Anita and I did the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon on Sunday and we’ve each written a little recap of the race, which was epic and awesome!
I am still coming down from an amazing high after Sunday’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon with Anita. It’s our first event together since she got back from her year in the UK. I can’t even remember when or why we signed up. But I am so glad we did. I’ve been training mostly for 10K all year, and amping things up for a half after my 10K PB back in September felt good and right.
It’s been a hectic time so it didn’t sink in until I was on my way to pick Anita up for the drive to Toronto that “Yay! Road trip!” We made our way to Toronto, stopping at the race expo on the way to pick up our kits. Then we checked in to our hotel just about an hour before our reservation at Planta, my favourite fancy vegan restaurant in Toronto (my favourite not fancy vegan restaurant in Toronto is Fresh). Our plan was to have an ample dinner and then go relax in the room with a plan for lights out at 10:30.
Because we had different race strategies — Anita claimed to be wedded to 10 and 1 intervals (10 minutes running, 1 minute walking) and I’ve been training to run continuously with no walk breaks — I knew I needed to have a good playlist for the tough bits. I was up a bit past 11 slapping a new playlist together. Then I slept reasonably well, with about 45 minutes at 3:00 of obsessing over our timing in the morning. We needed to be in our purple corral by 8:35 for a 9:05 start (they started in waves beginning at 8:45, and we were in the final wave). That meant leaving the hotel by around 8:15. By the time we got close to the start line, there was a crush of people. 25,000 runners trying to get into position at the same time can create a bottle neck.
It was also kind of chilly, but I would rather be cold for a few minutes than too hot for the entire half marathon, so I kept it light, with capris, a thin t-shirt layer and then a long sleeved light top with sleeves that pulled down over my hands to keep them warm. I chose a ballcap instead of my buff because the weather report said it might rain (or even snow!) and I like having the brim if that happens.
The energy at the start of an event of that magnitude is seriously electrifying. I felt happy and strong. Both Anita and I were in a super positive head space that morning, and we agreed that we would run at least the first 30 minutes together continuously and then consider whether to separate. We each chose our respective 2:30 pace bunnies (hers 10-1, mine continuous).
Here we are in the starting corral:
The wave start is kind of exciting because as each wave ahead leaves, the waves behing them move forward until they are in position at the start line. They have an incredible sound system so announcer who does the countdown for each start can be heard clearly throughout all the corrals.
Soon, we were off and running. We were slightly ahead of our pace bunnies and I didn’t see mine again until I passed her with about 2K to go. But Anita’s 10-1 guy seemed to be running really fast. Anyway, we kept him in view, and played tag team with him every time his group slowed down for their walk break because we kept running. I felt strong and I could tell Anita did too.
The only issue I had very early on was that my hands were freezing. Pulling them into my sleeves didn’t help at all. This race has a system whereby a charity comes and collects discarded clothing from the side of the road after the race. So there were lots of throwaway shirts and, more importantly, gloves. by about the 3K mark my hands were cold enough that I picked up someone’s discarded gloves to warm them up.
The next issue after that was we both had to pee. I can usually run through that if it’s just a short distance. But we still had a good 16K to go, so at the 6K mark, still ahead of both of our pace bunnies and still running together, we paused at the port-o-potties. Each of them had a line-up of 2-3 people. That break cost us 5 minutes. But it was a necessary pit-stop and it gave us a new focus: where were those pace bunnies? They’d passed us about a minute or so into our break.
By the time the course approached the waterfront, we could see some people already running back the other way (there’s a bit of an out and back along the lake that cycles back at around the 11K mark). We knew that at some point we would see our pace bunnies on the other side of the street. But it wasn’t for quite some time until we saw them. But each time a pacer ran by holding a sign, we read it out loud — there’s the 3:45 marathon pace bunny! There’s the 1:45 half marathon pace bunny! There’s the 4:00 marathon pace bunny! [kind of amazing!]
My race strategy of continuous running had built into it that I would walk quickly through the water stations if I was taking water or gatorade. That meant that slowing down for about 15 seconds or so, and it was never long enough to break my rhythm. When we reached the 10K mark, Anita was still running continuous, with no walk breaks. I said to her, “Hey, this is the first time you’ve ever run 10K without a walk break.” She was doing amazing.
By then we were listening to our music, and I was happy about the new playlist, because it kept surprising me (unlike the old playlist, which would have bored me). I’m not sure what music Anita has on her playlist, but she turned on the turbo at about 11K and shot up ahead of me. I didn’t amp it up at that time, but simply decided that I would do my best to keep her in sight and then, as we got to about the last 3-4 K, I would speed up and catch up to her. I was super impressed with her decision to do continuous running when she basically had expressed a strong attachment to 10-1 intervals and had in fact said she didn’t see the point of continuous running. Seeing her up ahead churning out step after step really kept me going.
My training with Linda also started to kick in. Instead of letting my mind get the better of me, I reminded myself of the amazing things I had done in speed work and interval training. I knew I had it in me to turn on the jets for bursts of anywhere from 200m to 2K if I needed to. I reminded myself that I didn’t need to end the race with any fuel left in the tank. I was also enjoying the atmosphere. There is an undeniable sense of exhilaration running amidst so many others, not to mention the people on the sidelines cheering us on. And all the while I kept my eye on Anita, on the next kilometre marker, on the next water station, fueling myself with Gatorade and water (I also had some energy chews in my belt and ate three of them through the race).
When we came onto the part of the Lakeshore that goes under the Gardiner Expressway, just past 18K, I started to think about when I should kick into higher gear. It was right around then that I caught sight of the 2:30 pace bunnies up ahead! Well, that was enough to get me going. I picked up my pace and I could see that Anita had done the same. Finally, I had a tangible goal — to catch up with and pass those 2:30 pace bunnies. If I could do that, then I knew that I would come in under 2:30 (obviously). The most epic moment of the race was the minute or so when the gap was closing and I passed them.
It wasn’t too long after that that the marathoners separated from the half marathoners as our course veered north and the marathoners continued east. I could still see Anita up ahead and it was at that point that I decided it was time to catch up so we could run the final K together. We both smiled huge smiles about having passed the pace bunnies, but other than Anita saying something along the lines of “we got this!” we just focused on those last few hundred metres into Nathan Phillips Square. The last part they have markers indicating distance to go: 500m, 400m, 300m, 200m, 100m….finish line!
We crossed the line and high-fived, totally beaming. We picked up water, Gatorade, got our medals and our foil blankets and then followed the crowds of runners to where they were handing out bags of post-race food. It’s an incredibly well-organized operation and we didn’t have to line up for any of it.
2:29:11 may not seem epic to those of you who complete half marathons in under 2:20 or under 2:00 or under 1:45. But this is my best half marathon time ever, and I feel as if it was well-earned. Not only that, if we hadn’t had that frustrating lineup at the pee-break, we would have broken 2:25, which is almost unfathomable to me. And I can set that as a realistic next goal.
It was also a real gift to be able to do the entire 21K with Anita, even when she was up ahead, and to cross the finish line together. It reminded me of everything I love about running with her.
Next up: the Around the Bay 30K on March 31, 2019!
This is the story of how our running plan fell apart, only to result in something better. We approached the race slightly differently than previous ones, where Tracy and I had run side-by-side throughout the whole course. This time we came at it from different perspectives. I was still running 10 and 1s (run ten minutes, walk one minute) while Tracy had just come from a year of training that featured no walk breaks. We had a frank talk about wanting to pursue our individual running strategies this time.
I was prepared to run this race alone in a sea of 25,000 people. For the first time, I carefully curated my playlist because this time it was so important to reaching that finishing line. Mentally, I adapted to the idea of running alone for a long time in contrast to my usual chatty Sunday group training runs. I did some long runs alone to remind myself what they felt like.
The fun part started as we drove to Toronto together the day before the race, allowing us to chat, have a relaxing dinner and share the cost of a hotel room. We talked about how we felt so strong leading up to this race because of our individual weekly training regimes. Neither of us had any injuries or aches to manage on this race – and that was a first! We were both starting from a good place.
On the day of the race the weather was perfectly cool. We got ourselves ready with some time to spare and made our way to the starting corral. We chatted with the other runners around us as we slowly made our way to the start line. Behind me I discovered a former student and her friend who were gearing up for their first half marathon. Soon enough it was time for us to cross the starting line. Tracy and I agreed that we’d run together, without a break, for the first half hour or so before moving into our separate strategies. Part of that involved keeping an eye on the 2.30 pace bunny. All of a sudden I realized that I needed to go to the bathroom….shortly after, Tracy mentioned the same thing. It wasn’t dire but once it was said, it stayed on our minds. We beelined for some portapotties at about the 5 K mark. Relieved, yes, but we lost 5 minutes in the bathroom line! The pace bunny was far ahead.
No matter. In my head I figured that I had already ‘saved’ a couple of minutes by not walking them in the first 30 minutes. I just needed to ‘save’ another few minutes by not walking. Soon I’d have made up the 5 minute toilet break, right? On this basis I started running with Tracy without a break. I’d hoped we would catch up with the pace bunny. Tracy rightly pointed out though that the pace bunny was now 5 minutes ahead of us. So we ran. AND I DIDN’T STOP. Ok, I stopped for a few steps at about three water stations. BUT I FORGOT ABOUT 10 AND 1S. I RAN CONTINUOUSLY. WTF WAS HAPPENING TO ME? I don’t really know except I wanted to catch the pace bunny. I remembered tall John, from our running club, asking me on a previous training run if he could run out his last 3 K with me – I had to speed up a bit to run with him, and this proved to me that I could go a little faster at the end of a long run. And I remembered Tracy and my friend Kaylan talking about getting into the zone without the regular walk breaks. AND SO I KEPT RUNNING WITH TRACY….at about the 13K mark we put our music on for added propane. At about the 18K mark, I think, we passed the pace bunny. That was my cue to stop. I didn’t.
I was on automatic pilot, and lost Tracy for a bit. Luckily, I found her again when I was losing steam at about the 20K mark. I needed her energy at that point.
I’ve never run continuously for more than 5 K. On this day I ran continuously, apart from the bathroom break, for 21 K. And that’s all that mattered, really. Our high fives and smiles at the finish line said it all. Best. Race. Ever.