Sunday, September 28, 2008

Race Report: Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon

As noted in previous posts, I headed downtown on Saturday night to pick up my race kit from the expo and check into the hotel. Since I wasn't exactly sure where to go for dinner, I elected to just pick up a ticket to the race's pasta dinner to play it safe. As I was a bit rushed, I forgot to pick up a paceband while I was at the expo, but I didn't worry about it too much as I planned to stick with the 3:20 marathon pacer and, failing that, had my watch to pace me.

After dinner, I headed back to the hotel and finished up some work on my laptop before getting all of my running gear ready. I set the alarm for 5:45 the next morning and went to bed around 10:00 to make sure I got enough sleep prior to the race. In the morning, we got suited up, double checked everything and then headed down to the starting area.

Once we got down to the race site, we walked around a little to familiarize ourselves with the layout. We met a few people from the local running room shop, and also ran into yumke getting ready for his first BQ attempt. After chatting for a little while, we wished each other luck and headed down the start corals to find the rest of our running group. We didn't have much luck at that given the number of people out, and with the start approaching I broke off and headed to the yellow corral (1:36-1:47) to look for the 3:20 marathon pacer that I planned to utilize.

After walking around a bit, there was no sign of him/her so I just got into position in the corral and waited for the start. This was a bit of a disappointment, as I was looking forward to running with a stable pace group rather than continually monitoring things myself. The corral filled in quickly, and after the national anthem the groups were moved forward to fill in the starting queue. In total, more than 14,000 runners were taking part in the races that day so things were packed in pretty tightly.

When the starter's horn was sounded, the ocean of people started moving forward. Thanks to the Corrals, however, most people in my general area were running at about the same pace so the traffic wasn't a huge problem. The planned pace (4:44min/km) felt very comfortable, so I let myself drift a little faster than that to gain a bit of time.

1K: 4:56 158bpm

About 60 meters prior to the 1K mark, however, the auto lap sounded meaning that my watch was measuring a bit short. I had swapped out a new pair of shoes in the previous week for the race, but hadn't had a chance to recalibrate the sensor. I didn't worry too much about it, as they were the same make/model/year as the old ones, and the sensor was last calibrated when they were new. Unfortunately, there obviously was a difference and with the sensor measuring distances short that also meant that the paces shown were going to be a little faster than they actually were.

At that point, I started pushing a little harder to correct for that deficiency, but as I didn't want to fiddle with the watch too much while running I didn't do the exact math. I knew the rough splits to expect at certain milestones, and figured that I'd dial in corrections at those points if necessary. Either way, I was really regretting the fact that I forgot to pick up a paceband from the expo the day before, as it would have come in very handy at this point.

2K: 4:45 167bpm
3K: 4:42 170bpm
4K: 4:49 169bpm

The next three kilometers went pretty well, while they were a bit slower than planned they were close enough for it not to be a problem. I was still running with the same basic group of people, and was still feeling pretty comfortable at this point. My heart rate was a little higher than I would have liked, but it was still within a safe range given prior runs.

5K: 4:45 169bpm

At the 5K point, there was a small overpass that the course traveled over, adding a bit of a challenge. On the way up (+2% grade, 330m), I backed off a little but I accelerated as I crested the hill and went down (-3.6% grade, 160m) a little faster than pace. Looking at the splits, this worked out well as my average speed was about right and my heart rate remained stable over the hump.

6K: 4:48 170bpm
7K: 4:47 170bpm
8K: 4:47 170bpm
9K: 4:51 172bpm

The next section of the race was relatively uneventful, with a bit of an incline but otherwise a straight shot down a major road. I started to find some other runners going at about the right pace, and started using them rather than my watch to keep me at the right speed. Looking back, this was a bit of a mistake as the data shows that I started to fall back at this juncture. Fatigue hadn't really set in yet, and I likely could have pushed a bit harder in this portion (which in retrospect would have helped down the road).

10K: 4:36 173bpm

As I passed the 9K flag, I realized that I was starting to drop back so I broke away from the group that I was running with and tried to catch up. Unfortunately, I pushed a little bit too hard in this segment and that began the process of tiring out my legs a bit.

11K: 4:45 173bpm
12K: 4:46 173bpm

After backing off from the over-enthusiastic pace of the last kilometer, I took the next 2K at roughly the correct pace. By the end of the 12th kilometer (the turnaround point), I was feeling relatively good again.

13K: 4:42 173bpm
14K: 4:47 173bpm
15K: 4:48 175bpm
16K: 4:42 175bpm

For the next little portion, I attempted to carefully step it up a bit to make up for lost ground. As visible above, my pace was a bit unstable here due to this and near the end of the 16th kilometer I was beginning to feel some fatigue in my legs again.

17K: 4:51 175bpm
18K: 4:51 176bpm

With my legs getting sore again, and my heart rate climbing my focus moved from trying to hit my target to simply getting to the finish line as quickly as possible. I slowed down a bit in the next little segment to allow my legs to get better, but they were feeling quite heavy at this juncture so it was a bit of a fight.

19K: 5:21 175bpm (4:58 pace minus walk break)

At the end of the 19th kilometer, we again approached the overpass that I first hit at the 5K mark going out. The combination of the steeper ascent in this direction, and the fatigued legs made this trip over it a lot more difficult. I managed to make it up the hill without loosing much speed, however my legs were quite tired by the time I hit the top so I fell back to a walk for about 50 seconds to rest. Getting started again was hard at this point, but I pushed myself back to a run before I hit the 19K marker.

20K: 5:15 173bpm (4:44 pace minus walk break)

This was a relatively flat portion of road, however the walk break at the end of the last kilometer didn't quite clear out the lactic acid so it was still quite hard. With the final stretch approaching, I figured I'd try another short walking break (1:15) to see if I could freshen the legs up a bit more. As before, however, it didn't really help a lot so I switched back to a running gait as I approached the 20K marker.

21K: 4:52 176bpm
21.1K: 4:13 182bpm

While my legs were still quite sore, my breathing and heart rate were both relatively stable so with only 1,100 meters left I figured I'd just bite the bullet and endure it. I started out a little slowly to see if that would help, and then picked it up as I went along. The soreness didn't go away, however it wasn't getting any worse so I just ignored it and continued accelerating.

When I hit the 600 meters to go sign, I opened up a little more and with my mind focused on the finish line the legs weren't really bothering me much any more. As I hit each of the remaining signs, I stepped it up a little more and finally opened up to a 4:00min/km pace for the final 100 meters. Once I crossed the finish line and broke to a slow walk, the pain faded pretty quickly as my heart rate fell.

In the end, I crossed the finish line a little under two minutes slower than I expected, which is still a pretty good result considering that this is my first race at this distance. The 1:40 goal was a bit aggressive to start with, and the result that I got here actually lines up well with what the predictors suggested from my 15K results. Either way, it gives me something to reach for the next time I attempt this distance ;)

Chip Time: 1:41:46.6 (overall results)
Gun Time: 1:42:20.1
Pace: 4:49min/km
Place Overall: 518/6373 (91.8th percentile)
Place in Men: 428/2838 (84.9th percentile)
Place in Age Group: 55/341 (83.8th percentile)

Average Heart Rate: 172bpm (~84% MHR)
Full Telemetry
Route Map (with notes)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Final Sessions...

I managed to finish off the last pace run before the half marathon this morning, completing the 6K route in 27:52 (avg 4:39min/km pace). That was a little faster than I was trying to do, but it's difficult to nail pace precisely with such a short run as any little error can become quite significant. Either way, my pace was relatively stable and stayed within a reasonable envelope so I think that I'll be okay for race day. My heart rate averaged about 164bpm (74% HRR), peaking at about 174bpm (80% HRR) near the end both of which were quite comfortable.

After getting back and eating lunch, I headed back out on the bike to put in one final session before the race. In order to reduce the load, I elected to do my normal cycling route in reverse so that the steep portions (600m @ ~5%) were downhill and the long incline was uphill (3K @ ~3%). This actually worked a lot better, as my legs were a less tired by the end of the ride and my average heart rate was actually higher than normal (as I could push more evenly throughout the ride, rather than pushing very hard up the hill and then coasting a bit to recover).

With only an easy 3K run on Saturday morning left, this is pretty much the end of my proper training, so all that is left now is to let my body rest over the next few days and prepare itself for the race itself. The last few months have seen me dramatically increase my mileage, and I've run longer and harder than I've ever done before. As such, I'm confident that I've done everything possible to prepare for this race so it's just a matter of getting ready for Sunday to reap the benefits of all of that work.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

10K at Race Pace

Just finished the last moderate distance run before the race itself, covering 10K at my intended race pace. Tomorrow I'll be doing a short 6K run at the same pace, and will finish off my training with a slow 3K run on Saturday morning to freshen up the legs a bit. In the interests of maximizing recovery, I used a different route that was a good deal less hilly than my usual path. The goal, naturally, was to attempt to maintain a stable 4:44min/km pace for the duration to get my legs used to moving at this speed.

The weather turned out to be near perfect, with the temperature at a comfortable 17C and clear skies. As such, I headed out just after 10:00, running out a little more than 5K then turning around and heading back. My pace was a little faster than intended near the beginning, but I managed to pick up the planned place just after the third kilometer. I managed to hold that pace until about 8K, when I unintentionally began to pull ahead again (9K at 4:34min/km and 10K at 4:36min/km). Overall, the average pace for the entire run worked out to about 4:41min/km.

I'll definitely have to pay a bit more attention on the run tomorrow to even things out, but that variance wasn't too bad so it shouldn't be a major issue. Naturally, no matter what I do here pacing will be a little different during the race itself as running in a crowd is a lot different than running solo.

With that said, the 4:44 pace felt quite comfortable and I think that it shouldn't be a problem pulling off the full distance at this speed. My heart rate stabilized at a little under 80% after 2km, and stayed there for the duration of the run. Unfortunately the heart rate strap slipped out of place in the last 2K so I don't have reliable data, but looking at the raw beat-to-beat data it would appear to have maintained the trend all the way to the end.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rest Day

As noted in the previous post, today is a rest day without any activities planned. I don't usually take many days like this, as I tend to fill in the rest days in my running schedule with either cycling or walking sessions. As such, this taper period feels a bit weird as I'm used to working hard up until the day before my races. I naturally understand the importance of this process for longer distances like this, but that doesn't stop my subconscious from looking out the window and thinking that I should be out there doing something ;) Either way, I have a plan and I intend to stick to it one way or the other...

Yesterday, I did my 6K LSD run as planned and it felt quite nice to do a short and slow run like that. I targeted a 5min/km pace, which is slower than I usually do these runs, and kept my heart rate below 70% for most of the session (it went up a bit as I ascended the hill at the end). After heading back for lunch, I went back out on the bike and did an easy 30K ride (55% HRR/27.7km/h) to even things out. In both sessions I focused on my form and took care to keep my cadence in the ideal 95rpm range.

Tomorrow, the plan is to do a continuous 10km run at my half-marathon race pace (4:44min/km). In addition to being the final major workout prior to the race, this will also give me a better feel for maintaining that pace, as well as the feasibility of maintaining it for the full distance. I'm planning on heading out in the morning for this session rather than the afternoon runs that I generally do during the week in order to get ready for the early morning starts.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Week 38: Final Week

Down to the final stretch now, with a little more than a week left to go before the half-marathon. As such, I'm heading into the main part of my taper and will be significantly cutting back my mileage this week. The last couple of months have seen my mileage go up significantly, so it will certainly be nice to be able to back off a bit.

Getting back to the previous week, things went pretty much as planned. The heat on Sunday made the 15K run a bit harder than usual, however I managed to maintain the planned pace without any issues. As mentioned in this post, we also replaced the speedwork session on Thursday with a hard tempo run which turned out quite well. With respect to cycling, I put in half centuries on Monday and Friday, as well as a hard 30K ride on Wednesday. In the interests of the taper, I elected to replace the 30K ride scheduled on Saturday with an additional 11.5km walk.

I also started working in a new pair of shoes for the race. While my old shoes still have plenty of life left (they're at about 400km), I managed to get a good deal on a new pair and figured it made sense to take full advantage of them. After the race, I'll switch back to the older pair until they are exhausted, but for the time being it is nice to be in a fresh pair again.

Weekly Totals:

Running: 41km
Walking: 45km
Cycling: 234km
Total: 320km

As mentioned above, we are beginning the main portion of our taper this week which will radically change the running schedule. Tomorrow, the LSD run will fall way back to 6K with an easy 30K ride in the afternoon. Monday will be a day off, followed by 10K and 6K runs at race pace on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday and Friday will be days off, with a short 3K run on Saturday to keep the legs fresh.

As for cycling and walking, I'll be falling back on them as well to help maximize the recovery this week. I'll play this a bit by feel as I haven't found much documentation on how to handle other sports in a taper like this, but the current plan is to do a pair of relatively light rides on Sunday and Wednesday and I'll stick to warm-up/cool-downs (~5km on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday) for my walking mileage this week.

Upcoming Week:
Sun (AM/PM) 6K LSD/30K Cycle
Mon Rest
Tue 10K Pace
Wed (AM/PM) 6K Pace/30K Cycle
Thurs Rest
Fri Rest
Sat 3K Steady
Sun 21.1K Race

Getting down to the race itself, my goal at this point is to aim for a 1:40 finish or about a 4:44min/km pace. I've successfully done 21.1km training runs at a 4:50min/km pace before and felt quite comfortable afterwards, so I believe that this is attainable in a race situation (especially as this course is much flatter than my training route). This will basically be the same pace that I ran the Midsummer Night's 15K race, however I've made a lot of progress in my training in the last month so as long as the weather cooperates things should go well.

While there is no 1:40 pacer, there is a 3:20 pacer for the full marathon so I'm hoping to stick with them until we break off. Naturally, if they don't maintain a stable pace I can go off on my own - but it certainly would be nice to stick with a group of runners throughout the bulk of the race. I still have to figure out my hydration strategy for the race, but with aid stations every 2.5km I will have plenty of leeway.

As for logistics, the plan right now is to head down to the expo shortly after lunch on Saturday, then check into the hotel and relax until the race itself. This should make things a lot simpler, and allow me to start the race better rested than I would be if I had to come in from home. The only question mark at this juncture is where to find appropriate pre-race food in the downtown core on Saturday night.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


In lieu of the speedwork session this week we elected to simply do a tempo run to aide in recovery for the race and assess our fitness level. Unlike conventional group runs, we were given a fixed course and instructed to go at our own pace - attempting to cover the ~6K route in as little time as possible.

It had been a while since we had done tempo runs, as our schedule switched these out for Fartlek sessions a few weeks back. We've primarily been doing runs focused on endurance, with a couple of runs focused on short spurts of high intensity (fartleks, speedwork and hill training). As such, I elected to push a bit harder than I had on previous tempo runs to get an idea of how far the training in the last little while has paid off.

After the talk, we warmed up with a short walk through the parking lot and took off as soon as we got to the road. I started off by feel and didn't worry too much about my formal pace. After looking down at my watch I noticed that I was going at about a 4:20 pace. This was a little faster than I had planned, but I figured that I'd give it a shot to see how it panned out.

As the run continued, my heart rate was still under control and there was no sign of fatigue in my legs so I kept that pace up. Fortunately, the traffic lights along the route were on my side (for a change) and allowed me to keep moving for the entire session. As I approached the 5K mark, I noticed that I was doing very well so I pushed things up a bit and hit it in 21:33. This is more than a minute faster than my personal record in racing this distance, and was achieved with significantly less effort.

After hitting that milestone, I backed off a bit as I was running at a 3:56 pace which wasn't really sustainable for long. Once things stabilized again, I dialed things up to a near sprint (3:36 pace) as I made the final turn and finished the run in a total of 24:26. Looking back on the telemetry, pacing appeared to be relatively stable so that bodes well for my ability to manage my speed by feel.

Either way, this is definitely a good sign as it demonstrates that the training over the last few months is paying off in my overall fitness level. Being able to maintain a sub-4:20 pace for nearly 25 minutes and keep my heart rate below 85% is certainly a promising sign. Once the half marathon is finished, I'm going to have to find some shorter races again to see what I can do in an all-out effort.

Distance: 5.7km
Time: 24:26.2
Pace: 4:19
5K Time: 21:23

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Week 37: 2 Weeks to Go

Despite some unpredictable weather this week, I was generally pretty lucky with all of my workout sessions. The week started out with a successful 21.1km LSD run, followed on the next day with a half-century (50mi/80km) on the bike. Both of these were important milestones, and did a lot to buoy my confidence for the race in a couple of weeks. Next week we are beginning the taper, so this week signified the peak of this training session and going out on a high note like this helps a lot.

Fortunately, the weather on Wednesday was quite nice so I upped the morning ride to 50km (instead of the planned 30km). With the extra distance, I did a bit of experimenting including giving the road I've been using for hill training (350 meters long at a 10% grade) a try on the bike. The way out (going down the big hill and back up a set of smaller hills) was quite a nice ride, but the way back was a lot of work. I made it up the hill, but the last 100 meters took a lot to keep going. While I've certainly come a long way on the bike, it is obvious that I still have some work to do with respect to hills.

Aside from those sessions, the rest of the workouts this week went great as well. The weather did force me to split the 80km ride on Friday into two, but I did manage to get the full mileage in once the weather cleared. Naturally that wasn't ideal, however it did allow me to push a bit harder than I would have been able to on a single ride so it did have some advantages.

Weekly Totals:

Running: 50km
Walking: 58km
Cycling: 239km
Total: 347km

As mentioned above, we are beginning our taper at this juncture so the training volume will begin to back off this week. The long run tomorrow will fall back to 15K, and I'll cease increasing cycling mileage for the time being. The following week will see a much more significant drop in mileage, but we'll work out the details in our race prep session at the clinic on Thursday. It's certainly been a long road, but all that training appears to be reaping significant benefits and hopefully that will carry through to the race!

Upcoming Week:
Sun (AM/PM) 15K LSD/11.5K Walk
Mon (AM/PM) 80K Cycle
Tue (AM/PM) 11.5K Walk/6K Fartlek
Wed (AM/PM) 30K Cycle/8K Steady
Thurs (AM/PM) 11.5K Walk/Speedwork
Fri (AM/PM) 80K Cycle
Sat (AM/PM) 8K Steady/30K Cycle

Longer term, I'm beginning to work out the details on how to handle the race itself. As the half marathon begins at 7:30am, the logistics of getting down there were pretty significant. I'm about an hour away from downtown Toronto, and when you mix in parking and getting to the start line it would have meant a very early morning. To avoid all of this, I elected to reserve a hotel room downtown and will share it with my instructor to help keep the costs down. That will place me about 500 meters from the start line and should leave me a lot better prepared for the race.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


When I headed out this morning to do the 21.1km (half marathon) LSD run the skies were dark, there was a continuous (albeit light) rain and the temperature was hovering at about 15C. This was a huge contrast to the hot, humid and sunny weather that I've had for the last few Sundays, and it made the long run much easier. The rain was a bit of an issue for the last few kilometers as it started saturating my shoes, however it helped a lot in keeping me cool and reducing the amount of water that I was burning through.

Given prior performance, my goal for this run was to target a pace of around 4:50-5:00/km and see how things work out. Probably should have gone a bit slower given the 'LSD' concept, however my heart rate was relatively comfortable (165bpm/~75%HRR) so I figured that it would be helpful to gauge my pacing at this distance. While I was certainly tired by the end, I did feel like I could have kept going if I wanted to so I should be able to push a faster pace when the race does come around.

If possible, I'd like to get things down to a 4:45/km pace for the actual race, as that will allow me to run with the 1:40 pacer rather than going out on my own. The more level course that the race will be run on should help with that, however a 5sec/km change is certainly quite significant. Either way, the final decision will naturally depend on how things go over the next few weeks.

The splits and final time were as follows:

Splits (km):
1. 4:59
2. 4:40
3. 4:47
4. 4:45
5. 4:51
6. 4:51
7. 4:46
8. 4:51
9. 4:49
10. 4:53
11. 4:55
12. 4:49
13. 4:49
14. 4:58
15. 4:47
16. 4:51
17. 4:53
18. 4:59
19. 4:57
20. 4:58
21. 4:32
21.1. 4:18
Total: 1:42:17.3 (Avg. 4:50/km pace)

In addition to the longer mileage, I also attempted to experiment with eating some Shot Blox during the run on the suggestion of my instructor. They did seem to help a bit near the end of the run, however I'm still not 100% sure that they are necessary for this distance. I was originally a bit worried about how hard they would be to eat while on the move, however they didn't really pose a problem. The texture wasn't terribly pleasant, however, so I'll have to give gels a shot to see if they are any better. Either way, this is a good time to play around with this sort of thing as it will likely become more important as I go beyond the 21.1km distance.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Week 36: Review

This was a bit of a mixed week, starting with hot and dry and ending with cool and wet so it gave a good variety to work with. The heat on Sunday made the long run pretty hard, and even with nearly a litre of fluid on hand I ran out before I got home (making the last few kilometers that much harder). Either way, I managed to fight through it in 1:27:50 (4:52/km pace) which bodes well for the full distance (21.1km) run scheduled for tomorrow. The 8K run this morning was the polar opposite, however, as the comfortable temperatures and light rain left me feeling like I could run forever (fortunately the weather report is calling for more of the same tomorrow).

Cycling-wise I managed to belt out 70km for the first time on Monday, and planned to do the same on Friday. Unfortunately, the weather initially messed up that plan a bit as I was only able to get about 40km in before it started raining. Luckily it cleared up in the afternoon so I managed to squeeze another 30km session in to reach the target for the day.

Weekly Totals:

Running: 47km
Walking: 53km
Cycling: 185km
Total: 285km

As for the upcoming week, things start out with a 21.1km LSD run tomorrow morning and will otherwise follow the standard plan. The speedwork this week will consist of 400m intervals, however our instructor hasn't given us much more detail than that. As far as cycling goes, I will also hopefully be bumping things up to a half-century, although the weather will certainly be a question mark on that one.

Fortunately, the temperatures look like they are going to be very nice this week. After a string of hot weather lately it will be nice to have some nice cool days to run. The rain certainly isn't ideal, however it's much easier to deal with than the heat.

Upcoming Week:
Sun (AM/PM) 21.1K LSD/11.5K Walk
Mon (AM/PM) 11.5K Walk/80K Cycle
Tue (AM/PM) 11.5K Walk/5K Fartlek
Wed (AM/PM) 30K Cycle/10K Steady
Thurs (AM/PM) 11.5K Walk/Speedwork
Fri (AM/PM) 11.5K Walk/80K Cycle
Sat (AM/PM) 8K Steady/30K Cycle

Friday, September 5, 2008

Getting Started with Speedwork

Yesterday was our first venture into doing speedwork, as the group elected to switch over to it a little earlier than the Running Room's plan indicated. We were originally supposed to do another hill training session, but the long run route used on Sunday will incorporate a few significant hills so the instructor felt that this was the better approach.

After the talk on heart rate training, we headed out of the store and ran down to the track at a local high school (about 2.5km away). Once there, we stopped and stretched while the instructor outlined the plan. Rather than just jump in with the 2x1600m session that the original plan called for, we instead did some smaller work and will build up to that in the coming weeks. In this case, we started with a lap around the track, then did six 100m intervals. Once that was complete, we stopped to get the group back together and then did two more quick 110m runs (with a walking recovery between them) alongside each other. Upon completion of the speedwork, we stopped briefly, stretched a bit more and then started the run back to the store.

Overall, I think that the session went quite well. Looking back at the telemetry and comparing it to the Fartlek sessions earlier in the week, I probably could have pushed a bit harder. Not having done a lot of high-intensity/short distance running like this it is likely to take a little while to get a feel for the right level of effort to put into it.

Next week the plan is to step up to 400m intervals, which will certainly need a good deal more strategy to get the right pace down. I'll likely try to do some longer bursts of speed during the Fartleks this week, and hopefully that will help to pin down what range I should be targeting.

Other than that, the plan is to attempt the full 21.1km distance this Sunday so that will certainly be an interesting session as well. Fortunately, it is looking like it will be substantially cooler than it has been in the past few weeks so that should help a lot. Unfortunately, the rain that is forecast today has limited my ability to ride so I was only able to get about 40km in before it started spitting (although a substantial (~30km/h) headwind made for a pretty good workout).