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April 23, 2012 / elodie kaye

Toronto Yonge Street 10K

The Toronto Yonge St. 10K (formerly the Sporting Life 10K — same course, new date) is the easiest 10K I’ve ever run, likely the easiest 10K in Canada, possibly North America, too.  Toronto doesn’t have any hills to speak of, but in carving out the Great Lakes, the glaciers bestowed a gift on runners: a gradual descent to the northern shore of Lake Ontario.  Thus, any point-to-point course from north to south has a net elevation loss, a lovely quad-sparing, PR-busting slide.  Add a prevailing tailwind from the north, and you have the most popular 10K in TO’s race season.

The day was cool, about 45ºF at race time, and cloudy, wind from the north as advertised.  It was a chilly, raw morning, uncomfortable for dog walking, good for racing.  I don’t have my excuses in a row for this one.  The hamstring I almost-but-not-quite injured 3 weeks ago survived Harry’s 8K and continued to strengthen.  It took almost 10 days for me to recover fully from the last race, a discouraging period.  I’m embarrassed to admit how fragile my ego is, how willing I was to believe I’d lost all my fitness, worse —  how easy my descent to self-pity.  Once the fog lifted, I managed to run a 3-mile tempo at my usual half-marathon pace. and was ashamed to receive a gift of healing.  I couldn’t deliberately make my hamstring hurt any more.

The usual test of whether you can safely keep running on an injury is whether it changes your gait, but I also use a more conservative indicator to check progress: can I change my gait to make it hurt?  If so, I probably am making subtle changes to avoid pain, even if I may not perceive it.  For a while, a heavy heel strike or a pothole would send a bolt of white-hot agony up the back of my leg.  For the 5 days before the race, I could still feel the stringy tendons but couldn’t make them jangle any more.

For training purposes, I would’ve considered the leg healed but in the caution stage of returning to full mileage and speedwork.  For racing purposes, well… the leg wasn’t good enough to go all in, and neither was my race fitness.  Covering the distance would be no problem, I had a big aerobic base before I got injured and raw endurance is slow to decay.  I had run one tempo and one 8K race in the past 3 weeks, both of them roughly at half-marathon pace (9:10 – 9:30 mpm).  Other than that however, no paced running of any kind, which meant I wouldn’t have any other gears to shift into.  No pace strategy necessary then!  Ride that one gear and don’t let up until the end.

How It Went Down

Unlike Harry’s 8K, I didn’t check my splits, my leg still needed monitoring but not coddling.  I occasionally clicked a lap here and there if I noticed a marker.  Mostly I tried to keep an even effort, staying smooth on the downhills and maintaining momentum on the few inclines, the occasional headwind through a wind tunnel of sky scrapers.  I noted how uniform and suburban the shops and cafes are through the miles uptown (at least they’re charmingly compact) then the grittier tattoo parlours, the odd strip club packed even tighter and closer to the curb, as we crossed Bloor St. into downtown.  In a flash we sank into a canyon of office buildings, turned and faced the Blue Jays‘ park topped with its smirking bronze gargoyles.  There was another turn and the rest is a nauseous blur.  My clearest memory is the distinctive clink of a steel drum band.  I vaguely wondered why I was feeling so sick, and how I could make it stop.

To me, 10K is a short race; my daily run lasts half an hour longer.  It’s a span of time that’s short enough that I don’t need or want much in the way of entertainment, or distraction.  Everyone needs encouragement, but if I’m racing well, the pain is usually too intense in the latter half for much to penetrate.  This race had incredible, tireless volunteers that smashed the mean-spirited stereotype of vapid teens.  Though I do think that stage of life can be painfully self-conscious and self-centred, their unabashed enthusiasm and limitless energy sliced through the churning, green haze I was running in.  “Go Random STRANGER, GO!”  Sometimes, they entertained spectators and themselves as much as us.  At one water stop, “Water, then Gatorade?”  “Water, then Gatorade!”  Humour is fuel, too.

I seem to have a fondness for finish times with seconds in the single digits lately.  My last two finishes were xx:07, xx:04, and now 52:05.  If I go for xx:06, I’ll mess up the possible straight for sure.  That’s 34s over my 10K PR; this is an easier course in better conditions but I wasn’t expecting it to be close.  I do know race volunteers contributed directly to my last two splits, 4:59 and 5:02 (8:02, and 8:07 mpm respectively); I don’t remember the last time I ran even 1K that fast — at least 3 years I’d guess.  Regardless, I wouldn’t have had the courage, then or now for that matter, to plan on charging hard down hill on a touchy hamstring.  Overall, the pace was almost a minute per mile quicker than my half-marathon tempo and the 8K two weeks ago, but I appear to have executed my race plan.  I held one gear from what I can tell with my meagre lap splits.

Race Deets

The course is dead simple.  It runs along Yonge Street, Toronto’s main commercial and cultural thoroughfare, from north to south, takes 3 dog-leg turns to the west and ends up at Exhibition Place by the lake.  Like Harry’s Spring Run-Off, this is also put on by the Canada Running Series, and much of what I reviewed about Harry’s 8K applies here too: big, expensive, well-organised.  Needless medals again.  Porta-potties were adequate, but the staging area is more cramped, so expect to wait through some lines.  One aspect I’m unable to review is water stops.  I don’t hydrate for 10K or less.

Baggage check and claim were efficient, but as this is a point-to-point race, logistics are more complicated.  This year you had to use the race bags given and not your own.  I found them to be too small to pack a change of clothes and an extra pair of shoes.  I have Raynaud’s syndrome which makes me more vulnerable to hypothermia if I stay in wet clothes after I stop running, so changing out completely is more important to me, but on a rainy day the race bags would’ve been inadequate for most runners.  Unlike Harry’s two weeks ago, transportation to and from this race takes time and exposure to whatever the weather brings.  For a $60 registration fee, this limit on warm, dry clothes seems petty.

Getting to and from this race requires planning.  The start is accessible by TTC but it’s only useful to get back to the start at the end of the race.  On Sundays, the subway doesn’t begin running in time for the 9am start.  From Eglinton Station, the staging area is about half a mile (800m) north.  There’s a limited amount of street parking in residential areas nearby, or you can park at the Ex near the finish.  For either of these options it’s best to pay for the race shuttles to get you to one end or the other.  From the finish area, the 509 streetcar will take you from Exhibition Place to Union Station, but Sunday schedules are quickly overwhelmed by the number of finishers.  Don’t expect to board unless you can finish in under an hour and won’t be hanging around for the food, beer or music.  Instead, walk to Spadina Ave. and Fort York Blvd. and pick up the 510 streetcar southbound.  It will turn east and bring you to Union Station, too.  Otherwise, it’s about a mile and a half (2.5 km) walk from the finish area to Union Station, less if you can take the 511 streetcar on Bathurst northbound to Bathurst Station.  If rain is in the forecast, public transportation from the finish is impractical.

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