Before this training cycle – I have never really trained for a specific time in the half marathon. Up until this point, all of my training for distances beyond 15KM was to “train to complete”. For the longest time I’ve struggled with balancing work, family and running and always assumed that I could not properly train for a half or full marathon and run at my true potential. Many of you that read my blog or follow me on social media have commented that my half/marathon times are not at the same level as my 5K/10K times and that with training I should be able to run longer distances at a faster pace. After this weekend, I can say that all my previous times were truly because I was ‘training to complete’. And *spoiler alert*, I’m pretty sure that I will never ‘train to complete’ again.
In August when I started training for the Army Run, I started looking at potential Fall half marathons knowing that I would want to run one shortly after the Army Run. Army Run was never really considered as a goal race due to the fact that the weather at that time of year is unpredictable. Funny enough, the weather on Army Run Sunday was perfect and I still PB’d – but not a huge PB as I was running a big distance week and running a 28 minute 5K right before a half is not a great prep for running a faster half. Anyways, it was a quick decision to run 9 Run Run for a variety of reasons. First off, the obvious reason is that I live only 12 minutes away from the start line. Being able to run so close to home makes everything so much easier. That and I knew the entire course from start to finish. The half marathon course is basically running from Stittsville to my house and back. I drive on these roads every day and also run on the route quite often. Although I do not live on Flewellyn, I live on a parallel road to it and know what that road feels like when running. I also know the TCT (the last 6K of the race) very well and prefer the hard packed trail to roads.
The race route familiarity was one aspect that appealed to me, but also the way the route’s topography was also played to my strengths. I’m always strongest from KM 6-15 during a half and long runs. For 9 Run Run, the course elevation has some small up and downs for the first 6KM. Then from KM 7-15 there was a steady incline of almost 30m, before heading downhill for the remainder of the course. I figured that I would be strong during the incline and the downhill section would make the last 5K feel a bit better.
So the decision was made to run 9 Run Run. The next decision was to use a Running Room training plan to train for a half marathon of 2:00hrs. I was glancing at the book at the end of August and realized that I was essentially following the plan and figured that after marathon training, that this would be a breeze. I was able to almost fully follow the plan in terms of the amount of runs. I missed one long run and I changed the taper week plans – but essentially I ran every single run required. I was also hitting all the paces perfectly. There really wasn’t a run where I wasn’t able to run at the pace required. Even that one really hot long run that I shortened because I felt like crap – I was able to run my long run pace. But still, I had major doubts whether I would be able to run 5:41/km on race day.
The days before the race I was really nervous about the race. In fact, the day before the race I was getting my usual GI nervous tummy issues: something that usually happens on race morning, not the day before. I had a cross country meet the day before and I think being at the races made me more nervous.
I was also nervous that my right leg would cramp out after we had a small mishap with dry needling at physio (leg was moved by accident while needles were in – luckily legs were fine!). This was also the first race where I made a race plan and wrote it on my arm. Normally I just run by feel but this time I calculated what I would have to run to get my sub 2:00 goal. The plan was to run 5:40s from KM 1-15 and then run as fast as I could for the last 6KM down the path.
I picked up my race kit on Friday, purchased some nutrition and also picked up some Kung Fu Bistro for a delicious dinner of chicken fried rice and sushi. I may have even stopped at T&T groceries Friday afternoon on the way to the track to get some lunch sushi. Sushi (no sesame seeds or spicy things though) has proven to be the food that works for me the day before a race. I went to bed at a reasonable hour and got a great night’s sleep. Shocking!
Being so close to the start, I was able to sleep in, lounge around and still have plenty of time to make it to the race. I parked at the local high school and met up with some staff and students from my school who were running the 10K. After I said goodbye to them, I made the very long trek from the school to the race area. Since I know that section of the TCT path so well, I knew that the start was almost 2KM away from the parking lot. Some people did not realize how far it was :-/. I noticed that the chip times for the half were a little funny – either there was no difference or you were 1-2 minutes late for the race. Oops!
I dropped off some donation shoes, checked my bag (and stupidly forgot to put a sweater in that checked bag – which made the 2KM walk back to my car very chilly). I used the bathroom only once for you know on race day. That is another kind of personal record, TMI I know. But I did go for the other kind one more time before heading to the start. When I came out of the portapottie, I saw Kristi and we walked with another runner to the start. Well that walk turned into a run when we realized that it was 9:15 and the race was about to start. We were still jogging to the start when the gun went off. We basically turned off the path and went directly on course. I cannot say that has ever happened before!
I started running up Abbott to Main Street. Because I basically started behind everyone else, I had to weave through some runners for the first KM. Not as much weaving as Army Run, but some weaving. I noticed that at almost 1KM I was running way too fast at 5:25/km. Oops! I should have been running at 5:40. The first few KM went by and I was surprised that it was feeling easy. I did purposely walk and slow down for the first 3KM to ensure that I ran not too fast. Other than that, I was super steady.
Here is Kristi and I looking a little rushed after running straight into the race:
After we turned onto Flewellyn, it was time for 6KM of country road running. I did run with a small group of 4 runners for most of this stretch. We were cruising at 5:35-5:40 pace for this section. Actually, I ran exactly 5:35 for KM 4-6. How is that for steady? Eventually I moved away from those four runners and found that during some segments I was running alone. One person did say “way to go – keep going” when I passed them. This race had just over 400 participants in the half. A smaller race compared to the 10,000 Ottawa Half Marathon crowd! During the Flewellyn section we encountered a nasty headwind. That and a few hills. I had to say to myself a number of times that I just had to get off of Flewellyn. How I remained so steady, I have no idea. I had one KM in the 5:47 range, which might have been a short walking break at a water station.
After we finally got to Munster Side Road, I waved at my house and then continued on. At the 10K water station I walked the station quickly to ensure I was drinking water with my gel as the cups were plastic and not bendable.In terms of water stations, there were a couple of water stations set up and at KM 5, 10 and 15 I also took a Xact nutrition snack. Apparently there was supposed to be a gel station on the course, but I did not notice one. I did not run 10/1’s for the first time ever in a half. Any walking break I took was very short. But after that walk I was able to run a bit more quickly and keep a decent pace, never having one split above 5:47. As we turned onto Fernbank, I quickly walked again to just get my headphone/iphone out so I could listen to music for the last 9KM, a treat for me as I never run with music. As we turned onto Jinkinson, I double checked my time and realized I had banked over 1 minute in cushion time (probably closer to 2). Turning onto Jinkinson meant that I only had one small section to go before the trail. Jinkinson had the last manned water station and also had a very small out and back portion. At this out and back section, I was able to high five Kristi before turning onto the trail. Her goal was to go under 2:05 and knowing how far she was behind me, I could tell she was also having a great race.
Finally – the trail. It was my plan to go faster during the trail – and looking at my pace chart, can you tell the exact moment I turned onto the trail? I did have to remind myself that it wasn’t quite ‘go time’, but I knew I had a sub 2:00 half marathon at this point. The trail was awesome because the slanted road feeling was gone, the headwind turned into a tailwind and it was all downhill for the rest of the race. There is a reason so many PB’s went down on Saturday – perfect weather and a downhill course can do wonders! I followed another women down the path for almost the entire 6K. I did manage to run 4/6 of the last KM below 5:29 pace. At 1KM to go, I think she told me to run and go to the finish, so I did. I passed her at the 2:00 pace bunny and flew down the last bit to finish the last full km at 5:16 pace. As soon as you exit the path, the finish line is just up ahead.
I could see the finish and was honestly super surprised that I did not feel dead – I was tired, but not exhausted. I saw Run Ottawa Friends Suzanne, Lisa and Brianne and did a fist bump of victory before crossing that line in 1:58:38 official time, 1:57:45 chip time (I really blew that start lol). A nearly 10 minutes PB and my first sub 2:00 half marathon! Good enough for 60/239th Female and 7/32 in my age category (!!) – Stats I have never seen in a half marathon. the route was just a bit short – so I totally ran in the path a bit to get to 21.1
That honestly might be the most uneventful race recap I’ve ever written because it was just that – I ran, ensure I ran an even pace and finished the race strong. Yes, I had a huge PB – but the race felt like no big deal. There were a few moments where I did have to tell my brain to be quiet but there were not any moments where I thought I couldn’t run a great race. Every 5K increment meant that I was one step closer to my big goal and at 15K I knew I had it. I’m still amazed that I ran a 1:58 half marathon but I think I’m more amazed that it didn’t seem that hard. Look at my finish video – usually I look awful, but this time – not so much. As I type this recap – I am still in a bit of disbelief that I had such a great race. Of course now this has me thinking about Around the Bay goals and what half marathons I want to attempt next year.
Also here is my pace chart for 9 Run Run – pretty steady.
Here is what my pace chart looked like for the Army Run:
I think I will write a whole other post on what I learned from this training cycle and on running strategy. In the mean time I am catching up on some sleep, marking and also getting ready for what I think might be a painful physio appointment tomorrow (FYI – don’t skip your hip mobility dynamic drills. My left hip is angry because I skipped this…). I am planning on running a 10KM race in two weeks and then calling it a season for the Fall. Thank you to everyone who has provided advice, encouragement and support during this training cycle. Stay tuned for another post soon about what I learned from this race and training cycle.