After running a strong spring marathon in which I broke my four-year-old personal best, I decided to take a bit of a break from running as the summer of 2018 rolled around. I’d been going at it pretty hard in the past few years, battling injuries, disappointing results and some, well, pretty scary in race experiences. I needed a break and I felt as if with my recent marathon success that I’d earned it. Katie and I quit our jobs, sold most of our stuff, packed the essentials in a 5x8 foot storage locker and hit the road for 9 months of travel across North and South America. During the first few months of our trip I ran occasionally, maybe once a week, exploring the incredible mountain surroundings of the Rockies and Pacific coast. But once we got to South America, my running stopped all together.
It’s not that I didn’t want to run. But it’s that I felt like I couldn’t. We were really busy, travelling around from town to town every couple of days. We were still getting acclimated to the culture, living in a foreign land where we didn’t speak the language. Most of the time I was simply faced with the question “where would I even go for a run?”. The city streets were busy and chaotic. And then there was the smoke and smog. I didn’t particularly want to be huffing that in. And what about safety and getting lost? I didn’t have a cell phone plan to reference Google Maps while out on a run. Most of all, I didn’t want to find my way into a sketchy or unsafe part of town. However, as our trip progressed I got more comfortable with things. I’d hit the treadmill in hotels where I could, but that was rare. Then we arrived in Lima, a beautiful ocean-side city with a 10km paved path called the Malecon which sits perched alongside an 80 foot cliff looking over the crashing waves of the Pacific. I ran every day we were there. The itch was back and now I was scratching it. From that point forward I made every effort to get kilometres in, whether it was running laps along the 1 kilometre stretch of beach we were staying at, getting in some gnarly altitude training at 3,500m+ in Bolivia, to some more amazing city running in Santiago. All this running, plus walking an average of 25,000 steps a day and some hardcore hiking and multi-day treks through the Andes, had me feeling pretty strong and fit. I’d started to get really excited about training for my spring race, the Boston Marathon, and felt like I was putting together a solid base.
In the new year we left Chile and flew back to North America, landing in San Francisco for three weeks where I hit the ground running - hard. Boston training was officially underway and I was hammering out 110km weeks. I had a new coach, a new plan, and some new audacious goals. 2019 is the year that I will break 2 hours and 50 minutes in the marathon.
As I continued my build for Boston, I was still unsure if that sub 2:50 goal would be feasible for Boston, an infamously difficult course with a variety of rolling hills, the likes of which have destroyed many a runner. But I kept training hard and focusing on the week at hand, not letting my mind get ahead of itself. Maybe Boston will be my sub 2:50 race. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll have to wait until the fall. Time will tell.
Chilly Half Marathon
About 6 weeks out from Boston I signed up for the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington Ontario, a popular and well-run race that attracts thousands of participants who are mostly gearing up for their spring marathon. The purpose of this race wasn’t to race, but was to practice everything I’d be doing in Boston, from the days leading up to race day, to my pre race meals, the morning fuelling, my clothing, my pacing….everything. My coach advised me to run the first hour of the half marathon at my goal marathon pace, then to open things up from there and run hard. After a lot fo thought, I decided to give my sub 2:50 marathon pace a shot at the Chilly Half. This would be a good indication as to how my training is going and to see how that pace felt for a sustained period of time. Not only that, how would my body react to ratcheting up the pace for the final 6km of the race? Time would tell.
After completing my standard pre race routine which included steel cut oats, a banana, coffee, plenty of water, a bottle of Maurten 320 (my new fuelling product), some Alabama Shakes, and a 3km warm up, I found my way into the starting corral amongst the crowds of other racers.
As the gun went off, I struggled to find my pacing and footing. It was a really busy race and I found myself bumping into people and hopping side to side to avoid others. I finally settled into that goal marathon pace of 4:00/km which would translate to a 2:48 marathon. As the course headed east along the beautiful lakeshore of Burlington toward Oakville, the crowds thinned out and I found my groove. I was feeling really good. This pace wasn’t just manageable, but I found myself having to hold back to not go too fast. By the time I’d reached the 15km mark of the race, I’d been averaging a 3:58/km pace, a tad faster than planned and a pace that would equate to a 2:47 marathon. A bit too spicy.
As I reached the 60 minute mark of the race, I was at about 15km. While I was feeling good, I was unsure how good I would feel once I cranked up the pace and tried to run even harder for the final 6.1km to the finish. That 16th kilometre went well, running a 3:48/km. I followed that up with a 3:47, 3:44 and 3:45. At this point I was flying past people, which always feels incredible. As I ran the 20th kilometre, I told myself that once I hit 20 I would hammer really hard to the finish. I completed the 20th in 3:42 and then absolute gunned it. My pace was hard, my stride strong, my breathing balanced. It began to hurt, but I pushed through as best I could, telling myself that it was only temporary. I crossed the 21km mark in 3:27, a pace that I would later gawk at in disbelief, and then the final 100m dash in 3:21.
I barrelled through the finish line at top speed, immediately doubling over trying to catch my breath. I was elated with the effort. I ran a fast marathon pace for 60 minutes then kicked harder than I ever had to the finish. Prior to the race I hadn’t even thought about my personal best. This wasn’t a race, after all, it was a prep for Boston. That personal best of 1:21:58 was untouchable, I thought. But I honestly had no idea that I’d be able to kick like that those final 6km. I ended up crossing the finish line just 4 second shy of that mark in 1:22:02. I later discovered that I ran the course long (21.2km), likely due to the shuffling and side stepping at the start, and that Strava considered the 21.1km that I covered on that day to be my personal best half marathon (1:21:48 unofficially!) Strava also told me that my effort at Chilly Half was my fastest 20K, 10 miler, 15K, 10K, 5K and 2 miler effort I’d ever run. Hell of a day if you ask me!
For the next few days I found myself on a high and in awe of my race on Sunday. I truly could not believe that kick. I did not know I had that in me. But I did. Training has been going really well. I’ve been consistent and smart, and mostly avoided injury and sickness. And I’ve been working really, really hard.
Despite this awesome result, I still have plenty of work to do. Back to training for now. See you in Boston!