Race Recap: Maritime Race Weekend

Rolling hills, scenic vistas, cool sea breezes and pirates: this was the backdrop for my 7th half-marathon and a season’s best performance at Maritime Race Weekend.

This well-organized and spirited event takes place in Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia, just outside of Dartmouth. The course is one of the most beautiful I have ever run — and I have run through many stunning places in the Maritimes. It starts off at Fisherman’s Wharf and weaves along the coast. The weather was absolutely perfect, around 18 C, but very sunny — I wish I had my sunglasses.

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I went into this run without any particular goal in mind. Life has been moving at a hectic pace and I have managed to get in my training runs but not much more, so I wasn’t expecting a PR. Still, I have felt strong the past few weeks, which really is to be expected at this point in the season, so I knew wouldn’t fall flat on my face.

Mark, Silas and I packed up and left for Dartmouth on Friday morning, making the four+ hour drive. We stayed at the same hotel where race kit pick-up took place, which made everything easier. Silas was immediately impressed with the pirate theme.

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We got to bed early and prepared for a 6 a.m. wake-up on Saturday, race day, which we thought would give us plenty of time to get to the start line in time for the 8 a.m. race.

Sleep was so-so with the two-year-old waking up at about 4 a.m. and tossing and turning next to me for the last couple hours of the night. I’m not blaming him for anything though because I had typical nerves and wasn’t sleeping the greatest anyway.

We woke up and I set straight into my typical race morning routine: chug water, eat English muffin and peanut butter, hotel room coffee, bathroom and get dressed. My watch and iPod were charged and ready to go. My two cheerleaders were moving a little more slowly than me.

I sent them down to the 7 a.m. breakfast buffet to pick out a couple items for the road while I finished up in the hotel room.

Instead, I went downstairs to see them seated in the dining room. I started to sweat. We still had a 15-20 minute drive ahead of us (in unknown terrain), plus we needed to find parking and I had to get to the start line. Finally we got into the car even though all Silas had eaten was a quarter piece of toast and a couple of Cheerios. The car was stocked with fruit and other snacks so I knew he would be fine and eat eventually.

As we arrived in Eastern Passage, the two-lane road soon became lined with parked cars. We started looking for a parking spot and ended up having to turn around and drive farther away from the start line. Eventually I got to the right place with less than five minutes to spare. Problem was, I needed to use the port-a-potty one last time (as many runners know this is crucial on race morning!). I figured I would have just enough time, but as I made my way to the crowd, I realized there was still a huge line-up and the crowd was packed. I tried to move up toward the two-hour half-marathon pace group but couldn’t get anywhere near them. I settled for the 2:20 group and figured I would just have to catch up.

As the gun sounded, the crowd didn’t move. It took a good 2-3 minutes before I crossed the starting mat. I tried to take it easy, thinking this conserved energy would help me later but I couldn’t help but feel anxious. I wanted to go, but I was stuck in the crowd. I weaved as best as I could, but there wasn’t a ton of room. I spent most of the first 5 km of the race like this. The up side was I didn’t go out too fast. (First 5K – 28:55)

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The first few water stops had port-a-potties but at least one person was waiting outside and it wasn’t an emergency at this point so I continued to hold out until the 5 km mark. The outhouse was hiding in behind the water station and no one was in it. Score! I paused my Garmin and managed to get in and out within 1 minute.  I hit the course again and caught up to the people I was chasing before in no time.

Around the 8-10 km mark I realized I was making great time, in fact it was the best pace I have been running all season around 5:30 to 5:45 min/km. Part of me worried I would run out of steam but I tried to focus on effort rather than the number on my watch. I enjoyed the scenery and relaxed. I was having so much fun! I took a GU gel at about 8K. (10K – 57:54)

Around this time we hit a few bigger hills. I slowed down but didn’t stop, trying to steady my heart rate. Cresting up a hill always guaranteed a beautiful view. While I was feeling good around the 13-14K mark, something weird was happening in my shoes. The smaller toes on my left foot seemed to be overlapping each other. I’m not sure what caused this, but it really started to hurt. I told myself some weird things like, Who needs baby toes anyway? Focus on the big toe. When I walked, the toes were fine. I can’t explain why this was happening. Hope I haven’t developed some kind of weird gait issue.

Around 15 km I told myself I was going to hold back a bit then boost the pace for the final 5K. I wasn’t sure if this was a goal I could sustain, but I wanted to try. I have always wanted to get negative splits (faster last half than first half) and I thought it might be possible this time given my slow start.

Lucky for me, as I rounded a bend, a person directing traffic yelled out, “Last 4K, all downhill!” and I practically fist-pumped. I got my second wind and really pushed it down a big hill. I saw this photographer and jumped in the air but looks like he just captured my goofy grin after the fact.

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For the final few kilometres I continued to push the effort even though I knew I wasn’t going to break the coveted 2-hour mark. I didn’t really mind because overall, I felt the strongest I have all year, and I knew I would come close. I continued to “go fishing,” reeling in runners ahead of me and picking them off one by one. Did it ever feel good to finish with a bang.

I rounded the final corner and saw 2:06:xx on the clock, but my Garmin (which I paused for the bathroom break) said 2:02. Awesome! I was so happy. Official time was 2:03 on the nose. And I did get the negative split I was looking for — the last half was three minutes faster than the first.

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I crossed the finish line and the first thing out of my mouth was “Where’s the beer?” I was directed to a small building where the after-party was taking place. I drank up rather quickly because I was anxious to find Mark and Silas. After grabbing a banana and an orange and some water, I wandered around for a bit and found my guys. They had spent the past couple of hours enjoying the scenery and throwing rocks in the water, one of Silas’s favourite things to do these days.

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We also ran into Anna from Piper’s Run! I was so happy to meet a fellow mom/running blogger from the Maritimes, and it totally happened without planning. So great to meet Anna and her husband Saï, who both took part in Maritime Race Weekend. Runners are great people! Go check out her blog. I love her honesty and can truly relate to how difficult it can be to balance chasing running goals with life as a working mom.

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Hard to believe I have now run seven half-marathons. And of course, I can’t wait for the next one. My body is definitely used to this distance and I know I could beat my PR from 2013 of 1:59:54 with better race morning punctuality. I’m tempted to sign up for another one this fall but taking it easy is also appealing.

Thank you Maritime Race Weekend for showing us “Good times in the Maritimes!” We will be back!

7th half marathon in the books in beautiful Eastern Passage, N.S. @maritimeraces

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A little hiatus

My last long run feels like forever ago, but it was glorious.

It took place on a cloudy, Friday afternoon. I got off early from work and hit the pavement while my little man was still napping.

I ran along the harbour and through the south end of my pretty city.

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I took it easy, but my pace was actually right around what I think my goal marathon pace will be at 6:30 min/km. There were many hills and I tried not to let them slow me down.

By the end of the 15.5 km run, I felt tired, but good. I made myself a protein powder smoothie and felt relieved at getting the long run out of the way before the weekend even arrived.

Now, just a few days later, I’m in the thick of a cold. I went for a short 4 km run on Tuesday just to test out my lungs, but I felt a little wheezy so I decided not to push it. I’ve learned my lesson the hard way before about running when there is any sign of congestion in the chest, and the results are not good. Who needs bronchitis when you’re marathon training? Not me.

So for now, I’m sitting a few runs out and I’m not sweating it one bit.

Can’t miss a beat

This weekend: too much coffee, wine and delicious food. Not enough sleep or water.

Good combination for fun and relaxation. Bad combination for running.

This afternoon, I was nearly falling asleep in the car on our way home from visiting family and Mark suggested I take a nap while our toddler napped.

“No. I have to run,” I said.

“Will it really ruin your training if you just miss one run today?” he asked.

“Yes.”

Of course that’s a lie, I would probably be fine and would have found a way to make up for today’s 7-miler (a piddly run in the grand scheme of marathon training), but I just can’t start copping out when running isn’t convenient. Because when you are a working mom, running is almost never convenient.

So I got it done, and felt better for it.

I felt particularly victorious after running up the Reversing Falls hill and past the west side’s badass welcome sign.

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Now I’m four weeks in – one quarter of the way there, and I have so far managed to follow my training plan perfectly.

This week it was a Tuesday 6 km run to the bank during my lunch break, a 5 km treadmill run early Thursday morning, a 6.5 km treadmill run early Sat morning and 11.5 km along the harbour today.

Going forward, I know I need to make some tweaks to my training if I want to not feel like death while running 42.2 km in Ottawa:

  • Drink more water
  • Eat more protein. (I bought protein powder for the first time in my life today!)
  • Clean up my diet in general. I eat sort of healthy, but not great.
  • Incorporate more yoga/stretching. I do a few quick stretches after a run, but I know I should do more. I’m going to try and incorporate at least one yoga session/week and make a habit of hopping on the foam roller more often.
  • Strength train. Sigh. I have not been doing this at all the past month, and I know my body will turn into a flimsy mess if I don’t start.

Some work to do, but overall, I’m honestly enjoying this training experience. I feel grateful that I’m able to put my body to the test like this and I know running a marathon will be one of the hardest and greatest things I will ever accomplish, which to me is so incredibly motivating.

 

 

 

My marathon training plan

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I’m now officially in Week 3 of my 16-week marathon training plan. I haven’t joined a running club, or a gym, and I don’t have a trainer. I’m doing this on my own.

To be honest, I prefer to train this way. I’m more or less a self-taught runner, and while I enjoy running with friends the odd time, to me, this is the ultimate solo sport. I love the flexibility, freedom and peace that goes along with it.

That said, I realize it’s absolutely essential to go into any kind of distance race prepared. So I have been loading up on podcasts, running mags, blogs and I even bought a book on marathon training.

There are many training plans available online, but I decided to go with the beginner marathon plan in my Runner’s World training guide. It includes four days of running every week, with two short runs mid-week, as well as one on Saturday, and a long run on Sunday. So far I’m loving the schedule because it takes the pressure off during the hectic work week and gives me more time on the weekends. I’m not sure how I will feel tackling a long run when the Saturday runs get longer, but I know the idea will be to keep them slow and easy.

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To me, the grand plan is to keep it smart and simple. I’m not going to restrict my diet, but I want to fuel and recovery properly. I’m not going to wear out my body during workouts, but I want to include good amounts of stretching and strengthening to prevent injury. And building up mileage gradually will be key.

While the long runs do look daunting, I find it more manageable if I break it down. Really, there are only four weeks that include scary distances – 15 miles (24 km) and beyond. The Sunday long runs peak twice at 20 miles (32 km), which is freaky but just 10 km longer than I’ve ever gone. Heck, even if I walk half of that, I’ll be happy.

Now I’m off to wind down for the evening before so I can run 4 miles on the treadmill in the morning before the toddler wakes and the work day begins. Feels like not hitting the snooze button is half the battle.

Marathon training: it’s happening!

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My face is tingly with a slight burning sensation after running 8 km in -15 C weather today, probably more like -25 c with the windchill.

But it’s Week 1 of marathon training, and this run was a confidence-builder. Yeah, I’m hardcore. And yeah: I’m going to run a marathon.

After six half-marathons and many shorter races, I’m ready to take the plunge and check this one off the bucket list. The time is right, so why wait?

I’ve signed up for the Ottawa Marathon on May 29. It will be my first race outside the Maritimes and I’m giddy with anticipation.

I hope you follow me on this journey as I continue to juggle life’s challenges with this big goal. I know it will be tough, but so, so worthwhile.

Next, PEI

I love the final week before a half-marathon.

First, there’s the tapering. The guilt-free reduction in mileage. Many runners claim they get kind of crazy without all the running. I embrace it.

Long, slow, Sunday run
Long, slow, Sunday run

Then, there’s the carb-loading. Guilt-free eating, heavy on the carbs. Could there be any better time for a Thanksgiving feast, complete with my two favourite boys and homemade pumpkin pie?

Thanksgiving dinner chez Whittaker
Thanksgiving dinner chez Whittaker

Lastly, there’s the anticipation of race day. This is particularly fun attending a new race. This weekend, my husband and I planned out a few details of our weekend in Charlottetown. It filled my stomach with butterflies. There’s so much to look forward to: a free yoga class, free massage, the pasta dinner, eating at our favourite Charlottetown haunts and driving through the fall colours. And then, Sunday, the RACE! I can just picture crossing the finish line at Province House, our country’s birthplace.

I’m feeling good. It’s been 15.5 months since I had my son, and I think it’s safe to say I feel back to my old self. I may not be as speedy as I was in 2013, but I’m in good shape. My legs are strong and it feels good to run.

I haven’t thought much about goals. I could say I want a personal best (and I do), but I’m not going to kill myself over it. The beauty of a new course is I’ll set a personal course record no matter what. And for me, I’m just proud of the fact that I’ve been able to train for two consecutive half-marathons while balancing my new responsibilities as a working mom.

I woke up at 6 a.m. unprompted on Saturday. So like any sane person, I took advantage of my
I woke up at 6 a.m. unprompted on Saturday. So like any sane person, I took advantage of my “free time” and went for a run. Came home, made coffee, and baby woke up.

Training for Half Marathon No. 5

The last couple of months have been a bit of a blur. I returned to working full-time, my baby turned one and somewhere in there, I trained for my fifth half-marathon.

Today I ran a nice, slow and hot 10K, for my taper long run. I ran from the west side to uptown and back. It was beautiful along Harbour Passage. It was toasty but manageable. Next weekend it’s 21.1 km – my first half-marathon post-baby – at Marathon By the Sea in Saint John.

Although I’ve managed to consistently get my weekend long runs in, the rest of the week has been lacking. Not much cross training, and only a couple other short runs.

Since my husband and I work opposite shifts, we haven’t needed to put our little guy in daycare. However, this means when I’m home, I’m on my own, which makes it hard to get those runs in. Jogging stroller to the rescue. Even if those runs are ultra-slow, and during the hot late-afternoon hours, at least it’s something.

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As a new mom, I’ve realized that while running is still important to me, it’s certainly not my top priority. This has changed the way I’ve looked at training for this half-marathon.

While I started with the best intentions of following a training plan with speed work, tempo runs and the like, it just didn’t happen. I just ran short runs when I could, and long runs on the weekend. That’s it.

For previous half-marathons, I meticulously tracked my pace, my workouts, my diet and my outfits. My selfie ratios were off the charts. Now, my phone is filled with baby pics. Who wants to look at my sweaty face when there’s a much cuter one next to me?

After last weekend’s long run of 18.5 km, I came home utterly exhausted and slightly nauseated to find that my husband had been struggling getting our little guy down for a nap. And Silas had just fallen asleep when I walked in the door. That meant not only did I not see him all during the work week, but also during a two-hour training run, followed by a two-hour nap. And for what? To feel sore and cruddy for the rest of the day? Sometimes, it all feels like a #momfail.

All this to say that I don’t think I’ve fallen out of love with running. It’s still important to me. It’s a simple and efficient way to keep relatively fit. And I still crave the endorphins. And I love to race. But, like most things in my life, the priority has shifted. I’m still trying to figure it all out.

Next weekend, though, will be awesome. I’ve taken part in Marathon By the Sea every year since I started running in 2011 (except last year, when I had a newborn). This year’s half-marathon course is different, and, rumour has it, more challenging. I love running across bridges, and this one includes both the Reversing Falls Bridge and the Harbour Bridge.

I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Let those sea breezes blow.

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The Saint John Harbour Bridge