Chilly Half Marathon

Chilly Half certainly lived up to its name this year!  Despite the -20 wind chill and a dusting of snow overnight, over 2000 brave runners came out to Burlington for the Chilly half marathon and Frosty 5k – and brought along even more courageous spectators who didn’t have the benefit of running to stay warm.  This was my first time running the Chilly Half, but I had heard great reviews; it’s certainly one of the more popular winter races among my group of running friends and a nice way to keep some motivation going through the winter.  After having the best race of my life, I have to agree!

Starting off with my goals and expectations…

This was my first race following a DNF at Scotiabank half marathon and a disastrous marathon debut in Hamilton last fall.  Although I’ve done six half marathons, I’ve never felt that I raced a half to my full potential – there were always cramps, blisters or piriformis injuries that held me back – and I knew that my PB of 1:52 from fall 2012 didn’t really represent my current fitness level.  So with having done next to zero speed training since taking 6 weeks off after my marathon – I’m not completely sure racing the 400m, mile and 3000m races at the TTC track meet last weekend counts as an ideal speed training strategy – my time goal was to finish under 1:45, taking 7 minutes off my personal best…and honestly I wanted to beat that goal by a couple minutes and hopefully finish in the 1:42-1:43 range.  I also wanted to do this with a negative split, and feel strong at the finish.  Having fun goes without saying!

…and the plans!

Taper: I decided to do a partial taper since this wasn’t an A race, so I mostly took it easy the week prior…with the exception of the track meet last Saturday where I ran a personal best mile in 6:09 in addition to racing the 400m and 3000m events (a race report will be coming for this one too).  The week of the race consisted of two swim workouts (which both rocked), an easy 6.5k with some HM pace intervals on Tuesday and my usual three spin classes on Thursday, Friday and Saturday which left my legs feeling rested and ready to race.

Pre-race Nutrition: My pre-race dinner was rice pasta with lemon-parmesan sauce and broccoli, and breakfast was homemade rice pudding – white rice, almond milk, cinnamon, raisins and an egg.  I also had a banana and half a muffin about an hour before the race – probably more food than most would recommend, but fortunately I have a stomach of steel!

Race Nutrition: I’m working on a more minimal nutrition strategy this year, so I took a Honey Stinger gel and two packs of chews. My plan was to eat a pack of chews in the 15 minutes before the race (39g of carbs), graze on the second pack of chews in the first half of the race, then take the gel around 14k to get me though to the finish line.  Total carbs would be 39g before the race and 63g during (36g/hr).

Pacing: Since a 1:45 finish works out to 4:58/km average pace and my goal was to run a negative split, I planned to break the race into 5km segments starting out at 5:10 pace for the first 5k, dropping to 5:00 until 10k, then working my way down to 4:50/4:45 for the end of the race depending on how I felt.

AAAAND here goes the race!

The start was pretty crowded just like any other race, so I relaxed and went with the flow of runners rather than trying to dodge around everyone to keep my pace strategy (which is usually how I approach crowded starts, but isn’t very efficient).  The first kilometer was around a 5:14 pace, positioned nicely between the 1:40 and 1:45 pace bunnies, and because I was feeling so good I continued to run by feel rather than constantly checking my watch – another change from my usual rock-solid pacing strategy using average lap paces on my Garmin and a lot more technology. I realized my easy jog was taking me close to a 4:59 pace, but decided to keep running by feel and didn’t check my watch until about 5km when I passed the 1:45 pace bunny who had overtaken me around 2k.  4:55!  And I didn’t even feel like I was working!

Seeing Hector around the 5k mark was awesome, and I managed to leave my neck-warmer with him as I was warming up and the sun was coming out.  I met a fellow triathlete named Anthony and we chatted about training, racing (he’s doing Ironman Italy this year) and the weather, making time fly by.  Before I knew it, we were reaching 7k and it was time to start nibbling those chews – of course I didn’t really think about the temperature beforehand, and quickly discovered that frozen chews are considerably more difficult to eat while running!  I only ate about two before deciding it wasn’t worth the trouble.

I was still feeling great as we headed up some easy grades into the halfway point. I could feel my muscles starting to tire, but I was consistently knocking off kilometers in about 4:55 without needing to really push and knew that I still had some speed left.  Around 12km I could feel myself fading and chewed through my gel (literally chewed it – the entire gel froze and I had to work really hard to squeeze it out of the packet), which gave me a little extra kick of energy.  At 13km we turned back towards the finish line and I said goodbye to Anthony as I started inching my pace towards 4:50 – those slight downhills sure felt great heading back, and I was slowly but surely picking off runners.

It wasn’t until 15km that I started counting down to the finish.  My muscles were definitely feeling it, and holding my pace was taking more and more of a mental push.  I ate another chew to get me to the finish line and contemplated a water station stop, but ultimately decided that I wasn’t all that interested in drinking (and potentially wearing) ice-cold water and I wasn’t really thirsty anyways.  With only 5km left to go and my average pace down to 4:54, I started thinking about my projected finishing time: could I go under 1:45?  Could I maybe even beat my goal by a couple minutes? It wasn’t until 18km that I finally thought, “I might actually do this!” but when I reached 19km at 1:33:38 and estimated I could run the last 1.1km in 10 minutes…I thought I might even go under 1:43.  But it would take a big push.

Those last two kilometers were wonderful and painful. Although I was doing fine aerobically, my muscles were getting heavy and it took a lot of mental strength to power through the last shallow climb into the finish. I finally saw the last turn, and felt so incredibly strong as I turned and saw the big finish line across Brant Street.  The best part was seeing Hector look at me in shock, then turn to look at the finish line clock and back to me in surprise: I was over 2 minutes ahead of schedule and he hadn’t been expecting to see me yet!  With 100m to go the finish line clock said 1:43 – but because I hadn’t started at the front of the corral, my watch only showed 1:42:31 and that’s when I knew I was going to finish under 1:43.  I ran my heart out to the finish line and passed under at 1:42:50, 2 minutes and 10 seconds under my goal and over 9 minutes faster than my personal best!

Chilly 2

Pushing for the finish!

The best part was seeing Hector at the finish and giving him a great big hug.  I’ve never felt so amazing after a race, and having someone who understands the significance of what I just accomplished only magnified my happiness.  Those chocolate chip cookies came in a close second though…

So to recap my goals:

  • Finish in under 1:45 – check
  • Negative split – check
  • Feel strong at the finish – check
  • Have fun – definitely check!

My final nutrition was 39g of carbs before, and a total of about 35g during the race (works out to about 20g/hr).  I never actually drank any water during the race and although I was a little dehydrated when I finished, it never impacted my performance.  Seems as though my minimal nutrition strategy (at least during the race) was successful!

Here are the splits from my Garmin (click to see the full file – although my heart rate monitor malfunctioned and apparently I can run a sub-5:00 pace at 77bpm. Nice!).

Chilly Half

I usually do a “lessons learned” section at the end of my race report where I go through the things that could have gone better, but I honestly don’t think I could have improved on any aspect of this race.  My preparation, nutrition and pacing were perfect – so the only lesson learned is what I should do!

My 1:42:50 finish placed me 16/136 runners in my age category, and 401/2172 runners overall. Full results are here.

Chilly medal

I also got this sweet finishers medal :)

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5 comments

  1. Fantastically executed race! congrats! I’m a fan of the Chilly, it’s a surprisingly good race to run a personal best, considering how early it comes in the season.

    1. Thanks Emma! It’s a great course to PB – that slight downhill on the way back really helps keep your speed up right when you’re getting tired.

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