Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Goodlife

Skip to the race recap below if you've had enough of my long ramblings and only want to hear the important half :) (no pun intended)


Sunday was one of those days that makes every hard training run, every painful recovery run and every race disappointment worthwhile. One of those days when all the stars align and allow you to perform to your true ability. One of those days when racing feels GOOD and you enjoy every moment of it. Finishing a race like this takes on a dreamy reality; I crossed the finish line at the Toronto Goodlife half-marathon in an exertion-induced daze, in which I found it hard to put into words how I felt, since I couldn’t really grasp what I had done at the time. All I knew is that I had had a big PB (runners brain at its finest: simple words, half-thoughts), so I should be happy. So happy I was!

On the surface, anyone would agree I had a good race because I ran a 2min46s PB over 21.1k. I also won the half marathon and was in the top 20 overall. However, the race meant much more to me than that. Breaking 1:20:00 for the half-marathon has been a huge goal for me since 2006. Yes, 2006. That being said, I admit I didn’t quite understand what running a 1:20:00 meant at this point in time ...I knew it was a big barrier and I was very fit at the time but I don’t think I gave quite enough credit to the distance. I gave my first go at it in Ottawa of ‘06, but instead of breaking 1:20:00 I broke my foot and couldn’t finish the race. Not a good first effort by any means!

Smiling with a broken foot :(
(Failed sub-1:20:00 attempt #1)

So the next summer I tried again. I was at about the same fitness level as the previous summer and decided to run the Scotiabank Vancouver Half-Marathon, a point-to-point course containing a good-sized downhill. Unfortunately, it was a horrible, cold, windy and rainy day, and though I was on pace for 7k or so I was battling every natural force possible and went on to clock my now second best time of 1:21:46.

G.I. Jane battles wind and rain for 21.1k
(Failed sub-1:20:00 attempt #2)

At the end of 2009 I started to gear up for my first marathon in the spring of 2010. Suzanne Zelazo (Dr. Z) and Jenn Eberman were my training partners as we all shared similar goals and ran comparable times. Dr. Z ran the Goodlife half-marathon last year and won in 1:20:42. After that race, we promised each other that a sub-1:20:00 would soon be ours and that together we’d make it happen.

So obviously a considerable amount of time has gone by and still the 1:20:00 barrier remained. Though I am usually quite a positive person, I have to say that I have never been sure of whether I would achieve this goal: the more time that has passed the more daunting and insurmountable this obstacle has become. Needless to say, after the last few months of big mileage and strong workouts, I felt closer than I have ever been to being able to achieve it and knew that now was a better chance than any. So, with Dr. Z's previous win in my mind, Toronto Goodlife it was. And thank god, it was.

The race

I had a down week last week and scaled back the mileage considerably: shorter runs, no double days, two days off. I felt like I didn’t run at all and it was very difficult for me. By Friday, my legs felt like springs from which I could jump or run any distance. Even my abdominal work got stronger because my legs could help withstand the dreaded plank position for any amount of time (Kap ‘N K would have been proud!). My sleep quality decreased, since for those of you that don’t know I become an insomniac when I don’t run or exercise. I knew I was ready to run fast.

I woke up at 5AM for coffee and nutella (yes, plain nutella out of the jar. Nothin’ better). I was surprisingly relaxed, as I somehow knew I would have fun out there. The net downhill course and perfect weather forecast may have had something to do with that! My legs felt familiarly jumpy, so much so that I did running As down my hallway several times as I was waiting for the elevator. I think I would have started doing 20m dashes had the elevator taken a second longer. When I got to the start line, Nic was there with my bib number and some pre-race words of encouragement. When I asked whether she knew of any women in the race, she blurted “I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter because YOU ARE FITTER THAN ALL OF THEM!” I accepted this somewhat nonsensical answer and decided that my primary goal was just to run 1:20:00 no matter what the competition was like. 3:47s, here I come.
The gun went off and I went through 1k in 3:52-3 or so. I felt relaxed, but thought I was being a bit too relaxed, so I started to pick up the intensity. I wasn’t intending on playing it safe by any means. All I thought was ‘get on pace, and hold it.’ By 3k I was at 11:23, inching closer to 3:47 pace. At that point I knew I was picking it up slightly with each km so I just stopped looking at my watch. I just got into a rhythm and went with it, knowing it was quick but placing faith in my fitness and strength and trusting that I could keep it going as long as I wanted (that’s what I told myself, anyway!). I did check again at 10k and saw 37:2-something, so at that point I was under pace, and I started to get excited.

The crowds were so great. There really is no better feeling than running down Yonge street on a crisp, sunny morning with a personal escort, strangers yelling ‘you go girl!’ every 10s, the most amazing varsity cheering squad stationed at halfway screaming ‘G.I. Jane!’ (just in case I forgot how hardcore I am supposed to be, this was a good reminder to step it up!), your coach on her wheels yelling words of encouragement and your husband running behind you in the last three kilometres keeping you honest. From 10k on I just kept cruising along, enjoying the sunshine and trying to distract myself from the km markers. Occasionally the lead cyclist would get just a little too far ahead of me, which I actually enjoyed because I would automatically try and chase him down, as if it were my job to keep up with him. It was a nice way to make the time pass and motivation to keep up the pace.

Chasing the lead cyclist?

17k into the race I went through the natural thought of ‘when is this going to be over,’ but actually cut myself off to acknowledge that I was having a great race, and that I shouldn’t wish it to be over but rather enjoy the moment while it lasted. So instead, over the last 4k I let the cheers of the crowds sink in, I felt the relaxed effort in my stride and focused not on how much pain I was in but how much more I could be in if I was any less fit. I thought of Dr. Z and our goal setting together and how much this victory meant . This did make me happier, though perhaps not any faster...and of course now I am kicking myself since I crossed the line in 1:19:00.00! How could I be so complacent in my last 2k?! I should know by now that getting too comfortable will only come back to haunt you!

Regardless, breaking that Goodlife tape was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. Not only because I could finally stop running, but because I exceeded my own expectations and proved to myself that I can attain some of the lofty (and questionable) goals I set for myself. This race has made me realize that you should never lose faith in your dreams because oftentimes you can achieve more than you and others might expect. I can’t say what the exact formula is but dedication, hard work and a great coach are an absolutely crucial part. I could not have done this without Nicole and rest of the group pushing me, supporting me and always believing in me. This PB was for the angels, and most of all for Dr. Z, who I have no doubt is the next to break the tape in under 1:20:00.


  1. Jane, you are the jewel in the crown.
    Congratulations for reaching this very aggressive and challenging goal.
    You are one tough and mentally strong runner. This spills over into all the other parts of your life.
    Thank you for inspiring all those around you!
    Big bear Hugs!!!
    Catherine xxx

  2. just wanted to say a huge, huge congratulations on your first sub-80 minute marathon, hell almost a sub-79 minute half marathon. pretty cool - in the time it takes some people to watch two sitcoms, go to the john and grab another beer, you cover 21.1 km.
    also... thanks for your blog. when i am sluggish and unmotivated i re-read some of your key posts about your brutal work-outs and tell myself, ok, just go out there and try to hurt 50% of what GI Jane hurts and it really gets me going. so thanks!

  3. Leslie, the same goes for you. I often think back to those hard track workouts at McGill - seeing you huffing and puffing (and frequently wheezing) while running sub-80s lap after lap. I could never keep up with you. I can't imagine YOU thinking I'M hardcore! Haha.