Race Report: Harry's Spring Run Off 5 km

Four months into my program with Ignition Fitness and emerging from one of Toronto's coldest and snowiest winters in decades, I was itching for a tempo pace run on a closed course. Last weekend, my first race finally arrived and I'm thrilled about my results.

Like many runners, Harry's, or #HSROT, is a race I eagerly anticipate each year. It's usually the first I do each season, a chance to check in on my post-winter strength (or what remains of it) and a baseline for what's to come.

Many years ago, possibly my first time running this course, the weather was so cold that participants gathered in the Grenadier Cafe, shivering and standing atop the heating vents. That memory had been top of mind over the past few weeks, as winter refused to relinquish its grasp over the city. Happily, the weather cooperated and while it wasn't warm, the temperature hovered around 0 and we had a dry, relatively sunny morning. Totally manageable. (My partner Rob, preferring temperatures of 15+ degrees, strenuously disagreed with my analysis!)

Having little experience plotting race strategy, for this run, I focused on three simple points. First, do what feels right. Second, try and shave off a few seconds from my last time (22:58) on this course. Third, save a bit of energy for the heartbreaking Spring Road Hill at the end. That seemed to make sense.

When the start horn went off, I was swept up in much of the red corral and quickly worried that I had thrown out my game plan. I kept glancing at my Garmin, thinking I couldn't and shouldn't be going that fast (sub 4:00/km). Dismissing it as an issue with my GPS, I planned to check again in a few minutes, when the jitters and intensity had worn off. When I next looked at my watch, I was still hovering around that pace, but I rationalized it as extra speed from the the slight downhill. As I approached the third kilometre, I decided to just go with it.

Slowly, but consistently, I began passing people over the remainder of the course. As I neared the base of the Spring Road Hill, I tucked in behind the man that had an assertive yet reasonable pace. (As an aside, I actually don't mind running uphill, although I rarely do it at the end of a 4 km tempo run!) I recalled my training (head up, shoulders down, feet light) and my mantra "You got this, D!" At a moment when I wasn't sure I'd be able to maintain the pace, the road shifted slightly and I could see the crowds surrounding the finish line in the distance.

To my right, the fabulous Tribe Fitness gang (including fellow #TYS10K digital champ: Emily Gray (twitter.com/EmilyMcGray) lined the road, cheering and smiling. Special thanks to them for generously sharing their energy and humour with all of the runners on the course that morning! The road levelled off and I tapped into some previously unknown reserve of energy, make a move and pass the man ahead of me, sprinting for the finish line.

My final time: 20:35. That placed me 29th out of 1,346 runners. Startlingly, my that also gave me second place in my age group. For the first time ever, I picked up a hefty silver Canada Running Series medal to accompany my finisher's medal.

To my surprise, when I looked at my racing history, my time was not only a PB on this course, but also one at that distance. I couldn't have been happier. This result gives me the confidence that I'll break 5 km in under 20 minutes this year. But first, I'll tackle my other favourite spring tradition -- the Toronto Yonge Street 10k -- this Sunday.