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Milton, Ontario, Canada

Monday, October 27, 2014

Niagara Falls Half Marathon Race Report (pacer)

On Sunday, October 26, 2014 I had the pleasure to run the Niagara Falls Half Marathon for the second time. This time, I was the 1:55 pacer.

You may recall, the last time I ran this race, my goal was the same. And it didn't work out. At all.

I went into Sunday, with 2 more years of running and racing under me and I was quite a bit more experienced and faster. However, I was still worried. When I agreed to this pacing gig, I had assumed that I would have spent the summer training to go sub 1:45 at the Oakville Half Marathon. Well, that didn't happen. Instead, I spent more (enjoyable) hours on the bike, cut running down and forgot all about speedwork. I hadn't run a lengthy distance at close to this speed since March's Around the Bay (average pace of 5:20/km). I was super worried I'd let the group down by not being able to hang on to the 5:27/km average pace over the course of the 21.1k. This fear was compounded by the forecast of 30kph winds (seriously. WHAT is with the winds this year?).

Smarter about the race logistics this time, I got to the Crowne Plaza Hotel with time to visit the washroom twice before lining up for the bus shuttle to the start of the race (the halfway mark of the Full Marathon). Once at the start I hit the portapotty for one last visit and pulled on some arm sleeves and a foil wrapper to keep warm. Of course as it always goes when you're the pacer, you get talked about and talked to. I answered lots of questions about the pace, the course, the day and finally, I lined up to take my chances with the headwind and the pace.

The First Half: KM 1-10

And we were away. The crowding wasn't too bad at all and I got right on pace. I yelled out my usual one liners to the crowd, telling them my name etc. I let them know what pace we were running (5:27/km) and answered the question in miles (8:46/mi). It was around  2 or 3km that my fave line came: "Oh, the race is actually shorter in miles." That go a LOT of laughs.

By this time, we hit the first water station. While I didn't need water, I decided to go for it anyway so that my group got used to me disappearing from time to time. While I took the water on the run, the cups were plastic and not good for the squeeze/funnel technique so I didn't actually drink much. 

One of my DailyMile friends, Angela was running with my group with an ultimate goal of 1:55 and she told me that if she got to 8k with me, she'd be on track to PB based on her Mississauga time. Alright! I spoke with some other people, all of whom said they'd be with me until the end. I let them know that I got mean with about 300m to go - "I'll scream at all of you until you get in front of me, so long as we have time." The group seemed eager to see this in action at that point. 

Water had been about every 3k, so I took my one and only gel (Clif shot vanilla. YUM!) at about 9k and there was no water. The way the race route goes - it follows the river, so it bends around the water almost always. I kept thinking we'd get water and didn't. Finally I gave up and took a piece of gum instead, hoping that the gel + lack of water wouldn't see me with stomach problems later on (all was well).

5:24-5:20-5:20-5:26-5:23-5:24-5:24-5:22-5:25-5:24, time: 53:52, pace band: 54:30

To the End. The Head-Wind Filled End: KM 11-21.1

I was right where I wanted to be. With 42 seconds in the bank, I knew I was being aggressive, but I knew that meant I could walk the water stops and slow a bit if the wind ever hit us head on. Thus far, the day was just fine. I spent the whole race toying with the idea of taking off my gloves but my hands never got unbearably hot, so I kept them on. It was overcast so I didn't miss my sunglasses. The wind only hit us randomly and always from the left side, which was fine by me. "At least its not raining," observed one of the people in my group. "Ha!" said I, "I'd take rain before headwind any day." 

The water station finally came up around 12k and I slowed right down in order to take a full drink. I never felt the need for the HoneyMaxx they were giving out, so I stuck with water (plus I don't like HoneyMaxx). From this point on, I was walking each water station - taking a few seconds back here and there. This was purposeful. I needed to slow down and I needed to drink and all of the cups were plastic, so walking was the only way to ensure water ended up in your belly. 

After 12k, I was thinking about the count down. 9k left! WooHoo! Things were not easy!super!fun! but I decided I'd be able to keep up the paces for the next ~50 minutes and not fail at this pacer gig. In fact, with 8k/5miles left, I told someone, "Less than 45 minutes. We can do ANYTHING for 45 minutes."

Then the headwind hit.

14k. We had 14k without major headwind. Sure, it blew from the side and maybe from the front but nothing that was bothersome. 

Until now. 


Okay macnic, this is why you have that buffer. Just keep at it. You have the pace in your legs now and you have 7k left. Let's go.

And really, there was nothing to do but to go. These 7k were filled with me hitting a 5:29 or 5:34 on my watch and speeding up until I hit around 5:25 and tried to hold. Around this time a few people were with me like glue. I knew that they were hanging on to me, willing me to lead them across the line in 1:55. Although we didn't chat much, it helped to have people to pace with (The pace was in their legs as well). 

Just before 16k, there was a water station. They had oranges. They were the best.

It was here that John from somewhere, USA caught me and we began to chat. He had chased me for a while after falling behind in the middling miles and was happy that he had me again. "Just hang on to me, John. 3 miles to go and you've got it." I don't know when, but John faded again.

4k left. Okay. Just keep moving. This wind SUCKS. SUUUUUUKKKKKSSSS. 5:30 km? Damn. Where is that downhill for the last 3k?

And we were turning onto the parkway with way more spectator support at this time and people were calling out to the "Bunny" and I'm trying to nod or thank them, but I'm not saying too much. HA. I can hear my stupid breathing and I hate it. My mouth is super dry and I take advantage of the last two water stations (seriously, 3 water stations in the last 5k?!?) because despite the headwind, despite not feeling easy!super!fun! I still had time in the bank! And then, before I knew it, I had 1k to go. 

And the wind kicked it up a notch. Seriously.

However, we were on a mighty downhill, so the wind was mitigated. The one thing I don't like about pacing is that last kilometer, when you just want to run as fast as you can, but you can't because you want to be as close as possible to your time and then you get the added joy of mental math. HA. 

By the time I got into the chute, I still had time to spare. So I did what any self respecting pace bunny would do. I turned around, started to run backwards and screamed my head off at the two guys behind me who had a shot at catching me. Jerry took me up on the offer and crossed 26 seconds before I did. The crowd was loud, I was pumped and I heard the announcer say, "Here is our 1:55 bunny, Nicole Macpherson and she's going to be right on time!" And so I was. So I was.

5:20-5:30-5:22-5:26-5:27-5:31-5:38-5:30-5:25-5:34-5:22-0:1:01, split: 1:01:03, Time: 1:54:58

Chip: 1:54:55
Place: 400
Category (F30-39): 47/384
Females: 121/1229

Next week, I'll run Road2Hope in Hamilton for the fourth year in a row. This time, Sam and I will run with Emma, Amy and Patty who all hope to PB with sub 1:50s. This will be a tough effort, I'm sure but I'm up for the challenge. Nothing is sweeter than seeing your friends hit their goals. See you after that one!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Run for the Toad 25k, Trail Race Report!

On Saturday, October 4, 2014 I had the pleasure to run the Run for the Toad 25k trail race in Paris, Ontario. This race went on my radar immediately following the amazing day I had at Sulphur and I was lucky enough that both Emma and Sam were game to pay the steep $100 race fee and run this one after they had done the 50k relay the year prior. Joining in was also Kim, who also was part of the relay team in 2013.

Me, Sam, Kim, Emma
It was cold to start, but all of the girls ditched their coats anyway. I left on my long sleeved shirt even with my tank under. I was okay for the most part, but knew that I'd pass by my truck at 9k, so I could dump it if I wanted to.

The race started after the kids went out for their 1k and the 50k championship started. We were treated to the same cannon boom to start and the pipers played us out. What an awesome way to start! I got a bit teary because that's what happens when I hear bagpipes and then I concentrated on making my way onto the trail without falling. Right away, we were a bit crowded, but I knew things would spread out before long. I realized that I was a bit ahead of the girls and Sam was with me. More than once, we had to slow down which was smart. 25k is a long run and I hadn't run more than 21k since Midsummer.

I had a hard time with the early racing here. We were taking it easy, running when we wanted too, walking where we needed to. The start stop was really messing with me and it took probably about 10k before I was really able to settle in. I knew that we were in for a double loop, so I was looking forward to getting through the start finish again and counting down.

We were ready to tackle skeleton hill though.
At 9k, I made the decision to dump my long sleeved, but I likely could have continued with it and I would have been okay in terms of heat. It was a strange day, warm but with cold wind gusts. I make my decision though and stripped down just in time for the photographer. At least the Zoom photo guys got a show as I stripped down. I've never run in this tank and I don't know that I will again. It matches that skirt perfectly, but its, um... a bit booby...

As we were coming up to the end of the first loop, we saw a set of paramedics in their little tent. "Hope you have an uneventful day!" I called as we ran past them, then we were directed back into the campground roads and I heard Sam say, "Oh! What a cute puppy." before I caught my foot on something and before I knew it I was sliding along the trail... on my hip, knee, and shoulder.

Quickly (as possible), I got up and shook myself off. The girls were concerned, with Sam giving me her lulu arm warmers to wipe myself off with and Emma and Kim worrying about the blood that was trickling from various parts of my body. In the end though, there was nothing to do but keep running. I felt fine, thank goodness, no wonky ankle or knee so I decided to keep on keeping on and hit up a medical tent at the start finish.

I did that while the girls continued on. The paramedics treating me were kind and funny. They kept telling me that they were just doing a patch job so as not to slow down my race and that I should head to the big med tent by the food tent after the race.

After my patch up (they didn't even look at my shoulder), I headed out to find the girls. I had a moment of panic where I couldn't see them at all, but thankfully Sam was wearing bright pink and I spotter her ahead. I likely ran my fastest paces for the second half of the race in this part to catch the girls. The second half of the race seemed faster, but was WAY more difficult. By about 16k, my shoulder, elbow, and knee let me know that I had taken a tumble and while the trails were not that technical, I was still struggling with the start/stop aspect that is normal with trail racing.

Despite a really bad cold, Kim was ahead of us by then and all she wanted to do was to finish the race. I hear ya, Kim! She would get ahead while we walked some (not-too-difficult-incline-that-we'd-totally-run-on-roads) and then we'd catch her again as our pace was faster overall. I tried to keep running more myself and kept anticipating the huge hill called skeleton hill because that would mean that the race would be over. When we got there, Emma went ahead to capture the moment and I let her know what I thought of this hill (and the dude at the top laughing).

Yes, I'm flipping her the bird. Times two.
Photo Credit: Emma
 And before we know it (its always that way, right?), we are coming through the end and I'm actually able to PB on the time compared to Sulphur, by 50s! WooHoo!

I was the last to finish. We all went to get our medals and some water (which I really needed along with food). We were all concerned about Kim, but she just wanted to get warm and get food. I couldn't disagree with that. I wanted to get checked out by medical, so the five of us (Kim's husband ran the 25k as well), went into the tent and I got cleaned up. It took a bit longer than we anticipated so the girls went back to the truck to get their warm clothes and mine and once I was ready to leave, we went off to find our amazing lunch of chicken breast, salads, Tim Horton's coffee and cookies and pie (if you're into that mushy-fruit vileness). We all agreed it was a great day even with Kim's cold and my wipe out. There is something so fun about running through the forest with absolutely zero pressure at all.

Not sure I'll be back next year, but I can pretty much be talked into anything if my fave running peeps are part of it, so never say never.

Next up: I'm pacing the 1:55 continuous group at the Niagara Falls International Half Marathon on October 26th. I've been dedicated to practicing my pacer pace of 5:27/km (8:46/mi) and am hoping to nail this one and go 3 for 3 on the 2014 pacing gigs.

Hope you're enjoying your fall!