Burlington 2010 Chilly 1/2 Marathon Race Report

Stopping midway to say hi to the familyPart of what makes running so much fun is that it provides unexpected challenges and from that learning opportunities which stretch far beyond the field of running. On the Burlington Chilly 1/2  marathon race held on March 7th, 2010, the weather and conditions could not have been better for this time of year.

The clouds started to thin out as the race time approached and the energy of the runners waiting for the race to start was infectious. Despite efforts with Oregano Oil and other means to ward off the seemingly inevitable chest cold impacted my race day! I took a 12 hour decongestant 14 hours before race time to at least give me a running start and in the morning I felt as though it might be gone. Wishful thinking I suppose. I practiced positive thinking to the point of not being willing to admit to myself what I was fighting for 2 days was not gone. I felt so good at race time that I decided to aim for a sub 1:50 time.

I have previously met this pace in similar runs with active effort but little discomfort for me. As this is my first 1/2 marathon race, this seemed a good starting point allowing for plenty of improvement going forward while still challenging me at my current fitness level. It was such a beautiful day that it seemed a perfect way to welcome the onset of spring; retuning to the trails with no snow/ice, shorts and t-shirts,  sunshine, and life beginning anew.

In retrospect, I must have been riding on all that pre race energy as the second half of the race revealed the nature of how critical the efficiency of the lungs are at being able to run at a certain pace. I found in my last race that Queen’s “Under Pressure” was a very uplifting and focusing song to wait for the race to begin so I decided to repeat this success. The energy in the crowd was strong and I felt good about my energy level despite having two nights of interrupted sleeps due to the cold making its way within my family’s home. My good long time running friend and I situated ourselves at the place where the sign indicated our general pace we expected to be running for the race. In retrospect, we were a bit too far back and ended up spending some energy passing people in front running at a slower pace.

As the race started, we both began slowly to ease into a nice rhythm. After about 5 minutes, I started to increase my slow pace to match previous runs I had made at a fairly comfortable but fast pace. I had previous run numerous 18k, 20k, and a 21k run at similar paces so I knew I should be fine. I certainly did not want to make the mistake of going out too fast. I knew from experience that I could maintain this challenging but comfortably pace for the full 21 kilometres with various short drink breaks (20-30 seconds) when I felt the need. Everything felt really good and I settled into the run and enjoyed the tunes on my mp3 player while celebrating the perfect day. I had a grin as wide as could be and loved the feeling of the sun on my face as I was running.

I made good time over the first half of the race. At one time I did find myself winded which was a fairly new experience for the race I was running so I decided to take a short 20-30 second break to catch my breath. I suppose this should have been the warning sign of things to come but I checked my heart rate and it was elevated by did not seem overly high, so I slowly brought my pace back up.  Just beyond the midway point I had the joy of saying hi to my family so I decided to stop for a brief break and enjoy their company. Up until that point I had a fantastic rhythm going. I enjoyed sharing a few moments with them and I took advantage of the pitstop to rid myself of the two empty bottles, my hat and gloves. So far it had been a great race and I felt confident I would be able to continue and finish up strong.

Unfortunately, I was unable to get back to the same rhythm for the rest of the race and in retrospect it was probably not the best idea to stop at that point for as long as I did. My overall feeling for the first 10.5K was easy, I was smiling and could not think of anything I would rather be doing in that moment including enjoying the support given by the bystanders and supporters of the race.

I began to quickly find as I continued on the race that maintaining my pace was becoming even harder to do. At that time, I was not sure why. I checked to make sure I was not going too fast and my average pace was quite a bit slower then my past race at this point. I then moved on to my hydration; I was hydrating at the levels I had planned for with almost the same watered-down fresh orange juice I had had many times on my long runs. I decided to slow my pace a little bit to see if I could get the situation under control but it did not seem to help much. What was previously a fairly easy pace to keep was now becoming quite difficult to maintain. At this point my novice status and competitive nature got the best of me. I decided to try to maintain a bit slower pace going forward but I felt that the first half was so good I did not want the rest to deviate too much. I knew that sometimes it just takes a little time to get through the difficulty and in past with a little focus I am usually able to return mostly to normal.

At around the 13k mark cramps set into my stomach and on both sides of my body. I had never previously experienced cramps of this nature on a run and I found it was really making it take a lot more effort to maintain the same pace without them. I used a few of the techniques I have been practicing to help me move mentally beyond them but it was very hard to keep up much less focus on my form. I continued to tell myself to keep the form and take one step at a time. I also started to mostly close my eyes for very brief moments in areas and focus on a spot.

At this point I should have completely scaled back my pace and got things under control but instead I did some staggered walks as recharge points in hope this would help alleviate the problems I was experiencing. Mentally, this was taking a toll as I could not understand why the exertion level was so far off the pace I was running. Instead of accepting the situation, I decided to push to try to get beyond it. Every step taken seemed so much harder and my mind was allowing doubt to start to play games with my strategy. I was also really finding my energy levels were starting to wane which was a bit surprising to me.

In part due to desperation and not having this experience before, I broke the cardinal rule of not trying anything new on race day. At least I only tested the energy treats so I knew I was still maintaining some form of common sense during this time. I tried 3-4 small juice based sugar nuggets which made little difference to my energy levels. As that did not seem to help, in a moment of weakness I grabbed one of the liquid energy packets at a drink station. I only decided to try a small sample of it in my mouth which was pasty and quite disgusting for the first time. I did not have any more and for a very brief moment I had a vision of myself throwing this up on the sidelines which thankfully did not happen. What a wonderful imagination I have.

When I started to plan for this race I decided to set my pace time dependent on how I felt at the beginning of the race compared to past long runs. What I did not take into account was the necessity of completely adjusting the overall race midway due to the situation I encountered. At that time I really did not want to believe the cold was having an impact at all.

I was never really that concerned about the time for the run, I just wanted to complete the run at the pace I had been for the most part training at for 2 months now. Several weeks before the run I had a much similar 21k run on my own at a certain pace and I was using this as a baseline for my run. At the 16k mark, I reminded myself there was only 5k left. I find breaking the race into segments really makes me retain focus on the here and now. As I had already run a good part of the race, I decided I needed to bear down and finish what I had started. The rationale at that time was I had run a good race and simply needed to find a good rhythm again. It took a lot of effort to complete the second half of the race and I was quite relieved when it was over.

This is the part that makes running so fascinating for me. So far I have not had an experience like this in any run and I was very determined to find out why this happened to be better prepared for next time to avoid the same mistakes. I had spent a lot of time and effort preparing for the race including running a race pace run one month before which was a lot easier to complete.

Once I uploaded by race into the Garmin Training Software I noticed one very interesting factor which I should have accounted for all along. My heart rate average along the entire run was about at least 6% higher then past runs with harder courses at almost the same pace. This provided on clue to why I ended up having so much difficulty. Based on the data I believe my heart had to pump harder to get the same amount of oxygen flow into my body then it had to in past runs. The bottom line was I was running too fast for my energy levels to sustain at a fast but comfortable pace. As part of my analysis, I compared my race in the Garmin Training Centre software to a run I did with a very similar pace  and course that I ran about 1.5 months before the Chilly.

Distance Compare Between Two Runs Run Distance Heart Rate Comparison With Similar Paces

At first when I saw the numbers that I thought dehydration was one possible culprit. I reviewed my race plan and concluded I was not dehydrated in the first half which contradicts the data collected on the higher heart rate even during the first 10k. I drank a lot of fluids all morning up till the 2 hour point and then had a nice drink just before race time as noted by Hal Higdon in his book “Marathon, The Ultimate Training Guide” as a good pre race ritual. I had with me four 500ml bottles and also stopped at a few stations to have some additional water.

I then considered the warmer weather as a factor, but I was quick to take off my gloves and did not feel overly warm. I felt I dressed appropriately and even decided to not get rid of my running pants at the 12k mark as the wind was blowing from Lake Ontario bringing with it a slight chill in the air.

After reviewing the options, I concluded the quite disgusting material I was coughing up from my lungs the night before must have had an impact in my ability to transfer oxygen into my blood which revealed itself in the second half of my run. I know it sounds almost silly this was not considered as a factor at the start but I felt so good, my energy was high, and my watch did not really show anything out of the ordinary during the first half.

In retrospect, this is a good lesson to learn for future races. I can clearly see how my assumption of past running times at a similar pace needs to include all the factors and one can not just rely on an overall feeling to decide how to proceed with the overall race. I hope to learn from this mistake to avoid this situation in the future. My determination got me through this race but most unfortunately, I was unable to enjoy the last half of this amazing race. This is probably the part that was fueling my disappointment; this race was in such perfect conditions that I wanted to be able to appreciate it fully. I was able and very thankful to at least be able to do this on the first half of my run. I know I will face other challenges along this path and I am working to ensure I incorporate the lessons learned in this race to avoid a repeat of similar mistakes in the future.

The irony of this personal race report is that I was able to just barely meet my personal time goal I wanted to reach for my first 1/2 marathon by getting a chip time of 1:49:44.  So I should have been happy, right? I suppose my disappointment was somewhat unfounded but my real goal for this race was to run it well which I was unable to do for the entire race. All said and done, I would have still run the race without question but next time I will take the chest cold into account and adjust my expectations accordingly based on the type of race I want to run. I am now setting my sights on the Mississauga 1/2 Marathon in a little over 2 months from now.

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