Calgary Police Half – 2010


Bar graph of 500m split average speeds. Red line denoting average HR for those splits and the thick dotted line denoting the average (speed and HR). The thin dotted line is my goal pace heading into the run.

My third successive visit to the Calgary Police Half Marathon, and my fifth race over this distance (not including triathlons) was by far my fastest… a six and a half minute PB. I also ducked under the 90 minute marker which for me back in mid-November when I was drawing up a season plan, was a rather ambitious goal. I am quite happy with this result and will be happy to store it somewhere in my brain to rely on for confidence through the rest of this season. I can run, and I can run tough, and I can change plans on the fly, and I can pull myself back together when things are falling apart. These are skills that need to be developed, and having tough races is one way to make sure that you learn the lessons.

I’ve run 660kms in the past three months, and did a grand total of 9.5kms of “speed work” amongst all of it. That’s not much. As the race approached I was fully aware that I had no idea of how fast I actually thought I could run it. I’ve been doing strictly aerobic running for the past 3 months (well, up until last Thursday) with the focus on increasing running consistency, durability and volume. The result of focusing on those items is that I’ve been developing consistency, durability and volume, and doing testing to gauge progress of those markers has confirmed that. Running with a strict HR cap well below a HR that you would normally average for a full Half Marathon means that you don’t know how fast that effort corresponds to and you don’t have a whole bunch of confidence that you can keep up a high effort for that long.

So last Thursday I cruised along for a mile at 172 bpm to see how fast that was, the result was about 6:30. Not bad I thought. Steven confirmed that he thought this was about the right pace to set out at and see how it felt. Then Tuesday I did intervals at Hawrelak with the Tri club (also gunning for about 170-172bpm), 4×1km leaving on 8minutes. I nailed all four at 3:35 or less… things felt great. Friday I also ran 3×1km, this time aiming for the 4:00/km split and taking only a 2minute break. I finished the intervals somewhere around 170bpm and rising from one interval to the next, realizing that the 4:00/km pace was going to be a stretch but I figured that I’d stick to the plan of trying to split 4:00/km for the race.

It was barely warm enough to wear shorts, but I certainly prefer it so did opt to skip the tights. About 2oC with wind from the west (more on that later). I rolled out from about the fifth row of people in the start chute, knowing that I’d either wind up a bit stressed out in the first kilometer by either running too fast or having to weave my way through the melee of people who think they can run faster than they actually can and line up too far up the chute. I split the first kilometer in 3:48. I then spent the next 3 kilometers trying to roll back the effort ever so slightly as I watched my HR make a steady rise and found myself nicely pacing off of “short guy in funny tights” which I use to mentally relax for a couple times for a few hundred meters each as I try to stop obsessing about my pace. Split the first 5kms in 20:09, not bad, but my HR was now higher than I knew I could maintain for the race, having come through the rolly climb behind the Rockyview Hospital. There’s a big glut of people crusing down the path and I’m right in the thick of it pretty pleased with how things are going but slowly realizing that my HR is likely not sustainable even though until this point my legs are feeling pretty fresh and pretty fast with the turnover.

I’ve been letting people get away from me on the ascents and trying to reel them in a bit on the descents to try and keep my effort level in check but decide on the next long gradual ascent along pump-hill I’m going to stay with at least the back of this group and not drop off. The group doesn’t spread at all and this was a good mental choice, I make the ascent under relative control and am able to go off the front down the descent on the other side with the second place female “blue jacket girl”. We’re through 10kms in 41:20, the 4 minute pace is quite clearly out the window at this point as I know that the second half of the course is far more challenging than the first. I get myself a bit worried that I’m really going to pay for the first 5 kms towards the end, but do manage to drive those thoughts out of my head pretty quickly as we encounter the first serious stretch of headwind. I slot in behind “black toque man” to try and catch a draft, probably mostly a mental draft, but it works for a stretch and I string together a few good kilometers. Then we head down the hill and “black toque man” absolutely flies down the hill. I feel like I’m standing absolutely still and run down the hill pretty quick but totally loose contact with him and the “green shirt guy” who we had just caught. Getting to the bottom of the hill I want to get back on with those two because they’ve got a good even pace going and mentally it was simple to stick on his shoulder than do this all my myself. I give it a push for maybe 50m and quickly realize that’s a bad decision, my breathing spikes even though my HR doesn’t come up like it should and the muscles that are probably a bit chilly and tight due to the weather and sore from rocketing down a rather steep hill make themselves heard with a voice that’s loud and clear.

Oh shit

I’m wondering if I’m going to cramp up, I’m wondering if I’m going to have to stop for a second and stretch, I’m wondering if my HR is going to plummet and I’m not going to be able to drive the effort level up anymore. This situation gets scary rather quickly. I decide I need to do my best to take control of the situation and say to myself 15 breaths, I stop running and briskly walk for 15 deep and fast breaths, I feel ready to go again after 10 but restrain myself and take the whole break I had allotted as the “green shirt guy” and “the black toque guy” get far enough ahead that I know I’m not about to bridge up to them any time soon. Then “green shirt guy”’s shoelace comes undone and he looses at least the equivalent of 10 walking breaths distance as he reties. It’s reassuring, I feel like I just blew the race but knowing that I really haven’t lost all sorts of time brings a bit of peace back into my head and I get back on a solid effort level across the bottom of the weaselhead. My HR is down but I’m not about to try and get it up again before I have to start the hill out of the valley. The hill arrives sooner than I would have expected because I really found a good mental zone and I tell myself not to push it, I don’t need to explode, and I know I’m close.

The ascent is tough and my heartrate does indeed come back up, I walk maybe 10 steps through the aid station at the top of the hill to let myself get down two full cups instead of the mouthfuls I’ve had prior. The 15km split is 63:16, not my nicest 5kms, but sub 22 minutes isn’t the end of the world. I can’t calculate how fast I have to run for the final 6 kms. I’m too stupid to do the math, but do start nailing splits that I find acceptable on my watch and give up on calculating anything for a while, just run. I once again find the zone I was in during the weaselhead and enjoy it, I get a bit lost in my own bubble until we have to climb up and over the bridge over Glenmore Trail where my peace is rudely interrupted. Down the other side the rhythm is still interrupted and I think I can calculate that with 3kms to go I need to run 4:30 pace to finish under 90 minutes and figure I have that in the bag. I decide I’m going to try for sub 1h29 which is 4:10 pace and I have some serious work cut out so I quit calculating things for the rest of the race. The whole final 4kms is a gentle climb and into the wind.

The dude next to me starts swearing at the wind and it’s pretty entertaining. I’m ramping up the effort level right through to the end. I hit the 21km sign and realize I didn’t calculate in the extra hundred meters for 21.1kms and 1:29 was unrealistice. I round the corner with the finish line in sight and can see I’ll be in under 90 minutes and don’t have to pull myself completely inside out to do so, somehow coasting in the final 50 yards doesn’t save me from some serious dry heaving after I cross the finish line. The lady who was trying to over-eagerly put a medal on my neck is rather appalled at my circumstances and myself and two of the other male volunteers nearby have a good chuckle about it. No puke gets past my teeth. That’s a successful day!

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