Monthly Archives: October 2016

A Marathon Experiment


Two words that probably shouldn’t go together: marathon and experiment.

And yet I find myself two and a half weeks away from a marathon that will indeed be a bit of an experiment. Why?  Well, I haven’t actually been training for a marathon, or more specifically a marathon pace. I spent the summer hiking and trail running.  I have this year completed three 50k races, the last one only two and a half weeks ago.  So, can I finish 42.2km?  Absolutely (that is of course assuming no injuries – at this moment I am knocking wood!).  But trail running 50km of rolling hills is very different from running a marathon on roads.  On the surface, the marathon should seem a little easier.  Pavement is faster than dirt, it is almost 8k shorter, and the Road2Hope marathon is famous for its lengthy downhill section.  Piece of cake, right?

Here’s the slight glitch – I have not been running “faster” paces (faster always being relative) for any distance.  I may be slow in a marathon, but I really slow down on trails.  I also walk many of the inclines in a trail race, so  I have not been trying to sustain long steady efforts.  OK, as I reread that it sounds a little ridiculous.  I guess if you do 50k’s you are in fact trying to sustain long steady efforts.  But, the fact is, as much as I may be able to finish a 50k (and recover nicely I might add), trying to maintain even a 6:20 min/km pace over a distance is currently challenging for me.  I honestly can’t believe that I have actually run half marathons under a 5:45 pace.  How did I do that and not die???

So this marathon is truly going to be an experiment.  What happens when you have done plenty of long, very slow runs, but virtually no tempo or speed runs?  What happens when you have already done 3 ultra races in 5 months?  What happens when you are trying to combine a recovery period with a taper to be ready for a marathon?  And just to throw in one more variable, what happens when your final “long run” is actually going to be a 6 hour orienteering event in the Gatineau Hills?  At the moment I have no idea!  All I know is that I do actually have a plan:

  1. Start slowly!!!
  2. Use 10 and 1’s.  I have not raced a marathon this way, but I did use this method when pacing the Ottawa Marathon
  3. Try to maintain a 6:20 – 6:30 min/km pace, but take advantage of the downhill to pick up the pace a bit. The weekend before last I did 20k at this pace and found it to be a bit of an effort to maintain.  This past Saturday I held the pace very comfortably for 26k.  But another 16k??? Hmmmm…..
  4. Eat M&M’s.  They worked on the ultras so why not?
  5. Pray for no potty stops and no gale force winds, both of which occurred at the same race last year.

Speaking of last year, my time was 4:34.  I’m going to put it out there that I think it is possible I could beat that time by a slim margin.  If not, well Road2Hope will be my last long run of the season because regardless, it is time to take a little break!

Run for the Toad 50k Trail Race Recap

Mike and I getting ready to start our races.

Mike and I getting ready to start our races.

The race swag included a Nike bag instead of a shirt, but I couldn't resit buying this cute tech shirt that also has all of the participants listed on the back.

The race swag included a Nike bag instead of a shirt, but I couldn’t resist buying this cute tech shirt that also has all of the participants listed on the back.

It’s hard to describe what goes through your mind when at the 6k mark of a 50k race you seriously question your ability to complete the race.  That feeling at 35, 40 or 45 is somewhat normal, possibly even expected.  But 6k???  That was what happened to me at Canada’s largest trail race, Run for the Toad.  Usually at 6k, I am nicely warmed up, I’ve found a rhythm and all looks right in the world (with a full expectation that the race wouldn’t feel like that by the end).  Instead, on this run, I felt almost panicked.  The humidity in the forest was stifling and I felt like I was struggling to breathe, despite the cool rainy weather. This is a quote from the race website:

The course offers very few flat sections, and at the same time very few extended climbs. The course is very rolling and the longest climb shouldn’t take you much longer than 90 seconds. The exciting part of the course is what didn’t seem like a hill on loop one or two becomes a mountain on loop 3 and 4!

I had read this many times prior to race day.  All I could think of during the first lap was what if everything already felt like a mountain on loop one???

As I finished loop one though there was the relief of realizing that I had seen everything the course would be throwing at me, there were no surprises coming, just another 3 loops.  Amazingly – and strangely – loops three and four felt significantly better than the first leg of the race.  And as much as I may have worried what it would be like psychologically to cross the finish line 3 times before my fourth and final crossing at 50k, I discovered that it was actually a great moral boost.  Each time your reached the finish area there was a line of people cheering you on and I could literally feel a burst of energy.

I find I can have such different personalities at races.  Some races I find myself in a gregarious mood, taking every opportunity to talk with other runners and high-five spectators.  Other times, I find myself more introspective, quieter, with a need to simply let my mind wander.  This was a quiet race for me.  I couldn’t tell you what I thought about, other than during that first loop when I allowed myself to panic.  I have discovered that while I may not be a fast runner I am very capable of running for long periods of time without getting bored.  I can honestly say that I did not feel like I was out there over 6 hours, it truly did not seem that long.  Time escapes me a little on really long runs and it is a feeling that I love.

Early in the race I realized that I had not set up my data fields with everything I needed  on my new Garmin 235.  The big piece of information missing was my overall average pace.  I did have 1km split times being shown but when on a trail your splits are all over the place (or at least mine are) and there really wasn’t any easy way for me to calculate if I was near my hoped for pace.  Between that and how awful and overwhelmed I felt in the first lap I decided to change my goal to 7 hours.  I had been hoping somewhere in between 6:30 and 6:40.  Unlike a road race, it is so hard to predict a time on the trails.  In this case I knew I had no huge vertical climbs but I really wasn’t sure what toll the never-ending roller coaster trail would take on my legs.  With my readjusted time goal I settled in and enjoyed the ride.

Just starting my final 12.5k loop.

Just starting my final 12.5k loop.

As I approached the beginning of the fourth lap I realized that even in my hazy mental state, I could look at the timing clock and at least estimate when I would finish.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had more than enough time to beat my A goal of 6:30!  Without pushing too hard I finished my last lap (including a stop behind a tree for a pee break) and crossed the line in 6:17, only 8 minutes longer than what I did on what I consider an easier paved course at the Niagara Ultra.  I didn’t quite manage to make the middle of the pack, but I am pleased with my 72/122 finish.

If you decide to try this race, don’t let the lack of significant vertical climb fool you into thinking it will be an easy race.  The incredibly well-groomed trails with lack of technical footing certainly makes it a faster course for experienced trail runners.  As someone relatively new to the sport, however, I did find the rolling elevation challenging both mentally and physically, but in a way that I very much enjoyed.  The race was wonderfully organized, from the opening ceremonies to the incredible full meal served in a massive, decorated tent.  And there was pie.  Seriously, all races need to start serving pie.  The location was beautiful, even on a cloudy, misty day.  There were plenty of aid stations – definitely not a race where you needed to be self-sufficient. I have discovered that I particularly love M&M’s and ginger snap cookies when out on a trail for hours.

The main tent before the race. This was where you could come in and eat after your race.

The main tent before the race. This was where you could come in and eat after your race.

Another enjoyable part of the weekend was meeting up with fellow bloggers and running friends.  Kyra, from Kyra On The Go, and her husband hosted us in their home for the weekend, keeping these two runners (yes – Mike ran the 25k race and did an amazing job at his longest distance in years!) well fed and entertained with good company. I am looking forward to seeing them again in a few weeks when I head to southern Ontario again for one last fall race.

At kit pick up and again before and after the race we got to meet up with Carl from The Old Fellow Goes Running.  Carl, like me, started running 50k’s this year, and has managed to squeeze an amazing four 50k races in this season!  It was such a pleasure to meet him in person and I am hoping we will meet up at future ultras.

Carl, myself and Mike at the end of a tough but successful race!

Carl, myself and Mike at the end of a tough but successful race!

This was my third 50k (actually my second totaled 52km – I think that is important to mention) and I continue to love the distance, much more that the marathon distance.  One thing that is appealing to me about ultras is the variety in the race.  My three ultras were nothing alike, each was a new adventure and a new way to push my limits.  I would do any of them again except for the fact that I am realizing how many interesting ultras are out there.  I love the idea of trying new ones each year, getting to experience the variety that trail running can offer.  I already have my eyes set on the Bromont Ultra next fall.  I am realistic about ultras.  There is only so much training I can do, so I am not going to be fast.  But I can finish and I am happy to accept that as a serious accomplishment!

Finishing my third 50k distance happy!

Finishing my third 50k distance happy!

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