Calgary Police Half Marathon

I ran the Calgary Police Half marathon in 1:36:23 on Sunday April 26. It was one of my least favorite races of all time but it did result in a personal best on the distance so in retrospect I am happy to have run it. I perhaps also learned a few things while running it, maybe it’s more likely that thinking about why it felt so lousy afterward was how I learned a few things. None the less I’m pretty confident I didn’t run as fast as I could have on the day due to some poor pacing choices and I probably didn’t run as fast as I could have that week due to some poor tapering choices. The results however are good so let’s start there. I was actually quite quick, averaging 4:35 per kilometer is more than acceptable considering all the factors. I also have to consider that I ran 26.2 miles only three weeks prior and that my training focus on the run has been endurance with the focus on pushing past the two hour mark. While it seems a bit silly to suggest that the half marathon is not really an endurance event the honest truth is that it’s bordering on not being one. I have pretty good reasons to believe that my body’s glycogen stores when topped off properly run themselves out in about 100 to 110 minutes when riding a bike through triathlon club practice if not supplemented with a few extra calories. While running is different than the stationary bike and considering I did consume 100 calories of shot-bloks on the run in addition to two cups of Gatorade I had absolutely no need to run off anything more than glycogen and sugar-burning aerobic work during the race. If the muscular endurance is there to get me through about 34 kms with no ill effects and my glycogen storage is good enough to go the distance then realistically 21.1 kms shouldn’t be considered an endurance challenge, it’s an aerobic one meaning unfortunately that my speed should basically be a measure of how much my huge body could breathe and how much I was willing to hurt to stick it out. (Taking in a bit of food was probably an unnecessary safety net but as I’m used to taking 100 calories every 5 miles on runs lasting longer than 60 minutes I opted not to play with something that works, it certainly wasn’t going to slow me down anyways.)

That’s all said basically to suggest that I did run a fast race, that I have developed the endurance to crank out a 21 km run at hard effort without feeling the need to really dig deep to keep it rolling once past the ten mile mark. I found myself actually looking forward to getting some intermediate miles down between 10 miles and 12 miles, in retrospect those are normally finishing miles. I wasn’t struggling to be able to maintain the pace I ran towards the finish, I just couldn’t pick it up. The endurance was there but the speed wasn’t.

Perhaps describing why the speed wasn’t there starts with a little description of the taper, or lack thereof before I discuss the race-day strategy. Following the marathon three weeks prior I found I was capable of hard aerobic work on the bike within a few days but my ability to do any real effort while running had totally disappeared. I rode hard at triathlon club practice and wimped out on the runs, even having to quit an intervals set halfway through, I couldn’t manage it and walked slowly home from the river valley. After a week and a half I was out on my feet again and was successful for the first time at a Wednesday Night Cross country race. My legs held up for 17 minutes as I ran slightly above my aerobic limit the entire time. I felt great and likely as a result of this positive feedback to the restoration of my running I took the training hard right through the weekend and into the next week. I racked up my biggest 7 day stretch yet in 2009 with varied sport focus including two excellent 10 km run efforts at moderate pace. I cruised right along into the next Wednesday’s race, this time running a bit closer to my aerobic capacity for the duration. The taper would begin Friday for Sunday’s race by taking two days off. Not really a taper at all you might say, and you’d be right. It would have likely been sufficient to rest up if I had not just completed a serious training effort spanning 13 days without a break. Friday and Saturday were spent in recovery mode from the training load of the last weeks and not acquiring the extra bits of rest required for a good race performance.

The mental preparation for this race was also lacking, I hadn’t actually decided what my goal pace was supposed to be, I tossed around the idea of trying to run 7 minute miles and aiming for a 92 minute time. Perhaps it was my fast performances at Wednesday night races that suggested this in my head. I knew however that I was far more likely to be successful at running an even pace the whole race and probably would reasonably shoot for 7:15 miles if aiming for an even paced race. I started the race not having decided upon the plan, hopping the fence into the starting chute without really gauging whether or not I was self seeding appropriately. We cruised out of the start and I nailed two 6:45 miles in a row, I was feeling pretty good, refreshed and plenty happy that it wasn’t snowing or raining as had been forecast. This was a terrible pacing strategy and I would pay for it, I slowed appropriately to approximately the pace I should have been running the whole race by the time I went through 5 miles but was perhaps a minute ahead of all the people who were running this pace consistently through the race. That meant there was a slow and steady stream of people passing me as I went down the hill into the weaselhead, I had an incorrect picture in my mind that it was a steep downhill and short jaunt over to the uphill on the other side. The flat across the bottom was an entire mile long and I got frustrated a bit confused by why things seemed to be going the way they were and saddened that there were people getting past me. I was well within my limits running through this stretch and should have upped the pace and stuck on the tail of any one of the other runners but instead I was hesitant to choose one, worrying about the consequences of passing control of the pace over to another stranger. Up the hill I went, the cycling muscles came into play and I passed a few people on the ascent. The race gets a bit tedious here through to the ten mile point and I was still running well within my limits not terribly pleased by my pace but accepting the fact that I was sufficiently quick to still have the 1:40 under wraps. For a few miles this became the plan, keep it under 1:40? That was outrageous and when I actually calculated how slow I could go and was then starting to go I realized I had to pick up the pace. Having chosen a specific planned pace would have been valuable here but that wasn’t the case and I opted to make a last ditch effort with about 4 kms out to salvage what I was realizing was a poor race plan by picking the nearest tall guy and deciding to run his pace as he went by. It worked for 300 yards before we went up and over the overpass and I needed to pass him on the uphill. Down the other side and I was out on my way through to the final 3 kms, the disaster zone was finished and I finally picked up my pace to a moderately hard effort hovering right around my aerobic threshold and went for it. The ends of races are always interesting some people fade badly and others pick it up, as I was picking it up some of those ahead of me were also speeding up and my plans to knock them off one by one got a bit complicated or I was getting to the border of being out of it. I came through the 21 km mark with one other man who started a sprint to the finish and I started to go with him but as soon as I realized he had me beat I backed off. No point in loosing a sprint to the finish I thought to myself and just ran it in across the line.

Summary of results: here.

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