Last week was one of the mentally toughest weeks that I have had in a long time. Running in a storm – okay, maybe that was fun. Getting sick on my long run – not fun at all. So when I headed to Whitby for the 10K on Sunday morning, I proceeded with caution.
Why did I pick Whitby? First, it is one of the few longer races (yes, this summer, a 10K race is a longer race) in the GTA. Almost all regular races have been cancelled in Toronto because of the PanAm Games and many race directors outside the GTA have dropped theirs because of the transportation difficulties that the Games have caused. It was a long drive but the Whitby race is one of the few road races in the Toronto area all summer. Secondly, one of my training partners, Darryl, was going and it is always more fun racing when you go with a friend. Finally, timing was key. The 10K in Whitby sets me up nicely for a 10 miler or half-marathon before the end of September in preparation for Chicago.
On Friday night, my coach advised against racing. He reminded me that it would take my body a few days to recover from my 30K long run on Friday. Finishing it as sick as I did and racing two days later was simply not a good idea. He was right, but I wasn’t about to walk away from it that easily. I was, though, prepared to walk away from the start line if I found that I really wasn’t up to par; if I felt dizzy or sick on the course, as hard as it would have been, I was mentally ready to DNA.
Darryl and I left town at 6:00 on Sunday morning and, after a major detour (yes, we got lost), we arrived at the venue shortly after 8:00, 90 minutes before the start. The low entry fee ($30) hinted that it was a low-key, no-frills event and it was. There were just over 100 runners for the 5k and 10K and our race kit was an OLG cotton t-shirt. After checking in, I headed out on my own for a short run before my actual warm-up to make sure that I was feeling okay. The out and back route was going to be beautiful – a paved path along the waterfront and lots of greenery. I noticed that the path was uneven at the edges and made a mental note to spend most of the race in the middle. About 20 minutes later, Darryl and I did a slow warm-up together and, then, did our drills on our own. I was feeling strong and race-ready.
Since numbers were low, the 5K and 10K started together. I watched Darryl quickly disappear into the curved paths and found myself chasing a group of ponytailed high school runners. I expected the course to be flat but it wasn’t; we were constantly rolling up and down hills, with a longer climb at the turn-around and another closer to the end. The hills were in my favour, though, as I passed each of the girls (and many men) on them before the 5K turned back and I continued on, thinking that I might have the women’s lead in the 10K.
I ran the rest of the way on my own. As I went further into the race, I found myself feeling more comfortable and picked up my pace. When I saw Darryl on his way back and saw that he was in the lead, with about 20 seconds to spare, I cheered him on and became very focussed on my own race. Three, four, five – only five people were ahead of me and they were all men; I was definitely in the lead of the women’s race.
After turning around, I saw that the second lady seemed to be only a minute behind me so I knew that I had to pick up the pace if I wanted to hold my position. Over the last half of the race, I was able to close the gap between the two men ahead of me and add more space between the second lady and me. It felt great being cheered on by runners who were still heading out. That was all anti-climatic, though, as I neared the finish area. I saw the photographer and worried about the drool and spit coming out of my mouth (yeah, I’m that runner), but he was only interested in drinking his water. “What the h—?” I actually thought. “You aren’t taking a picture? Beautiful scenery, great lighting, me – and only me; it would be a fabulous picture.” I quickly let my thoughts go, changed gears again (at least, I think I did), turned the corner and ran up a slight incline to finish. The little girl who handed me my finishing medal was amazed. “How do you run faster than the 5K’s? How do you run so fast?” Yes, even without the photo, this was the vanity race that I needed.
In the end, the course was a tad short – about 400 metres short. I finished in 42:08 but I think I would have finished under 44 minutes had it been an honest 10K. Given the way that I felt on Friday night, I was happy with that. Darryl opened the gap between him and the Number 2 Runner and was the overall winner, finishing a few minutes ahead of me. It was a good day for both of us.
After we crossed the finish line, we did a short cooldown along the waterfront and found a great training circuit. Of course, we had to stop and play. Then we headed back for the awards (another medal, a pair of gloves and a reflective clip-on light) and back home.
This race was the confidence boost that I needed. My race in Beamsville in July wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. My training has been going fairly well but Friday’s run did bring me down a bit. I was quite happy with my time in Whitby, especially since it was a C-race, and finishing first (even if it was a small turn-out) was a bonus.
With 9 weeks to go, I can continue to build mileage but, more importantly, build some tempo work into my long runs. After the past week of training and racing, I know I am ready for it.