The short story of how I ended up registering for my first halfmarathon
My wife saw the Toronto Beach Jazz Run race about a month or so ago and asked me if I don’t want to register but she was talking about the 10k race and not the half marathon. I registered to half right away and by the time she came back at my desk I was all a smile. $70, take my money! She couldn’t believe her eyes and ears that I registered for a half marathon knowing that I never ran one in my entire life. Still I had a 20k run one night not long before I registered for this race so I kind of knew I can do it. My main concern was the time. Could I get a good time?
The problem was that after registration I needed to work late over the following days and there was also an unplanned vacation down south that happened and where it was very hot for running. I only managed to put in two runs each no longer than 8k in 30 plus Celsius. If there is something that I cannot stand is the heat and the hills. Both happen to start with letter H, no pun intended. So here I was, back from vacation with only 2 weeks remaining until my first half marathon ever. If you count in one week of tapering then basically I was left with only 7 days to train. And by the way I came back from vacation 2 pounds heavier. Sigh.
Training, what is that?
The only upside of my pre race weeks was that I found a running club, close to my home at Yonge & Eglinton, called Toronto Running Club (it couldn’t be more generic than this) and I actually pushed myself a bit more with the club than I usually do in my solo runs. In fact I pushed so much over a 11.5k run in one evening that the guy who I was running with (seasoned runner with 45 marathons under his belt) got some sort of an injury and couldn’t run for two weeks or so. Hardcore!
Despite the short time for training pre-half marathon, I squeezed in a couple of good runs but no longer than 12k. Even in the week of the race I managed to run Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The guys at the club made some jokes, calling my tapering, “Vic’s tapering”.
Peanut butter champion
Just a couple of days before the race, I listened to a couple of interesting episodes from Run to the Top podcast, which I added recently to my ever growing podcasts list, about the best food to eat the night before the race and in the morning of the race. This is how I found out that peanut butter is great for runners because is increasing the glycogen levels before a race. I also learned that a calories rich dinner the night before a race can help tremendously. So what I did is having a peanut butter sandwich around 7PM and another one around 10PM and one more in the race day morning around 5AM. I don’t know if the peanut butter saved my day and helped me finish strong but certainly something did.
Ohhh my, the pre-running race sleep is always bad
I have a bad sleep usually before a race day but apparently all racers have it. What I need to pay attention to is to the sleep from 2 nights pior the racing day. It kind of makes sense and indeed I had a pretty good one, probably around 7 hours of good sleep. The night before the race I could only sleep for about 5 hours.
21℃ at 5AM. Wait, what?!?
The weather is always a hit or miss in Toronto. While at the beginning of the week, the temperature dropped so it was nice for running (15℃ or so Wednesday), it gradually increased so on the race day at 5 o’clock in the morning it was 21℃ with 60% humidity. 21℃ is not necessarily a bad temperature but by the time the race started at 7AM, it was 24℃ already. The best part was that the race happened mostly in the shade and to be honest the sun wasn’t that hot even when I finished.
The gun went off at 7AM sharp and we were 437 runners at the starting line. I positioned myself somewhere in the first group just behind the pacers, on the right side of the path. I just wish now seeing the race pictures that I was at the front so I can get better pictures. It was sunny morning but it was great in the shade under the trees.
The running route was almost flat with the exception of some small hills with a total of 6 meters elevation gain. We started at Kew Balmy Beach 1 at the Woodbine beaches, on the Martin Goodman Trail, continued on it passing the Beaches Park, through Ashbridges Bay park, then a bit on the Lakeshore Blvd. E south sidewalk until we reached Leslie St. After that we turned right on Unwin Ave on which we turned back at the end. Then we went back on Leslie St. towards Tommy Thompson Park which we passed at km 6. We kept running on the trail to the end of it, then we came back. My Strava showed me 21.5K when I finished but my Fitbit Surge displayed 21.09k total running distance.
I had a simple plan for the race, start at my pace and keep at it until the last kilometers, then gradually increase to finish with a negative split and hopefully in one piece plus a good time overall. But that is me before a race. Me in the race is something like “what? is it someone running in front of me? No way, I cannot let that happen!”. Jokes aside, we had a couple of official pacers running with us. I just don’t remember seeing pacers at the Sporting Life 10k I participated this year but I can tell you, if you ever see pacers they are godsend. Stick with them. Lucky me I had my friend and coach Adrian running with me at Sporting Life and he gave a great pace too.
So what I ended up doing is picking one of those pacers, the one holding the 1h50min sign and sticking to them for the first half of the race. Once I passed the mid point I started accelerating and running faster passing runner after runner. I’m always amazed of how many runners start very fast and then they get tired and start loosing ground in the second half. I think I easily passed 10 runners in the last 10k. My music helped as well. My Spotify running playlist to which I keep adding new great running tunes is invaluable. It holds a steady and fast beat that matches my strides and there are a couple of powerful songs in there that really settle me into a great pace. Check it out!
Hydration: when and what?
I had my first water at kilometer 9. I can run easily 12 or even more without water but I thought I needed to start earlier this time since I would be running close to 2 hours. At kilometer 11 I had the first Gatorade then another one after a couple more kilometers. This race I decided I would stop for drinks instead of running and drinking which didn’t really worked at the previous race for Sporting Life where I mostly poured water on me instead of drinking. So I stopped each time for a couple of seconds, gulped the liquids and back at it.
I had lowered my pace to under 5 minutes per km in between kilometer 14 to 19 which felt great passing runners but I had a little bit of a struggle somewhere in between 19 and the end of the race. My energy started to run off rapidly but I was happy getting closer and closer to the finish line that I really didn’t care anymore. I kept powering through to get it done, hopefully alive.
Could I have pushed harder? I surely could. For the next half marathon I plan to start running faster around km 9. This should give me enough time to catch up with a much better pace and eventually finish in 1 hour and 45 minutes or even faster. Still the temperatures remains crucial so I will recalculate my speed base on that.
Official Race results
Finished 85th place out of 437
Gender Group 63rd place out of 232
Age Group 40-49 18th place out of 59
Start Time 06:59:32.6
Pace 05:05 min/km
Running with a buddy or not?
I don’t necessarily mind having a conversation while running but a race is just too serious to not stay focused. Plus everyone has a different speed. I don’t like the idea of holding someone’s back and I certainly hate it being held back. For that reason I like racing alone. I also love running with music. It helps me keep my pace, keeps my mind busy with something else than the race and more important, I don’t hear myself breathing heavily which distracts me every time.
If you have a buddy to give you a great race pace, that is gold. Like I did with the official pacers, it helped me checking on my watch less and put mind at ease.
Plans for the future
I would like to continue running long distances and eventually start running marathons one day. However, I don’t like following scheduled training so what I plan to do is increasing the weekly mileage. For example right now I usually do 10-12k. I will increase to 15k for a while, then I will do 20k and so on until I get to marathon distances. There is also a problem of hydration and food. I don’t like the idea of running with water nor the idea of consuming protein gels or protein bars. Probably I can get along with an nutrition plan designed for running though even there it’s so much to plan and think about and I don’t like that part. I like lacing up my shoes and just go for a run.
But enough already about me, what’s your running plan?