Sunday, October 30, 2011

Trick or Treat - The Toronto Women's 8km

Race Morning
Copyright Phaedra Kennedy 2011
 I signed up for this race mid summer just after I did the 10km in this series.  I was totally gung ho and figured an 8km two weeks post half marathon would be perfect.  I figured I'd have ample time to recover and I'd have gained the fitness from racing the half.  I took the week following the half off.  No running, only swimming.  By the end of that week, I was sick.  My sinuses had gotten totally inflamed and I was stuffed up for days.  Great.  I battled this sinus cold on and off all week.  By Thursday I started to feel better and went out for my second run since the race.  It was interval night with the West Toronto Pacers.  It was a REALLY cold night but it was just what I needed to brush out the cobwebs.  My PB for the distance was 36:18 and that was done in 2003.  I headed into this race confident I'd beat that.  I hoped I'd be able to run it 33-34 minutes.   It would all depend on how well I'd recovered from my cold.

Race morning was freezing.  The weather report said it was 5 degrees so I opted for a lighter weight capri.  When we got to the park, the temperature had dropped to 3.5 degrees.  Geezus.  I layered up while waiting for my friend Babs to show up.  I was cursing my choice of leg wear.  I opted to wear a long sleeve shirt with a short sleeve shirt under neath and a pair of knit gloves.  Good choice.  Although a long sleeve shirt with a singlet might have been a better option as I got quite warm towards the middle of the race.  Or I could have opted to dress up in costume as many of the other ladies had.  There were quite a few entertaining ensembles and some really well done make up too.  Love it.

Once again Cory and Crew were functioning like a well oiled machine.  This series is definitely attracting some seriously fast runners and today was no exception.  Nic's Angels (coached by Canadian running star Nicole Stevenson) showed up en masse in their pink singlets.  They all lined up along the front of the start.  I figured it was going to be tough to crack the top 5.  I hoped to be able to even make the top 10.  Babs and I did our warm up run and then I jumped into an opening in the fencing about 1/4 way from the front.  I wove my way up towards the front of the pack and situated myself just behind the row of Nic's Angels.   I bumped into my friend & fellow Team RF athlete Linnea Humphrey as well as another team RF athlete Karen Bonham.  We chit chatted for a bit before Cory announced that we were 30 seconds from the start.  The front row of racers moved up to the line and everyone else followed.

I had no strategy for this race except to go as hard as I could.  That's kind of how most of my short distance races have been this year.  Go until I almost blow (or in some cases, totally implode like I did here.) It's all about toeing that very fine line.  I didn't want to go so hard that I blew up but I definitely wanted to be running "on the edge" for as long as I could.   I've gotten a lot better at knowing what that feels like and I chalk that up to my kamikaze racing mentality of this past year.

The gun went off and I went out like a shot.  This was the first race I opted not to wear the Newtons.  Not a bad decision as I felt like I was flying.  I didn't ease into anything, I went out hard and my heart was almost immediately in my throat. Gulp.  Ahem.  Gasp.  Pant.   I was bookin' it.   Unlike the last time I raced in this series, I was not at the front of the pack.  I wasn't going to make that mistake again.  I tried to hang on to a few ladies that were in front of me.  I passed a couple and as we closed in on the first km, I managed to pick off one more.  I passed the 1km mark and glanced down at my watch. 3:48.  Holy Smokes.   Let's see if I can manage another km like this.   Just after 1km a girl in a red top flew by me like I was standing still.  Geez.  No matter, it was still early.  Just before the 2km mark we seemed to have spread out fairly well.  The girls in front were WAY in front.  I couldn't really see them as the path went through the park in a big S' shape.  They always seemed to be either heading into the next curve or already in it so I could never really get a good idea as to how many people were in front of me.  The 2km marker came up and I looked at my watch again 7:50.  Hmmm.  So much for holding sub 4 min k's for the first 2km.  No matter, I was still on pace to run a sub 33 minute 8km.

I was hanging on to Fiona Whitby and another one of Nic's Angels.  I figured if I could stay behind them for a while, I'd be ok.  Just before the 3km mark, Fiona pulled away from her pal and I decided to try and stay with her.   We were coming towards the Don Mills Road bridge which is a bit of a tough slog on the way out but even worse on the way back.  I figured I'd be heaving by the time I got to the top.  I used the steep downhill to try and catch my breath but there was another girl who was right on my tail so I pushed the pace downhill.  I hit the 3km mark in just under 12 minutes.  My body was starting to hurt and I was actually feeling like I was overheating.  I rolled up the sleeves on my shirt.  The cold air felt great on my arms and provided a brisk little pick me up.

I was making my way towards the turnaround where I figured I'd have a better idea as to where I was in the group.  As I headed towards the turnaround, the first place girl came hammering along.  She was really cooking (she won the race in 28 minutes and change).  I waited patiently for the 2nd place girl to come back.  About a minute later she came flying by.  Followed almost immediately by the 3rd and 4th place girls.  I could see the turn around coming up and it looked like there was only a couple of other women in front of me.  Sweet.   I counted 3 more women as I hit the turn around, which meant I was in 8th place.  Awesome.  Only 4km left, don't let anyone pass you.

After I made the turn around, I got a good idea as to where the other women were.  There were a couple that were fairly close behind me.  Not good.  Gotta try and put some distance between them.   I wasn't sure where the extra gear was going to come from but I had to find it.  I had to find something.  I pounded my way back towards the Don Mills bridge again, knowing I'd probably slow down a bit once I got to the top.  I hauled ass up the hill, heart rate totally pinned.  I got to the top and just about died.  I almost stopped in my tracks to catch my breath.  No.  Keep moving forward.  I shuffled my way across the bridge, glanced back to see another runner just coming up the hill.  I slowed down going down the path from the bridge, mainly to try and catch my breath but also because the footing there is a bit dodgy. It's all wooden slats and it was covered in leaves.  The last thing I wanted to do was wipe out.

Once I hit the pavement I picked up the pace again.  I was heading towards the fireman aid station and the 6km mark.  As I came flying around the corner one of the firemen extended a well muscled arm and offered me some water.  Well, I'm not going to say no to that.  I grabbed it perfectly with both hands, which elicited a "nice grab" from the crew as I ran through.  I gulped back the water managed to land the cup in garbage bin as I ran through.  Superstar!  Ha ha ha.

As I made my way along the twisty trail, I thought I could see the red shirted girl that passed me early just up ahead.  Sweet, a bunny!  I knew I only had 2km left and I figured if I had another gear, now would be a good time to test it out.  I cranked the tunes and started to pick up the pace with the Arctic Monkeys "D is for Dangerous" blasting in my ears.  I was literally panting at this point but I still managed a big smile and wave for one of the on course photographers.  I hit the 7km mark and looked down at my pace 3:52/kms.  No wonder I felt like barfing.  Only 1km left and red shirt girl is just up ahead.  Go get her.

I came flying into the parking lot about 600m from the finish, running for all I was worth.   I got within 200m of red shirt girl when she saw the finish line and started to sprint.  Oh man. I got nothing.  I kept pushing, leaving it all out on the course.  I think my heart rate was somewhere up in the low 190's.   I saw Gary as I came thundering down the finishing chute.  I gave him a little wave and pushed as hard as I could towards the finish line.  I could see the clock counting down.  I hit the finish line mat with 9 seconds to spare.

Gun time:  32:51.  Chip time 32:49

Sub 33 minute 8km and a PB by about 3 and a half minutes.  Nice.  No tricks, just treats for me today! 

After the race I went over and got my goodies.  I love the post race chips and chocolate bars!  I made my way back to finishing line just in time to see Linnea come across.  I went over to congratulate her and we hung out for a while chatting and watching the other finishers come in a few minutes later I saw Babs finish the 5km.  I saw sub 23 minutes on the clock and figured she'd be happy.  She looked like she was in pain.  She eventually caught her breath and came over.   We stood around chatting when I was gently prodded by my hubby to go and check the results.  So off we went.  He figured I was probably first or second in my AG.  I knew where I had finished over all, the age group placing was the big question.  I wasn't sure if Fiona was in my AG or not.  Once I actually managed to get close enough to see the results, I came away smiling.

8th overall, 1st place in the 40-44 category.  Niiice.  

First place netted me another nice plaque and another very cool Mizuno bag.  I've never looked at Mizuno products before but now that I've gotten 2 of their bags as prizes from this race series, I will definitely check out more of their products.  Another good call on Cory's part - getting a sponsor like this on board for prizing.  Nice work.

I know for sure I'll be back again to participate in the Toronto Women's Half next year and depending how the rest of my racing year goes, I may end up doing the entire series again.

Next Up:  Some more empty miling and The MCC Chilly Willy 15km on November 27 th.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Embracing The Empty Miles

Force of habit caused me to reach for my watch and just as I was about to put it on, I thought Oh wait, that's not the point of today's outing.   Today was going to be my first attempt at empty miling.  I was going to run without a plan.  That's a big deal for a planner like me.

I was at the tail end of a head cold but the day was far too beautiful to spend sitting inside with a box of tissues so I broke out my hot pink Saucony's and hit the road.   I subconsciously reached my hand over to start my watch and looked down to realize that I hadn't put it on.  Riiight.  Ok.  Time to run.

I stood at the bottom of the walkway to our apartment and weighed my options.  I looked left down the road.  Don't want to go too far as I'm coming off of a cold.  I looked right, up the road.  Gotta stop at the bank to use the ATM.  Practicality won out and I turned right and made my way up the road towards Bloor West Village.  Gotta say, despite the week layoff and the remnants of a cold, I felt really good.  My right hamstring felt a bit tight but other than that the legs felt great.  I turn north to go up to Bloor and I hit my first light.  My hand traveled over to my wrist once again.  Wow, I can't believe how much I rely on my watch.  How much it is a part of me when I run.  Crazy.

I crossed Bloor and headed east towards the bank.  I was cooking along feeling great.  I get to the bank, take out my money and head back out the door.  Which way to go now?  I decide to head east again to Runnymede.  I turn south onto Runnymede and meander my way through side streets until I hit the Queensway and the path at the bottom of High Park.  I figured the park was going to be a busy place given that the weather was so stellar but that was ok by me.  A little stop and go never hurt anyone.  I turn into the park and I'm on auto pilot.  I've run in here so much I know all the paved paths like the back of my hand.  I come out into the playground area near the zoo.  Hmmmmmm...

Fall Foliage
copyright Phaedra Kennedy 2011
A red tree catches my eye and I turn in the direction of the zoo.  I run towards the tree and marvel at the redness of the leaves against the blue sky.  I take out my phone so I can take a picture.  So *this* is what it's all about.  Old habits die hard as I once again go to "start" my watch as I start running.  I chuckle to myself as I run by kids checking out the llamas and water buffalo.  Silly me.  I run up through the zoo and immediately turn right to head down Centre Road to another path at the east end of the park.  It's gotten warm so I roll up my sleeves, my left wrist feeling particularly naked.  No matter. 

Blue & Yellow
copyright Phaedra Kennedy 2011
I run along Spring Road at what feels like a really good clip and I catch myself turning my left wrist to take a look at my pace.  Ha ha ha ha...seriously?  I am grinning like an idiot at this point.  Whatever.  I am stopped in my tracks by a strikingly bright yellow tree against the crystal blue sky.  Out came the camera again.  Days like this are why I love fall.  I keep making my way along Spring Road until I get to the bottom of the Hill.  It's the puke inducing hill repeat hill.  The nasty bugger that appears at the end Harry's Spring Run off.  Whatever.  I'm only going up it once.  I start the ascent only to see this crazy sculpture out of the corner of my eye.  It's in a clearing just off of a trail.  I'm in.  No hesitation.  The hill can wait.

copyright Phaedra Kennedy 2011
I leapt on to the dirt path and stopped just in front of this sculpture.  The way the light was coming through the trees was amazing.  My iphone didn't do it justice.  Oh well.   I head into the forest.  I've never run on this path before.  Sweet.   It's a busy place.  Lots of walkers, some with dogs some without, all moving at a very leisurely pace.  That's cool.  I'm in no rush.  

As I run along watching the ground for roots and rocks, I marvel at the brightness of my pink shoes against the dark dirt of the trail.    For some reason this makes me smile.  I run through the mud and into the clearing where the community vegetable gardens are.  It too is a very busy place.  Urban gardeners are out in full force getting their gardens ready for the impending winter.  I meander through here some more, dodging a few overly excited dogs and I gradually make my way back to the upper loop of the park.  I am tempted to take another path that I spot just before I reach the main road, but I've been out for a while so I figure I'll leave that for next time.

I come back to the main road and chug along until I approach Bloor Street.  In my peripheral vision I spot a group of people dressed in period costume.  Really?  What the hell?  I stop for a bit to watch them and contemplate taking a picture.  That would have meant walking closer and I didn't really want to appear like I was gawking (which I clearly was).  So, I watched for a bit from a distance and then decided to continue my journey back home.

I ran west along Bloor Street, dodging pedestrians as I went.  Somewhere along that stretch I thought Ohhh a pumkpin spice latte would be the perfect way to cap this run off.    A few minutes later I made the detour into Starbucks.   A few more minutes later I was back out the door into the autumn sunshine with my warm beverage.  I ran / walked the rest of the way home, savouring the crisp air and glorious sunshine.  I stopped at the same light I stopped at on my way out.  This time my hand didn't wander, my wrist didn't even turn.  I waited with a satisfied smile.  What a perfect afternoon.   I could get used to this.

Lose the watch and love the miles.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Happy Birthday

It was a blustery October afternoon when I decided it was time to pay her a visit.  It was the day before my big race and I was supposed to be at home relaxing, not walking around in the rain.  But I knew I was running out of time.  My days in that 'hood were numbered.  We were going to be moving on so it was now or never.   I clutched my phone in my hand and kept glancing down at it as I walked around.  I wanted to make sure I had the info right.  

Would she be here I wondered?

It had been 25+ years since I saw her last.   The overwhelming urge to see her again was inexplicable.  I guess I just really needed to know that she was there.  I wandered around for what seemed like an hour.  I was cold.  It was windy and miserable out.  I was getting discouraged.  I must have looked completely lost because a groundskeeper stopped to ask me what I was looking for.  I told him and he pointed me in another direction.  He led the way and gingerly stepped along a path I hadn't really noticed before.  Just as I walked over to him I saw it.

I willed myself not to cry.  At long last.  Here she is.  

I thanked the groundskeeper for his help and waited until he left before I let the tears flow.  I'm not sure why I was so overcome with emotion.  She's been gone for 27 years.  Time may be the great healer but it can also make you realize how much you've missed.   I knelt down, cleaned off the stone and said hello.

Copyright Phaedra Kennedy 2011

Do you know how many times I've run by here looking for you?  You know I think of you often.  I think you'd be really proud of the woman I've become.  And yes, I still love Duran Duran.  I'll be thinking of you tomorrow when I'm out racing.  I know you'll be cheering me on from wherever you are.  I'll be back next week for another visit.

It's two days post race and I'm feeling good.  Almost good enough to lace up my shoes and take one last lap through Mount Pleasant.  The thought is tempting given that by weeks end we will be out of the 'hood an back in the West End.  But I decide that a short walk might be a better option, especially given that I don't know where half of my running stuff is.   It's a gloomy October evening but the weather is not affecting me.  As I turn into the cemetery, a small smile spreads across my lips.  I'm happy because I'm going back to check in on Grandma and wish her Happy Birthday.  

Ruth Miriam Welch:  Born October 18, 1916, Died December 31st, 1984, from breast cancer.  Mother, traveler, avid gardener and one very cool Grandma.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Got My Mojo Workin': The Scotiabank Half

Me & My Pace Bunnies; Joseph & Victor
Mojo as defined by the Urban Dictionary:
1. Self confidence or self assuredness.  As is basis for belief in oneself in a situation.
2.  Good luck charm or fetish
3.  Ability to bounce back from a debilitating trauma or negative attitude.

After the less than stellar year I had last year (personally and athletically) I had vowed that this year was going to be better.  I wanted to get my mojo back.  In early December last year, I started to formulate a plan to get my mojo working again.  It was going to culminate in the Scotiabank Half Marathon.  The scene of my epic meltdown the previous year.

My entire racing year was focused on this race.  The plan for another half marathon hat trick came about in early December last year after a dismal attempt at running a Boston qualifier.   I figured focusing on running a fast half would be more helpful if I decided to attempt another full down the road.  The addition of a rather challenging goal time came about sometime in January.   I figured since I was turning 40 this year, a 1:40 half would be a good goal.  I knew it would be a challenge given that my PB for a half was 1:43:38 and that was done when I was 33 years old.  I knew I'd have my work cut out for me.  But I'm certainly not afraid of a little hard work.

Fast forward to May of this year.  I ran the Toronto Women's Half in 1:41:37.  I certainly didn't expect a result like that so quickly.  My goal for that race was to go around 1:45 or just under.  It was at that point that I knew 1:40 would be easily attainable.  Gary suggested I set a "hard" goal.  So, I figured I'd aim for 1:35.  That would be tough.   I trained fairly well throughout the summer.  I hit the gym on a regular basis and I continued to race.

After an epic Thanksgiving weekend, I was feeling really run down and on the verge of getting sick.  I doused myself with everything imaginable from Cold FX to oil of oregano to tons of Vitamin C.  I slept well and took it easy.  By mid week I felt totally back to normal.  I scaled back on my weights to let my legs recoup.  I focused on my nutrition and eating as cleanly as possible, trying to stay away from my nemesis, sugar.   I had a very successful taper until the day before the race.  Which is what always seems to happen.

The friends whose place we've been staying in were coming back on Saturday.  We have rented an apartment that we took possession of on Saturday so that day was spent packing and running around.  We hadn't grocery shopped because we were moving so I was eating whatever I could find in the fridge.  That meant a lot more carbs and lot less veggies.  Gary brought our friends back from the airport around 5:00 pm and we hemmed and hawed about what to have for dinner.  It was going to be take out, which I was not too keen on.  We settled on Swiss Chalet.  Now I *could* have opted to have a salad with my 1/4 chicken dinner but alas, I did not.  I had the fries.  Bad choice as I would find out the next day.

I slept relatively well given how nervous I was.  I woke up at 4:44 am.  Coincidentally that was the pace per km needed for me to run a 1:40 half.  I thought that was kind of ironic and rolled over to go back to sleep.  I dozed on and off until about 5:30 when I just said screw it and got up.   I showered, put on my race gear and wandered downstairs to eat breakfast and try to relax.

Gary and I got down to the baggage check area at about 8:00 am.  It was freezing so I opted to wear my long sleeve Running Free top over my t-shirt, singlet and arm warmers.  I was thankful for the disposable gloves that our friend John had given me the day before.  I got all my stuff out of my bag, dumped it at the baggage check and went back to find Gary.  I had to do a warm up so while I was doing that Gary went off to get a coffee.  I ran west along Dundas at an easy clip.  About 2 minutes in I started to get a stitch.  Uh-oh.  I backed off a bit as I turned down McCaul.  I ran down to Queen St and turned around and the stitch got worse and worse.  Crap.  This was NOT what I needed.  I worked at breathing through it and by the time I got back to Dundas and University, I was nicely warmed up and the stitch had somewhat subsided.  I was a little worried though.   One stitch usually means that more are inevitable.  Victor, my pace bunny and fellow West Toronto Pacer, put it down to nerves but I knew better.  I was silently cursing my poor dinner choice from the night before.

Victor, Joseph (another West Toronto Pacer) and I decided we'd make our way down to the start line and try to hit the porta potties for one last time.  It was complete chaos around the corrals and the porta potties.  The line ups were insane so we decided to run into the maze of office buildings off of University to find a spot to pee.  Easier for the boys than myself but I managed to find a bit of greenery to duck behind.  I was joined by a few other ladies.  Ah sometimes us runners have no shame.  But when nature calls you gotta do what you gotta do.  I met back up with Victor and Joe and we made our way to the corrals.  They had moved the start line south from last year's start and for some reason the organization of the corrals seemed to be a lot more chaotic.  It was difficult to get in and the line ups to get in were ridiculous.  We had to try to fight through all the slower runners to get down to the faster corrals.  Ridiculous.  So we opted to run along the outside and head down to the bottom where we could see some other runners getting in.  We climbed over a small brick wall and slid in to the small entrance at the back of the yellow corral, which by the way was quite empty.  We made our way to the front of our corral just in front of the 1:40 pace bunny.  Our goal was to position ourselves right at the back of the red corral in front of us so we weren't trying to dodge too many people.

We spent a few minutes chatting and then I heard the National anthem so I knew it was almost go time.  All the runners started to move up towards the start line.  I took a deep breath and hit play on my ipod and the Beatles "Revolution" started my half marathon playlist.
"This is it, I thought.  My A-race.  Let's see what I'm made of."
As we made our way up to the line, I said to the guys "Let's DO this!" and Victor let out a cheer as did Joe and we were off.  I tucked behind Victor and Joe as much as possible.  We had to dodge a few people but we started off very conservatively.  Victor said we'd start to pick up the pace at around 2km once the crowd thinned out a bit.  Of course I was worried we were going too slow but I just focused on following Victor.  I always go out too fast and I asked Victor to pace me to keep me from doing that, so I had to trust that he would keep me in check.

Just before 2km we saw Carm and then Gary, both of whom got an enthusiastic wave from me.  I'm pretty sure I was grinning.  I was feeling really good.  My heart rate was nice and low and we were turning over a pretty good pace (around 4:45's) and most importantly, I was feeling comfortable.  We lost Joe just past 2km as he had to hit the porta potty again.  He said he'd catch up be we never saw him again.  We made our way around the Distillery District and then headed down Parliament to the Lakeshore.  I knew once we made the turn on to Lakeshore that we'd be heading into the wind and that's when the real work would begin.   Sam Roberts "The Graveyard Shift" was playing and I liked the rhythm of the song so much, it got played twice.

We turned onto Lakeshore and immediately Victor gestures for me to tuck behind him.  The wind isn't too bad here as we're still relatively sheltered.  I checked our splits at the 3km mark and we are slightly off a 1:35 pace.  That's ok.  I wanted to negative split this race so I was ok with going slower on the way out.  I figured we'd have the wind kind of at our backs on the way back in so that would help push us along.  I saw Gary again at 4km and gave him another wave.  Just before we hit the 5km mark, I could feel another stitch starting.  I held my abs tight and tried to breathe through it.  I took a Roctane and some fluids and that seemed to help.  It didn't develop into anything major but it was slightly annoying.  By 6km it was gone.  This happened on and off throughout the entire race, getting progressively worse each time.  Not good.

We motor along past the Exhibition and the wind gets quite nasty around here.  People had spread out a lot so Victor was trying to draft off of anyone and everyone we caught up to.  We were still moving a long at a pretty good clip but falling a bit farther off a 1:35 pace as we went along.  Again, I was not too concerned.  As we hit Jamieson, I saw my friend Myles cheering and waved to him.  Shortly after we got to catch a glimpse of the lead marathoners passing us on their way back.  Reid Coolaset was right up there in the mix.  AWESOME!  We came up on the 10km timing mat and I checked my watch and all I saw was 45: something.  "That's cool, I'm good".  We were running slightly slower than a 4:30/km pace.  We were heading towards the turnaround at Windermere where I knew I'd have a bunch of friends waiting to cheer me on.  I hadn't stopped at any aid stations yet, I had just been sipping from my Nathan flask.  Sipping being the operative word.  I told Victor I was going to grab some water at the Parkside water station.

Ran into the water station and gulped down a half cup of Gatorade.  Caught back up to Victor just as he was pulling up to the 3:15 marathon group.  80 year old running legend Ed Whitlock was in that group, looking as fresh as a daisy, smiling away.  Victor cheered him on as we passed.   The crowds down at the Windermere turnaround were simply amazing.  Lakeshore is a huge boulevard with a nice little "island" in the middle of it so both sides of the boulevard AND the island were lined with spectators.  My friend Sue was going to be in town so she said she'd be on the island probably with our friends Pat & Jenn and their daughter Reese.  I told Victor I was going pull out a bit and look for them.  Sure enough I saw them before they saw me.  I waved and yelled woohoo as I ran by.  We made the turnaround and then I heard my name again.  I looked over to see Linnea and Glenn on their bikes on the south side of the road.  They rode along the course for a while cheering on myself and other runners.

I was expecting the wind at my back to make things feel a lot easier than it did.  Oh well.  I was getting surprisingly warm and had already lost (literally) my arm warmers so I figured it was finally time to ditch the gloves.  I tossed them and grabbed another gel.  I tucked behind Victor again as we motored up the hill at the Legion.  Gary had told me if I still felt good with 5km left that I should just give 'er.  I think I was so excited that I started to push the pace around the 14km mark.  It didn't help that Diana, another West Toronto Pacer, passed me like I was standing still.  I wanted to keep her in my sights.  I was still feeling really good.  My legs weren't sore or hurting at all but I was definitely working as my heart rate was hovering around 170.  At about 16km I started to notice that my vision was blurring.  Crap.  I had this happen to me once before.  Last summer at the Welland Half when we did the relay, I was overheating and dehydrated and I started to see what looked like heat waves (like what you see radiating off the pavement on a hot day) in my peripheral vision in both eyes.  That same thing was happening.  I was having trouble focusing.  I was starting to get panicky.  My breathing started to get a bit more ragged and I could feel another stitch forming.  I had to try and remain calm.  I didn't want to stop and walk.  That didn't help me last time so I continued running and didn't say anything to Victor.

The heat waves continued until just before 19km when the mother of all stitches started.  It was like someone was stabbing me under the rib cage.  I let out an audible groan and shoved my thumb under my rib.  Victor asked if I was ok and I grunted that I had a stitch.  He said we could slow down, that we were way head of my goal pace (he was thinking I was still aiming for sub 1:40).  He said we only have about 10 minutes left and asked if I could gut it out.  I couldn't answer him as I was trying to breathe through the stitch.  I didn't want to slow down.  No way.  Not this close to the finish.  We ran up the hill at the Spadina off ramp and on the way down I noticed that my stitch was subsiding.  As I got to the bottom of the hill, I also noticed that my vision issues has cleared up.  I figured there was less that 2km to go, I was going to let loose.  I was hurting but I still had *something* in the tank.  I wanted to leave it all on the course.

The next thing I knew, we were running up Bay Street and I saw the 500m to go sign.  I turned to Victor in disbelief an said "What?!  Only 500m to go?  Let's book it!"  Victor said he had nothing and that I should just go.  I didn't need any prompting, I knew I was going to be cutting it close to 1:35.  Adrenaline surged through my fatigued body, giving me new life as I made my way under the Bay Street bridge.  It was dark so I pulled off my sunglasses.  The last thing I wanted to do was trip in my final 300m to the finish line!   As I came out from under the bridge and saw the crowds that lined the finishing chute, I was completely overcome with emotion.  I fought back tears as I busted my butt up Bay street, with Gogol Bordello's "Wonderlust King" blaring in one ear.  I heard my name and saw Gary and waved, then my friend Tara, then my friends Deanne & Fred.  What a boost.  I could see Diana about 100m ahead of me, crossing the finish line.  I sprinted as hard as I could to the line, grinning from ear to ear.  I didn't even look at my watch.  I knew I just made it under 1:35.   I caught up to Diana and put both my hands on her shoulders and she turned around in surprise.  We congratulated each other on a great race.  Victor finished shortly thereafter.  We got our medals, got some food and our foil blankets, and I gave each of them a hug.  Diana for having an awesome race and Victor for being an amazing pace bunny.  Without him I'm not sure I could have managed to have pulled off my final time of 1:34:48.

When I finally found Gary after waiting in line for my bag for OVER AN HOUR, he told me I was 8th in my age group.  I almost started crying again.  To break the top 10 in a race of this magnitude was simply amazing.  I found out later on that I actually ended up 6th in my age group.   Even more mind boggling.  Two days later and I'm still kind of in shock.

I never imagined at 40 that I'd have the best season of my life (to date).  I had vowed at the end of last year that I was going to make 40 the best year possible.  And it has surpassed my wildest dreams.  I couldn't have done it without the support & guidance of my amazing husband (& sometimes coach) my friends, training partners (go WTP and Team Running Free) family and co-workers.   Thank you all for making this journey an amazing one.

I'm already looking forward to next year.  Plans are being formulated.  I'm definitely going to try and tangle with the 26.2 mile monster once again.  Should be another entertaining journey.  Hope you'll all continue to "come along for the ride".

Happy Trails....

P.S.  I actually managed to negative split this race.  I ran the first 10km in 45:33 and the last 11.1km in 49:16.  Average pace for the first 10km was 4:33's.  Average pace for the last 11.1km was 4:26's.  YES!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What's Your Motivation?

When I started running 13 years ago, it was still considered somewhat of a "fringe" sport in most circles.  There weren't a ton of road races or marathons to choose from in Ontario.  There were a few "big" ones (and by big, I mean well publicized).  Around the Bay was a big one as was the Toronto International Marathon (which is now the Good Life Marathon) and the Waterfront Marathon (which is now The Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon).   It used to be that you could decide last minute to enter one of these races as they hardly sold out.  How that has changed.  The running industry has grown exponentially over the last 20 years and shows no real signs of stopping.  This growth has meant that more and more people are testing themselves at races.  This in turn means that more and more races are filling up quicker.  It's not unheard of for some of the more popular races to sell out months before the actual event.  The Chilly Half Marathon, Around the Bay and The Toronto Women's Half are popular ones.  Coincidentally they are 3 of the races that I'd like to do next year.

It's crazy to think that my racing year hasn't even ended yet and I'm already thinking about what races I'm going to do next year so I can get my registrations in early.   I do see this as a positive thing though.  To me it means that more and more people are stepping up to the plate and making the choice to lead a healthy lifestyle.   They are following a plan and sticking with it to the end.  That is no small feat.  It takes dedication and perseverance.   The sense of accomplishment one feels after completing a marathon, or any race that you've put the training in for, is something you will always have.

For me, the accomplishment is only part of the picture.  I enjoy the process of training as much as the result.  I am always learning and to me that is a big part of the process.  A race is where you put your knowledge to the test, along with your endurance, stamina & guts.  You put what you've learned into practice.  That's what keeps me motivated, that's what keeps me coming back to the start line.

What's your motivation?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Music That's Going to Move Me.

Here it is.  Finally.  After much listening and editing, I've made my race day play list.  This is what made the cut.  Normally I just put my ipod on shuffle and let the songs play.  This time I've actually taken the time to put the songs in a particular order, one that I hope will push me to a sub 1:40 finish.

So here we go:

1.  Revolution- The Beatles
2.  Junior's Farm - Wings
3.  Graveyard Shift - Sam Roberts
4.  The Spirit of Radio - Rush
5.  Stadium Love - Metric
6.  1901 - Phoenix
7.  You Wreck Me - Tom Petty
8.  Howlin' For You - The Black Keys
9.  Animate - Rush
10.  Seven Nation Army - The White Stripes
11.  When the Sun Goes Down - Arctic Monkeys
12.  Leave That Thing Alone - Rush
13.  Take Me Out - Franz Ferdinand
14.  Native Love - Divine
15.  Out of the Cradle - Rush
16.  YYZ - Rush
17.  Balaclava - Arctic Monkeys
18.  Stick it Out - Rush
19.  Rusty Cage - Soundgarden
20.  Two Swords - English Beat
21.  Heavyweight Champion of the World - Reverend and the Makers
22.  D is for Dangerous - Arctic Monkeys
23.  Wonderlust King - Gogol Bordello
24.  Pump it Up - Elvis Costello
25.  One Little Victory - Rush

Monday, October 10, 2011

Beginnings, Endings and Things I'm Thankful For.

Copyright:  Phaedra Kennedy 2011
Yesterday I went out for my last long run before my big race next weekend.  I couldn't have asked for a nicer day.  It was hot, unusually so for October so I donned a tank top and shorts and headed out.  The fall colours are starting to pepper the wall of green I usually see on my long runs through the Moore Park Ravine.  The light has changed from the blazing sun of summer to the soft golden light of autumn.   There is a magical quality to that light that I love.  It makes me happy and when I'm happy, I often think about what I'm thankful for.  Given that yesterday was Thanksgiving, thoughts of thankfulness permeated my run.  But it was also bittersweet.  Bittersweet because I realized that it was probably going to be the last long run I was going to do down the Moore Park Ravine.  At least Mother Nature blessed me with the perfect day for my last romp in the east end.   In a couple of weeks we will be moving yet again.  This time we are heading back to the West End.  Back to our old stomping grounds in High Park where we'll stay until our house is done.

It seems fitting that I come to the end of my half marathon journey just before we move.  One chapter closes as another one begins.  Once again I look forward to the opportunity to explore new(ish) running grounds.  I'm also looking forward to being closer to all the things we do in the West End.  No more 5:30 am commutes to the pool.  No more 25 minute highway commutes back to mid-town after meeting with my West End run group and most importantly, only a 15 minute commute to "home".  These are some of the things that I am thankful for.

Yesterday's run was 16km and it flew by.  It was once of those days that I actually wanted to run longer but that would defeat the purpose of a taper.  I felt great despite previous days Thanksgiving food extravaganza.  My legs were starting to recover from the excruciating massage I had on Friday and my new cw-x compression shorts turned out to be nothing short of amazing.  I felt strong and for that I was thankful.  A mental boost like that is exactly what I need during my taper.  Taper time is normally when I start to worry and doubt myself and my training.  As I ran up the ravine trail to Moore Park at the end of my run, I thought, "I'm ready for next weekend, I've done the work, bring on the race."  Now all I have to do is get to the start line healthy.  

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Let The Music Move You

With my A-race being a mere 11 days away, it's time for me to start giving some serious thought to my race day playlist.  Running with music is something I've done for almost my entire life as a runner.  When I first started running I would carry my yellow Sony walkman with me and listen to tapes.  That was 13 years ago.  Now I run with an ipod shuffle that clips on to my shorts, is slightly bigger than a toonie and can hold about 1000 songs.  How technology has changed!

I never used to race with music though.  I'm not sure when that changed for me.  I think it might have only been last year now that I think about it.  I took a musical hiatus when training for both my Ironman races as you're not allowed to race with an ipod.  But soon after I went back to running with music.  There is something about listening to a great tune while running that can turn an ok run into something special.  Maybe it's the evocative power of music, I don't know.  Many of the songs I listen to while running have some kind of positive association for me, whether it be fond memories from high school, memories of an amazing concert experience or memories of good times with friends.  These can be very helpful things when you're pushing yourself.  I know I can't possibly be in a bad mood while listening to songs that have this sort of positive association.  That in turn can help me focus on being positive, which is HUGE when things may not be going exactly as planned during a training run or a race.  A great tune can give me that added "push" as well.  For example this past weekend, at the Korean Peace Run 10km, I was listening to Elvis Costello's "Pump it Up" on my finishing sprint to the line.  Hard NOT to push it when you've got that song blasting.

This playlist will have a diverse mix of music but all of it will be music that gets me moving.  Given that my current shuffle playlist is about 2 days worth of music, I think I have some serious editing to do if I want to get it down to 1 hour and 40 minutes.  I already have some favourites picked out and you know that if Elvis Costello can carry me to a women's overall win, he'll make the cut again for my Scotia Bank Half Marathon play list.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Culture Shock: Korean Run for Peace 10km

I hadn't planned on running a 3rd race in October but when my friend and fellow West Toronto Pacer Joseph Park told me about this race and said that they had good prizes and even better draw prizes (TV's and a round trip to Korea), my interested was piqued.  I asked him how much it was to enter and he said $10.  SOLD.  Hands down the best value for a race considering what I walked away with.

I was scheduled to do a 27km run with a 10km race pace segment in the middle third of the run.  My plan was to drive to the park early and head out for my run.  I was hoping to get about 13-14km in before the race and then do a 3km cool down.  That didn't happen.  I got just over a 7km warm up in before I got back in to the park to collect my race bib.  That was not a speedy process as I think they needed a few extra hands.  After I got my bib, I ran back to the car to drop off my fuel belt and change into something a bit warmer.  It was FREEZING.  It might have been 7 degrees but it was windy which made it feel that much colder.  I wished I had brought gloves.  I ran back to the start area and met up with the rest of the West Toronto Pacer crew.  There were 12 of us and we were all on the Red Hot Korean Chilly Pepper Team.  Talk about a stacked team.

The race was supposed to start at 9:00 am but in the spirit of a true community event, the organizers allowed last minute registration to go on well past the original start time.  The announcer, whom I couldn't hear very well, nor could I understand since he was speaking Korean, had told us the race would start at 9:15.  Apparently he also said it would start with a gong and then someone hit the gong and a bunch of us took off.  False start.  Everyone ran back to the start line laughing.  It was quite funny. There was some more announcing in Korean and then they counted down to the start 3-2-1 and we were off.  It was mayhem.  There were a bunch of slower men in front of me that I had to dodge around to get some space but that didn't take long and within the first 500m, I had room to move.  Roger, John, Victor and Joe took off like mad men.  Normally I can stick with Joe but I wasn't about to make the same mistake I made the last time I raced 10km.  I went out hard but mainly due to adrenaline.  I dialed that back pretty quickly and settled into a good rhythm.  I was running anywhere between 4:05's and 4:10's.  Perfect.  The way out was slightly down hill so I figured I'd make some gains there.  It was very windy so my plan was to draft as much as possible.

I passed a few guys early on and then seemed to settle into my groove nicely.  The course was 2 loops and we had to get an elastic band at certain points so the marshals knew that we did 2 loops.  Much like the run in Ironman Switzerland.  I got to the first elastic band pick up and knew that on the way back I'd be able to see where the next woman was.  I was in the lead, I just didn't know by how much.  She must have been relatively close behind me because I couldn't see her after that first turn around.   I pushed it a bit on whatever downhills I could find and then drafted behind people as the way back was ridiculously windy.  The less work I had to do the better.   As I passed one fellow, he said "You know you are the lead woman!"  I said "yup!" and he wished me luck as I pushed on towards turn around number 2.  My pace slowed a fair bit on the way back as I was running into the wind and slightly uphill.  It was tough.  I could feel my legs starting to complain a bit.

I hit the second turnaround and it was at this point that I finally saw the woman behind me.  She was decked out in a pair of Boston Marathon capris and a Livestrong jacket.  She was also only about 500-600m behind me.  Still too close for comfort.  I was going to have to push harder.   On the way back out, I caught a guy in a Mississauga Run Club t-shirt.  He was running the perfect pace for me to duck in behind him.  So that's exactly what I did.  He blocked the wind for me for the last 1/3 of the race.  I ran just off his shoulder or right behind him for as long as I could.  He got ahead of me a few times but each time I managed to catch him and sit behind him.  At the 3rd and final turn around, I almost lost him but caught up with him when I booked it on the down hill.  At that point I saw I had opened up a decent gap on the next woman.  She was now closer to 800m behind me. Whew.  I kept pushing, hoping I'd have something left in the tank at the end.  I felt like I had raced smartly this time.  My energy level was good, sure my legs were a bit sore but that's to be expected, given I ran an 8km warm up.  With the help of my Mississauga run club friend, we managed to pick off a few more guys that had gone out too hard.  With about 1km to go we caught John Song and at one point I had the 2 of them in front of me completely blocking the wind.  Sweet.  A few minutes later I my pace bunny started to pull away and John & I were running together.  He said we should try and catch that guy. I wasn't sure I'd be able to but then I saw Gary (he was the bike marshall) so I started to push the pace.  I was getting closer to my pace bunny but there was no way he was going to get chicked.  I started to really push the pace, at one point I looked at my watch and it said 3:51 km's.  Jeezus.  I was cookin'.  I lost John and started to close in on my pace bunny.  I ran out of real estate before I could catch him.  He crossed the finish line just ahead of me and then he turned to me and said "You, wow!" as he gasped for air.  I said "Did I push you to go faster?"  He said "Yes, thank you!".  I smiled back and said "You're welcome".

That has to be one of my favourite things about racing right there.   Totally awesome.

Apparently this race is a big deal in the Korean community.  The amount of photographers and videographers there was insane.  Because of the close finish between me and my pace bunny, the photographers didn't get a good shot of me crossing the finish line.  So, they requested that I go back out and run back in for the cameras.  Ha ha ha ha.  Seriously.  So I did it.  The next thing I know I've got some reporter with a camera and a mic asking if he can interview me.  What?  Oh my.
Pic courtesy of Roger Jonas

Those of you that know me, know how uncomfortable I am in front of the camera.  It's not like I could say no.  So there I am holding a mic and talking about how I heard about the race and how much fun I had and how happy I was to have won.  I was just about to head back to the car when a second camera crew comes up and asks me if I would mind answering a few questions.  Wow.  Ok so I'm asked a few more questions about the race, how often do I run, have I run any marathons before and which ones.  When I mention Boston I got a series of "oohs" from the camera guys.  Too funny.  The interviewer then asked me if I minded giving my age and when I said "40", he said "Oh wow, you don't look 40".  Totally made my day.

pic courtesy of Roger Jonas
The awards ceremony was taking place at the Korean Cultural Centre just up the street on Leslie so the whole WTP crew made our way over there where Joseph wrangled some seats up at the front.  Everyone was teasing me and calling me the Grand Champion.  There was a little program there that outlined the mornings proceedings and sure enough, the overall winners were called The Grand Champions.  Ha.  Wow.  I caught a glimpse of the trophy up on stage and it didn't look as big as what Victor and Joe had said  Boy was I ever wrong.

Given that this was an event that had some political leanings and we are in the midst of an election campaign, I was not surprised to see the stage filled with local MP's & MPP's.  Of course we had to listen to speeches from all of them as well as have them read well wishes from our Premier and Prime Minister.  There were some important Korean figures there as well and they also gave speeches.  The WTP crew sat through it patiently.  Well most of us did.  Joe kept making comments and making us laugh.  Carrie kept me giggling through a lot of it as well.  Finally they were going to announce the winners from the age groups.  At all the other  races I've done, the overall winners get announced first.  Not so at this one.  The age group winners got announced first.  The age groups were in 15 year increments as well.  Bizzare!  And instead of going first, second and third in each category, they announced the 3rd place winner in each age category first, then they announced the 2nd place winner in each age category, then the first place winner in each age category.  Very confusing.   The West Toronto Pacers cleaned up.  Out of the 12 of us that participated, 7 of us got trophies.  We also got an award for being a part of the largest team (we each got a $5 gift card for Tim Hortons!).   There was a lot of teasing leading up to the announcement of the Grand Champion.  Joe said I'd probably have to make a speech and I was mortified.  Good God.  I was also told I'd have to make sure I bowed my head as a sign of respect to the presenter.  Ok, got it.  Joe was trying to give me a crash course in Korean greetings but I was so nervous I figured there was no way I'd remember it, let alone get it right.  They announced the Men's winner and his time (in Korean first) and there were a lot of oohs and aahs (he ran it in 38 minutes and change) and he went up to get his trophy.  Then they announced my full name (shocking!) and my time, again there were a lot of oohs and ahhs.  The WTP crew were cheering a whistling and I was trying so hard not to turn as red as my Running Free shirt.  I got up on stage and walked over to the presenter bowed and shook his hand and he handed me this ginormous trophy that had to weigh about 20lbs.  Holy smokes.  I shook the men's winners hand and then noticed that he had the women's trophy so we made a switch on stage.  The crowd started laughing.  I was given an envelope with a gift card of some sort in it.  I was DYING to get off the stage but we had to pose for pictures.  Oh my god, the amount of people with cameras was ridiculous.  I don't know how Hollywood people do it.  I didn't know where to look, I had this silly nervous smile plastered to my face.   We started to walk off and then the hostess wanted us to give a small acceptance speech.  AHHHHHH.  I wanted to crawl under a chair and hide.  I do NOT like public speaking.  At least not in front of a crowd of people I don't know.   I was handed the mic and echoed the same sentiment that the Men's winner said.  I thanked the volunteers and organizers as well as the other participants.  I explained how I heard about the race, what a great day that I had and how I pushed myself hard and how I ended up with "a trophy that I could barely hold up".  Apparently people found that funny.   I thanked everyone again and made a hasty exit from the stage.  I sat down with my group again and opened the envelope.  I noticed my hands were shaking.  Wow, I must have been SUPER nervous.  I had won a Best Buy gift card.  Didn't know how much it was for.  I found out later it was worth $200.  That will definitely come in handy since we're going to be buying a new stereo system for the new house.

All in all it was a great day.  The race was so much different than any other races I've run.  It was Korean Style grass roots,  which is not surprising since the bigger picture is the message (Run for Peace). It was a lot of fun to actually race with the gang I train with.  I suspect that this will become a bit of a fall tradition with the West Toronto Pacers.  I do know one thing, I'm going to have to go back and defend my title next year.

The West Toronto Pacers