First Responders Half Marathon

This past winter has been long, cold, and seemed to last more than forever. Even when temperatures warmed up, the wind kicked in driving the windchill into the frigid (-38C). And hey! Edmonton broke the record for having the most nights below the freezing mark, which is (now) about 165 days in a row. What a record to have! Not really.

As a result of the cold winter, my training has been via my treadmill. As I see it, I could spend 20 minutes or so putting on many layers, then running outside for an hour run in the frigid, then another 10 or so minutes stripping, climbing into a hot shower to start the thawing process, and then spend the rest of the day thawing out. Or, I could throw on a layer, hop on the treadmill, be warm, and have close access to a bathroom at a moment’s notice. I chose the latter. And yes, I happen to love training on my treadmill.

New for me this year is having a running coach, whereas before I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing, I just did. For better or for worse and sometimes it was a mixture of both. I decided that if I wanted to pursue the goals I set for myself and if I wanted to improve, I needed someone who knows more than what I do on this subject. As a result of carefully watching and observing, Jacob Puzey of Peak Run Performance, is now my running coach and I have my training plans to follow. So far so good and I love the fact that Jacob recognizes the facts that I’m not 20, am build like a Clydesdale, and podium isn’t one of my goals. Finishing the race, the whole race, is.

I had also changed my running watch from my faithful Garmin Forerunner 305 to a Suunto Ambit 3 Sport that I acquired from my friend. To say the least, it’s been a steep learning curve with the Suunto. What I learned is that the Suunto watch has a built in accelerometer that measures speed so no need to wear a footpod while running indoors. Sweet!! HOWEVER the Suunto had been calibrated to my friend’s movement not mine. Considering my friend is 6’4″ and I’m 5’2″ on a good hair day, let’s just say there’s a bit of a variance resulting in results way faster that what I was actually doing. Argh.

First Responders was not my first race of 2018 and coaching with Jacob, it was my third. Sadly the temperatures were frigid for both prior races resulting in race plans changing to being smart instead of finishing the race. Therefore, I had no idea where I was in regards to training when it came for me to toe the line for First Responders, I could only reference previously run half marathons. I guess I can say that I’d know where I am after the race is over.

Saturday, day before the race, the weather was GORGEOUS!! 28C (82F), sun shining, spring had FINALLY arrived!!! The long, drawn out winter was finally over. Happy, happy day!! Tomorrow’s race is going to be great!! Can’t wait!!

But alas, on race day I woke up to 4C, 30km/hour wind gusts, and cloudy. Umm what just happened to spring?? A total 180 degree about face from yesterday. Sigh. The good news (barely) was that neither rain nor snow was happening.

Before my race, Jacob had me do a warmup run to loosen up and get the blood flowing. Even though I was running slower than a turtle my heart rate was way up there. I was nervous. Why was I nervous? I’ve ran half marathons before and I run longer distances, so why was I nervous? The a-ha came quickly. I was afraid that I would disappoint my coach. Right there I stopped. This was old baggage coming in to haunt me. This isn’t high school and Jacob isn’t my parent who will tell me now bad I did or what I should have done. In fact, Jacob is there to help me, not judge me. My running the race, however it turns out, gives him much needed data so that he can help me. As soon as that realization came swooping in, I kicked the baggage to the curb and continued warming up, somewhat.

My right upper thigh was bothering me with a tense spot so I enlisted the corner of a picnic table to provide some active release therapy. Active release hurts, but the benefits are astronomical. It ends up that the active release via picnic table was one of the best things I could have done to prep for the race.

Okay so here I am toeing the start line with my friend Sherry (hysterical that we share the same name). I met Sherry 3 years prior during the Hypo Half Marathon. I started out and from the corner of my eye, I saw this gal running beside me. She looked at me and said “You’re running my pace, can I run with you?” I was okay with that so we ran the race together. I found out that it was her first half marathon. How exciting!! Since that race Sherry and I meet up for half marathons and have run quite a few of them together ever since. Considering that I train mostly solo, it’s nice having someone to run with even though it’s a race.

Tracy from the aid station, Me, and Sherry on course. Photo credit: Tracy

Gun time! And off we go. Because of the cold, I wasn’t fully warmed up yet so I went out slower to make sure I was fully warm before pushing the pace. Besides, I’m going to be here for a while so might as well settle in. The course consists of a mix of road and trail that weaves in and out of the River Valley resulting in some hills along the course. I like hills.

What also resulted many times along the course was tunnels of wind gusts that seemed to cut through and take the breath away. At one point I said that I wanted just one damned race to have nice weather for a change!! Then “head down, ass up” into the wind and keep on going.

At one point I felt something under my right big toe, probably a piece of road grit as the streets had not been swept yet. Since I didn’t feel it any more, I assumed it was gone so on I went. After taking off my sock at home, I discovered I have a nice blood blister on that toe. Thankfully the blister doesn’t hurt, has since re-absorbed into the skin and I am now left with a “pretty” toe.

Blood blister from road grit

Even though the weather was nasty, I felt pretty solid and steady throughout the race. The closer to the finish I was, the faster my pace was getting. I pushed myself during the last few kilometers to finish the race faster than what I started resulting in a good run to the finish. I crossed the finish line feeling like I left it on the course, a new feeling for me. I ran my cooldown run at home on my treadmill where the temperature was warm and the wind wasn’t blowing.

First Responders was neither my fastest half marathon, nor my slowest but I believe it was my most solid. What I gained, besides a finisher medal and awesome technical t-shirt, was knowing that I have a solid baseline and valuable data for Jacob to analyze to incorporate for future training and race plans.

As I reflect back over the race, I am gleaning valuable bits of information to incorporate into future races. Gatorade Perform (crystals) worked as my fuel and “sipping” the gel instead of ingesting via gulp worked like a charm and didn’t cause stomach upset. By the way, GU Root beer gel is quite tasty. I have to be more diligent at stopping and clearing grit from my shoes or wear my gaiters like I was planning to in the first place. Aside from the technical stuff I learned, I believe the biggest (and best) learning was that my coach is there to help me, not judge me. By analyzing the data I provide through caring, objective, and non-judgmental eyes, he provides me with the tools and plans so that I can be not only a better runner, but a better me. Welcome to race season!

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