Race Report: Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon

On Sunday, October 19th, about 25,000 athletes descended on this city for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. I liken it to a giant family reunion for the running community, both within the GTA and beyond. It's an amazing feeling to take part in the festivities.

For me, this race marked the end of my first season with Ignition Fitness and the culmination of 11 months of training. What a journey, marked by growth and discovery. But more on that in the near future and back to this race review.

During the month prior to the half marathon, I worked with coach Roger to find a happy balance in my program, to maintain strength and speed while still leaving me energized and mentally prepared for the race. I needed that balance because I felt a little sapped back in August and September.

I also took my lessons learned from duathlon season to plan a taper period that contained plenty of sleep, healthy food and only light activities the day before the run. On that topic, I think I've finally found the secret recipe because as race day approached, my energy, anticipation and excitement grew -- regardless of the gloomy weather forecasts!

Selfie! Me, Mahnaz and Rob

The day before the race, Rob and I hit the expo in time to catch up with a bunch of alumni from the #TYS10K. We chatted with Mahnaz (recovering from a foot injury but still pumped to run her first marathon!), Jodie, Andrew, Christa and Lisa, among others. Go figure: we dropped in on the panel discussion on social media and running. The two go together, hand in hand!

We also dropped by the Runners Shop booth, as we're both big supporters of the store, one of Toronto's finest. We admittedly excited fairly quickly though, to stay off our feet and because... I needed to do some Halloween shopping.


Race Strategy

I admit it: having trained so hard over the course of the year, I was itching for a PB. Going into this race, my best time had been 1:32:59 at the Toronto Goodlife Half Marathon in the spring. At the end of that race, harsh winds and the toll of a fast start slowed me down. In the days following the run, my shins ached and I worried I had re-injured myself. For the Scotia, I had those memories still in mind and planned a conservative race strategy.

Pacing - After speaking with friend, colleague and 1:30 pace bunny Jowenne, I decided to follow him until the 12 km mark. Then, with the wind at my back, I would speed up, shaving off time to finish in sub-1:30, along with the ever elusive negative split.

Fueling - During a half, I normally only consume one Gu gel. I decided to use two on this race and save the second (containing 40 mg caffeine for a burst of energy) for about the 10 km mark. The idea was that it would help power me through the second half of the race.

Music - I decided to keep my iPod in my pocket until the turnaround point. I've been training without music all year long and so I instead chose to savour the sound of thousands of footsteps on the pavement. That would also mean I could hear the words of encouragement from Jowenne as he "rallied the troops."

Visualization - Finally, I planned to use a mental technique that had worked for me at the Lakeside provincial duathlon championships, something that both helped calm my nerves and speed me up. What was it? Well, I can't give away everything, but let's just say it worked.

Race Day
The temperature hovered around 3 degrees Celsius and the forecast called for sun. Having run in the exact same conditions a week prior with Mayling and Deborah's clinic at the Oakville Running Room, I was confident I knew what to wear to stay warm, but not overheat. As usual, I donned my 2XU calf sleeves, which help keep my shin splints in check.

Good morning. Brrr...

As gun time neared, I wished Rob good luck with his race and he made his way to his coral. I slid into mine - it was surprisingly full - taking a spot just back and to the right of Jowenne. At the horn blast, the crowd surged forward and we quickly bounced up University Avenue. A few nagging doubts entered my mind, as the group was moving FAST and above the 4:15 pace I had planned. Pushing the lingering worry aside, I kept Jowenne in sight, until we neared the Royal Ontario Museum, when I surged to catch the 1:30 group, waving to the Runners Shop cheering squad.

The kilometres ticked by rapidly and Jowenne admitted we were going faster than we needed to, but encouraged us to embrace it, as we were heading downhill on Bathurst. He is such a strong runner, to power through a half marathon in 1:30, while holding a sign and continuously encouraging those around him, every kilometre of the way.

Just beyond the 6 km mark, I started picking up a little speed, slowly building more distance ahead of the pace group. By the 10 km mark, I was about 30 seconds ahead of Jowenne and had latched onto another crowd of athletes.

So what about my strategy? While my pacing was a little fast, I executed the rest of it as planned. The jump start of the caffeinated gel and music for the second half of the race helped propel me to a negative split. Somehow, between 18 - 20 km, I also sped up to a sub-4:00/km pace. It all just clicked.

Feeling strong on the return, I looked for familiar faces in the outbound crowd to wave and cheer. I missed Rob, but caught Roger, who was serving as a 2:15 pace bunny. At just over 20 km, I caught up to my friend Joe from Frontrunners Toronto. We had planned to run together but got separated by the sheer crowds at the start line. Heck, we may as well finish the race together! We were mutually happy and buoyed to encounter each other as we burst northbound, up the gradual incline of Bay Street.

Crossing the finish line, we both achieved PBs, placing 27th and 28th in our age category. I placed 198 out of 10,541 runners and my new PB for a half marathon now stands at 1:27:44. Not long later, Rob crossed the finish line, looking strong on this, his eighth Scotia half marathon.

Still smiling, 21.1 km later. Check out that hardware!

Kudos to the Canada Running Series for organizing another stellar event. Shout out to the awesome #STWM digital champs team, for pumping up the race online. My thanks to coach Roger at Ignition for building the road map that got me here and to Rob and my friends and family for your support and patience with my six days a week training schedule!

Looking ahead
For the first time in 11 months, I look to the week ahead without a set workout program. I'm now taking a training "holiday" to allow the body to rebuild and the mind to wander a little... Congratulations to all of the runners at Scotia. I hope you all take pride in the accomplishment of your race.