5k Revolution: Toronto Women’s Run 5k Race Recap

No matter how many races you run, there will always View event: http://www.zoomphoto.ca/event/19636/be a handful that stick out. Whether it’s the first time you conquer a new distance, a race where you set a PB, or one where you just have a damn good time, some races will always remain fresh in our hearts and in our minds.

On Sunday, I had one of those races.

I had been looking forward to the Toronto Women’s Run 5k at Sunnybrook Park since I signed up last month. This was a late addition to my race calendar, but the Toronto Women’s Run Series will always hold a special place in my heart as I did my very first race ever back with them in 2011.

My goal on Sunday was to run a 5k PB (sub-24 minutes) and see how hard I could push myself in this new distance. I’ve only ever raced 2 other 5ks before, but there is something about the short and quick burn of the 5k that I love. I absolutely hate how I feel when I’m running them, but immediately after crossing the finish line I want to do one again to see if I can go faster! To be honest, I almost gave up a few times during Sunday’s 5k, but I never let my legs stop moving and ended up with a big surprise at the finish line.

The race was pretty small, 762 runners in the 5k, and we were divided into two corrals, sub-30 and over 30 minutes. I tried to line up as close to the front as I could and just let er’ rip as soon as the gun went off. My strategy was “fade from the front” and to just go as fast as I could for as long as I could and slow down towards the end if I needed to. Well, my first kilometre was 4:27 (I’ve never done that before) and it was a bit fast for me. I tried to pull the pace back, but I was already in a world of pain so I thought I might as well keep going as hard as I can to get this thing over with as quickly as I can! That’s the goal, right?

As you can see from my race photos, I was not a happy View event: http://www.zoomphoto.ca/event/19636/camper, but as my good friend Christa says “pretty stops when the gun goes off.” Yes, it sure does! I pushed through the remaining 4 kilometres in 4:49, 4:48, 5:03, and 4:59. You can see where I paid for that ambitious 4:27…I have never been so thankful to see a finish line in my life and I grabbed my medal, took some water and headed straight for the finish chute to find an open area to catch my breath. I often get really anxious when I finish a hard run so I just needed to get out of the crowd and into my own space.

After I picked up my post-race treat bag, including a delicious Awake Chocolate Bar, and a tiny sample of Starbucks Iced Coffee (damn, that tasted good), I walked over to the results board to see I had finished sub-25 in 24:41 and that landed me in 5th place in my 30-34 age group. I was feeling pretty stoked about that. Although my time was about 30 seconds off my PB, I was pleased with my race and hungry to train throughout the summer to improve that time in the fall!

As I made my way back to the course to cheer on some of my friends who were still coming in, I realized something…if any of the top 3 women overall were also in my age group, that would bump me up in my standings since you can’t win awards for overall placing and age group placing. No double dipping. I quickly opened my Sportstats app to see that the top two women were in my 30-34 age group. I got really excited and nervous and mentioned to my boyfriend that I might win an age group award! I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I made my way over to the awards stage to listen to the awards ceremony.

Sure enough, when the 30-34 age group category TO Women's Run With Plaquewas announced, I came in 3rd out of 104 runners! After I picked up my award and posed for some pictures I immediately texted my friends, family and Coach who all replied with some variation of “Are you serious?” and “You got to be kidding me!” Yes, even I was (and still am) shocked, but what a cool experience it was to win that award! Crossing that finish line is a moment I will never, ever forget and I am so happy that I didn’t give up, even when I really, really wanted to.

After a very disappointing marathon debut and a physical and mental struggle with recovery, this race (and AG award) were everything I needed to get my head back into the game. When I chose my race outfit for the 5k, I wanted to channel my inner Lauren Fleshman with my favourite green Oiselle Flyte Tank because I’ve been a long-time Fan Girl and really love the funny and poignant pieces she writes about why the 5k is freaking awesome. She presents a view that we don’t hear a lot, but one that gives credit and strength to the women (and men) who excel at short distances, and most importantly LOVE to run them.

I can say with all my heart and soul, that I LOVED running that 5k. Did it hurt? Yes. Was it hard? Yes. Did I love it? Absolutely. Do I want to do it again? As soon as possible! I think I’ve found a strength in running I didn’t know I had and a place that I want to keep exploring. Although my initial plan for this year was to build up to another long distance race in the fall, I realize that that’s not what I want to do. Right now I want to focus on getting stronger, getting faster, and seeing how much I can improve my 5k and 10k times over the next 6 months. As Lauren Fleshamn, a master of the distance says:“It’s time for a 5-K Revolution!”

I’m on board.

Around the Bay Race Review

Around the Bay finally happened and it was pretty damn awesome! After what felt like an endless winter of training, the first race of my 2015 season has come and gone and I couldn’t be more happy with the results. Having never run the Around the Bay before, I set myself a goal of 3 hours for this race. To me, this seemed achievable within’ my fitness level, yet also challenging due to the hilly nature of the course. My game plan was 6:20 pace for the first 10K, 5:50 pace for the second 10K, and then hammer it home for the last 10K. Luckily, my running buddies Jay and Christa thought this was a good plan too so I had some good company to run with. Also, we look pretty damn badass in the photo below, don’t we. #DreamTeam

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Jay, Christa and I at the start of Around the Bay. Photo Credit: Thomas Sapiano

The first 10K flew by like nothing. We were laughing, chatting, and the kilometre markers just flew by. Even on the hills, we never lost our momentum and only stopped once to shed some layers around the 9K mark because it turned out to be much warmer than we thought it would be! Our pace for the first 10K was 6:17/km so we were right on track. We picked it up for the second 10K and I started to “feel it” around the 16K mark, but we stayed strong, and managed to average a 5:52/km pace for this portion.

Around the 21K mark of the course, we started to encounter some big rolling hills in Burlington. Jay made the smart decision for us to keep our pace a bit slower, and then try to pick it up once we were on flat ground again. I’m not going to lie, those hills took a lot out of my legs, but never once did we stop or slow down. We kept our effort strong and our legs turning and we finally hit some flat ground around the 26K mark. This was the point in the race when I should have been picking up the pace, but I really wasn’t looking at my watch and I was passing tons of people, so I felt like I was going faster than I was. I’m not going to lie, this part really hurt and even though I was instructed to not stop at any water stations, I did. Instead of kicking it up to a 5:30/km pace, I averaged 5:51/km for my final 10K and snuck in just under the 3-hour mark with a 2:59:43 final time. If you want to see my triumphant finish, check out the video below:

 

All in all, I am proud of my performance at Around the Bay and am itching to get out on May 3rd and run a full 42.2K at the Mississauga Marathon. I’ll probably execute a similar pacing strategy, but pick up the pace a bit, with the goal of finishing in 4 hours or less. When I think back to those last kilometres at Around the Bay, I could have dug deeper and I could have gone further into the “pain cave”, but that’s all part of learning what we’re capable of. If you had asked me if I could run a 3-hour 30K a year ago, my answer would most definitely have been no. But after a year of solid training with Coach Brock and some big work on my mental game, I am a different person that I was 365 days ago.

After two recovery days, it’s back to the grind today. Next up is the MEC 10K on April 12th and then the Mississauga Marathon on May 3rd. After that, it’s all triathlon baby and I can’t wait to see how a whole winter of swim/bike/run training translates out on the race course!

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Love my Tribe. Couldn’t do this without them. Photo Credit: Tribe Fitness

5 Reasons My Tribe Rocks

Tonight my running/triathlon/brunching crew, Tribe Fitness, will celebrate their 1 year anniversary! I really can’t wait to see what’s in store, but an event that starts with a glow run is guaranteed to be awesome. I owe a lot of my success and growth over this past season to the amazing athletes I am privileged to train with at Tribe. From early morning long runs through the heat of the summer to even earlier morning swim sessions in the pool, training with Tribe has been the most FUN I have ever had and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

On the day of Tribe’s 1 year anniversary, I wanted to share a few reasons why Tribe Fitness has rocked my world this year and why I think YOU should #JoinTheTribe!

Tribe Love

#1) We laugh through it all. If there’s one thing this crew knows how to do, it’s have FUN! And if you’re not having fun doing something, what’s the point? From the Ugly Holiday Sweater Run (next one is coming up!), Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon Scavenger Hunt, and our end-of-season Tribe Night at the Ballpark, this crew knows how to work hard and play hard. Want to join us? Our annual Ugly Holiday Sweater Dash is taking place this year on December 10th!

#2) Impossible becomes possible. My belief in what I am capable of has grown 500% since joining Tribe. Can I run faster than I could before? Yes. Can I run longer than I could before? Yes. Can I complete a race in a sport completely new to me like Triathlon? Yes! Training for a race, whether it be a 10K or a marathon, is easier when you’re training with a group. When you see people who are like yourself, reaching big goals and doing awesome things, those goals suddenly become achievable for you too.

#3) Training partners turn into friends. I love the people I train with. They’re not just my running buddies, they’re my friends! Sometimes we go out for Froyo and sometimes we have long Facebook conversations about how much we love nachos. We text each other to stay connected even when we’re not training and if we’re not participating in a race, you better believe that we are on the sidelines cheering our asses off! I find that the older you get, the harder it is to make new friends, but joining Tribe has expanded my social circle to include all kinds of amazing people.

Tribe Night at the Ballpark

#4) The Cycle of Inspiration never ends. No matter where you are in your training journey or how long you’ve been running for, there will always be days when you’re going to need a little inspiration! The people of Tribe Fitness are a never-ending source of inspiration with members completing Ironman triathlons, marathons, obstacle races and most importantly, lots of very first races ever! In Tribe, not only will you find inspiration, but you will become a source of inspiration to everyone around you as you push yourself to achieve goals you never thought possible before! This year I had so many people to look up to and learn from as I completed my first triathlon and I hope to be a source of inspiration for those new Tribe members who are taking on their first triathlon next year!

#5) bRUNch. Admit it, sometimes the only thing that keeps us going through a particularly tough long run is the promise of bacon and eggs after it’s all over. Every Saturday after our Tribe long runs, we go for brunch! From the Thompson Diner to Fresh, What A Bagel to Fuel+, we have run and eaten our way across the city. Not only is brunch delicious, it’s also a great way to relax and get to know your fellow runners better! Just last weekend we dined at Le Neuf Cafe, a lovely little French spot off of Spadina with delicious omelets and mouth-watering French toast. #yum

Have I convinced you that the Tribe rocks? Learn more about the awesome Tribe Fitness community on Facebook and Twitter and I hope to see you out at a run soon!

Tribe Triathlon IronGirl

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.

Why I Wasn’t Ready To Run A Marathon 6 Months Ago, But I Am Now

Ekiden 10KI signed up for my first marathon 6 months ago, but I never made it to the start line — and that was a really good thing! I was in no shape to do so, mentally or physically. When I reflect on the athlete I am now, versus the “athlete” I was then, I am very happy that I waited. Here are the top 5 Reasons (but certainly not the only reasons) why I wasn’t ready to run a marathon half a year ago, but I am now.

1) I Skipped Workouts: Having a coach who provides a customized workout plan, 24/7 support, and wisdom about everything to do with fitness and nutrition is a luxury and a privilege. When I started with mine almost a year ago, I was not a very good athlete. I regularly ignored speed work, modified strength work that I thought was too hard, and was generally giving about 60% instead of 110% like I do now. Going from working out 3 or 4 days a week to working out 6 or 7 days a week was a huge shift for me and I always felt like I “deserved” to rest more or go easy on a workout, when I actually hadn’t earned it. There would be weeks during the winter when I looked at my training plan and became so overwhelmed that I shut down and just didn’t do the work. My head wasn’t in the game, and as a result, neither was my body.  Today, I look forward to tough workouts, especially speed and strength work, and I can see how this hard work is paying off with faster and stronger running!

2) Mentally, I Was A Mess: I have documented my struggle with anxiety and panic attacks throughout many of my previous posts, here and here. 6 months ago my anxiety level was hovering around a 9.5 out of 10 most days, making it impossible for me to get through a work day without a breakdown or through the night without bolting up in bed, heart racing, mid-panic attack. My main contributor to this anxiety was a toxic work environment. As a result of this, my running suffered big time and I could not make it through a run without a mid-run or post-run panic attack, which could only be cured with a frantic phone call to my mom or a tight hug from my boyfriend who would guide me through breathing exercises until I calmed down. When I look back on this time, it seems so foreign to me now. However, I know that anxiety is always lurking in the shadows and that if I let my mental health slip, I’ll be back in this dark place again. Luckily I switched jobs, and I can now say that I am in a position I LOVE with people who bring out the best in me.

Mid Summer Night's Run Post-Race Pic3) I Didn’t Have Confidence In Myself: 6 months ago, I didn’t believe I could run a marathon, and I was right. Today, if you asked me, “Jenna, can you run a marathon this fall?” I would answer with a resounding YES. Heck, I just completed my very first triathlon a few weeks ago, got a PB in the 15K distance two weeks ago, and I am running paces that I never thought I’d get back to. I am in such a different place right now and I actually see myself as an athlete for the first time in my life. Of course, this confidence doesn’t just come from within, it comes from having kick-ass training partners, an amazing coach, an incredibly supportive family, and a wonderful boyfriend who joins me in a lot of my training. I don’t think you can ever underestimate the power of having a team of people in your life who believe in you. Although we may cross finish lines alone, few of us would ever make it to the start line without the family and friends who tolerate our long hours of training, incessant talk about our sport, and occasional complaining about sore muscles and being tired. You know what they say, hang around people who are doing the things you want to do, and you will do them too.

4) I Wasn’t Excelling At Shorter Distances: As a first-time marathoner, I won’t know what running 42.2 kilometres feels like until I cross that marathon finish line in October. I’m not running the full distance in my training, so there is an element of the unknown going into the race. What I do know now that I didn’t know 6 months ago is what it feels like to give 110% in shorter distances, in which I have been gaining Personal Bests this summer! So far I have PB’ed in the 10K and 15K distances and the plan is to go for a half-marathon PB next month. My 2013 racing season was less-than-stellar, with anxiety making it tough for me to go fast or push myself to my limits. Only this summer have I finally been able to really go for speed and ride “the pain train” as my friend Mike calls it. Now I know what it feels like to run 5K, 10K, 15K and soon 21.1K with little to nothing left in the tank at the finish line and I feel confident that I can transfer this racing experience to the marathon this fall. Excelling at shorter distances has brought on a new level of confidence and commitment that I didn’t have 6 months ago and for that I am very grateful.

5) I Didn’t Sign Up To Run A Marathon For The Right Reasons: While I don’t believe there is one right reason to sign up to run a marathon, there are a lot of wrong reasons to commit to 42.2K. When I look back to when I signed up for that marathon I never ended up running, I can’t really pinpoint the WHY. It might have been because all my friends were doing it, it might have been because I wanted to run a marathon before I turned 30, or it might have been because it seemed like the next logical step in my running journey, but none of those are really compelling or great reasons to run a marathon. When I signed up for the marathon I will run this fall, I did so because I know I can do it. I know I have the training, the commitment and the experience to make it across that finish line in one piece. It might not be pretty, but I promise to honour the experience by preparing right, running smart, and digging deep when it starts to hurt. Running is a privilege and I am lucky to be part of the amazing running community that exists in Toronto and beyond. This fall I am going to run a marathon knowing that I have hundreds of people who have inspired me to complete this distance and who will be with me every step of the way, on the course, on my mind, and most importantly, in my heart.

So there you have it, the 5 reasons why I wasn’t ready to run a marathon 6 months ago, but I am now. Starting today, my coach has me making the shift to full-tilt marathon training and with 2 months to go, I couldn’t be more excited, nervous, happy, and scared all at once. Get ready marathon, because here I come!