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What I Learned From My First Half Marathon

February 27, 2013 Leave a comment

WhatILearned

I always viewed my race this past weekend as a “C” race – a training race.  Had I not raced, I would have done an equally long training run anyway, so why not jump into an organized event for the experience, and the fun.  The idea was to learn from it in hopes it will help me for my upcoming “A” race…

So what did I learn from my first Half Marathon?  Well…

February Races in Canada are Cold – No shit, huh?  But not cold like we’re all used to getting in and out of our car going to work in February.  Cold like it’s hard to figure out how to dress for the race.  “Do I wear Long Johns or not” kinda cold.  Which is fine, but it makes it hard to get the muscles to warm up.  Like any sane Canadian, I’ve been doing most of my winter training indoors on a treadmill – where I can stay warm.  If I’m going to race outside in the winter, I need to give myself more time to warm up.

Aid Stations are your Best Friend – There’s nothing like turning a corner on the race route and seeing a table with cups of water and some other branded sugary electrolyte replenishing-ish drink (no free plugs dropped here!).  When I do training runs by myself I carry a water bottle.  Even with my enormous 24oz bottle, it doesn’t get me through a 20km+ run.  And I have to carry it the whole time.  Supported runs with aid stations really do make running easier – they make more of a difference than I thought they would.

It’s Okay to Walk – I used to be quite embarrassed that I couldn’t run the whole distance of a race.  I used to tell myself “No walk breaks until I see someone else taking a walk break”.  That shit’s just not realistic.  Everyone (except those crazy-fast folks who actually win races) takes walk breaks.  In fact, walk breaks early help your legs stay strong late.  The trick is to listen to your body.  I’m not worried about walk breaks any more.

Hills Suck – Seriously.  Doesn’t matter if they’re early or late in the race.  If they’re early they trick you: you think you can attack them and they just make you more tired later on.  If they’re late in the race they tease you: you’re tired and just want to finish and suddenly you’ve got to climb one of those damn things!  Please!  There’s no shame in walking up the hills and running down the other side!

It’s Okay to be Last – Being last means you finished, and that’s seriously awesome.  It doesn’t matter how much I called it a “C” race – it’s really cool that I’ve finished a Half Marathon (so much different – better – than simply having done a 21km training run).  Doesn’t mean I didn’t race hard – but I gave it what I had, ran a Personal Best time that I was happy with, and I can’t control the speed of the field.

Race Day Will Make You Faster – I haven’t figured out what it is yet, but Race Day will always make you faster than your best training run.  And that’s a good thing.  Maybe it’s the crowd?  Maybe it’s volunteers, or distance marker signs, or pylons, or discarded cups along the roadside?  Maybe it’s knowing there’s a big clock ticking at the finish line.  Whatever it is, I find a gear on Race Day I can’t find doing training runs by myself.

After the Race, You’ll Want to Eat Everything – but you shouldn’t.  You’ll want to though.  I actually put on a pound after my race because I ate everything in the kitchen that day.  Sure, I just burned a shit load of calories, but it isn’t a free pass.  And really, when I want to eat everything in site, it’s not like I’m craving health food.  Seriously!  Gotta go a bit easier next time.

Recovery is a Bitch – The weekend before I did a 21km training run.  I was walking normal later that day and training again the next day.  But Race Day is different – that shit kills your legs for days.  Maybe it’s a byproduct of being faster on Race Day?  Who knows.  Either way, don’t expect to jump back into your regular training routine the next day…  unless you’re in a lot better shape than I am that is… I’m still hobbling.

-DO’G

Race Day: Grimsby Half Marathon

February 24, 2013 2 comments
Look at that bling!

Look at that bling!  I’m a Half Marathon finisher!

Today was Race Day – the Grimsby Half Marathon.  My first half marathon.  I know it really was just a glorified long training run, but it feels really cool to say I’ve run a Half Marathon.  Really Cool.

Race day temperature was roughly -2°C, overcast, and with a headwind on the return leg of the run.  That’s what I get for running a race in February.  It was cold.

My wife and I met a very nice lady in the starting coral – it was her 49th half marathon.  Next weekend she’ll run her 50th.  The following weekend she’ll celebrate her 50th birthday.  50 before 50 – what a cool goal.  She had such a relaxed attitude that really helped put me in the right frame of mind – she’s done a bunch of these, and she’ll do more.  She wasn’t stressing about a PB – she was racing because she enjoyed it.  Such a perfect perspective for the start line.

I decided not to run with music or my coaching app.  I had no sense of pace other than listening to my body.  I wanted to try going headphone-free on this race to see how it would work before my ‘A’ race next month.  I had my phone in my pocket – I knew the race started at 9:15 and had a 3hour limit.  I knew I ran a 21k training run last week in 3:10:00.  My goal was to finish in under 3 hours before they closed the course.

The race started easy enough – the gun went off, and 145 people started running.  My wife and I started right in the middle of the pack, but she quickly ran ahead of me (as I knew she would).  So did most of the runners.  By the 5km point I’d settled in with runners of my pace: me.  I had the road to myself.

I checked my phone every few kilometer markers for a sense of time.  I tried to do the math to guess at my pace (note: math while racing is apparently a lot harder than math while not racing).  The first half of the race went well, but then slowly my pace started to fall off.  Gotta finish in 3 hours – I want to run across that finish line before they tear it down.

I was able to keep strong until about the 15km mark, at which point the walk breaks became more frequent and the legs felt more like bricks.  The road was pretty quiet – there were less police and volunteers at intersections, and not many runners around.  It was a mental battle to remind myself this was a race, and to keep pushing at race pace – I wasn’t out doing a training run by myself.

The few runners I was using as pace bunnies were slowly getting away from me.  I kept looking over my shoulder to see how many runners were coming up behind me – I didn’t want to be the last one to finish.  I didn’t see many people at all.

By 18km I had caught up to one of my pace bunny runners (or rather, he had fallen back to me).  A pair of runners from behind had also caught us.  They were nice chatty folks and we pushed each other forward.  But I knew in the back of my head: there’s nobody behind us now.  I’m going to finish last.

We stayed together down the home stretch to the last hill, at about 20.75km (brutal!!!).  All 4 of us were out of gas; all 4 of us walked up the hill.  I looked over my shoulder and saw a truck driving slowly behind us picking up the pylons and road signs from the race.  They were closing the course.  I had to finish.  The last couple hundred meters were an all out 4-way sprint race (as best any of us could sprint at that point… I’ll bet a potato sack race could have gone faster).

I ended up finishing the race in 2:38:30.8 – 144/145 racers (a whole 4.5 seconds out of last place).  Bam – not last!

Apparently math is hard while running – I beat my training pace by a whole 31.5 minutes, and was ahead of the course cut off by over 20 minutes.  Those cheeky volunteers – they were closing the course early!!!

See!  I finished!

See! I finished!

My wife ended up finishing with a PB time of 2:01:42.3, which is amazing, good enough for 102/145 racers.  I’m really proud of her.

So I can now say I’ve finished a Half Marathon!  That’s a pretty cool item off the bucket list.  More to the point, I was able to run 21.1km and maintain a 7:30/km pace (which is really good for me – much better than last week’s training run, which left me a little nervous).  I’ve got some work to do in the next month to be able to run another 9km at the end of that, but if I can keep the same pace, I should be able to run The Bay in 3:45:00 – well ahead of their 4:30:00 cut off time (unless they close that course early too… cheeky volunteers!).

And with 8,500 people registered for The Bay, hopefully I can finish better than 2nd last place 😉

-DO’G

Friday Stray Thoughts

February 22, 2013 Leave a comment

FridayImage by Glenn McCoy

 

Happy Friday everyone!  For those of you looking for a little light internet distraction to tide you over until quitting time, here’s a Few Stray Thoughts for your Friday Afternoon

– – – – –

This is crazy.  The good kind of crazy that totally motivates me.  I don’t expect to ever be a racer like this, but I’d love to someday train like this.  Tim Don is one of my new heros!!

– – – – –

I signed up for my A race this week – the Wasaga Beach Olympic Distance Triathlon.  That’s right – Olympic Distance, which is a step up from the Sprint Distance races I’ve been racing up until now: 1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run.  C is for Courage this year, so here I go.  Actually I’m pretty excited to be stepping up the ladder.  The odd thing was, when signing up, they asked me for my expected finish time.  Apparently they’re doing start waves by expected finish this year instead of by gender/age.  They put this chart in front of me and asked me to predict my finish time (in 10 minute increments):

What would you pick?

What would you pick?

I’ve never raced this distance before.  Holy Crapshoot Batman!  I wasn’t expecting to set my goals for the race so early.  I think I selected 3:20:00, which is pretty slow, but not “last 10%”.  Who knows.  Have you ever had to set a goal so far in advance?  I have no idea what my race time will be in a brand new distance 7 months from now.  Weird.

– – – – –

This weekend is my first half-marathon.  Kinda nervous, kinda excited, and surprisingly indifferent.  I’m treating this as a “C” race – I would have done a long run of 21+ km this weekend anyway, why not try a timed race, right?  If this were an “A” race, I would say I’m under prepared and a bit nervous.  Instead, I’m just going out to have some fun, do my best, and take my finish time – whatever it is – as feedback for how my training is going.

… still, kinda pumped I’m actually running a half marathon.  Me!  A half marathon!  I remember 2 years ago when I couldn’t run a single kilometer.  I remember the pain running brought.  To everyone who says they’re too big or out of shape and can’t run, I say stick with it.  It sucks at first, and can be really discouraging, but little by little it gets better.  Until one day a few years later you look back and say “Holy Shit – I can do this”.

Happy Friday Everyone

– DO’G

Is February the toughest month?

February 15, 2013 1 comment

FebruaryAlarmimage: Training Peaks

Happy Friday everyone!  Hope you all had a happy Arbitrary-Overly-Commercial-Tell-People-You-Love-Them-Day Valentine’s Day and a great Get-Drunk-and-Eat-Pancakes-Day Mardi Gras!  What a fun week for holidays!

I’m on an email distribution list from a company called Training Peaks (Note: Seriously fantastic training software IMO, if you don’t mind a little cost and an overload of options and information).  They sent me an email titled “Is February the toughest month for athletes?” with the above picture.  I don’t know that I got any further into the email than the title and picture, but it sure got me thinking about how tough February is – in a lot of ways, not just for athletes (although that’s sure where I notice it).

Yesterday I got my morning run in – it was tough as hell, I blame the icy sidewalks and not being 100% recovered from the flu.  Tomorrow I have my long run scheduled.  I went to bed last night thinking I would get up this morning and do a  lazy Active Recovery 5k run this morning.

The picture above reminded me of my morning, as I slapped the alarm off at 6:00am and rolled right over.

February is a funny month – we all come out of the holidays and into the new year with fantastic intentions.  Gym Membership enrollments spike in January – people are determined to keep their resolutions, make changes, get healthy… whatever they resolved to do.  And they even stick to it for a few weeks.

Then February rolls around.  It’s cold.  It’s dark.  We slip into bad habits.  Our resolution-inspired self starts to disappear (along with the money we’re now paying the gym) and laziness starts creeping back.

Sucks, doesn’t it?

I don’t know that I’ve found a good way to fight it yet.  This morning I sure didn’t want to get out of bed to run.  And once I’m out of the training habit – as last week’s vacation led to – getting back in the habit, in February is TOUGH.  I think the trick is to relax a bit – stress less about the downs and take some pride in the ups.  Allow myself to enjoy the breaks when I take them, not feel guilty for missing a workout, but let it refresh me and get at it for the next one.  That doesn’t mean planning extra days off, but listening to the body and taking them when I need them.  Rest days are like “Mental Health” Days Off at work – every now and then you wake up and just need one.  It helps you stay strong in the long run… right?

Have a great long weekend everyone!  Happy Arbitrary-Statutory-Holiday-Because-Holy-Crap-Do-We-Ever-Need-A-Day-Off-In-February-Day Family Day (or for my American Friends, Happy President’s Day, which is a lot less weird than our Family Day)

Is February a tough month for you?  How do you fight it?

Back to life, back to routine

February 13, 2013 1 comment
The cruisin' life

The cruisin’ life.  Not so great for tri training…

I’m really struggling to get back to reality.  After spending a week in the Caribbean Sea, I got back to snowy Ontario late Sunday night, only to work one day on Monday before being hit with a flu.  Go figure – a week on a 3000 person incubator of a cruise ship and I came away with a bug.  My souvenir, I guess.

The cruise was amazing.  7 days of constant sunshine and 25°C+ weather.  Unbelievable.  We had a great mix of active exploration and lazy lounging.  We got to visit 5 islands we hadn’t previously seen (most of which we would go back to in a heartbeat).  I now understand why so many Canadian “snow birds” go south for the winter.  Getting away from the snow was A-MAZE-ING!

But I was ever aware of my training plan (and how everything I did was kicking it in the teeth).  We made it to the gym twice during the week… not a lot, but not nothing.  We took the stairs all week instead of the elevators (our room being on the 2nd floor, and the food/deck/pools being on the 9th-11th floors)… again, not a lot, but not nothing.  I tried to keep somewhat mindful of portion size (I was aware at least, when I was eating copiously large portions at the buffet… seriously – why are the plates at the buffet over a foot in diameter?!?)…

… actually, I really did do nothing to help out my training plan.  But it was a great vacation!  And by the end of it, I’d only put on 6lbs.

So now I’ve been back for three days.  And thanks to the 2-day flu I brought back with me, I haven’t run once.  I have a half marathon in 11 days.  My first half marathon.

Holy Crap!

I had a bit of a freak out moment with my wife tonight, to which she sympathized, then promptly put me in my place.  “Just run” she said.  And she’s right (she’s pretty usually right).  I can’t stress about missed time, or broken training plans, or gained weight, or post-flu muscle weakness, or any other lame excuse that comes up because I’m scared shitless!  I just need to get out and run, and get back into a routine.

11 days.  Here I go.  Back into the routine of a real world.

~DO’G

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