Latest Entries »

General:
* One of three major marathons in Toronto.  Started as a half-marathon but expanded to include a full and 5k component.  Half-marathon reviewed here.
* Course ran from Toronto city hall, south to the lakeshore, out to the west end and back again.  The full marathon route also goes south and then to the east end before returning.  The 5k takes place separately at Exhibition place.

Pros:
* Well organized (better than last year)
* Excellent weather 
* Beautiful medal (like last year)
* Solid crowd support at strategic locations
* Canadian Running magazine VIP package was an excellent (material) value 

Cons:
* Race shirt deliberately sucks to trick you into buying a better one
* Might do well to have more facilities available on-course?
* Expo well organized but could have offered more.  Probably an average event of this type, but it was only my second.
* Canadian Running magazine VIP package revolved around very fast runners.

Overall:
With Toronto’s two competing fall marathons separating to opposite ends of the calendar, this will be the only chance to run a fall marathon in the GTA.  Fortunately, its a well-run event with few snags.

Performance:
Chip time: 1:57:43 (PR is 1:56:15)
[several minutes were lost to what I euphemistically refer to in my notes as an “imposed break”.]

This was my second time around on the Waterfront Marathon event, and as befits my running misfit status, I did things backward.  Last year marked my first marathon, and this year’s event would mark my first half marathon race.  I was able to do this–as were many others, I’m sure–because the Toronto International Marathon was several weeks off and this was close enough to combine training for both events, allbeit a bit awkwardly, without compromising a proper taper for either event.  I suppose the events, despite their extensive competitive friction managed to cooperate at least that much.

Marathon quest
Earlier in the year, I signed onto what looked like a really sweet VIP package deal through Canadian Running magazine.  For about $100 one received a half marathon race entry, and a plethora of extras.  Don’t be fooled by the “Quest” name, though, which implies a group of newbies heading to their first marathon.  This VIP package seems to have been aimed at Boston Marathon people, not ordinary runners.   If you’re not very fast, you’ll be left behind without a backward glance on “fun” runs (without anybody asking if you’ll be ok) and you might feel out of place standing in a big circle telling people about your relatively pathetic 1:55 time goals, right after every single other person cites 1:35, or that they’re looking to BQ for the tenth year going, or whatever.  Opting for Marathon Quest was at least a material success, as I scored a second t-shirt, a running hat, samples of “Infinit” brand sports drink and most importantly superior private pre-race facilities.  That’s what I really wanted.  Training plans were also provided and people seemed to enjoy these, but as a self-coached runner I binned these.  A forum on the CR magazine website was also provided.  For the extra $30 fee it was worth it, but just remember to stay in the shadows if you’re not a top 5% performer at most races, because you likely won’t fit in with the rest of the group.  Normal humans need not apply.

Training
I’ll try not to bore you with the horrifying details of deep summer marathon training.  You either know what its like to run 18-20 mile long runs every sunday in a heat wave or (lucky you!) you don’t.  Suffice it say that I peaked at 55+ weekly miles, with four runs in excess of 18 miles and half marathon distance runs on most Fridays.  I felt pretty damn ready for what, compared to other challenges in the past, seemed like a relative puny challenge.  With a standing PR of 1:56:15, I sought a better time of at least 1:55:00.  This seemed more than reasonable.

To prevent a repeat of the issues suffered in July’s Distillery District race (where a thousand slowpokes put themselves in corrals ahead of me, then ran much slower than I), I took a corral that was one step ahead of my actual predicted finish. I don’t like having to do these things, but I very reasonably expected a lot of the exact same people at “Scotia” as people call it as were at my little 10 mile fiasco.

Consumer Concerns

The expo this year visually mimicked last year’s but seems to have lost its lustre in those twelve months.  This year’s race shirt was apparently made ugly on purpose, because once issued with said future dish-rag runners were fed down a hallway lined with examples of actually *attractive* shirts commemorating the race…..for 30 bucks each.  Funny, didn’t I already pay for a good shirt with my race fee? Didn’t everybody?  Trying to manipulate people out of yet more money once they’ve plunked down 100 bucks for a race really starts to push consumers’ boundaries for manipulation.  Just give us the good shirt in our packets next time, please, and we’ll be in a much better mood to, say, buy that nice race-day hoodie…and maybe even come back next year.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the booths as I remember them:

* 46% sellers of pink and purple stuff marketed at women, because no marketeer has yet discovered the male gender.
* 15% very expensive destination races in the Caribbean. 
* 24% the same old overpriced shoes…at the same old over-prices….with “show special’ marked on the box so you think it’s a bargain. 
* 5% the usual assortment of “will run for beer” t-shirts and bumper stickers
* 5% discount running stuff from 5 years ago…at about 5 bucks per item less than they were at the brand-new retail cost back then.
* 5% Charities spending people’s donation dollars trying to recruit more wallets

Sadly, if you weren’t a monied idiot running wallet-first into this year’s expo, there wasn’t really much there for you, but I did score a few free samples of the new Gatorade prep and recovery drinks, which I’m in the process of testing.  Canadian Running magazine also had a $15 subscription special (but they only do 7 issues a year, it seems).  

The race briefing and presentations went well, and I sat through the usual advice and info on the course and what to do on race-day, as well as a talk by Roger Robinson on the marathon race’s history (he was of course hawking one of his books).  

I stayed at my sister’s place saturday night, and she tried to ply me with strange new foods at exactly the wrong time.  I resisted, but nonetheless will be paying closer attention to nutrition at longer races in future.  I arose at around 3:30am in order to make sure I’d be at the City Hall start line for 5:30, two hours before the start.  This has become my habit because it gives me tons of time to go over the area, set up my gear, warm up, etc..

Weather for the race was predicted to be what I’d call “Textbook perfect”–partly cloudy, 8 to 16 degrees Celsius, almost no wind or precipitation whatsoever.  If there was ever a day to PR, this would be it.  Aside from a brief scary day of intense heat on the friday before, things went very much according to the Weather network’s plan.   When I arrived on-site the temperature was a frosty 7 degrees.  Fortunately, the Marriot hotel where my VIP area was to be set up was most hospitable, and I secured a comfy chair and power-plug for my ipod next to the fire.  I was able to rest my eyes after a sleepless night on the couch with garlic bread slowly working its way through me.  The race setup outside seemed well organized and I encountered no hiccups like last year, when due to organizers’ ineptitude hundreds of runners were left stranded in the lineup for baggage when the gun went off. Porta-facilities seemed plentiful and I even found a few (clean!) unattended units available minutes before the race.  Go early, go often! Corrals filled swiftly over a short period, and the race started in what seemed like a very timely manner.  

The first few km’s weren’t a problem at all as I’d feared they might be, as traffic was never quite too thick to pass reasonably, and pacing was much better than I had prepared for.  The mood throughout this race was festive and, at least to my own biased perception, quite enjoyable.  

Terrain became a worry several km’s in as I felt we were slowly but steadily undulating in a net downward direction, meaning a steep climb on the return leg of this out-and-back course.  I needn’t have worried, as the return was at least as easy as the run out.  The two biggest hills one need be concerned with are a significant rise and fall near the highway south of the CN tower and a 250m hill just past the Prince’s gates.  The former slowed a some runners and probably walked a few.  The latter I’m familiar with from the Night Crawler–its a bit of a pain, but nothing horrible.  Just maintain your effort level (thus slowing your overall speed), and you’ll be fine.  Neither should stop you to a walk unless you’re really seriously fatigued.  

Things were going splendidly, pace-wise, and I was a minute or two ahead of what I needed for a PR.  Around the 10k mark though (this is where things went badly on the Distillery race btw) my body decided to betray me as revenge for a long summer of pavement pounding abuse.  I suddenly needed a bathroom….NOW.  Compensating for this issue required an immediate walk, then several minutes lost to the only porta-potty I could find at the turnaround point.  There was a lineup, but generous non-racers recognized who *really* needed to go first and soon I was back on the road…..now several minutes behind my desired curve.

Since the uphill return gradient I worried about didn’t materialize, I was able to make up for some of my lost time, but fatigue was beginning to settle in and get itself comfortable in my legs, so the going was difficult.  I remember feeling very defiant running back over that rump by the highway, and the exciting “20km” banner by the final turn onto Bay St..  

Through a tunnel we went and up a quick hill onto an Avenue bordered with an enthusiastic crowds.  Race organizers thoughtfully place signs ever 100m from the 1/2 km mark to the finish, just in case the looming clock-tower of old city hall isn’t sufficient motivation.  The finish line is right next to it, hiding behind a short kink in the road past Queen St.  I remember steadily passing people until about the 100m mark, at which point I held my place steady. 

Even by gun time, I finished under 2 hours, which is nice, but my final time was only (only! ha!) my second-fastest half-marathon ever.  I’m disappointed to not have done better under the conditions, but there isn’t much one could do about my bathroom delay, and as compensation, my GPS reports my “moving time” that day was well under 1:55.  If forced to choose between a PR I know I won’t be able to attain again for a long time, and knowledge that I’m basically in that place now physically (but not getting the PR), I’ll take the latter.  And I got it.  The purpose of a tune-up race like this is to prepare one’s self for the rigors of the full marathon two weeks hence, and I know now that I’m ready for it.

[Update:  I recently became aware of comments made by Toronto mayoral candidate Rob Ford, a man known for mouthing off the cuff about issues in an apparent effort to gain a following based on anger for the present administration.  He railed against the use of public roads for events like this, ignorantly mouthed off about how 26+ mile races should be run in tiny public parks and generally mimicked reports I’ve heard of marathoners in my city being actively boo’d by inconvenienced motorists.  Although I don’t think Mr. Ford’s opinion on Toronto’s (multi-million tourist and charity dollar earning) race scene is reflective of the larger populace, its upsetting to hear such comments made by somebody seeking public office.  Please take this into consideration when approaching the polls this year.

Advertisements

New PR for the 5k

Well, in case you needed some vindication of my suggestion to do short distance time trials during one’s taper, here it is: 23:01, my new PR for the 5k distance. The previous record was the first 5k of a downhill 10k race last May, but this time I managed to surpass it–by a full minute–on a completely flat track here at the University. I’ve less boredom and more confidence than ever.

3 Cures for “taper madness”

’tis the season to be antsy, isn’t it?  Right about now thousands upon thousands of marathoners are hopping up and down, energetic and anxious as their big 26.2 mile day approaches…far too slowly. They can’t train heavily because they’re in taper but they’re too revved up physically and emotionally to NOT want to train.  The resultant mess is sometimes called “taper madness”, and those who experience it could really use some relief.  Here are some ideas to try out:

1) Whenever I taper, I try as much as possible to distract myself with other things in life, but that doesn’t always work fully.  Before anything else, ensure you pay more attention to your family, work on another hobby or just catch up on things neglected due to your marathon training.  Taper madness for more important events, however, is resistant to this method.

2) Research your sport and develop the training plan for your next cycle.  I never seem to have enough time or energy to go over the literature on running and training, but with a decrease in running related commitments during a taper, plus another training cycle on the horizon, gives one a splendid opportunity to build on one’s knowledge before committing to the journey towards the next race.

3) Schedule periodic short distance time trials to test yourself over the 1 mile and/or 5k distance.  If you do this for every taper, you’ll not only get to check your ability over these short distances, you can compare your performances between training periods and cut your taper anxiety into manageable bites.  Instead of 2-3 weeks of waiting around with little to do, one can wait one week till that 5k time trial, then another till the 1 miler, then finally one last manageable week until the marathon itself.  Such tests also take advantage of common advice about the taper:  reduce mileage while maintaining intensity.  It also makes a superb way of boosting your confidence, since its very unlikely that a concerted period of training (such as happens between, say, your last race taper and now) wouldn’t result in improvements.  Deep marathon training periods can leave you feeling slow, tired and even borderline injured, and therefore vulnerable to doubt.  Substantially upping your 1 mile performance from earlier in the year will help combat this.  Time trials combined with the above mentioned tactics will hopefully lessen taper madness for you.

And try not to go TOO nuts….see you on race day.

General Notes:

  • 30k and 15k race in the “Racing District” area of Toronto, (the waterfront area)
  • A fast field of competitors
  • Not widely advertised.  Gave me the impression of a run for experienced people “in the know”
  • May make a nice compliment to March’s “Around the Bay” 30k race

Pros:

  • Decent information ahead of time.  Website could be a little more polished but everything really important was there.  Email contact about previous years’ issues was prompt, friendly and promised corrections.  Corrections were effective.
  • Swag consisted of a single, top-quality item:  a hooded New Balance running Jacket.  Not exactly appropriate for August in a heat-wave summer but probably the single best swag item I’ve ever scored.  Nothing else was provided, but with an awesome jacket (the organizers only advertized a “technical garment”) I was more than happy to forego some food samples I wouldn’t eat and pamphlets for other races I either wasn’t going to attend or knew about already.
  • Decent post-race celebration, beer tent, etc., especially if the weather is discounted
  • Evening race on a Saturday.  Awesome.   Why can’t more race directors figure this out?  Nobody finds it convenient to race at 6am on a Sunday, guys!

Cons:

  • “Cult of the giant finisher’s medal” (see below)
  • A 30k in August?  In a heat-wave?  Really?  Well, they do have a 15k option…

Finish Time

Gun: 3:09:03
Chip: 3:08:15

Place

Overall:  472 / 652
Gender: 254 / 316
Age Group: 88 / 105

This was the first time for me at this event, and I was a touch anxious about doing a 30k deep within the marathon training season, not to mention during an August heat wave.  The race’s motif was festive though: inviting and Shakespearian.  Very novel.  I signed up with enough enthusiasm to almost forget that this was a ¾ marathon.  Having only discovered the race’s existence at the end of June, I entered rather later than I usually would; the fact that its discovery was so lagging—I’d spent much of the year searching for a decent August event—made me wonder what the field would be like.  I was correct to guess “competitive”, given the lack of advertising.

Three weeks before the event, I made certain to take a 30k long run, and under similar (dusk) conditions to the race itself.  Doing this run over my usual moderately hilly route proved a difficult task that turned my legs to a pulpy mush near the end and left me exhausted.  I contented myself with reassurances that the race would be conducted on much flatter territory.

The packet pickup was brief with no line-ups, and mostly a pleasant surprise.  A “technical garment” had been promised and like many I’m sure I anticipated yet another t-shirt.  Nooooo way.  Instead, I was presented with an awesome New Balance hoodie/jacket, suitable for runs in cool fall weather, if not those all-out boiling days in August when the horizon is a wavy, blurry mirage in the distance.

Laid out on the table where I eagerly snatched my swag I noticed a large bronze coaster.  I squinted.  “Beautiful, isn’t it?” quipped a retiree volunteer behind the table.  I tried to contain the wave of disappointment rushing to my face and restrained sarcastic remarks about pizzas and cowboy belt-buckles.  This year’s new race medal abandoned previous traditions of moderately sized designs with aesthetics at their core.  Instead, it followed the sad trend that bigger is somehow better, more meaningful, more impressive.  It’s not, but just *try* telling this to some people. I know that’s just my opinion, and I seem to be in the minority, but some of the most stunningly impressive awards on this planet are small, simple and utterly unassuming.  Nobody should need a 6” wide medal to commemorate the training and effort they’ve put into their sport.  A beautiful medal, yes.  A big one, no.  Overall it’s really a shame, too: if the medal’s diameter was, say, cut in half, it’d be a splendid object, featuring a wonderful crescent moon relief and a black ribbon with the race’s name.  Most people, I suspect will be extremely pleased with the medal as-is, and I can at least derive some pleasure from that.  End of rant.

As my first ever 30k race, however, and given the less than stellar (read: hot) weather, I decided on a game plan with modest personal goals that wouldn’t push the envelope too much.  This wasn’t an event for ambition, I had two more races this year for such things.  My right knee had also been giving me a dull ‘full’ sensation that I worried about turning into something injurious, so easy-sneazy was a tone I could appreciate.

Baggage check and toilet facilities were very reasonable, a comforting difference from some experiences I’ve had with other races, and different from previous years of this event where such logistics proved difficult.  Line-ups before the race were tolerable, but I followed the “go early, go often” rule, which facilitated this.  I met up with my first ever pace rabbit, an amicable fellow who’s name I forgot to ask, but who brought his own stick and lost his fairy costume halo within the race’s first two blocks or so.

The 30k start was unpretentious, with only one large wave of runners, which worked out fine for a race this size and distance  I didn’t get stuck into a massive wad of slowpokes like at the Distillery District 10 miler.  Strategically speaking, I elected to use a “10 and 1” method of running ten minutes then walking for one, and this helped me through much of the distance in good order.  The earth’s atmosphere showed up to watch the race that day, and had been rudely spitting rain at attendees; its tactlessness would only peak near the race’s end.

Heading out along the route was actually quite enjoyable despite the pressure I felt to handle a race of this distance well, and I actually thought for a moment there that I may have actually been *enjoying* myself.  Fortunately, a multinational electronics conglomerate would solve that for me around the 7km mark.  It will go unnamed for now, but it sold me an overpriced (and very popular) mp3 player that decided, with 20+ km to go and a clear need for motivation, that it would start going haywire on me.  I had to pull out of the pace group I was in and walk angrily along the roadside for an indeterminate period until I determined that the plastic baggie I’d wrapped my player in to protect it from rain may be trapping moisture and shorting out some circuits.  Removing it coincided with the return of reasonable functionality, a calming of my emotions and a steep loss of ground which I was forced to make up over the next few km’s.

As we entered the Tommy Thompson Park, I suddenly realized that my right nipple protector–“NipGuard”—was gone.  With so much distance to go I was in genuine fear of searing pain or—eep!—bleeding.  I realized I’d just passed an ambulance at the park entrance and would return soon.  Just another *sigh* 8km to go, I told myself.  I unzipped my jersey and hoped for the best.  Fortunately, I managed to make it to a helpful medical tech who gave me some much needed material to work with.  Passing the halfway mark I realized my pacing was solid, since I felt very good despite the heat.

After Tommy Thompson, the route curved along and eventually wound its way through Ashbridges Bay park, which I’d never been to but which proved scenic, even at dusk.  I’d heard some pretty negative things about running on the boardwalk on the return leg of this area, but I didn’t find it nearly so difficult—I couldn’t even decide if it was better or worse than the sidewalk—and there was often pavement next to it for anybody who really wants to avoid it.  Terrain was quite undulating, though.

Near the end things started to fall apart for me physically, which is unsurprising, but things weren’t as bad as in training runs and I only ended up increasing walk breaks slightly.  As previously stated, I was more interested in having a decent time than causing a knee injury and establishing a doable baseline time for the distance than setting a serious PR.  Therefore, I kept things at as sane a level as I felt necessary.  I was really pleased at this point to discover that I found keeping to my own pace and avoiding peer pressure was comfortably intuitive.  Perhaps my first race when I’d never felt such influences.

The rain increased to a near downpour as I finished, but post-race festivities were largely unaffected.  I personally had been soaked through to the bone with sweat for about two solid hours anyway, and I suspect this was many people’s attitude.  I think it’s an old Russian proverb that proclaims that ”A wet man doesn’t fear rain”.  I’d feared that the manhole cover posing as a finisher’s medal would all but keel me over in my exhausted state post-race, but it felt and looked just fine.  In a manner becoming customary in my experience, finisher’s also got an unannounced “prize” at the end:  ‘Planet Forward’ brand stainless steel water bottles, thoughtfully pre-filled for us, a nice touch.  When I discovered a few days later that my bottle’s silicone seal was crapped out, Tracy Ritson at the company happily sent me a replacement.  I was impressed.

Line-ups after the event seemed enormously long compared to before the start, and beer was in especially high demand, even at $6 for a small cup of Steam Whistle.  I made sure to grab a soda for some liquid calories while waiting in line and downing my aspirin flavoured bagel.  Food ($8 seemed a bit high for the no doubt filling but otherwise unimpressive fare) had virtually no line to speak of.  The wait for baggage on the other hand snaked several times around the park , through a highway underpass, along much of the 30k race course and back to the park again.  At least that’s how I remembered it.  The race distance overall was something of a “checkmark” distance for me, and next year if I run this event (I’d like to) I’ll be doing the 15k option.

Volunteers were present and efficient throughout the race.  I’d especially like to shout out to the woman in the pink feather boa around the 20k mark who cheered me (a stranger) on by name.  Your comments were a surprisingly strong boost at a needed point in my run.

In an inverse of pathetic fallacy, I limped and waddled home through the rain, very satisfied.

Good news: Pheidippides, the legendary world’s first marathoner from ancient Greece, has finally posted a race report for the event, only about 2,500 years after the fact. He’s almost as timely as me. (and yes, that Midsummer 30k race coverage is coming very soon!)

..and good news–this one’s actually about running. Also, I’ve tried to make it funny, which may or may not be a good idea. Anyway, here’s “How not to run your first 5k or 10k race”.

It’s not directly running related, but I published my first “instructable” today.  Instructables are, well, sets of instructions on how to do things, from recepies to DIY projects.  Mine is about how to compose a tiny survival kit in an Altoids mint tin.  Enjoy:

Urban Altoids Survival Kit

Date: 11 July 2010

General description:

10 miler race with a 5k add-on.  (The 10 miler is reviewed here.) Organized by the Canada running series and held in what I’m starting to think of as Toronto’s “racing district”, the area around and north of the Leslie street spit.

Entry: $70

Swag:

* Silver/grey technical shirt, with a tighter than average fit.
* Juice box
* The usual magazine/pamphlet junk* Finisher’s medal and small Acura-branded towel for finishers

Pros:

* Good, clear info ahead of time, updated regularly
* I don’t know of many races taking place in July, so good on ’em for at least trying to fill the gap with a race
* Potentially a nice place for a post race celebration
* Some attempts made to mitigate heat

Cons:

* At $70, a bad cost/benefit ratio for a 10 miler.  The half waterfront marathon costs only slightly more, but is far more luxurious, and doesn’t take place in the middle of a heat wave
* Leslie St. Spit and industrial areas make for poor scenery
* High likelihood of heat debilitation / illness
* Poor discipline encouraged for novice runner corrals

Would I do it again? :

I’d rather do something fun on this date instead.

Time:  1:28:39, (way below my PR to that date of 1:25:10, but my second fastest time up to that date nonetheless)

Chip -1:28:39
Gun – 1:30:14

Place:

Overall – 565 / 1514
Gender – 420 / 803
Age – 59 / 125

I trained up for this race as the peak of the mid season before accelerating towards autumn and the Toronto marathon.  I first did this competition as a newbie last year–my second race ever–and it went very rough for me, with a time just under 2 hours, and at serious physical cost.  This year I sought something much more respectable, bringing with me a “street” PR of 1:25:10.  That PR, however, was tainted with traffic lights, pedestrian obstruction and water fountain stops, something I’d not face on race day.  Sadly, other obstacles would thwart my efforts.

Like last year, the mid season feels a bit blasé, and race-day carries a sort of “ho-hum, just another day at work” feel to it.   Maybe this is because it lacks the fresh release of spring and the culminating excitement of fall.  That feeling doesn’t last, though, as the night before builds excitement and the 4am wake up signals something special.

This year’s race featured a new timing system, with one’s chip embedded in a foam cradled metal strip on the back of the bib.  I was worried briefly when told that metal zippers would interfere with transmission, since the jersey I ALWAYS wear at races has a 3/4 length zipper down the front.  Fortunately, said zipper turned out to be plastic and I had no problems, but your mileage may vary–caveat emptor.

With the race starting at 8:30, I arrived at 6am, since I usually like to take 2 hours beforehand to organize in a leisurely way and enjoy the pre-race atmosphere.  As an alternative to the porta potties I re-purposed a bathroom in one of the area’s buildings that I remembered from last year, and this gave me everything I needed, even a wall plug to charge my ipod with!  With an hour to go I checked my bag and readied for the race.

Arrving in my corral (slowest projected time: 1:25:00), I was rather shocked to find a lot of…..(how to put this delicately?) slow-looking people.  I had to reign in assumptions that slow-looking translated automatically into slow-running, as appearance often contrasts starkly with performance, but when the race began, I quickly returned to my superficial assessment. The first (very aggravating) several kilometres were filled with dodging, weaving and sprinting around people WAY too slow for a 1:25:00 finish.   This demanded considerable extra effort and before I knew it my body had expended itself so much, the effect was as bad as going out too fast.  That would cause serious problems later.

The race can be split into quarters:  The first 4 km goes from the start to the Leslie st. Spit, the next 4km to the halfway turnaround, the 3rd 4km to the end of the park and the final quarter stretches home again.  The course is “mostly flat”, but that also means it has insidious, almost invisible gradients at various points, most of which aren’t clear until they’ve already acted upon your body.  Be aware of where things slope gently uphill or downhill.

Virtually the only picturesque moment in the race comes when  one crosses an iron bridge over the water (CRS loves showing this on their website)–it’s preceded by a sudden and gravel-pathed downhill segment and succeeded by a paved and complimentary uphill grade.  The real challenge in this race is the environment itself, which being mid-July is very hot, even early in the morning.  Despite extra measures taken this year (i.e. run-through water-misting ‘showers’ the organizers set up, as well as the usual aid stations), mitigating the heat and seeking a PR were opposing goals. In the last two kilometres I saw a handful of people looking queasy by the side of the road and being helped by emergency workers, but I never saw any evidence of the ice or cold water.  This seems important because lowering body temperature is key to dealing with heat stress.

At the halfway point I was doing superbly, a full minute ahead of PR pace, according to my pace wristband–but the heat combined with being forced to go out too fast finally culminated at the tenth kilometre where I became dizzy and was forced to walk.  I soon returned to a 5:30 pace (my planned average pace was at least 5:15) after this, but was still forced to walk several more times, so it became a mind-game of managing disappointment and mitigating illness.  Push too hard and you’ll become sick, push too little and, well, why did you even bother showing up to race?

The last 750m starts with the metal framed tunnel along Cherry St. (North); it approaches the final 16km flag, then turns left for the last 100m to the finish line on Front St..  Knowing a PR was no longer possible quelled my efforts slightly but didn’t subdue them, and I finished with a respectable kick, neither a sprint nor a walk.  Like the year previously, announcers called out runner’s names as they passed the finish.  A nice touch, I thought.

After the race I felt deeply tired and it was all I could do to collect my bag, engrave my medal and grab a few freebies before passing out under a tree to nap before trudging home.

This is now officially my least favourite race on the Toronto running calendar.  You can’t reasonably PR, and apparently you can’t even have a good time given the misery of the course.  There’s not a lot to show for your money, and as such I’m going to have to reconsider attending in future years.  I’m not alone, either.  Despite blatantly false claims at the post-race celebration of an attendance around the 4,000 mark, official records show a mere 573 starters for the 5k and 1,514 for the ten miler—half the claimed amount, all told.  This seems to match BS I heard on the radio last year the morning of the Waterfront Marathon when reports–almost certainly just re-writes of a CRS press release–cited something on the order of 40,000 runners, when in fact there were only 15,119 starters over three events.  The Distillery District race had hundreds of fewer runners in 2010 versus 2009 in an otherwise growing industry.  Chances are I’ll be contributing to this trend next year.

Final Place:        146 / 487 (Top 30%)
Final Time:        40:21.25:01mins/km pace
Gender/Age Finish:    116 male, 29th Men 30-39
Overall: pleased for it’s size.  Worthy of a serious runners time, but not as a major event.  A decent tune up race.
Pros:
* Nice tune up for the 10 miler
* Scenic
* Decent swag for the event’s size
* Best food at any race I’ve been to
* An evening race is an awesome way to break the 5am Sunday mould for race start times
Cons:
* Longish hill at the end may walk some
* Not enough information when more could and should have been provided
* “Oops” at the second water station
* Late start thwarted warmup
* Yet another cotton t-shirt
Would I do this race again?  Oh yes.

I first decided to do this race very early in the year after looking around for all the races I could possibly lay out for the summer months.  Yumke’s blog entry reviewing the 2009 event was quite positive, so I made this 5 miler–now past its 25th iteration–my June race and the tune-up for July 11th Distillery District 10 miler.  Unfortunately, the race website was simplistic and provided very little data, especially for a first timer at this event.  The race course map, for example, was pleasantly cartoonish, but impossible to read very closely, there were no data on how many water stations or where they were being placed and the usual plethora of pre-race announcements I’m used to from larger events was simply lacking.  If data literally can’t be provided by race directors, I’d at least like to know why so I when I grumble about it, I can at least do so sympathetically.

If you’re arriving by TTC to this event, give yourself plenty of time to traverse the distance from the Exhibition Grounds’ streetcar stop and the race site.  It took me something in the area of 20+ minutes to do so, although this was partly due to G20 security related delays, (the horse palace was crawling with cops, who directed pedestrians in a longer route around the grounds).  I arrived nearly 2 hours before the start, giving me plenty of time to pick up my packet, warm up and enjoy the site before the starting gun.  In an annoying turn of events, the actual start time was postponed by approximately 15 minutes, forcing myself and others to stand around in the corral doing nothing while heart rates slowed and muscled cooled.  Announcements were presented via everybody’s least favorite form of public address: muffled megaphone from too far away to hear anything effectively.

The race begins with a confidence-building downhill run along the side of lakeshore boulevard and returns on roughly the same gradient, in reverse of course.  Old timers in the starting corall near me advised younger runners about the return leg.  It incorporates a 250 metre hill with a moderate grade–not so hard on its own, but its placement in the last kilometer of the race made it a challenging obstacle.

The course was partly on well marked road for the outbound leg,  but narrow in places-and shared with pedestrian traffic.  This is what I like to call a “semi-closed” track, versus a full closure of the road/track during major events, or an “open” course like your normal daily training runs or disorganized events.  The course itself is a loop from Marilyn Bell park on the edge of lake Ontario, along the waterfront and back again, undulating in places and covering several kinds of terrain.  There is a beautiful, senic bridge to enjoy at the turnaround, if you’re still in a condition to enjoy things at that point. Later in the return leg it was with tremendous frustration that I found us running through deep, energy-sapping beach sand for a short distance around the 4 mile point.

Two aid stations were provided, one each on the outbound and return legs.  On the return leg, just as I was desperate for a drink, the volunteer I’d “picked” twisted suddenly as I went to grab the cup, spilling all but a few dribbles of water.  On such a short race, there simply wasn’t time to go back and get another.

Finally, that hill came up.  I’d run it earlier in my warm up jog and had actually raced up it during last year’s Waterfront Marathon, so it didn’t overly concern me.  From the top, however, there’s another 600 metres till the finish, and maintaining one’s pace becomes difficult; increasing it for a final “kick” near the end is arduous, but I did so; it felt like the end would never come, especially those last 300 metros when the finish-line came into view and only approached me from the horizon with lung-busting slowness.

In total there were 487 runners who finished the race, but the weather that day was predicted to be a bizarre combination of high heat, humidity, thunderstorms and, earlier that day….a 5.5 magnitude earthquake in Southern Ontario.  Speaking to the race timing technician guy (what’re these people properly called, btw?) I was told that around 600 or so had actually registered.  Presumably running through a boiling hot thunderstorm after an earthquake only appeals to slightly over two thirds of competitive runners.  The rest are just, y’know, crazy.

I’m pleased to report placing in the top third of all finishers, a result more than meeting with my goal of being in the top half of as many races as possible this year.  I had originally set my race goal of about 40 minutes back by 10% to 44 minutes to compensate for the heat, but I finished in approximately 40:21.  The only other time I’ve run this distance faster was in the first 8k of the Downhill 10k on May 3rd of this year, so given this context I’m very happy with my performance.  Considering the hilliness of this course and its virtually nill net change in altitude from start to finish, I think my fitness is improving markedly.

A race of this small size offers no medals but a ton of freebies were to be had, thanks to sponsors, and the best eats I’ve ever had after a race.  Veggie dogs, krispy kreme doughnuts and carrot cake were plentiful in addition to the usual aspirin-flavoured bagels, fruit and water/gatorade.

I also grabbed an armful of previous years shirts and scored 2 mesh carry bags from the charismatic event MC, who barraged the crowd with all manner of visors, bags, lunch containers etc.  I really hope to see this same guy at events in the future and the Night Crawler next year.

Overall the best tune-up race I’ve ever attended, and at about $25 it makes a great value.

In the film Zombieland, “cardio” is rule #1 of escaping a zombie horde.  Being a physically fit runner proved very useful this past weekend in moments where I was charged down by police in riot gear and on horseback while milling about with an orderly, peaceful crowd.  I won’t go on a rant about police behaviour here but instead try to provide useful information about what it’s like to try to escape something terrifying and/or dangerous along with hundreds of other people.  What I learned seems applicable to any situation where one is in a group that suddenly stampedes as in an emergency.  I’m sharing this because it may be life-savingly useful to somebody out there one day.

If you foresee a panic about to happen:

  • Have at least one escape route.  You won’t have time to stop and think when “it” happens, whenever “it” is, and your first choice may get cut off.
  • I know its a bit trite, but try to remain calm.  When the crowd starts running, people WILL scream and panic.  Prepare yourself for this mentally.  If you haven’t spent much time around civil unrest the experience can be frightening.  Remember Miyamoto Musashi’s quote about calm in combat: “let there be no change in the state of mind—with the mind open and direct, neither tense nor unfocused….calmly relax your mind, and savour this moment of peace.”

When it happens:

  • Yes, being fit/a runner will help, but not as much as you think, because:
    • Unless you’re running for a long time, it’ll all be anaerobic, so your endurance won’t play much of a part, at least not right away.
    • Idiots will sometimes block you, not just by being slower, but by stopping to look back at whatever caused the panic.
    • You won’t be running along a nice straight flat path so stuff WILL get in your way.
    • Moreover, if you *are* running scared, your form will likely degrade quickly
  • Run farther away than you think you need to go.  If things become safe again, you can always go back
  • Remember how fear makes people reckless, including you, and how this can lead to injury of yourself or others.