Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Got My Mojo Workin': The Scotiabank Half

Me & My Pace Bunnies; Joseph & Victor
Mojo as defined by the Urban Dictionary:
1. Self confidence or self assuredness.  As is basis for belief in oneself in a situation.
2.  Good luck charm or fetish
3.  Ability to bounce back from a debilitating trauma or negative attitude.

After the less than stellar year I had last year (personally and athletically) I had vowed that this year was going to be better.  I wanted to get my mojo back.  In early December last year, I started to formulate a plan to get my mojo working again.  It was going to culminate in the Scotiabank Half Marathon.  The scene of my epic meltdown the previous year.

My entire racing year was focused on this race.  The plan for another half marathon hat trick came about in early December last year after a dismal attempt at running a Boston qualifier.   I figured focusing on running a fast half would be more helpful if I decided to attempt another full down the road.  The addition of a rather challenging goal time came about sometime in January.   I figured since I was turning 40 this year, a 1:40 half would be a good goal.  I knew it would be a challenge given that my PB for a half was 1:43:38 and that was done when I was 33 years old.  I knew I'd have my work cut out for me.  But I'm certainly not afraid of a little hard work.

Fast forward to May of this year.  I ran the Toronto Women's Half in 1:41:37.  I certainly didn't expect a result like that so quickly.  My goal for that race was to go around 1:45 or just under.  It was at that point that I knew 1:40 would be easily attainable.  Gary suggested I set a "hard" goal.  So, I figured I'd aim for 1:35.  That would be tough.   I trained fairly well throughout the summer.  I hit the gym on a regular basis and I continued to race.

After an epic Thanksgiving weekend, I was feeling really run down and on the verge of getting sick.  I doused myself with everything imaginable from Cold FX to oil of oregano to tons of Vitamin C.  I slept well and took it easy.  By mid week I felt totally back to normal.  I scaled back on my weights to let my legs recoup.  I focused on my nutrition and eating as cleanly as possible, trying to stay away from my nemesis, sugar.   I had a very successful taper until the day before the race.  Which is what always seems to happen.

The friends whose place we've been staying in were coming back on Saturday.  We have rented an apartment that we took possession of on Saturday so that day was spent packing and running around.  We hadn't grocery shopped because we were moving so I was eating whatever I could find in the fridge.  That meant a lot more carbs and lot less veggies.  Gary brought our friends back from the airport around 5:00 pm and we hemmed and hawed about what to have for dinner.  It was going to be take out, which I was not too keen on.  We settled on Swiss Chalet.  Now I *could* have opted to have a salad with my 1/4 chicken dinner but alas, I did not.  I had the fries.  Bad choice as I would find out the next day.

I slept relatively well given how nervous I was.  I woke up at 4:44 am.  Coincidentally that was the pace per km needed for me to run a 1:40 half.  I thought that was kind of ironic and rolled over to go back to sleep.  I dozed on and off until about 5:30 when I just said screw it and got up.   I showered, put on my race gear and wandered downstairs to eat breakfast and try to relax.

Gary and I got down to the baggage check area at about 8:00 am.  It was freezing so I opted to wear my long sleeve Running Free top over my t-shirt, singlet and arm warmers.  I was thankful for the disposable gloves that our friend John had given me the day before.  I got all my stuff out of my bag, dumped it at the baggage check and went back to find Gary.  I had to do a warm up so while I was doing that Gary went off to get a coffee.  I ran west along Dundas at an easy clip.  About 2 minutes in I started to get a stitch.  Uh-oh.  I backed off a bit as I turned down McCaul.  I ran down to Queen St and turned around and the stitch got worse and worse.  Crap.  This was NOT what I needed.  I worked at breathing through it and by the time I got back to Dundas and University, I was nicely warmed up and the stitch had somewhat subsided.  I was a little worried though.   One stitch usually means that more are inevitable.  Victor, my pace bunny and fellow West Toronto Pacer, put it down to nerves but I knew better.  I was silently cursing my poor dinner choice from the night before.

Victor, Joseph (another West Toronto Pacer) and I decided we'd make our way down to the start line and try to hit the porta potties for one last time.  It was complete chaos around the corrals and the porta potties.  The line ups were insane so we decided to run into the maze of office buildings off of University to find a spot to pee.  Easier for the boys than myself but I managed to find a bit of greenery to duck behind.  I was joined by a few other ladies.  Ah sometimes us runners have no shame.  But when nature calls you gotta do what you gotta do.  I met back up with Victor and Joe and we made our way to the corrals.  They had moved the start line south from last year's start and for some reason the organization of the corrals seemed to be a lot more chaotic.  It was difficult to get in and the line ups to get in were ridiculous.  We had to try to fight through all the slower runners to get down to the faster corrals.  Ridiculous.  So we opted to run along the outside and head down to the bottom where we could see some other runners getting in.  We climbed over a small brick wall and slid in to the small entrance at the back of the yellow corral, which by the way was quite empty.  We made our way to the front of our corral just in front of the 1:40 pace bunny.  Our goal was to position ourselves right at the back of the red corral in front of us so we weren't trying to dodge too many people.

We spent a few minutes chatting and then I heard the National anthem so I knew it was almost go time.  All the runners started to move up towards the start line.  I took a deep breath and hit play on my ipod and the Beatles "Revolution" started my half marathon playlist.
"This is it, I thought.  My A-race.  Let's see what I'm made of."
As we made our way up to the line, I said to the guys "Let's DO this!" and Victor let out a cheer as did Joe and we were off.  I tucked behind Victor and Joe as much as possible.  We had to dodge a few people but we started off very conservatively.  Victor said we'd start to pick up the pace at around 2km once the crowd thinned out a bit.  Of course I was worried we were going too slow but I just focused on following Victor.  I always go out too fast and I asked Victor to pace me to keep me from doing that, so I had to trust that he would keep me in check.

Just before 2km we saw Carm and then Gary, both of whom got an enthusiastic wave from me.  I'm pretty sure I was grinning.  I was feeling really good.  My heart rate was nice and low and we were turning over a pretty good pace (around 4:45's) and most importantly, I was feeling comfortable.  We lost Joe just past 2km as he had to hit the porta potty again.  He said he'd catch up be we never saw him again.  We made our way around the Distillery District and then headed down Parliament to the Lakeshore.  I knew once we made the turn on to Lakeshore that we'd be heading into the wind and that's when the real work would begin.   Sam Roberts "The Graveyard Shift" was playing and I liked the rhythm of the song so much, it got played twice.

We turned onto Lakeshore and immediately Victor gestures for me to tuck behind him.  The wind isn't too bad here as we're still relatively sheltered.  I checked our splits at the 3km mark and we are slightly off a 1:35 pace.  That's ok.  I wanted to negative split this race so I was ok with going slower on the way out.  I figured we'd have the wind kind of at our backs on the way back in so that would help push us along.  I saw Gary again at 4km and gave him another wave.  Just before we hit the 5km mark, I could feel another stitch starting.  I held my abs tight and tried to breathe through it.  I took a Roctane and some fluids and that seemed to help.  It didn't develop into anything major but it was slightly annoying.  By 6km it was gone.  This happened on and off throughout the entire race, getting progressively worse each time.  Not good.

We motor along past the Exhibition and the wind gets quite nasty around here.  People had spread out a lot so Victor was trying to draft off of anyone and everyone we caught up to.  We were still moving a long at a pretty good clip but falling a bit farther off a 1:35 pace as we went along.  Again, I was not too concerned.  As we hit Jamieson, I saw my friend Myles cheering and waved to him.  Shortly after we got to catch a glimpse of the lead marathoners passing us on their way back.  Reid Coolaset was right up there in the mix.  AWESOME!  We came up on the 10km timing mat and I checked my watch and all I saw was 45: something.  "That's cool, I'm good".  We were running slightly slower than a 4:30/km pace.  We were heading towards the turnaround at Windermere where I knew I'd have a bunch of friends waiting to cheer me on.  I hadn't stopped at any aid stations yet, I had just been sipping from my Nathan flask.  Sipping being the operative word.  I told Victor I was going to grab some water at the Parkside water station.

Ran into the water station and gulped down a half cup of Gatorade.  Caught back up to Victor just as he was pulling up to the 3:15 marathon group.  80 year old running legend Ed Whitlock was in that group, looking as fresh as a daisy, smiling away.  Victor cheered him on as we passed.   The crowds down at the Windermere turnaround were simply amazing.  Lakeshore is a huge boulevard with a nice little "island" in the middle of it so both sides of the boulevard AND the island were lined with spectators.  My friend Sue was going to be in town so she said she'd be on the island probably with our friends Pat & Jenn and their daughter Reese.  I told Victor I was going pull out a bit and look for them.  Sure enough I saw them before they saw me.  I waved and yelled woohoo as I ran by.  We made the turnaround and then I heard my name again.  I looked over to see Linnea and Glenn on their bikes on the south side of the road.  They rode along the course for a while cheering on myself and other runners.

I was expecting the wind at my back to make things feel a lot easier than it did.  Oh well.  I was getting surprisingly warm and had already lost (literally) my arm warmers so I figured it was finally time to ditch the gloves.  I tossed them and grabbed another gel.  I tucked behind Victor again as we motored up the hill at the Legion.  Gary had told me if I still felt good with 5km left that I should just give 'er.  I think I was so excited that I started to push the pace around the 14km mark.  It didn't help that Diana, another West Toronto Pacer, passed me like I was standing still.  I wanted to keep her in my sights.  I was still feeling really good.  My legs weren't sore or hurting at all but I was definitely working as my heart rate was hovering around 170.  At about 16km I started to notice that my vision was blurring.  Crap.  I had this happen to me once before.  Last summer at the Welland Half when we did the relay, I was overheating and dehydrated and I started to see what looked like heat waves (like what you see radiating off the pavement on a hot day) in my peripheral vision in both eyes.  That same thing was happening.  I was having trouble focusing.  I was starting to get panicky.  My breathing started to get a bit more ragged and I could feel another stitch forming.  I had to try and remain calm.  I didn't want to stop and walk.  That didn't help me last time so I continued running and didn't say anything to Victor.

The heat waves continued until just before 19km when the mother of all stitches started.  It was like someone was stabbing me under the rib cage.  I let out an audible groan and shoved my thumb under my rib.  Victor asked if I was ok and I grunted that I had a stitch.  He said we could slow down, that we were way head of my goal pace (he was thinking I was still aiming for sub 1:40).  He said we only have about 10 minutes left and asked if I could gut it out.  I couldn't answer him as I was trying to breathe through the stitch.  I didn't want to slow down.  No way.  Not this close to the finish.  We ran up the hill at the Spadina off ramp and on the way down I noticed that my stitch was subsiding.  As I got to the bottom of the hill, I also noticed that my vision issues has cleared up.  I figured there was less that 2km to go, I was going to let loose.  I was hurting but I still had *something* in the tank.  I wanted to leave it all on the course.

The next thing I knew, we were running up Bay Street and I saw the 500m to go sign.  I turned to Victor in disbelief an said "What?!  Only 500m to go?  Let's book it!"  Victor said he had nothing and that I should just go.  I didn't need any prompting, I knew I was going to be cutting it close to 1:35.  Adrenaline surged through my fatigued body, giving me new life as I made my way under the Bay Street bridge.  It was dark so I pulled off my sunglasses.  The last thing I wanted to do was trip in my final 300m to the finish line!   As I came out from under the bridge and saw the crowds that lined the finishing chute, I was completely overcome with emotion.  I fought back tears as I busted my butt up Bay street, with Gogol Bordello's "Wonderlust King" blaring in one ear.  I heard my name and saw Gary and waved, then my friend Tara, then my friends Deanne & Fred.  What a boost.  I could see Diana about 100m ahead of me, crossing the finish line.  I sprinted as hard as I could to the line, grinning from ear to ear.  I didn't even look at my watch.  I knew I just made it under 1:35.   I caught up to Diana and put both my hands on her shoulders and she turned around in surprise.  We congratulated each other on a great race.  Victor finished shortly thereafter.  We got our medals, got some food and our foil blankets, and I gave each of them a hug.  Diana for having an awesome race and Victor for being an amazing pace bunny.  Without him I'm not sure I could have managed to have pulled off my final time of 1:34:48.

When I finally found Gary after waiting in line for my bag for OVER AN HOUR, he told me I was 8th in my age group.  I almost started crying again.  To break the top 10 in a race of this magnitude was simply amazing.  I found out later on that I actually ended up 6th in my age group.   Even more mind boggling.  Two days later and I'm still kind of in shock.

I never imagined at 40 that I'd have the best season of my life (to date).  I had vowed at the end of last year that I was going to make 40 the best year possible.  And it has surpassed my wildest dreams.  I couldn't have done it without the support & guidance of my amazing husband (& sometimes coach) my friends, training partners (go WTP and Team Running Free) family and co-workers.   Thank you all for making this journey an amazing one.

I'm already looking forward to next year.  Plans are being formulated.  I'm definitely going to try and tangle with the 26.2 mile monster once again.  Should be another entertaining journey.  Hope you'll all continue to "come along for the ride".

Happy Trails....

P.S.  I actually managed to negative split this race.  I ran the first 10km in 45:33 and the last 11.1km in 49:16.  Average pace for the first 10km was 4:33's.  Average pace for the last 11.1km was 4:26's.  YES!


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