Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Double Bonus: The Toronto Women's Half Race Report

I went into this race with very little expectations.  I didn't really have a solid time goal, but I did have a couple of other goals.  I wanted to beat my time from last year's race which I figured I'd do and I wanted to get on the podium in my age group.  I was 5th in my age group last year so I figured there would be a decent chance I could at least get a third place finish depending on who showed up and how well I raced. 
I got to the start with about 25 minutes to spare and noticed the insanely long line up for the porta potties.  Ugh.  Oh well, I had to pee so I got in line.  By the time I got out and checked my bag, they were calling all the blue bibs to the start line.  So much for a warm up run!  I got into the start corral and did a bit of a dynamic warm up but I didn't actually get to go out and run.  Whatevs, I'm sure I'll be fine.
As I was warming up my friend Kirsten came over to say hi.  I was glad I got to see her before the start.  She was nervous and I know she was suffering from the same thing I usually suffer from; the WonderifIdidEnough Syndrome.  Funnily enough I knew she would be just fine.  I wasn't 100% sure about myself.  I had a couple of small concerns.  One, I wasn't sure if I was fully recovered from my marathon and two, I was wearing brand new shoes.  There was nothing I could do about number one but had I been more organized number two would never have been a concern.  At this point there was no turning back so I just hoped that I get through the race injury free.
The countdown began and we all shuffled up to the timing mats.  There seemed to be a lot more keeners this year vs. last year as a lot of women jostled for position at the front.  I didn't bother.  I was close enough to the timing mat that I figured there would only be a few seconds between my gun time and chip time.  I stood a bit off to the side and actually had a fairly clear path ahead of me.  Perfect.
The gun went off and in typical fashion I started running like a mad woman, passing people left and right.  The pack thinned out fairly quickly.  By the first kilometer there were about 15 women running in a loosely knit group.  By 2km, 3 women had managed to pull away a bit.  At this point I was running about 4:12 km's and I thought to myself "Don't be stupid, you've got a long way to go, chill out."  Once we got over the bridge at Don Mills, I eased up a bit.  We were heading into one of the more desolate areas of the route, going south along the trail towards the Bayview Extension.  I didn't particularly like this part last year because I was running by myself for a large part of it.   I caught two women at about the 4km mark and decided to run with them.  They were chatting a bit so I joined in the conversation.  We were running between 4:25's and 4:35's which was a comfortable pace for me so I settled in and figured I could pick it up later if my legs felt good.  The 3 of us ran together for the next 5km.  It was nice to have the company.   By the time we turned around the next wave of women were making their way out so there was a lot of cheering and woohoos! as we made our way back from the turn around.
The 3 of us yo-yoed back and forth along the path for a bit until it was eventually just myself an another girl, Jenn.  I recognized her from some of last years races.  I think she won the 10km last year so I felt pretty good about being able to hang with her.  At about the 9km mark, I started to pull away from her a bit and I also managed to pass a couple of ladies.  I passed the fireman aid station for the second time (they still weren't shirtless to my chagrin) and headed under the DVP towards Taylor Creek Park.  I was coming up on 10km and I was feeling pretty good.  It was quite warm so I made a point of trying to stay hydrated.  The path became fairly narrow and it was tough to know how far ahead the next runner was.  I didn't see anyone for about a kilometer.  Once things opened up, I could see a couple of women spread out ahead of me.  I had really started to pick up the pace.  I was running about 4:20's.  I started to play the reel 'em in game.  Girl in the red tank, here I come.   I thought was alone but Jenn must have been right on my heels for the entire time because all of a sudden she was right there beside me again.  We chatted some more and she said we were running about a sub 1:30 pace.  Whaaatt?? I couldn't believe that.  I said I'd be happy if I could beat 1:32.  Sub 1:30 would be amazing.  We caught the girl in the red top who said she was impressed that were actually able to talk while running the pace we were running.  Ha.  Guess we weren't running hard enough?
We could see a couple of other girls ahead of us.  I didn't think we'd catch them but Jenn figured we would.  We saw the leaders who were making their way back, still in a tight group of 3.  Jenn knew them all and figured it would be an interesting finish.  They all looked really strong.  We motored along to the turnaround at 14km where there was a lone volunteer directing traffic.  We thanked him and made our way back along the path.  At this point I figured we'd be able to get a good idea of who was behind us.  The girl in the red top was the first person we saw and she was a bit of a ways back.  Perfect.  There were a few other women that were looking strong but they had a fair bit of ground to make up if they wanted to catch us.  Still didn't want to discount anyone at this stage.  There was 7km to go, anything could happen.
As we rounded a bend I could see one of the girls ahead of us.  That was all I needed to kick it up a notch.  I started to put the hammer down.  I caught her and said good run as I passed her.  I felt like I was flying and I felt amazing no less.  I figured that wouldn't last long so I should take advantage of it while I could.  When I looked back at my splits I averaged 4:11 for km 15, 4:14 for km 16 and 4:13 for km 17.  That's a big jump from the 4:20's I had been averaging.  No wonder I felt like I was flying.  I lost Jenn at this point and I also managed to catch the other girl in front of me.  I realized that I was now in 4th place overall and I figured I was probably going to win my age group. At least that's what I hoped.
I hit the Don Mills bridge and the chute came out.  I couldn't make myself go any faster up that hill.  I knew that the girl I had just passed (Sarah) wasn't that far behind me.  Sure enough, she caught me on the hill going up to the bridge.  I got closer as we started to descent but then got caught in a log jam of bikes on the narrow path.  Luckily I didn't have to slow down too much.  The path opened up and I proceeded to try and reel Sarah in.  We had another little rise to climb where she gained a bit on me (guess I need to do some hill training!) but I managed to catch her on the downhill.  We had just passed the 18km mark and I was starting to hurt.  I figured once I hit the chocolate aid station and saw all my hubby and all my friends, the adrenaline would take over and I'd forget about the pain in my legs.  Sure enough as I came down the hill I could see Maureen.  She saw me and alerted the gang and I could hear the cheers.  As I ran through I threw my arms in the air and said "I can't hear you!!!"  So they yelled louder.  My friend Teresa had her hand out so I high fived her as I ran by.  I saw Babs with a camera so I smiled and waved.  That was just the boost I needed.  I grabbed some eload through the last aid station and sucked what I could back.  The rest ended up all over my left arm.  Oh well.  I was sucking wind at this point.  I was pretty sure the lead ladies were done so I had officially become the bunny.
Just past the 19km mark I finally noticed the race official on a bike.  Sweet!  Another bike marshal just like last year!  He rode ahead of me and cleared the way.  I was busting my ass at this point.  My breath was coming in ragged gasps.  I desperately wanted to stop.  I could see the sign for the 20km mark up ahead.  I didn't dare turn around.  I didn't want to know how close anyone was.  The path was starting to get peppered with more spectators.  I turned my shuffle down so I could hear their cheering.  I figured if they kept cheering after I passed them then someone was right behind me.  They didn't.  That didn't mean I could ease up.  This is racing, you never know who is going to have the finishing kick of the day.  Once I hit the parking lot, I knew that I could suffer through the last few meters.  Just make it under the bridge and you're golden.  I rounded the bend, into the dark under the bridge and emerged to the cheers of a whole lot of spectators.  I could see the finish line clock and it was counting down 1:32.  I didn't have anything left in my legs to go any faster.  I heard Cory announce my name as I came up to the line.  I glanced at the clock as I crossed the line:  1:32:09.

So close.  I missed a PB by 13 seconds.

I got my finishers necklace and turned around to see Jenn cross the line a few seconds behind me.  I went over to congratulate her and she asked if I got a PB.   Nope but I was close.  Shortly after, Sarah crossed the line and we both congratulated her on a great race.   I grabbed some e-load and water and thanked the volunteers.  I wanted to go back out to the 19km mark and wait for Kirsten so I turned around and ran back out, cheering runners all the way back.
I got to the chocolate aid station and got a big hug from my hubby and Babs.  Gary was surprised that I didn't beat my PB.  He said I looked like I was flying.  I explained my "doggin' it" between 4km and 9km set me back a bit.  I hadn't really thought about setting a PB here, nor did I really expect to as it's a somewhat challenging course.  All I wanted was a podium in my age group which I figured I had.  Turns out I managed to land 1st place in my age group and 4th place over all.  A nice little double bonus given that last year I was 5th in my age group and 22nd overall.  
I chatted with my friends and cheered the rest of the ladies on.  It was so awesome to see their faces light up when they realized they were at the chocolate aid station.  I spotted Kirsten coming in a bit later than I had hoped.  She looked tired.  She managed a smile as she saw me and happily grabbed a chocolate bar.  I joined her as she slowed down to walk through the 19km aid station.  She wasn't feeling great.  Her legs were hurting and her ankle was staring to bug her.  The uneven footing on some of the paths was less than ideal.  Still she seemed to be in good spirits.  She finished her chocolate bar and we started moving.  She was moving at a pretty good pace as we seemed to be passing a lot of women.  I kept my babble to a minimum.  I know when I'm hurting the last thing I want to hear is someone chirping away incessantly.  I offered up the occasional word of encouragement.  Just as we passed the 20km mark I said less than 1km to go.  Maybe 5-6 minutes?  You can do anything for 5 minutes!  She nodded.  I said that once she got to the parking lot, she only had a few hundred meters.  I know that she has a pretty good finishing kick so I said that once she hit that parking lot, to just lay it all on the line and give 'er.  Sure enough as we got into the lot, she started to pick up the pace.  As we approached the bridge I told her as soon as she came out she'd be able to see the finish line.  As soon as she could see the line she took off.  I jumped on to the grass yelling Go Kirsten and she took off, saying she'd see me on the other side.  When we met up outside the finishing chute, she checked her watch:  2:20:11.  She had missed her PB by only 25 seconds, which on a course like this was impressive.  I was happy for her.   With some more speed work, I think she'll definitely get to a 2:15 half at her A-race in October.  I may join her there as well in my quest to run a sub 1:30 half.  Hopefully next time I'll be organized enough that I won't be racing in brand new shoes.
Happy Finishers!
 This years race seemed to be a little more chaotic than last years for some reason.  Perhaps it was because I got there late-ish, I don't know.  There just seemed to be a lot more people milling about an it was a bit more difficult to get myself sorted.  I didn't have any issues on the path this year like I did last year, other than the little back up at the Don Mills Bridge.  The volunteers were great as usual, my only complaint (and it's a shallow one) was that the firefighters never managed to get their shirts off while I was out on the course.  No matter, there's always the 10km in August.  Race director Cory Freedman has definitely put together a great race series and I think it's safe to say that as long as she's putting these races on, I'll do them. 

(Race photo courtesy of Barbara Goss)

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