I run on the brink of disaster. I run on the fine line of either flying like the wind or breaking down into a smoking heap. For me, there is no other way to race. In prior races, it was one or the other. Do or do not, says Jedi Master Yoda. Running the Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon, I found the strange place in between.
I’ve always had an affinity for the half. About two hours long, it is a bona fide endurance event, but one that I could still run for time, rather than survival. A race that befits my mantra of go faster, feel the world whizzing by. My training leading up to the race went very well and I was running strongly. I thought that this flat, fast course would be the perfect opportunity to put a serious dent in my personal best time.
I have a fairly systematic approach to races and running is as much of an individual time trial as any other sport. That means that my internal strategy plays a larger factor than racing with those around me. My normal strategy for the half marathon is to run the front 11k at the goal pace, and then run a hard back 10k to finish. The first 6k we happy times, like it is in almost every race. I was ahead of schedule and banking about 10-15 seconds per km. Then, my left knee started to tighten up. My knee had been sore during speed intervals and some of the recent race pace runs. Being paranoid, I slowed down a little. By the time I had hit 11k, I was behind pace by about 30s. I figured ok, I’ll try to hang on until 16k and then nail it for the last 5k. By the time I got there, my pace was starting to vary and I lit the turbos at 16k. My effort had increased exponentially, but my pace didn’t. Nonetheless, I kept the pressure on, running through some serious pain and suffering to hold on.
I pushed the boundary too hard and too early and paid for it. I learned that the line is more of a slippery slope. Once I started over it, things started to seriously hurt. It was both a physical and mental a struggle to stay fast until the end. In the end, I beat by PB by 23 seconds.
I’m not qualifying for Boston anytime soon and I race only against myself. In a race of almost 6,900 seconds, it was the last 23 that mattered. In running, I’ve always knew, and I still always learn, that every step, every improvement, every bit of speed is hard-won and not to be taken for granted.
As my friend Ian says, there are no silver bullets in running.