Monday, April 18, 2011

Calgary Police half marathon 2011, race review

So, yesterday I finished my first half marathon. Hear that? I finished!

How did it go? Well, to put it simply, it was a mixed bag. Some good, some bad, some easy, some brutally difficult. (If you want the summary and results, feel free to skip to the end.)

I woke up bright and early. The race was at 8:00am, and I set my alarm for 5:30. That gave me time to eat breakfast and get everything together without having to rush.

When I looked out the window, this is what I saw:

One of the first things that I did was check the road report. I live outside the city where most nearby races are, so this means a 20 minute highway drive to get into it. Normally, not such a big deal.

Yesterday, the road report said the following:
"Highway alert: Cochrane RCMP are advising that due to very heavy snow and ice Highway 1 eastbound and westbound is treacherous and almost impassable. Travel is not recommended on Highway 1 from Cochrane to Calgary. Highway 1A from Cochrane to Calgary is also treacherous and travel is not recommended in this area either."
Now, having made the choice to live outside the city also means we sometimes choose to stay outside the city when the roads are bad. Almost any other plans would have been canceled with the roads in those conditions. But, this was my first half marathon, and I really wanted to do it.

Having said that, I didn't take the decision to go on the highway lightly. The highway report was had last been updated the night before, so it could have changed. The worst section is usually the hill that takes you out of town. There are points midway up and at the end of the hill where you can turn around. If the hill was okay, the highway probably would be too. I was driving our commuter car, which has snow tires, and I tossed a shovel and some kitty litter in the back (in case I got stuck somewhere).

This part of the story is pretty anti-climatic. The drive in was fairly easy. One lane of the highway had been plowed and sanded at some point. I kept my speed down, and aside from one moron who buzzed past me (in a no passing zone), everyone else on the road did too.

I got to the race with time to spare, walked around a bit, used the washroom. About 10 minutes before the race start, I decided to get out there and lined up. Apparently everybody decided the same thing at the same time. There was a huge press of people going out the doors, so it was very slow going. Finally, I was outside, but I still had to get around a little barrier to get to the start line. Everyone else needed to as well, so at least we were going in the right direction. There was a countdown and then the starting horn was blown. I was still nowhere near, but we were moving in the right direction at least.

The slow shuffle continued and finally we were at the start line. Everyone started running once they crossed the starting line, and we were off.

My plan going into this race had not been to go a certain speed or faster. It had been to go a certain speed or slower - at least for the first half of the race. I know when I start out too fast on long runs, I tend to crash towards the end. My goal was to hold a pace of about 7:00/km (11:15/mile). I never said I was fast! But, that is a pace that I know I can maintain long term.

The problem is, I didn't hold back on my pace. I kept checking my garmin, and seeing that I was going too fast. I kept reminding myself that I should slow down. Yet, it felt so easy. I felt like I could keep going forever at this pace, and it was somewhat downhill. I finished the first four km in 6:37, 6:48, 6:43, 6:52.

Shortly into the fifth km was where we started hitting some slightly steeper (and icy) downhills. This is when I saw the first person go down. He had a few people helping him, and then about 10 more people crowded around to see if he needed more help, completely clogging the pathway. Don't get me wrong, if someone needs help, you should give it to them, but if they already have help, there is a certain point where offering creates more problems then it solves. It's something that's even taught in first aid classes: disperse the crowd.

Shortly after, the second person down was me. Going down another hill, and my legs just went out from under me. I'm not even sure exactly how I fell, but I actually ended up on my hands and knees rather then my butt. The guy behind me almost tripped over me, and truthfully, I think he was more shaken up about it then I was. I did a quick self assessment and decided that I might be bruised, but I wasn't injured. At this point, I decided I needed to throw any time goals I still had out the window, and just concentrate on finishing the race in one piece.

Despite this, I still finished kilometers 6-8 too fast - below 7:00/km. It wasn't a conscious decision. More a case of: I felt comfortable running at this pace and didn't reel myself in.

While passing Heritage park, I saw somebody in cross country skis going the other direction. I think his method of travel was a lot more appropriate out there then running shoes. In some spots the snow was packed down by the earlier runners, but not evenly. In other spots, it was deep and loose, like sand. Then there were the icy sections, particularly on the downhills. This race course had a lot of up and down, so there were a lot of those sections. A big part of the course, there were essentially 2-3 tracks made, but they felt just a little too narrow to get a proper stride in.

Sometime after 10 km, I realized that I really had started out too fast. I was tiring, and I was only halfway done. I knew I had more in me, but it wasn't easy anymore, and I had slowed down.

It seemed like every time I turned a corner, there was another race volunteer warning us of a slippery section. It was work every hill we had to go up, and no benefits going down because of the ice.

Finally, we got to the big hill out of the weaselhead. More people were walking up this hill then not, and I followed suit. I figured if I ran it, I was going to need to walk afterwards to recover anyways. At this point, the most challenging part of the race was over, as we were pretty much back onto roads. Yet, there were still about 6km left to go.

I ran at a decent pace for km 16, but looking at my garmin stats, I can see that it pretty much fell apart after that. I started alternating with a walk/run. My legs just didn't want to move, and even when I was running, I couldn't keep the pace up. I knew I was so close. I knew there were only a few kms left, but I just couldn't seem to make my body move.

Despite this, I still managed some smiles. As much as I hurt, I knew I was finishing. I knew that it wouldn't be long until I had finished a half marathon.

Those last few kilometers were a fight. For every second I gained going too fast in the first eight, I probably lost 10 seconds in the last five.

Finally, I turned the corner and saw the finish line. I knew I didn't have much of a sprint left in me, so I kept trudging along at the slow run I was doing. Then I saw my kids and husband waiting for me. I hadn't known if they'd make it because of the roads, but seeing them there gave me the strength to push the speed and finish with a smile on my face.

After coming across the finish line, somebody handed me my medal and a bottle of water. I then made my way around to where my family was waiting for me. I didn't feel like I had any strength left. The medal was still wrapped up in plastic, so I told me husband to unwrap it and put it around my neck.

And with that, I completed a half marathon.
I think the facial expression in this picture is somewhere between joy and suffering...

My goals for this race were:

1. To finish with a smile on my face.

I nailed this one. I finished, and I smiled. :)

2. To pace well, finish strong, and enjoy the scenery.

We'll call this a learning experience. I didn't pace well. I didn't trust or follow my plan going in, and I paid for it. With shorter races, you can get away with poor pacing a little more. Not so much on the longer distances... I did enjoy the scenery though.

3. Not let the things out of my control get to me. (Such as icy pathways or congested areas).

I did pretty well with this. I pretty much accepted the poor conditions and rolled with it (or fell with it). I recognized it was difficult, but I didn't get bitter about it. I caught myself getting annoyed a couple times when people stopped to walk in groups, but I just carried on with my race and didn't worry about the seconds it cost me.

In the end, I completed the half in 2:40:08. (I let my garmin run for a couple minutes at the end by accident, but this was my actual chip time.)

I've always maintained that you learn more from the tough races and runs then the easy ones. This is a perfect example of that. Did I run the perfect race? No. Would I approach it differently next time? Yes. Am I glad that I did and will I do it again? Absolutely. (Preferably with less snow.)


  1. Congrats Deb!!! I am so happy for you! You did it!! I am impressed you showed up even with that nasty road report!!

    I saw the guy on the x-country skis too! I was slightly jealous of him!

    Your race sounded very similar to mine. I think the uneven footing really tired us out.

    Great job on achieving your goals!!

  2. Congrats on finishing such a tough race!

  3. You girls up there are tuff!!! Wow I'm way impressed! Congrats on finishing your first 1/2 marathon!

  4. What a good race you ran! You take such great pictures - such a beautiful smile!

    I fell on a slippery bridge once in mile 2 or 3 of a 25k - landed on my hands and knees HARD. I was so embarrassed that I jumped right up and kept running but my heart and brain knew it wasn't going to be a pretty rest of the race. I hurt the whole way - but it's still my favorite race ever because I did it with my dad.

  5. Congratulations! That was an amazing time, especially in snow and Ice. I think you did great and I would have a hard time pacing myself too.

  6. Great job in harsh conditions. Seems like you learned a lot about racing this distance too as a bonus. Celebrate, you deserve it!

  7. Way to go!!! Congrats on finishing your first half, and for braving the tough course. Hey - is that a Resolution Run jacket that you're wearing?

  8. Yahoo! You did it! Congratulations!

  9. Hey Deb, glad to hear I am not the only one that was not impressed with the shirt, lol. Congrats on finishing your first half marathon!! You should be very proud!

    Dont beat yourself up about the is so easy to get caught up in the "race" mentality and push harder than you planned. I think it happens to us all!

    Good luck on your journey to Ironman! I know exactly the road your are travelling! A few years ago I started running, lost 90lbs and decided to do an Ironman. And this year I am doing IMC! If I can do it, you can!

    I hope you don't mind if I follow your blog and your progress! You obviously have come a long way and I have no doubt you arent going to stop anytime soon!....Dan

  10. Congratulations! That was an amazing time, especially in snow and Ice. I think you did great and I would have a hard time pacing myself too.