After the debacle of the Goodlife Toronto Half Marathon 18 months ago, where I resorted to walking to the finish, the Scotia race in 2013 was a much happier occasion for me. Following the Toronto Triathlon Festival in July of this year, I was on the fence about signing up for another half marathon. After all, my track record hasn’t been great with races of this distance – either it goes really well (1:31, 1:32, 1:32, and 1:34 finishes in 2007-2009), or really poorly (2:17, 2:10, 2:06, 1:59) as I tend to blow up and walk to the finish.
To sign up or not to?
Following a discussion with local, well-known running coach Darren Weldrick of The Urban Athlete and The Runway, I decided to sign up for the half marathon. We figured, I’d have several weeks to put in some solid mileage, so I should be able to at least finish the race. Given my triathlon fitness from earlier in the season, I thought that I did have a reasonable mileage base, even if I was running 2-3x per week at most throughout the triathlon season.
I followed a simple schedule of doing quality workouts on Tuesday and Thursday, with easy runs on Monday and/or Wednesday, and a long run on Sunday. I found that a lot of other running coaches I talked to really overcomplicate things. For most of us mere mortals, consistency does great things! I wasn’t officially coached with a plan, target paces, power zones, or what-have-you, but I just made sure I did my runs, kept the consistency up, and attended the group workouts when I could.
Race day went really well. I had set a goal of sub 1 hour and 40 minutes. Thankfully, I was able to take the Go Train downtown on race morning. As a result, I headed to my gym, the Toronto Athletic Club, to warm up on the treadmill and to use the facilities. This allowed me a stress-free race prep, as I headed out of the gym at 8:35 am, and jogged over to the race start for 8:45 am, without having to brave the 3 degrees Celsius temperatures on a brisk Autumn morning!
Immediately when the gun went off, I settled into a slower pace, intending to gradually work myself up to goal race pace, knowing that I’d make up time later in the race. Two or three kilometres into the race, my breathing started to open up and my legs started to feel less heavy. It was perfect timing as I was bombing across Bloor and down Bathurst, being shielded from the wind by the immense pack of runners and buildings. I really enjoyed the slight downhill of Bathurst, although I did find running across TTC streetcar tracks difficult. I really had to keep my eyes on the ground to ensure I didn’t roll my ankle!
I hit each aid station with the intent of grabbing water, and I managed to do so. I had a hand-held gel flask with 4 gels in there, which, in retrospect, was too much.
When I reached Lakeshore, and turned westbound, the pack immediately got broken up by a steady headwind. Unfortunately, I was stuck in no-mans-land, with the headwind taking chunks out of my kilometre splits. I alternated drafting with a taller guy, but in the end, we both admitted it was futile trying to keep whatever great pace we had coming down Bathurst. At the turnaround point at Ellis, I checked my watch, and noticed that I was a few minutes ahead of goal time. As a result, I “shut it down” and slowed the intensity a bit, to ensure that I was able to finish without burning too many matches. The closing kilometres were done with the wind at my back, and they felt pretty decent.
I did, however, forget how difficult coming up Bay Street was. After all, mapmyride.com suggests that the climb up Bay Street to the finish line is a Category 5 climb (in Cyclist’s speak, that refers to a difficult grade that is more difficult than a standard hill – whatever that is!). Either way, I slowed even further to savour my first finish (without the infamous blowup) across the finish line without having stopped to walk!