The Benchmark

The Benchmark

I have a love/hate relationship with running. I really don’t like it. But I also kind of love it. You can’t go as a fast or as far ┬árunning as you can cycling and I think that’s why I hate it. But running requires so much more mental focus and fortitude than cycling and that’s what I love about it. You can’t soft pedal or coast in running. It’s a painful sport. The finish line at a running event is always visible from what seems like miles away and you know that you can’t stop running or ease up until you hear that little beep from the timing mat. The last 3km of any running event no matter the distance are always so awful.

When I switched from triathlon to cycling, running the was the thing I’d miss the least. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ‘retired’ from running. But every year in the off season, I’d sign up for a running event, train for it, and run it. I just kept telling myself that while the other roadies were off doing cyclocross, I was maintaining healthy bone density so that I wouldn’t someday end up as one of those tough old cyclists who look like Mr. Burns when they get off the bike. So I kept lacing up every fall.

This fall was no different, except this time I wasn’t lacing up for some specious health reason.. I needed to set a benchmark for my triathlon training. I knew that whatever time I ended up with, it wouldn’t really matter because I just needed to set a starting point. But I really wanted to run a strong race and prove to myself that I wasn’t just living in the clouds with this goal to turn pro. I wanted to at least be in striking distance of where I needed to be. And I really wanted to accomplish an 11 year old goal of cracking 1.5 hours in a half marathon. My previous best was in October 2016 at the MEC Gatineau Park Half marathon with a time of 1:42.

I ran my first half marathon when I was 20 years old simply because my bike was broken and I wouldn’t have the parts to fix it before the end of the season. I signed up for the Toronto Half Marathon, which back then was still held in the fall, and trained for about 6 weeks. I had no idea what I was doing. I was just going out and running and trying to get my distance up. 12km was my longest run prior to that race. I finished it in 1:52. That would be my PB for almost 5 years. I was lucky to crack two hours in subsequent half marathons. I never really trained properly for running until I started doing triathlon. During my first stint as a triathlete my half marathon PB dropped to 1:45. I was constantly plagued by IT band problems throughout my time as a triathlete and so never trained properly for running. It got so bad that during my first full Ironman I was running 2km everyday. Any longer and I would end up with terrible pain. It actually ended up being a decent way to get my body acclimated to the pounding. I would run 2km everyday as hard as I could and I compensated for the lack of endurance training by increasing my bike volume. I ran the marathon of my first full ironman in 4.5 hours. I was happy with that. I still use a variation of this type of training for my athletes who struggle with running injuries. It’s not optimal but it works.

On October 30, my coach, business partner, and friend, Ian Fraser and I headed over to the Aviation Museum in Ottawa to run the Rattle Me Bones half marathon. It wasn’t a timed event but it was flat, so it would make for a great benchmark race. I wasn’t feeling the greatest that morning but off we went. As usual I started out much harder than I wanted to at 3:55min/km. No way I was holding that pace. For the first 7km I was just trying to keep pace with Ian. And already I was making the mistake I always make in races: trying to race someone else’s race. I decided to ease up and let Ian go off to run his own race while I ran mine. I found myself settling into a pace of 4:20-4:25min/km and was a bit disappointed as that would not get me sub 1.5h finish time. But that’s where I was for the moment.

The route started on the parkway but around the 5km mark it deviated onto the pathway and finally ended up on gravel path that ran along the river –a very nice course. I took a minute to focus on my form checking in with my body to make sure my arms were doing what they were supposed to, that my shoulders were relaxed, that my strike was good, and my cadence was where it needed to be. I was only 8km into the race and already I was starting to doubt myself and negative self-talk was creeping in. I was running 4:25min/km and already I was feeling like I’d never be able to hold this pace for the entire race.

Then I checked my watch again. 4:05min/km. Oh. Well then. While my brain was preoccupied worrying about whether I would be able to keep pace, my body decided to take matters into its own hands. From that point I stopped listening to my brain and just let my body do what it needed to do. I started repeating, “You want to be a pro” over and over in my head to block out any other thoughts or worries about my pace or time. I had some tough moments but from 7km to 17km I was laser-focussed and ran a consistent 4:10-4:15min/km pace (my watch only shows pace in 5s increments). The last 3km, as usual, were terrible. It took a lot of focus to get through them and the last 300m were even more excruciating.

I crossed with a time of 1:29:16. A narrow margin but I nonetheless accomplished my goal of cracking 1.5h. Sure it took 11 years but I’d done it, and I set a solid benchmark for my training. I am definitely within striking distance. I have a huge collection of medals hanging on my wall. Most of them are participation medals. A few, the ones that mean the most, are podium medals. But this participation medal means more than all of them. It signifies the starting point of this ridiculous journey I’m taking. I’m really proud of this one.

1:29:16. That’s The Benchmark.

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