Bracebridge Duathlon Race Report (August 7, 2016)–Guest Post

This was my fourth duathlon and first international distance race (10k run – 40k bike – 5k run) of the 2016 season.   I was very active in duathlons from 2008 through 2013, including competing in three national and two world age-group championships.   In the time since then, I have been dealing with injuries (a concussion and plantar fasciitis in both feet) as well as life upheaval and menopause.  When I returned to training, I had lingering symptoms and was carrying an extra 20 lbs which is very detrimental to racing speed, especially running.

My main goal for 2016 has been qualifying for the 2017 world championships.  The qualifying race would be held on August 24th, at the international distance.    This distance has typically taken me 2hrs30 to 2hrs45, depending on the course.  I knew I would feel more confident going into my goal race, if I completed one prior.  The Bracebridge race was only 17 days before August 24th, but I decided to do it and treat it as training.   I also did a full week of training leading up to the race and did not allow myself a taper.  This was going to be a test of endurance, not of speed.   I’ve used this strategy before and it takes a good deal of humility, especially when you know your less-than-stellar results are going to be posted online for everyone to see.

This was my first time doing the Bracebridge course.   I have done the hilly Multisport Canada (MSC) Gravenhurst and Huronia (Midland) races in the past, and was told that the run course would be flatter than those, but the bike course would be harder due to longer hills.   I debated changing the gearing on my bike but in discussion with others, opted to stay with my existing gears.

I drove up to Bracebridge the night before and was able to get to the race site with plenty of time in the morning.   I stick primarily to the MSC series as their races are very consistent in their organization.   I quickly had my bike racked and transition area set up, including a second pair of running shoes.  With my plantar fasciitis still bothering me a bit, I opted to do Run 1 in my cushioned training shoes and Run 2 in my racing flats.  

For my warm-up, I did about 5 minutes of easy jogging, in contrast to the normal 20+ minutes I would have done in the past.   I knew I was going to do Run 1 at an easy pace, so I didn’t need a long warm-up.  As well, I didn’t feel that I had any endurance to spare!  My legs felt good with no hamstring or calf tightness.  My nutrition was good, my stomach was settled and all the bathroom stuff got taken care of in time.  I have had some stomach upset (runner ischemia) in the past so I have now started taking two Imodium after my final bathroom visit at races, and this is working well.

Run 1 (goal 6:00/km, actual 6:09/km) –  We started out on grass and headed up a small hill.  Within the first 10 metres, I was in last place of all 24 participants.  At first, I was very disheartened about this, but then I realized that it took all the pressure off of me as there would be no one for me to try to stay ahead of.    

I always view the first 10km of an international distance duathlon as a mental challenge.  I try not to think about the fact that I am only in the first 10km of a total of 55km that I need to cover.  I need to go hard, but not so hard that I am exhausted for the bike.   When I am fit, I usually aim for 1-2 minutes slower in total than a stand-alone 10km race.   That would put me at about a 6:00/km pace at my current level of fitness.   The run was an out and back on a Muskoka road with cottages on one side and a river on the other.  It was partially shaded, which helped as the day was already quite warm at 8:30am.   My feet were tingly within the first couple of kms, due to lingering plantar fasciitis symptoms, but I knew this would improve as I carried on.  By about the 3.5km mark, I started to see the fast men coming back towards me, followed by the women around the 4km mark.   Lots of encouraging words back and forth, as many of us in the duathlon world know each other.  There was a young woman volunteer on a mountain bike playing “sweep” who was following me as I was in last place…. That’s a first for me, but she was also encouraging.  I plodded on, keeping my pace just below 6:00/km, but I faded in the last 3km and finished up a bit over that.

Bike (goal 24km/h, actual 24.8km/h) – a fairly quick transition, then out on the bike course.  It started out fairly flat but at km4, there was a very big uphill.  I had to go into my easiest gear, and stand up, but I got up it fine.  After that, there were quite a few more ups and downs, but none as big as that one.   In retrospect, staying with my existing gearing was the right decision.  Mentally, this one-loop bike course went on forever.  I had done a number of solo 50-60km rides in training, but my total bike mileage year-to-date is very low and I had not done any 40km time trials as I had in past years.  I just kept telling myself to ignore my speed and get through it.  The second half of the course had more of a tailwind than the first half, which was motivating.  Finally it was over and I was back into transition.

Bracebridge bike

Run 2 (goal 6:30/km, actual 6:30/km) – Ideally, I try to keep my second run to within 15-20 seconds per km of my first run.  Any closer than that means I haven’t worked hard enough in my first run.   Any slower than that means I have gone way too hard on the bike portion.  I headed out of transition feeling my normal amount of quad pain after a 40km bike ride, but was pleasantly surprised to find that my legs were ok after the first km.   I got into a good running rhythm and started to feel very happy, knowing that I was going to finish the full distance in a solid manner.

 

I headed in towards the finish area and became quite emotional, realizing that I had met my goal of getting back up to the level of fitness where I could finish this race distance.  I was thinking of all the life stuff that I had dealt with since the last time I did a full duathlon, especially the sudden cancer death of my dear friend Shirley last summer.  I was very down for many months and for a while I thought that I would never compete again, let alone at this distance.  Shirley’s cancer was completely unexpected and it threatened my previous assumption of my own health.  The feeling of relief and gratitude when I crossed the finish line, was suddenly overwhelming.  

It was pretty easy to collate my results….. 2nd of 2 in my age group, 8th of 8 women, 24th of 24 overall, and 3hrs18 total time, my slowest for this distance by about 25 minutes.   Last in every way and a personal worst time, but it just didn’t matter.   What a relief to know that I had met my race goal of finishing this distance.  

Here are some random pics with my pal Shirley.  Yes, she did 50 half marathons by the time she turned 50!  She is very deeply missed.

 

 

 

Duathlon, anyone?

Kincardine 2016 pre race

Susan, Tara, Sarah, Sam, Anita, Tracy right before the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon (um, make that a duathlon).

For the second time in four years, those of us who signed up for the triathlon ended up in a duathlon instead. Kincardine is on Lake Huron, and Lake Huron is a changeable and sometimes fierce lake. In 2013 they cancelled the swim because of frigid water. On Saturday the water was warm enough that I’d contemplated forgoing my wetsuit to decrease my T1 time. But then they cancelled the swim because of rough water. And then it rained a bit. And the weather turned much cooler than you’d expect in July.

Some (most) of our crew had already signed up for the duathlon, which had been scheduled to go out in two waves.  The triathlon would go out in three. They kept the waves the same, so the people who’d originally signed up for the duathlon competed as a distinct category from those who’d originally planned for the triathlon. It made for a somewhat confusing start, but we all found our way to the starting line.

Here’s how it went.

Tara

Last year I completed the Kincardine Du in 1:05:04.  So, I set a lofty goal of completing the race in under 1 hour and I knew in setting that goal that I may be setting myself up for disappointment.  I completed the race this year in 1:03 and indeed I find myself somewhat disappointed in my results.  On one hand, my run times were some of the best I’ve ever run at 5:16/km so I’m very pleased with that.  However, my bike time was only marginally faster than last year and I had hoped that I would see a bigger difference given that I have a faster bike this year (clearly it’s not all about the bike that one rides).

I finished in the top third of the pack and for that I am very pleased!  What I know now is that when in the top third of the pack and setting goals that I need to go easier on myself because marginal improvements make a big difference in the finish positions.  I’m close to that sub 1 hour and with some specific bike training I think I can get there next year!  I still love this race, it’s short and fast.  Having some experience doing this race last year gave me the confidence this year to push myself harder in the run segments.  There’s value in experience in these types of races and I’m excited for what next year will bring at Kincardine!

Susan

I enjoyed the race this year despite making the poor choice to run the second 3 km barefoot.

Although it was a fun day, I have decided to commit to training before I sign up for another year.  It was frustrating to be unprepared – I feel like I missed an opportunity to push myself.  Lack of training is a convenient excuse.  I’m done using it.

Alison

What a hoot!  I’m in for multi-sport racing from here on in.  I’m not a confident cyclist but with the adrenaline flowing I was able to enjoy the ride in a way I’ve only experienced with running before. The lesson I took away from the day: get into the open water more often. Our swim was cancelled, thank Venus, but the fact that I was so nervous about the swim–even though I’m strong enough in a pool–tells me that I have work to do there, if only on the mental side.

I was really impressed by the camaraderie on display at this event, and by the local support for all the competitors–I’ll definitely be back!

Anita

I was a little blasé going into Kincardine 2016 but it turned me right around, right away. Tracy and I got there the night before under the threat of rain and lightning, but during a break in the storm we got to walk along the beach after doing a bike check with the volunteer bike mechanic. The whole evening was pretty peaceful. Before going to bed we had a nice visit with Susan and Tara who were staying at the same hotel.  It was great running weather the next morning, but unfortunately it was a bit too rough for swimming (poor Tracy – she had been really looking forward to the swim). So we all did the run, then the bike, and then the run. I don’t remember much except saying to myself that if I wanted to quit after the bike I could (but I didn’t). I just kept thinking “slow and steady wins the race” to keep me shuffling through that last run on very tired legs. And then it was over. I felt AWESOME. I felt like an ATHLETE again with my PB.

PS Of course a shout out to the terrific team is in order: Tara, Susan, Sam, Tracy, Sarah, Alison, Jennifer – it wouldn’t have been as fun without you all!

Sarah

I knew going into the duathlon that I hadn’t trained the run enough. The multisport veterans warned me that it would be hard to keep running once I’d been on the bike. And I know I’m slower in humid weather, even when it’s not hot. (I might be gritting my teeth not to have them chatter in the picture!) But wow, what a slog! I followed my race plan, carefully keeping my speed down on the first run, maintaining my favourite, slow, “I could do this all day” pace, trying to keep my legs as fresh as possible. I loved the bike segment, head down, cadence up, steadily passing people I’d lost sight of on the run, remembering to keep drinking. I took my time on the transition to the second run, even downing a gel and a few more mouthfuls of water before heading out. The next 3 km were a blur of leaden legs, pounding heart, and frequent short walk breaks just to keep moving safely forward. Ugh. But I still had an absolute blast, there was a wonderful camaraderie among the participants and especially our team. I’m inspired to train running for the first time in ages and I look forward to trying a duathlon again some day. Fun!

Sam

Sometimes I feel like my Kincardine race reports are a testimony to getting old and slow. Like Tara I used to have dreams of doing this event in under an hour. My fastest time was for the full  triathlon at just over 1:10. When I finished the relay version of the triathlon we finished in 52:57. No pesky transitions, no tired legs. Since I’ve been doing the duathlon though my fastest time has been 1:18 and change. This race was slower than that, 1:22:15. But I was 5th in my age group. So there’s that. And I was in the top half of the bike times. As a cyclist, I like that!

But, forgetting times and competition, I had a blast. Why? Well, super fun doing the race with friends, family, colleagues, and co-bloggers! Fun racing with Sarah for whom it was her first ever multisport event. I love the course out along the beach.  I love the age range and the inclusion of athletes with disabilities. I love the community involvement and being cheered on by so many happy people. I love that the distance is accessible to people who aren’t necessarily that athletic but at the same time it’s a super speedy challenge for the fast, fit folk.

Notably I did the running parts at a slow reasonable, non knee injuring pace. No pain during or after and that made me smile a lot. Thanks Sarah for the quick tutorial on pacing the week before. It really helped.

Hopes and dreams for 2017? Doing it again and this time being able to train without hurting my knee. You know, the usual hope and dream!

Tracy

When we arrived and I heard they’d decided to hold off on distributing the swim caps because they wanted to wait until 8:30 to “call the swim,” I wanted to shake my fists at the heavens. The night before the lake had been calm and warm. But when I peeked over the berm between the park and the beach an hour before the start time, the lake had transformed — breaking waves and gusty winds.

When I ran into Alison in the body-marking and timing chip line, she was contemplating whether to wear the wetsuit. “That’s if they don’t cancel the swim,” I said. And before she got to the front of the line they did cancel it.

Since I had high hopes for a faster swim (but it may not have been faster given the conditions) and run this year, I felt disappointed. But at least I didn’t experience the same dread as I had in 2013. That time I had very little running experience, so the idea of doing not one but two runs put the fear into me. This time, I’d been training a lot lately to push myself as hard as possible for 3K (which is the run distance for the triathlon run and for both duathlon runs). I couldn’t do it as fast as I could swim, but I could definitely do it a lot faster than I could four years ago, which was the last time I did a duathlon.

Well lo and behold! I shaved over 11 minutes off of my 2013 duathlon time. I postively impressed myself with both runs, pacing at 6:01/km for the first one and 6:14/km for the second. For me, that’s amazing and meant I did the first run in 18:03, which is the fastest 3K I’ve ever run, and the second in 18:41. I shaved a tiny bit off of last year’s bike leg, but since they roll T1+bike+T2 all together and since I didn’t swim this year so my T1 was swift, I think that means my bike leg took me a bit longer (my T1+bike+T2 time: 33:56 to last year’s 34:02). So we know where the work needs to happen and that’s no surprise to me. This is the consequence of giving in to my road phobia and not training on the bike.

I feel good about my run progress, but I need to not compare myself to others (I finished 17/26 in my age group, though if I’d entered into the duathlon from the beginning I would actually have placed). Lots of women finished in under an hour, which always impresses me and is totally out of reach for me in the duathlon (not the triathlon, where it could happen if I train on the bike enough to get my time under 30 minutes), which took me 1:10:39. And for the very first time I successfully used the multi-sport function on my Garmin. So there’s that cool thing. I had fun again this year. I think a lot about the whys and wherefores of comparing and “doing better” and being “slow,” and all that jazz.

In the end, Kincardine is an event where you can enjoy yourself no matter how you do. It’s always a blast to go with the group–look at our smiles. And the organizers do a fantastic job (though I wish they would get women to do the announcing). And I love the red New Balance tank tops they gave us this year, along with the re-designed medals.

The professors, post-race. Anita, Sam, Tracy, and Alison.

The professors, post-race. Anita, Sam, Tracy, and Alison.

 

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Race Report: Boston Half Marathon (Guest post)

For many runners, the Boston Marathon is the “holy grail” of marathons. Those of us for whom qualifying for Boston is a pipe dream must settle for something else. In my case, that something else was the Boston Half Marathon, which took place on Sunday, October 11.

While there is no qualifying time for the Boston Half Marathon, registering for the race was not a straightforward process. There were only 5,000 spots available through online registration—the first 2,000 participants were accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis and the remaining 3,000 were selected by a random lottery. I had noted the registration date in my calendar months ahead of time. By 10:00 a.m. on the day of registration, both my husband and I were sitting at our computers, fingers and credit cards ready. He completed his registration in four minutes and secured a spot in the first 2,000. The three extra minutes it took me to complete my registration landed me in the random selection pool with the rest of the slow-typers and double-checkers. But as luck would have it, my name was drawn in the lottery and we were off to the races!

Going into the race, we knew that it would be a hilly course so we incorporated a lot of hills into our training. The Boston Athletic Association, which organizes both the Boston Marathon and the Boston Half Marathon, provides a 12-week training program on their website with different versions for beginner, intermediate and advanced runners. We didn’t follow their program exactly but we did use it to set the distance for our weekly long runs and decide whether we should do hill or speed training (or both) that week.

For our runcation in Boston, we used AirBnB to find a place that was within walking distance to Franklin Park where the race starts and ends. After arriving on Saturday morning, we set out to the park to figure out where we would need to go for the race the next day. The walk from our AirBnB to the starting area turned out to be much shorter than expected! After lunch, we headed downtown to the Boston Marathon Adidas RunBase store to pick up our bibs and race shirts. The pick-up process went smoothly but I was disappointed that the shirts were unisex and a rather boring shade of grey. I had initially wanted to take it easy on Saturday by minimizing the amount of walking and maximizing our hydration and food intake. After an afternoon of exploring and shopping, we had covered almost 15 kilometers—so much for “taking it easy”!

The morning of the race we woke up, ate breakfast and got ready in time to make it to the starting area half an hour before the race began. The line up for gear check was long and chaotic so we didn’t have a lot of spare time to get to the start line and find our corrals. Unlike most races I’ve run in Canada, the Boston Half Marathon does not pre-assign runners to a start corral. Instead there were markers at the starting line indicating different paces (for example, 7:00–7:59 minutes/mile, 8:00–8:59 minutes/mile, etc…) and runners were expected to line up in the right corral according to their expected pace. That shouldn’t have been a problem except I always calculate my pace in minutes per kilometer. So I frantically tried to do some math in my head and slotted myself in with the 7:00–7:59 min/mile runners. It turns out that I’m not so good at doing math under pressure. With my normal pace of roughly 5:40/km, I should have actually been way in the 9:00–9:59 min/mile group. Oops.

Standing there waiting for the gun to go off, I reminded myself of my goals for this race: have fun and not get injured. I had been experiencing some pain in my left knee in the weeks prior to the race so I took a break from running in the week right before we came to Boston. Even so, I was nervous about how my knee would hold up with all the up- and downhill parts. Having accidentally surrounded myself with really fast runners and knowing there would be a big downhill in the first mile, I knew I would have to hold back to avoid going out too fast in the first part. I needed to save some energy for the second half of the race, which would be a slow, steady climb all the way to the finish line.

The course itself was very scenic, looping through the Emerald Necklace park system. The route took us through picturesque neighbourhoods, parks, ponds, a golf course, an arboretum and even a zoo! I also loved all the beautiful fall colours in the trees lining the route. There was a marker at every mile with a clock so I was able to check in on my pace regularly. There were also hydration stations roughly every two miles and a Clif Shot Energy Zone at mile six where volunteers handed out energy gels. Instead of downing my energy gel in one go, I held on to it and took a gulp every one and a half miles. That really helped me maintain consistent energy levels and a constant pace throughout the second half of the race.

Maybe it was the adrenaline or maybe it was all the hill training we did but the hills on the course were not actually all that bad. Sure, there were a lot of them but for the most part, they were short and not as steep as I had imagined them to be. About eight or nine miles into the race I suddenly realized that I hadn’t experienced any pain or discomfort in my knee, which was a huge confidence boost. At that point, I started thinking more about speed and beating my previous half marathon time. During the last two miles of the race, there were some downhill portions where I felt my toes jam against the front of my shoe. Thankfully, it wasn’t serious and I was able to ignore it and keep going.

The final kilometer of the race was a long downhill leading to the entrance of White Stadium where spectators were waiting and cheering in the stands. Heading into the final stretch, I knew that I was really close to matching or beating my previous time so I went full balls to the wall and sprinted all the way to the finish line. I finished in 1 hour, 58 minutes and 7 seconds, beating my previous time by 1 minute and 24 seconds and setting a new personal best.

Overall, both my husband and I had a great time at the Boston Half Marathon. Everything in the lead up to the race and during the race was fantastic. The post-race refreshments made up one of the best spreads we have ever seen at a race. In addition to the standard bagels and bananas, there were full-sized Clif Bars, chips, pears and dried cranberries. There were even mini burgers and smoothies! Our only complaint was that gear check was too disorganized and not well staffed. There was a huge bottleneck at the start of the race with everyone trying to get a bag and tag from a volunteer. After the race, runners had to dig through a large pile of bags to find their gear because there were no volunteers to help retrieve your belongings. Even though everyone was trying to be really careful and tiptoe through the piles, we saw bags being stepped on and tossed around.

Has this race satisfied my desire to “run the Boston”? For now.

As elusive as it is, I would still love to run the Boston Marathon one day. Assuming that the qualification times don’t change and I can maintain my current pace for the next 22 years, I should be able to qualify for the Boston when I’m 50—something to look forward to!

betty

Betty is a science communicator living in Toronto. Her two proudest accomplishments are completing a full marathon without barfing and obtaining her Ph.D. She has an unhealthy obsession with pancakes and good deals. Luckily, her husband is very good at eating pancakes and finding creative storage solutions. In her spare time, Betty blogs at Eat, Read, Science where she writes about the latest and coolest science papers in a way that won’t make you fall asleep. You can follow her on Twitter at @BisousZou.

Fun Times at the 2015 Kincardine Women’s Triathlon

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After last week’s group pre-race report, and a fantastic event on Saturday, we decided a collective race recap about Kincardine would be fun. Here it is:

Kristen: I love this time away with my old friends and meeting some new friends.  Every Tri I have tried it’s a warm and welcoming environment with someone always willing to lend a hand.  As an event planner and manager of volunteers I always try and remind myself that races are volunteer lead and driven events so try not and judge too harshly.  That being said I do think this group really does need to step up their pre-race talk and etiquette.  The organizing team  missed things I felt were important especially as this event is touted as being a beginner race and they have been at it for 10 years.  I found myself asking questions I knew the answer to just to make sure the many new and nervous faces got this information. Something I learned, although my fitness level is now at a point that I can do this length of a race with very little training (6 months of injuries will do that) I certainly was not happy with the results.  Maybe it’s better to say it feels like a new beginning and is wonderful to feel like I’m not longer broken so can again start to train in earnest.  Hopefully, I’ll be back next year.

Anita: Wow wow wow. Kincardine was such an amazing experience, mostly because of the fantastic spirit shared by everyone there. Of course I have to pass along special high fives to the group of women I was with: Tracy, Samantha, Leslie, Kristen, Natalie, Mallory, Susan, and Tara. We all came with different expectations and training histories but we all left with smiles. I couldn’t ask for a more supportive group of friends. My personal performance was great on the runs (I did the duathlon) but a bit of a poor showing on the bike. Guess what? That didn’t bother me one little bit. In fact I feel like I crushed it. Ya, I crushed it. And I’m coming back for more.

Sam: I went knowing I wouldn’t be fast but I went anyway. And that was okay. More than okay, I had fun. I had surgery less than six weeks ago which meant two weeks with no physical actvity at all, other than walking, then a slow return to normal. I concentrated on the friends and family aspect of this event, drove up there with my daughter, my sister in law, and my cousin in law. We had a great time together with a lovely group of bloggers, guest bloggers, and friends. My injured knee survived the 6 km of (mostly) running and didn’t hurt the next day. Victory!

I was surprised, not at how hard the running part of the duathlon would be as I knew that it would hurt given that I haven’t run much in the past month. I was shocked at how hard biking is after a tough run. I spent 78% of it in Zone 4 of my heart rate training zones. Strava had things to say about that. I also learned the bad effect of slow transitions. My Garmin had my moving bike time at 27 minutes but it was 31 on the race chip time spread sheet. Why? Because that includes getting in and out of my running shoes/biking shoes and swapping hat for helmet and helmet for hat.

I love this event, the smiling volunteers, the cheering community crowds, and the wide range of participants, all ages, skill levels, and fitness abilities. Certainly I’d recommend it to any women in the area considering their first tri. Go for it and enjoy!

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Susan, Tara, and Sam

Nat: I‘m thrilled at how the race went. I absolutely loved being there with a group of friends, new & old. It really made the race interesting to keep an eye out for each other in the bike and race loops since they were out and back courses.

As we gathered to start a few folks were uttering nervous and anxious things. It was harshing my buzz and echoing my inner doubts so I gave a pep talk to those around me. “It’s a beautiful day, the lake is calm and you get to swim surrounded by all these beautiful, strong women. That’s amazing. It will take the time it takes. Enjoy it, it won’t last very long.”

The water was very cold and I didn’t rent a wetsuit but it only slowed me down a couple minutes on the swim.

The bike portion felt amazing as I huffed along on Ethel. I actually passed some folks! Me! Passing! That felt really cool.

Zoom! Zoom! Zoom!

But the run, oh the run, it felt really harsh along the boardwalk then the course merged with the returning runners and I decided I needed some high fives. I needed them bad so I started offering “high fives of awesomeness” to anyone who looked like they could use a boost or even looked me in the eye. Totally gave me something else to focus on and I felt better. My run wasn’t much slower than my usual pace. Yay high fives!

I came in much faster than I expected and faster than I deserved as I hadn’t really trained for this. It was a PB even over a much shorter Try a Tri I did in 2011!

I can’t wait for next year!

Super Nat!

Super Nat!

Leslie: I did it! What a great feeling of accomplishment to have completed (without stopping!) the Kincardine Women’s Sprint Triathalon.  I was overwhelmed by the support and encouragement of the volunteers before, during and after the race.  Even the spectators who lined the route were amazing. A special thanks to the kid with the garden hose-man that cold water felt great on the return leg of the run.  So many smiling faces, and such positive energy.  For me the swim was the most difficult, and therefore presents the main challenge for the new goal I plan on setting down for myself for future triathlons.  I was so impressed at all the results, from all the amazing women participants.  Wow, Katie Peach 43:27 overall race time, you rock! and Jennifer Di Jong in my age category 50 – 54, with a time of 50:17-inspiring.  I had the privilege of meeting the core group of women that my race buddy and tri-mentor Tracy introduced me to.  To Anita, Sam, Kristin, Mallory and all, great to meet everybody.  Finally what had started as something that I was resistant and afraid of, “transitioned” into a positive, empowering experience. Hope to see you all next year.

Tracy in her wetsuit, bathing cap, and goggles, in an exuberant pose before the start of the swim.

Tracy feeling pretty excited that the swim didn’t get cancelled!

Tracy: I had the most fun at the 2015 Kincardine Women’s Triathlon than I’ve ever had at an event. So much so that I wonder if I’m in love with triathlon or just the KWT! It’s a well-run, high-energy event for women (and you know how I love women’s only events!). The volunteers are amazing and the race organizers have their system down to a fine-tuned machine geared at making sure everyone is having a great time.

It looked touch and go for the swim because of water temperature, which registered 8 degrees C the day before the race (minimum to go ahead with the swim is 13 degrees C). But Kincardine’s water is known to “flip” and flip it did.  By the race morning it (just) passed the minimum. Still kind of frigid but with my wetsuit and a pre-race warm-up to get used to the cold water, it was tolerable-ish — it did take me about 2/3 of the swim to find a rhythm, get my stroke under control from the flailing and desperate character it had at the beginning, and start breathing well. I took some time off of my swim from last year and had a good T1.  Swim: 8:35 TI: 2:28

Despite my general struggles with bike training, which meant that I did no training at all once the indoor trainer season ended in late March, I enjoyed the bike ride. As expected given no training, I lost all of my time on the bike. People whom I’d smoked in the swim caught up and passed me all along the route. But I felt solid on the bike and I had absolutely no difficulty with the hills, so there’s that.  Bike: 34:02 (including T2).

I felt pretty good on the run, though I started out of breath. My goal was to push beyond my comfort zone, which I did. In retrospect I could have pushed harder but that’s for another day.  Run: 19:04.

What did I love? I loved being with everyone and having a whole group of people–Sam, Nat, Anita, Susan, Tara, Kristen, Mallory, Leslie, and me. My longtime friend, Leslie, was doing her first triathlon and it was exciting to see how dedicated she was to her training and to watch the mix of nerves and excitement the morning of.  Anita was also doing her first event, a duathlon, and she loved it. And all nine of us were happy. I went into it with no huge expectations and my only real plan (besides pushing on the run) was to have fun. When I came through the finish chute and saw Mallory waiting at the side, and then everyone else started rolling in, I just had a surge of joy!  Perfect weather, perfect company, and a personal best of 1:01:40 that gives me something to work towards for next year, namely, a sub-60 minute finish. That means bike training. Meanwhile, I will bask in the glow of an exhilarating event with an awesome group of women.

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Race Report: Nike Women’s 15K Toronto (Guest Post)

Remember how excited I was to run the Nike Women’s Toronto 15km race? Well, I ran it on June 14th and boy, was it exciting! Let’s recap, shall we?

Pre-race

Can I start off by taking my hat off to Nike’s marketing and PR team? I think they created an excellent campaign to promote not just the race, but also the city of Toronto and the sport of running. A key part of this campaign was the Crystal Coliseum, a custom-built studio barge on Lake Ontario. That’s right. Nike built a floating training studio. During the race weekend, Nike’s Master Trainers were offering free classes to help runners get ready for the race. The Nike Womens Village also took over Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre next to the Crystal Coliseum. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it down to either the Crystal Coliseum or the Nike Womens but my research on Instagram tells me that there were plenty of sponsor stalls and Nike-branded photo opportunities.

I took advantage of the early packet pick up and was able to get my race shirt, bib and ferry ticket a week before the event. Since the race was taking place on Toronto’s Centre Island, all participants had to take a ferry from the “mainland” to the island. Our ferry assignments were based on our wave and start times so I couldn’t complain much about my 7:00 am ferry ticket.

The day before the race, I did my best to stay hydrated and load up on carbs. I realize that you probably don’t need to carbo-load that much for a 15 km race but it also happened to be my brother-in-law’s 40th birthday party that day. Eating a lot (of cake and pie) just seemed like the right thing to do, especially since I wasn’t drinking any alcohol.

In a break from tradition, I decided that I would wear the Nike race shirt for the actual race. I usually wear the race shirt from the last race I ran but for reasons I can’t quite articulate, I felt the sense of community was stronger and more important for this race than for my previous races. Maybe I felt this way because it was my first women’s race or maybe Nike’s clever marketing campaign just really got to me. I also decided to run with my husband’s Garmin watch to help me pace myself. In the past, I’ve relied on either the Nike Plus app on my iPod, the loudness of my breathing, my husband or some combination thereof for pacing. I had done a few training runs with the Garmin and found it helpful so I thought I’d give it a shot.

Race morning

The morning of the race, I woke up at 6:00 am to get ready. That involved toasting a bagel and coating it with peanut butter, putting in contact lenses and changing into the race outfit that I had laid out the night before. Luckily, I don’t live too far away from the ferry terminal so I was able to bike there in about 20 minutes. After some initial confusion about whether my ferry ticket was grey or mint, I got into the right line and boarded the boat. Despite the crowds, everything was super organized and on time. While on the boat, I enjoyed a lovely breakfast with my peanut butter bagel and a spectacular view of the Toronto skyline.

I arrived on the island a full two hours ahead of my start time. Luckily, there was a lot to explore. I meandered by the food trucks selling breakfast and coffee (pre-race crepes, anyone?). I waited in line to take photos next to inspirational quotes about running (who doesn’t love a good inspirational quote?). I wandered around looking for free heat sheets and tattoos (found the heat sheets, no luck on the tattoos). The heat sheets were a great idea because the sky was overcast and there was a cool wind coming off the water. Because the island is a popular city-run recreational spot, there were lots of real washrooms which means I didn’t have to use any porta potties. I thought it was great that there were two lines formed at the washrooms: one line of all women for the women’s washroom and another line of women with a couple of guys mixed in waiting for the men’s washroom. There was also a warm up area where Nike trainers were leading warm up exercises to get everyone ready. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it over to the warm up area because I forgot about it and decided that I should conserve my energy and my legs.

Forty-five minutes before the race started, I checked my coat and bag, ate my energy bar and headed over to my start corral. After some dynamic stretches, I found a spot near the start of my wave and plopped myself down on the grass. And that’s when the rain started. In an effort to stay somewhat dry and warm, I opted for the futuristic space turtle look—wrapping myself completely in my silver heat sheet with just my face showing. As the rain grew from a drizzle to a downpour, I started to get nervous because I really really don’t like running with wet feet. There is nothing worse than the squelching noises wet socks make as water gets squished out of them with every step. Instead of thinking about all that unpleasantness, I focused on the Nike running coach giving a pep talk and the announcers, who were introducing the elite athletes that would be participating in the run. These included Paula Findlay, a Canadian triathlete who is the only woman to win consecutive world championships; Marlen Esparza, the first American woman to qualify for women’s boxing at the Olympics; and Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first-ever women’s Olympic marathon champion. Knowing that I would be sharing the course with these phenomenal athletes and 10,000 other runners from 24 different countries really got me pumped up and ready to go.

The Race

The 15 km course took us along the edge of the entire island so we always had Lake Ontario in sight. There were some really beautiful spots along the course where literally, the entire city of Toronto was behind us. We were running on many different types of terrain—paved road, sidewalk, boardwalk, beach, grass, and oh yeah, airport runway. Three kilometers into the race, we turned into Billy Bishop Airport on Centre Island and ran the next 1.5 km on an actual airport runway. Two planes took off while I was out there. It was exhilarating and terrifying. We also got to run through the little neighbourhood of Hanlon’s Point where people live year-round on the island. With the exception of a small bridge, the course was flat and fast. There were lots of volunteers and signs directing us which way to go. Some parts of the route were pretty narrow compared to running on the road for a typical race. There were spots where giant puddles narrowed the course even more. Passing was definitely a challenge on this race. I found myself weaving more than usual and occasionally having to really slow down because I couldn’t get around another runner. Due to the number of runners and the narrowness of the paths, we never really thinned out. But I didn’t feel crowded either so it was ok.

Luckily, the rain stopped shortly after my wave started and the skies stayed clear for the rest of the run. There were also a lot of spectators and volunteers cheering us on. I definitely fed off their energy and picked up my speed as I approached cheering stations. I think my favourite cheering station was the gospel choir that was singing upbeat and joyous hymns outside a little chapel. There was also a confetti canon close to the end, which sadly did not go off when I ran by.

My initial plan was to power through the entire race and not lose time at water stations. I skipped the first water station at 3 km and realized a few minutes later that I was thirsty. By that point the sun had come out and the humidity was setting in. Remembering my not-so-great performance at the hot and muggy Sporting Life 10k earlier in May, I opted to visit each of the remaining water stations at 6k, 9k, and 12k. Despite the water breaks and weaving in and out, I maintained a pretty consistent pace, thanks in part to the Garmin. Five hundred meters before the finish line, I started to pick up my pace for a sprint to the end. Then I saw my husband with the camera up ahead so I slowed down for pictures. I still sprinted across the finish line though.

Post-race

This was the first race in which I’ve participated where there was neither a bagel nor a banana waiting for me at the finish line. That is my only complaint about the event. My recovery snack bag consisted of an apple, a snack size bag of potato chips, a granola bar, some trail mix and a little bag of dried cranberries. Maybe Nike’s target group is predominantly gluten-free and low carb but I am definitely not one of those people, especially after running 15 km. My bagel disappointment was quickly forgotten, however, when I saw the unmistakable blue boxes being handed out to the finishers. As promised, all finishers received a specially designed Tiffany and Co. necklace engraved with “Nike Women’s 15k Toronto 2015” on the back. The pendant is actually something that I would wear on a day-to-day basis unlike the rest of my finisher’s medals, which have been relegated to a shoebox.

After taking some photos, we left the island quickly because it had started to rain again. Biking back in the rain was not very fun but we made it home in one piece.

So after all the hype and the expensive registration fee, was the Nike Women’s 15k Toronto worth it? Yes! It was fun, well organized and really brought out a sense of community. Would I do it again? Yes! Hopefully, in a different city.

While I was huddled under my heat sheet waiting for the race to start, the Nike running coach said something that stayed with me for the entire race: run this race not just for yourself, but for all the people who can’t run and for all the people who think they can’t run. I used to be one of those people and now I’ve just completed a 15 km race while setting a new personal best. Take that, old me!

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Betty is a science communicator living in Toronto. Her two proudest accomplishments are completing a full marathon without barfing and obtaining her Ph.D. She has an unhealthy obsession with pancakes and good deals. Luckily, her husband is very good at eating pancakes and finding creative storage solutions. In her spare time, Betty blogs at Eat, Read, Science where she writes about the latest and coolest science papers in a way that won’t make you fall asleep. You can follow her on Twitter at @BisousZou.

From Starting “Wine” to Finish “Whine,” Niagara Women’s Half Marathon Gets It Right

niagara falls women's half marathon 21.1 logoReaders of the blog will know how much I like women’s events. So I was pretty excited when Anita (my Scotiabank Half Marathon partner, local running buddy, and longtime friend) and I signed up for the Niagara Women’s Half Marathon way back in the late winter.  And I got more and more stoked as our road trip approached.

Race day was Sunday and we left for Niagara Falls, Ontario, on Saturday late morning. The plan — pick up our race kits, eat something, head to the outlet mall for some shopping, check in to the hotel, chill, eat again, sleep.  It all went to plan but for the “chill” part. Somehow the day got away from us and the next thing we knew it was 8 p.m. and we were just getting started on our appetizers.

Both of us were strangely calm the night before.  No nerves. No real worries other than that we might be a bit cold in the morning if we got there as early as they suggested (6:30 for an 8 a.m. start!).  So we decided we’d aim to get there by around 7:15 instead, and it was only 15 minutes from the hotel, so if we left at 7 a.m. no problem, right?

Not quite. When there are 4000 entrants and one road into the parking lot and no shuttle buses from the hotels, that’s a lot of vehicles trying to get to the same place.  15 minutes turned into 30 and eventually we got to the venue. If they’d said to get there early to avoid being stuck in traffic we might have listened. But they said get there early to hear the music and use the port-a-potties.

The event advertises their famous port-a-potties, each with a bouquet of flowers in it. They had a higher ratio of port-a-potties per competitors than usual because research shows that women take longer in the loo than men. They kind of overstated the awesomeness of these things. It’s true that the one I went into had a pot of flowers setting in the urinal. But that was about all that was different about it.

So with that out of the way and a few pre-race pics, we went to find our spot at the “Start Wine.”  Yes, that’s not a typo.  Niagara is a wine region after all. And there was even a bottle of wine in the race kit (meaning that Anita scored double the fun because I don’t drink). So we made our way to the Start Wine with less than 10 minutes to go.

Niagara Women's Half Marathon Start Wine

Niagara Women’s Half Marathon Start Wine

There we met several women from a lively, fun, and very well-represented group from the US called Black Girls Run. With 400 from various chapters across the US, they made up 10% of the total competitors in the race. Many had t-shirts and head bands with their smile-inducing slogan: “preserve the sexy.”

With the sun out, we weren’t cold at all and in fact we both felt relieved that we didn’t load ourselves down with heavier clothes or throw-away sweaters or, in Anita’s case, capris instead of shorts.

The pre-race energy filled the air and the race announcer did a great job of getting everyone excited.  Then “O Canada,” a count-down, and we were off.  It took us just over three minutes to get across the start wine from where we were in the crowd.

Our race strategy was to do intervals of 10 minutes running, 30 seconds walking for as long as we could, switching to 10-1 intervals when 30 seconds started to feel too short.

niagara falls

Instead of giving a full report, I’m going to give some highlights:

1. We did indeed, as advertised, get to run past the Falls twice, both times during the first 5K which was an out-and-back from the Rapidsview parking lot, along the Niagara Falls Parkway to the base of Clifton Hill and back. We got some mist from the Falls, which felt lovely, and we also got to see the leaders of the race as they reached the turnaround and headed back our way.

2. There was a lot of crowd support all along the route. There were also all sorts of musical acts, including a marching band, a string duo playing a cello and a violin, a solo harpist, a solo sax player.

3. When the route looped back sort of past where we started, Kathrine Switzer was in the middle of the road high-fiving everyone she could. If you don’t know who she is, she is the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, way back in 1967. And she’s pretty darn amazing. I didn’t realize it was her but Anita had done her homework and told me that we’d just high-fived Kathy Switzer.

4. The course continued along the upper part of the Niagara River, across a bridge, and then followed a road for quite a distance all along the bank on the other side of the river until another turnaround.  Again, the second out and back made for exciting times when the lead racers, Stephanie and Dale, came blasting past us in the other direction, making their way to the finish wine, where they would arrive more than an hour before we did!

5. I’m not sure if it’s because I recently did a marathon, which seemed just endless, or if it was just my mood, but I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the kilometre markers.  We made a note, but it wasn’t until about the last 6K that I was constantly doing the mental calculations about how close we were to the end. With 5K to go I still felt pretty good, even though I knew we were off pace.

6. We got off pace fairly early. We’d wanted to keep our pace to 7 minutes a km, but early on we took a quick bathroom break, which of course added some time, and then once we crossed to the other side of the river there were some long, treeless stretches in the blazing sun. We didn’t talk a lot during those stretches. In fact, we didn’t talk as much as we usually do in general. For my part, I was soaking in the vibe — there was a lot of high energy and encouragement from the sidelines and from the other women. It felt good. But it felt more like a fun run than a race. Anita and I had both agreed ahead of time that we weren’t going to get too caught up in the pace and our time. We just wanted to enjoy ourselves.

7. Nutrition and hydration. I planned better this time, keeping my shot blocks in a pocket pouch rather than risking losing them from the loop of my fuel belt like I did in the dreaded Mississauga Marathon (more than a month out and I’m still committed to “never again”). I ate one block every 20 minutes or so. About an hour into it I started to feel a little bit light-headed. Despite not having experimented with Powerade before the event, I accepted it when offered at the water stations and also took some water. In that long hot stretch without trees, I took extra water and poured it into my hat. Anita by that point was dumping the water on her head.

8. My wall came at around 18K, with just 3.1K to go. What is that no matter what the distance, the last fraction of it always seems hard.  When I did the Around the Bay 30K and the Mississauga Marathon, up to 22K was no problem. But Sunday, 18-21.1 challenged me.  By then, we were taking our full minute for the walk breaks, or adding walk breaks before the 10 minutes were up, or taking a walk break and then walking through the water stations. Anita and I checked in with each other from time to time to see if the other was okay. We both said we were but later she admitted that she was struggling in the last little bit as well.

9.  The finish wine (probably best called the “finish WHINE”) was just around the bend forever! I really felt like we weren’t ever going to arrive at the end. But the next thing I knew, I could see it about 200m away. I said to myself, you run this short distance all the time. Keep going, keep going, keep going.  And then we were crossing the mat. And then the firefighters (yes! firefighters!) were putting the medals around our necks. And someone handed each of us a cool washcloth (yes, a cool, damp washcloth! what luxury). And we made our way to collect our boxed snack of a banana, an apple, and two cookies wrapped in tissue paper, and drinks.

We walked past a line-up of women waiting for FREE post-race massages. And then there was a seating area with a bunch of banquet tables set up with white table cloths and centre-pieces — definitely the most elegant post-race set-up I’ve ever seen.

Niagara post-race set upIt was the kind of set-up that made you want to hang around.  Which we did — long enough to see the overall and age-group winners collect their prizes, long enough to check our race results. And stretch and bask in the sense of accomplishment that running 21.1K brings no matter how long it took.

10. As Anita said on social media, we each achieved a PW — personal worst! It was my second half marathon, and I came in 11 minutes slower than the last one. But it was immeasurably more fun and relaxing.

I’m going to let Anita have the last word about the Niagara Women’s Half Marathon:

The Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon was an amazing race. Maybe one of the best I’ve ever done. Great swag bag that included a bottle of wine! There were about 4000 people (so not too big not too small), it was well organized with a beautiful route and lots of spectators and local musicians (sax player, harpist, marching band, other bands at various points along the route). One water station included someone with a hose spraying a mist out to cool us down bc it was so friggin hot. Really great, supportive atmosphere. A special shout out to the BGR contingent (Black Girls Run) – 400 women from all over the US wearing shirts with their awesome logo “Preserve the Sexy”. Despite running a PW (personal worst!!), Tracy and I had a brilliant time.

If you are interested in doing this race next year (June 5, 2016) the early bird registration before June 30th is only $68. Here’s the link.

Niagara post-race medal

Mississauga Marathon 2015 Part Two: Tracy Runs and Runs and Runs and Runs Some More (Race Report)

[warning: this race report is interminably long–my apologies. TI]

Why do people run marathons?  This thought flashed through my mind somewhere between 30 and 32K on Sunday, as I ran the Mississauga Marathon, my first full distance marathon ever. And quite possibly my last. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: it’s one thing to be fast and cover these distances quickly, quite another to be slow and plod along for almost six hours. That takes its own special kind of underrated endurance.

I got to Mississauga the day before the event. The minute I got up to my hotel room I heard a baby crying in the adjacent room and another child who sounded like perhaps a toddler vying for parental attention.  It took me about 30 seconds to assess the situation and call down to the front desk for another room. They obliged. Whew!

I had dinner plans with my friend, Vicki, and she got there just the second I got the new room.  We did a quick shopping trip to the fancy Square One Mall, and then headed out in search of pasta.  Alioli exceeded my expectations for what kind of Italian food I might find in a mall neighborhood of a Toronto suburb.  You can feed me crusty white bread and Alioli’s jumbo ravioli stuffed with mushrooms and smothered in their marinara sauce every day.

After dinner we went for a walk because not only did we have a bit of time, but the weather was perfect as perfect can be on the weekend. We have suffered through the relentless winter and then soldiered further through what’s been a disappointing and unreliable spring.  And this weekend the weather gods delivered on Environment Canada’s promise of “the nicest weekend so far.”

Catching up with Vicki and wandering around on a warm evening in late spring kept my mind off of the reason I was there: to run 42.2 km in the morning.  As soon as we said good-night I fired up my laptop to check on some race details, like the exact location of the starting line, the frequency of water stations, and (though meaningless to me because I don’t know Mississauga at all), the route.  The route looked unforgivingly long.

Mississauga Full-Relay-and-Half-Route-I made a decision about shoes, clothes, accessories and laid everything out on the other bed so I wouldn’t have any decisions in the morning. I wrote myself the following note: 6 a.m. eat breakfast, 6:15 shower, 6:45 make way to starting line for the 7:30 start.

Lights out. Unsettled night of sleep but no screaming children.

Rise and shine. I woke up feeling rested enough and pretty excited. Put my cereal together (something with Chia seeds and dried fruit and soy milk that works well for me as a pre-race meal and is easy to pack for travel). Ate. Showered. Dressed. The temperature was still on the cool side, around 11 degrees C, but warm enough that I didn’t need a throwaway sweater. I could leave in my running tank and shorts, not a problem.

When I got down to the lobby a few people were headed out to the starting line. This is the first time I’ve been to a race out of town where I knew no one.  Gabbi, my triathlon coach, and Miriam and Mary, both from the club, were all in town but I didn’t have a plan to meet up with them and the starting line is kind of chaotic anyway.  Not knowing anyone can be both lonely and liberating. I experienced both as I walked to the starting area and waited for the race to begin.

I had one main plan: to cross the finish line. My longest run ever before Sunday was 30K, so it’s not as if I fully trained for the marathon. That kind of concerned me, but I knew that even if I had to slow down considerably, I would be able to get to the end.

My other bits of strategy included turning off the pace and distance fields from my Garmin so it would only show me how long I’d been out there.  This was so I could do it more intuitively. I knew there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about pace. I knew that at a certain point it would be enough just to keep moving forward. I thought that being hyper aware of my pace might feel demoralzing. Gabbi agreed and suggested that the only reason even to use the Garmin at all on race day was to have a data record to analyze later.

I set the Garmin to 10-1 intervals and committed to sticking to them. Gabbi had suggested doing water station intervals instead, that is, run between the aid stations and then walk through them. But with the stations being 4km apart and my pace being in the 7-7:30 km range, I thought that would deviate too far from how I’d been training. That might be something for another day.

I felt like a pack mule trying to fit all of my nutrition into my fuel belt and another little pocket thing I had.  I stuffed one package of shot bloks, some coconut covered dates, and a cliff bar in the pocket thing, 2 vega gels in my fuel belt zipper pocket, and slid another package of shot blocks into this elastic loop on the outside of the fuel belt. Between the fuelt belt and my phone belt and my bib belt I had more going on around my waist and hips that is probably recommended. But I don’t know how people organize themselves. I also had one small bottle of water that fit into my fuel belt so I could take sips on walk breaks when I wasn’t at water station and refill as needed.

Two further decisions: (1) no music and (2) practice some chi running focuses, specifically the column posture, peeling my feet of the ground, the midfoot strike, and the lean.

I divided the race into 4 parts: 0-12K, 12-22K, 22-32K, 32-42.2K.

The Mississauga Marathon is that great kind of race where they put your name on your bib.  As I was waiting to cross the street I saw a woman whose name was also Tracy. We high-fived, with “Tracys unite!” She was with a friend who was wearing a pink wig and had a dog. This will become relevant later.

I love the buzz of excitement at the starting area of a race, and this one was no different. A band was playing and people were milling about. I’d made enough trips to the loo before I left the comfort of my hotel room that I spared myself the line-up at the port-o-pottie. I’ve done enough races now that it’s the line-ups, not the port-o-potties themselves, that I want to avoid.

At the start and haven't yet lost my mojo!

At the start and haven’t yet lost my mojo!

As I walked through the starting area I got a bit choked up. I get emotional like that sometimes.  I think the enormity of what I was about to do hit me. I wanted to be near the back of the pack because I knew I was going to be in the slower group. What I hadn’t prepared myself for was that the slower group sort of gravitates towards the half marathon. Very few people near the back had the blue and red bibs that indicated the full. That kind of worried me. I was in for a lonely race.

Hazel McCallion, who was mayor of Mississauga for 36 years (until she retired last year at age 93), said a few word of welcome. Then we sang the national anthem. And then it was 30 seconds to the start, then we all did a 10-second countdown and I almost cried again. And we were off.

0-12K

I thought I would finish in 5:00 to 5:30.  They say to take your half marathon time, double it and add 20 minutes. My half last October was just under 2:30, so that seemed like a reasonable estimate.  My biggest worry was that I would go out too fast.  So I hung back and paced myself easy, at what felt like around 7:20 or so, for the first few kilometers.

I took my walk breaks as scheduled even though I didn’t feel as if I needed them yet. I took in the cool air and the excitement and energy of the others around me. At about 4 km I saw a woman with pink hair and a dog at the side. She hollered out, “Tracy!”  And I couldn’t remember where I’d met her — I looked perplexed. She then shouted, “The other Tracy’s friend! You got this!”

And at that point, with almost one tenth of the race behind me, I felt like yes, I got this!

I plodded along at a slightly faster pace once I got a bit warmed up. At one point I sort of tripped over something that felt like a plastic candy bar wrapper or something. I didn’t bother to look down even though I wondered how it was that I could have tripped over something that I hadn’t seen, since I was alert and aware and had a clear view of the road.

At 6K when I reached down to grab my first shot block from the package in that elastic loop, it became clear to me why I hadn’t seen the thing I tripped over.  Okay. Half of my primary nutrition strategy was lying on Burnhamthorpe Road, unopened.  I can’t eat a whole lot of different things and shot blocks go down easier than gels do (for me–I know others are different). So: damn, that sucked. It also meant more Gatorade than I would usually take, but thank goodness they had Gatorade instead of Hammer Heed, because Heed doesn’t agree with me.

By then the mall-suburbs had given way to a scenic, forested area of Mississauga, and soon we entered the picturesque campus of University of Toronto, Mississauga. Maybe it’s because I’m an academic, or maybe it’s because I have two degrees from U of T, but I felt strangely comforted by those surroundings even though I have never set foot on that particular campus of U of T before.

I’d settled into a little group of people who were sort of catching up, passing, catching up, passing, based on different walk-run interval schedules. There was one woman in particular who was power walking the whole thing at an amazing walk-pace. I passed her whenever I was running, but not by much because she caught up with me on my one-minute walks.

We were a couple of kilometres winding through the campus and then we ended up in a stately and elegant residential area on the tree-lined Mississauga Rd.  Some of the locals were out cheering us on, and the race had amazing support from volunteers and from the police, who had a major presence at all intersections. The perfect weekend weather also brought out the cyclists, who were for the most part fine but got annoying later on when I hit the loneliest stretches of the marathon towards the end. But we’re not there yet.

Just before 12K I started looking at people’s bibs and that’s when I realized that almost everyone in my little group was doing the half, not the full.  Finally I caught up to an older man who was doing the full, and felt immediately relieved. He asked me what I was aiming for timewise. “Between 5:00 and 5:30. You?” I said.  He was aiming for six hours.

Six hours! I somehow had never even had in my head the idea that it could take six hours.  Good Lord.  But at that point 5:30 still seemed achievable. He talked about the “double your half and add twenty minutes” formula and I found that reassuring.

By the end of 12K I was feeling light and happy. We’d been in shade most of the time and it was still early in the day anyway.  I had no injuries or even niggling physical symptoms of any kind. And I was still apace with the amazing power walker, which I found both comforting and worrying (because she was walking, but don’t underestimate what some people can do pacewise when they’re walking).

12-22K

I was over the loss of the shot blocks by now and had opened the other package, eating one every time I hit a walk break at first, and then I rationed by switching to my dates, of which I had five to spread out over the race.

We were all clipping along nicely on more of the tree-lined shady residential streets of Mississauga, not yet down to the lake but it didn’t matter.  The shade kept it cool enough and in any case we were only expecting a high of 24C, which is so bearable compared to what it’s like in mid-summer when it’s much hotter than that and humid.

The moment of truth came between 14K and 15K, when the half marathon route veered off from the full:

Where the half marathon and the full marathon parted ways.

Where the half marathon and the full marathon parted ways.

When I did the Scotiabank Half last October, the part where they marathoners had to go a different route really demoralized me because I felt as if there was no way I could do what they had to do. I had to mentally prepare myself for that this time, and also because almost everyone went straight when I had to turn.

I soon caught up to a woman who was walking and listening to music. I asked her how she was doing. She took one of her earbuds out and said,”This is the loneliest marathon ever.” Her last one had been at Disney, and there is nothing lonely about that one. People everyone. Musicians along the side, all sorts of spectators.  Not like that in Mississauga. And we weren’t even halfway home.

Never having done a marathon before, I hadn’t really thought about it until she said it. But when I looked around I could see she was right. There were huge gaps between the runners. Then my walk-break was over and off I went.

At my next walk-break I caught up to another woman who was taking a break.  By now all of our emotional defenses were down. By the time the one minute we were walking together was over I knew that she had suddenly and out of the blue got her period one kilometre into the race. She had to stop at a convenience store to buy some supplies.  She had cramps. And she had had her last period only two weeks prior.  “Maybe it’s peri-menopause?” I suggested. I was just launching into my story of menopause when the walk-break ended and I started to run.

I made a commitment to stick to the walk-breaks as they came along but not to extend them.  I knew that once I started to mess around with the intervals, it would become all-too-easy to add a minute here and two minutes there.  The woman with her period and I played catch-up and pass for at least 15K, right up until I hit the wall at 30K.

22-32K

At 22K the course went into a quasi out-and-back portion.  There were lots of runners coming towards me who were then turning right (my left, their right).  But I still had to get to where they were all coming from, which involved a 4K stretch through a hot, treeless industrial area, then looping back with a short stretch along the water. This part of the route was, for me, one of the more soulless expanses and it just seemed to go on and on and on. Where in the heck is the turnaround? If I’d studied the map more carefully I’d have known. But I hadn’t, so I didn’t. That whole bit challenged me for almost 7K. The path along the lake felt quiet and idyllic, to be sure. But by then, because of the out and back, I could see clearly that there weren’t a lot of people behind me. Just a handful, nothing like the apparent hoards that were streaming towards me when I first began the “out” part of the out and back.

At the water station at the turn I took Gatorade and water. I dumped the water in my hat and drank the Gatorade. There was a band of drummer on the corner, about 6-8 older men in uniforms of some kind all playing different types of drums. The beat  boosted my spirits for a few moments, much-needed after the ordeal I’d just completed over the past 7K.  It seemed like a good time to use the bathroom, what with no line-up and the band of drummers.

I went into the port-o-pottie, probably more for the rest than anything else, and it turned out that I really didn’t need to go.  45 seconds wasted, but it was nice to be off my feet for a bit.

When I got out into the sunlight again, my friend with her period was just passing me.  Then there was a hill. And as I approached the 30K marker, I looked at my Garmin and saw I’d been out there for close to 4 hours already. I did a quick mental calculation and it became clear to me that there was no way I was going to make 5 hours, and I would be pressing my luck even to make 5:30.

That’s when I got a serious case of the “fuck-its.”  30-32K were the lowpoint of the event for me.  I gave myself a break and take an extended walk-interval and tried to get a more positive attitude. An older man running in sandals passed me as we entered another residential area that would eventually take us down towards the lake. We greeted each other and as he passed me he said something about having long come to accept the fact that he’s slow.

32-42.2K

At 32K I was about 4:30 into it and I had no idea how I would squeeze out another 10K but I kind of knew I was going to, one way or the other. By now, the woman with her period was out of reach. There was no way I would catch her again. The guy in sandals was still in sight.

Somewhere in this stretch the pylon truck started coming along to collect the pylons. I have to say, if a race has a stated limit and that limit isn’t past yet, and if you are within the pace that they said is required, then I just don’t think they should be collected the flipping pylons ahead of you. It’s demoralizing and it also makes it difficult to know if you’re going the right way.

From 32 to 38K, the route took us down into the park along the lake twice. By now, because remember it was the first beautiful weekend of the season, people were out in droves. Not spectators, just people enjoying their Sunday in the park — kids on scooters and skateboards, guys kicking around a soccer ball, families barbequing and picnicking, women and men out for their long Sunday run (not in the event!), couples strolling, people walking their dogs — you get the picture.

Although a few people encouraged me as I slowly passed them — they said stuff like “good job” and “way to go” — at this point I was having struggling with “when is this going to be over” and wasn’t in much of a mind to be able to interact all that much. I smiled and said thanks when I could, but in the end, I just wanted it to be over.

The 39K sign was the last one I saw. I was desperate to know how close I was to the end and people kept saying, “you’re almost there,” but either they removed the rest of the markers (bad form) or they never had them there in the first place (worse form).

The final 2K took me past the Port Credit marina, where I had fond memories of spending some time on a friend’s boat with Renald one year, along a pretty boardwalk and then into another lakeside park. This time, tons of people with race bibs and medals, adults and kids both, were streaming towards me leaving the finishing area. I guess they had a kids’ event at some point before the marathon was over, so it was just packed.

These people especially were telling me I was “almost there.” But I honestly had no idea at that point what that meant.  One kid, who had to be under 10 and I have no idea what kind of coaching he is used to but it must be fierce, hollered at me as I approached him, shouting “let’s go!” as if he was a drill sergeant and I was in boot camp.

Finally a guy said, “less than 500m” and then another guy said, “less than 400m.” Somewhere over that home stretch I passed the man running in sandals, both of us as if in slow motion.  I could see the finishing chute and I actually managed to pick up my pace a bit for a little burst at the end because I just wanted it to be over as fast as possible.  As I entered the finishing chute and ran towards the arch to cross over the timing mats, I started to sob a bit.

Then I noticed that there were race photographers all trying to capture my big moment. When I got married I sobbed all the way down the aisle and I have to say, the photos from that “special moment” aren’t pretty. I remembered that. So I pulled myself together. It’ll be something between a smile and a grimace I’m sure.

I had enough energy to throw my arms up, victory style, as I crossed the line.  I got my medal and then I put the wrong foot up on the step for the timing chip guy to remove my chip. He’d clearly removed enough chips that day and was probably annoyed at the late finishers, so that didn’t amuse him quite the way it amused me. I don’t think either that he realized how hard it was to get my foot up there in the first place. Anyway, I got the other foot up and he snipped the cable tie and took the chip.

As I made my way along, I was surprised that Gabbi, Mary, and Miriam had all waited around for over three hours after the half for me to get to the finish line. They all came up and congratulated me and hugged me and said how awesome I was.

The kids had eaten all the bananas (who needs a banana after a 2K fun run?) — I think the race organizers should do better to make sure that those of us who limp across the finish line after hours and hours and hours and hours and hours get a banana. Anyway, I got a bagel and a box of cereal and Mary gave me half of her banana. And I had a Clif bar in my pouch.

In the finishing area, water in one hand, box of cereal in the other, medal around my neck.

Gabbi offered to drive me back to my hotel. Her car was about 2K from the finish line and they kept reassuring me that it was a good thing to keep moving my legs after such a long run. I knew that but still. Longest 2K of my life, from the finish area to Gabbi’s car. Grateful nonetheless.

Time: 5:50

Would I do it again: too soon to say for sure, but I’m leaning towards a “no.”  Still, here I am the next day, with my race t-shirt and my medal, feeling pretty pleased to have completed an epic run, still smiling.

In my orange race t-shirt with my finishers medal.