Relay, Relay! Around the Bay a different way

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Sunday was the Around the Bay 30K road race in Hamilton, Ontario. It’s a road race that prides itself on being the oldest road race in North America, older even than Boston. In 2015 I did the 30K. You can read about that challenge of mind and body here.  At the time, it was the furthest I’d ever run. And though the Grim Reaper didn’t take me down, I didn’t have an easy time of it.

Flash forward to this year. With a full marathon and several half marathons behind me, I felt ready to do Around the Bay again, but the “lite” version. Namely, the two-person relay. I talked Julie into it one after back in November and before she could bail I signed us up an collected her registration fee. We chose our team name: Steady She Goes. And we had the whole winter to train (oh joy! winter training).

15K seems eminently reasonable. Before long, we’d recruited some company — Anita and Violetta formed their own team, Hippy Chicks. You can also do a three-person relay for ATB. My running coach, Linda, signed on for that.

From right to left Tracy (short blond hair) in pink running jacket, Anita (with black ear band) in burgundy running jacket, Julie (with long blond hair, loose) in blue running jacket, and Violetta (with long brown hair, loose) in black winter coat. Everyone is smiling, standing arm in arm in front of a red Clif banner at the bottom of the stairs in First Ontario Centre. Other runners in the background.

Each relay is limited to just 250 teams. And that’s why you have to make an early commitment. The real buzz around the race is of course the 30K. There are literally thousands of people running the 30K, as opposed to just 500 runners doing 15K each on two-person teams, and 750 runners doing 10K each on the three-person teams.

As we like to do on the blog when we’ve pulled a group together to do an event, we’re going to give you a little taste of what each of us experienced that day. Anita and I ran the first 15K for our respective teams, meeting Julie and Violetta at the 15K mark to change timing chips so they could carry on for the rest of the race. So we’ll each tell you how it was for us, and Linda will give us her thoughts on her 10K as the first runner of her relay team.

Tracy (Team Steady She Goes, Runner #1)

I felt relieved, so very relieved, that I wasn’t doing the 30K. Despite that, by the night before the race I’d already thought I might like to do the 30K next year. I don’t know how these things happen to me, but I get caught up and next thing you know…

It was a cold, windy, grey morning on Sunday. Thankfully, the rain that had been forecast earlier in the week didn’t materialize or else it would’ve been totally miserable. Julie, Anita, and I left our Air BnB a little late to find decent parking. But as we approached downtown we got jazzed up listening to Kelis sing “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.” I don’t know what it means, but it got us into a good mood.  We drove around to several lots until we finally arrived at one where we felt scammed, but less than we’d have felt at the first lot we tried.

After some phoning and texting, we hooked up with Violetta just inside the First Ontario Place (formerly Copps Coliseum). The finish line is inside the arena, the start on the road outside the arena. The whole place was teeming with people. Thousands. We paused for our mandatory photos. I almost lost Anita on our last bathroom break before the race start. I’m so glad I found her in our plan B meet-up spot because we helped each other stay on task through the race.

The first 15K of Around the Bay helps to drive home the point that Hamilton is, indeed, a steel town. It takes you through industrial areas and on the highway, with its overpasses and ramps. There’s nothing picturesque about it. Windy and dreary with lots of ups and downs.

Anita and I had the goal of doing it in — wait for it — 1:45. Okay, I know that doesn’t make us speedsters. But it seemed reasonable to expect that we could maintain a 35 minute 5K pace for 3x5K in a row.

And we did. In fact, we did even better at 1:43. Not only that, I felt amazing the whole time. Linda sent some excellent advice about how to strategize the different segments of the race — when to go easy, when to pay attention, when to pick up the pace, and when to really pick up the pace.

Instead of our usual 10-1 intervals, we went to 10 minutes running and 30 seconds walking. But we skipped quite a few of the walk breaks because we had a good rhythm going and didn’t see the point of interrupting it. All that paid off. And for the last 3K we didn’t stop at all. We pushed the pace for the last 1K, reminding ourselves that we had no need to leave anything in the tank for later. I felt really pumped knowing we were coming in under our goal time. Next thing we knew, we caught site of Julie and Violetta at the side of the road. We ran over the timing mat and met them on the other side.

They were freezing from waiting. Julie could hardly feel her hands so I swapped out the chip, fixing it to her shoe. I gave her a big hug and sent her on her way for the last 15K. Much prettier, but also a constant stream of rolling hills. I’ll let her tell you about that.

All in all I felt good about our time. But being the first of a relay team isn’t all its cracked up to be. There is no mechanism for meeting your team mate at the finish line. They get both medals and just hand you yours when you manage to meet up in the stands after. And there’s a lot of waiting around. Kind of anti-climactic if you ask me. So that might be enough to spur me on for the 30K next year, even though 15K is a great distance. On the upside, I have a year to prep!

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Tracy (right) and Anita (left) on the bus after their 15K, feeling pretty good about it all.

Anita (Team Hippy Chicks, Runner #1)

I was pumped to do the first half of the 30km relay this year. Previously I did the second half, and it nearly killed me, but I’d heard that the first half was easier. And 15Km! we do that all the time!

My biggest worry was the halfway mark where I had to give the timing chip to my partner, Violetta (and Tracy had to do the same with Julie). First there was the actual getting the chip off my shoe and attaching it, flat, to Violetta’s shoe. Fortunately last time I learned a neat trick: use safety pins to secure the chip rather than trying to tie it to your laces (too much time!). (It was still a bit difficult on account of my fatigue and her frozen fingers). Then I had to pack a bag of stuff that Violetta could give to me as I finished my part of the relay. It was a bit stressful anticipating everything I might need at that moment (sweatshirt, food, jacket, phone, money, health card…).

But the most stressful part was that I knew, from past experience, that actually finding your partner as you come running towards the hordes of relay partners could be problematic. I raised this issue…but no one was taking me seriously. I suggested that Violetta hold a balloon so I could spot her quickly. My kids suggested painting our faces to see each other in the crowd. Another suggestion was wearing a distinctive hat, but unfortunately we really couldn’t anticipate the weather. In the end, we relied on Violetta’s bright pink jacket, and Julie’s quick thinking as she waved a pink blanked up and down with full force as we came down the road.  And with that, we did our quick exchange of tags and bags, and away they went.

All in all it was a great race for Tracy and I in that we beat our anticipated time by 2 minutes (yeah!) and for the first time we felt in control of our pace throughout the whole race. In fact, we were all awesome – Team Steady as She Goes and Team Hippy Chicks rocked it!

Violetta (Team Hippy Chicks, Runner #2)

I’ve always said that a 15k race would be the perfect distance, of course, that was when running a half marathon and so needing to run 6 more kilometres after getting more or less comfortably to the 15k mark.  So when I heard that about the Around the Bay relay, I couldn’t say “no”.  When I told some friends who had done the ATB before, they immediately asked if I was doing the second half.  I didn’t know it but the second half is all hills, mainly rolling hills but one ridiculous monster hill.  But that isn’t the only thing that made this run tough.  The weather was incredibly cold—this didn’t register so much if you checked the temperature (which was 2 Celcius) and not even if you noticed that there was a windchill factor (-4 Celcius).  What would actually be beautiful scenery on a warm day, running along Eastport drive with the bay on one side and Lake Ontario on the other was the most challenging bit of the whole run.  The winds were blowing and the waves were crashing and I literally covered my face to make it through.  Maybe I’m a suck but that was probably the least pleasant 10 minutes of running I’ve ever done.  Psychologically, I’m thinking maybe it was helpful because after that, even Heartbreak Hill was easy (ok, maybe not easy, but certainly doable).

Outside the weather, there were two other things that made this run challenging.  The first was my too-laid-back training regime.  In contrast to how seriously I took my half marathon prep, I just figured I’d be able to get away with much less for a 15k.  I think I was ultimately right about that but I wasn’t as confident going in.  The other challenge was that I was going to run this race alone for the most part.  In the past, I’ve always run with my friend Diana and we’ve talked and encouraged each other throughout.  This time, I started the run with Julie but we parted ways after a few kilometres because she does the run/walk whereas I run continuously.  Thank goodness she was there at the beginning for the hard part!  While I still prefer to run with a partner, I did prove to myself that I could do it on my own.

It was a little surreal crossing the finish line which is inside Copps Coliseum full of supporters cheering.  I was happy to meet up with Tracy and Anita and compare stories.  But the cherry on top was being surprised by my husband and daughters who were actually there!  It was one of those moments where I felt proud of myself and content with my life—and that is worth more than the medal I got.

Julie (Team Steady She Goes, Runner #2) (written by Tracy)

Julie didn’t get her report in, so I’ll summarize her experience. After waiting Violetta at the 15K mark for me and Anita to arrive, Julie was freezing. She had a fleecy pink blanket, but that wasn’t enough to keep her warm for almost two hours.

Also: Julie hates running alone. And her two main training partners, me and Anita, were running the first half. And Violetta doesn’t do 10-1s, which is the mainstay of Julie’s approach. She lives for the 1 minute intervals. She did find a woman who she was pretty evenly paced with, but instead of running together, the two of them kept apace without making an explicit commitment to stick it out together. I got the impression at lunch that if she had to do it over, Julie might have reached out more directly to that woman.

And then there were the  rolling hills. The second half of ATB is all rolling hills. Until the final hill, which is deceptive and brutal, Deceptive in that it looks as if it’s about to be over and the you round the bend and boom, more hill. Brutal in that it just goes on and on and on.

Between the hills and running alone, Julie found it hard to stay motivated to keep running. She admitted at lunch that she took more walk breaks than she probably needed, just because there was no one to keep her going, to pace her, to encourage her to stay with a plan. You see, Julie doesn’t care that much about time even though, really, she’s inherently faster than either Anita or me.

Maybe her desire to run alongside someone will be enough for me to convince Julie to do the 30K with me next year when Anita is in the UK.

Linda (Team Awesome, Three-Person Relay, Runner #1)

Training for a race is easy compared to that tricky decision: What to wear on race day? I dislike feeling cold and yet I perform best when I can dissipate the body heat created when racing. ‘Linda’s Race Dress Rules’ to the rescue:

  1. Above 0 degrees C, it’s shorts. (Underdressed beats overdressed.)
  2. Keep the body warm prerace.

Sunday I headed outside early for an easy ‘wake up the body’ jog. My tunes woke up the brain. Overnight ‘race elves’ had erected white metal barriers, orange pylons, and portapotties, transforming the city streets into a race course. Things looked good; things felt good. Liked that a lot.

As first runner on the team, I lined up in the Start corrals downtown.  Loud cheering arose as we passed a gigantic Canadian Flag overhead. Start! About 2.5K I tried to toss my arm warmers to the sidelines. Instead the wind took charge and flew them to parts unknown. The long-sleeve tee and vest got unzipped. Yeah, right choice in clothes.

My goal for Sunday was to run a 10K tempo with a controlled pace. My focus on rhythmic breathing, quick turnover, and relaxed body put me in the zone, the process. ‘Landing lightly, Osprey fly, Fast feet, Fast feet, Through the sky’. Didn’t’ matter to me that the only birds I could see were the seagulls zipping by in the NE 33K wind. Lucky seagulls—they had the wind at their backs. I didn’t. Nevertheless there was an exhilarating freshness to the strong spring gusts.

Before I knew it I was approaching the finish. That’s when I misjudged the exchange location and started my 800m sprint too soon. Holding my pace while climbing the long overpass gave me an opportunity to see what I could do. Did it. Waved my partner goodbye. Smiled knowing I had run well and had made an excellent contribution to the team–Team Awesome! Yes we were.

If you want to enjoy the energy of the Around the Bay road race but feel that 30K is too daunting, consider trying one of the relays. And if you do, it might tempt you to try the 30 next time (as it has tempted me for 2018…). 🙂

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.

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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