compare it to a tempo run which lasts for twenty minutes or longer.  The only real problem with hill repeats is they come in droves and the reprieve between each never seems long enough.  Without a doubt, training on hills does make me a stronger runner.  If I am going to race on them, I need to train on them too.

Sixteen Mile Creek - bottom hill
The bottom of the hill, which we had the good luck of running up twice.

By 6:00, luckily or not,  the “feels like” temperature was hovering around 35 degrees celsius so our workout was “simplified”: a 6K tempo with 3 hills.  The men took off ahead of my training partner, Kelly-Lynne, and me.  The two of us stuck together, not knowing at the time that each of us was simply trying to hang onto the other.  We pulled each other around the looped trails and up and down each of the three dreaded hills.  Teamwork.

After our tempo, all of us headed to the splash pad across the street from the entrance to the trails.  Socks and shoes came off and we walked through, letting the water cool our feet which, in turn, helped lower our body temperature.  The rest was easy: a short cool-down run back to the Rec. Centre.

Once I got home, I raved about my tonight’s run, brought to me by heat, humidity and hills.  Am I crazy?  Probably, but I know my limits and had the safety of running with my training partners.   And the next time I have to race hills in the heat, I’ll be just a little bit stronger.

 

 

 

Race Report: Beamsville Bench 5K

I heard the course was going to be challenging.  Hills, road, gravel, out and back: those were the descriptors that my running mates who had raced it before used.  They also sighed and, now I know why, they have only raced it once.

Weeks ago, one of my running partners, the lovely Miss Monica, asked me to race the Bench 5K with her.  With the PanAm Games in the GTA, a lot of the regular summer races have been cancelled.  The Bench, held at the Mike Weir Winery in Beamsville, Ontario, was one of the few left to pick from throughout July and August.  While I would have preferred a longer distance to help me in my prep for Chicago, I decided that testing myself with the 5K would be a good idea. Besides, how tough could it really be?  I’ve raced tough and hilly courses – well, hilly as far as southern Ontario is concerned – and I can certainly run a 5K.  After a winter off running and exercise, I am finally feeling healthy, rested and fit.

At 8:30 this morning, I left the house feeling confident. By 10:00, as we started to warm up, I realized that I was going to be in for a tough day.  First, it wasn’t an out and back course; it was two loops.  Miss Monica and I jogged it, which started on an uphill for the first 700m, flattened out, dropped gradually and climbed again for  the last kilometre.  Lucky for us, being a 5K course, we were going to be able to race that loop twice and go around it again for a cool-down.

I started the race well, going through the first kilometre in 4:18 and the second, I believe, in 8:28.  Somewhere between those kilometres, I pulled ahead of two other women; every time, I heard them breathing closer to me, I tried to surge a bit ahead.  After climbing the hill at the end of the first loop, I felt that I had opened a gap, but I  wasn’t really sure how big that gap was. My race fell apart, though, at the end of the second loop.  Even though I tried to use the flat and the slight downhill to relax my legs, it wasn’t enough; the last kilometre was a beast.  I struggled to get over the final hill and, even though I have raced and trained on much tougher hills, this was one of the toughest finishes I have had.

Cooling down with a lap around the course and a few extra kilometres gave me time to reflect on why the course seemed so difficult.  I found out later that all times were slow; ladies who finished ahead of me were 1.5 to 2 minutes slower than usual; my time was about a minute slower so I felt positive about that.  By late afternoon, after I got home feeling exhausted, needed a nap and lots and lots of liquid, I realized that it was the heat, not the hills, that did me in.  We had started at 10:30 when the sun was already up, humidity was high and there was no shade.  Summer racing is tough.

I wanted a challenging course and I got it.  But I walked away with a few other perks.  Monica finished third overall and I finished 7th (in 22:37), but being 51, I was earned the top master prize: a running hat and a bottle of Mike Weir’s wine. Beamsville wine

The best part of the day, though, came from the medal they gave me.  As we were leaving the winery, a younger lady asked me if everyone got medals.  “No,” I replied, “Only the award winners.”

As she walked away, I looked at Monica and said, “Ah, she wanted a medal.  I’m going to give her mine.  I don’t need it.”  I walked back to her.  “Here, you can have my medal if you want.”  She looked surprised. “Really, it’s fine with me.  If you want a medal, you can have mine.”

To that, she took it and said, “Thank you.  I don’t want it but it’s his (pointing to whom I assume is her boyfriend) first race and I wanted him to get a medal for it.”  While walking away to catch up with Monica, I turned around and saw him smiling, proudly wearing a “gold” medal around his neck.

He earned that medal.   In the same way that we often praise the faster runners for their times, we have to remember that the new runners, the slower runners and the back of the packers are working just as hard.  It’s all relative.  For experienced runners or those new to the racing scene, the Beamsville Bench 5K is a tough course.  Anyone who finished it is a winner.