Sub 2 at Run for the Grapes Half Marathon

IMG_20140928_105841_019While this year has been jam-packed with races, new distances, and PBs, my number one goal in 2014 was to run a sub-2 hour half-marathon. Even more important than running my first marathon (which I will be doing in 27 days!) was to achieve this goal and on Sunday I did it! I raced the Run for the Grapes Half Marathon in St. Catharines and ran with my boyfriend Nick the entire way. After three pretty significant hills in the final 500 meter stretch, we crossed the finish line holding hands in 1:58:33. Cheesy, I know but in an effort to get a frame-worthy finish line photo, we went all out.

Now to give you some perspective, let’s talk numbers. 4 months ago I ran my slowest half-marathon ever at the Mississauga Half-Marathon in 2:38:46. Now, to be fair I was coming off 2 months of no running due to a freak allergy attack I had back in February, so to say I wasn’t bringing my A-Game to that race would be an understatement. If we forget about that race, my second fastest half-marathon was the Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon in 2012 where I ran 2:13:44 on virtually no training and was left immobile for 3 days after the race (please don’t try this.) Last year I ran 2:14:45 at the Seawheeze Half-Marathon and that was probably my best 21.1K performance prior to this one as I trained for it, raced it strong, and recovered really well. My goal for Seawheeze was 2:15, so I was very happy with my result.  I’m sharing these numbers to show that progress doesn’t happen overnight. It can take months, or in my case, years to reach a certain goal, and there will be roadblocks along the way, but each run you complete and each step you take will bring you closer to that goal.

Despite being a ball of nerves on Saturday night, I woke up feeling good and rested on Sunday morning, ate my pre-race breakfast of oatmeal, strawberries, pumpkin seeds, topped with a bit of maple syrup and had a relaxing drive to St. Catharines with Nick and my parents. The race was a small one, only 220 people in the half-marathon, so packet pick-up was quick, easy and stress-free. After we got our race kits, we went for a quick warm-up run around the block and did some strides in the parking lot. The race started at 9am and we settled into a comfortable pace right away. There were a couple hills within’ the first 1-2 kilometres, but we took them easy to make sure we didn’t tire ourselves out too early. The majority of the race was run on country roads with very few people around. The scenery was nice, but there were significant gaps between people and I feel like we ran most of the race on our own, passing people every kilometre or so. I wonder if we would have run faster if there had been a pace bunny or a faster group of people we could have run with.

Around half-way things started to hurt. I knew that this race was going to hurt, but I always forget how much running fast hurts between races! Around 13K or so I remember saying to Nick “this is really hard” and he just nodded his head and we kept running. Nick did a really great job of helping me keep up the pace, always running just a little bit ahead of me so that I couldn’t really back down or ease up. I’m grateful he did this because there were a significant number of hills in this race that I wasn’t expecting, so it made all the difference that we were running above goal pace because those hills did slow us down. By 18K, I knew we were going to do it. We had 20 minutes left to run 3 kilometres and I wasn’t going to let us dip below 5:40/km.  Around 19K I decided to give us both a pep talk and I said to Nick “We’re going to do this. We’re going sub freakin’ 2 and we’re going to do it because of all the early morning runs and bike rides and swims we did this summer. We worked so hard to get here and we’re going to reach our goal!” Nick told me later that he was feeling a bit unsure of himself at that point, but my pep talk kept him focused. Yeah!

IMG_20140928_105841_030During the last kilometre we passed about 3 or 4 people as we made our way up not 1, not 2, but 3 hills. It was tough seeing people stop to walk, and I yelled out to one guy “these are some pretty ill-placed hills, eh?” and he nodded in agreement. Once the last hill was over, it was a 100m dash to the finish line! There wasn’t really anyone around us when we finished and we could see my family clearly right at the finish line. I don’t know if a managed a smile or not as we crossed the line, but I know that I looked like I gave everything I had to cross that line in under 2 hours. Finishing this race was a culmination of all the training I’ve done this summer, and most importantly, it was a triumph of mental strength. Running without anxiety is still a fairly new experience for me, and to say that I got through a whole summer of training and racing without it, is the best thing ever.  I know that in the future there will be other races where I will run faster than 1:58:33, or further than 21.1 kilometres but this race will always hold a special place in my heart.

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Thoughts On My Longest Run Ever

Today I ran 28 kilometres and it was not fun. It was the last 8k that really took the “fun” out of the long run, but for the first time this summer I found myself questioning whether or not I can actually run a marathon. Considering I just wrote a blog post about “Why I Wasn’t Ready To Run A Marathon 6 Months Ago, But I Am Now”, this came as a bit of a shock. Now, I know that this feeling of doubt and frustration is common as we’re really getting into the thick of marathon training and the fall season isn’t too far away. If you are part of any sort of online running community, you’ll notice that right about now is when people start posting about injuries, self-doubt, and are dropping their distance from the full to the half. I should note that I think this is a perfectly respectable decision as I’d rather race smart in a shorter distance than push myself to injury or burn0ut in a longer distance.

The first 20k of our run today was great, and it was only around 21k that things started to take a dark turn. A couple pleas of “I don’t think I can do this” turned into “this hurts so much” and “this is the hardest thing I have ever done” and “I don’t think I can run a marathon” and eventually “can we stop?” Luckily, my boyfriend Nick calmly listened to me complain and just as calmly said, “no, we can’t stop” and so we didn’t. We ran all 28 kilometres from City Place to the West Toronto Railpath, from High Park to the Lakeshore, and finally along the Don River Trail to Pottery Road. As we were walking home, the pain in my knees started to subside, my heart rate returned to normal, and my mind calmed down a bit. I apologized to Nick for being so over-dramatic on our run today and started thinking about all the other running “firsts” that I’ve completed and how what used to seem really challenging is easier now.

I remember the first time I ran 8 kilometres. It was on a hot summer day along the Lisgar Trail in Mississauga. I remember busting through the front door of my parent’s home, begging my mom for water, bent over and gasping for breath. That run, at the time, was the hardest thing I had ever done and it hurt like crazy. That fall I went on to run my first 10K and then the following year, my first-half marathon. Those runs were both really tough the first time I did them too, but now they are distances that I am familiar with and feel comfortable racing. Until today, the longest I had ever run was 25 kilometres. This was my first go at 28k so it makes sense that it hurt and it was hard and it made me want to cry. I wasn’t thinking so rationally as I was running, but as I had some time to reflect this afternoon, I can see that my reaction was completely normal. Do I think that running 28k is fun? No. Am I nervous about the 30k run that I have to do next Saturday? Yes. Will there ever come a day when 28k runs don’t feel so awful? I don’t know, I hope so.

When I texted my coach to tell him “That was the most painful thing I have ever done and I want to cry”, he replied “Luckily you don’t have to do that very often!” No sympathy, just straight-up common sense and tough love, which is definitely what I needed to hear. Despite my pleas of “I don’t think I can run a marathon” today, I will continue on with my marathon training, trying to keep my eye on the prize and my feet moving in a forward direction.  This marathon business is freakin’ hard, but no one ever said it was easy. As always, I couldn’t do any of this without the awesome crew at Tribe Fitness. Special thanks to Kate, Mat, Ravi, and Nick for running with me today!

How do you get through marathon training? If you have any long run tips and tricks,  I would LOVE to hear them!