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Spring Training Report – Harry’s Spring Run Off and Paris to Ancaster

As a baseball fan (and proud member of Bucs Nation…let’s go Bucs), spring is often my favourite time of year. Why? Because it’s Spring Training of course! Spring Training is a time for shaking off the rust, trying some new things, and for the players to get their heads back around the daily grind that is the MLB season. It is also the time to get that hands-on practice on an outdoor field of play, something that just cannot be simulated indoors. As a duathlete, my Spring Training is a little bit different. Duathlons don’t start until mid-May, so my “Spring Training” consists of road races, the occasional bike race, and lots of saddle time on the roads, the trainer and at the track. This year I have the added bonus of a early spring A Race at the Provincial Sprint Duathlon Championships in Harrow on May 10, and to prepare for it I raced the Harry’s Spring Run-Off 8k at High Park on April 5, and the legendary Paris to Ancaster 65km bike race on April 27.

P2A Start Wave

My start wave at Paris to Ancaster

After Chilly, Tommy and I flipped over to a bike focus. So my weekly Thursday threshold intervals on the roads turned into tough sustained race efforts on the trainer, and we added in a second long endurance ride during the week. Despite upping the ante on the bike, I still chose to open up my spring at one of my favourite races on the Ontario circuit, Harry’s Spring Run-Off. This race is the season opener of the Canada Running Series, and is held on the traffic free roads of High Park. It is one of my favourite all-time race courses, a course that loops through quiet scenic roads and includes long killer hills during the 4th and last kilometers of the race. The last hill up Spring Road is sure to bust your legs if they aren’t already at that point! I knew the bike focus might have an effect on my result, but Harry’s is always a great way to assess winter running fitness. Emma came along with me, and we made a weekend of it!

Emma and Jesse

Always there for me, even in the cold and wind 🙂

I raced this one from the red corral, where I positioned myself just off the back of a stacked elite field. This enabled me to follow the big dogs out onto the race course, leading to a speedy 3:04 first kilometer. A little hot, but that first kilometer is also slightly downhill (at least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself). After that I settled into a nice pace and just tried to work the hills hard. They aren’t easy, demonstrated by the fact that I likely gave back 40 seconds while climbing them. However, I ended up in 15th place overall in a time of 27:21, an excellent result given the bike focus and the windy and high of 5 conditions of the day. Having only done 2 real short course running workouts since November, this result does give me great confidence that my run fitness is on track for Iron Hawk.

HSRO Bib

27:21 for 15th Overall, 2nd in M20-24

After a down week and a 2 very excellent weekends of endurance-focused training, I entered the biggest training week of h my duathlon career, culminating with the 65km Paris to Ancaster gravel bike race on the Sunday. A great week of training left me a little tired on the line, but this race was about participation instead of competition. It was a chance to experience my first pure cycling race (in all its muddy glory), and to put myself in a race situation with absolutely no pressure to produce a result. If you have never heard of Paris to Ancaster, do yourself a favour and Google this legendary race. 65km of mud, forests, farm lanes, gravel, dirt roads and more mud…one sector of the race is so infamously muddy that it is dubbed the “Mudslide of Death”. Needless to say, it was one that I needed to cross off my bucket list once I got myself a cyclocross bike.

P2A Start Line

The Start Line in Paris

The day didn’t start off great, as I missed my bus to Ancaster and thus had to ride my cross bike 15km up the mountain to Ancaster at 7am…an inauspicious start. But with more than 3 hours until my wave start it didn’t hurt me all that much, and the extra volume didn’t matter much during what was not supposed to be more than a glorified long ride. I also could have done a better job seeding myself, as I like could have shaved 15-20 minutes off my time by starting at the back of Wave 2 instead of the back of Wave 3. That decision led to a lot of soft-pedaling and weaving around slower traffic until it opened up a bit. But once it opened up, I settled in to a pattern of picking up ground and dragging a paceline up to the next group on the tame stuff, then losing it all back in the mud. During the rail trail sections I found myself more than happy to hop on the front and drag an indecisive group along (it’s not like I have a time trial style race in a couple weeks or anything), which was great for the confidence. I ended up walking a lot of the muddy stuff though, as I just don’t have the bike handling skills to pedal through 3 inches of mud. At the finish, I still had the legs to pass 30 people and ride the whole Martin Rd hill, and crossed the line pleased with a good hard day of training!

 

Martin Rd

Climbing the Martin Road Hill!

#1023

A muddy 65km in 2:45:45

As always, big thanks to Emma to trooping it out to Toronto for Harry’s and again to Ancaster to see me finish (and take some awesome pictures!) the Paris to Ancaster race. She’s the best! All in all, April was a month of great training and great experiences as I prepare for the Provincial Sprint Duathlon Championships at the Iron Hawk Duathlon in Harrow. It will be my first test of my duathlon fitness, where I will be looking for a top 10 finish against a stacked field and hopefully a personal best sub-60 minute time to start my multisport season off on the right track! Thanks to Ignition Fitness for the continued support, and to Clif Nutrition, Felt Bicycles and Wheels of Bloor for making sure I have all the right tools for success from my April races into Iron Hawk.

Until next time, keep Du’ing it!

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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)