Race Report: Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon 2015

This race represents a homecoming of sorts.  It's the first half marathon I ever completed, so emotionally, it is near to my heart.  It is also so big that it attracts a lot of people from the running community, in-person and online.  In that respect, it feels like a big family reunion.  And much as I enjoy travelling around the province (and beyond) for races, there is a sense of comfort that comes from competing in your backyard. 

Here are a few highlights from my race experience: 

Community: A recurring theme on my blog is that of the importance of friendship and camaraderie at races.  There is plenty of that at Scotia.  The 2014 Toronto Yonge Street 10K (#TYS10K) digital champions were out in force, many of them running the full marathon.  My former teammates from Runners Shop Toronto were racing, pacing and cheering.  Mikael and Lauren from Ignition Fitness were running and I didn't even know it until checking in on Facebook and Twitter post-race.

Size: Imagine the energy at the start line when surrounded by about 13,999 other runners.  

Weather: What will I wear in 2 degree weather?  Am I sure I want to do this?  Oh wait, according to my blog, we had the same weather last year and it was perfect for a fast run!  For the first time in ages, Rob wasn't running this race, so he acted as sherpa, allowing me to wear my warm clothing up until a few minutes before the start time -- no bag check required!

Desperately hoping this small garbage bag will help me retain body heat.

Mental games: In this race, you're competing with Olympians and pros.  They will win. That reduces my pre-race anxiety.  There could be hundreds of people in your age category and there's no way of tracking them.  That means it's a competition with yourself - testing your training, your willpower, your strength and stamina.  Since I got my start in running group clinics, I'm most in my element at an event like this, where I can map out a plan and pacing, and simply stick with it. 

Race plan: Keep it simple.  Aim for a 4:00/km pace.  Pop a gel at pre-determined times.  Carry two water bottles so I don't have to stop at the aid stations.  At the turnaround point, throw on my iPod and crank some tunes for the remaining 10 km.  (While I love the sounds of hundreds of footsteps on the pavement during the first half, I adore returning into the city, facing the morning sun with high energy music in my ears.)  My stomach felt a little off for the first half and I dropped (and left) a water bottle, but aside from those minor glitches, for the second year in a row, that plan did wonders for me.  

Pageantry: This race bigs it up, starting with the expo.  I went with my good friend Darrel, who was doing the 5 km run and fundraising for the Metropolitan United Church campaign to sponsor a Syrian refugee family.  Beyond the expo, this race bursts with pageantry, quite literally.  At the base of Bay Street, the people at the Parkdale Road Runners cheer station shot a confetti cannon into the air above runners just ahead of me and doled out plenty of high fives.  Do you like super heroes?  Me too.  The Justice League Runners ran in costume to raise money for charity.  Another runner set a world record for the fastest half marathon while wearing a suit.  There's no way around it: this race is fun!

Volunteers: In my opinion, all the high school students that bundle up against the cold, waiting to hand out water and Gatorade, are absolutely awesome.  So too are the entertainers and cheerleaders along the route.  They share their enthusiasm with all of us and it's truly appreciated.  

Satisfaction: My energy picked up throughout the race, leaving me strong and confident over the second split.  I set the goal of finishing in 1:24 and I wasn't clear if I'd achieve that because of discrepancies between my Garmin and the race markings.  Dashing up to the finish line, I waved to the crowd in the stands and they cheered back.  I eventually learned my time: 1:24:02, a new PB by about 3.5 minutes.  As an added bonus, that placed me 122nd out of 10,266 runners and 25th in my age category.  That's way beyond anything I would have imagined I could accomplish when I first did this run in 2010.  Hard work and keeping it fun pays off.

Next goal: Finish a half marathon next year in 1:20.

That was my last big race of the year.  I'm now into a period of rest, relaxation and casual running and cycling.  I'm taking time to reflect upon the last few months and begin planning for next year, including the World Championships in Spain in June.  Onward and upward!