Sunday, March 29, 2009

Around the Bay: Race Report

Around the Bay was my first attempt at the 30K distance, and is an important part of figuring out what I will be capable of when it comes to the Marathon in May. I had a minor injury a few weeks back that lost me a bit of mileage, so unfortunately I wasn't quite as well prepared as I otherwise would have been - however that sort of thing will happen in any training program so it has to be figured in.

Either way, I lost a full week of running while it recovered and then a good deal of mileage the week afterwards while I tried to ease back into it. The end result was that I only got two long runs in over the last five weeks, which has certainly slowed me down a bit. As last week's run went quite well, however, I elected to give this race a shot at my targeted marathon pace to quantify exactly where I was.

I should also mention that I elected to switch off the auto-lap feature of my Polar, and manually press the lap button at each marker along the course. While I was relatively confident of my calibration, this measure provided a level of protection as if it was off I would still have split times to measure my pace. Fortunately, the two sets of numbers appear to be pretty much perfect for this race (other than a few anomalies, but I'll discuss those later) so that wasn't really necessary - but it didn't hurt to be sure.

As such, I headed out with my family at about 7:15 this morning and arrived in Hamilton slightly after 8:00. They went to grab breakfast, and I headed up to Copps Coleseum to get ready for the race. As it was pouring rain outside at the time, I stayed inside of the building for the majority of that time, as did the vast majority of the nearly 5000 other runners. I walked around a bit, and ended up finding a few people from my local Running Room - we chatted for a while, then headed out to the starting line at about 9:10.

The organizers had us go around the block rather than walk directly to the line, so it took a few minutes to get into place. As it was still raining pretty heavily at this point I got pretty wet during this stage, but fortunately as the start approached it began to lighten up a bit. As all the good cover was taken by the time I got there, I got in position about 20 meters from the start line and waited for things to get going. While I was there, I ran into my instructor from the Half Marathon clinic I took last fall, as well as one of the other runners who was in the group. We talked until the starter's horn sounded, and we were off.

1K 4:52 157bpm

Traffic at the start was pretty heavy, and it took a while to abate given the sheer size of the crowd. In addition, there were a lot of potholes filled with water which made going in a straight line somewhat difficult. As such, my pace was a little slower than I had planned (4:52/km vs. 4:45/km) over this segment. Regardless, the rain wasn't posing much of a problem and I was feeling very good so it was difficult to keep myself from going faster at this point.

2K 4:37 166bpm

Naturally, after seeing my split for the first kilometer I paid more attention to my pace reading in the second kilometer and passed people as necessary. As I was still feeling quite good at this point, I got a little over-enthusiastic at this point and went a little faster than I should. Naturally, in heavy traffic it is often difficult to nail down a specific pace as you often have to choose between staying behind someone and going slower than desired, or accelerate past them and go faster than intended. With my concern about going too slow, however, my tendency was to select the latter more often than the former ;)

3K 4:37 167bpm

The third kilometer was more of the same, as the traffic was still pretty heavy and a lot of runners weren't keeping a very steady pace so I had to pass a lot of individuals. Things were starting to thin out at this point, however, so things were beginning to take shape. As my heart rate was still under control, I didn't worry too much about the higher speeds as I knew that I'd end up slowing down in the hills so having a bit of banked time at this point didn't hurt.

4K 4:44 168bpm
5K 4:45 169bpm

At this point the crowd had thinned out significantly, and I had settled in with a group of runners going at the same basic pace. As such, I pretty much nailed my desired pace for this segment with a small bit of variance for passing people or dodging large puddles. I was still feeling great, and my heart rate was stable so I was feeling pretty good about my chances.

6K 4:40* 169bpm
7K 4:42* 169bpm
8K 4:43 169bpm
9K 4:38 170bpm
10K 4:36 170bpm [Official GunTime: 47m21s, 4:41/K]
11K 4:41 170bpm
* (I missed the 6K marker, so it was added manually using the recorded distance rather than by the markers on the route. As such, the 6 and 7K split times may be slightly off due to variance between the calibration of the footpod.)

At the 6K mark some of the group I was running with started falling back, and as that happened I accelerated a bit more to pass them. As such, my pace was gradually drifting back up however I did what I could to keep it in check. There were a few small overpasses in this region, which gave me a bit of a taste of how my legs would deal with hills later on in the route and everything was still feeling great. My legs wanted to open up at this point, but I knew that to survive this distance I had to keep to the plan.

12K 4:45 167bpm
13K 4:48 166bpm
14K 4:48 165bpm
15K 5:06(4:45)* 166bpm [Official Gun Time: 1h11m28s, 4:44/K ]
16K 4:23(4:45)* 165bpm
17K 5:07(4:49)* 163bpm
18K 4:46 164bpm
*I'm pretty sure that the 15K (and possibly 16K) marker(s) wasn't in the right place, as these splits show a significant variance from what I felt I was doing as well as what my recorded pace readings show. The first number is the time taken between markers, and the second is the pace that my watch recorded.

The 12-18K segment went well, with me settling back into my target pace. At this point I was beginning to feel a bit tired, so I redoubled my focus on controlling my speed and made sure to budget my energy for the latter stages of the race. The lift bridge fell between the 15 and 16K marks, and the metal grid that it was composed of was a bit slippery so I slowed down a bit. Fortunately, as it wasn't too long that didn't amount to much.

19K 4:54 164bpm
20K 4:47 166bpm [Official Gun Time: 1h35m20s, 4:45/K]

At the 19K mark, we started entering the rolling hills which increased the difficulty of the run. At this point, they were relatively small hills (both short and of limited grade), but with one after the other they added up. As such, my pace suffered in this segment and my legs were beginning to feel a lot more stressed than they had in the first two-thirds of the race.

21K 4:57 168bpm
22K 6:11(4:57)* 163bpm
* Pace excluding the break to re-tie shoelaces.

The 21st kilometer started with a small downhill segment (540m/-3.3%) and ended with a long uphill (470m/+5.5%), so it began the most challenging portion of the course. While my pace was significantly reduced, I managed to crest the hill without burning myself out. That did a lot to boost my confidence, and give me hope of meeting my target.

Just before the 21K mark, however, my left shoelace came undone despite the double knot that I'd tied it with. With the wet roads and rain, the shoelaces were saturated with water - making them slippery and allowing them to slide loose. As such, after hitting the marker I pulled over to the side and re-tied the double knot.

Unfortunately, the wet gloves I was wearing made that process difficult so after fiddling around a little I pulled them off and tied the knot, then restarted. The process of pulling off the gloves, however, inverted the fingers and I couldn't get them back on without pulling over again and adjusting them so I lost a bit more time there. While I had plenty of reserve in my 5K race a couple of weeks back, at this point I was pretty tied so I didn't push it and simply kept my pace where it was comfortable. Due to all of that (and the second big hill), my split for the 22nd kilometer was a pretty brutal 6:11.

23K 4:56 167bpm
24K 5:04 169bpm
25K 4:51 168bpm

At this point in the race, I was starting to feel the fatigue set in. As there were a few significant downhills in this section, I took them easy and used them to give the legs a bit of a break for the big hill that was coming up. Having run the Valley Inn hill the day before, I knew how large it was and with tired legs it would be quite demanding. Fortunately, I also knew that it wasn't terribly long and once it was over the rest was pretty much flat ground.

26K 5:32 166bpm

The 26th kilometer basically consisted of a huge downhill portion (615m/-8%) and then a steep uphill portion (500m/+6.6%). Due to the grade of the downhill segment, and the condition of my legs I had to brake a bit more that I would have liked to control my speed. As such, I didn't conserve as much energy as I would have liked, and given the state of my legs I decided to take a brief walking break as I ascended the hill.

That worked out well, as it helped to abate some of the fatigue without stopping my forward motion. As I've done a good amount of power walking in the past, I was able to maintain an 8min/km pace over this break and still give the legs a break. After about 40 seconds (~80m), I attempted to run again but with my legs being tired and the grade of the hill I quickly elected to fall back and take a longer break after about 130m. As such, I took another 65 seconds (~130m) walking break and returned to a run for the final 120 meters of the hill.

27K 4:42 171bpm

With the hills now behind me, and only 3K left to the finish (a good portion of that downhill) I opened up again and returned to my planned pace. I was still tired, but the walking breaks helped a lot to give me a second wind. Naturally, knowing that there was so little ground left did a lot as well ;)

28K 7:25(5:19)* 163bpm
* Pace excluding the breaks to re-tie shoelaces.

About 400 meters into the next kilometer, however, my left shoelace came undone again. Given the trouble I had last time, I elected to forgo the double knot (as I could easily tie the reef knot with my gloves on) and hoped that it would hold out until the end. Getting started again was difficult at this point, as the tired legs combined with the full stop made things difficult. My breathing and heart rate were still well under control, however my hamstrings were resisting so I elected to take another short walking break (55s/115m).

I started running again after that, and while I was still tired it was feeling much better than it was before. Unfortunately, my shoelace was coming loose again so I quickly stopped, bent down and tightened it. This was a short enough break not to be a problem, so I was okay once I got started again. About 90 seconds later, however, the shoelace came undone again so I stopped, took off the gloves and retied the double knot (costing me a little under a minute).

29K 4:24(4:52)* 169bpm
* My recorded pace and the split time for this kilometer significantly disagree. While I did accelerate in this segment, I find it hard to believe that I was going anywhere near 4:24/K at this point so I'm guessing one of the markers wasn't correctly positioned (my guess would be the 28K marker, but with the problems in that segment I can't be sure).

Once I passed the 28K marker, the road started heading downhill. While my legs were still quite tired, knowing that there was so little distance left I pushed through and got myself back on track. As noted above, my split time for this kilometer was 4:24, but given what I felt and it's significant disagreements with my Polar's pace readings I'm guessing that one of the markers was simply out of position.

30K 4:48 172bpm

The final kilometer was pretty tough, but I continued to push through and kept up my pace from the last split. I had to slow down a bit as we made the right turn into Copps due to a bottleneck forming, but once I got onto the ramp I allowed myself to accelerate rapidly. We then made a right turn into the ice surface, and I broke into a full sprint - hitting the finishing line at a 3:26/K pace. Despite all of the problems, I still managed to maintain an average 4:55/K pace over the entire course, which is still a pretty good result.

All-in-all it was an excellent experience. While I came up significantly short of my goal, the difficulty of this course combined with the problems I ran into mean that I'm still feeling pretty good about it. Given the fact that I spent nearly three minutes at a full stop for all of the shoelace-related problems, and that none of that really provided much recovery benefit in a run of this length, my resulting pace wasn't that far off of my target. If the restarting issues are worked into that calculation, I'd get even closer.

With all of that said, I will certainly have to look over this race carefully to decide whether this pace is realistic for the full marathon in a month and a half. I had a lot of difficulty toward the end of the course, and while the hills and the faster-than-planned first kilometers played a part in that the extra 12.2km of the marathon add a lot of demand. Pulling back to a 3:30 target (~5min/km pace) would certainly be a safer bet, but I will have to see how things go over the next few weeks and make a call one way or the other.

At this juncture, my legs are pretty sore so I'll have to be careful about how I build back up to my training. After stretching I actually felt pretty good, but things started getting tight again on the ride home so we'll see how things go over the next couple of days. It's a bit of a balancing act as, on the one hand, my body needs some time to recover from the stress of this race, but on the other I've only got three weeks before the marathon taper so I can't give up too many miles. Tomorrow will definitely be a full rest day, but I'll have to figure out the rest of the week ;)

Chip time: 2:27:48.6 (overall results)
Gun time: 2:28:18.3
Pace: 4:55K (4:48K minus stops)
Place overall: 655/4915 (86.7 percentile)
Place in men: 539/2616 (79.4 percentile)
Place in age group: 44/184 (76.1 percentile)

Note: Due rain and sweat getting into the altimeter port, the elevation data for the course is a bit rough and doesn't really provide a lot of information. If you look closely at the plot you can see the overall trends within the noise, but it's difficult to make it out at a glance. Given my previous posts, I had hoped to post a detailed elevation plots for people running this race in the future, however this data isn't likely to be terribly useful at this juncture (I will attempt to figure out a way to work the noise out, however).


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  2. Hey there, nice report. I'm a graph poster too! I guess us engineers are all alike! i think I may have met you last year at Harry's spring run off. Kenny introduced us. Anyhow, I have a polar 625x and I have an elevation profile for ATB that's a bit cleaner. I could send it to you if it would help. BTW, i noticed in my splits that km 28 was long and 29 was short which is consistent with your splits.

  3. Yup, that was me.

    As for the elevation data, that would be greatly appreciated - I'll send you an email via your profile.