Friday, October 28, 2016

Race Report: Legs for Literacy Half Marathon, Moncton

Soooooo...thing's didn't go exactly as planned. My last few weeks of training were fine. I completed nearly all my scheduled workouts, got as much rest as I could given various work and family commitments, and ate well. Traveling to the race Saturday morning, I was optimistic a new PB was within reach. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas.

I arrived in Moncton around noon on Saturday, after a tough drive through heavy winds and rain, picked up my race kit, and grabbed a quick lunch before checking into the official hotel - the Delta Beausejour. My room was super quiet and comfy with a nice view of the river, which I appreciated.

I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, swimming and eating well. There may have been stops at a couple of pubs (including the Tide and Boar, pictured below, where I had lunch) but mostly I spent the time reconnoitering in preparation for our next visit to Moncton.  ;-)

A little before supper, I headed back to the hotel intending to tackle some work but soon got distracted by the stunning double rainbow that appeared outside my window as the sun was setting. I hoped it was a good omen.

By 9:00, I was tucked into bed reading and turned the lights out soon after, then slept soundly until daybreak.  

Upon waking, I got up, made coffee, ate breakfast, pinned my bib on the shirt I planned to wear, and stretched gently to work out the kinks. Things seemed to be going according to plan as I made my way down seven flights of stairs headed for the start line, located in a courtyard just outside the hotel. 

When I arrived in the lobby, I realized that, despite checking the weather forecast, I'd badly miscalculated. I was wearing shorts and a short-sleeved t-shirt while everyone around me was dressed in tights, long-sleeved shirts, jackets and hats. A few even wore gloves and toques! I made my way outside to see just how cold it was, then rushed back to the elevators. Fortunately, though they were completely jammed on the way down, they were empty going up so I didn't have long to wait. Back in my room, I changed into peddle pushers and a long-sleeved shirt, and re-pinned by bib before heading back down the stairs. As I reached the fourth floor, I realized I'd forgotten my garmin so turned and climbed three stories back to my room to retrieve it before finally making my way to the start line. Needless to say, I was nicely warmed up by the time I arrived. :-)

Since I was hoping to run beat my previous personal best time of 2:06, I lined up behind the 2:00 pace bunny to wait, chatting with a local runner, Camille, who was also hoping to break two hours though he'd been up late the night before celebrating his 40th anniversary with family and friends. It was cool and breezy but conditions seemed okay so I still felt confident. Unfortunately, as I was soon to discover, I'd just made my first significant mistake. 

When the horn sounded a few minutes later, I made another. As we got underway, I almost immediately realized the bunny was setting too fast a pace but assumed she was just putting some distance between our group and the one behind, and would soon slow down. I was wrong. In fact, she maintained the same hard pace for the next two kilometres and I (foolishly) stuck with her before finally coming to my senses and slowing to my goal pace.

At about the same time, I became aware of my earlier mistake. Being a "woman of a certain age", my body warms up quickly when I run so, despite the cool breezy weather, I suddenly felt completely overdressed. Stepping off the trail out of the way of other runners, I stopped long enough to shed my long-sleeved shirt and tie it around my waist. Fortunately, I was wearing a respectable sports bra so no one seemed too shocked by my wardrobe adjustment.

The next 9 or 10 kms went more or less according to plan. I stuck to my goal pace and felt reasonably good since the wind was mostly behind us and the course followed level, groomed gravel trails along the river. Things changed however when, after our second turn around, we were once again running into the wind, which had become noticeably stronger. My heart sank. With so much headwind, I knew a 2:00 half was out of reach.

Still, I persisted, knowing we'd soon cross a bridge and change direction again. With the wind  at my back, I thought I might still be able to make up enough time to finish in less than 2:06. As we approached the bridge, the sun broke through the clouds to reveal another rainbow, which I hoped was a good sign, and at 15k I was still on track for a PB - which is when the wind became even stronger, buffeting me from the side and back in a way that wasn't at all helpful. (I learned later that it was blowing at a steady 40k/hr, with gusts to 60k/hr, at that point.)

It was then my confidence and enthusiasm plummeted. I knew I'd be running more or less directly into the wind for at least the final two kms making a personal best time impossible. My heart sank. So much training and hard work and so little to show for it. It was all I could do to keep going. When I finally stumbled across the finish line, I posted a photo to let folks back home know I was okay, then made my way back to my room to stretch, shower and pack. Rationally, I knew I'd done okay in light of the conditions, but the time on the clock as I crossed the finish line - 2:12 (for a chip time of 2:11:41) - was deeply disappointing.

Fortunately, a few days later, I'm more satisfied with my performance. Was it ideal? Nope. Are there things I can improve for next time? You betcha. Who knows, if I dress properly and don't go out too fast, and the weather's a little more cooperative, perhaps a sub-2:00 half is actually do-able.

Now what? I'm not sure. It's been a busy week so I haven't had time to think much about it. The one thing I know for sure is that I'd like to be fit enough to run my fifth Cabot Trail Relay next May. The way my body's been feeling lately makes me wonder if I should get more serious about cross-training - perhaps swimming, weights, yoga, hiking, even dancing - to loosen things up so I feel more comfortable in my skin. Much will depend on what kind of a winter we have. Forecasters are saying it could be a nasty one, which will make it challenging to train for a spring race. In the short term, my plan is to go easy for a few weeks and recover fully before I make any decisions. If I opt to tackle another marathon, I've plenty of time to prepare.

In closing, kudos to the race organizers and volunteers who did a terrific job and raised $90,000 for literacy programs. The course was beautiful, the volunteers were friendly and helpful, the hotel was comfy and convenient, and everything worked like clockwork as far as I could tell. Nice bling too.

If you're looking for a friendly and relatively small race, I'd highly recommend Legs for Literacy and look forward to running it again one day.

What about you? Are you finished racing for the season? What are your plans for 2017? Are you happy with how things went in 2016?

Happy running and writing!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Running lessons: Life happens...

Woah. September was intense. Not bad. Just incredibly busy. I can't remember when I last felt so pulled in all directions. Fortunately, the road ahead looks less congested, but I'm overdue for some rest and looking forward to a relaxed Thanksgiving.

This period of frenetic activity has reminded me that life has a way of interfering with even the best laid and executed plans.

I've been training all year in hopes I'd run a marathon in a personal best time this fall. And I might have if life hadn't gotten in the way. But work travel, family celebrations, a funeral, and new job responsibilities meant I didn't getting the rest I needed to recover properly between workouts. As a result, training didn't make me stronger - just more and more tired. By mid-September, I was totally discouraged despite completing most of my planned workouts - including a couple of hot and hilly 26k runs.

At my lowest point, I had an appointment with my chiropractor, Eric Helson, who patiently listened to my tale of woe and reminded me that (a) marathoners always feel beat-up as race day approaches and (b) people of a certain age need more recovery to see any real progress. Rather than give up on my goal, he suggested I reduce the frequency and intensity of my runs for a couple of weeks, then see how I felt.

I took his advice and ran just a few times in the past two weeks in an effort to give my body time to catch up. One was the "glory leg" of the Rum Runners Relay last Saturday. After months of running in hot, humid weather, it felt wonderful to race in cool, crisp fall air. And despite being tired from a busy work week and a long day on the road, I completed my leg in a respectable time - making the mat with time to spare. I was relieved and happy - not least because my teammates all ran well and I was worried I'd let them down. (One of our teammates took the fun photo at the top of this post.)

Today, I tackled a long slow 18k in near perfect conditions. It was a grey and drizzly but temperatures were ideal and I felt strong for most of it. I faded in the last 3 or 4 kms but I suspect that may have been due to dehydration since I didn't take much water with me. Overall, the run went well enough that I feel ready to register for the Moncton half marathon in a few weeks.

That's right, I said half marathon. Despite feeling much better, and having nearly enough long runs under my belt, I've decided not to attempt another full this fall. It would have been nice to complete a 10th marathon before my 55th birthday in March but I've no interest in posting another slow finish time. When I next go the full  distance, I want to run a personal best, and that's not realistic right now.

What is realistic is a personal best half marathon. At RRR last weekend, I averaged 5:41/km over 11 kms, despite a hilly course and nasty blister, so I'm hoping I can manage something close to that in Moncton. If I succeed, I'll easily beat my best half marathon time of 2:06, clocked in New Glasgow more than a decade ago. Fingers crossed.

So that's the news from here. I'm still hoping to write posts about the rest of our vacation, my recent visit to the Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, and other bits and pieces soon, but life'll have to calm down some first.

In the meantime, here are a few photos. It's too bad life intervened to keep me from tackling a full marathon this fall but at least the past month's been fun and interesting.

Happy running and writing!