Tag: race recap

Fitness Swellness: Dead Sea Half-Marathon race recap

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When given five weeks notice and you’ve got zero base fitness, do you snap up the opportunity to run the Dead Sea Marathon?

The answer is YES.

When the idea of me running the Dead Sea Marathon came  up with iRun, it was December and I immediately told my editor I would run the marathon. The race was in February, and that would give me two months to train. It would by no means be pretty, but my only goal would be to finish the 42.2 kilometres.

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Then I actually looked at the calendar and realized we were already the third week of December and that the Dead Sea Marathon takes place at the beginning of February, which only gave me six weeks to prepare, and by the time the trip was confirmed, I had five weeks to prepare, and so I decided to run the half-marathon instead. Even 21.1k was not going to be easy given I had taken a long break from running (I took three weeks off after the Istanbul Marathon, and then I did one or two short runs and then with little notice I went to Thailand unexpectedly for two weeks).

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So, at that point, five weeks to build a base to run the Dead Sea Half-Marathon didn’t sound like too awful an idea…

And then I caught a cold.

The cold took me out for two weeks. Which meant I then had three weeks of building base fitness to run the half-marathon. I jumped into it and completed about three to four runs each week and I immediately started my long runs at the 16k distance.

By the time it came time to fly to Tel Aviv, I didn’t feel ready for the run but my plan was to just run it for fun, to take photos, and enjoy the experience.

Jet lagged and unprepared

I landed in Tel Aviv after about 24 hours of flying around midday on February 5th (two days before the race). I just rested when I got to the hotel, then stepped out to watch the sunset on the beach. Then next day, we did some sightseeing in Jaffa until lunch, and then we made the two-hour drive to the Dead Sea, during which I took the opportunity to catch up on some sleep.

When I was already on my flight to Israel, the race director had emailed saying the weather was colder than than anticipated and he recommended some layers for the 15k run planned for 6 a.m. the day after the race (this run was news to me…and I wasn’t clear as to why a run was planned before sunrise the day after racing, but that’s another story). I realized I didn’t have many layers, nor had I packed a running cap for the race. I’d purposely not brought trail shoes (which the race director had recommended a week or so before the race), since I figured it was wiser for me to run in shoes that I’m used to running in.

That evening, we went to pick up race kits and there was a bit of confusion in the process but we ended up being sent off to go eat an early dinner at the hotel (even though I’d understood we were to eat at the race’s pasta dinner, but again this again some miscommunication with regards to our itinerary). The buffet had a lot of options but I tried to stick to more of the plain items (even though I don’t typically have stomach issues before a race, I figure it was smarter to play it safe).

In bed earlier than I ever am before I race, I did end up staying awake til midnight, before I finally forced myself to turn off the TV to get some zzz’s since my alarm was set for 5:30 a.m. (remember, too, that I was also managing a seven-hour time difference with my hometown of Toronto).

Race day morning

I got up, got dressed, and went down to eat. In the lobby there was a pretty meager set up for breakfast for runners. There was bread, but literally nothing to put on the bread nor a toaster to toast it. I drank some juice and ate a slice of whole wheat bread and then went back upstairs to finish prepping. The weather forecast called for overcast skies and 18 Celsius. Warmer than I’d like, and I’d normally have run in just a sports bra and shorts for that type of weather, but one of the fellow runners thought she had read that this wasn’t permitted. My plan was to run with a tank top on top, which I’d take it off if I got too hot. As for a running cap, I didn’t end up buying one as there was one in the race kit.

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It was about a 15-minute walk from our hotel to the race start, so we headed on over, visited the portapotty for a pre-race bathroom break and then got into the starting chute.

And it’s go-time!

The race started a couple of minutes late, just after 7 a.m. I set out and was uncomfortably warm quite quickly. I also, for some reason, couldn’t get my Google Play Music to work. I couldn’t seem to find the free playlists so after several tries, I gave up and resigned myself to running without music. Which for a big race like Chicago or Philly isn’t a big deal, but in a race like the Dead Sea where there would be no spectators based on the route into the Dead Sea (a factor I hadn’t considered until fellow runner Ashley pointed out to me the day before the race), not having music is a big deal, but what could I do? My music app wasn’t cooperating, and what actually started playing on my earbud is the audio recordings of interviews I’d conducted for articles. I turned down the volume and tried to focus instead on the scenery and people around me.

Another mishap that morning? Tracking the run on Nike’s NRC app. I went into autopilot when the race was starting and tapped my NRC app on my Apple watch to track the race. I only realized a few kilometres in that for the past few months I’ve been using the NRC app on my phone to track runs since I am unable to upload my watch data to the app (long story). So at that point I started my phone app to track the run, but that meant that all the my run insights were off.

But as I said, I chose to focus on the experience and everything around me. And what scenery it was! The start of the race is a road that leads into a demilitarization zone with Jordan. The Dead Sea was on either side of the road, and up ahead was Jordan. The Dead Sea is quite blue and I had to remind myself the white formations in the water and underneath my feet was in fact salt and not snow. The salt proved hard to run on. I spent much of this portion and later on in the race trying to find the most hard-packed ground (so I wove around the course a bit) so that I would have to work less on stabilization.

The route eventually become more of a gravel road, and then packed dirt. We turned to the right and went out and back, and the terrain was much more difficult than I’d anticipated since I’m a road runner. Perhaps I should’ve worn trail runners after all.

There were water stations but as I was carrying water I didn’t stop. it was disappointing to see that plastic water bottles were what were used (something that I noted in the Istanbul Marathon as well). From what I saw, there was no electrolyte drinks offered on the course.

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The route eventually (around the 15k mark) turned to go back towards land, and this is when I spotted the significant ramp we had to run up before turning left to go back towards where we had started…

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What the–?! I’d been told the route was flat. Since I wasn’t running for time, I walked a portion of the hill, and pretty much whenever I felt like I wanted a break. I took photos, and just soaked up the scenery around me, because it was so much more surreal than I’d expected it to be. It felt like I was running on another planet between the fantastical blue sea and salt and the dry, golden sand surrounding me.

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I was tired and hot and so grateful that I was running 21.1k instead of the marathon. “Running a half with three weeks of running is not a good idea. Don’t let me do this again,” I remember telling myself. The sun was hot and making me sweat a lot the first 16 kilometres or so, but then a cool breeze picked up and I welcomed the chill in the air.

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After  turning off of the ramp, there was a significantly rocky half a kilometre of trail where I found myself wishing for trail shoes, which lead us to the paved promenade along the sea for the rest of the race. I felt like there were fewer runners around me for this section, so really had to push myself mentally to keep going. In the last couple of kilometres, there were  a few spectators cheering and I was grateful for their smiling faces.

Finally (finally!) before I realized it, the finish line was in front of me. I forced myself to spring the last few metres and finished just behind the man who ran balancing a pineapple on his head (yes, he ran a half balancing a pineapple and was faster than me!). See my fist pumping to the right!

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I took me ages to get my race time (I was having trouble navigating the results on the site), but the race director emailed me that my time was 2:08:10 (not sure if that’s chip or gun time) and I finished 71st in my category and 136th out of all the women (I don’t know how many total ran the race, though since I can’t navigate the results). I’m perfectly happy with my time given I was running it with three weeks of getting back into running and I took it easy for the experience.

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I grabbed some snacks (pita, hummus, some incredible oranges, and halva) and grabbed a seat on a chaise longue on the beach. It was breezy but I had no idea where bag check was nor if my bag was there (one of the contacts hosting us had taken my bag…and it turns out she brought it back to the hotel, which was of no help given I was chilly after the race). I took a few photos, ran into another one of the women from our media group and we walked back to the hotel together to have breakfast at the buffet.

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That afternoon, I went to explore the beach (the salty shores are magical) and took a dip in the water. A quick dip since it wasn’t hot out, but I wanted to experience this healing water that makes you so incredibly buoyant. Did it help with recovery, I’m not sure, and I’m not sure if running at 430 metres below sea level helped improve my performance, but I definitely noticed the salty air as I had a nice thin layer of salt all over me after the race.

I wrote about the race for iRun, you can check out my piece here. I knew the Dead Sea Half-Marathon would be a special race, but I didn’t realize how surreal and how incredible it would be until I completed it. It’s definitely one I would add to your bucket list if destination races are your thing, with the huge plus that you can also visit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem after the race; Tel Aviv has secured a spot as one of the best cities I’ve ever visited (some of the best food I’ve had, plus beaches and culture and markets!).

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Leave a Comment March 27, 2020

Fitness Swellness: 2019 Detroit Marathon race recap

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“Fack.”

I think I actually said that out loud when I saw the route in the Detroit Marathon split into the half-marathon route and marathon route. Not because I was having a bad race already. It’s always just pretty daunting to see the route branch off and know that all of those runners are done running shortly, while you have to do that distance you’ve completed all over again, except in a way more fatigued state.

But let’s backtrack a bit here…

In the weeks leading up to this race, I had more anxiety than usual. For the Chicago Marathon last year, I knew trying to BQ was not in the cards whatsoever, so that took a lot of pressure off. But seeing the forecast for race day (cool and dry) along with knowing I’d stuck to training a minimum of four times a week consistently and ensuring I got in all of my long runs and speedwork, and the fact that I’d heard Detroit was a pretty flat route, I knew that the chances of running a good race would be high.

On Saturday, I did a 3k shakeout run with my friend Aylin, and I felt my right leg feel just a bit twinge-y. I chose to ignore it. What also didn’t go to plan? Having an early pasta dinner. We got to the restaurant for 6:45 (they don’t take reservations) and while we were told a 30 to 45 minute wait, it ended up being a frustrating 90-minute wait. This made me anxious and I knew I had things I wanted to prep back at the Element hotel (from my outfit and bib to adding to my playlist).

We finally got back to our room, I quickly added to my playlist, prepared my gear check bag and was in bed by 11:15 p.m., which is earlier than I’ve ever managed to get to bed for a race.

I woke up several times throughout the night. At 2:30 a.m., I got up to use the bathroom…and there was that slight pain in my right leg again. I limped my way to and from the bathroom, and told myself it was nothing. If I didn’t acknowledge it, I’d wake up and it’d feel fine, right?

RACE MORNING

I got up at 5 a.m., quickly showered and got dressed and went down to breakfast (the Element had breakfast open at 5 a.m. for all of us runners) to eat some toast with peanut butter. And, thankfully, my right leg felt fine. After breakfast, we walked the 10 minutes or so to gear check. I kept on a trash bag to keep warm while waiting for the race start, and I could already tell the weather was going to be ideal: it was 8 Celsius and warmed up to about 14 degrees by 11 a.m. A quick portapotty visit, and then I got into my corral as the national anthem was sung, and I ditched the trash bag I was wearing. I had decided to keep my eye on the 3:50 pacer but I was at the back of my corral and could only spot the 3:55 pacer, But I figured I’d find the pacer on the route.

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GO TIME!

I crossed the starting line at 7:06 (I didn’t notice the seconds) and I felt good. For a good portion of the race, I was ahead of the splits outlined on the pace band I had printed out for myself. As ahead as 4 or 5 minutes (but it went down to one minute at the bridge.

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At about the 5k mark, you cross the Ambassador Bridge, and although I expected it to be cool, it was even more stellar than I imagined. It was cloudy and the sun was starting to rise, so there was a beautiful pink streak in the sky, and the bridge itself is striking. It’s such a cool experience it (almost) makes up for the incline up the bridge. Almost. But it’s early in the race and so the hill is still manageable on fresh legs.

I’ve had the Detroit Marathon on my destination race list for awhile for the sole reason that you run across the border into Canada and back into the U.S. And it was as cool as I expected. I felt quite emotional and even clapped as I approached the border lined with Canadian flags. I loved that the border staff was cheering and even high-fiving runners. There were police on either side diligently keeping an eye on bibs and runners. And yes, you are to run with your passport (or another WHTI-approved ID), which you must show at the race expo. I ran with mine in my fuel belt; I didn’t see anyone get pulled aside but Aylin did (she said it was runners who didn’t have their bibs on in front).

At 11k you enter the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel. It is approximately 2k and while I have heard it can get stinky with sweat, I didn’t notice it (maybe I manage to enter the tunnel early on in the race day before it got stinky!). What I did notice, though, is that without the fresh air and breeze, I was starting to get uncomfortably hot, but thankfully, just about when i was feeling too warm is when I emerged from the tunnel. Whew! On the downside, though, is the steep hill out of the tunnel. That one is not fun.

As you can see I took a few photos of these key moments in the race; I didn’t stop so they are a little blurry. I have photos of the tunnel and border, but I’ll add them once I edit them properly!

As for the rest of the race, the route has some fairly nondescript streets; I recall Rosa Parks Street (or is it Avenue? I must check the map) having an incline that hurt; the route goes through a posh neighbourhood with large homes and families serving up beer and Bloody Mary’s to runners. I’ve actually seen a race with so much booze on offerl I saw at east one other beer table, and another one that had shots! One thing I didn’t like about the race is that running with many relay runners is quite draining mentally; runners would zip by me and I’d be envious of the energy they had…and then would realize they were relay runners. Sigh.

Something else that was a small problem during the race: my music frequently paused. I was using Apple Music for my playlist (and I’m fairly new to using  it); thankfully the music would return, but it was a technical issue that did irk me during the race; at one point, without my music, I became very aware of my breathing and the clunky steps and heavy panting of the runners around me.

The race isn’t thick along most of the race with people cheering in the same way as Chicago or Philly, but the supporters out there are enthusiastic, thank you! Kids in inflatable dinosaur costumes, a smattering of entertainment (usually DJs, and I recall one band, two singers, and a cheerleading squad). Some fun signs, too, although the best one is the one Aylin spotted. Written in the same font as the well-known clothing brand, the sign read: Detroit vs Nipple Chafing. I wish I had seen that sign!

Going into Belle Isle, the bridge has a bit of a hill that was grueling. I tried to enjoy the pretty scenery there but the exhaustion was starting to set in.

I’d say I felt pretty great up until about 30k. At that point though, I was having a hard time maintaining my pace. I saw the 3:50 pacer pass me and then soon move off further and further ahead of me. I knew he had started before me though, so I wasn’t positive where I stood in terms of my time in relation to that pace group.

My race plan was to not stop at any of the fluid stations (I had a bottle of Gatorade in my fuel belt). But at about 35k I was having a harder and harder time. So I decided to stop for water and regroup mentally.

I think this is what cost me meeting my BQ standard.

Because my Apple Watch paused as I stopped to regroup, I wasn’t sure what my overall race time was panning out to be. I kept repeating to myself that I could BQ today and to keep going. I repeated what my runner friend told me earlier in the week: it’s going to be uncomfortable whether you go fast or slow. So JUST GO, I told myself.

But even though I was trying to get back to the pace I needed, I simply couldn’t maintain the pace. The mental breather did help, though. I felt like I’d cleared my head and was able to give extra effort of the final kilometres.

I knew it was very close when I approached the finish line and the minutes ended in 6. I didn’t know the seconds, though, of when I’d passed the start.

I crossed the finish line, got my medal, and pretty much immediately, my phone beeped with a text. My running friend Shawna had texted me congrats, along with my time. 3:50:27.

POST-MARATHON 

I finished in 3:50:27.

My BQ standard is 3:50.

Uggggggggggh.

Even though I knew meeting the standard wouldn’t get me into Boston without a decent buffer, of about two minutes (based on this year’s cutoff), I’d have been happy to officially meet the standard.

Still, I was pretty thrilled with feeling great for pretty much the whole race. I’ve had races where it feels like endless misery, sometimes as early as the 25k mark. While this is not my fastest marathon, I think I felt the strongest in this race and it is the closest I’ve come to qualifying for Boston. And it’s the closest I’ve come to by marathon PB time in ages, which is like a lifetime ago (at the Chicago Marathon 2014).

I finished 630th out of 3,204 marathoners, 151st out of 1,298 women, and 22nd out of 184 in my category.

I stumbled around collecting the post-race fuel (which was plentiful—nice job, Detroit Marathon—including bananas, pineapple juice, fruit cups, Gatorade, water, and bags with other snacks). I eventually met up with Aylin (eventually as I was quite slow moving with my legs very, very tight). We hung out a bit at the post-race party area and then headed back to the Element to shower and then headed out to grab a decadent BBQ lunch at Slow’s. We kept our legs moving by fitting in a visit to the Detroit Institute of the Arts afterwards.

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UP NEXT

I was invited to run the Istanbul Marathon, which is two weeks after the Detroit Marathon. My plan all along has been to run it for fun. I will admit that after I crossed the Detroit finish line and came so close to my BQ, I immediately thought, “I need to try to qualify in Istanbul.” I actually don’t even know if it’s a Boston Qualifier, but also, I quickly came to my senses that I’m not an elite athlete who can put her body through such a rigorous challenge again in two weeks. Besides, the weather is looking like it’ll be about 20 Celsius, which is very warm for a marathon.

I’m a bit stressed about the Istanbul Marathon. Because even just doing 42.2k for fun will still be exhausting no matter how slow a pace I do. This sort of only dawned on me after agreeing to run it…But I didn’t think I could pass up the opportunity to run the 42.2k in this incredible city. And so here we are!

Thank you to Detroit, the Detroit Marathon and the Element for hosting me for race weekend! The race is up there as one of my favourites, and it was amazing to explore the city, too. I’ll post about that shortly!

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Leave a Comment October 22, 2019

Fitness Swellness: Sporting Life 10k Calgary in support of Starlight Children’s Foundation race recap

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This Saturday was the Sporting Life 10k Calgary race (aka #calgarysfastestroad race). It was my first time running it and I was honoured to run it on behalf of Starlight Children’s Foundation.

I haven’t been training consistently nor done much of any speed or hill training, and with my focus on taking in this race for such a great cause, I intended to run it as a tempo, that is, comfortably hard. Which is just fine by me because for a 10k race you can push yourself to go a lot harder than the distances I usually race (I tend to gravitate to halfs and marathons), and I don’t especially love that feeling that comes with running at a fast pace (as though my heart’s about to explode!).

The weather Saturday morning was just about perfect for a race: about 12 Celsius, which made it a tiny bit brisk to be waiting for the race to start, but thankfully the race started at a transit station so runners were able to wait for the 8 am start in the station or wait in the bus shelters to keep out of the slight breeze.

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The race is smaller in size than ones I have run recently, so the start was quite relaxed; normally you’re shoulder to shoulder in the start chute, but this morning I found myself with plenty of personal space, and instead of being herded toward the start line by being in the  thick of a crowd, I was able to pause and get my music and NRC app started just in time as I crossed the start line.

As with most races, I found myself swept up in the excitement of the race and ran the first two kilometres at a very fast pace for me, but for the remainder my pace fluctuated a lot, partly due to the change in elevation (the race is net downhill, which I prefer, although I know many runners find downhill to be hard on the body). Being a small race, I found it motivating that I felt I could always more or less see the front of the pack.

In terms of race organization, there were two water stations, and kilometre markers at every kilometre (although I admit I did not notice the markers until I got to the 6k marker; I think the flags for all the previous markers must’ve been blowing in a such as a way that I didn’t realize they were the distance markers). There is virtually no entertainment along the route, and very little in terms of spectator support (which made the smiling cop directing traffic and the few cheerers especially appreciated!), so I was happy I had decided to listen to music (however, I always just use one earbud for races so that I can be aware of traffic and runners around me).

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Crossing the finish line as always is a great feeling, and an adorable little girl handed me my medal. In the post-race area, there was a nice variety of fuel (Kind bars, watermelon, Old Dutch chips, Clif Bars) and it’s the first time I’ve seen a PG gong, so fun!

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I ran a 51:32, which is far from a PB for me so I didn’t get to hit that gong but love the concept and wish there were one in some of  races in Toronto! I finished in 232nd place out of 717, 91st out of 431 women, and 19 out of 68 in my category.

I don’t have the final numbers yet, but I believe upward of $15,000 has been raised thus far for Starlight Children’s Foundation. And that’s what’s really important here: raising funds so they can help bring some lightness and joy to the many sick kids they work with.

I was reminded of this at dinner that night after the race, when I checked my Instagram inbox, and saw a message from Heather, the mom of the ambassador family for this race (you can find her with all of her truly inspiring positivity on Instagram @happilyheath). I unfortunately saw Heather’s message well after the race (or else I’d have made plans to meet IRL that morning), but I got to reading about her daughter Evelyn on her Instagram, and Evelyn’s recently just had a shift in her cancer treatment plan. Looking at her smiling photo, well, it certainly puts life into perspective and I’m inspired by how courageous she is. She’s been through much too much for her age, and I’m grateful that Starlight Children’s Foundation exists to provide experiences that allow her to be a kid, in the middle of so many tests at the hospital and the endless series of treatments.

If that sounds like a cause you’d like to support, consider sponsoring a runner (you can still do so now even though the race is over; this is my fundraising page but there are also several hundred runners you can support!).

Thank you Starlight for asking me to take part in this race and for the work that you do!

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Leave a Comment June 21, 2019

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