like my last race the week before, i had time on my hands this morning. the race didn't start until 10.05 am, and burlington is only a short 35-minute drive away. my legs were feeling a little tight because i wasn't able to stretch after all of my workouts in the lead up to the race, so i hopped on my bike on the trainer in the basement for a little spin to get the blood flowing. afterwards i did a full stretch and was feeling top notch, so off i headed to race site. from the very beginning, this race was all about heart rates. there was a 5k event held alongside the 1/2 marathon that i was originally planning on doing, but my coach recommended that i do the longer race with a predetermined plan. the goal was to maintain a steady heart rate for the first half, and then bring it up and maintain a higher rate for the second half.
it's good i had that chance to do a little warm-up at home because i got to the event much later than i had hoped, and i was only able to jog for a few minutes before i had to head to the start. because of how i'd structured this race for myself, i was feeling super relaxed just before it began, more relaxed than i've ever been just before the start of any race i'm sure. i knew that i wasn't out there competing against anyone, and i wasn't even out there competing against myself; i was just there to finish the race in whatever time it took. had i arrived earlier i would have made my way to the back of the starting corral, but because i got to the line so late i found myself only three rows back from the front, and when the gun went off, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of other runners poured past me. starting slowly, my plan was to run 4.40/km for the first 10k, and then finish the race at a pace of 4.10/km, but once i got going i found that i was able to run right at my threshold and maintain a pace of 4.30, and with that i changed my plan just slightly. i decided that i'd run the first half right at my threshold, regardless of pace, because i knew that was an effort i could hold for hours.
as the race wore on, more and more athletes left me behind. my ego took a beating and i had to continually remind myself what this race was about. but it was tough. very tough. going into this thing i was hoping that i'd be able to finish with a time of sub-1.40, and just about the only thing that made me feel good this early on was that at one turnaround point i discovered that i was quite a bit ahead of the 1.45 pace bunny. with my ego in check and my pace settled, i carried on.
even though i was getting passed by every athlete and their uncle, as the Ks ticked away i realized that i was feeling great and really enjoying myself. running right at threshold is an effort that most athletes are likely very comfortable at, and i'm certainly no exception. it was a beautiful day and it was a beautiful course and the pace that i was running at really gave me the opportunity to appreciate so much of what i would otherwise miss, and as the halfway point of the race approached i started to get excited. i was feeling so good and had so much left in me that i couldn't wait to pick things up. not quite sure where i was on the course at the time, i looked at my garmin and saw that i was at 10.8k, and knew it was time to get going. there was a dude that had caught up to me and had been running with me for a few hundred metres, but once i hit that 10.8 mark, off i went, dropping him, on my way to a very different second half of the race.
now that i was moving quicker, i had to find a pace with a higher heart rate that i could comfortably maintain for this last half, but since the point of this race plan wasn't to compare split times, i didn't want this second half of the race to be a full-out 10k effort. i wanted to cross the line strong, not worn out. i ended up settling about 10 heart beats higher than threshold, which brought me down to about 4.10/km. although this definitely isn't race pace for me, i stuck with it and started catching up to and passing the crowds of people that had passed me much earlier. because my heart rate was still fairly low and i still had all of my reserves left, i was feeling great and started cruising towards the end. my ego started peeking out from behind the curtains as i passed all of the people ahead of me, and together we charged on. there was a bit of a headwind coming back towards the finish so as i moved up from one group of runners to the next, i would use the other athletes to break the headwind for me, take a moment to recover slightly, and then move up to the next group. i overtook the 1.35 pace bunny and was hoping to catch the 1.30 bunny, but knew that would only be possible if i brought my splits down to about 3.40. on another day, sure, but not today.
it wasn't until i was at the 16k marker that i realized i was feeling the first signs of fatigue. i normally feel spent in the first few kilometres of a race and have to push myself to keep things going for the rest, but today that wasn't the case at all. today i'd conserved everything and my body was feeling fantastic. even though my ego was right there on my shoulder telling me to go faster, i ignored him and stuck with my pace until the last 2k. at the 19k marker i finally allowed myself to put the pedal down and those last 2 kilometres were the only ones that i had a sub-4 pace, and i crossed the line at a pace of sub-3 with a finishing time of 1.31.44.
never had i felt so good at the end of a race! i made this race easy on myself for sure, but i never expected to feel as strong as i did at the end, nor did i expect to come so close to breaking a 1.30.00 finish time with such a relaxed effort. normally when i'm out there racing i'm pushing myself to go harder, but for almost every step of this race i was holding myself back. i can say with all honesty that this lesson in mental training was way, way, WAY harder than trying to psych myself up to go faster. i stuck to my race plan and looking back my HRs were rock steady: for the first 10k they only drifted 2 or three beats for every kilometre, and for the second half, although they were much higher, they only differed by 2 beats, except for the final 2k. this was a tremendous exercise and i would certainly urge anyone to try it.
i never would have enjoyed this day as much as i did if i were out there with a regular race plan. it was fun, but i'm definitely excited to head back to the burnlington 1/2 someday to see what sort of time i'm capable of finishing it. i've got a couple more races this year with similar race plans, but, for me at least, this type of racing can get old very fast. i like finishing near the front and i like training to try to bring my times down. i'm getting older and have a limited number of years where i'll be able to finish near the front, so for now me and my ego are working together to see what we can do. and my coach, too. can't forget about him.
also, a HUGE congrats to my friend suzanne who finished 2nd in the women's race. we train together at AETT and it's always awesome to see friends on the podium.
i'm two days away from my first half marathon and i'm trying to figure out what to expect. this is a training race and i'm heading to it with a strict plan so that's making it difficult to predict an outcome. this will be a negative-split race, my heart rates and pace from the first half of the race lower than those from my second. i have to be smart about it because my first 10k have to be a pace that i can maintain without using up too much of my strength. if i go out too hot i'll crash at the end, but i also don't want to go out too slow because i want to get a time that's fairly respectable for someone of my fitness level. and how am i going to feel? will i be crawling across the finish line? will i be able to get negative splits and still feel strong at the end? is this going to be a walk in the park? will i never want to run again? i'm totally out on this one and it's tough for sure.
in terms of finish time, i'm completely in the dark for two reasons. the first is that i have no previous half marathon times to go by; the second is that i have no idea what my pace will be. if i were heading to the race tomorrow to set a benchmark, my goal would be to run less than 1.30. but that's not what tomorrow is about. tomorrow is about sticking to my race plan and finishing strong. above all else, the toughest thing about tomorrow will be putting my ego in the backseat and allowing the slower athletes to whiz by me at the start. but maybe i'll be able to make up for it by passing them all in the last 10k? we'll see. either way sunday is going to be a learning experience and i'll be sure to enjoy it. the weather looks like it's going to be ideal and i'm looking forward to the experience. even if i do end up collapsing at the end.
i've never started off a race morning by sleeping in, but today was the exception for sure. start time for this one was 12.45pm, so there was no rush to get the day going. not only was it new for me to be able to sleep in and get some extra rest before a race, but my meal plan was also different. i usually only have to eat breakfast before a race, but today i had time for that and lunch. i hadn't really given this any thought ahead of time and was all set to make my regular race morning meal, but realized that by the time the race started i'd need a whole other meal to fuel myself properly. i stuck with my regular breakfast shake and packed a race lunch which i ate about an hour before the race. it was sort of weird to have to pack a full meal on race day but i just went with it.
happening alongside this 5k race was a half marathon, and just as i was finishing up my warm-up, the procession of marathoners, off 15 minutes before the start of the 5k, ran past me. i felt pretty ridiculous tromping around doing my dynamic warm-ups while hundreds of people passed by. i figured it was better to look like an idiot bouncing around on one leg than leave the race with injuries, so again i just went with it.
one change to my racing that i'm starting this year is taking things more slowly off the start line. at past races my adrenaline would usually get the best of me and i'd burst off the line and burn too much energy too soon. in order to combat the urge to sprint, i put myself about 3 rows back from the front at the start line, and at the sound of the gun i was forced to calmly make my way past the slower athletes ahead of me. this new strategy seemed to pay off and i found myself near the front of the field by the 500m mark, and i'd settled into race pace well before reaching the first kilometre marker. at this point there were about 6 guys running neck and neck in the lead and me and two other runners equally spread out taking up the 7th, 8th and 9th positions. this was a fast and flat out and back course and at the 2.5k turnaround point i had moved up two spots to 7th position, with the runner in 6th about 100 metres ahead. i used that runner to pace myself and didn't worry about catching him too soon, feeling that i'd get to him before the end of the race and kept watch to see if he started to break away. i began to close the gap and as i got closer, i gave myself a small boost for a count of 10 before settling back down, and gave one more small boost for another count of 10 as i passed him just as we hit the 4k marker. things were going well at this point and i was feeling worked but strong. with about 800 metres remaining, the course took a sharp left-hand turn before finishing off with a long, flat, straight section.
i'm quite certain this was the hardest finish of any race i've done. what made it so difficult was that i could see the finish line for that entire last section, and it never felt like it was getting any closer. it was sort of like driving on a lonely country road where the scenery all looks the same and there's not really any landmarks and it feels like no matter how long you've been driving it seems like you're not getting anywhere. i was pushing to get myself across the line, digging to find any extra energy reserves that i might still have left. i was able to get a number of short bursts in and crossed the line ready to keel over and pass out. that's the thing with these short races; they may not take too long to complete but you really have to go balls out for the entire race to get a good time. luckily i'm able to recover quickly and was feeling fine shortly after finishing, but those last several hundred metres were tough.
in the end i finished with a time of 18.01, 6th overall, and had i looked at my watch as i was approaching the end, i likely would have known that with just a bit more effort i could break the 18 minute mark. but i'll take that 18.01 because it's just what i want this early in the year. i knew that i wasn't capable of pulling off a personal best today and i'm happy with my fitness level right now. i've got a long season ahead of me and plenty of opportunity for PBs. feeling as exhausted as i did at the end of this race, i couldn't believe that i have to run a half marathon next week. 18 minutes is nothing compared to nearly 2 hours of running, but i guess i'll just have to go with it.