Sunday, 21 June 2015

Pelee Island Half Marathon Race Report - big, unexpected PB!

The Pelee Island Race report - Here you go Nelson :)

   It shouldn't have happened.  I don't know how I ran so fast, under those conditions - were my thoughts after the race.  I like to think that I do all the right things to prepare for a strong race - the usual things - get enough sleep, warm-up, make sure the race nutrition is ok, dress properly for the weather, etc.  but I didn't do any of those things and still managed over a 2 minute PB.  Yeah, I was confused...and VERY excited that things went my way.  I didn't think I was running that fast as it was happening either - so imagine my surprise when I approached the finish line and the clock was saying 1:31 high.  Just a wonderful feeling.

   On Friday May 29, 2015, a large group of Harriers traveled to Pelee island to run the Pelee Island Half Marathon.  Greg and I were among the group.  We had arranged to have a child-free weekend.  My parents happily invited the kids for a "sleepover at Grandmas" for the weekend.  Thanks so much Mom and Dad.

   We rented the same cottage as last year.  We love that cottage.  It's right on the lake, and you have a beautiful view through every window.  It comfortably sleeps 7, and we crammed 10 of us in there. It's fun being creative with sleeping arrangements.  It's good Andrew, Sandy, Joyce, and Rose weren't picky where they slept or what they slept on.

   On the first night, we all gathered at Fran, Dave, and Paula's cottage for a beach bonfire.  We were all excited about the weekend, and talking about our plans for the race.  My plan was to run faster than the 1:38 I ran last year.  I wanted to come in at around 1:35.  That would be about a 4:30-4:40 per kilometer pace.  I didn't really have any direct instructions from my coach Derrick, except start off at last years pace and increase from there.  Greg wanted a faster time than last year, and was going to run a 4:30 pace.  Steve was aiming to break 1:30.  Sharon wanted to be under 2 hours. Andrew wanted a PB.  George was nursing an injury and was hoping to finish.  Those were the plans.  We were all hoping that we could carry them out during the race.

   On Saturday morning, we traveled as a group to the registration area to pick up our kits.  Then we headed to Fish Point Provincial Park to take a hike to the most southern point in Canada.  On the trail leading to the beach, the forest floor was covered in purple wildflowers that smelled amazing - but it was really buggy so we hiked quickly.  On the beach we came across a dune buggy that was stuck, so a bunch of Harriers jumped in the water and helped push it out.  Way to go dune buggy heros!

   Saturday afternoon was a quiet one.  We were following the weather, but Sharon and I just chose to believe whatever forecast was more positive to our situation.  "Tomorrow -Cloudy with showers beginning at noon".  We liked that one.  It was still a gorgeous afternoon.  Most of our cottage crew went on a wine tour and tasting trip at the winery.  Greg and I decided to drive the course, and figure out a race plan.  The course was essentially the perimeter of the island.  It went in a large square on gravel country roads.  It was absolutely flat.  I thought I would try and stay with Greg as he runs his 4:30's, then when we round the corner at 16k we'll push until the finish.  When we returned to the cottage, George and Terri were there.  I made coffee, and we all sat and chatted in the sunroom.  That's when the rain started.

   That night all the Harriers and family gathered together at our cottage for a potluck dinner.  At one point I counted 24 people in our cottage, enjoying our time together before the race.  Joyce arrived on the last ferry.  We teased her that she brought  the storm with her.  It was starting to get bad outside. The wind was whipping the trees around, it was raining hard, and the waves were crashing hard against the breakwall behind the cottage.  On several occasions the waves would smash into the breakwall so hard that they would spray our cottage.  We were all hoping that it would clear up in time for the race in the morning.  

   I didn't sleep well that night.  I'm a light sleeper, so any little noise wakes me up.  But the noise of the storm kept me awake.  I kept wondering, "When's this rain going to stop?  We have a race tomorrow".  Quickly followed by, "Go back to sleep!"  Not the restful night sleep that you aim for before a race.

   Race morning - still POURING.  We were getting texts from our friends at other cottages along the course saying that there were trees down blocking the road.  We were wondering if there was going to be a race.  It was very dark and stormy outside, and it didn't appear to be letting -up any time soon.  I wasn't thrilled about the idea of running in torrential rain, and gale-force winds.  I wanted a quick time, and I didn't like the fact that the conditions may slow me down.  Sharon, ran outside, and then back in, and tried to convince us that "it's not that bad".  I tried to get my usual pre-race breakfast in me of 2 slices of peanut butter toast and a banana, but I was nervous and I didn't have a lot of success. I ate part of one slice, drank my coffee, and stuffed the banana in my bag- hopefully I would eat it later...I forgot about it.

   We drove to the start line which is on the road near the harbour.  All the runners were hiding out in their cars waiting until the last minute to jump out and get on the start line.  I wasn't thrilled about running in the storm, so I was extra quiet.  Sharon was trying to lighten the mood in the car by singing all the rain-themed songs she could think of.  It worked and Greg and I laughed at the rain covers, sung by Sharon.  No warm up happening here.  I was wondering how this race was going to go.  

   At 2 minutes to go, a bunch of runners dashed out of their vehicles and jumped on the line.  We followed and got on the line with a minute to spare.  We were instantly soaked with the cold rain, and I was shivering on the line.  Greg hugged me to try and keep me warm.  A quick Canadian and American national anthem was sung, and the gun went off and we were running. 
   From the start to around 5k there was a strong cross wind that drove the rain hard into you.  It hurt.  It felt like hail - maybe it was.  I couldn't believe how hard it was raining.  I stayed with Greg and Steve.  Greg kept motioning me to tuck in behind him to shield me from the rain, but it didn't work, it was coming in from the side. My ears were full of water, and it was raining so hard that I could barely see.  I tried to get my kilometer splits, but I kept missing the markers.  So I didn't have any idea what pace I was going.  I gave up running my 4:30's early in the race and just tried to stay with Greg and Steve.

   At 6k-10k we were on a stretch of road where the wind was blowing against you.  It felt like you weren't gaining any ground as you ran.  I was getting really cold now.  I tried to take a gel but I had a lot of trouble getting into it.  I couldn't feel my fingers.  I fumbled around with it, and eventually got into it, but didn't get the whole thing in me.  I was kind of amused by the extreme conditions.  I thought, "I'm out here doing this, I might was well push and do it as quickly as I can".   I remember thinking - this is the most extreme conditions I have ever raced in.  I have raced in thunderstorms, and in ice storms, but they where short-lasting.  This thing was extreme.  Three Porta potties on course were blown-over by the wind, the island was starting to flood.  I was amazed.  I learned later that we got 3.5 inches of rain in the 3 hours of the race. Wow.

   Greg and Steve pulled away from me at around 11k.  11-15k was what Sharon later named "Concussion corridor".  It was a sheltered section of the course with large trees on both sides of the road.  Sticks and leaves would fly off the trees and crash around you as you ran.  I was smacked in the face by falling leaves twice during this section - at least it was leaves not branches.  This is also the area where downed trees almost stopped the race.  I worked hard to catch back up with Greg and Steve, and at the end of 15k, I had done it.

   I was so excited to turn the corner and approach the 16k mark.  Not only was it the spot where Greg and I were going to let loose and run with whatever we had left, the wind was also at our backs - so we were being pushed as we increased our speed.  Greg responded and followed me.  Even with the wind helping, I was running as hard as I could go.  We saw Fran at 19k.  She cheered us on and took the picture below.  Thanks Fran - not a great day for spectators.  I appreciate the support on course.  

Another runner approached at around 20k. I could tell that Greg was feeling good - so I told him to go ahead and catch him.  Greg took off after that guy. When I saw the grape vines growing along the road, I knew the finish was close.  I reached a hair-pin turn near the line of trellises that lead to the finishing shute, and I snuck a peak back to see if there were any runners approaching.  I was relieved to see that I was alone.  I enjoyed that finish.  I saw Greg cross the line ahead of me, and I glanced at the clock as I got closer.  I couldn't believe what I saw.  The clock said 1:31 high.  Huge PB.  I splashed through a large puddle and ran over the finish mat in 1:32:10.  

I couldn't believe it.  My PB before this race was 1:34.  I ran that when I was in University and running on the Track and XC teams.  That was 12 years ago - when I had more time to devote to running.  Now I have a family and a career.  I didn't think a PB was possible in the half for me.  I was wrong.  I'm glad I was wrong.
   Greg and I watched Steve finish, and then Greg went to get the car, and our dry clothes.  I went inside out of the rain.  I must have looked really cold, because a kind stranger offered to get me a tea.  I accepted, and shivered as I drank the tea.  I felt bad that I didn't watch the rest of the Harriers finish, but I was so cold.  I waited inside and greeted the Harriers as they came in to find warmth.  Here's a quick list of the Harriers finishing times: Greg 1:31:57, Me 1:32:10, Steve 1:33:38, Andrew 1:39:07, Wayne 1:45:18, George 1:45:57 , Mark 1:46:17, Allan 1:46:45 , Dave 1:51:28 , Nelson 1:56:24 , Sharon 1:59:09 , Sandy 1:59:32 , Joyce 1:59:46,  Paula 2:06:48,  Rose 2:06:58.  Sharon was thrilled to finish in under 2 hours.  Andrew got a PB. As soon as we all were warm and dry, we were ready to enjoy the after party.

    When the food was served, we enjoyed a heaping plate of delicious lake Erie perch, fresh grilled asparagus, lots of fancy salads, and fresh fruit.  The owner of the winery- Walter, was serving his wine to go with the meal.  He would encourage you to return with your glass for a refill.  We happily listened to Walter.  I didn't touch a drop of alcohol in the days leading to the race, and I was planning to have a glass or 2 at the party.  I ended up having 3 (and for me that's a lot!).  I was feeling good.  Andrew liked the idea of the "open wine bar" and was refilling his glass frequently.  Sharon challenged Andrew to set a wine aqcuiring PB.  She said that she thinks he can't make it back to our table with 2 glasses of wine in 1 minute.  Andrew accepted the challenge and he ran off towards the wine bar.  He was back in 58 seconds, a glass of wine in each hand.  Although there was some understandable spillage :)  Congrats Andrew on your second PB of the day.

   There was a lot of hooting and hollering when I was called on stage for my second female overall award.  Two bottles of wine - thank you Walter and the Pelee Island Winery for that.  We all enjoyed our food and wine, a band played and we sung along.  As we were leaving there were people up dancing to the band.  A great party.  Pelee island has the best after party that I have ever seen at a race.

When I got back to the cottage I emailed Derrick.  In the string of emails leading up to the race, I had joked that I'm throwing a huge tiki party at our cottage if I get a PB.  "Huge Tiki Party at the Leskien Cottage" - was my email title.  Although we were more in the mood for hanging out by a roaring wood fire and staying dry and warm, than a tiki party.  I was still very surprised that I was able to pull off a PB, especially in those conditions!  I think Derrick was too. This has made me very excited about my upcoming running season.  I'm wondering what I can do.  

Thanks to the RD Chris for putting together a well-organized and very runner friendly race.  Thanks to the title sponsor the Pelee island winery for hosting the party and sharing your wonderful wine.  Thanks to my running buddies for a great trip - we will be talking about this one for many years.  And thanks to Greg - I'm so glad I got to share a great trip and a fantastic race with you.
The calm after the storm.

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