half marathon

Spring Racing, Canadian Half Marathon Championships and More…

This year has been a year of experiences. This weekend I capped off my spring season in Calgary at the Canadian Half Marathon Championships, my first national championships for running since cross country in 2008. In the past several weeks, I’ve taken in some races and venues that I’ll never forget, and most importantly I have been able to share this thing that I do with some family members that have never been able to see me race. It’s been incredibly rewarding to have such amazing support from all corners of the country, and I believe these last few months have made me a stronger athlete and person. So let’s recap!

WOODY’S RV WORLD MARATHON WEEKEND (10KM) – 2ND PLACE (36:01)

A week after the Bare Bones Duathlon, I wanted to do a 10km tune-up before Calgary. While I may have benefited from using the weekend for one last long run or tempo workout, but I had heard great things about the Woody’s RV World Marathon and wanted to take part. It didn’t hurt that there was a pretty decent prize purse on the line for all of the races. It was…an experience. Kieran McDonald showed up to race his hometown race, so I knew the win was likely going up the road as he put 4 minutes into me in St. Albert. I was coming into this one pretty hot at the end of my last big half marathon block, so my focus was to put in a solid effort, and maybe put up a decent time. However, after a solid pace for 4k those plans were scuttled by Mother Nature. A family of geese decided that it would be a good time to cross the course just as I was about to run by. As some of you know, I am TERRIFIED of geese. Petrified. I did what anyone would do in my situation…I stopped and waited for them to cross or someone to come to my rescue! Eventually a lead bike came back to scare them away, but not before Mama Goose and I had the stand-off of the century. I ended up cruising in for 2nd in 36:01, though my moving time was slightly closer to my half marathon pace (~34:55). At least I’ll have a story now!

Starting the Woody's RV World Red Deer 10k - 2nd place overall (36:01)

Starting the Woody’s RV World Red Deer 10k

CANADIAN HALF MARATHON CHAMPIONSHIPS – 21ST PLACE (1:15:51)

After Red Deer, it was half marathon time. The excitement slowly built while my training slowly tapered off, due to Calgary representing my spring focus. Though my #1 goal this season is a good performance at the National Duathlon Championships, it has helped to have a goal to strive towards this spring, with a bit of rest to look forward to afterwards. I love championship racing, and the Canadian Half Marathon Championships in Calgary fit the bill perfectly as something that I could get revved up for. It would also serve a dual purpose of providing an excuse for building up a ton of volume base in the spring before scaling back and sharpening up my speed during the summer. It would also give me a chance to spend some time with my youngest cousins in Calgary, and as I would later find out, to race the event with my Uncle!

I took the weekend off of work so that we would go down Saturday morning to the expo and pick up my race kit. I also squeezed in a quick race prep workout to scout out the start/finish of the race. With the Stampede Grounds getting a retro-fit for the weekend to create finish line right in front of the grandstand, it promised to be a heck of a finish! Race morning dawned EARLY due to the 6:30am start time. Like ungodly early. Good thing I slept a lot Friday night and Saturday afternoon, because 3:30am comes ridiculously fast. I am thankful for the early start though, because we woke up to perfect conditions (slightly overcast, 9 degrees, and calm wind conditions). The morning cool was a perfect calm before the storm, as I got in a good warm-up and was in a great headspace leading into the race. The race itself was a tale of two halfs: the first 7 miles, and the final 10k to the finish.

Working hard through 7km

Working hard through 7km

THE RACE

During the first half, I was feeling GREAT. Maybe it was adrenaline, or maybe I was just experiencing a perfect collision of peak physical fitness and a great headspace. After an initial surge the first 400m, I settled into a solid pace just under 5:40/mile (~1:14:30 pace). I was passed by the lead women’s pack (who started a bit more sensibly than I did) at about 5k, but from there I had a steady stream of casualties of the hot early pace up the road to drive me forwards. I also had the eventual bronze medalist in the women’s race, old university friend Dayna Pidhoresky, to push me and provide some motivation to keep the pace high for much of the race. I reached the 10km split in 35:24, and focused on the second half of the race.

It was around this point that I noticed two things: (1) that my legs were starting to rebel against me and (2) that I was struggling to get as much oxygen to my muscles as I am accustomed to. I expected the first, but glossed over the second in my preparations. I was still on my pace goals, but I knew that I was probably short a long run or two that would have made my preparations perfect. So I knew that the second half would be tough. What I didn’t account for was the altitude. Hamilton and Windsor are at sea level, while Edmonton is at ~2000′ and Calgary is at ~3500′. I’m still trying to adapt to training in a location higher than sea level, and racing in Calgary with the extra altitude and accompanying dry air was a bit of a struggle. I had wondered why results and records in Calgary were typically a tad slower than I knew those runners were capable of, and this is likely the answer. Browsing the results afterwards confirmed that it was indeed a tough day.

The stretch from 7 to 10 miles was a physical struggle. I just kept telling myself to keep the pace as steady as I could until 10 miles, and then anyone can suffer through the last 5km. I just put my eyes on whoever was up the road and focused on reeling them in, before moving on to the next athlete. Just before 10 miles, I turned to Dayna and huffed out “Let’s just get to 10 miles, and then there’s only 5k left”, which I think we both needed to hear at that point of the race! My 10 mile split was 56:54, a full 23 seconds faster than my time in St. Albert, but I was in a world of hurt. All I could do was grit my teeth and focus on getting to the line as fast as I could. That last 5km were a blur as I poured everything I had into it, and before I knew it I was re-entering Stampede Park and the last stretch. There were still two half marathoners just ahead of me as I entered the last corner, so I launched my final sprint and crossed the line in 1:15:51…a new PB which would be good for 21st overall at the National Championships!

Gutting it out to the finish in Calgary

Gutting it out to the finish in Calgary

FINAL THOUGHTS

I unexpectedly made a few appearances on the Athletics Canada live stream of the race, which you can view here. You can see me in all my glory at 10:55, and from 32:55 to 34:25. I also uploaded this race to Strava, so that you can check out my progress mile-by-mile.

While this result did come short of my goals, my philosophy is that you can never complain about a PB. I cam here to run fast, and I ran faster than I have ever done before in my life. Sounds like mission accomplished to me! Reflecting back on my spring season, I wouldn’t change a thing. I have a few days off to reflect and recover and this post is already getting super long, so expect a reflection post with my thoughts in the next week or two. I would like to thank all of my amazing supporters from all corners of the country, including my amazing team at Ignition Fitness, Skechers Performance Canada, and 3SIXTY5 Cycling. But right now I want to talk about an issue that popped up this weekend that is very important to me:

GETTING “CHICKED”

Honestly, ^^this^^ is likely the only time you’ll ever hear me use this phrase, which often comes out when a male is beaten by a female in a race…because I hate it. I think it’s something that we as endurance athletes need to exorcise from our vernacular, because it creates a stigma where there really shouldn’t be one. The thing I love about this sport is that it is 100% black and white. Regardless of our differences, all runners can be boiled down and compared via a series of numbers, and those numbers are simple and pure. Let’s look at some personal bests:

  • Runner A – 31:46 (10,000m)/31:49 (10km)/1:10:47 (HM)/2:28:00 (Marathon)
  • Runner B – 31:41 (10,000m)/31:59 (10km)/1:11:20 (HM)/2:35:16 (Marathon)
  • Runner C – 15:11 (5km)/31:35 (10km)/1:16:24 (HM)

Based on those numbers on paper, how would you expect those three runners to finish in a half marathon? If you guessed the order they are listed, then you would probably be right. And here’s the kicker…on Sunday you would have been: Runner A is Lanni Marchant, Runner B is Natasha Wodak, and Runner C is myself. I finished 21st overall behind these two ladies in Calgary…and there is no reason to believe anything else would have happened. In fact, without having Dayna (another incredibly talented athlete who is also faster than me on most days) to push me for most of the race, I likely would have finished even further behind. The fact of the matter is that I finished 21st at the Canadian Half Marathon Championships, behind 20 truly speedy Canadians. Nothing more, nothing less. So let’s remove this phrase and the attached stigma from our language, and appreciate these strong, talented and occasionally world class ladies for what they are: some seriously fast runners who work just as hard as you do, and who may beat you on one day or another. And there is not an ounce in shame in that :).

Until next time…keep Du’ing it!

Thrilled to be able to share this one with my Uncle Dennis, Aunt Jean, and cousins Karl and Jakob.

Thrilled to be able to share this one with my Uncle Dennis, Aunt Jean, and cousins Karl and Jakob.

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So It Begins! St. Albert Road Race

ARGH!! My writing game is way off. I have 3 drafts 95% of the way done but can’t seem to push them over the finish line, and here we are 1 official race into the season. If nothing else, I am prompt with my race reports so let’s get back on track with the St. Albert Road Race 10 Mile Run.

THE LEAD UP

When Tommy and I set my schedule, we did so knowing this year would probably be a growth year. With nothing really that big on the schedule until Duathlon Nationals in September, it would be a good opportunity to try some new races and experiment, and have some fun in 2015. So I’ve chosen races based on going back to my roots, and heading to locations that I have always wanted to go but have not had a chance. You can see my race schedule here.

The journey started on Sunday, back in the place where (amazingly) this all started. I still have a Polaroid somewhere of 10 year old Jesse in his very first cross country race, sprinting to the line through a snowstorm. So on Sunday, I went back for the historic St. Albert Road Race for the 10 miler. I did a little tune-up the weekend before this one, a small 5k that I won as part of a 20km day and after 10km steady in 43:00, but this was the official start to my year.
MEC 5K

THE RACE

Historically, this race has always been pretty quick. It has a very pro feel to it, with wide lanes coned off the whole way around the course. I also woke up to nearly perfect conditions of sun, 7 degrees and very little wind. Little did I know that this would be one for the ages. From the gun, I was part of an 8 person lead group that was quickly clear. The pace was probably a tad too rich for me right now (~5:20/mile), but there was no way I was about to put myself in no man’s land.

Waiting for the start horn

Waiting for the start horn

So I tucked into a pace I knew was probably too fast for me, praying that someone else from the group would eventually want to drop back with me…and soon. To my relief, at around 2 miles just that happened. We dropped back and worked well together through about the hill at the 4 mile mark before I set off alone. I felt very strong on the hill, which bodes well for future races, but from then on it would be a solo mission of suffering and limiting the damage.

Finishing up the south loop of the course

Finishing up the south loop of the course

The leaders were long gone by this point. I was holding out hope that someone would pop and come back to me, but that just didn’t happen. Those dudes were fast. In the past I have struggled and bled time when left alone, and I especially thought that would be true in this one. Though I did positive split (28:04/29:13), and I did slowly bleed time between 5 and 8 miles, I was able to rally in the last two miles. I even ran my last mile almost as fast as my first one (5:26 vs. 5:24)!

Pretty spent at the end of my first 10 miler

Pretty spent at the end of my first 10 miler, but helped along by my Skechers GOMeb Speed 3’s.

All in all, a successful season opener, 57:17 for 10 miles. Good race, fair course, and a new personal best. Going under 57:00 would have been nice, but I won’t complain. I raced a solid race, start to finish, and toughed out a long solo effort without completely cratering. My splits at 8km (27:58) and 10km (35:20) were also very encouraging. Thanks to all of my supporters and sponsors, especially to my parents and friend Steve for dragging themselves out of bed to cheer me on, and to Skechers Performance and Ignition Fitness for suiting me up and getting me ready. Next up for me is a rust buster duathlon in Penticton on May 9, before I test myself over 10km on May 17 and the half marathon on May 31. Hopefully I can keep the good times rolling and meet my goals of sub-33:00 for 10k and 1:15 for the half in those races. Should be a blast!

Cheers to good friends! Thanks for coming out Steve.

Cheers to good friends! Thanks for coming out Steve.

Half Marathon Adventures

So this year, Tommy and I decided to do a half marathon or two in the winter months. The idea behind it was the use the goal of a March half marathon as a good excuse to put in some big endurance work over the winter and build a massive base of volume, and then use the half to judge how we had done with it. It seemed like a good idea until the Polar Vortex decided to rear its ugly mug, which made training a little more difficult. However, I was still able to get in some long endurance runs, some great progressive long runs, and some solid threshold work heading into my race. And training in the cold and winter day in and day out really helped the mental toughness aspect of it!

Originally, the plan was to bust rust at the Re-Fridgee-Eighter 8 mile race in Waterloo two weeks out from Chilly, and then debut at the half in Burlington on March 2. However, the 2014 version of the Waterloo running series bumped the Re-Fridgee-Eighter back a week, making it too close to Chilly to be worth it. In its place we decided to head to Grimsby for the Family Day Half Marathon, and play it by ear.

It was kind of a risk to head to Grimsby, because it meant running two half marathons in a span of 14 days. As a result, I went into Grimsby super cautious and ready to pull the plug if anything didn’t feel right during the race. The idea here was just to get my feet wet at the distance and experience 13.1 miles of hard running in advance of Chilly, while not doing anything to compromise my A race. And if I could get under 1:18…bonus!!

I felt this one went very well. I went in eyes wide open and just hoped to hit the pace. The plan was to go out at Chilly pace for 5k, back off in the middle, and then try to close the last 5k hard. It was a sunny day, but cold (-12) and windy along the lake. I ended up all by my lonesome for 18k, because the top 2 guys went off the front very early, leaving me behind in 3rd. 5k was hit in just a shade under 18:00, feeling very smooth and strong, and I backed it off to 3:42’s from there. I was amazed at how fast the first 5k went by…it just felt like a training run compared to the shorter/faster races I was used to! After 5k however, the race started to drag on a little bit. Going through 8k and then 10k was daunting, as I started thinking that in every other race I had done, I would be finished instead of only halfway there! So mentally it was a little challenging, but my body was feeling well enough to press on.

At about 12k, two things happened: my stomach started to grumble, and my hip flexors were starting to lock up. The first should have been easy to solve…if my gel hadn’t been frozen in the cold! After a couple tries at it, I gave up eating as a lost cause and hoped all my long runs done without nutrition in my naive years would come in handy. As for my hip flexors, I had to make an assessment as to whether or not it was just race-related, which I felt it was. No one said half marathons were easy!

I hit 10 miles in a shade over 59flat, and geared up for the last 5k. Luckily, the 4th place gentleman had been shadowing my for 10km, and his footsteps were imminent at 16k, so I would finally have someone to work with. I just tried to focus on finishing strong over the last 5k while holding him off. I switched into race mode here, which is where I think I truly shine. I held him off until 18k, when he made the pass. I immediately hopped on his shoulder for a respite from the wind, and concentrated on not letting the elastic snap. I kept in contact over the overpass through 20k, and then felt another wind come. I decided to make my move, and easily put distance on my foe. I held strong to the finish, and crossed the line 3rd overall in 1:18:01, thanks to Warren Ringler for the push to the finish…I really needed that!

In the end, I was quite glad to do the full distance. It opened my eyes up wide to the difficulty of the distance, which ended up being invaluable experience for Chilly. I was exposed to the dangers of going out to hard and just trying to hang on for 21km…this distance isn’t like a 10k, where if a rough patch hits, survival mode kicks in! Even rough patches can be bounced back from when the race is this long. With this in mind, Tommy and I decided to plan on trying to run 3:35’s as long as I could at Chilly, and just to assess every 5km to see if the body was responding. And to hope for a nicer day on March 2.

GRIMSBY RESULT: 1:18:01 (3RD PLACE OVERALL)

Well…on March 2 I woke up to temperatures around -20, clouds, and a fresh coating of snow on the roads. Oh joy. The trip to Burlington and my preparations were uneventful, aside from the nerves. Despite the experience I gained in Grimsby, this would be the first time I would be “racing” a half marathon…Grimsby was more of a training day than anything. Right off the gun, I got myself at the back of a large front pack of 20-25 runners. There was a gusty wind that I wanted to protect myself from as long as possible. I stuck there until the first turnaround, where the pace got to quick for me. I pressed on alone at my pace for awhile before settling into a small group of 3 or 4, who I was able to work well with in the wind for the next 7km. I hit 10k in about 35:30, right on about 1:15 pace (which was the goal way back at the start of this). At this point, I was feeling good, and was maintaining a pretty consistent pace right around 3:33’s. I was able to maintain that (with some help) through 12k, when I had another pivotal moment of realization. Just like in Grimsby, I noticed two things at 12k. The first was a need to eat…thankfully my gel was not frozen this time, and I got that down, problem solved. The second thing would pose more difficulty, and would define my race.

I had started to feel the elements wearing me down. I hadn’t noticed the cold and wind all that much through the first half of the race, but at this point, the cold, the wind, and the spray coming off the wet roads were starting to wear on my legs. As long as I could stay in the group, I was able to hold on, but I could only stick in the group until 16k. After going through 10 miles in about 57:30, I was left isolated in the cold, and I switched into survival mode. The legs just started to cramp up, and it just got to be too much without anyone to work with. The last 5k passed slowly and agonizingly, and my paced crept up over 3:40/km as I just tried to get to the line. But I was able to cross in 1:16:24, a new PB by over 90 seconds, and a whole lot of lessons learned.

CHILLY RESULT: 1:16:24 (18TH PLACE OVERALL, 3RD PLACE IN M20-24)

All in all, I think we accomplished what we set out to accomplish this winter. I put some good miles in, got a good base under me, and got my feet wet at a distance that I think I have a real future at. I really enjoyed the half marathon distance, and wouldn’t hesitate to run another one. With some experience, I think I have a rapid improvement curve on the roads, and I’m really looking forward to cutting another two minutes off at my next half marathon! Thanks to Ignition Fitness for the coaching and guidance, Clif Bar for keeping my fueled in training and racing, Hamilton Runner’s Den and Dan Pauls for all the race advice and gear tips, and most importantly my beautiful girlfriend Emma for braving the cold and wind in both Grimsby and Burlington, for cheering me on and giving my your unwavering support during the races (with your awesome sign!) and in all the hours of training and preparation for these races.

Additional thanks go out to Zac and Julia for providing transportation to Grimsby. In your name, here is a poem:

“I ran my first half out in Grimsby
The course was a scenic one by the sea
Thanks to Julia and Zac
We got there and back
And came home with a shiny new PB!”

Grimsby Half Marathon – 1:18:01 (3rd)
Chilly Half Marathon – 1:16:24 (18th)