Wouldn’t it be nice if I had one simple answer to this question! I have been thinking about this question all week largely because I would love to manage a repeat performance. Of course a good race is a culmination of factors; some beyond your control, some entirely of your own making. Here are some of the factors that I think led to a successful run:
- Perfect weather: Completely out of my control but was I ever thankful for the conditions last Sunday. I’m a cool weather runner, so a few degrees above 0 is just right for me. A little less wind would have been nice, but thankfully it did not become a major hurdle in the race. Considering the winter we have had (as I am writing this on April 5th, it is snowing outside, AGAIN!) I can’t believe how lucky we were to have such a great running day. It was a little strange not being surrounded by snow. Southern Ontario is way ahead of us in terms of thawing out. As proof check out these pictures taken at my home this week:
- Fuel: I have been experimenting with natural foods for refueling. On training runs I love taking a walk and eating raisins and chopped almonds. Unfortunately they are just not convenient for a race situation since I prefer to not have to take a walk break if I am feeling good. The last few training runs I practiced using honey mixed with no-nut butter (no peanut butter in my house due to Luke’s allergy) and a little sea salt. I originally put my mix into sandwich bags but then a friend picked up some “mini” zip lock bags at the dollar store in the craft section. They store easily in my fuel belt pocket and each “shot” costs only cents. One word of warning though, make sure the “zips” are actually zipped tightly. Apparently I did not and my belt pocket ended up one sticky mess. My gels tasted significantly better than store-bought gels and there are no ingredients I can’t pronounce. I took one at approximately 8k, 15k and 23k and they seemed to do the trick. I also had most of a Cliff Bar during the half hour before the start of the race.
- Hydration: In the two weeks before the race I really concentrated on drinking lots of water. Memories of pregnancy came back as I made multiple trips to the bathroom each day. During the race I used my fuel belt and carried 4 bottles of water as I am still not comfortable relying on water tables. I have heard some runners complain about the distance between some of the tables on the course. I didn’t really notice how far apart they were but I do know that the one time I was going to grab a cup (not to drink but to try to get rid of the honey on my hands) there were no cups ready on the table – though a volunteer was doing his best to fill more quickly. I made sure to take water from my bottles after every honey shot as well as every couple of kms.
- Winter Training: Winter training is a challenge any year. This year’s never ending winter meant even tougher training conditions. I ran on ice, deep snow, packed snow and slush. I shared the roads with cars since the sidewalks were at worst buried, at best a mix of pavement and ice. I wore more layers than any runner should ever need to, and in turn did more running gear laundry than ever before. All of these challenges had to make me a stronger runner. Well, maybe not the laundry part. And of all the runs, that 15k run in a snowstorm two weeks before race day both physically and mentally helped set me up for success. It may have been a ridiculously slow run but it was a real workout and nothing short of empowering. It really did make me feel like I could do anything. Unfortunately that is a weather related factor, so may be hard to repeat for another race. Though the way this
winterspring is going, it is possible I will have another run like it.
- Not Overtraining: I will never be a five run a week person. It is not that I never do 5 runs in seven days, I just can’t do it consistently. I have decided that this is o.k. My body likes the recovery time, in fact it thrives off of it. Perhaps more importantly, I am mentally stronger if I am sure to take some days off. I took not two but three days off running before the race and I felt refreshed and ready race morning. There was a point in marathon training last fall that running sort of lost its “feel good” factor. I don’t expect every run to feel amazing; there is no avoiding crappy runs. But overall, I want to head out for a run and smile. I want to be grateful for having the time and the health (not to mention an ever so patient husband) to be out there clicking off the kms. For the past two months, running has been fun for me. There have been several runs where I have found myself in that happy zone, where running feels amazing regardless of the pace or finish time. I don’t want to lose that feeling. I still want to work hard, I still want to push past my comfort zone, I still want to feel that complete and utter exhaustion after a hard workout. But ultimately, I do not want to overtrain and take away all that is fun about running. These past few months I have been successful in hitting that balance.
- Quality Workouts: Weather conditions did shorten many of my runs. I went into ATB worried that I had not done enough long runs. My over 20k runs consisted of a 22k, a 24.5k (done in two parts because I hit the wall at 12k) and a 27k. Even now I look at that and am surprised it was enough for me complete the 30k in the time I did. But while I did not have a lot of long runs, I had many good runs. There was lots of hill work – not even hill repeats, just running on hilly routes, and of course lots of interesting footing to deal with. As this year progresses I am going to try to worry a little less about those long runs and focus more on my weekday runs. It is also time to suck it up and do some intervals!
- Avoiding Running Stress: What does this mean? In short, I didn’t take it too seriously. I went into ATB with the knowledge that even if the day was a disaster, just entering the race had made me do three great months of training. I felt good physically. That day I hit the wall in my 25k training run, I had to laugh. Rather than freaking out, I decided that it would be a day for two runs. One way or another I knew I had to run; I had to get back to my car after all! But I was o.k with taking a long break and having the opportunity to regroup both mentally and physically. Last fall when I was marathon training I would have been in tears over such a run.
- Pacing: I think I nailed my pacing last Sunday. It is hard to know how hard to push on a course you don’t know. All of the advice said don’t go out too fast or you would have nothing left for the hills. I made a pretty last minute decision to stay around a 6 minute pace for the first 20km, then see what I could do. Originally I had planned to go out much slower. Now that I know the course I think I would actually try to pick up the pace a bit in the middle of the race. And one lesson learned – I should have paid more attention to the fact that my Garmin was reaching km markings before the signs were showing up on the course. I was aiming for the first two sets of 10km to be about an hour each. By my Garmin I was actually a little under that goal but by the 10 and 20k timing mats I was a little over. I should have compensated for the difference and I certainly could have since I was stopping myself from speeding up during the first 2/3 of the race.
Hopefully I will be able to use what I learned at ATB for some more successful runs. My next race (number 6 of the 14 race challenge) will be the Manotick 10 miler on April 27th. One month after that will be Ottawa Race Weekend. I will definitely be there, the question is will it be as a half marathon or a full marathon participant? Still working on that one.