Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Going for Gold: Around the Bay Race Report


"Gold medals aren't really made of gold. They're made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts"  - Dan Gable
                           
I knew that if I wanted that gold medal I'd have dig deep.  I'll admit it, I was scared.  Scared that I'd blow up.  Scared that I'd fail.  Realistically the only person that would matter to is me, but still.  Fear is a great motivator.  It can also cause you do to some silly things, like throw your race plan out the window.  Which is pretty much what I did.  Instead of sticking with my carefully thought out plan, I chose to run on feel and when I couldn't feel anymore, I'd run on guts. 

My original plan was to be consistent and stick to 4:27's  (that would have me crossing the finish line in 2:13:30).  My fear being that once I hit the hills in the last 12km, I'd slow down a fair bit, despite the fact that I've been running hills on a regular basis in my training.  That would have been a totally fine plan except that once I started running for some reason I felt that 4:27's wouldn't give me enough of a cushion if I slowed down a lot in the rollers.  So, I ditched my plan and opted to run based on how I felt.  Not always a wise thing to do, especially in the early stages of a long distance race because you almost always feel good.  I didn't go too crazy at the start.  In fact, I was incredibly consistent.  My first km was a bit on the speedy side so I dialed it back and managed to hit exactly the same pace for the next 5km (4:20's).  In fact for the first 17km of the race, I managed to stay between 4:20's-4:25's, although my Garmin seemed to be off just a bit for the entire race.  So I think my pace was closer to mid 4:20's through the first 17km.

The First 10km: Getting into a Groove

I had my trusty "Safe & Danger" band on my right arm.  I knew that for the first 10km if I came in around 44 minutes, I'd be good in good shape.  I also knew that the pace I was running was probably going to get me to the 10km mark faster than 44 minutes.  The course is quite flat along here and relatively sheltered so you don't get much in the way of wind until you start heading north.  There are still plenty of people to draft off of as well so I was able to take shelter behind a few dudes, which was nice.  The closer we got to 10km, the more the crowd started to thin out.  I chugged along really well through here, making a point to grab water at every aid station.  My fueling strategy was the same as at my last race.  It seems to work really well for me.  There were a couple of points between 8 and 10 km where my "too slow" alarm went off so I picked up the pace.  We were running into the wind for a couple of km so it's not surprising.  As we came up to 10km I could see the clock.  I didn't pay much attention to the time on my Garmin as it seemed to be off a bit.  I was going on gun time, not chip time so the clock at 10km would tell me exactly what I needed to know. 

First 10km:  43:41.  Sweet.  I was well ahead of where I needed to be and I was feeling good.

The Middle 10km: Staying Focused

As soon as you cross the 10km timing mat, you start to climb a slight incline onto a bridge.  I felt strong going up this incline and actually passed a few people.  On the bridge, however, I slowed down.  It's one of those metal bridges with holes in it, which makes the footing incredibly uneven.  I changed up my stride going over this, which kind of bothered my left knee a bit.  Luckily I wasn't on there for too long and we were headed into one of my favourite parts of the course:  the stretch along Beach Blvd.  Last year there were people that had set up a bacon stand.  I kid you not.  Sadly they weren't there this year.  I'd be lying if I said I felt great through here.  I didn't.  But I didn't feel horrible either, I just felt kind of "meh".  I could see it in my pacing too.  My Garmin started to beep a bit more frequently.  It was almost like I was losing focus a bit.  I didn't panic though, I just kept moving forward, figuring that perhaps I was just going through a rough patch.  I kept watching the time, trying to do the math as to where I thought I'd be time wise at 15km.  I was pretty sure I'd be sub 1:06:00 which was perfect.   The clock at the 15km mark came into view and I could just make out 1:05 something.  As I got closer I saw 1:05:32.  Amazing.  I was at the halfway point.  I had at least another hour and 5 minutes.  Probably more given that I figured there was no way a negative split was happening today.   Knowing that I was well ahead of my 15km "danger" pace of 1:07:30 seemed to buoy my spirits a bit and I started to feel a little better.  I hoped that it would last as I knew that the really hard part was coming.  As we came off the road onto North Shore Blvd, Iron Maiden's "Run to the Hills" came on.  How appropriate, as that was exactly where I was headed.  Into the rollers.  I cranked it up and put it on repeat.  I actually started to feel good again so I tackled the first few rollers with gusto.  I remember thinking "this isn't so bad".  Riiight.  I was then smacked in the face with the first of the really ugly rollers.  "Oh yes, now I remember."  I could feel my quads starting to burn.  I let it fly on the downhills, knees be damned.  I spied the clock at the 20km mark but couldn't make it out just yet.  As I got closer, I could see it counting down to 1:27:30.  By the time I got there, the clock read 1:27:34.  Ok, I was slowing down a little but I was still very much in my safe zone and that's all I cared about.  


The Final Leg: Finding My Guts


Remember how I said I felt good between 16 and 20km?  As soon as I hit 21km, it was like I ran into a brick wall.  My entire body hurt.  Probably due to the long grinder of a climb that you do between 20 and 21km.  I got to the top and I was gasping.  I remember looking at my watch and seeing 1:31:30.  I started trying to do the math again.  Anything to keep my mind off the pain.  We were coming towards the hilly part of the GoodFriday 10 Miler course.  There was a very short steep downhill, followed by an equally steep but a little bit longer uphill.  Pure. Evil.  It took every ounce of strength in my legs to get up that hill.  I was starting to worry that I wouldn't be able to hang on over the next 8km.  It was at this point that I noticed a guy running right beside me.  Totally keeping pace with me.  He'd occasionally pull ahead of me a bit and then look over his shoulder to see if I was still there and then he'd settle back into my pace and run beside me.  It was like he needed some company.  There was no way I was getting any words out but it was nice to have the company, even if it was only for a few km.  As we pulled out onto Plains Road, he pulled ahead.  I tried to stay with him but I couldn't.  My legs were really starting to hurt.  My feet were also starting to cramp a bit.  I was thankful to get out onto Plains Road as that meant we were out of the rollers.  All we had left was the Big 'Un in between 25 and 26km.  I caught up with my friend for a bit and ran behind him as we headed towards the valley.  Once we started heading downhill, he pulled away from me again.   I could hear the familiar chorus of Queens "We Will Rock You" and I knew I was coming up to the highlight of the race:  The little dude in the wheelchair and his boom box.  This guy has been out at this same spot, playing this song every. single. time. I've done this race.  So, just like last year, I ran up to him, gave him a high five, thanked him for being there and told him he was always the highlight of my race.  With that done, I started the descent into the valley.  Once again, I let it rip down this hill.  My quads were absolutely shredded by this point but I didn't care.  I knew that once I got up the Big 'Un, it was flat and slightly downhill for the last 3km.  What I didn't bank on was the wind.  More on that later, let's get back to the Big 'Un.  

Everyone has their own opinion on this final climb.  Some people say it's not so bad, others (like myself) say it's horrible.  So in my opinion, it's the worst climb on the course.  When you get to the top you're at the 26km mark so I suppose the only thing that would make it even worse is if it was at the 29km mark.  Thankfully it's not.  It is definitely the steepest climb on the course.  You can see it prominently on the course elevation profile.


Yeah see that lovely dip at 25km, that's the Big 'Un.

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Given how hard I had pushed myself through the first 20km, I figured this climb was going to be just plan ugly.  And it was.  It was like I was carrying a knapsack with about 30lbs on my back.  My pace slowed to 5:30's and all my Garmin did was beep.  Thankfully I could barely hear it over my ragged breathing and cranked up ipod.  I can thank the Arctic Monkeys for getting me up that hill.  Much like they did last year.  I was actually wobbly when I got to the top.  I remember cresting that hill last year and actually feeling pretty good.  Not this year.   Nope.  I was going to leave it all out on the course this year.  It took me about 5 minutes to catch my breath and get back into a rhythm.  Then I noticed the wind.  Good. Freaking. Lord.  It wasn't horrible but in my already depleted state, it certainly wasn't great.  It made the last 3km just a little harder than I wanted them to be.  I tried to catch a few people and draft, anything to ease the hurt I was feeling.  I managed to do that with a wee little guy in a Longboat Runner's singlet but given that he was shorter than me, it didn't really do me much good so I moved on.   I was running on nothing but guts and fumes at this point.  Once again I started trying to do the math in my head based on what my Garmin said.  At about 28km I knew absolutely for sure that I'd make it in well under 2:15.  I think I started smiling just after I high fived the Grim Reaper.  I was guessing I'd be in around 2:12:30.  As I got closer to Copps Coliseum, I started scanning the crowd.  My sister said she'd be out with her boyfriend Jesse and I knew G would be waiting for me somewhere.  Sure enough I saw my sister and Jesse just past the 29km mark.  I could hear her yelling Go get it PK and I remember saying I've so. freaking. GOT THIS.  And making my trademark Rock On fingers (of course).  I may have been hurting but I was beyond happy.  I was smiling the entire way and trying to get the crowd to make some noise, which they did.  I took a very wide corner into Copps, pulled off my sunglasses and pounded down the ramp, wincing at the soreness in my quads.  As I turned the corner I saw the clock had just ticked over to 2:12.  I had nothing left, there was no final sprint.  Nothing.  Some guy came flying by me as I came into the Coliseum.  You go buddy.  I raised my arms and grinned as I crossed the line.  I had done it.  

Gun time:  2:12:26.  Chip time:  2:12:14.  5 minutes faster than last year.

I walked over to get my medal and as soon as the girl handed it to me, I kissed it.  I couldn't stop smiling and I totally couldn't wait to see G.  As I walked out of the stadium I happened to look up and saw him standing there smiling that smug look he gets sometimes when he knows that he was right.  I didn't care.  He was right.  I DID it.  All that worrying was for nothing.  



Good as Gold.

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As I was exiting the stadium, I saw my friend from earlier.  He stopped to thank me and shake my hand.  He said I really helped him.  I thought that was really sweet.  I said that even though I didn't say anything, it was really nice to have the company.  THAT is exactly what I love about running and runners in general.   

I hobbled out to the exit of the Coliseum to go meet G and my sister.  The one thing I hate about finishing in Copps is that they make you take the escalator up to the second floor and then you have to walk DOWN the stairs to the exit.  For whatever reason they don't allow you to just walk straight out.  I guess they want to keep some semblance of order and not have everyone and their brother walking around in the finishing / food area.   Other than that, this race always delivers.  It's incredibly well organized and well supported.  It's not surprising that it sells out every year.  I'll probably be back next year to do it again, even though I'm not planning on running a spring marathon.


Me and my awesome cheerleaders.

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Now I've got 3 weeks to recover and get my last little bit of intensity in before I toe the line in Hopkinton.  Some people that push themselves at Around the Bay go on to have crappy experiences at Boston because it is only 3 weeks later.  Last year I ran ATB at more comfortable pace and I still caved at Mississauga, which was a whole 6 weeks later.  So perhaps this year's experience will remind me what it's like to run with guts.  That being said, I'm not going to be stupid.  Boston isn't a walk in the park and I don't want to re-live my last experience there.   It's been 10 years since I last ran Boston so hopefully I've managed to learn something.  I guess I'll find out in 3 weeks.






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