The Harvest Half Marathon was a last minute decision after the Milton Half was cancelled. I wanted a half as a final fitness test to make sure I was on track for Chicago. My goal for the race was to run sub1:21. According to the McMillian Calculator if I want to run a 2:48 in Chicago I needed a 1:19:50 half (3:47/km), but being so new to running these kinds of speeds I felt like anything at 3:50/km pace or better would put me in a good spot.
Race morning I was up at 5:30AM. I had a french toast bagel from Tim Hortons with almond butter and honey (it was delicious!). I started working on a bottle of Gatorade, which I wanted to be done by 7:45AM (1:15 before my race…..didn’t want to have to pee 30 minutes in). We were on our way to the race site by 6:00AM, and arrived by 7:45AM. It was cool, about 7 or 8*C, and it had started to rain. I picked up my bib and then waited in the car to stay warm until 8:30AM. At 8:30 I changed into my running clothes and did a quick (really quick, about 500m) warmup, and then moved towards where the other runners were congregated, out of the rain, waiting to head to the start. I had meant to take a gel by 8:45, but forgot and took it just after 8:50.
On the start line there seemed to be a number of regulars of the Waterloo Running Series. They were chatting with each other and the officials. I slotted myself in on the second row behind two males, who seemed to be the local running studs, and a girl who fit a similar bill. I waited for the gun, and we were off.
First Half (10.5km in 39:24, 3:46/km)
Immediately off the start I moved past the girl lined up in front of me, and slotted in behind the two local runners. A VW Beetle with a cameraman hanging out the back was leading the race. Within 500m I realized the two runners I was trailing were a different class than myself and there was no point trying to maintain their pace. I ran through my first km in 3:26. Fast, but now that things had strung right out I could get into a rhythm. My next km was more reasonable, 3:42. As I was running up a small hill just before 3k a runner surged past me and opened up about a 50m gap. This ultimately proved to be a blessing, but more on that later. At about 3.5km we were off paved roads and onto hard packed dirt road, which we would stay on until about 19k. The surface was pretty good, there were spots with holes you needed to be careful of, but they were easy to spot. But this did make for a very messy race. The top layer of dirt had turned to mud. Traction was only a problem in corners, which you had to approach carefully, but it did mean that by the end of the race we would all be filthy.
I ran through 5k in about 18:56, approximately 3:47/km pace. I will still pursuing 3rd place by about 50m. I was able to use him as a motivation for me to continue to keep my foot on the throttle. He seemed to be running very evenly, so if I noticed a gap opening up there was a good chance my pace had slowed and I needed to pick it back up. I steadily clicked off km’s ranging from 3:43 – 3:55 to cross half way in about 39:24.
Right before I reached half I took a gel. I also took a sip of water at two of the aid stations. I wasn’t sure if I really needed any of this, or if it helped, but I wanted to get some experience doing this at race pace to try to avoid any surprises in Chicago when I will need to take in some fuel.
Second Half (10.6km in 39:55, 3:46/km)
By this point in the race my legs were feeling very fatigued. My left calf/achilles that had been bothering me wasn’t much of a problem, but my quads were really sore. I thought I may have overdone it in the first half. The course is advertised as flat, and it’s true that there are no significant hills or steep sections, but I don’t think it was ever flat. It was constantly changing from slight uphill to slight downhill. About a km into the second half of the race there were two narrow turns. Everyone running the quarter marathon had already run this section so the ground was really soft. I had to be very careful here because I didn’t want to lose my footing.
I continued to charge forward and by about 13km I began to think about trying to reel in 3rd place, who was still about 50m up the road. Just as I was slightly lifting my pace he seemed to be slightly slowing his and over the next few km’s the gap shrank until I caught him around 16k. I didn’t blow past, he was moving at only a slightly slower pace, and I could hear his footsteps just behind me in the mud. This chase helped keep my mind occupied from the pain in my legs, and now I wanted to stay ahead of him (I wasn’t going to overdo it, placing really didn’t matter and I didn’t want to hurt myself, but I would use it as motivation to keep pushing). At 18k I heard his cadence speed up and he caught up but didn’t run by. We exchanged a few words and kept pushing forwards. At this point my legs were ready to be done running for the day but I still had about 3k to go. I began counting down the distance, ‘2.8km, you’ve done hard intervals that long’, ‘2.5k, that’s less than 10 minutes’, ‘1600m, just 4 laps of the track’, etc.
Just after 19k we turned off the dirt road and back on the pavement. With just over 2k to go I was ready to empty the tank. In looking back at my watch I didn’t speed up quite like I imagined I was doing, but I did grit my teeth and go for it (after the race I learned this is where I dropped the guy I was running with). Under 2k, just over 7 mins, I could suffer for 7 minutes. The last 2km were slightly uphill, and I managed 3:45 and 3:48 splits. I ran through the finish line in 1:19:19, a 3:46/km pace and good enough for 3rd overall.
Overall 1:19:19, 3:46/km, 3rd place
At the finish line my legs were wrecked, they had nothing left. My goal for the day was to see where my fitness was at for Chicago. 1:19:19 means a 2:48 marathon in Chicago is possible if I have a good day and execute. After some lacklustre training for the last 3 weeks this is a big boost. I can’t think of anything I would have done differently during the race, or how I could have gone quicker. I was really happy with my race.