A bit over a year ago (wow, time flies!), I posted about taking running seriously again. Much to my own surprise, I’ve actually stuck to it! By far the biggest reason why is the running club I joined: the Halifax Road Hammers. We meet up twice a week for group workouts, and I also have a training plan for the rest of the week from the group’s coach. Not only has it given me motivation to keep running consistently and gotten me fitter than I’ve ever been, but I’ve also made really good friends!
I initially planned to spend this summer, fall, and winter building a really strong base so that I could race in the spring, but after just a couple months of workouts I was feeling super fast and ready to race, so I signed up for the PEI Marathon which was scheduled for October 17.
It’s now been a couple of weeks since then, and I’m really proud of my performance!
Believe it or not, I actually came first in the male 20-29 group (although I think that’s more of a statement about the race attendance than about my own speed) with a chip time of 3:09:25. That’s 24 minutes faster than my old best from 2015!
I averaged somewhere around 70km/week for the 4 months leading up to the race, peaking at 93. Besides my biweekly workouts, pretty much all of my runs were easy or moderate, between 10-15K. One thing that was very different about previous training blocks was that this time around, there was no “easy long run”. Instead, my long runs got combined with my Saturday workouts. I think this ultimately helped my fitness a ton, but it also left me feeling very uncertain about my capabilities leading up to race day. Even though I might cover 30K, a fair bit of time is spent standing around before and after the workout portion, and so I wasn’t sure what running fast for hours straight was going to feel like.
Leading up to the race, I had a couple of goals in mind:
- 3:33 (~5:00/km): If nothing else, I wanted to beat my 2015 PR.
- 3:20 (~4:45/km): I felt that this ought to be pretty easily attainable barring any disasters.
- 3:15 (~4:35/km): Very speedy, but doable on a really good day.
There was also an idea of 3:10 in my head (4:30/km isn’t that much faster than 4:35/km, is it?), but I figured that was a bit too lofty.
Given my goals, my plan was to run the first half at 4:40/km, on pace for a 3:17 finish. I figured that if I was feeling good, I’d speed up, and maybe even hit my 3:15 goal. If I wasn’t, I could try to hold onto that pace or even slow down a bit, and still comfortably hit 3:20.
Race nutrition has never really been something I paid much attention to; in previous marathons, I’ve packed a couple of packs of gummies and called it a day. In my 50K race, I did the same but also ate a bunch of of sugary snacks at the aid stations.
This time around, on the recommendation of my coach, I started getting used to eating gels more frequently (they’re basically little pouches full of paste). I didn’t do a great job of it in training, having only eaten on a handful of runs, peaking at 3 gels over a ~30K run.
On race day, I packed 6 with a plan to eat about every 30 minutes. I waited until about the 45 minute mark to take my first one, and then ended up waiting closer to 40 minutes between each subsequent one. By the end of the race, I still had two left but didn’t feel like I needed them. I grabbed water at about five aid stations, but in total I probably only drank the equivalent of one cup—the rest went down the front of my shirt because I really suck at drinking while running.
In the future, I’ll definitely bring no more than five gels, and I’ll consider bringing my own water bottle with a proper nozzle.
KM 0: Bad vibes#
I spent the day before the race relaxing. I went to spectate the shorter races in the morning, picked up my race kit, found myself in a conversation with an anti-vaccine protestor (oops), browsed a very nice used bookstore (and found a copy of An Eternal Golden Braid at last!), and ate two very large meals in preparation for the race.
Before falling into bed for the night, I packed a bag with some extra clothes, food, rain jacket, etc. to bring to the start line. At some point, I thought it might be a good idea to check the race website for any information I might have missed. In the FAQ was a question about baggage drop-off, and a terse answer saying: no, there is no baggage drop this year—uh oh! I realized that I was going to have to get on a bus at 6:30AM with nothing but my race clothes. No extra layers to stay warm, no phone, no nothing. Not ideal for sure, but oh well.
Come the morning, I woke up extra early to go for a short run. The weather was okay, but not great: nice and cool, but quite windy with a tiny bit of rain. I was hoping to kick-start my digestive system; considering all the food I’d eaten the day before, I figured it wouldn’t take much to get me on the toilet, but apparently I was wrong. I headed out to the bus praying that the line for the porta-potties wouldn’t be too long.
After a 30 minute drive, I had another little jog around and lined up for the toilets… and again my body declined to cooperate. With about 15 minutes until start time, I rinsed and repeated… for the same (lack of) outcome. At this point, I’d basically accepted that I was going to have to make a 5 minute pit stop at an aid station and my time was going to be all but ruined, but I trudged to the start line nonetheless, shivering.
KM 1-20: An unexpected helping hand#
The race started in PEI National Park and followed some open roads with a decent view. The wind was quite strong out here, so I tried to stay with other people, but with all the early nerves I found myself outpacing them and running on my own. I had a feeling this would turn out badly, so I was very glad when someone came up beside me and asked if I’d like to take turns drafting every other kilometer, which seemed like a great idea, until he mentioned he was going to run 4:30/km.
This terrified me—I hadn’t planned to hit that pace until at least halfway through the race, if at all. But I figured that getting out of the wind was going to help a lot, so I decided to go for it—I also figured that it wouldn’t be too long before I had to stop for a bathroom break, so nothing really mattered anyways.
The kilometers went by pretty smoothly; the terrain was pretty flat and spending less time in the wind made things far easier. In addition to that obvious benefit, running with a partner definitely helped me keep my mind off of my legs, and kept me running fast for fear of getting left behind. Had it not been for him, I certainly would have reined in my pace to stick more closely to my original plan.
KM 20-32: Feeling invincible#
At about the halfway point, we left the road and stepped onto the Confederation Trail, where the surface turned into packed gravel and dirt. Despite the suboptimal running ground surface, we were now sheltered from the wind, which made a huge difference. My new friend and I cruised through this section, running our fastest kilometers of the race. Even through the end of this section, I felt so strong that I was confident I wouldn’t hit a wall in the infamous final 10K.
After two hours of hard running, I came to the realization that my digestive system had still not made an appearance, and it didn’t seem likely to. Could it be that I was going to get lucky?
KM 32-42.2: The pain cave and the payoff#
The really fast trail kilometers left me with a ~4:25/km average pace, which meant I just needed to avoid crashing to finish under 3:10—something I had thought was far out of reach!
Just before the end of the trail, my partner trailed off behind me. I debated staying with him, but I didn’t know if he would slow down further and I felt strong enough to finish the race on my own. The last 10K rejoined the half marathon course on another open road, straight into the wind, with no scenery to speak of. With no more shelter, and nothing to distract me, I knew it was time to buckle down and persevere.
Not only was the wind relentless, but the road took us through a handful of rolling hills, leading to a pretty substantial slowdown and some of my slowest kilometers. But despite the wind and the hills, I never stopped believing that I could break 3:10. I kept an eye on my average pace, which was decreasing steadily but slowly, so I knew that I just had to keep on moving forward.
Even though there were a lot more runners on this part of the course, I was never able to find someone to draft, and on the contrary, I found myself with an unwelcome tail throughout the hills (not that it actually made me run any slower, but knowing that he could be helping made me hurt that much more). After the last hill, he took off faster than I could keep up with, although he told me later that he intended for me to follow. Oh well, good intentions are better than nothing I suppose.
The finish line really snuck up on me; I was pretty deep in my own self-pitying thoughts when I saw it, but it sure was a welcome sight. I finished the race knowing that I’d smashed my previous best, as well as my most ambitious goals.
As I’ve already mentioned, I’m incredibly surprised with this result, but also incredibly happy and proud. I owe it mostly to my training partners, who made all the suffering fun! The craziest thing is that when I think back to how I felt during the race, I feel pretty confident in saying that I could do even better. Had the wind not been blowing and had the course been perfectly flat, I feel like I could have been 3–4 minutes faster.
My new PB also changes the way I identify myself as a runner in a somewhat interesting way: at 3:33 I felt Pretty Fit I Guess, but at 3:09, I feel like I’ve entered the realm of Actually Kinda Fast (sub-3:00 will cement my place as a Real Speedy Boi). I think I’ve earned the title, at least—I definitely worked for it.
I also don’t think I’m at a plateau for the time being; with more training, I know that I can be considerably faster. With that said, it’s interesting to revisit the goals I set last summer:
- 18:00 5K: This actually might be the most aggressive of all my goals, at least given the time frame. Coincidentally, I’m racing my first 5K on Saturday with a goal time of 19:00. We’ll see how that goes, but running 3:35/km to break 18:00 seems really hard—I pretty much never hit that pace even in workouts.
- 40:00 10K: I feel like I could do this tomorrow. Like the 5K, I’ve never actually raced this distance before so I don’t really know what to expect, but it definitely seems attainable.
- 1:30 HM: I also think that I could do this after another training block, given my marathon result. I ran a 1:33:18 HM during the race, so it seems like shaving a few of minutes off is within reach.
Before I die#
- 3:00 marathon: This feels way more attainable now. I think I can do it by 2023. Fingers are crossed.
- 100mi finish: This remains terrifying and exciting.
And lastly: I really have absolutely no idea where all the food I ate the day before the race went. I didn’t even need to use the bathroom after the race. This mystery will stay with me for my whole life.
Edit: It is now Sunday, and I not only ran the Blue Nose 5K yesterday but also the 10K this morning. I don’t think I’ll write a full race report for either, but I hit 17:47 in the 5, and 39:10 in the 10. I continue to surprise myself! The only bummer is that both courses were a tiny bit short, so my “real” 5K time should have been closer to 18:05, but the 10K was still well under 40:00.