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September 27, 2010 / elodie kaye

Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon

I have a fetish for three-act plays when it comes to racing.  Everything has to be intro, suspense/conflict and finale.  13.1 miles doesn’t split neatly, but I usually think of it as 5 miles intro, 5 miles of suspense and conflict, and a heated 5K finale.  This time though, I had a clear memory of my meek 15K tune-up a month ago.  The night before the race, I decided that this half should be 5K intro and 15K of the race I should have run.

Since my last race, I’ve spent more time groping around for the level of effort I can hold for 4 or 5 miles, and I’ve batted at a few faster miles at the end of a long run.  I’ve let myself get into the red, so I could get to know the contours of that heaviness in my quads, and tested how long it might take me to recover on the run.  I’ve worked on the track to learn a faster rhythm than the slow plod on all of the other days.  Most of all, I remember how comfortable I was in the early stages of that 15K, and how much I had left in the tank at the end.  I knew this time I didn’t need to be so stingy.

The weather on Friday was depressingly warm, but race day morning was downright cold.  I almost wore capri tights but decided I would rather shiver than sweat, so shorts, and a tank.  Arm warmers were the only nod to the cold, 48ºF at the start, clear and calm.

In the starting corral, I reminded myself to notice discomfort, fatigue, even pain, the way I feel the air breeze by my shoulders, or the sweat trickle down my neck.  For those two hours, I promised to suspend judgment, to observe but not to engage.  My watch would take lap splits automatically; I would race on feeling.  When we finally crossed the start and began to run, I felt rushed — relaxed in the shoulders, but hurried in all my movements.  That set up a smooth rhythm with a little faster turnover than what I’m used to.  Everyone spent the first 5K sorting themselves out.  Once my 15K renovation began I pushed a little bit to see what that felt like and dropped back.  There were a few places with small undulations where I took the opportunity to try a faster rhythm or a shorter stride.  I was running a bit quicker, but stayed well back of the edge.

The middle segment I knew was very weak last time, so this time I pressed.  There were longer periods when I let my breathing get heavy, but I didn’t have to pump my arms or use any self-talk.  Where there were opportunities to get a bit more space, I surged.  If I found a runner even slightly annoying, I passed them.  One of the things I don’t like about this race is how crowded it is.  There was almost never a clear line of sight to a runner 50m or so ahead.  Normally, this is how I surge and raise my overall pace.  Yesterday, that was impossible.  I would have had to weave through the entire course.

To the superfan near Ontario Place: thank you.  Instead of the usual din that everyone else makes, you improvised a creative monologue of the perfect weather, the golden sun warming our shoulders, the colour running past you, the stony faces, the smiling ones, the ones in pain.  With no megaphone, but  the strength of your clear voice which I heard crack from the effort, it was the most refreshing encouragement I’ve ever been showered with.  You made my race.

Soon enough I hit the last 5K, and I wasn’t feeling very good.  My quads weren’t heavy from oxygen debt, but they were flat from inadequate taper.  I wasn’t getting any spring from the toe-off any more.  In fact, no one around me was feeling particularly good and they were all talking about it.  One runner was nodding to her partner that her legs were lead bricks, and her feet were on fire, and that yes, it was going to hurt.  I don’t know, but to me, this doesn’t sound like any kind of a reason to keep running.  Listening to her, I wanted to quit and my legs were still pretty good, compared to the sound of hers!  Another reason to get the hell out of there.  I wasn’t relaxed any more, and I had to consciously think about releasing the tension from my shoulders.  There is a slight rise away from the lake.  It’s not nearly steep enough to take it on my toes but I did anyway.  Those muscles weren’t as tired as the others, and now I had to focus on the momentum in my arms to keep my legs turning over.

If you’re not bilingual, a half-marathon is 21.1K.  My race plan didn’t add up — a 5K plus a 15K is 1.1K short of a half.  By the time I reached that extra 1.1K I was so queasy I didn’t even notice that my math was wrong.  I ran on nothing but green fumes, about to go projectile at any moment.

In the chute, my mouth soured with a familiar metallic tinge; I knew I’d pushed the beginning and middle of the race as much as I dared.  If I’d pushed any more aggressively, I might have faded at the end.  On a proper taper, I might have been able to make more of my race, but yesterday I put together the best race I could with what I had.  Irrespective of my time, I learned everything I should have from a tune-up.

My final time was 2:06:25.  I ran the intro at a comfortable pace of 9:57 mpm, then opened the 15K at 9:38 mpm.  Suspense and conflict were held at bay with 9:31 mpm.  The final curtain went down at 9:28 mpm.  It’s no coincidence that these correspond to my tempo paces, but I’m a little surprised that I managed to hold it for so long.  I ran roughly 11K, almost 7 miles at the pace I usually hold for 4, after I ran 10K at an effort that was already uncomfortable.

This is Toronto’s biggest marathon with all of 2713 finishers.  The half is much more popular at 7894, but compared to Boston, New York and DC, where I’ve lived and run in the past, I’m always a little sad for my hometown race.  It feels a bit provincial.  The drivers of the city don’t like the road closures, and even radio and TV news coverage decry the traffic snarls first.  Otherwise, most Torontonians wouldn’t be aware of the race at all.

This year the Sheraton Hotel hosted the baggage check which meant that their lobbies were invaded by runners, and their bathrooms overused.  I didn’t arrive particularly early but had enough time that I could avoid the ghetto of cold porta-potties, just across the street from the hotel.  My hometown race is provincial but the amenities can’t be beat.

I’m not a fan of the course.  It winds through non-descript parts of our downtown core to get to a 6-lane parkway which follows the lake.  You can’t see the lake from the road, and it’s more or less a straight shot out-and-back.  There’s plenty of parkland to either side of the highway, so it’s not bleak — it’s rather lush for a road.  As a race venue though, the stream of runners ahead and behind for a solid 5 miles feels endless.  Not something you want to notice in the middle of a race.  The one highlight is being able to watch the elites come back.  That sight always sends electricity straight up through my scalp, and gives my feet a little bounce.  The course is very flat which is billed as a plus, but it just adds to my boredom.

Considering the negatives, I can’t understand why I run this race well.  Regardless of my fitness, I make mostly even, but slightly negative splits every time I run it.  I don’t love it, but there you go, there must be something that makes it special.



Leave a Comment
  1. Keith Peters / Sep 27 2010 7:26 pm

    Wow. Great time, Elodie! You beat my half by 7 minutes. It sounds like the course was exactly what I ran on my long run there back in April. I remember it well. You’ve got me excited for my next half, now – in just a few weeks!

  2. elodiekaye / Sep 27 2010 8:27 pm

    Yup, you saw everything I saw. I don’t think it’s at all fair to compare this time to yours though. Your half was on a really hot day in the spring before anyone had time to acclimate. Race conditions yesterday were near perfect, 48ºF with no wind to speak of. We both know you can do the half a lot faster. 🙂

  3. Jim in Wells / Sep 29 2010 1:04 pm

    I know I read some of this on your DM post Elodie but I did enjoy reading your expanded version here in your blog. This weekend I am running a half [my second since I returned to running after a 15 year hiatus] which I look forward for several reasons: meeting many DM friends; marking progress as I bounce back from my leg injury; last longish run prior to the MDI marathon … reading our thoughts certainly helps me mentally prepare for this race Saturday. Prior to my injury and recent recovery activity I was hoping to and felt capable of running a sub-2:00 half, which would establish a new post-55 PR, and (I thought) would be a nice confidence booster going into MDI. However, I have shifted my goal to simply running an enjoyable ‘hard comfortable’ [borrowing a phrase from Joe] race as another step towards completing my original goal: successfully completing my 15th marathon – after (already mentioned) a long layoff. Once again … thanks for sharing, thanks for ongoing support and encoragement. You are a jewel.

    • elodiekaye / Sep 29 2010 1:36 pm

      It’s my pleasure, Jim. I so happy that your leg is healing well, that is the most important thing — well, the most important thing regarding running. 🙂 You have a well-balanced, thoughtful plan for your race, although I think that when I’m not feeling 100%, no plan is a good option, too. Sometimes I make that decision on race morning. You definitely have a sub-2 half waiting to break out of you. There’s no hurry though — there are many more miles left to be run… Good luck next week, I know you’ll make the most out of it no matter what happens.


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