Niagara Falls Internation Half-Marathon Race Report – October 24, 2010
This was my first half-marathon, and was a goal I set for myself approximately 3 months ago (after starting to get into running just this past June). Initially my goal was to finish under 2 hrs, and then was changed to 1:45 which I thought was more challenging. I had been focusing my training on sprint distance duathlons during the summer, and then focused more on running through late summer/early fall based on a program set up by my wife. In my build up I had done my long runs up to a maximum of 100 minutes, where I covered slightly more than the half marathon distance. Based on my experience with these longer training runs, I again revised my goal time to 1:35:00, based on maintaining a 4:30 min/km pace. I was hopeful that I could do this, but the big variable would be the weather.
The night before the race the weather forecast called for rain, 40-60km/hr winds, and relatively warm temperatures. I was encouraged by the fact that the wind would generally be a tailwind, and that racing in the rain is fine because I find that once you are soaked, it just becomes a fact of life and doesn’t bother me! My biggest concern was cold temperatures, and the forecast high of 19C meant I wouldn’t have to worry about that.
Race start time was 10 AM – this is a good time for me as it gives me time to wake up normally and eat, rather than waking up early to give enough time to digest breakfast before the start time. I woke up at 6:30AM. I ate two pieces of toast and peanut butter before 7 (sharing bites with my daughter!) I tried to drink as much water as I could (as I had been for the past couple of days). Around 8 I ate a clif bar and then had a shower before leaving to drive to the start line. While we drove to the start area I ate a pack of Powerbar Energy Gel Blasts and drank more water. We arrived at the start line around 9AM, and it was very busy: starting with cars, and then porta-potty lines. I wandered around, dropped my extra gear on the baggage bus, and made my way to the starting area, thinking it would be best to start trying to claim some space early. I was surprised at how easy it was to get position near the start line – people seemed to know where they should slot in and weren’t battling for the front positions. It wasn’t long before the anthems were being sung, and the race began.
I started out at a faster pace than I wanted, but was feeling very good. In the first few kilometres I was worried as I couldn’t get my heart rate below the low 160’s, when most of my training runs had been in the low to mid-150’s. I tried to calm myself down, and adjust my pace, but my HR wouldn’t come down. I maintained my speed, and hoped for the best running around 160 bpm. I was planning to keep a slightly faster pace in the beginning of the race to give myself a buffer for the middle where I thought I might fade a little (going against everything I had read!) My Garmin 305 kept telling me I was right where I wanted to be speed-wise, and in the instances where I noticed myself slowing down, the immediate feedback from my watch reminded me to pick up the pace. The kilometres kept ticking away, and I was feeling good – I was drinking a little bit of water at most of the aid stations (located at each mile). At around kilometre 17 I started feeling like my energy might be fading, my legs felt good but my overall energy level seemed to be dipping, and I felt like I was getting a bit cold which I knew was a bad sign – maybe the high HR wasn’t sustainable. I decided to try eating a couple of the gel blasts that I had stuck in my pocket at the last minute at the race start – originally I had not planned on taking in any nutrition during the race, just water as I had on my training runs. I slowly ate one, and tried to consume more water at each of the next water stations. This seemed to help, and the feeling quickly subsided – I didn’t risk eating anymore to avoid cramping. As I ran into Chippawa, I had a much better idea of where I was, and how close the finish line was. I picked up the pace a little bit, being cautious of not overdoing it this close to the end. I knew that I had lots of time to get in under my goal, and started thinking I could even finish under 1:30. This gave me more motivation to carry a faster speed, and at the same time the course elevation started to dip down over the last couple of kilometres. In no time I was coming down past the familiar historic buildings on the parkway, and then could see the falls and finishing area. Coming up to the finish line, I saw that my time was 1:20-something so I pushed hard to get in under 1:30. I ended up finishing at 1:27:57 on the clock (4:11 min/km pace). I was very happy with that finish, and with how good I felt even running that pace. I collected my medal, tinfoil blanket (which thankfully I didn’t need), water, and food. I didn’t see my wife and daughter as I was finishing, but I was hoping they made it down in time to see me finish. Not long after, I saw them coming around to the finish area and I headed over to see them as fast as I could.
It felt so good (and surprisingly emotional) to have such a great race after months of focusing on this goal and wondering about how I would perform in my first longer distance race. The result made all the recent dark, cold, and wet (and some good weather) runs worthwhile!
Looking at the Garmin data from my race I was surprised to see that I was able to maintain the fast pace I started out at. The speed was realtively consistent for the full distance. I was also surprised at my high heart rate: average of 162 bpm which is 88% of max. My HR consistently climbed through the race, especially at the faster pace toward the end.
I am looking forward to continuing with training through the winter, and my next big goal is the 30K Around the Bay race in March 2011, and then I hope to do a full marathon in Fall 2011.