The Chilly Half Marathon, held the first Sunday in March, is one of my favorite races. This year was extra special as it was the first time that it has been held since March 2020. In fact, the Chilly Half Marathon was one of the last races in many people’s books before the world shut down.
It was so long ago that I had registered for this year’s race that I had forgotten that I had done so. When Covid numbers spiked up again last winter, the race was cancelled so I deferred my entry to this year rather than run the half as a virtual race. Last November, when I tried to register myself for the 2023 race, I was happy to see that I was already confirmed.
I was really looking forward to running, not racing, this. I love the half-marathon distance, I was using Chilly as a tune-up for the NYC half-marathon two weeks later, and it is in Burlington which is basically my backyard. There is a lot to be said for racing close to home. However, when Covid found me in January, I was sure that I was going to miss this year’s event.
Once I was out of Covid territory, I began a slow return-to-sport; the last thing I wanted was to end up with long Covid. The second last thing I wanted was to miss my trip to NYC and other spring goals. So, I started recovery with a few weeks of slower running, making sure that I wasn’t exerting too much effort, and using my bike to rebuild my endurance. While I was able to continue with both sports, I couldn’t swim – at all. The cold water was too much for my chest – or maybe it was the breathing in the cold water that was hard to handle – and I was off swimming for almost a month. Between my patience and cross-training, I was able to safely get my run back to 16 kilometres by the middle of February and, on the Sunday before the Chilly, I felt ready to toe the line.
In the weeks before the race, there were a few changes in logistics that normally would have worried me. There was only one shuttle bus from the Go Station to the start area and parking downtown is always limited. The only fuel on course was water – no electrolytes. And I had a feeling that there would be a reduction in the number of porta-potties at the start. However, this was a race that I was not racing; I was running just to finish the distance, not to push but to finish the 21.1 kilometres. After years and years of running competitively, this was different.
So really, I went in with no goals other than to finish. I knew that I would be able to do that. My secondary goal was to run between 1:45 and 1:55. Even after the 7 weeks of recovering from Covid, I felt this was realistic. If I had a good day, I might break 1:45. I had to remind myself that I was still running the half in New York City two weeks later. “Eye on the prize” I often reminded myself.
The race was great. The temperature was good but I overdressed. By 8K, I started thinking about taking off my outer layer, but I didn’t want to have something tied around my waist for 13K and I most certainly didn’t want to lose it. Being the weather tracker that I am, I also knew that we would be running into the wind for the last 10K and, as it turned out, I was glad that I wore what I did. I found myself in the 1:45ish pace group and the number of runners kept me moving. Muscle memory kicked in and I found myself running faster than I wanted. While I kept trying to dial the pace back down, it was futile and I ended up playing cat and mouse with another runner for most of the race. There were a few times when I actually did the “walk of shame” so that I could reset to a pace that my legs could hold but they kept spinning faster. My pacing was off, I had a lot of stop and go, and I was annoyed with myself. That being said, my finish time was 1:44:09, which I think is respectable, especially after being sick for the first part of the year. At the same time, I was a bit frustrated as ladies that I am normally ahead of finished just minutes before I did. “Eye on the prize” I reminded myself again. “You were only here to participate.”
While there is a lot to be said for racing closing to home, there is even more to be said for entering a race without worrying about time. I didn’t stress over the long lines for porta-potties at the start (which had me running over a kilometre up the road to a local Tim’s instead), I was fine with just water on course, and I never felt anxious about my run. My time was what it was: earned on two months of building distance with no speedwork sessions. It was an indicator of where I am naturally at and what I need to work on next. The next day, I felt great; I did a long ride, had swim practice that night, and I slept like a log.
I feel strong. I feel fit. I feel ready for some new adventures and dreams to catch.