Saturday, April 16, 2016

Race Report: MEC Ottawa 2016 series: Race #1 - The Spring Fling

I want to start off by stating that I had no business doing this race.  My training has been completely sporadic and inconsistent since my 100-day streak ended in February.  I have been concentrating more on step counting and getting out my desk chair than running.  That being sais, the runs I did over the past month or so, albeit few, have felt great.  I had no idea how much fitness I kept and how much I have lost, but I thought I'd give 10 miles a shot, and only barely.  I questioned the logic of sticking with the 10 miler and seriously considered dropping to the 10km, even at the point of receiving my bib from the race organizer the day before.  If I was going to do 10 miles, I was not going for anything close to a PR.  I decided to use the event to benchmark where I am at.

My Race Strategy:
Since the course was very flat, I didn't need a plan that was very sophisticated.  I somewhat arbitrarily chose 90 minutes as a goal time, which works out to approximately 5:35/km.  I keyed that in to the Virtual Partner applet on my Forerunner 610.  This would be the first time I would try this in training or a race.  I decided that I would lock on to a pace that was comfortable, ignore everyone around me and keep it steady for as long as I can.  I would bring one gel and just take water (no electrolyte drink) along the route.

Race "Preparations":
There are countless articles floating around the Web that give all kinds of advice on  how to prepare for race day.  I pretty much ignored every piece of advice and conventional wisdom offered therein.  The start time was 8:30AM and I figured that it would be prudent to be there by 7:45AM.  I woke up at 6:00AM, checked the forecast on the TV (5C and sunny by time the gun goes off)  and immediately got sucked into yesterday's sports highlights and then a show I PVR'd the night before.  By now, it's 7:00 and I run to grab a cap, Oakleys, long sleeve shirt, shorts and socks, plus my electronics (phone, earbuds, arm band, Forerunner and chest strap).  I then dug my number out of my bag and quickly pinned it on, not wanting a repeat of the previous race in the series.  Once I'm dressed it's already past the time when I need to leave.  Breakfast was a half empty water bottle I found in the car and a PowerBar Performance Energy Bar (Peanut Butter with an expiry date of sometime in late 2015) that I had shoved in my pocket on the way out the door.

Getting started:
I got to the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum parking lot around 8:00 and had to line up to pay for parking, which thankfully did not take long.  I went back to the car to put the parking slip in the windshield and get wired up.  The temperature may have been 4-5C, but the wind was cold, and all I brought was what I planned to wear in the race.  I didn't stand still for long until the gun went off.  Fortunately, the line-up for the bathroom was blissfully short when I got there.  Two minutes later, the line-up was huge.  Great timing on my part.  I selected the latest Zombies, Run! episode and set the episode duration for 90 minutes.  I also decided to try playing songs I had downloaded to my Google Play library.  I normally use Doubletwist for music, but Zombies, Run! doesn't work especially well with it.  I had a nice chat with friends Molly and Fred who were running the 10km and then headed to the start line.

The Race:
I seeded myself close to the rear of the pack.  The plan was to start slow and settle into my pace once I had some elbow room.  There are a lot of speedy folks who do the races in this series and I wouldn't want to get in their way.  The wind was still cold, so I tried to nestle myself in the crowd, using them as shelter.  This actually worked.

The gun went off and I hit start on every device I was wearing, shuffling along for the first few hundred metres until the crowd started to thin.  Google Play was giving me a hard time; the bright sun meant I could see the screen and I hadn't yet figured out how to shuffle my entire library of songs.  I ended up listening to them in alphabetical order starting in the B's - peculiar, but not a big deal.

I settled into a 5:50/km pace.  It was a little slower than planned, but it felt right.  I felt kinks in my quads, claves and feet sporadically for a few kilometres, but it didn't slow me down.  I felt that my body was working stuff out, which turned out to be true.  Water stops were positioned along the course every 3km or so (starting at 1.5km) and I planned to take a cup of water (only) at every stop and walk while drinking it.  I took water at every one except for the last one because I was starting to slosh by then.  I ate (drank?) the PowerGel® Energy Gel (Double Latte with an expiry date of sometime in late 2015) about 100m ahead of the 9km water stop so that I would have a glass of water to wash down.  (My supply of last year's gels and bars are nearly done.  I need to buy some stock for this year.  Sponsors welcome.)

After 4km I was starting to pass folks who went out too hard and a bunch of folks passed me.  I made a conscious effort to not get caught up with this, lose focus and speed up.  I managed to do just that.  The wind had dies down by now and I was starting to warm up (on the exterior).  I don't know if it has to do my age or what, but I don't feel truly warmed up (on the inside) until after 30-40 minutes.  True to form, at just over 30 minutes (over 5km by now) I started to lose that "Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz" feeling.

I then started wondering if I should pick up the pace a bit.  Virtual Partner says that I am going to finish in over 95 minutes.  I picked it up a little (probably 0:10/km) and kept going, checking in with myself every once in a while to see how things are going.  I put in a couple of kilometers under 5:40/km and then for some reason I slowed down in the kilometer leading up to and after the turn around.  This was the only "hill" in the race, so maybe that was it.  In any case, I picked up the pace again at around 12km and averaged around 5:34/km right to the finish.  Virtual Partner was telling me that my finishing time was coming down  I think only one person passed me after the 7km mark, but I passed a bunch.

The Finish:
I got to the finish in 92:56 and I felt great.  I wasn't wrecked, I was still hydrated, and I came away with no injuries.  I managed to negative split a 10 miler that, as I said earlier, I felt I had no business doing.  Frankly, I still had gas in the tank at the finish.  Maybe I could have gone a couple of minutes faster, but I like how I came away from this feeling like I hadn't lost as much fitness as I had imagined.  It is better to finish like this than finishing feeling like you barely avoided disaster.  I especially like how the race plan worked and how I could listen to my body and make adjustments.  Perhaps my laissez-faire attitude before the race kept me from over-thinking everything and getting stressed out.  There were many good lessons learned from this race.  I'm glad there are 5 more races in this series.

A note about MEC races:  These races are no frills, but they have what is truly needed and they are extremely well organized.  I don't need another race shirt or finishing medal.  A chip timed event that runs smoothly with regular water stops and enough bananas at the finish line is perfect, and that is want these races offer.  The unpretentious, non-corporate and friendly atmosphere remind me of road races I did in the 1980's and local club races.  I would much rather run one of these with a few hundred fellow runners than a huge corporate event with thousands.