Thursday, June 12, 2014

Race Report: Ambleside Mile

This past Saturday I ran the shortest distance race I have run to date at the Ambleside Mile. It was such a great experience. 

As I've said before, I'm taking a break from the long distance races given that I've plateaued in making progress there and that recently in distance races if I do push hard to get the time I want, I end up suffering from severe leg cramping later in the race. Meanwhile, every time I run a short distance race, something really great happens. My times keep improving and it's such a great ego boost. I always feel like a million bucks after a short distance race, regardless if I make a time improvement or if my improvement is minor, likely a bit of that runner's high I only seem to experience after running hard and fast. So in talking about my goal to improve my 5km, 8km, and 10km race times, coach John suggested I try this 1 mile race. It seemed like a ludicrous idea to register for something so short in some ways (don't you somehow get more for your money when the race is 26 miles long, not 1?). But in other ways this was the absolute perfect idea. I can try to run my fastest mile any time I want as it only takes a few minutes of my time and you don't need to be a genius to figure out a 1-mile route. But nothing beats the conditions and the adrenaline rush of race day. Being surrounded by athletes all with their own goals, all with their own achievements, all geared up to go - there's something about it that motivates you to give it your all. I was excited about trying and seeing what I was capable of.

My mile times from interval nights have hovered around the 8min mark for some time, so I was not sure what I could do in a race setting. Again, a bit of plateauing, or because I'm finally recovering from being down and out several weeks could be what made those times slower than what I know I can do. My last few weeks were bad too because of poor sleep or other lame excuses. I really didn't know what kind of mile time I could do on race day because my mile times just weren't budging on Tuesday interval nights. And on interval nights, if we were doing 1-milers, I'd run each knowing I have another 1-miler to do after, and I'd be probably somewhat tired from whatever I did before. Here on race day, there was just the one mile to contend with. You warm up well, and then when the gun goes off, you have to give it all you've got because it'll soon be over.

I am really fortunate to have really incredible athletes in my life that I can talk to and who are really happy to offer me advice. What Nancy told me the last time we worked at Running Room together really stuck with me (although I likely don't have it down verbatim so it won't be in quotes) and she said some of the same when I saw her pre-race -- run hard and be prepared to feel quite uncomfortable by the 400m mark, but keep going, because the discomfort will be over in a few short minutes. Receiving advice from a former Olympian runner, well that's something you listen to. I also received good advice from John on approaching the race when it comes to cadence compared to our previous track workout. Of course, the point of having a coach is to listen to his advice (even if sometimes I don't do all of my homework). The times he calculated for me were a little bit conservative though, and I knew that despite a few bad workouts a few weeks in a row, they were all bad for a reason (not fitness) and I had more in me. I started out the race just as he said, getting the feel of the cadence of our last track workout and how I ran those 400m repeats. But knowing I only had 1200m more than that to run total, I pushed harder and told myself, just a few minutes more.

I did quite a bit of mental prep for this race too that morning, being a later race start. I thought about the fact that this was such a short race and how that feels more like an athletic competition than some of the other races I've done where in some ways, it can be seen as just about showing up and finishing. I thought about all the years athletic competition was something I never imagined myself being part of. I remembered all the years of track and field in school and how I was never considered to compete in anything at the track meets except shot-put - presumably because it's the one event you're practically standing in one place to do so fitness is not required. The one year I was on the C-list to run a leg of the 4x100m relay was both exciting and ego-shattering at the same time. The prospect of running 100m was exciting, but the only hope I had of competing was if all 8 runners in the A and B lists all got sick/hurt at the same time so it was a safe bet I'd spend the entire meet sitting in the bleachers. But times have changed for me. Now I compete. I legitimately have the ability to be fast and I was there at this mile race to achieve. I have indeed become an athlete. It was a nice feeling to remind myself of this.

The Ambleside Mile is a mile race with a long history but was traditionally called the "Masters Mile". Only in the last couple years has it opened up to include other age groups. It was great seeing how many families came out and how many kids were excited to run the mile. I also knew this meant there would be few people my age at this race, and in many ways, this was a refreshing change. I had a great time during my warmup crossing paths with many seasoned runners. The speed and fitness that many of these runners still have despite their years was absolutely inspiring. It was an honour to run this race with them and to recognize how few years I've had in this sport myself and how much more I can learn and achieve as I keep working at this. It's a sport I hope to be part of for many years ahead.

It was a gorgeous sunny day and every detail of the race experience was well organized and thought out by race director, Kirill. He takes great pride in making his races exceptional and I was thrilled to be able to support him by signing up. I was also pleased to see him take 5 minutes out of his morning to race his own event (he's freaky fast). Thanks for such a great race experience. I'm definitely signing up next year!

With race director, Kirill
The only detail that wasn't perfect, was the race timing. For any race, accurate timing is important. But such a short race like this, every second means so much. I won't get into the problems the timing caused but for my race, I'm confused to this day how my time changed from what was published on day one to something faster, but my time now shows as 7:04 - a good 30+ seconds faster than I was aiming for. I'm thrilled, of course wondering if I could have broken 7 min. I'm thrilled because while I have a 5km personal best this year, the rest of my races have been somewhat mediocre, at best. This was a huge ego boost for me. And the neatest part about it was that I not only crushed my goal, but I was the fastest in my F30-39 age category. I mentioned before that this race only recently opened up to different age groups but my theory is you have to show up to win something, and I showed up and won :) I'll take it!
Clock reading the time of day, not the runners' finish times. How confusing...

So what's next? The Blueshore Financial Longest Day Road Race at UBC on Friday, June 13th. I'm taking on the 5km and am excited to try to beat my best time from the St. Patrick's Day 5k

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Race Report: Centaur Subaru Calgary Half Marathon

Not quite my usual speed in posting after a race, I apologize, but boy has this runner girl been busy since running this half marathon a week ago. I had originally signed up to run the Scotiabank Calgary Marathon last weekend, June 1st 2014, as this is Canada's oldest marathon and this year celebrated it's 50th anniversary. The race experience and the commemorative belt buckle finisher medal promised to be epic, and the idea of doing a marathon in another Canadian province had large appeal. Friends agreed and next thing I knew, several running friends signed up too. It promised to be a great weekend participating in a big race with many familiar faces, and also a chance to travel with Cam to spend time with our dear friends Jennifer and Casey (and their cute little boy) who live in Calgary and we don't see often enough.

With some running friends from BC doing the marathon and 50K

With the hip injury and other setbacks, I decided a few months back that another marathon was not what my body needed in 2014 and downgraded my race to the Centaur Subaru Half Marathon. This was a very wise move, and the moment I took this step, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. After running the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon strong about a month before (that is, running without a watch and without caring about finish time, yet doing OK anyway and not cramping), I wasn't sure how I wanted to approach this race. It was going to be the last planned half marathon for the calendar year so perhaps one last chance to try to get my best finish time and finally break 2 hours. Then I realized that I haven't fully addressed my cramping issue and I was traveling to a race in a high altitude city which could make it challenging. I knew I wasn't in prime form to go hard and not cramp, so I took the easy road of running for completion instead. I didn't want to risk having a bad race and being in a bad state after when the real point of this race was to enjoy the experience and spend time with friends. I also knew there was a chance I could run with my friend Sheila who I hadn't run with in almost 2 years, and enjoying her company at a race was absolutely the way I wanted to run this one. We had a blast! Just forgot to properly coordinate our outfits :-)

Race day conditions were perfect. The sun was out but there was a nice breeze so it stayed cool enough to be comfortable throughout the race. The course was beautiful and flat, and the community was out in full force cheering with some of the most creative race signs I've ever seen. What a fantastic race experience! Although the course was flat, I struggled with my breathing. It surely has much to do with the altitude and the dry air. In the end it was one of my slowest half marathons ever at 2:14:29, but I had such a great time running with Sheila. We met through running, and I hope that we can run together for many years to come, despite our geographic distance. Her husband Shaun, my fiance Cam, and my best friend Jennifer were out on the course cheering for us and met up with us at the finish line. After some post-race massage and time hanging out at the race after party, we headed out for brunch and drinks. A very memorable race experience indeed.


It was very much a reminder too that the half marathon distance is one that I can easily do, but I'm not as excited anymore about it given the lack of progress in the distance. I'm excited though about short distance races, and have a bunch of them coming up this year that I know I can do well in. First of these was the Ambleside Mile yesterday. I'll write a race report for that shortly (stay tuned).

A big congratulations to my friends Humphrey (who did the 50K in just over 5 hours) and Kristy, Sherry, Kathy, Kara, and Chelsea, who all completed the marathon. Congratulations on your exceptional achievement! Thank you again, Sheila, for running this one with me. Let's do it again, closer to sea level next time.