Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Midsummer Night's Run 30k - Saturday, August 17th, 2013

Had I known what was in store, I probably wouldn't have registered.

"Race on the island" they said.
"It will be fun" they said.

I spent way too much time on my feet Friday evening and Saturday during the day, between cooking, packing, hitting the farmers' market, and getting suckered into eating something I shouldn't have on a race day by some of my favourite people.

Could you resist a fresh strawberry and Chantilly creme parfait topped with white chocolate curls?

I did actually get some sleep (what with not having to be up early; rolled out of bed at 9-ish), but I think I ended up over eating a bit during the day and was a bit late getting on the road after a shower, shave and the requisite hair braiding. Still, leaving the house around 1:45pm I figured we should have lots of time to make a 5:30pm start..

We hit up Tim Hortons to grab Café Mochas, then got on the 401, only to crawl our way out of town. Things opened up through Guelph, but then we came to a screeching halt in Milton due to the new stinkin' outlet mall. Back up to speed momentarily, then stop again in Mississauga just because it's Mississauga. It rolled past 2:30pm, so I drank the meal replacement shake I'd brought with me - after a bit of sticky rice, grilled chicken, green onions and kimchi for breakfast, half an Udi's Cinnamon Raisin bagel with almond butter and honey, some fresh pineapple, the parfait, egg-in-a-window, a waffle with maple syrup, a slice of avocado toast and about 1/3 of a packet of Jello, I figured that just 1 shake instead of my usual 2 would be plenty (see above re: over-eating). Starting to worry about time, I then went through a fascinating series of contortions in the passenger seat that resulted in my changing from shorts and a t-shirt into my favourite running bra, a merino wool tank topmy trusty old running skirt and my calf sleeves. If that doesn't sound impressive, try doing it all with your seat belt still fastened.

Friday night's amazing bi bim bap - everything is better with a runny egg on top.

Sticky rice, leftover grilled chicken breast, green onions & kimchi...for breakfast!

We finally arrived and parked - after a missed turn and finishing off my Café Mocha - at the Novotel Toronto Centre for packet pickup just before 3:30pm. There was no lineup by this time (kit pickup ended at 4pm; about 25mins later), so I breezed in, got my bib (with its integral chip) and race shirt, picked up the last meal voucher they had for Tanker (also realizing I'd forgotten the cash I'd taken out for sundry race day stuff in the car), and completely failed to get any ferry tickets since they were out. Of course, noone told me there wasn't a ferry ticket in my race kit - there was even a piece of paper inside saying that there was, contrary to any actual evidence. Back to the car, then hit up a washroom at the hotel to "get down to race weight" and take 2 minutes to brush my teeth. Too much sugar!

We're riding on a bus!

We hopped on the shuttle that would take us down to the ferry docks, got launched out of our seats repeatedly by the crappy Toronto roads, then hopped off the bus at the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal to see an enormous lineup. It was now 4pm, there were at least 2,000 people waiting to board boats, and I still needed to get a ticket for Tanker! I rummaged in my envelope to find my ferry ticket and found nothing but safety pins and a zip tie, plus the aforementioned piece of paper telling me my ticket was inside. I hadn't tipped the envelope upside down or anything, and had folded it tightly before putting it in my bag (upright, no less), so I couldn't have lost it. I asked some fellow racers if there was a physical ticket or if my race bib would do, and was informed that there was an actual ticket, but they'd run out at the hotel so I had to find a volunteer to pick on up. Awesome. I didn't have nearly enough stress yet.

That's 74mins before the starting gun.
I generally like to be at the race site by then.

Photo shamelessly lifted from A Whole Lot of Soles

I did locate race personnel and managed to procure my ticket, being told that the huge lineup was "a ferry problem, not a race problem". Then we had to line up among the general public at a ticket kiosk to pay Tanker's fare, and stand around in the hot sun on a cement surface waiting for a further 45mins to board a boat. My lower back began to ache, and I was sure I was getting sunburned as well as sweaty and annoyed. There were people butting in line, including the ass who jumped in front of me and elbowed me in the boob without even bothering to acknowledge he did so, let alone apologize. I was freaking out and ready to commence punching strangers - I hate being rushed at the best of times, but it was becoming doubtful I'd even make it to the starting line on time! This was seriously turning out to be my worst nightmare..

Oh thank gawd! At last!

It was 5:04pm - just 26mins before the start of the 30k - by the time we finally boarded for the 10 minute crossing. I needed to use the washroom once more before the race, so headed there immediately after procuring a seat on the lower level for Tanker and I. While in there, I cursed my idiocy - I should have brought my stick of BodyGlide with me to lube up my naughty bits in privacy. Fortunately, I don't really give a damn what anyone thinks of me, so proceeded to do so once I'd returned to my seat on the perimeter bench with only the merest of pretense of modesty. I'd rather deal with an offended onlooker than chafing, as the former will only annoy for a couple of minutes but the latter will be a pain for days! Now fully lubricated, I managed to get my socks and shoes on (there was no way I was running in my recovery sandals!), then do my little ankle warmup before docking.

Approaching the Toronto Islands and IYC.

Off the boat at Centre Island, it was a "5-7min walk down the Avenue of the Islands" to the starting line, complicated by the hordes of humanity in front of us - racers, stroller-pushers, dog walkers and children all meandering along as if they'd nowhere to be. We did our best to get around all that, only pausing for a moment at a bench for me to apply some additional BodyGlide to some areas that had been hard to reach while seated on the ferry, then grab my handheld water bottle and flask of EFS Liquid Shot. I think I saw the 5k leader coming into the finish as we made our way to the race site. With a grand total of 6 minutes until the starting horn, I did some leg swings and hip circles as my only warmup, kissed Tanker, and plunged into the crowd at the starting line to try to find the 3:00 pace "fairy".

Made it! Barely..

The plan was to try to hang with the 3-hour pace group and see how I felt in the last few kilometers - as I mentioned last week, I had no idea if I could even run 6 minutes or less per kilometer for 10k, let alone 30. I'd done a zippier run on Thursday and had tapered in the week prior, but I felt tired and my back ached even before the race began. I had told Tanker to look for me anywhere between 2:55:xx to 3:05:xx.

The horn sounded at 5:31pm by my watch and I took an additional 40 seconds or so to cross the timing mats, with a huge mass of runners between me and the pacer I was targeting. I was actually back with the 3:30 pace fairy instead, and finding it very difficult to make any headway on the narrow paths - they're designed for walkers and cyclists, not thousands of runners all jockeying for position! The first section was a short out-and-back, which meant things got even more cramped as the faster packs made the turn-around (at which I had to practically stop due to congestion) and started to occupy more and more space on the left of the paved walkway. I was having to look, dodge out to the left of other runners, pass quickly and then dodge back in to avoid a head-on collision with one of the studs!

I'm not built for speed; you'll know it if you run into me.

To add to the confusion, there were 3 different sets of kilometer markers on the course - I eventually put it together that the yellow ones were for the 5k, the white ones for the 15k, and the black ones for the 30k, which corresponded with the bib colours. It messed with my mind, though, passing a 2k marker that I only glimpsed briefly through a crowd, and looking at my watch seeing I'd only been running 5mins. I was making up some ground on the field, though, passing the 3:15 run/walk and 3:15 continuous pacers, the latter of whom was done up in full fairy costume including light-up wings! Having seen said wings bouncing on his back with every step, I commented as I passed him that "I do not envy you the chafing you may encounter", only to hear him say he still has scars from an ill-fitting costume he wore to pace the 30k two years ago. Pace Fairy Mark, you're a damn hero!

Also pictured: some of the multi-person bikes available for rent on the island.
We had to dodge those throughout the entire race.

I finally made my way up to the 3:00 pace fairy by the end of the out-and-back, having averaged around 5:30/km for the first 2.5k - that wasn't going to last, so I eased back and just hung in with the 3-hour pace group...until the pacer stopped at the first aid station. Carrying my hand bottle gave me about enough water for an hour, so I just kept on trucking - I didn't really have much idea of where I was on the course, as not every kilometer seemed to be marked. I took a gulp of EFS Liquid Shot right around 30mins, remembering that a pre-race email said the route would be the out and back (short loop) plus two long loops, and there would be aid stations every 3km. The huge pack had finally started to string out a bit, giving everyone some elbow and breathing room; there were no hills to really break things up, but the land did gently undulate a bit (no more than a foot of elevation change) so you didn't get completely in a rut of muscle engagement. Additionally, the paved paths were crowned a bit, so you could run on the (relatively) flat middle, or either side to change the stresses on your feet, legs and hips as you ran.

It was still quite warm at this point, but the scenery was lovely - at one point we turned and the CN Tower rose above the treeline directly in front of us! Running through the trees near the beaches, a weasel came scooting across the path a few metres in front of me, then we made our way along the South side of the island and ran along the boardwalk toward Ward's Island Beach. A number of other people complained about the boardwalk, which did admittedly have some loose planks and require a bit of attention (some runners apparently went sprawling), but I loved it! A couple of the trails I run regularly have similar boardwalks, and I adore their springiness; they combine the best of both worlds between impact reduction and energy return for running, and when you add in the delicious breeze off the lake I was absolutely in heaven! I passed the 8km marker, a little disturbed by the fact I was only 45mins in; I shouldn't have been running that fast.

Map courtesy of

It was shortly after the boardwalk section that I ended up filling my near-empty bottle at the third aid station - I had to actually stop and dump in a couple of cups of water, as my left hand was occupied by my elastic-banded gel flask and I wasn't as dextrous as usual. Soon after I reached the 10k marker and checked my watch - while I hadn't started a timer, it looked like I'd run the first third in 56mins. That, I knew for sure, was not going to be a sustainable pace! I'd have to back off to keep myself from blowing up, and in more ways than one; the dairy content of that incredible parfait was coming to haunt me, and I was having to spend some concentration on dealing with some rumbling of my belly and other...noises. I sincerely apologise to anyone whom I cropdusted during the race, but at least gas was the only thing escaping. Hopefully the mouth-watering scents of grilling steaks and burgers I smelled along the way were enough to overpower any horrible stench I left behind me. I know I seriously thought about running off course to accost someone for their meat!

Dude behind me is checking his pulse to see if my gas has killed him.

I finished the first loop-and-a-half and came through the starting line timing mats, seeing somewhere around 1:10:xx gun time. I was starting to feel tired by the time the 12k marker came up, and was getting somewhat demoralised by the endless profusion of kilometer signs; even just looking at the ones that pertained to the 30k, there seemed to be an awful lot of overlap, making it look as though we'd actually have to run 3 loops instead of two. I started chatting up some people on course just to make the time go by and take my mind off the threatening sensations coming from my lower GI tract - a friend had already rode past and told me I had a mere "100 kilometers left to go" (thanks buddy!), and I'd spotted a friend-of-a-friend pacing the 3:45 group, but in the interest of being conversational I asked a fellow near me wearing this year's Mississauga Marathon shirt if he'd done the half or the full, and gabbed about racing for a few minutes. This actually happened twice; two different gents, exactly the same circumstances - they'd both done the full, too. Interesting coincidence..

I've looked at this map repeatedly and still can't make much sense of it.
Nor this one.

Between chatting, trying not to poop myself and completely failing to do any math that would allow me to figure out how long each loop was (I'm pretty dumb when I'm racing; it's rather a theme in this blog), I had slowed quite a bit. Coming through 15k in 1:28:xx, I'd already lost two of the three minutes I'd banked against a 3-hour finish within the first 10k. Taking another little swig of EFS Liquid Shot (not wanting to risk a full one due to the rumbly tum), I knew I needed to get a handle on this pace decay before I ended up with a finish that would leave me grumpy, and geting lapped by the leaders was some good motivation to pick it up. Being 13lbs lighter and much better trained than Around the Bay 2012, I wanted to do myself some justice on this much less challenging course! I needed to fill my bottle again as the first 2 cups I'd got had been very small, but this time I managed to get the aid station volunteer to pour 2 larger cups directly into the bottle for me, so I was on my way a little more quickly. I still had to watch my footing, though; the pavement was broken in a number of places, with potholes and sand traps that could do some damage if you stepped wrong. You also had to be constantly aware of pedestrians, rollerbladers and cyclists (both on regular and multi-person bikes) who posed constant obstacles to forward progress. While some were friendly and encouraging, the larger portion of them were completely apathetic to the plight they posed toward the racers.

It's a nice fountain, but I didn't need to see it 3 times.
Photo from

By this point I was also having to dodge a lot of the 15k walk and run participants, who had started at 5:45pm. They were mostly quite obliging, but there were a couple of times I ended up having to weave around a line 4-wide of chatty walkers. I was in a bit of a dark place, just trying to keep myself together but starting to have nasty thoughts about dropping to a stroll, just for a few minutes. I was also completely soaked! The back of my skirt was dripping with sweat, with some of the drops hitting my legs - I actually thought on a couple of occasions that I had actually crapped myself, and kept looking down to make sure that wet feeling wasn't something more awful than sweat. I took another little sip of gel around 18.5k, just after hitting the boardwalk again, and used the breeze and the springiness to pull myself together a bit. I came through the 20k marker at about 1:59:xx - the second 10k section had taken me around an hour and three minutes, which was unacceptable. Time to get moving damnit! I got what I figured would be one final fill of my bottle, this time the fantastic kid at the aid station actually running with me to pour two cups into my bottle. You rawk, lad!

Thanks man!

I found a second wind at this point, changed my stride to more of a forward-leaning knee-driving style, and set off like I was bloody well racing. At one point my left calf tried to end that for me by threatening to cramp, but it never quite seized - maybe thanks to my Compressport calf sleeves. I took a tiny bit of gel in my mouth around 22k, almost finishing my water with it. I was running harder than I had all day, but actually felt pretty good - the different muscle engagement from the more aggressive stride meant that movement pattern hadn't been subject to that much fatigue, and the lack of hills meant my quads hadn't been pounded into pudding on any descents. My belly settled itself down a bit, too, and the day finally started to cool off as the sun dropped - both of which helped immensely. I hit the timing mats at the start line in 2:17:xx gun time for around 23km, which meant I'd started pulling back some precious seconds that I'd lost in the middle portion of the race, and also that I was finally into my last loop! The highest numbered kilometer markers now applied, and I was starting to reel people in ahead of me at an even faster rate as they broke down and I sped up.

Photographed by Tanker near the finish line.

Right around 25k I took one last little nibble of EFS Liquid Shot and got the same amazing aid station kid to pour one more cup of water into my bottle. I probably could have done without the water, but I didn't want to suddenly end up doing a walk of shame in the last kilometer or two because I got too dehydrated! I got lapped one more time by the leaders as I marveled at the gorgeous sunset over the lake from the boardwalk, saw that damned fountain one more time and was directed to the right (instead of straight through), being told by a volunteer that the 28k mark was just over the bridge. The cruelty was that the bridge to Centre Island was the only hill on the whole course, and the descent down the other side only marginally less cruel on tired legs than the idiot ramp down into Copps Coliseum at the end of Around the Bay! I'd been running for over 2 hours and 45mins, the last three quarters of an hour being quite hard, and I wasn't at all pleased about these sudden obstacles! 

Just trying to stay upright.

To make things even worse, we were then directed to run across a grassy section full of little ankle-twister gopher holes with no markings whatsoever (which was completely dark and confusing to later racers, according to my friend who paced the 3:45 group), then another painful bridge to Olympic Island, then finally onto the path through Olympic Park. I was at my very limit - almost to a death whistle - and the darkling sky was making it tough to see. Volunteers kept saying it was just a little further, but there was no end in sight and no sign of even a 29km marker; I found out later that the head pace fairy estimates it was actually 2.5km from the 28k mark to the finish, making the race 30.5km in total. In real pain now and giving it the very last I had in me, I finally spotted the arch with its giant floodlight and clock. The final photo tells the story: no smile, just trying not to trip over the timing mat as I saw 2:58:15 or so coming across the line.

Chip time: 2:57:35 @ 5:55/km.
39/94 in W30-39, 112/310 Women, 315/616 O/A

As soon as I dropped to a walk, got my medal and waterbottle in the chute and turned off to look for Tanker, I suddenly felt like I was going to pass out - it turned out later that I'd only taken in about 3oz of EFS Liquid Shot during the whole race, for about 240cal in total. I managed to completely miss the post-race food, most of which I couldn't eat anyway; the bananas would have been welcome, but the cookies and (from what I hear, stale) bagels were off-limits to me due to allergies. I did manage to find Tanker and keep myself upright while I walked to try to bring my heart rate down slowly, pausing over at the edge of the water for a photo with the Toronto skyline behind me.

I am exactly as zombiefied as I look.

While Tanker had taken advantage of the beer garden during the time I spent chasing my own arse around the island, I didn't really have any interest in hanging around so we headed toward the ferry dock to start our journey back to the car. Of course, the hundreds who'd finished ahead of me were already queued up to leave, so it ended up being over an hour before we could even get on a boat. My right shoulder felt sore from carrying my bottle and tensing up, and I was still completely soaked with sweat and crusted with salt - bless the lady in line ahead of me who spared me one of her baby wipes to clean myself up a bit! I'd thrown on a lightweight hoodie to try to keep me warm for the few minutes I had thought I'd be in line (I'm pretty dumb after a race, too), but the breeze off the lake was chilling me quickly. I'd drank the large can of coconut water and the chocolate macaroon I'd brought for my post-race snack, but even just standing around I was starting to feel a bit faint - fortunately I'd packed some corn chips in our little cooler bag as well, so I snacked on those until the Thomas Rennie came to take us back to the mainland, while also providing a washroom for me to change out of my smelly, dripping clothing and into some cozy, dry things.

It was a nice view in line, though.

I was ultimately very pleased by the fact I could basically tell myself "RUN BETTER" at the 20k point of a long race and actually have it happen - that last 10k is something I'll treasure for a long time, though of course I wonder what I could have managed had I not dawdled through the middle 10k of the race. I'm very happy with the 06:48 PR at the 30k distance, and amazed at the shape my legs were in afterward; I was a bit sore but completely functional both that night and the next day. I actually felt a bit guilty, as it seemed like I hadn't run hard enough! The pain was worse after running an easy 5k on Sunday afternoon (less than 24hrs after the start of the race) and I still have a bit of lingering soreness 3 days later (now Wednesday), but thirty kilometers on pavement is a long damn way and I'm in a better state than I used to be after a half marathon. Part of it, I'm sure, is the near-flat nature of the course, but I'd like to think the high (for me) mileage consistent training is paying off. In any case, it's a good confidence boost for the Run for the Toad 50k in October, which is really what this race was about - it's all part of the build.

Ridiculously huge medal.
How do they expect racers to cart that anchor around after running 30k?

As for Midsummer Night's Run, there's simply no way I'd do this race again if it's going to be on the Toronto Islands. Of course, we didn't find out about the change of location until June 18th, despite the organizers having been denied a permit in April! I can't recall precisely when I registered, but I had no way of knowing at the time that I'd be running anywhere but the usual race venue of Tommy Thompson Park. The logistics were nightmarish; the organization was poor; the volunteers were enthusiastic but not always well informed (some of the faster runners report uncertainly about route direction); the course simply had too many loops to be enjoyable; the kilometer markers were inconsistent (some short, some long per the pace fairies) and demoralizing while in the earlier loops; the bridges at the end were painful; the lighting for later finishers was abysmal and the whole experience was stressful. At some point in the future, if I can be relatively assured that it will be in its usual location, I may consider doing it again...but it will likely be some time before the poor taste this race experience left in my mouth is forgotten.

Lord, what fools these mortals be!

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