Friday, April 8, 2016

The Gong Show Goes Around The Bay

Fun Fact:  Around the Bay is North America's oldest road race.  True story!  I've run this race so many times as an individual participant and I have to say 30km is a perfect race distance.  It's longer than a half so it's still pretty challenging to train for and even more challenging to race well.  It doesn't beat me up as much as a marathon does.   That last 12km in the marathon is what does me in.

This year I decided to do the race as part of a two person relay and I convinced my friend Kiki to do it with me.  We called ourselves the Gong Show because that's usually the happens when we get together.  I took the back half of the race which is where most of the hills are as I figured it would be good prep for the run at Tremblant.  After all I went through in January and February I was genuinely concerned I might not be able to race this.  But when I banged out a pain free 16km run in Florida two weeks before, I knew I was good to go.   I texted Kiki when we got back from Florida to let her know I was 100% in.

My coach's instructions were to race it and to negative split it.  We settled on a goal of 1:10 for 15km.  I figured the hills would slow me down for sure and I wasn't 100% sure I'd be fully recovered from training camp.  So many doubts.  But I didn't let them get to me.  I filed them away and focused on the fact that this would be a test of where my running fitness was at.  Plain and simple.   Sometimes you have to take the emotion of out it because it can mess with your head.

I had an optional 2h and 30 minute ride on Saturday.  I opted to ride for 45 minutes just to spin my legs out.  I wanted to be as fresh as possible for Sunday.  We spent the afternoon at my parents having a belated Easter dinner and we drove home in a snow storm.  I hadn't figured out my race day ensemble yet so as soon as I got home I checked the forecast (again) and then checked Instagram to see what other people were wearing, ha ha.  I came up with this.

It was supposed to be cold and windy.  I had originally thought about wearing my Zoot wind tights but knew that I get really warm in them so I opted for my Zoot biowrap tights with another thin pair of tights underneath.  I wore a long sleeve with sleeves underneath it - I figured if I got warm, I could pull them off easily enough.  My vest is completely wind proof so I knew my core would be fine.  I brought my wool Buff along and wore another one to hold my hair back and cover my ears.  I hoped it would be warm enough.

Race morning, Kiki came by my house and we loaded up the car and headed off in search of coffee.  We hit Tim Horton's and when I tried to roll down my window, it was frozen shut.  So going through the drive through became a bit of a debacle.  But we managed.  Thankfully there wasn't anyone behind us.  I'm pretty sure there would have been some honking, ha ha.

We whipped along the QEW and made it out to the Hammer by just after 8:00 am.  We found some primo parking and sat in the car and stayed warm.  We were just down the road from our secret bathroom stop so we each had a washroom stop in the warmth before we had to head out to our respective spots.  I was carting all of Kiki's warm stuff with me as we'd do the hand off of everything at the relay exchange point.  That meant I got to keep my toasty warm jacket on and that she'd have it waiting for me after.

Around 9 we made our way over to the relay buses and Kiki got on for a few minutes to keep warm.  It was SUPER windy out and the wind was COLD.  She jumped off as it started to fill up and before I knew it, we were on our way.  I was chatting with a lovely woman from Brantford who was my seatmate.  We were at the exchange point in about 15-20 minutes.  The bus pulled over and we were able to stay in the warmth until we wanted to get out.  We sat there for a while, a bunch of us trying to figure out when the best time to get over to the exchange point would be.

We watched the leaders come flying by and eventually people started to trickle out.  I had wanted to do a warm up but didn't really have much opportunity to do so as I was wearing a heavy coat and carrying a knapsack.  And, I had to use the porta potty again.  So I got in the line up and hoped that I wouldn't miss Kiki.  I was watching for my friend David but I never saw him.  I can only assume he ran by when I was in the porta potty.  I got out and ran up the road, watching for Kiki's Boston jacket. A few minutes later I saw her and waved her down.  I grabbed the zip ties and toenail clipper to remove the chip from her shoe and transfer it to mine.  My hands were so cold, I couldn't get the zip ties on so she did that while I shed my layers.  I shoved my jacket into the knapsack and took off.  I booted it up that first hill and had to calm myself down.  I was passing people all over the place.  The wind was brutal through those first 2km but I knew as soon as I turned onto North Shore that it would be fine.

My legs felt a little rough, probably due to the lack of a proper warm up.  But once I got warmed up, I felt really good.  My first two km were sub 4:30.  My goal pace was 4:40.  But, this was about seeing what I was capable of.  So, I figured I'd aim to stay just below that for the first 10km.  And I did, with the exception of the climb just after the 20km mark, which is a long grinder of a climb.  That km was 4:45.  I was amazed at how strong I felt going up hills.  All that glute work paid off.  My form work has also paid off (for the most part).  Normally I'd over stride on the down hills and totally fry my quads but I didn't.  I focused on landing under my body and leaning forward.  There was so much form check chatter in my head the entire race it was crazy but in the best way possible.  I kept telling myself to keep my chest out and arms back.  I have a tendency to drop my right shoulder / arm out a bit so it's almost like a chicken wing, ha ha.  It wasn't hard for me to do at the start of the race but by the end, I was getting fatigued and I could feel my form starting to go.  You can see it in my race photos too.  It's crazy.  My entire right side just collapses.  But that's another post for another day.

This would be the first time I'd run the course without the big hill in it so I was looking forward to NOT having to run up that lung buster.  I figured that would also help me in terms of my negative split.  I am horrible at doing running math so but I figured if I picked up the pace in the last 2-3km I should be good.

I made it through the hills and rollers feeling pretty good.  My legs didn't feel sore or tired at all, which totally blew my mind.   The only thing that hurt were my feet.  I could feel blisters happening, which annoyed me as the socks I had on were ones I had worn multiple times before.  No matter, I was still catching people as I went along.  When we turned onto Plains Road, we had a fair bit of wind to deal with.  I draft hopped people as I went along.  I'd get up behind someone, sit behind them for a bit to break the wind, then pull out and move along to the next person.  The road started to change direction so the wind ended up being at my side, which is much better than running into it.  The big hill had been replaced by flat so I was really happy about that!  I kept checking my pace and doing the math.  I was definitely going to make it under 1:10, the question was, by how much?

I started to push the pace with about 4km left, gradually increasing my speed with every kilometer.  Of course I had to high five the Grim Reaper at the 28km mark as I flew by.  This year there were TWO of them!  I was starting to feel tired and I could feel my form falling apart.  I had to force my shoulders back as I was staring to slouch.  I could see the 29km mark and I really started to push.  I wanted that last km to be the fastest of the day.  I heard someone call my name as I ran towards the entrance to Copps Coliseum (or First Ontario Place as it's now called) but I didn't see who it was.  I took my sunglasses off as I made the turn onto the ramp.  I turned onto the finishing chute and as I came towards the finish line, I heard the announcer call out our team name which made me smile.  I hit stop and glanced at my watch:  1:07:55.  WOOHOO!  I booked it hard those last few hundred meters to try and get under 1:08 and I squeaked by.

I ran into my friend David as I left the arena area and we chatted for a while.  Kiki called me to find out where I was so I went to grab our medals and then went off to meet her.  I changed out of my sweaty shirt and bundled up in my nice warm jacket. Kiki was checking sports stats and said we finished 14th.  I thought that was pretty good.  I texted G to tell him we were leaving and he told me that we were 4th in the open female category and 14th overall.  We missed the podium by 32 seconds, ha ha ha.  If this race went by chip time we would have been on the podium but they use gun time (old school) and the 3rd place team beat us by 31 seconds.  Oh well.  I didn't have any expectations for that so it was a pleasant surprise!

After I downloaded my Garmin, I went back and checked my splits.  Sure enough, my last km was my fastest.  My 2nd last km was my 3rd fastest km.

I was beyond happy with my effort.  I feel like I actually raced smartly for a change instead of going out too fast like I normally do.  And, more importantly, it proved to me that these legs still have it.  There is nothing wrong with the engine, it just needs a bit more fine tuning and that will come.

I had a blast doing the relay and it's definitely something I'd consider doing again.  Especially that early in the season.   The bling ain't that bad either.

My next race will be the Mississauga Half on May 1st.  Can't wait for that one!

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