Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Race report: Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon 2013

Spoiler alert: this race was awesome!

Saturday my husband and I successfully pawned our children off on some helpful relatives and headed into downtown Toronto. First stop, the race expo. Packet pickup was straightforward, but the expo area was crowded and neither of us does well in crowds of slow moving people (especially when half of them are on their smart phones and not paying any attention to where they are going). So we decided not to do much shopping, although we did snag some free yogurt.

Kind of sad I didn't manage to spend any money or buy any fun new gear. I love new gear.

We checked into our hotel, where we got a free upgrade to a corner suite (fancy!) and a stunning view of the ass end of the CBC building (not fancy!). Headed out for dinner where I had a burger and fries, which I know isn't exactly a traditional pre race meal but it's worked for me in the past.

Yeah, I don't think this hotel is known for its views.
Made sure all my stuff was organized, hung out for a while in the hotel bar with my husband eavesdropping on people, and eventually went to bed. There was some sort of wild party going on on our floor of the hotel, so iDevices to the rescue with some nice ocean noises to drown out the idiots. What the hell is the appeal of partying it up in a hotel room, anyway?
Making sure I didn't forget anything! Flat Emma ready to run. Although she might want a pair of shoes.

I woke up a few minutes before my 6 am alarm, feeling fantastic. I rarely get that good a sleep the night before a race because I'm usually waking up every 30 minutes in a panic that I've slept through my alarm - but in this case our hotel was only 1 km from the start line, so I knew I would have lots of time even if I did miss my alarm. I choked down my preferred pre-race fuel (half a bagel and some caffienated NUUN), messed around for a bit with my iPad, got dressed, and headed for the hotel lobby breakfast to see if I could find a banana. It was quite amusing watching people approach the breakfast buffet - I played spot the runners, who were all stocking up on bananas and oatmeal and leaving the eggs and bacon untouched.

I wanted a strategy for the late race mental suck, and I thought this might be helpful.
I gave my husband my post-race bag of gear, put on my throw away sweater, and headed to the start area to rendezvous with my little brother and various Daily Mile friends. It's always so much nicer to spend those nervous pre-race minutes commiserating with other runners instead of standing around lonely! We unfortunately failed to get any group pics, but people were coming and going from the bag check and I don't think there was a moment we were all there at the same time.

I did remember to grab a picture with Patty, at least! You can find her take on the race here.

The grey and pink coordination wasn't planned, but don't we look great? Team Ruffle Skirts! Although mine only has ruffles on the back.
Patty also let us in on the secret of the bathrooms, aka how to find an empty bathroom close to the start with no line up.
Hello swanky deserted bathroom incredibly close to the corral entrance. Score!
We wandered aimlessly around a bit, went back to the bathroom again, and eventually made our way to the yellow corral to wait for the start of the race.

Start line waaaaay off in the distance.
I was feeling surprisingly warm in my sweater, arm warmers, and gloves while we waited for the start, so with about 10 minutes to go I decided to toss the sweater. After Oh Canada, some booing of Doug Ford, and the start of the red corral, it was our turn to move forward to the start line. At this point my watch lost satellites because I had locked on too early and it had been idle too long (gah!) and I made the hasty decision to also ditch my arm warmers and gloves, so I was a bit frantic as the horn sounded and we were off. The last second wardrobe toss may explain how my watch didn't actually start when I crossed the start line - I SWEAR I hit start, but about 300m into the race I looked at it and saw a big fat 0. Ack.

So basically my watch was totally whacked for the whole race. This, I think, ultimately worked in my favour, since I was able to ignore it and just focus on staying with Patty. She told me our splits after each km and I just worried about successfully dodging the slower runners we seemed to be continually passing.

The first part of the race went by so fast! Every km marker for the first 10k or so seemed to come up way sooner than I was expecting it. There was some decent downhill in the section on Bathurst and we took advantage; I remember Patty telling me some splits that seemed crazy fast, but it all felt pretty easy at that point. And we needed to make up some time after a slow first kilometer anyway. There was one problem - at around 7k the top of my left inner thigh muscle really started to hurt. It was very distracting but didn't seem to be affecting my running at all, so I ignored it as best I could. The kilometers continued to tick by, and other than the sore thigh, I felt great. I was in the zone, not really thinking about anything at all, which is ideal, because it means my brain wasn't bothering me with doubts. I wasn't even listening to music, although I had my headphones in just to keep them in place.

Once we got onto Lakeshore, I could definitely feel the difference in running flat vs. the previous downhill. The pace started to feel more challenging, but still well within my abilities. It was really fun to watch the elites go past in the opposite direction and scream encouragement at them (especially Lanni and Krista, who both broke the Canadian's women's record! So thrilled when I saw that after the race!). It was a nice distraction from the pain in the my leg/groin, and I also managed to spot my brother heading the other way before the two sides of the road separated and we couldn't play 'find our friends' any more. After the 10k timing mat, I felt like I needed a little boost so I put my music on. Which is probably why every time Patty said something after that point I was all WHAT? WHAT DID YOU SAY? Sorry about that Patty!

First 10k, sort of (since I didn't start my watch until we were 300m in, my splits don't reflect the actual course km markings): 5:21, 5:30, 5:21, 5:10, 5:05, 5:08, 5:10, 5:19, 5:24, 5:16

Official 10k mat split: 53:48 (pace 5:23/km - the 300m my watch missed were fairly slow, due to how congested the first km was)

Hey Patty, wait for me!
Overall, not looking at my pace really worked for me. Not looking meant my brain couldn't be all "OMG WE ARE GOING TOO FAST AND WILL DIE!!!" like I'm sure it would have if I'd actually been able to see some of those under 5:20 kilometers as they were happening. One of these days I will work up the courage to run a 'naked' race with no watch at all.

After the turnaround at 12k on Lakeshore I knew there was an unpleasant hill coming, both because we'd driven it the previous day and Patty pointed it out to me on the out part of the out and back. We made it up fine (focusing on even effort) and our split was I think pretty consistent through that km. Hill conquered!

10-16k, sort of: 5:21, 5:24, 5:21, 5:16, 5:24, 5:24

After 16k, though, my brain was starting to object to this whole running thing. Right on schedule. "This is too fast. let's walk a bit. Oh hey now both of your inner thighs are hurting, you better stop. Let's just slow down. Just for a few minutes. Let's walk a bit. C'mon. Just for a minute or two." I kept glancing down at 'believe' written on my hand and thinking, no, I'm going to keep going. I believe in my training. I'm doing this. 5k to go. Less than half an hour. I can do this.  4k to go. 20 minutes, I can do this.

We kept going. It hurt, but we kept going. If Oakville and this race have taught me anything, it's that I need to have a mental strategy in place for the late stages of the race.

17 & 18k-ish: 5:27, 5:13

I knew Paul had said he would be waiting around 19k to cheer, and I latched onto that. Just get to Paul. Look for Paul. Don't think about how much this hurts. And then I spotted him and freaked out, waving my arms in the air like a total idiot, but seriously, I was so happy to see him! It really gave me an energy boost, so thank you Paul!

Under the Gardiner - photo swiped from Paul.
 19 & 20k or so: 5:21, 5:21

Finally, we turned up Bay St towards the finish. I swear it felt like we were running over sand at this point (especially since it was uphill, OMG why is there always an uphill at the finish???), and I have no idea how fast we actually went because between the Bay St. tunnel and the tall buildings, my watch freaked out and recorded some really bizarre stuff. And Patty's watch couldn't deal with it either, so we have no idea. There were markers for 500 meters to go, 400 meters to go, etc, and they DID NOT HELP. Every one of those 100 meters felt like the longest 100 meters of all time.

21.1k: ???? my watch claims 4:50 but it also seems to think we were about 150m west of where we actually were and then we levitated over a bunch of buildings to the finish, so clearly that's not right.

That's the best of a terrible, terrible set of photos. Yikes. 
Crossing the finish felt a little anti-climactic because I had no idea on our time. Patty said we were under 1:54, so yay, but it wasn't until my husband met us as we came out of the finishing area that he confirmed I'd run 1:53:57. 'A' goal achieved!! I have to give a ton of credit to Patty for this one, she believed I could run with her even when I wasn't convinced it was remotely possible, and I don't think there's any way I would have run sub 1:54 without her there to push/pull me along. Left to my own devices I would have gone for 1:55 and possibly cheated myself out of over a minute (or more) on my time. Thank you Patty! Having someone to run with makes such a huge difference.

Chip time: 1:53:57 (PB by over 4 minutes!)
Category place: 136/776 (17.5% - this is blowing my mind, I still think of myself as a mid-pack runner)
Gender place: 893/5371 (Patty was 892nd, I knew I should have tripped her when I had the chance)
Overall place: 2947/10093

Post race - sweatier, but happy. Once again I had my medal on backwards. You'd think I'd learn to check that before we take pictures.

The finish area was kind of insanely crowded and I was starting to get cold, so I said goodbye to Patty and headed off with my husband to walk back to the car. I also managed to steal Patty's sunglasses. That'll teach her to finish a race one second ahead of me.

Nathan Philips Square finish area and the funky bike sculpture in the background. Can you spot Sam and Nicole?
Ran into Sam and Nicole, talked briefly about our races but we were all tired and holy crap, when not running it was cold! So we headed our separate ways to find our cars and head for home.

Hello salted caramel hot chocolate, with your nice hot cup to warm up my freezing cold hands.
Things I liked about this race: Hello new PB! I enjoyed the course, other than that stupid hill at the end. Really fun. The t shirt is great. Decent crowd support along the way, especially the drummers at the Ex. Some amusing signs ("You are running this city better than Rob Ford" "You know you want me" held by a guy dressed as a bottle of beer). Running along Lakeshore back towards the city with the CN tower in the distance was pretty cool (even if that was a bit of an 'oh shit we have to get past there to get to the finish it looks so far' moment).

Not a particularly impressive kit overall, but the shirt fits very nicely. I demand more samples of products I will never buy!

Things I didn't like: The crowd at the finish - too many people waiting for runners blocking the runner's exit so things started to back up. I think they needed some volunteers to keep the crowd back. Spending the entire race dodging around people; I kind of wonder how much extra distance we ran due to constantly passing people. I had to do a lot of back and forth especially through the first 10k. The woman who almost ran into Patty with her bike when she decided she just HAD to cross the road during a marathon. The cost - it's an expensive race!

Overall I think I prefer to run smaller races where the runners are more spread out and you have a little more room to breathe and settle into your pace. But I would run Scotia again; it's just not going to be a must do every year race for me the way Around the Bay is.

Nice bling. I like how they put Toronto landmarks on the medals (ROM this year).
So what now?

Next up is the Road 2 Hope half marathon, assuming the groin thing is fully resolved (I think it was a mild groin strain of some sort - what am I, a hockey player? It feels better but I have to test it out with an easy run). Then the Downsview 5k because my husband asked me to run it with him, it's his first race, and although I swore no more 5ks until spring, how can I say no to that?

And of course there's this, which I registered for in a fit of post-half marathon PB euphoria...

Wait, what did I just do?

I probably won't do weekly training updates now that my A goal race is over, because frankly even I was getting bored of me the last few weeks. I'll update the blog with race reports (of course) and then probably monthly training updates until marathon training starts. Oh my god, I'm going to train for a marathon. !!!


  1. Great report Emma! Where's Patty in that pic of you taken by Paul? You need to be in a corral where you're one of the slower runners and then you don't have the problem of constantly passing people. LOL I love your official race pic! :o) Congrats on the new PB! Running with someone makes all the difference in the world! It keeps you accountable.

    1. She's to the right, partially behind someone - I had to zoom in to find her. I was all YAY PAUL and ran towards him while she sensibly maintained her line and headed straight, lol.

      We probably should have been further up in the yellow corral - there were a lot of slower people in front of us.

  2. Congratulations on a well run race! Fantastic time and a HUGE PB!

  3. Awesome job, Emma, running a PB in a big race is not easy at all!

  4. Great report Emma!
    I like how you wrote "believe" on your hand. A good reminder.
    And I had no idea how much I helped by being there! It's my pleasure if it helped!

    Congratulations on a new PB! Well-earned!!

  5. Congrats on the PB! And good luck in Mississauga...that one is pretty awesome too and I love most of the route. who knew that there would be so many beautiful streets and houses there? And they have a very cool mayor. :). Keep up. The great running and blogging!

  6. YAYA! Marathon! Congrats on an amazing race and for believing in yourself. Having someone to run with does really make a huge difference on any given day! You should be so proud of how far you've come in such a very short time. Hard work pays off! Congrats to you!