The PR that almost was: Fredericton Marathon 10k Race Recap

Sunday was the big day I’d been planning for since… well, since March 17 at least: the Fredericton Marathon 10k.

Because this race weekend happens in my hometown, I’ve participated a couple of times, completing the 5k in 2013 and my first full marathon last year. This year, my first Fredericton 10k race, was different in one very significant way: I was attempting to run for speed.

2013 Fredericton Marathon 5k

Crossing the finish line at the 2013 Fredericton Marathon 5k

My 2013 5k came less than a week after a mini health crisis. I had a bad reaction after donating blood that culminated in a loss of consciousness, some seizure activity, an evening in the hospital and several days of bed-rest. I was weak, barely walking let alone running. So I set a simple goal: cross the finish line.

And I did with a final chip time of 31:51. I remember very little about that day other than the satisfaction of just showing up, my slow cautious pace, and the relief that I survived it.

The next year, I trained all winter to run my first full marathon during the Fredericton race weekend. Again, I was in uncertain territory. The race would be the longest run of my life. My stomach was churning with nerves for days leading up to it. I could barely comprehend the idea of running 26.2 miles, let alone trying to do it with any kind of urgency. So again, I set one simple goal: cross the finish line.

First full marathon

Crossing the finish line at the 2014 Fredericton Marathon

And I did with a final chip time of 4:42:47. I remember everything about that day: the panic when the 5k, then the 10k, and finally the half-marathon runners veered off toward the finish line leaving me with so many more miles to cover; the feeling of lightness when I passed my family and read the signs they’d made for me; the mantra I found myself repeating when it seemed I might never finish at my glacial pace:

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

And of course, the tears in my eyes when I reached that final stretch toward the finish line (which are somehow still here a year later when I recall it).

But 2015? Well, the 2015 Fredericton race weekend was different because this year my goal wasn’t just to finish. It was to finish fast.

When I first signed up, I hoped to beat my PR of 53:02, set by a 23-year-old me six years ago. In the final week before the race, I added a couple more goals:

  • Floor Goal: 59:59.
  • Realistic Goal: 57:00.
  • Optimistic Goal: 53:00

When I showed up at the start line on Sunday morning, I was being an optimistic realist and hoping for something around 56:00. At the last minute, I decided to run blind, leaving all my running tech at home because I didn’t want to be discouraged if I fell behind my goal pace. This would turn out to be both a blessing and a curse.

My friend Fidele was in town to run with me. It was his first race and I relished every bit of getting him to the start line. A couple days before, we walked a few kilometers of the course and I explained what he’d see and hear as he approached the finish line. The day before, we picked up our race kits and laid out our gear, while peer pressuring each other to hydrate. The morning of, I introduced him to my go-to race day breakfast: a banana and almond butter wrap.

Finally, at about 7:30 on race day morning, Fidele and I, along with my long-suffering but much-loved cheer team (parents, husband, and brother) piled into a couple of vehicles and, after a bit of a struggle, found a couple of parking spots a couple of blocks away from the start line. Just a short walk to work the kinks out of our legs.

As we got closer and closer, we saw more and more runners streaming in the same direction. I felt the familiar pangs of inadequacy. On race day, every single race-bib-wearer seems to exude way more confidence and experience than me. I thought I would feel more like a “real runner” after completing a full, but until the gun goes off I still always feel like I’m playing pretend. (Wonder if that will ever go away?)

We made it to the start line with about 15 minutes to spare. Time enough for porta-potties (No lines! Amazing!), some snapshots and, of course, the pre-race jitters to get a firm grip.

Ready to run

Fidele and me ready to run

When it was time to line up, we spotted a 1-hour pace bunny in the crowd and decided to hang out near him. We both felt a 60-minute finish would be respectable and, if we happened to get out ahead, knowing where the bunny was would at least help us gauge our speed. We hung out for a bit, I tightened up the laces on one of my shoes (this will be relevant later), and then we were off!

It didn’t take long for the crowd to thin out. We were soon passing other runners and leaving the pace bunny behind as we found our stride. I was breathing heavy almost immediately, but felt comfortable running on fresh legs after several rest days and a welcome freedom at having no idea what my pace was.

The race begins with a loop downtown. There’s lots to look at, some cheering spectators, and by the time you get onto the walking trail for an out-and-back, you’re already several kilometers into the race.

Just before I made the turn onto the walking trail, however, I felt one of my shoes loosen and then, as I was looking down, watched it become totally untied. Cursing myself that I didn’t check on both shoes at the start line, I pulled over, tied it up tightly, and was on my way. This probably took, at most, 20 seconds (this will also be relevant later).

It was around this time that I heard someone say my name, assumed it couldn’t be for me, and almost missed my friend Amy cheering. I spotted her at the last minute, gave her a smile and a wave, and felt that familiar boost that can only come from people cheering you on.

(This, by the way, is why we pay money to run the same routes we could run for free any other day of the year. Any other day of the year, there’s no cheering. It’s worth the $40. Believe me.)

As I made my way across the walking bridge, things started to feel a bit laboured. Time to put into action a strategy I read about a few weeks ago (tried to find a link but can’t remember where it was):

  1. Set sights on a runner ahead of you.
  2. Focus just on overtaking them.
  3. Once you have, repeat steps 1 and 2.

This works wonders: the time passes quickly and it helps keep up your pace (even when you have no idea what that pace is).

In fact, I was having such a great time I breezed by the 6 km water station. By the time I made it to the turnaround (the prettiest pylon I ever did see), I was thinking that might have been a mistake. There was some definite gurgling in my tummy, and I vowed to grab some Gatorade on the way back, hoping some electrolytes might settle things down.

Then I saw Fidele on his way out, not far behind me, and gave him a high-five. A couple minutes after that, I spotted the 1-hour pace bunny and realized Fidele and I were both killing it.

Totally re-energized, I skipped the water station again. Very soon thereafter my leaden legs brought on a stirring of regret. This is when I called on a mantra I’d seen the night before:

The day will come when you can no longer run, but today is not that day.

Today is not that day. With a lot of grimacing and panting, I put one foot in front of the other at what I hoped was the same steady, somewhat challenging pace I’d been maintaining.

With about a kilometre to go, I overheard a runner just ahead of me say something that sounded like: “If we keep around this pace, we should come in between 52 and 54.”

Hold the phone. Did I hear that right? Could I actually be on track to potentially beat that longstanding PR of 53:02?

Unsure and with my tummy now gurgling ominously, I held on hard to the pace and pushed myself around the final bend to the finish line. When I finally came close enough to see the clock, it was ticking away somewhere around the 54-minute mark.

With no clue how much was on the clock when we crossed the start line, I gave it my all until I crossed the mat, smiling at my family as I passed them, focusing on overtaking one last target, and trying very, very hard not to throw up.

“Don’t throw up, don’t throw up, don’t throw up.”

Amazingly, when I checked my official chip time, it was 53:39–a mere 37 seconds shy of my PR.

If only I hadn’t had to stop to tie my shoe. If only I had been keeping track of my pace. If only…

Never the less, I was and am ecstatic to have run so much better than I expected. And it just goes to show that a new PR is totally within reach. Next time.

(By the way, Fidele absolutely killed his first race, coming in at 56:47. We’re already planning our next one. A day will come when we can no longer run, but today is not that day.)

Three goals is better than one

I am now officially less than a week from my first race of the season: the Fredericton Marathon 10k. Training-wise, things are going well.

It’s suddenly spring in Fredericton and the sunshine pulled me outdoors this weekend for a couple of nice easy runs and an interesting discovery: It turns out I may actually be solar-powered. Each sun-soaked run felt light and relaxed and my pace was consistently faster than intended (though still not as fast as I hoped I would be when I set out on this training plan).

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My legs experiencing exposure to sunlight for the first time in months.

It’s a sharp contrast to last week when slogging out a couple of low-energy outdoor runs forced me to own up to the fact that my original goal of a new PR might be just out of reach. Unfortunately, despite my newfound sun-energy, I think that’s still the case.

Yet, I haven’t invested a single second into re-imagining the race and figuring out what my new goal should be. Somehow, I just couldn’t let it go.

And now, I’ve decided I don’t have to.

Instead of letting go of this goal, I’m keeping it and adding two others. Yeah, that’s right: One race, three goals.

Apparently, this is an actual thing so it may not come as a surprise to you more seasoned runners, but it blew my little mind when it came up in the #RunAtCan chat last night.

The chat was focused on “altering the plan” for training and goals. Perfect timing, right? After a lot of heartbreaking talk about injuries and setbacks, one of the questions that came up was if our training had ever gone so well that we had to change our goals in a positive way. (Wouldn’t it be grand to have that problem?)

One of my wonderful fellow #RunAtCan tweeps mentioned that while that had never happened for her, she always sets three goals and has exceeded her “dream goal” on more than one occasion.

Intrigued, I inquired for more detail:

Here’s another good summary from hillrunner.com:

Floor Goal – The minimum that I would be satisfied with if I have an off day or bad race conditions (weather, course, etc.).

Realistic Goal – What I realistically think I should be able to do considering my stage/state of conditioning and knowledge of the race specifics.

Optimistic Goal – What I think I might be able to do if I pop a really exceptional one and everything goes right.

Love. This.

It removes the black-and-white success/failure dichotomy and gives you multiple options to run a race you can feel good about. And isn’t the whole damn point of this running thing to feel good about what you’re doing?

Here’s what I’m thinking for Sunday’s race:

  • Floor Goal: 59:59. Much longer than this and it will officially be my slowest 10k yet. I just can’t see that happening with the shape I’m in now; regardless, getting in under an hour is still respectable and I’ll take it.
  • Realistic Goal: 57:00. Still kinda ambitious for the paces I’ve recorded during my training but achievable given the speed of my outdoor runs lately.
  • Optimistic Goal: 53:00 (a.k.a. just enough for a new PR). It’s not completely out of the question. It’s definitely a pace I can achieve and maybe, with the right mix of race day adrenaline and cheering spectators, even sustain.

Still hoping to land somewhere between realistic and optimistic (and, let’s be honest, hoping it’s a lot closer to optimistic than realistic), but I’ll take what I can get come race day.

In the meantime, I’ll be focused on eating right, hydrating well, and sticking to the final week of my training plan, which (glory, hallelujah!) includes a few extra rest days,

And then? Well, let race season begin!!!

Adjusting expectations: A tale of two training runs

Today’s run: 3 miles at 9:50/mile

I am now officially two weeks from my first race of the season: the Fredericton Marathon 10k.

I set a goal for this race to beat my PR of 53:02 using this Women’s Running training plan. I’d like to say I’m on track to pulverize that goal. The reality is it may be time to adjust expectations.

As I’ve entered the last few weeks of my training, my plan has called for me to attempt some race pace runs. With the deepfreeze of winter finally lifting, I got off the treadmill and onto the footpaths for such a run. It looked like this:

3-mile supposed-to-be-race-pace run

3 mile supposed-to-be-race-pace run. Goal pace? 8:02/mile. Reality? 8:46.

This run came after a full day of yardwork. I had also just drank half-a-beer while admiring my yardwork and then, after getting some crappy news, decided to run off the disappointment. All this to say, I may not have been in the best physical or mental condition for a high-performance run. Nonetheless, I ran until my lungs burned as fast as my legs could carry me, never coming near 8:02/mile.

A few days later, my plan called for a short tempo run. It looked like this:

3.5 mile supposed-to-be-tempo-run

3.5 mile supposed-to-be-tempo-run. Goal pace? 8:12/mile. Reality? 8:46.

Yeah, that’s right: the exact same pace as my supposed-to-be-race-pace run.

No yardwork, no beer, no inner turmoil on this run, but I was dragging my butt right out of the gate. My legs were lead weights. I was uncomfortable. My inner voice said “screw it” and encouraged me to just slow down, goal pace be damned.

Neither run was close to my goal race pace. More heartbreaking still, neither even matched the average 8:33/mile pace a 23-year-old me ran in my 10k PR.

A few short weeks ago, I was overflowing with excitement and confidence that a new PR was within my reach with this training plan. So what went wrong?

  1. Too many treadmill runs – The weather’s been crap. I’ve been content to stay inside my cozy house, hop on the treadmill and watch reruns of Parenthood. This, unfortunately, is not the same as running outside. It doesn’t prepare you for uneven terrain or headwinds. It doesn’t force you to learn the discipline of pace. I know I can run an 8:12/mile. I’ve done it on the treadmill. Forcing your body to cover that ground at that speed on its own without a belt setting the pace, is a different beast.
  2. Too many missed runs – 11 missed runs over the past 6 weeks. That’s a 74% rate of adherence to my plan, and to be totally honest, that still sounds pretty good to me. I took rest days when I felt worn down, which probably saved me from a lot of illness and injury. Indeed, I’m sure that level of adherence still would have been enough to get me to my goal if not for…
  3. Too many easy runs – The runs I tended to skip were the ones I needed most: hills and interval training. You don’t get faster running an easy pace on level ground, but those were the runs I never missed because they were comfortable, because I could do them with my eyes shut, no matter what else went on that day, no matter how low my energy was.

I’m two weeks out. I know where I’ve gone astray and what to look out for in training for my big event this race season (Hello, Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon!). I’m aiming to stick to my training plan for these two weeks, hoping for the best, but preparing for a performance a bit shy of my expectations.

It’s possible that the adrenaline of race day, the cheering spectators, my fellow runners, including (for the first time in a long time) a couple of friends, and my supportive family will give me the kick in the pants I need to achieve a new PR. But if not?

Well, shoot. I still get to experience the adrenaline of race day, the cheering spectators, running alongside friends, and the support of my family.That’s enough to make this a great race no matter what pace I run it at!

The plan, the whole plan, and nothing but the plan

Today’s run: 5 miles, 9:50/mile

When I last left you, dear readers, I was getting pumped up to start training for my next race: the Fredericton Marathon 10k on May 10.

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It’s everything you dreamed it would be.

And since then? Well, I haven’t been sitting around eating pecan butter tart ice cream.

Ok, ok. I haven’t just been sitting around eating pecan butter tart ice cream. I’ve also been working on a plan that will (hopefully) get me to a new PR in less than 8 weeks.

Today, I’ll put down my spoon long enough to share it with you.

As we’ve discussed before, I’m a very lazy runner when it comes to planning. Tell me to run 10 miles and I’m fine with that. Tell me to spend a couple hours researching training plans and, suddenly, there’s at least half-a-dozen Teen Mom episodes that I need to binge-watch immediately.

Luckily for me, Google is extremely adept at crunching up my words and spitting back exactly what I want. Seriously adept.

How adept? Well, I searched “run a faster 10k training plan” and instantly a new training plan, which has literally everything I’m looking for, appeared as the #1 result. The future is now, kids, and it’s amazing.

Behold the new training plan, courtesy of Women’s Running:

The plan!

The plan!

My fav thing about this plan? It leaves nothing to guesstimation.The target pace for every run is laid out in real numbers, not mythical little imaginings like perceived rates of exertion.

It’s also doable, though challenging, and should hopefully get me across the finish line before the timer hits 53:02. In theory, it should get me there around 50:00 but let’s not be greedy. Any finish 53:01 or faster will do.

The only downside? It’s a 12-week plan and I’ve got 8 weeks to go. But who really needs Weeks 1-4, right? To hell with caution, I’m diving in at Week 5 and hoping the decent base of fitness I’ve maintained over the winter will see me through.

So far, so good. I’ve completed two easy runs at 9:50/mile, including today’s 5-miler. (No problems.) I’ve also managed a 3.5 mile tempo run at 8:12/mile. (No problems exactly, but definitely some cursing on the inside and much grimacing on the outside.)

Tomorrow, I attempt some intervals. Right now, though, my dear husband has placed a glass of pinot noir by my desk that I must attend to.

That may be the only thing this plan is missing…

Risin’ up back on the streets…

Cue Eye of the Tiger because I’m about to be back in training!

As I wrote yesterday, I’ve been a bit off-kilter lately. A little up in the air. A little unsure.

With that, I’ve noticed a steep decline in running’s positive spin-off in my life. A run that used to keep me centered for a couple of days now wears off in a couple of hours. It’s made me less excited to run, which means I’m doing it less, which, in turn, depresses me more, creating this whole build-up of bad energy that no run has the power to fix.

Clearly, my lackadaisical, run-when-you-feel-like-it approach just isn’t working.

And so, as many a runner before me has done in the midst of emotional turmoil, I’ve fallen on my knees at the altar of finish lines and medals and signed up for a race: the 10 k event at the Scotiabank Fredericton Marathon on May 10.

Like Martha Stewart says, “It’s a good thing.” Here’s why:

  1. "Pacing yourself? What's that?" A much younger me upon completing the 2009 TC10k.

    “Pacing yourself? What’s that?” A much younger me upon completing the 2009 TC10k.

    It’s 8 weeks away – Enough time to get trained if I start right now; not too long that I’ll put it off.

  2. It’s right here in my hometown – Gotta love those roll-out-of-bed-and-run kind of events.
  3. I know the course – It’s part of my regular running repertoire and (*Hallelujah*) it’s flat and fast.
  4. It lets me work on my speed – 10 km is a comfortable distance so I can focus on achieving a PR. 53:02 is the time to beat, set by a much younger me at the 2009 TC10k. It was my first-ever race, back when I was too naive to know I should be pacing myself. Sigh. A much simpler time.

Next up? I’ll be turning to my own personal Mickey Goldmill, a.k.a Google, to lock in a training plan that will beat the pants off of 23-year-old me.

And it turns out, I’m feeling better already. Amazing what a $40 registration fee and a little healthy competition with oneself can do.

It’s the eye of the tiger, y’all.