Awoke just after 6am and downed a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel - half spread with dairy free "cream cheese" and the other piece half-slathered with raw almond butter, then drizzled with honey and sprinkled with Saigon cinnamon. I washed that down with a cup of almond milk, chased it with a Medjool date, 1 tsp maca root powder and 1tsp unsweetened cocoa, and figured that'd do. Really hoping to avoid any GI tract issues, I popped a digestive enzyme tablet as well; figure it couldn't hurt. I did my array of odd manoeuvres I've used as a run warmup since November before we left the house, not knowing if there would be a corner of floor space on which I could lay and hump the air like some sort of confused, spandex-clad nymphomaniac. There was also the possibility someone would get the wrong impression and try to join me, so probably best to get it out of the way in private. Ok, I did the routine in front of everyone at Frosty Trail, but ultrarunners are different.
I had made the decision before leaving home that I was ok with possibly freezing to death in knicks, a base layer and Vanderkitten tri top (trust the chub! Trust the chub!), but wanted warm hands, so dressed as such and threw on some warmies overtop since it was -3c/27f when we left. I did bring along my longsleeve Vanderkitten cycling jersey as well, just in case I lost my nerve with the predicted near-freezing temperatures and 25kph/15.5mi wind from the North. My trusty hand bottle was filled with water and had an emergency caffeinated gel in the pocket, plus I had a flask with 4oz of EFS Liquid Shot to tuck in my tri top pocket. I also mixed myself about 1/3 cup almond milk with a big squirt of chocolate syrup to add to a black Tim Hortons coffee, the result being sufficiently mocha-esque that I didn't feel too deprived as I slurped it on the way down to Hamilton.
|Readying for battle.|
We actually got parked with zero drama, I got out of my warm pants, into my running socks & shoes, pinned my number on and headed for Copps Coliseum. There had been a dusting of snow overnight, which was enough to make the path through Central Park slippery - I was really nervous as we walked toward Copps Coliseum, not wanting to slip or fall and hurt myself. We made our way to the race site in plenty of time for me to hit the bathroom, in which I was lucky enough to be hit in the freakin' ankle bone by the metal sanitary disposal box the lady in the stall next to me knocked off the wall. She apologized, but man that hurt! I hoped it wouldn't affect the race as re-applied BodyGlide, thinking that maybe winning a free coffee on my Tim Hortons Roll Up the Rim cup that morning really might have used up all my luck. I finished up, got a huge good luck hug from Tanker after giving him all gear not essential for the race, and even got in some high knees and butt kicks to warm up a little on the way to the starting line - much more leisurely than the 2012 debacle. I spotted the 3 hour pace bunny as I was headed out the door of the Coliseum and told him he was my new best friend, assuring him I'd find him somewhere on the course. Knowing how weird my pacing was at Midsummer Night's 30k last year I figured having a rabbit to chase was my best bet, since the whole "run ok for 10km, slack off for 10km, then redline for 10km" thing was probably not the most effective strategy.
I happened to run into a couple of friendly faces almost as soon as I joined the throng of runners wandering toward the start corrals, and it was really pleasant to have some company as we waited for the start (hi Jen & Joe!). We were pretty far back in the crowd - I actually saw the 3:15 run/walk pace bunny right behind us, so figured I'd probably have to do some chasing to get up to the 3 hour pacer. As the bright sun shone down on us, I wasn't even chilly; I hoped I hadn't overdressed too much, but was pretty sure I could have gone with lighter gloves - still way better than all the folks in what I'd consider full winter kit around us, whom I'm sure would regret their choices fairly quickly. I also had to pee a bit, despite having slowed way down on drinking water for the half-hour prior to gun time, and my lower back was a little sore. Meh.
|Revealing my secret identity at the start line, long before the gun.|
Without us ever hearing anything so useful as a horn, gun or any sort of warning, the crowd in front of us started walking, then running, then stopped...then walked and finally ran again. It appeared we were off! I ran away from my friendly faces almost right away; they were following a plan that accommodated one of them recovering from an injury and the other having run 70km in from Toronto overnight, while I was chasing mediocre glory. I hit start on my watch to get some chip time splits so I could monitor my own pace a little and have some clue of when to take in nutrition. Time to find that pace bunny!
The first couple of kilometers were crowded, as will generally happen when thousands of people try to run all at once through city streets. The new route didn't help with this at all, and I spent a lot of time dodging through slower runners, rubbing elbows as gaps opened and closed around me, and wondering if I was going out too fast. I had to watch my step as well, since an entire running store's worth of abandoned warm gear lay strewn about the streets. Passing the 2k marker and looking at my watch I saw 12:11 - I was running a 6:06/km pace, which would see me finishing at 3:03:00 - EEK! NOT GOOD - RUN FASTERZZZ!
Onto Burlington Street, the overpasses began to appear to give an early test to my hill legs. I'm feeling ok, but definitely working. I keep telling myself that I ran 3 hours at Frosty Trail while gasping almost the entire time, so it's ok to push past the comfort zone. I still hope I won't blow myself up, though, particularly as I start to get warm. I finally pass the 5k marker in 29:36 - a 5:55/km pace, which is probably about what I can manage for a 30k. That would give me a 2:57:30 finish if I could maintain it, but really I'm just looking to bank some time while the going is good. The hills at the end would cost me no matter how well I was running, so building a cushion early on was part of the plan. I'd had good success at the Mississauga Half and Midsummer last year with starting behind the pace bunny, catching them partway through and ditching them later in the race, so I was hoping I could pull off the same thing.
|From Canadian Running Magazine|
I managed to get my gel flask out of the pocket of my tri top (way to run in something you've never worn except on the trainer, K) and take a sip around the 40min mark, just after the 2nd aid station by kilometer 7. I figured I had enough water to get me through to the next one, so was able to avoid the huge crowds and speed (relatively speaking) through even more of the pack in front of me. I was starting to get really warm running in the full sun, so decided I'd take off my left glove to get some cooling - I managed to get it stuffed in the other pocket of my tri top and immediately felt a bit better. The right glove stayed on for another kilometer or so (my right hand gets chilled more easily because it holds my bottle), then joined the left in the pocket. I knew we'd be turning into the wind as we headed for the lift bridge, but the breeze didn't feel that cold. It did get a bit cool as we passed through tunnels or shady spots, but I'd rather be a bit chilly than too warm in a race, especially given the addition of even more hills.
|From Canadian Running Magazine|
Fortunately, the scenery improved dramatically as we ran up Beach Boulevard. Coming from the grim, grey industrial vista (with associated occasional whiffs of nastiness...or was that me?) that surrounded us on Burlington St., the lovely homes along Hamilton Beach and wonderful folks banging pots & pans were a welcome change. My hands were freezing and my legs were starting to protest a bit despite the relatively flat profile, but I was just trying to keep my momentum going and searching for the first signs of hitting the lift bridge. I finally spotted a pace bunny ahead, but it turned out to be the 3 hour run/walk - I passed him and his group as they dropped to a walk and figured that at least if I could keep ahead of them, I'd be in decent shape. Running by the 14k sign I thought to myself that I only have a hilly 10 miler left - just like the one I'd done last Saturday. Another sip of gel from my flask around the 1 hour 20 minute mark, a curve or two in the road, and the bridge loomed ahead.
Virtual route map from Canadian Running Magazine
Push the lap button on my watch as I pass the 15k sign and timing mats - halfway done and I'm feeling ok, though I'm starting to breathe a little harder. Third 5k split shows 28:22 - still running at 5:40/km, and my 15k time of 1:26:14 put me at a 5:45/km pace overall. Still building my cushion to carry me through the hills at the end - score! I really hoped I wasn't headed for disaster by cooking myself too early (after all, I'd run an average of 5:37/km for the Mississauga Half Marathon last year, and that was a net downhill), but tried to just have faith that my training would carry me through. I gazed out at the lake, watching powerful waves breaking against the seawalls on either side of the channel into the harbour, their ragged peaks sending up white spray that floated on the stiff wind. I was glad the sun was shining, as I could feel my black knicks and base layer soaking up its energy and keeping me from getting too chilled.
I wasn't a big fan of the steel deck of the bridge - it didn't feel good on the balls of my feet as I ran, so I ended up altering my stride a bit to land more flat-footed. My left knee was apparently not on board with this idea, and started to twinge a bit. Fortunately I was back on pavement again before long, and the niggle subsided almost immediately. Having passed the second relay exchange, there was a great deal more space to move, and while fresh relay runners would occasionally come by me I was still overtaking most of the people around me. My legs were feeling a little more fatigue as we headed for North Shore Boulevard, but I was still running fairly well. I was really starting to wonder where the hell that 3 hour pace bunny had got to - I'd put in almost 5mins against gun time by the 18k mark and was starting to wonder if I'd ever find him when suddenly I spotted a pair of pink bunny ears up ahead. I don't know why he wasn't holding up his sign, but I locked my sights on him and began to steadily reel him in.
Just before the 19k mark I finally caught and got slightly ahead of the pacer, who said he was bang on 1 hour 53mins at that point - banking 1 minute for the hills in the last 10k had been part of his plan. I mentioned I should be good to go since I'd put in about 5mins catching up to him, at which point he recognized me and gave a "There you are! You said we were going to be friends." I told him I started a few minutes behind and had only just caught him - having done so, I figured I could ease up a little bit and stick with him as we reached the start of the rolling hills. I hit the 20k timing mat at 1:55:04 chip time - a 5:45/km overall average, but a slower 5k split at 28:49 or 5:46/km. I was still running relatively strong, but very happy I no longer felt the need to chase and could take things more cautiously through the ensuing 6km of punishing hills. I felt a bit of a creak from my right achilles tendon as I ran up an incline near the Burlington Country Club and wondered if I'd been wise to forgo wearing calf sleeves; I hadn't worn them for any of my training runs, but I was also working a lot harder than I had in training. Fortunately nothing really came of it.
I found a flat spot for a sip of gel around the 2 hour mark and got my empty bottle filled with 2 tiny cups of water and a wee cup of blue sport drink at an aid station near the 21k mark (which I passed at around 2:01:xx - only 3mins behind my half marathon PR). As I tackled the hill along LaSalle Park I was most pleased to find another friendly face - thanks for coming out to cheer, Dave! Sorry you didn't end up being able to run; your injury is a really crappy way for me to improve 1 place in the overall.
|The hill past LaSalle - from Dave's Instagram|
|Dave and a course marker, all of which have some silly text.|
Also from his Instagram
The next few kilometers were a lot of hard work. I stayed ahead of the 3 hour pacer, but could hear him chatting with another runner just behind me as we climbed and descended. There was one dicey hill where we were warned to watch for black ice on the road - they had put down salt, but it was a shady spot and the overnight snow hadn't melted completely. My quads were starting to whine about the downhills already, and my right hamstring briefly tried to cramp on one of the climbs. I was thinking that the uphills didn't seem quite as bad as they had in my one prior attempt, but then we hit that long, curving one at around 23k that runs through a residential neighbourhood and I started to wheeze a bit. By the time we reached the aid station around 24k, I was almost out of water again so got a lovely lady to fill my bottle about 2/3 of the way from a jug she was using to fill cups. I figured that ought to do me for the rest of the way, as I was working hard enough now that breathing was starting to get hectic.
Past the cemetery and down the long, quad-wrecking descent of Spring Gardens Road, I'm trying to get a couple of sips of fluid into me, control my respiration and mentally prepare for the giant hill up to York Road. Oh, and I got my high five to the tune of "We Will Rock You" from Stan Wakeman for luck! I remember that the big hill goes up, turns a corner under the bridge, then goes up again - you can't burn all your matches on the part you can see from the bottom. Through the 25k mark in 2:25:03, I still have almost 5mins in the bank, though my 5k split through North Shore has been a rather more dismal 29:59 - almost exactly on 6:00/km, or 3:00:00 pace. Still, overall I'm holding 5:48/km with just this one horrible climb to go before the long, gentle descent to the finish line. As I cross the footbridge to the base of the hill I start to look for a local Hamilton friend who found me here 2 years ago, while concentrating on driving with my knees as I push. I seemed to have lost the 3 hour pacer as well - hadn't heard him talking in a little while, anyway.
By a third of the way up, I'm death whistling and totally ready to be done with this business. Shorten stride, push with my glutes (that ass has got to be good for something!), keep my head up and keep going. The only thing I've really got going for me at this point is the wind at my back, since my legs are aching and my lungs feel ready to burst. No sign of my Hamiltonian friend this time - guess he didn't come out this year. Under the bridge into blissful, shady coolness, then emerge into sunlight again and realise I still can't see the top. CRAP! Gasping for air, I make it through the second turn and finally sight on York Road. It takes every last ounce of strength not to drop to a walk (or just go and have a nice little lay down somewhere), but at last I make the left turn and see the road unroll toward the finish, somewhat surprised that my heart hasn't actually leapt out of my chest and rolled away howling. A spectator calls out "3.8 kilometers to go" - I can do that! Right..?
|Seen on twitter.|
I'm past the point of being able to bring my breathing down now, just death whistling away as I take in the incredible view of the bay from the high vantage point of York Road. I had to drag my chubby arse up here, so I was bloody well going to enjoy it! The kilometers stretched out past any reasonable length, time slowing to allow every twinge of sore feet and jagged breath to fill my mind with agony as I strained my tired muscles to carry me on toward the finish. My watch told me at 27k that I still stood an outside chance at going 2:55:xx, but it felt like 20mins before I spotted another kilometer sign. Eventually I achieved the 28k mark and saw the Grim Reaper, but declined a high five.
|From Sportzone via Canadian Running Magazine.|
I kept telling myself that it was all downhill (which it isn't, really - there's a very mild rise, but it's almost insignificant), but also tried to prepare myself for the illusion that haunts this race - as you approach downtown, Copps Coliseum seems to hang in the air in front of you like a mirage, seeming to be just a couple of hundred meters away for an unreasonable amount of time. I was starting to see runners with medals out doing cool down work and many more spectators, so knew I had to be getting close as I drained my bottle to the dregs. Much as I'm whining about it, I was in a whole order of magnitude better shape than I had been in 2012 - I really did get the work done this time, and actually had some strength left to push toward the end.
Finally through the 29k mark, I think my pace increased involuntarily as I entered the barricaded section before the Coliseum. Someone in the crowd went absolutely wild over my Vanderkitten top and I spotted a clock just ticking over the 3-hour mark (gun time) before making the sharp right onto the horrible ramp down to the arena floor. Giving it everything I had, I ripped along the carpeted pathway through the arches just as the big clock at the top passed 3:01:00. I didn't hear my name called as I crossed the line - I almost never do. I think it's because I spend too much time within my own head during the race, and it's hard to switch focus to external things instantaneously. Well, I also know I become incredibly stupid after running for more than a couple of hours, so that's probably a contributing factor, too. I raised my arms as I ran through the finish, only stopping my watch afterward ('cause noone wants a finish photo staring at their wrist)...to see 2:54:02.
|The best sight of the whole course.|
Seen on twitter.
10:24 PR over 2012 & 03:36 PR at 30k
166/412 F30-34 - 1120/3305 Women - 3121/6762 overallEFS Liquid Shot might not have been out of place on the descent on Spring Gardens Road, but since I didn't actually feel myself fading (let alone bonk) I'm not going to beat myself up about it. I had considered taking a nibble of my caffeinated gel while running along North Shore, but it just seemed like unnecessary effort.
|Started out filled to my thumbnail.|
So, the post-race analysis (emphasis on the "anal"): according to the McMillan Running calculator, my half marathon PR of 1:58:13 extrapolates to a 2:52:43 time for 30 kilometers, meaning I under-performed by 01:16. However, since the Mississauga Half is a net downhill while Around the Bay has such a sting in the tail, I think I'll call it pretty even. The new route is definitely more challenging based on average times - when I ran in 2012 the average finish was 2:56:57, whereas this year the average time was 3:03:12.
|My hat afterward - perhaps a good thing EFS Liquid Shot contains electrolytes!|
I am really happy with my effort level throughout the course - I didn't have that long stretch of lollygagging through the middle section that happened at Midsummer, but also didn't cook myself too badly while I was still fresh. I did have nightmarish visions in the last couple of kilometers about bonking and having to walk it in, but 2014 seems to be about proving that I can run outside my comfort zone at longer distances. Everything from my feet & legs through my ribcage and even the back of my shoulders was sore afterwards, but despite being even more achy and my feet swelling today (Tuesday) I'm pretty sure I'll be able to bounce back from this fairly quickly. I got a little emotional after crossing the finish, as this really has been the culmination of a bloody great lot of hard work and determination. Starting back in November with my injured hamstring casting doubts on making the starting line healthy, then a truly awful winter for training - it's a really huge deal for all those times I had to kick my own ass out the door in conditions no sane human would choose to endure to result in a payoff that comes as close as I ever have to race perfection. I paid for my PRs this day in months worth of hard coin.
Now it's time to take recovery really seriously, as I've got less than 4 weeks until the Waterloo Marathon. McMillan says that a 2:53:59 Around the Bay extrapolates out to a 4:10:37 marathon, which means I've got to be ready to run for almost another hour and twenty minutes after I'd finished Around the Bay.