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April 8, 2012 / elodie kaye

Harry’s Spring Run-Off 8K

What a magnificent day for a race! The sun glittered off Grenadier Pond, the winds were gentle, the temperature was a crisp 50ºF, as the race became heated the trees generously shaded us. I couldn’t have conjured a more charming stage to celebrate the marvel it is to be a runner in the spring.

My Excuses

I didn’t set any expectations for this race. In over 50 races, it was the first time I lined up uncertain of the limits of a budding injury. I’ve raced while gimpy before, but in those cases I clearly knew where the boundaries were. See, that’s the smart way to race while hurt (if you must), and I’ve been coached by smart people for most of my running history. I’m thrilled that I took the chance to run on that golden day, but it still could work out to be one of the more bone-headed choices I’ve ever made.

On my side, my hamstring isn’t too bad yet. I can still run on it, and 10 days of reduced training had proved to be well spent. The race is short, a distance I showed I could handle without damage earlier this week, if I ran easy. On bonehead’s side, the course is hilly — no beefy elevation changes but steep ups and downs that had also proven to be painful earlier this week. Another factor that works against me: I’m prone to recklessness in racing. Adrenaline surges, the frenetic tap-tap-tap of other feet propels mine, and I push considerably harder than I would on any training run, no matter my intentions.

How It Went Down

I ran a tightly controlled 11:40 for the first 2K (9:23 mpm). For reference, that’s 15-30s slower than my half-marathon pace, but 1:30-2:00 per mile faster than any run all week. I don’t believe I took a breath those opening 2K. Then I dipped my toe into a slightly faster cadence, but didn’t hold it, tentatively pushing and pulling back. I closed out another earnestly cautious 2K at 11:39. Throughout this portion, I could feel my hamstring and my knee, the sort of tugging that keeps me up at night, but no pain. I was halfway done though, hadn’t worked very hard yet, and some runners around me were beginning to slump in the shoulders. We were winding in and out of a wooded area by the pond. There was a faintly metallic smell of mud, and branches encroached with tender new buds. If not for the insistent drumming of rubber on asphalt, I could’ve imagined us on a trail. That longing broke my focus. I ran to feel the air, the rhythmic puff of breath, the swish of arms, and heat in my legs. I ran on the scent of sweet rot, wet pine, baked clay, smoky sage, and dewy green eucalyptus.

8K is terribly short. I had at least 3 more miles worth of trail dreams to play through when we came too soon to the final push to the finish. From the exasperated grunts of several runners around me who surrendered to a walk, you would’ve thought we were on an epic climb. On the flip side of that coin, two kamikaze runners blasted by us all with their hearts in their quads. Their enthusiasm and nerve was contagious — I almost went with them. Instead, I laughed at myself and wished them well. The hill is just about the same length and grade as the repeats I’d been doing, roughly 300m at 7%, the very hill reps that I cut from training to heal my hamstring.

47:24 clock, 46:04 chip. It’s a soft PR, but the previous one was hot and even softer. At 100%, I might have gone for sub-45 so not too far off, and maybe even 45:xx would’ve been ambitious on this twisting, rolling course. More than the time, I’m happy my left hamstring made it. I won’t know the full consequences for a couple of days. That’s my usual pattern with injuries, but I’m guardedly optimistic.

The Deets

Harry’s Spring Run-Off in Toronto (as opposed to Vancouver, which runs earlier) is the first of a series in central Canada put on by the aptly named Canada Running Series. As such, it’s well-organised, accurately measured, thoroughly marshalled, big and expensive. At $60, it’s easily the highest fee of any race I’ve run, 10K or shorter.  There are ample port-a-potties, lots of friendly volunteers, quick and efficient packet pick-up, and bag checks. This year there was a size limit for checked bags, a small backpack, which I thought was reasonable for a short race. Corrals have adequate space, and are clearly marked. CRS is nothing if not a polished machine, accustomed to handling crowds of runners who all want to do the same thing, right this very minute. The race has an atmosphere that’s reminiscent of the Rock ‘n’ Roll series of marathons, a comfortable, if somewhat mass-produced personality typical of corporate franchises — ironic, in light of the fact that CRS is over 20 years old and homegrown.

The course is run in High Park, closed to traffic for the race, so parking is a problem. However, the start time is a civilised 10am, allowing for runners to take the subway even if they have to depart from the farthest ends of the system. The High Park TTC station is within sight of the race tents.

I’ve spectated in previous years but it was my first time running this race, in spite of its prominence in the TO running scene. I’m a little dismayed and somewhat embarrassed that there are medals. Really? Is this what my hometown has come to, that a boutique distance race can only survive with professional race directors, soaring fees, and a shiny object? Apart from that, I liked the race. It’s a pretty course, it’s fun, and not so long or challenging that you have to be in top shape to run it. I would not consider it an ideal venue for a PR however, even if you’re a strong hill runner, due to several tight turns, some on inclines.  If you aren’t fast enough for the first corral (<41:00) expect to cope with congestion on the narrower pedestrian paths.



Leave a Comment
  1. bit101 / Apr 8 2012 7:25 pm

    Sounds great. Awesome write up. I was on the edge of my seat, waiting to see if your hamstring was going to blow out. That is pretty expensive for an 8k. But sounds like it’s put together well.

    Have you heard about park runs? Sounds like a great concept, and the people I know in the UK who have taken part in them seem to love them. Hoping they’ll come to this side of the Atlantic soon.

    • elodie kaye / Apr 8 2012 9:31 pm

      I didn’t know about park runs, that’s really neat! They don’t have any events in North America but there’s already a contact for the U.S. Interesting. It looks like PI ripped off parkrun’s idea with their unsanctioned racing promotion:

      I hope grass roots racing makes a comeback. TO used to have monthly 5Ks (even through the winter) with a minimal fee, and Santa Barbara has a popular weekly series on summer nights. On the beach. How can you beat that?!

  2. Anne / Apr 10 2012 7:57 am

    It’s wonderful to read your words here again, and to discover you can PR even while less than optimal. You made me forget for a few minutes my back was throbbing 🙂

    • elodie kaye / Apr 10 2012 12:14 pm

      Well you know how it is Anne, after a while you start going for PRs in those esoteric distances. Trails are even better because each one is unto itself, even if they’re advertised at the same distance. I’m glad your meds are sorted out now, but I hope you get some lasting relief soon!

  3. Maggie H. / Apr 11 2012 8:52 am

    Love this blog Elodie! Glad to know you have one!


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