Monday, August 1, 2016

Race Report - Squamish Days 8K

Yesterday was the Squamish Days 8K, and boy was it an awesome day!

I ran the Squamish Days 10K a few years back on a very hot midsummer day. I remember that experience fondly as it was a great race (even though I struggled in the heat), I had a fun time as I had friends running too, and I was invited to a post-race BBQ as well. I hadn't run the race since, although I certainly wanted to. Any visit to Squamish is always special because that's where my husband, Cam, used to live when we first met and started dating, and so we have lots of fond memories there together. Also this race is one of the last of the Lower Mainland Road Race Series so a good chance to try to change your points and positioning if you're competing (although I am not sure if I will place in the top 5 of my category this year or not)....

This year the race got changed up from a 10K to an 8K, but with a similar out and back course. I am not sure about the reasoning, but I am assuming that the road further ahead is undergoing or has already undergone some changes. Aside from that bit taken out, the course is exactly the same. I love how the 1km mark is pretty much right at the front entrance of the building Cam used to live. So although the building looks much different than it did back then, and still doesn't look like anything anyone would live in, it's nice to have that as a marker at the 7km mark on the way back (or the 9km mark when it was a 10K race). I was able to say to myself both times I'd run this race, "get yourself to Cam's house, then push to the finish."

I like a nice 8K, because in a 10K race, I'm usually hurting by 7K. So in an 8K, when that moment comes (here at Cam's old house), there's only 1K to go, and it's then 'easy' to push yourself. It had been a while since I raced an 8K though as I missed both the Shaughnessy and the Modo 8K this year. My last one would have been the Icebreaker 8K in January 2016. To give you some context, at that race, I was 20lbs heavier, and just getting back into running after my back/hip injury last year and finished in a sluggish 51:25 or so (don't remember the exact figure).

My friend Megan came up to Squamish with me to cheer me on and so we could spend the day adventuring around Squamish. We left my place around 7:15 and got to the race venue with enough time for me to collect my bib, find the washroom (a pre-race must-do) and get in a warm-up before the 8:30 start. During my warm-up, I bumped into Natasha Wodak, the incredible athlete who is Rio-bound, likely seeing this race as a tune-up opportunity. I said hi to her and wished her well in the race and ahead to the Rio Olympics. I have a feeling that little interaction inspired me to find my inner competitive athlete and go fast!

My legs were feeling a bit heavy from 8 hours on my feet working the store the day before the race. I also had a rough sleep the night before the race, with unexpected insomnia. I wasn't nervous or over-caffeinated, so not sure what the problem was! So given these factors, I wasn't sure how I'd fare. My warm-up didn't feel great, my joints felt stiff, my muscles felt heavy, but I assured myself that by warming myself up, I'd get into the groove of racing in no time.

And I was right. There were some kms where I felt it more than others, but overall, I was able to maintain my pacing exactly where I wanted it. My goal was to finish this race in under 45min. I figured that would be realistic, given that's a 6min improvement from the Icebreaker, but still without the unrealistic expectation of being suddenly fast enough to be closer to my 41min range best finishes from a few years back. A 45min 8K would be in the range of the 56min 10K I hoped to achieve at Summerfast, but didn't. It was my second chance at trying for this (but without the last 2km to really prove it - although I felt so good at the end, I know I could have).

I started out a little too fast, but quickly noticed and held myself back. After a fast first km at 5:15, I found my pace and consistently finished each km after that point in the 5:30-5:40 range. I kept my watch set to the "pace and distance" screen so I couldn't see my elapsed time, but I could monitor my pace and ensure that I wasn't quickening or slowing down too much at any point. I could adjust accordingly and stay consistent. I am really pleased with my ability to do that.

I liked that this course was out and back because in ways, this makes it easier mentally. Get yourself to the 4km turnaround and then you just have to get back! It also meant that I could see the elite runners at the front of the pack when they turned around. I was thrilled that as I passed the 3km mark, Natasha Wodak was passing me in the other direction on the other side of the road. Her powerful (yet effortless-looking) stride zipping past me on the other side must have inspired me to the 4km turnaround. I tried not to do the math, you know, if she can do 5km in the time I do 3km, what time will she finish the race? How far along in the race will I be when she finishes? Regardless of how much faster she is than me, and how I'm hardly competition to her, it's somehow inspiring as an athlete (even a very amateur/recreational athlete like me) to know I'm competing in the same race as an Olympic athlete.

Because I had my watch on the "pace and distance" screen, I actually didn't know what my finish time was going to be as I neared the "Cam's house" 7km marker. I was simply looking down long enough to see if I was keeping under the 5:40/km pace. Even though I knew with no doubt I was achieving this the entire race, I didn't actually know for a fact or had seen proof that I was on pace to achieve my goal for the race. So as I got closer to the finish, I chose not to switch screens to check where I was at, because I liked not knowing, and I didn't want it to mess with my head if the time I saw was not what I expected, if it was disappointing or indicative of missing the goal.

As I turned the corner at the high school and neared the finish line, I saw the race clock glowing bright red at the finish in the distance. It showed just over 44min. I knew if I pushed, I could get there before it turned to 45. I quickened my pace and gradually increased this pace more, then a bit more, giving it all I had in my engine, and going even harder until I was in an all-out sprint across the finish line. I was thrilled because there was a significant gap between me and the finishers behind me, so I knew all the cheers at the finish line were for me and only for me. I think people saw what I was looking to do because I was running hard and my breathing was definitely audible (maybe a bit grunty!). Boy do I love the running community, because most of the people at the finish line cheering, were fellow runners who already finished long before me. They are faster than me, yet excited for me and supportive of me trying my hardest. I squeaked in officially at 44:58, just under that 45min mark I was hoping for. This race doesn't have timing mats at the start line so only gun time counts, but I started my watch when I crossed the start line myself. I clocked 44:53 as my time on my watch, so that's what I'm going with :)

After the race, I enjoyed the treats offered by the event, chatted with fellow runners, and then freshened up and changed clothes. I skipped the awards ceremony as I didn't want Megan to have to wait around for me any longer. We left the venue and headed to the Chief. We took the opportunity to go up the Sea to Sky Gondola as neither of us have done that, and we did some easy hiking up at the top on some of the trails there. That was a great way to stretch out the legs and although the legs felt tired at the time, it definitely aided recovery. It also made me even hungrier! We enjoyed lunch at the local brew pub in downtown Squamish and then headed back home to North Vancouver.

Next up, the Eastside 10K which takes place on my birthday!

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