Friday, May 28, 2010

Hop bunny, hop; the first half

A small oasis of calm this morning, before heading up to the Cabot Trail Relay. As in previous years, I am on the tech crew, 17 legs,17 starts and finishes, essentially setting up (and breaking down) 17 races back-to-back in a little over 30 hrs. A challenge to be sure, but a satisfying one. One of the challenges is staying awake for >30 hrs. They say staying awake for 24 hrs gives the same functional impairment as drinking three whiskeys. Of course, on the Cabot Trail, home to all things Gaelic, one could stay awake for 24 hrs AND drink three whiskeys. And the state the tech crew will be in Sunday morning, you will be hard pushed to see the difference.

This year I will break with my rule and run a CTR leg as well. Why? I was offered the chance to run leg#9; North Mountain. For the record, 6k up, 6 k down and 6k flat, but I could swear the finish is also uphill ( but what on the Cabot Trail isn't?). I've never run a mountain leg of the CTR before, or a night leg, and leg#9 is also the first night leg. I think to be a serious runner here, you have to have done either a mountain leg or a night one, a bit like how to be a serious cyclist you really must have ridden the big mountains, the Ventouxs, the Alpes. Or so I think. Plus, Cathy Carter offered me both the opportunity to be worshipped as an uphill running God AND steak-and-kidney pie. Deity status and ambrosia. How do you say no to that?

And all of this a week after the Bluenose. I know many did not run the Bluenose or run it full-gas because they wanted to do a good CTR leg. I wasn't on the CTR start-sheet at Bluenose time (in my defence), but even so, I'm not too worried. I seem to race my best in when I do blocks of races, just like this in fact, so as long as I finessed my recovery properly this week, I think I'll do fine (by my standards at least).

The Bluenose was fun, in a peverse kind of way. Perhaps is because there was very little pressure going into this. You could say the big pressure was having to run a 1:30 half, but while I have to work to bring in a 1:30 (it isn't the proverbial walk in the park as it would be for Rami or Denise) it's not like they were asking for an 18' 5K, that I could not guarantee. Anyway, seeing how the Full Marathton 3:45 bunny ended up bailing just after the half, perhaps I shouldn't have even worried about this!

As you may have guessed from the previous post, I was feeling way too relaxed on Saturday evening. I knew nerves would kick in at some point before the event, I wouldn't be all lousy-goosey and cracking jokes on the start-line, but having some control over my emotions on race eve surely means I'm coping better, no? Certainly, I got a good night's sleep.

Compared to Boston, this one is so much easier in the morning. A relatively late rise, say 06:30, leisurely breakfast, leisurely walk to the start. No getting up before dawn, cramming your breakfast, getting crammed onto a school-bus and getting to the start 3 hrs early and having another breakfast, this time crammed under canvas. I'm not saying Boston is bad, it is an amazing experience and I am incredibly lucky to have experienced it twice, but just getting to the Bluenose start is so much easier on the nerves!

We picked up our signs, the ones for helping people to seed in the corral that read "Half-marathon", and if bunny ears and a red 10-and-1T-shirt weren't attention grabbing enough, this was the icing on the cake. I hate to say that I would ever abuse a symbol of authority, but the ears and the sign made it easy to jump the queue for the bag-check or the loos!

I seeded myself at the front with my sign when the halfs were called to the corrals. It felt very friendly as I knew many people up there on the line. I gave out the pace wrist-bands I'd got from Running Room, I figured we'd find them useful. Last year I bunnied on dead-reckoning; if we'd done x km on the target pace then speed x time = distance and yes, we were on schedule. Not everyone in the group last year found that logical deduction (which I thought impeccable) to be correct (what a bunch of Kants) and were convinced we were running too way fast. I figured pace-charts would take the guess-work out of it and give me some breathing space as the numbers would be right there; besides, you know, sometimes you can get dropped even if the pace-bunny is on-pace.

As always, the hardest thing after the start is to let the fast-boys go. I said as much to Mac Grant, a Canada Games triathlete now looking to go longer. So often I, we, run in that group, so letting them go feels unnatural. There were the usual start-line shenanigans, people (guys, all guys) sprinting past us in the first mile. Mac and I looked at each other and said "we'll see them again!".

The first five kilometers or so were a little too fast, we were a minute or so up on schedule, the exuberance of the whole thing going to our heads I suppose. Point Pleasant Park, three off-road kilometers at 10k always takes a minute out of us, so I figured we needed a minute in the bank going in. Still, there was no need to get that minute in the first mile.

We had a good group of >10 on Barrington and we hung together well. I tried to get some through-and-off going, there were enough cyclists in the group, but it didn't happen. Stacy Chestnutt kept us amused by talking about the cherry pie her husband was baking for that afternoon, which segued into which 80's hair-band sang "Cherry Pie"?


The park was tough as expected, and we shed several members in there. That was despite slowing down a little. By the time we came out on Young, now right on schedule having lost the predicted minute, we were down to four or five, including Mac, Stacy and Sandy, a quiet young woman who was quietly getting it done and hadn't taken part in any of the banter to this point.

We were steadily bringing back many of the guys who had started too fast. The ears can be demoralizing as some people's race strategy is "stay ahead of the bunny" and when the bunny comes steaming through they look at you and say "hey, you're fast" and you look at your band and say "Nope, right on time". Those wrist-bands were useful; I thought I'd never I'd say this but "thank-you John Stanton".

Of course, one of our number put the pace-band on upside down and now those numbers, small to begin with, were totally unreadable!

I told the guys that they could take off any time if they wanted to; we'd clocked just over 14kms in the first hour and while I couldn't put the hammer down (as a bunny, I had to cross the mats at 1:30), they were welcome to try. A mile or so later when we got to the Commons Mac and Stacy decided to go for it. They both go in under 1:30, which was the goal for that day. I hear Stacy clocked a 6 minute final mile; she's a machine and is going sub 40 for 10 and sub-1:25 for the half in the near future if she likes it or not. As for Mac, if he carries on running like this, there's no hope for any of us. Even Rami had better keep an eye out over his shoulder!

I soldiered on and kept Sandy going, the veil had descended over her somewhere after the park and even been told she was 3rd lady didn't seem to raise her spirits. She kept the pace though, even if she was somewhat uncommunicative! When you're on the limit, put all your energy into running, not talking. No-one is going to think you're rude, trust me! Someone told me I had a bit of the drill sargeant going on! I hope I was slightly more compassionate than that! Anyway, with about 1200m to go Sandy found an extra gear and motored off to a 1:29 and, as told, 3rd lady.

I ended up passing the mats with a 1:29 half, a little closer to the mark than last year. I feel quite chuffed about it actually. Many people in the group got PBs or placings, or both, and that does give a tremendous feeling of satisfaction of a job well done. I think that I get just a big a thrill out of doing that as I do getting a PB myself. No, I can't explain it either, but I do. That's why I came back to do it again.

Of course, for the me, the day was only half done. So I headed up the marathon chute, not the finish chute and contemplated what was now an empty road ahead. That's where I'll carry on with the next post.


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