Monday, March 26, 2012

The Silver Lining- ATB Race Report

 It had been 6 years since I last did this race.  I was training for my first Ironman at the time and figured I was in top shape.  I also figured if I was lucky I'd be able to snag myself a silver medal.  This race gives out 3 different colours of medals depending on what time you finish it in.  For women, you got gold for anything faster than 2:15:00, silver for anything between 2:15:01 to 2:30:00 and then bronze for anything from 2:30:01 and up.  I was a lot faster in my head than in real life.  In 2006 I crossed the line in 2:40:51. I like to think it was really closer to 2:38 as I had to stop at an aid station and tape my toenail down at around the 27km mark.  Either way I wasn't even close to getting a silver medal.

I hoped that if I did this race again that I'd be able to break the magical 2:30 barrier and get my silver medal.   I had a fair bit of work to do to cut more than 10 minutes off my time.  But considering the year I had last year, anything was possible.  I was heading into this years race 15lbs lighter than the last time I ran it and much much faster.  I had high expectations for myself.  I set myself a goal of 2:20, which works out to a 4:40 per km pace. 

I was coming off a couple of light weeks of running due to some muscle issues so to say I was a bit worried was an understatement.  I wasn't terribly worried about the actual distance.  I knew I could muscle that out.  I was worried about my speed and pacing.  So I spent a few minutes on Saturday afternoon figuring out how to set a pace alarm in my Garmin.  I needed something that would keep me in line.  I can't be trusted to do that on my own.  Left to my own devices I'd go out like a bat out of hell and run hard till I couldn't run anymore.  Not a smart thing to attempt on a 30km race.

The other thing I was concerned about were the hills.  I have done ZERO hill training this year.  None. Nada. Zilch.  From 17 to 26km, there are a series of 5 nasty rollers (thanks to my friend Agnes for counting them!) and one long climb with a very steep pitch at the end.  Once you crest the top of that last hill, your legs are usually fucked.  I hoped that I had enough in the bank time wise to cover myself for the inevitable slow down that I figured would happen through here.

I met up with Kiki before the race and we did a nice little warm up jog.  I was having some serious stitch issues so I adjusted my fuel belt.  It didn't help.  It was so bad on a down hill that I had to jam my finger into my abdomen to try and get rid of the pain.  This was not good.  Once I did my warm up I tried to massage it and it actually hurt to put even a bit of pressure on it.  Yikes.  I spent a fair bit of time massaging it and taking my leg through the running motion.  That seemed to help.  I guess I'd see if it worked when I actually started racing.

Kiki and I worked our way through the crowd and situated ourselves not too far behind the 2:15 pace bunny.  I figured that was a relatively safe place for us to be.  We were both pretty nervous. Kiki turned to me and asked me Why the hell do we do this to ourselves??.  My reply: Because it makes us feel alive.  The laugh I got from her was so very Kiki. It was a loud guffaw that made me laugh in turn.  The laughter helped calm my nerves.   The announcer came on and the nervous chit chat in the crowd quieted down a bit.  The next thing I knew, we were starting to move forward.  The shuffle towards the line had commenced.  We were off.   Kiki & I wished each other luck and set off on our 30km journey.

I made sure I hit start on my Garmin when I crossed the line this time.  I didn't want a repeat of the Chilly Half.  I needed to have a clear idea of my pace and exactly where I was and what my time was.  There was a bit of bobbing and weaving to get around some folks but not too much.  The first few hundred meters are narrow so your speed never really gets up to where it should be.  Once we passed Copps Coliseum, the course opened up.  Of course my watch was beeping at me because I was going too slow but I quickly rectified that.  I settled into what felt like a comfortable pace.  I checked my watch: 4:25's.  Uh-Oh.  Slow down.  I backed it off and tried to keep myself somewhere between 4:35 - 4:40's.  I was feeling a bit overdressed which seems to be a theme for me whenever I've run out there.  I never seem to be able to get it quite right.  Today was no exception.   I had my CWX shorts on, my compressport full socks, a long sleeve thin but thermal shirt and my Team Running Free Singlet over it and I was feeling really warm.  Craaaap.  I don't like being hot while I'm racing.  Colder is better.  I spent a few minutes actually trying to figure out if I could manage to get my long sleeve top off while I was running.  Wasn't going to happen.  I'd have to stop and take it off which was definitely not happening.  I'd just have to deal with it and make sure I stayed hydrated.

I motored along, yo-yo-ing a bit with my pace.  I cannot seem to run at a steady pace.  At least it doesn't seem like it to me.  I seemed to be all over the map for those first few km's.  Much like an erratic bad driver, I'd speed up, then slow down, speed up, slow down.  My Garmin was going ape shit on me so I finally managed to settle into a pace that shut it up.  I think I finally settled things down just before the 6km mark.  The 6km mark was the first km marker I saw on the course.  I checked my watch and I was just under 28 minutes.  Sounded good to me.  I wasn't feeling great; that stitch I had during my warm up was just lingering.  It was like a dull ache in my abdomen.   Not debilitating but definitely uncomfortable.  I was better than when I started so I hoped that it would eventually sort itself out and go away.

The km markers became more regular after the 6km mark.  Each one had a funny saying it as well, which made me look forward to the next one.  I wish I had a camera with me, some of them were quite funny.  But alas, I have a horrible memory at the best of times, I certainly wasn't going to remember a funny quote while I was running a 30km race.

I got through 8km in 36 minutes and change.  Excellent.  I was starting to feel better.  My nutrition and hydration were totally on track.  The stitch had pretty much gone but now I was dealing with the occasional twinge that would shoot down my right leg.  I'm assuming that as my glute muscles contracted, depending on how my foot hit the ground, they'd squeeze my sciatic nerve.  These twinges usually elicited a gasp from me and I'd alter my stride.  Luckily it was a sporadic occurrence.  I don't think it really slowed me down in the grand scheme of things but it did make me alter my stride slightly for a bit.

I was starting to mentally struggle a bit in between 8-10 km.  All of a sudden I felt like I couldn't face running another 20-22km.  So I had to start breaking things down into smaller segments.  I just had to get to 10km and then I'd only be 5km away from half way.  As silly as that sounds, that was my reasoning.  It seemed to help.  That and just before I got to the 10km mark Prince's Let's Go Crazy came on my shuffle.  Much like at the Chilly Half, that song gave me the kick in the pants I needed.  The bounce came back into my step.   I crossed the 10km mark at just over 46 minutes, which was perfect.  I figured I'd have some padding time wise heading into the hills.  

The km's between 10 and 14 were a bit of a blur.  There are 3 things I do remember from this stretch.  1) Chatting with a Team RF member whose name I didn't get.  2) A bunch of older "Biker Types" (huge generalization) sitting on their lawn, playing Eye of the Tiger and drinking beer (it wasn't even 11 am!) and 3) The Amazing House of Bacon.  That was a new one.  There were a bunch of folks who had set up a couple of tables with a skillet and they were cooking bacon.  BACON!  If this was on the run portion of an Ironman I would have stopped and chowed down for sure.  I was seriously tempted but I was just starting to get a good rhythm going so I didn't want to slow down.

It was about the 14km mark that I really started to feel good.  Which is just plain weird.  I did a 3.5km warm up so I had actually covered 17.5km at that point and I was just starting to feel good??  Hmph.  The next thing I knew, I was at the 15km mark.  I checked my watch I was at 1:08:40 something.  Sweet! That meant I had at least 2 minutes of padding for the implosion that I figured was going to be inevitable once I hit the hills in Burlington.

There was a fair bit of down hill and false flats over these next two km and I took advantage of that as much as I could.  I pushed the pace a bit running along by the Skyway.  My legs felt good and I wanted to put a bit more padding in that cushion that I had.  I knew the hills were coming up.  We came off the Skyway underpass and hit North Shore Drive.  The gradual uphill had started.  My heart rate started to climb with the terrain.  This section of hills was worse than I remembered.  I tried to go at them quickly by shortening my stride but it didn't matter what I did.  My lack of hill fitness was very apparent.  I felt like I had a parachute strapped to my back.  And the screaming in my legs didn't help matters either.  Luckily there were some good downhills as well so I figured whatever I time I lost on an uphill I could hopefully gain in back on a downhill if I let 'er rip.  Which I did.  I finally saw Gary here.  He had brought his bike and rode around the course.  I waved to him as I shuffled up one of the nastier hills.  I remember saying something to him about how much pain I was in.  He could tell I was hurting.  I was having a tough time through here mentally as well.  I started playing the reel 'em in game with myself.  I'd find someone up ahead and try to catch them.  Surprisingly, it was working!  I guess I had more in my legs than I thought.  I spied a fellow Team RF member up ahead and made it my mission to catch up to him.  As I got closer, I realized it was Matt from the Chilly Half!  I ran up beside him and said hi and we chatted for a bit.

We were now heading onto part of the course for the Good Friday 10 miler so I knew what to expect for the next few km.  We were coming up to an impromptu family run aid station so I stopped and grabbed a water to wash down the second half of my Roctane.   I lost Matt for a bit but once my Garmin started beeping at me, I pushed the pace and caught up to him.  We chatted for a bit more and then I pulled away.  I think the Roctane had kicked in.  We were heading towards the Valley.  I saw the 25km marker and could hear the "boom boom, clap" of Queen's We Will Rock You.  This has to be my favourite part of the race.  The little guy in the wheelchair blaring We Will Rock You and cheering people on.  He was there the last time I did this race in 2006.  I ran up to him and gave him a high five.  I was totally pumped.  We were heading down into the valley so I let 'er rip again on the downhill.  I passed a couple of ladies.  One of them caught up with me at the bottom and passed me.  Hmmmm.  I knew what was coming but I didn't care.  I was going to give 'er.  There was less than 5km left.  I figured I could start to entertain the idea of throwing caution to the wind.  Just as we started to climb the hill,  The Arctic Monkeys "I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor" came on.  If there was ever a song that would make you kick your own ass up a hill, that has GOT to be it.  I threw it down.  I was going to give 'er starting NOW.  I passed the girl that had just passed me.  The first part of the hill isn't actually that bad.  It's just long.  It's the last part by the 26km marker that's the bugger.  It pitches up what feels like 90 degrees.  Every fiber in my body was burning.  I got to the top and saw Gary and something like this came out of my mouth:  *gasp*  Fuck  *gasp* that *gasp* was *gasp* HARD.  I don't remember what he said to me.  I just remember my legs feeling like jello.  Once I recovered, I told him I felt like I still had some speed left in me so I was going to slowly pick up the pace.  He took off towards the finish line and I started playing the reel 'em in game again.

I could see the 27km marker up ahead and I figured at that point I'd start to push it.  I could handle 3km of discomfort.  Besides I was curious to see exactly how much I had left in the tank.  I saw a shirtless guy ahead of me who seemed to running at a decent clip so my goal was to try and get as close to him as possible.  I also happened to notice 2 women ahead of me.  If I could catch them that would be a bonus.  I cast my reel and picked up the pace. I passed the Grim Reapers at 28km with a smile and a wave.  Not today my friends, not today.

I glanced down at my watch and saw 4:19km's.  Sweet!  I was really working now.  My legs were just starting to really hurt.  No matter I had less than 2km.  I could see Copps Coliseum.  I reeled in both women and got closer to the shirtless dude.  I was really working hard.  I glanced at my watch.  I knew without a doubt I'd be under 2:20.  In fact I figured I might even be under 2:18!  I continued to push the pace.  It seemed like my body didn't want to go any faster than 4:16 km's.  Try as I could, I didn't seem to be able to push it much harder than that.  I came pounding down York Street, Elvis Costello's Pump It Up cranked.  The spectators were getting louder and the crowds were getting bigger.  I saw Gary again about half a kilometer from the finish.  I pulled my headphones out so I could hear the finish line music thumping.  The finish line is actually in Copps Coliseum so I made sure I pulled my glasses off and put them on my head so I could actually see where I was going.  Running from the brightness outside into a dimly lit tunnel on a downhill is a potential recipe for disaster.  The last time I ran this race, two people wiped out in front of me.  I didn't want that to happen to me this time around.  I made it down the ramp and into the finishing chute.  I heard Kevin MacKinnon announce my name as I came down the finishing chute.  I looked at my watch as I crossed the line and it said 2:17:17.  Take that 2:20!  Off I went to collect my coveted silver medal.

I hobbled around to the food station, grabbed some snacks and made my way up the escalator to the upper floor of the Coliseum.  I then had to go DOWN stairs to get back outside to try and find Gary.  My legs weren't too thrilled about going downstairs but at least I didn't have to tackle them sideways like some other folks did.

I made my way outside just in time to see some WTP ladies finish (yay Carm & Karen!) and I scanned the crowd for Kiki.  As I was scanning the runners I saw some familiar tattoos.  Lo and behold, my Tattooed Wind Blocker from the Chilly Half was racing.  It looked like he was on pace to make it under 2:30 as well!  A few minutes later I saw Kiki.  I cheered her on and then ran inside to try and find her but it was total chaos.  I hung around for a while and then wandered back outside to get Gary.  He read the stats to me as we made our way back to the car.  I ended up making the top 10 in my age group out of 485 women.  I came in 60th out of 2902 women!  I was really floored by the 10th place in my age group.  This is a big race with a lot of elite runners.  The fact that I cracked the top 10 was beyond my wildest expectations.  But, I think what I'm most proud of is the fact that for the first time, I actually managed to smartly race a race on my own AND manage a negative split.  At Scotia I had someone pace me.   Here it was just me, my Garmin and my judgement.  It also proved to me that with a little more speed work a 3:15 marathon just might be possible.

I do know one thing; the next time I run this race, I'm going for gold.

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