On March 26th I ran my sixth Around The Bay Road Race in Hamilton, Ontario. The last time I ran it was 2011. It’s a fun race, and it fits well in the schedule when training for a spring marathon. Normally I’ve run it as a long run, but this time was different. This year it would be a test to see where I am in my training for my “A” race, which is the Mississauga Marathon.
My training leading up to this race was good. I wasn’t suffering from any injuries, and actually felt ready to run fast. However, the Tuesday before the race I came down with shin splints in my left leg. For me, this usually means that I need new shoes. The pain was bad enough for me to abort my tempo run and go home and ice it. Cue the worrying. I had new shoes, but I’d never worn them, and I didn’t really want to race in BRAND NEW SHOES! That’s a huge no-no. But I really didn’t have any other choice. What I ended up doing was wearing them for Wednesday’s recovery run, then also wearing them to work for the rest of the week. I figured that this would give me enough of a break-in period that they’d be good for Sunday. In the end, this worked out very well. Also, the shin splints disappeared the next day, and didn’t come back. I guess my assessment was correct.
I spent the day before the race recovering from a big hang-over from the night before. Those that know me know that I enjoy beer. Specifically, craft beer. Friday night was the Toronto Winter Brewfest. I drank a few too many 4oz samplers, and the whisky shots my friends and I drank didn’t help matters at all. I opted not to do the 3km shake out run on account of how I felt, plus the weather was terrible (cold, windy, and rainy). Instead, I napped and drank a LOT of water. By the afternoon I was feeling fine again. More hydrating and some careful eating rounded out my evening. The weather forecast for Hamilton showed rain (maybe even freezing rain) and some wind. Awesome.
Sunday morning went well; I had my go to pre-race breakfast of oatmeal, greek yogurt, banana and coffee. My friend picked me up at 7:30, and after a quick stop at Tims for another coffee, we were on the way. Traffic was pretty light the whole way to the Hammer. Once we got there, we found some parking, and headed to the bag check. Temperatures were good (around 5 degrees) but it was very windy. I hoped that we wouldn’t be facing that for too much into the race. The other thing I worry about a lot (besides fuelling properly) is my choice of gear. This time, I chose correctly. Cap, no toque, ENDURrun jacket with a long sleeve Nike top underneath, and my Pearl Izumi tights. I usually wear them if there’s chance for rain, because they have better protection in the front. I wore my new ASICS shoes, since over the week I broke them in well, and they felt good. I didn’t want to chance wearing my old shoes and having shin splints in the first few kms.
We ditched our stuff, then hung out in Jackson Square until about 9:10am, then headed out to warm up. This consisted of a very easy run around the block and through the corrals, then some walking lunges, and leg swings. I felt pretty good. Then we lined up and waited for the race to start.
My original race plan as discussed with my coach was to start slow (ie. 6:00min/km) and slowly get faster over the course. If I were able to finish at 5:30min/km, that would be awesome. It would likely put me somewhere around my 2011 time of 2:51:51. On Saturday night, going over the race and my training, I thought I would try and start the race with my friend Sharon, and hang on as long as I could. She’s a very steady runner, but has pretty much one speed. She always runs around a 5:20min/km pace, and I thought that would be good experience for me. As my coach said when I started training with her, races are for racing. I was also curious where my fitness level put me. I felt great throughout the past 3 months of speed/hills, and felt it would be good to put it to the test.
Despite having run this course 5 previous times, I remembered that the course changed in the last few years to accomodate some construction to the train bridge over the hill at the 27km mark (THE HILL, as it’s known). I assumed that the rest of the course was more or less the same. Big mistake. The first 11km of the course is totally different from when I ran it last. It now goes close to the waterfront, and runs along Burlington St. aka Nikolai Tesla Parkway, a raised highway similar to the Gardiner in Toronto. This highway runs through the steel plants, and lowers to ground level and raises up several times. This introduces some significant rolling hills into the first 10km. Also, since the highway is raised up off the ground, there is very little to shelter you from the wind. The whole way along this highway we had a brutal headwind. However, I was pleasantly surprised that after 10km I’d managed to hold the 5:30 pace we started with, and my legs felt good. No soreness or fatigue. The shoes were working well. The only real issue I had (and this persisted through the race) were that my socks were bothering me. Both were bunching slightly under the balls of my feet, and making things a bit uncomfortable. Not painful, not unmanageable, and (in my mind) not worth stopping to fix, since they’d likely just continue to bother me. As long as it didn’t become a hinderance, I elected to just leave them.
I took my first gel at 10km. My plan was to take them every 45 minutes, but the water stations were oddly spaced out. The web site said they’d be every 5km, but the first one showed up at 4km, and the next after 10km. This continued throughout the race. I elected to wait longer to take my gels, because I figured I’d need them later on, and I’d rather not run out. I did what you suggested and downed the gel right before the station, and that worked well. It was nice that ATB actually has signs warning you that the water stations are up ahead. I was most worried that I’d be surprised and have to fumble around too much. Drinking from a cup is something I need to practice; the first one I basically dumped all down the front of my jacket. But I got the hang of it.
Once we hit 10km we then turned north along East Port drive, and the drawbridge. This part was nice and flat, and we got into a great groove. Wind was now a cross wind, but we were somewhat sheltered by the houses on the right and the QEW on the left. I was very happy with how I felt at this point in the race, strong, and no issues to speak of.
At 18km we were now entering Burlington and the rolling hills. This is where things started to get difficult for me. After the first hill, I really started to feel fatigued. And they kept coming. And coming. The long slow uphill point between 21km and 24km drained the life out of me. You can see in my stats that there was a big drop in pace and HR. At that point, I took a gel, and walked to catch my breath. My legs felt so dead, and I started having those mental doubts as to whether I could hold on to this pace for the final 9km. My friend was having some issues too, I think, but she stayed quiet. We both got to the top, and on the way down recovered and found our pace again.
Finally the descent on Spring Garden Road, and the big hill. I high-fived the guy blaring WE WILL ROCK YOU at the bottom of the hill, and started up. I managed to run about half way up before taking my one and only walk break of the race. I was gasping for air, and just needed to get my breathing under control. I think I walked 150-200m; then started up again. Once I got to the top, I slowly got back into the groove and did 5:30 pace or better from there right to the end. My friend dropped me at the hill, and in the end she finished maybe 30-40 seconds in front of me.
So here’s a summary of the good and not-so-good from the race:
- Beat my time from 6 years ago by 5 minutes
- Managed to keep an average pace of 5:32min/km over the course of the race, and for much of it.
- Only walked once for 200m (last time I ran this I did 10-1s)
- sock issues (note to self, never wear those socks to a race again!)
- fuelling issues (need to better plan when I fuel if the water stations don’t fall exactly where they should)
- posture and form (back started to hurt towards the end from my shoulders crunching in. Need to be more aware of that)
- mental game needs work (too much negative thoughts when the going got tough, need to work on pushing that out)