Chilly Half 2017

I wrote a couple weeks ago that my goals for the Chilly Half were A) 1:07:xx, B) 1:08:xx, and C) a PB (better than 1:09:30). I was pretty confident that I was back carving out new levels of fitness which is why I wanted a PB. My long tempo and threshold interval workouts were faster than ever. When I looked back on my training before the last half marathon I raced (Chilly Half, 2015), every workout I’ve run this winter blew them away. My mileage had been consistent and just a little higher than ever before. I’d encountered only a couple deviations from my plan this winter and I’d been able to correct-course quickly. Things had been going very well. I was primed for a good race after a couple disappointing marathons, a bunch of injuries and missed races, and—finally—a lengthy stretch of consistent training.

Chilly Half recap

I had all my gear packed the night before so all I had to do in the morning was get dressed and throw my bags in the car. The 2 hour drive to Burlington was a piece of cake as the 402 and 401 were deserted and I had the tunes pumping. Once I arrived, I met up with Mitch Free to get my race kit/bib and we found the hospitality area for the elites/VIPs. Having a warm place to hang out before the race was a huge perk and it was great to meet up with some other hard working runners like the GRE folks and to meet and chat with Canadian Olympian and marathon champion, Krista DuChene!

The big question on everyone’s mind was whether to wear shorts or tights as the forecast said -6°C with ~20 km/h wind bringing it down to -14ish. I decided on shorts after my warmup and I’m glad I did because I was sweating pretty good for the last 3 km of the race.

After the gun went and everyone found their place in the field, I think I was in roughly 10th or so. Over the first two km, Paul Rochus and I joined up and managed to pick a few guys off early. Around the first hairpin turn (~3 km), we rolled up on John Parrott and he joined us as we eventually reeled in Kevin Blackney around 5 km. John started to fall off our pack around 7 km and the rest of us remaining kept clicking away the kilometres, fighting the wind and averaging 3:13/km.

"A burden shared is a burden halved." [📷Edison Yao]

A post shared by Aaron Cooper (@cooperaa) on

We crossed the 10 km marker at 32:01 and finally made it to the second hairpin turn (~13 km), where we were ready for the tailwind all the way to the finish. Somewhere around 14 km, our pack started to fall apart as I found myself briefly in third after pulling away from Kevin and Paul. At this point in the race, I could still see Blair Morgan in second a long way up the road so I just tried to draw whatever motivation I could from the fact that there was someone in front of me. I could hear the crowds cheering “Rejean” and soon figured out that Rejean Chiassion had been gaining on me and he flew by me like I was standing still at 17 km. I told myself he must’ve been just trying to mentally crush me with that move and to just keep digging and chasing him down in case he slowed after passing me. I never caught him, but he sure helped me draw some extra effort from myself. For the final 4 kilometres, I was counting down the minutes… “3 km, that’s like 10 minutes tops – keep going!”

As I made it to the turn off Lakeshore Rd towards the finish line, I looked at my watch and it had just clicked over to 1:07. I could see the finish line and started hammering, almost sure that 1:07:xx ‘A’ goal was mine. I crossed the line with a fist-pump in a time of 1:07:46.

Thanks to Edison Yao for sharing this pic.

Post-race, I enjoyed talking with the other runners who I usually only interact with online (Strava), hearing about how their races went and what their upcoming plans are. Congrats and kudos all around – especially to Eric Bang on his new PB (1:10:55) and Mitch Free on being a few seconds shy of his PB after a few weeks of issues. Good luck to everyone tackling a spring marathon at Boston, Mississauga, or elsewhere!

What’s next?

I’m now officially signed up for the Glass City Marathon in Toledo, OH on April 23 – it’s only six weeks away now. Unfortunately, my body has kind of fallen apart on me after the Chilly Half. My immune system must have taken a big hit as I was sick the next day and I’m still dealing with a cold a week later. Also, my hamstring has been hurting since the day after the race so I haven’t done much running this week. I’ve been trying to use heat, massage, ice packs… really anything I can think of to help this hamstring heal but as it stands right now, I’m resigned to taking a few days completely off running after three days of minimal jogging.

My first thought when the hamstring issue appeared was that I’d bail on the marathon plans, take a week or two off to recover and absorb this good training I’ve put in up to Chilly, and then put in 8-10 weeks of focused training for the Ottawa 10K (Canadian Championship race). After a lot of thought and weighing options, I think I’m still going to give Toledo a shot. I’ve had good marathon results off really poor/inconsistent training in the past so I’m working to convince myself that the build-up doesn’t need to go perfectly to have a good race. I have some base fitness and I just need to bring that to the starting line and I believe I can improve on my 2:28:12 PB from Ottawa last May.

Time to wrap this post up. Hopefully I’ll have some good training to write about next time!  Thanks for following along.

Racing back into fitness

It’s been four weeks since I ran the Ottawa marathon. I had planned to take 10-14 days off following that race but I was eager to get back to training and hopefully a better race this fall. I ended up taking three days off before getting out for two really easy jogs in that first week back. My legs were a little achy but otherwise I felt good.

In the second week, I got in 100 km of easy running at roughly an hour per day. I had been taking care to run especially easy to be sure I was recovered before I got in any harder efforts. By the weekend, I was feeling ready and I ran a 25 km hilly progression run down to 3:20/km and that put some sting in the legs; a sign of a good run.

One last shakeout on the trail before heading to Toronto for the @runcrs #Waterfront10

A post shared by Aaron Cooper (@cooperaa) on

For the third week back, I ran a 6×4’/90″ workout averaging 3:08/km which was pretty good but not my best. That weekend, I ran a local race—the 30th annual Huron House Boys’ Home 10K. I have run this race the last couple years and love it as it is perfectly flat and covers roads that I train on every day so it feels a little like my ‘home course’. I wasn’t sure what to expect three weeks after a marathon but I figured I’d use this as a test before the Waterfront 10K in Toronto the following weekend. I went out hard and basically faded my way to the finish line, with my first km in 3:04 and my slowest in 3:20. I finished in 32:16, which was 17 seconds faster than my time last year at the same race so I took that as a positive. It was good to see the legs coming back into form so quickly after Ottawa.

Envisioning the pancake tent

In the fourth week back, I got in a midweek 8x1000m/400m workout on the track, running arguably my best set of Ks, averaging 3:03/km. Everything felt controlled and smooth. This workout was a good confidence booster heading into a race on the weekend.

I drove to Toronto for Canada Running Series’ inaugural Waterfront 10K. This race replaced the Yonge St 10K where I ran 31.00 last spring. The old course was net downhill, dropping 8.5 m/km, but thankfully, the new course is much fairer, dropping only 1.3 m/km. I think that means it’s still not a record legal course (limit is 1.0 m/km), but there was a pretty good hill at about 7 km that makes me feel okay about calling this a fair course.

CRS put together an awesome field of athletes, including Rio-bound marathoners Reid Coolsaet, Eric Gillis, and Krista DuChene. I figured Reid and Eric would be out front, there would be a second pack of Thomas Toth and Sami Jibril, and a possible third pack of Josh Bolton, Colin Fewer, and Jeff Costen. I imagined I’d be somewhere in the fourth pack hoping to stay close to Josh, Colin, and Jeff.

The lead pack
Heading toward Lakeshore Blvd

After the gun went, there were probably twenty people ahead of me and I tried to settle into a good pace. We came through the first km in 3:03 which was too quick but shortly after I settled into ~3:08/km pace. I found myself in a group with Josh, Colin, and Matt Loiselle with Seth Marcaccio about 10m ahead. This pack stuck together through roughly 7 km.

Doing my best to hang on to Josh’s shoulder

There were plenty of people out cheering along Lakeshore Blvd so that helped me keep pushing. At the turnaround point by 7 km, I started to make my move as we climbed a long, steady hill/overpass. I managed to pull away from the pack I had been running with although I’m not sure by how much. I was counting down the minutes and telling myself to keep pressing the pace and not to let anyone catch me. With about a km to go, I reeled in Behanu Degefa and then I could see the finish line and my watch read 30:45 so I dug deep and finished hard. I crossed the line in 31:21 which is a 30-second personal best from the 10K I ran in December. I ended up 9th overall behind fellow Canadians: Eric, Reid, Tristan Woodfine, Thomas, and Sami.

I’m happy with my effort and how I executed the race (being aware of tangents when others ahead of me weren’t, sticking with a group and not letting them pull away, making a break when I felt strong and confident that I could keep the hammer down to the finish line). It makes me hopeful that if I can run a 10K PB with only 2-3 workouts in my legs after a marathon, I should be able to get a better marathon out of myself in the fall. Perhaps I didn’t push myself hard enough in Ottawa although it certainly didn’t feel that way at the 40 km marker! In any case, it’s great to see progress.

After the race I had the opportunity to chat with a number of runners I’ve met through Strava (basically Facebook for runners/cyclists). It’s cool to put faces to names and chat a bit about non-running stuff, too. The Canadian road running scene is made up of great people. Shout out to the GRE crew (Rob, Josh, Tyler), Jeff, and Steve and Colin for letting me tag along for a cooldown.

That’s it for now. Thanks for checking in!

Ottawa Marathon 2016 Recap

The short version…

img_7888
I ran 2:28:12 at the Ottawa marathon yesterday. That’s three minutes faster than I’ve run a marathon in the past but several minutes slower than I thought I’d be capable of. In fact, 2:28 was my target in the fall of 2014 so I’m a little disillusioned with this result (and my result from last year). But the positives are that I made it through a training cycle healthy and I’m improving.

The longer version…

Two weeks out from the race, I ran a 34.5 km workout with 26.2 km at marathon pace (3:26/km) and it felt great so that became the goal pace (roughly a 2:25 marathon). I felt confident that I had done all I could reasonably accomplish in the 10 weeks I had to rebuild mileage and get workouts in before I had to taper for the race. All my workouts during the cycle had gone well. I felt fitter than I have been in the past. Would I have liked more weeks of training and more time to build mileage? Yes, but there wasn’t time unless I wanted to start creeping into the summer and stealing weeks from my fall training cycle. This was a last ditch effort to run a marathon for real first time in a year. But like I said, I felt I had done all I could to get ready.

After that 26 km race simulation workout, I only had a couple easy goal-pace runs to remind my legs of the pace and make sure it felt comfortable over the final two weeks. Things went off without a hitch except the weather turned from snow one week to record-breaking highs the next. The long-term forecast for southwestern Ontario was looking brutal leading up to the race; highs of 30+°C and lows in the high teens (the ideal temperature for running a marathon is closer to 5-8°C). A couple days before Ottawa (the day before I was to leave for the drive), I evaluated my options for other races. I didn’t want to bail on Ottawa but I definitely didn’t want to suffer through a scorching hot marathon for a time I wouldn’t be satisfied with. After all, the hard work in training had already taken place and that’s more important to my long-term plans than cashing in on that fitness at a race. I’ve always maintained that the only race more important than the current one is the next race. Every race is a stepping stone to the next. The fitness gained in training should be carried forward into the next cycle.

So I found a race in South Bend, Indiana the first weekend in June and the forecast was 10° cooler than Ottawa so that was really tempting. I talked it out with my wife and some friends and decided to go through with Ottawa. As we got closer to race day, the temperatures were coming down a bit and it didn’t look as terrible. My ‘hopeful’ race plan was to go through half in 1:12 and then magically find another gear to run the second half in 1:10 (2:22 at the finish). With the temperature where it was, I had to bail on that plan and wondered if I’d even be able to run sub-2:30. I decided to go for 2:25 or broke as there was significant prize money for the top three Canadians but you had to run 2:25. I figured the conditions weren’t ideal for my “A” goal so I might as well go for it.

The day before the marathon, I probably spent a bit too much time on foot getting to the technical meeting to hear about pacers and water bottle locations, and exploring the city, so I decided to skip my last shakeout jog. In hindsight, I probably should have tried to stay off my feet the day before the race.

Another factor leading up to the race was some poison ivy/oak that I had picked up the weekend before the race while helping my dad cut down dead trees. I had a couple sleepless nights battling the itchiness and fighting a sore throat as a result. The throat cleared up by Thursday but my arms and right leg were swollen and covered in painful blisters even as I stood on the starting line. I doubt this had any impact on my race, beyond affecting my sleep. Next time though, I’ll be more careful about avoiding strenuous activities the week before a goal race as I could have hurt my back hauling logs around just as easily.

With the obligatory pre-race kit photo out of the way, time to sleep!

A post shared by Aaron Cooper (@cooperaa) on

In any case, race day finally came after one last sleepless night and I was up at 4:45 to eat a bagel, get dressed, and make my way to the start area. Mercifully, it was cooler than it had been all week as I jogged a short warm-up. The first 15-20 km of the race were mostly uneventful as I ran primarily with a pack that formed around the lead Ethiopian women. In that pack were fellow Canadians John Parrot running his debut and Nicholas Berrouard (who passed me in the final stages of the race last year). The only hiccup was that I had the water bottle table locations mixed up and I missed my first bottle at 5 km. I knew I had to be sure to get my next bottle at 10 km but I still was unsure of the location. All of a sudden, we were at 10 km and I saw my bottle out of the corner of my eye as I ran past it (I recognized it because of the bag of sour jujubes taped to the side). I had to stop, run back, grab it, and then spent the next km or two catching back up to the pack. I made sure to finish that whole bottle to make it worth it.

There were hundreds or maybe thousands of volunteers across the length of the race handing out water and sponges for cooling, food and gels, and even spraying misters/sprinklers. I took two or three cups of water at every stop, dumping them on my head to help evaporate heat and grabbed sponges every chance I got. I was doing my best to stay cool and comfortable.

As we got closer to the halfway mark and crossing into Gatineau, the hills started appearing. I’m sure they weren’t too horrendous but I get very little practice. They felt fine at the beginning but they slowly took their toll on my legs. I even remember feeling fine crossing the Alexandra bridge back into Ottawa (around 26 km?) when last year that part of the race was torturous so I was in a good place this time, feeling comfortable.

Thanks for the photo, Sean

As we crossed back into Ottawa, the pack exploded, the two lead women split apart, and I found myself running with John Parrott (another Canadian) and Mok from Singapore who I had met the day before. We ran together roughly from 25 km to 35 km or thereabouts, doing a decent job of keeping the pace on target until I started falling off. Not drastically, but I was losing contact and eventually they were both out of my sight. Legs were getting tired and heavy. My stomach was starting to feel nauseated and I started to feel the rumblings of an impending bathroom break. The crowds cheering at this point in the race were awesome and, although my face certainly didn’t show it, it was very much appreciated! So many people were lining the streets out to support the runners!

Suffering through the last couple km. Thanks for the photo, Richard!

I started to slow down and was overtaken by the lead woman somewhere around 40 km after I had pulled away from her somewhere around 28-30 km. I was really trying hard to not crap myself maintain composure in front of all the people cheering and the live TV camera that was following the lead woman! The last km went by and I crossed in 2:28:12 (a 3 minute improvement from last year), 14th overall (an improvement from 23rd last year), and third Canadian behind Kip Kangogo (who ran a conservative 2:21, taking home the $5000 payday for top Canadian!) and John Parrott (who clocked a debut marathon of 2:26:09!).

I’m happy with the PB but I wanted more, obviously, or I wouldn’t have gone out at 2:25 pace! I figured with the forecasted heat, it was a long shot, although the heat wasn’t as bad as anticipated. I can’t be too upset; I gave it my best. My legs are thoroughly thrashed.

This result leaves me feeling a little disillusioned. Do I have much better in me after only improving from 2:31 to 2:28 after a whole year? Admittedly it was a year of ups and downs with a couple tendon injuries but 2:28 is the time I thought I’d run back in the fall of 2014 (a year-and-a-half ago)! And even last year—a whole year ago—I thought I might run 2:23-2:25 in Ottawa. Yet, here I am, now just running 2:28. I’m happy because it’s an improvement from last time and I’m happy that after some injury trouble last year I was able to make it through a short training cycle and get on a starting line… But I have questions unanswered. What more do I need to do? More weights? More hills? More miles? More speed work? More core work? Why have I been thinking I’m capable of faster results but failing to make it happen on race day? Am I naturally better suited for running shorter races? Maybe the 26.2 km race simulation workout I ran should have been on a hilly route to more closely mimc Ottawa. Maybe the weather during my training runs was a few degrees cooler than race day. Should I have adjusted my expectations based on those variables? Maybe. Probably. But I felt like I could do better and I wanted to do better.

Anyway, I’ve got a few weeks to think on this as I give my body some time to rest before I get back to it. Not sure what’s next on the immediate horizon but the Toronto Waterfront marathon will probably be my next goal race in October.

Regardless of the outcome or how I feel about my race, I appreciate everyone who cheered along, gave me a hug or a high five, and supported me in one way or another as I work on this hobby; most especially my wife and my parents! And the insane number of volunteers who helped put on an awesome weekend of road running in Ottawa!

img_7873
Cheers!