When I woke this morning, it was a fairly cold 0C, but I was happy it was sunny and dry. The rain over the past few days were a bit of of a concern, but not today. Another bonus was that I got enough sleep, a pre-race rarity, thanks to the switch away from daylight savings time, which effectively made the 8:15 start feel like 9:15. This looked to be near-ideal conditions.
Equipment and Pacing Strategy
I opted for two thin long sleeve layers, with the outer having a full zip for some thermal flexibility. I also made a last minute decision to switch to a hat, rather than my usual visor. I’ve raced in these conditions, both inline and running and I was fairly confident with my clothing choices. There was a risk the temps could warm up quickly, which would leave me overdressed, but the half is also relatively short race.
Less certain was the choice of shoes – Saucony Kinvaras. I’ve been running my long runs in the more cushioned Saucony Cortanas and I liked their comfort. I do like to switch to a lighter and more responsive model for races. With the Hamilton course being predominately downhill, I figured maybe I could use some extra squish today. That said, the current pair of Kinvara 3’s (my fourth pair of this model) had worked well in the Scotia half, so I decided to stick with those.
Pacing strategy. I carried two pace bands 1) “A” goal of 1:50 and 2) “B” goal of 1:52. Both were negative split, with the back half about 5s/km faster than the front half. I also adjusted for terrain, subtracting 20s/km for the downhill parts and redistributing the extra time back into the flat sections. This was a totally subjective estimate on my part, based on the low resolution topographic map of the route and personal experience on what I thought the downhill adjustment should be.
This is a fairly small race, and there wasn’t much congestion at the start from first-time slower runners seeding themselves in the wrong part of the corral. The first 5k is mostly flat, along Mud St. Having learned from a fast front half in Scotia that hurt me later, I aimed to run comfortably and efficiently to conserve my energy for later in the race. My km splits were 5:19, 5:24, 5:23, 5:24, 5:27. At this point, I was caught and passed by the 1:50 pace bunny, who started slightly behind me. At this point, I was about 30s behind my “A” goal.
What follows is the best part of the route, the gradual drop down Red Hill Valley Parkway. There’s 100m of elevation drop, over the next 5k. My splits were 4:58, 4:52, 4:54, 5:13, and 5:22. The bulk of the downhill is on the first 4k of this seciton, it wasn’t really surprising that the last km was slower. My general strategy was to keep the speed up, without wasting too much energy, since I needed to pass the 1:50 bunny and put some time on him. I knew that my pace strategy with the fast downhill meant that I would lose time against the bunny on the last 10km. I noticed there was quite a stiff wind headwind and tried to draft as many people as practical. I noticed that most people’s paces were inconsistent downhill and I had to monitor my GPS constantly to make sure I wasn’t drafting someone that was going too slow. I ended up passingi the 1:50 bunny at around 7.5k.
The bunny caught me as we were getting off the highway at 11.5k and I focused on staying with the 1:50 pace group. What followed was the most annoying part of the course – a gravel covered dirt trail with some steep downhill and uphill parts. While it was useful to have the pace group to keep the speed up, I used up a lot of energy to keep them in sight. My splits were: 5:17, 5:18, 5:22, and 5:14. Now that I was on the back half of the course, I needed to speed up a bit to stay on track for the negative split. The gravel section wasn’t on the route that I ran here two years ago, and I hadn’t accounted for this in my pacing strategy. Presumably, the route was chosen to circumvent the train tracks that interruped this race (and Around the Bay) in the past.
The last 7k are along the Hamilton Beach trail, first out (north) for 3k and back (south) towards the finish at Confederation Park. The north leg, as with the Parkway, had a decent headwind and my splits were 5:23, 5:31, and 5:20. This section, combined with the gravel was mentally tough and I’m glad there was a pace group to focus on, at this point of the race.
The 4k run back was strong, as I was aided by the tailwind (finally) and also able to drop the hammer and pass a few runners, with splits of 5:12, 5:13, 5:17, and 5:17. I ended up with a time of 1:51:52, right on my “B” goal, and a PB by 35s.
The clothing choice was correct, and I was neither too warm or cold for the whole race. I forgot about my shoe selection, as the Kinvaras just worked and stay out of my way, which is exactly what shoes should do. My pacing was very tight. Given the headwind dominant conditions today, I’m convinced that I ran the best race possible with my current physical condition and the 1:50 goal just wasn’t in the cards today. Overall in this training cycle, I’ve taken 1:12 off my prior half marathon PB, set on an easier iteration of this course (with no gravel section and a tailwind). I’m pretty pleased with the results.