Monday, November 14, 2011

Race Report - Calgary last chance half

So, this race was much anticipated.  In some ways, it was the race that had the highest expectations of the year for me.  There were three races that I considered a big deal: the Police Half, the Banff Oly Tri, and this, the Last Chance Half.

The Police half and the Banff tri were both my first race at those distances.  As such, my main goal in them was (supposed to be) to finish, experience it and have fun.  I was disappointed with how the Police half went though, so when I signed up for the last chance half, it was with a need for redemption.  I'm planning a half ironman next summer, and I need to have some experience doing half marathons that don't leave me feeling broken afterwards.

So, with that in mind, I knew I was setting a time goal for this race.  When I did the Police half, it was with a hope (though not officially a goal) of beating 2:30.  (I don't like to set actual time goals when I'm doing a distance for the first time.)  I didn't make it.  The conditions were brutal, and I fell apart towards the end, resulting in a time of 2:40:08.  With that in mind, I thought I'd be going in with an official goal of 2:30 or less.

As the race drew nearer, I trained more, and I had repeated breakthroughs.  I realized that a goal of 2:30 was far too conservative.  I had done a 22km (13.7mi) run in less then 2:30.  It wasn't that far off from a goal of "just finishing".  I needed a goal that would actually push me.  After some thought and some math, I settled on a goal of 2:15.

I would need to hold a pace of about 6:20/km to finish in 2:15, and that seemed tough, but probably doable.  I had never held that pace for that long, but I'd held much faster paces for shorter distances, and had run further then the half marathon distance at slower paces.  (For those not familiar with run training, you generally don't actually run the race distance at race pace prior to the actual race.)

The week of the race was a tough one for me, with sick kids, and insufficient sleep.  I missed some training due to the fact that my son missed school (my usual training time).  I also caught the cold myself.  Fortunately, it wasn't a bad one, but it was enough that I had concerns about whether it would affect my performance.  Did it?  Truthfully, I'm not 100% sure.  I actually think it may have a bit, but I was still able to exceed my expectations...  Luckily the two nights before the race, I was able to get a reasonable amount of sleep, so I didn't go into race day too rundown.

I arrived at the race site a bit less then an hour beforehand.  For me, that's a good amount prior to a running race.  I appreciate this site, as there is indoor parking available (at a reasonable price) and you don't have to wait around outdoors, which is good for a cooler day.

I took a bit of time to use the facilities, and walk around.  Then I went outside to consider the weather.  After a bit, I went back to my car and dropped off my fall (non-running) jacket and headed outside for a quick warm up run.  I wasn't looking to go fast at all.  I just wanted to get my muscles moving so they remember how and at the same time get a feel for the temperature.  For training, I usually just run my first km really slow, but didn't want to do that in the race.  I planned to be running at a faster pace from the get go.

After a really slow warm up, I did about 100 metres at my race pace.  It felt good.  In fact, it almost felt easy, but I knew it wouldn't seem quite so easy at the end of a half marathon.  I did decide to lose my running jacket, and just go with my long sleeve shirt.  At the same time, I decided to lose my cap and wear my light toque instead.

I headed back to my car to make the appropriate wardrobe changes and saw Garry and his neighbour Gill in the parking lot.  Garry is in the group that I run with on Sundays.  It is always nice to have someone to chat with before the race.  I knew Garry wouldn't be running my pace, and after chatting with Gill and knowing she was hoping for a sub-2, she wouldn't be either.  I was okay with that.  I am used to running on my own and generally do so.

I also saw a couple people from team trilife people, that I know from swimming and spinning, prior to the race and said hi.  Tara, John, and Leslie-Ann.  I've known Tara and John for a while, since they go to swimming.  Leslie-Ann, I had seen, but never talked, to a couple times at spin.

When it came time to line up, I tried to seed myself correctly.  I've had races where I put myself too far forward, which makes it hard to go as slow as I need to.  I've had races where I put myself too far back, which means I'm stuck trying to get around slower people.  Since there was an early start for people that planned to take more then 2:30, there wasn't likely to be many walkers at the start.  I figured I should be back a fair bit, but not all the way.

I said goodbye to Garry and Gill, and lined up a ways back from them.  A couple rows in front of me, I noticed Tara, John and Leslie-Ann.  I knew that John tends to run fast, and was fairly sure Tara does too.  I figured the next time I'd see them was at the end of the race.

When the race started, I just let myself run easy and about the pace of the people around me.  I've made a point in the last couple races to not even look at my garmin for about the first minute.  It just stresses me out if I feel like I need to weave through people, and as long as I don't sprint out from the start, that first minute is not going to make or break me.  As it turned out, I was in pretty much the right spot.  There were very few times when I felt like I was held back or pressured to go faster.

When I glanced at my garmin, I saw that I was holding a nice, mostly even pace.  I was going a bit fast.  At times, I was dipping below 6:00/km, and to hit 2:15, I needed closer to 6:20.  If I went too fast, I was in danger of crashing later.  I reigned myself in a bit, but decided that, as long as it felt easy, I was good as long as there was a 6 at the beginning of that number.

Km 1: 6:06
Km 2: 6:11

During the first couple kilometers, I noticed quite a few times that I was behind the trilife people.  A couple times, I thought I might pass them, but whenever I thought that, I'd check my speed and realize I was going a bit too fast.  About 10 minutes into the race, I announced my presence and told them that I'd run with them, if that was okay.  I didn't know if I would stay with them the whole race, but we were going between 6:00 and 6:10, which seemed to be working for me at the time.

Chatting with them, I learned why they, whom I'd assumed would be faster, were running around my speed.  John was treating it as a training run and was doing the first half easy.  He'd take off later in the race.  Leslie-Ann was shooting for a personal best of 2:08, and Tara was helping her pace for it.

When they mentioned the 2:08 goal, two things happened.  Another woman introduced herself.  Bonnie was also looking for a time around 2:08 and asked if she could run with us as well.  She was welcomed just as I had been.  The other thing that happened is I had to consider whether this was a good fit for me.

There is a big difference between the pacing required for a 2:08 and a 2:15 time.  One reason I am often happy to run alone is: it keeps me from trying to run somebody else's race.  As happy as I might have been with a time of 2:08, I did run a risk if I actually shot for it.  My plan had been to pace for 2:15 for the first half and then pick it up if I felt good.  Continuing to run with them would not be following the plan.

On the other hand, I knew going in that 2:15 might be a more conservative goal then I needed to set.  In addition to this, I was running at their pace anyways.  Knowing what their final time goal was didn't change the fact that I was finding this a good pace.  I wasn't shooting for 2:08.  I was simply running the same speed for the time being.  I decided that, I enjoyed the company and I would run with them as long as it worked for me.  At some point, I might need to drop off, or go faster.  At that point, it felt good.

Km 3: 6:02
Km 4: 6:11
Km 5: 6:22
Km 6: 6:04
Km 7: 6:15
Km 8: 6:05

Around 8 km, I noticed Tara taking a gel, which was a good reminder not to neglect my own nutrition.  I was wearing my fuelbelt for a reason, because I wanted to have water and fuel when I needed it.  I sucked back a gel while running, and Tara graciously offered to take the garbage as we passed a can.

It was probably around this point where we started to see the front runners coming back the other way.  Wow!  Were they fast!  So motivating.  I commented that you can tell who the really fast runners are before the race even starts because they're the ones wearing shorts.  It's true too.  Almost all of them were wearing shorts, and I doubt very much they were the least bit cold.

Km 9: 6:07
Km 10: 6:01

Not long after this, we started seeing a lot of other runners coming back from the turn around.  I also saw Jen (Garry's wife) with Oscar (their very cool dog).  Jen has been a huge supporter of me since I started running, so it was great to see her cheering.  I saw Gill coming back and said hi.  When Garry came by, I yelled at him that he better speed up or I would chick him.  Of course, I thought we were almost at the turn around, forgetting that the way back went by a shorter route then the way there.  This meant that the turn around was still a ways off.  I was about 2 km back from him, so he wasn't actually in danger of being chicked (by me anyways...).

John also took off somewhere in here.  It had been great chatting with him, but he's a strong runner, and went on to finish in about 2 hours, even after running the first 10km at a leisurely (for him) pace.

Km 11: 6:20
Km 12: 6:06

I think the turn around was somewhere in here.  It was great to reach the pylon and know it was actually more then halfway!

Km 13: 6:07
Km 14: 6:11

Up until 14 km, I kept finding myself going a bit fast and needing to reign it in.  It was around this point that I started noticing my pace dropping and I had to remind myself to pick it back up.

Unfortunately it was around here that we lost Bonnie.  She had to make a quick stop and promised that she'd catch up to us at the finish line.

Not long after that, Leslie-Ann encountered trouble.  Since Tara was there to support her, she stayed back as well.  I carried on.  I felt a little bad leaving them behind, but I was there running my race today.  I also don't know Leslie-Ann that well and I knew that my presence would not help.  I knew from the time that I decided to run with them that, for various reasons, we could part company at any time.

Km 15: 6:01
Km 16: 6:43

So, I was running alone.  My pace was a bit erratic for the next couple kms.  I found myself running a bit fast and pulled back.  In km 16, I walked for a bit to take another gel, a swig of water and drop it off in the garbage.

As I neared the end of km 16, I remembered that this was about the point where I let myself start walking in the police half.  When I started letting myself walk that time, I basically lost it mentally.  I was not going to let that happen this time.  There was only 5km left.  5k isn't so hard, right?

Km 17: 6:07
Km 18: 6:14

After I hit 18 km, it started getting really hard.  I realized that the 18 km mark represents a mental barrier for me.  16 might have been where I started walking in the police half, but 18 was where I lost it.  Not this time.  Only 3 km left.  I had to do some serious self talk in this section.  To an outsider, I probably looked like a crazy lady.  "The only thing holding you back is your head", "only 2.5 km to go", "just hold on"...

Km 19: 6:25
Km 20: 6:24

Once I reached the final km, I knew I was almost there, but I didn't feel like I had any finishing push left in me.  I had given everything I had.  I reasoned with myself that I was okay with that.  I'd run a strong race, with more aggressive pacing then planned, and I'd held on.  I just had to hold on for another km.  I knew I'd be happy with my time no matter what.

Then, about halfway through that km, John appeared.  An angel or a devil?  I'm not quite sure.

"Come on Deb", he told me.  "Let's finish this thing."

Unbelievably, I had a finishing kick in me after all.  I picked up the pace.

As we ran over the bridge, I told him that I had just been shooting for 2:15.  A spectator overheard me and joked that I better slow down.  Then the finish line appeared.  I picked it up again and started to sprint.

"Come on Deb!  You can do this!"

He kept shouting encouragement.  How the f*%$ was he talking?  It was taking everything I had to just move.  I was going so fast, I could barely breath, and there he was pushing me on.

Km 21: 5:52

I saw my husband and kids and a guy from spin class.  Oh my god...  This hurt!  How was I moving my legs while I felt this way?  How was John still talking?  How could I possibly sprint at this speed at the end of a half marathon?

47 metres (my garmin measured the course 0.05 km short): 9 seconds

And, I crossed the finish line.

Somebody put a medal around my neck.  I tried to steady myself to make sure I wasn't going to puke.  I staggered over to the water table and grabbed a bottle.

What happened next was a blur.  John came around (he'd pulled short of the finish line since he'd already crossed it) and I thanked him.  Then my family appeared.  Spud got a bit miffed when I didn't give him immediate attention.  Bonnie, Tara, and Leslie-Ann came in not long after, finishing strong, but sadly missing the 2:08 they'd been shooting for.  Sometimes you have the perfect day and everything goes right.  Other days the conditions or your body don't work the way you want them to.  I was incredibly thankful to them for the time I ran with them, and know that another day will bring the 2:08 (or faster).

I let my garmin run a little bit long, so I wasn't sure of my finishing time, to the second, until later.  What I did know was that I far exceeded my goal of 2:15.  I hadn't quite broken 2:10, but I wasn't far off.  If I'm honest, I know a few spots where I could have gotten 5 seconds...  Next time.  ;)



  1. What a super day for you! I usually have a tough time at 18 K as well, and you've learned something really valuable, that you can keep running long after your mind wants to stop.

  2. Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! I appreciate the breakdown of how you were feeling and responding to the mental game. Congrats again on a great PR!

  3. Congratulations again Deb! Sounds like you had a pretty perfect race :)

  4. Wow! You did awesome! That is an amazing PR!

  5. AWE-SOME!!! You did such a fantastic job! You are just getting super speedy! I'm so happy for you! Great race report!

  6. You are amazing. Absolutely amazing. Well done!

  7. Deb, you showed lots of heart finishing strong in this race. After all the training, nutrition, race strategy and rest, all that remains is the amount of "heart" we bring to these races. Well done and good luck training this year.

  8. This was so exciting to read! I am so happy for you!

  9. Great job!!!
    I love when people surpass their own goals!!