Sunday marked the 35th annual Forest City Road Races here in London. Weather for the day was cool hovering around 7 degrees with plenty of gusting winds. This would be the first time I have run a road race half marathon and I had set an ambitions goal of 1:20:00 – 1:23:00. That would mean I needed maintain a pace of 3:50/km for the 21k. In the week leading up to the race I talked with my friend Mike Cooke and knowing he has run this race and the distance countless times before we decided we could pace each other. Life has been busier than ever lately and in the week leading to the race I was to taper but ended up running very low volume. (15km for the week) It was a little too much rest and the morning of I could feel the sluggishness of that low volume. This entire experience was a learning experience for me and I found that I may need less tapering than expected. Hydration for me was spot on race day. In the 48 hours before race day I made sure to drink plenty of water and electrolytes. That made all the difference because I only took water at 3 aid stations and managed to feel that my thirst was quenched.
Race morning I arrived with 30:00 to go before gun start and did some loops around the park to stay warm. After quickly chatting with fellow athletes and Mike everyone was called to the race start line. Dressed in my 2XU tights, long sleeves, a buff and the Forest City Road Races Shirt I was toasty warm. I knew that the temp was not going to get any warmer and as we stood on the start line there was mix of singlets, short shorts and others like myself in tights with gloves. After the national anthem was sung the count down began and the gun went off.
Mike and I had decided to get out front of the pack and planned to settle in to a 3:50 pace early on. With the adrenaline pumping and about 700 people behind us we took the first 2km in a blistering 7:20…. far to fast for my liking. After that we slowed things down and settled in to our goal 3:50 pace and ran through the University before heading into the park. This was around the 7km mark and things were feeling good we were ahead of the expected time for that distance and we were chatting away keeping each other company. Mike started to pull at times and I would call him out on it and when I slowed he would do the same. The two of us are a very good match for pacing this distance and it was a great thing for the first bit. Up to this point my heart rate was around 168bpm avg. This was right where I expected it to be and knew if I kept my breathing steady it would be sustainable for the duration of the race. As we left the park around the 8km mark my heart rate started to creep up. Granted we were climbing in elevation as we left the park I could feel fatigue setting in. Mike kept me motivated and reassured me that if we needed to slow things down we could. I tried to relax and refocus but I started to breathe erratically and lost control of my focus. We had dropped to a 4:12 pace and I told Mike to go on. The last thing I wanted to do was hold him back because we were on pace for a record time. I was very frustrated at this point and had to slow to a walk for a few seconds and let my heart rate stabilize and regain my focus.
Pressing on Mike was only 500m ahead of me and I did my damnedest to catch back up to him as we ran into the wind head on. By the time I turned onto Colborne now heading North and out of the wind Mike passing the 10k sign. By the time I reached the marker and looked at my watch it said 39:35. This was astounding to me and gave me hope that I would still hit my goal and perhaps catch back up to Mike.
Only a few weeks earlier I raced a 10k with a time of 39:48 so to be that much faster on a half was inspiring. I was still on pace for my goal time and Mike was having the race of his life certainly out to set a PB.
As I weaved through old North running by amazing cheering squads my legs felt ok but my pace had fallen off and I was now hovering around 4:00-4:15/km. Now around 12k in I started to get lost in my own thoughts, without Mike or anyone for that matter to chat to I was running solo. I was still optimistic and hoped I would pick up the pace once I turned onto Windamere Road and would have the wind at my back. Well I turned onto Windamere but again slowed to a walk out of sheer frustration. The next 2km stretch was a slow incline the whole way and I stopped for a second time trying to regain my focus. With my breathing back in check I was able to keep my heart rate down sub 170bpm until I crossed the 15k mark. It was at this point in the race that I ran past the St. Josephs Hospice and absolutely fell apart. My mother passed away in that facility back in January. This was the first of many emotions that hit me one after the other. The second was on Sunday (race day)there was a celebration of life for her hosted in the town where she lived. I was missing it to race and hoped to use that emotion to run harder and faster. Even when my mom was going through treatment for her cancer she was always telling me not to worry and go and race. It brought back a lot of raw memories and the third blow was the last time I raced a half marathon (trail race) this past summer she had just had a stroke the night before I was to leave. She stroked in my arms and i will never forget just how scary that was. 6 hours later she was insisting she was “OK” and that I needed to go and race. Always selfless in her every decision and stubborn I knew there was no changing her mind. I drove 3.5 hours north, won that half marathon trail race dedicating my win to her then raced home to be with her. All the sadness and anger surrounding her death returned in what can only be described as a flood of emotion.
After regaining my composure for yet another time I switched my watch to a different view, time only. I had managed to complete 15k in about 1:00:00. All this was still on track to make my goal time. I would have to run 6km in 22:00 which is very doable……despite this moment of inspiration I quickly lost my mental focus again. The rest of the race was a steady march back down Richmond St and through the park before returning to the down town core. 18km mark now and I was walking again…. completely spent emotion wise and now starting to feel a pain in my right leg I knew the last 3km would be a struggle like no other. It felt like a death march as I climbed in elevation returning to the park and proceeded to be passed by another runner with just 500M to go. At this point my watch said 1:25:00 and I watched as my goal time slipped farther and farther away. Crossing the line at 1:27:18 I was finally done but had managed to make take 9th overall and 2nd in age group.
Mike had indeed had a good race and PB’d with a time of 1:22:13. Congrats man and Sorry I fell off the pace and I can only imagine what kind of time we both could have had if I was in better mental form. Perhaps at the next one.
This was the fastest I have ever run that distance before and despite everything I am pleased with my time. It just means there is room for improvement in some areas. That pain I had felt in my right leg turned out to be a very angry and inflamed upper gastrocnemius combined with a right quad that was in spasm. I had twisted my body as I got progressively more tired during the race and my dominant leg took over twisting and pulling my weaker muscles in the wrong directions. The fact that I proved to myself I could race a road half despite my emotional kryptonite has helped me a lot. Also knowing that I was able to run a sub 40:00 for the opening 10K I truly believe I will hit a 1:21:15 goal in the future.
With this race in the books I will be taking a week of easy recovery not just physically but emotionally before getting back on track to the summer duathlon season. I lost 4 lbs of water weight also so that is another thing I need to recover from.
What I have discovered is that I am still trying to use the memory of my mother to motivate myself but its proving to be more difficult than I imagined. I have said it before but its like walking that knifes edge and I am still learning how to control and live with the sadness.
Until next time.