Saturday, 12 May 2018

Road Racing Again - MEC Edmonton 15k

It's hard to believe that 6 years ago, I would happily have called myself a road runner and would have had no hesitation going to races with the sole aim of running as fast as I could. It would be a test of strength and speed endurance and I'd feel confident knowing that I could cope with the pace which could be anything between 5.30 and 6.30 minute miling which used to feel "comfortable".

These days I dread the thought of having to run fast, even for just a mile, but I know that speed work is a huge benefit to my overall running goals, whether long or short, road or trail.

When moving back to Canada, I was hopeful that I would continue to be coached by Adam. His plans over the past 18 months have been the perfect fit for me and I can say for sure that I've had a good streak of races where I've achieved or even exceeded my own expectations under his guidance. I wanted to keep that continuity and hopefully have some good race results here too - it's getting harder the older I get, but I still enjoy the competition and I still enjoy the challenge of pushing outside my comfort zone.

Thankfully Adam agreed to continue with his coaching role and after a minor blip due to our move back north, I'm starting to get some of the fitness back that I had a couple of months ago.

One of the sessions I complete at least once a week is the good old tempo run which I always dread. I find it hard these days to push the pace for a good 10 miles, especially if doing them on my own, so to make sure I don't slack off, I tend to do them on the treadmill where I'm forced to keep moving or else get thrown off. Mentally, 10 miles on the treadmill is mind numbingly boring but physically I find it easier to maintain a decent pace. 

My tempo runs are usually scheduled during the week, but this week it fell on a Saturday so I decided to browse the internet to see if there were any races that I could do. I was so happy to find that the MEC Edmonton were holding their third race in the road running series and were offering distances ranging from 5km up to the half marathon.  Even more pleasing was the option of a 15k race which fitted perfectly with my training schedule.

The race would start at Sir Wilfred Laurier Park in Edmonton and would follow the parkland pathways with about 2km on a gravel path. It was marked as fast and flat, but there were a couple of climbs, one of which was a good mile long and seemed to go on forever!

My goal for the race was to run 6.45 to 6.50 pace with a goal finish time of 65 minutes or less. I honestly felt this was achievable and in hindsight, I know it was.

I led the ladies race from the start and after a short but steep climb, I had completed the first out and back section of the course and was feeling strong and bang on pacing, opening up something like a 40 second lead over the second placed lady.

Taking the lead from the start of the race
There was some weaving between other runners for the next couple of miles as the half marathoners started ahead of us, but it gave me people to chase and I was running well. It was also getting pretty warm as the temperatures approached 70 degrees but I've still got a bit of Phoenix in me and wasn't affected too much by the increasing heat.

The problems started at around 5 miles when my mind started to wander and I lost focus. My glutes were also starting to tighten and I couldn't stride out as much as I wanted to - I was looking for an excuse to slow down and this was perfect! It got even worse when we reached the 10k turnaround. I thought we continued on further along the path but we were told everybody turned here - I wasn't convinced but turned anyway and for the next mile or so, I questioned why I was even bothering if I was going to get disqualified. The second lady was also still only about a minute behind by now but I figured it didn't matter as she would run the full 9.3 miles whereas I would now only run the 6 miles thanks to what I perceived to be a mistake on behalf of the marshall. It didn't help when a chap passed me who was also running the 15k and he questioned whether we were meant to have turned or not.

By now I was running 7.30s. I was enjoying the run and being outside, but in all honesty I had lost the motivation to speed up. We were by now heading back the way we had come earlier and as we approached the junction to the start and finish area in the opposite direction, I saw the sign that directed the 15k runners to the right where they would commence the mile long climb to the top of the hill. I was so happy and relieved that we hadn't been turned back early after all, but of course it now meant the race was back on and I desperately wanted to win.

With a long climb ahead, I resisted the urge to walk up the hill despite glutes that were tightening even further with every stride. I was hoping I could hold on to my lead but having slowed over the last couple if miles, I knew my lead had like been reduced and that the chasing ladies were likely not too far behind.

There was another turnaround at the top of the hill which gave me the opportunity to see how far ahead I actually was - it seemed to be less than a minute, maybe just 100 yards, and so with around 3km to still to go, I had everything to race for.

We retraced our steps back down the hill and I was thankful that it gave me the opportunity to pick up the pace and use it to my advantage. I was working so hard in the final mile to retain my lead, managing to maintain a much quicker pace with legs and lungs burning, but I was able to keep it going and therefore secure the victory.

1st place lady :-)
I really enjoyed the race although a finish time of 1.06.43 was slower than I'd hoped for. However, I know that I allowed myself to "give up" part way, something I rarely experience - if indeed ever - during ultras. That sub 65 minutes was within my reach but my passion for road racing isn't quite the same as my passion for the trails and I allowed myself to slack off.

The good news is that I now know that I still have some pace in these old legs but I also realised that my climbing legs need to come out of retirement. Whilst I didn't struggle too much on the climbs today, I didn't feel as strong as normal and I know it's because I've spent the past month running on the flat roads and trails in Leduc. 

I have a 50 mile race in 2 weeks time and I know there is lots of climbing. It's not a mountain race but I'm sure the hills will take their toll on me. The good news is that I still feel relatively confident about a decent race despite the hills. Ultra running brings out the stubborness in me and being out on the trails means that maintaining a set pace doesn't really matter. I'm really excited about racing Blackfoot Ultra and whilst I do have a target, I'm also realistic about my current strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, I know that regardless of what happens during the race, I will have fun out there and I pretty excited to take on the challenge and looking forward to seeing what I can do :)

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