I think I’ve run 11 half marathons now and if you ask me my favorite, it would be the Brooklyn Half because it’s a hometown race, is the largest half marathon in North America, and I get to see my family; however, if you ask me what my favorite half marathon to race, the answer would be the Chilly Half in Burlington.
Two years ago I participated in the Chilly Half for the first time and finished with a time of 1:30:44. I was absolutely thrilled with this time as it was a big PR for me in the half. A year later, I bested my PR time on the same course and broke the 1:30 barrier for the first time! I finished the Chilly Half last year with a time of 1:29:33. You can read the race report from last year’s race by visiting this post.
Heading into this year’s race, I really wanted to break 1:29 and I shared this goal with my friend Jeph a few weeks prior to the race. Jeph was looking for a half to do around the same time and agreed to pace me. We joked about breaking 1:28, but I wasn’t sure I could do it after realizing I needed to hold an average pace of 4:09/km for the 21.1km race. I thought I could get close, but it wouldn’t be easy! Jeph agreed to pace me because he was looking to have a strong race, but not necessarily PB. He’s a 1:25 half marathoner, so I was happy to hold him back! LOL
The Chilly Half fell at the end of week 10 of my Boston Marathon training cycle. For those new to this blog and not keeping up with my weekly Boston Marathon training updates, I’m racing Boston in April for the first time!
My Boston Marathon training plan was developed by Coach Colin of the High Park Rogue Runners. He developed my plans for the Mississauga Marathon and the Chicago Marathon. When we were planning my Boston Marathon training cycle, Colin asked if I was going to race the Chilly Half and my answer was “hell yeah!” I have another six weeks of training to go before Boston, so there was no concern with racing the Chilly Half instead of just running it at marathon pace to test my endurance.
I did a mini-taper the week of the Chilly Half meaning I ran every day (OK, I skipped Wednesday’s run because it was my birthday and I was super busy!), but only did one workout instead of two.
I’ve seen a difference in my strength with this latest plan and really wanted to try to PR at the half marathon distance.
I picked up my bib on Friday and picked up Jeph’s bib as well. The expo is really small which is too bad because I drove an hour to get there, spent 15 minutes walking around, then turned back and drove an hour to get home. Hopefully one day they attract more vendors to make it worth the trip!
As for nutrition, I did a bit of carb loading, but nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, I probably ate the same foods I would have eaten to prepare for a long run. On the morning of the race, I ate two slices of toast with almond butter and a cup of coffee. On the drive to Burlington, I had some water and popped a gel about 30m before the start.
My buddies Dom and Daniel weren’t racing and I usually travel with them to local races, so I was on my own heading out to Burlington on race day. The drive was uneventful and I found a spot in a parking lot a block away from the Burlington Performing Arts Centre (one of a few major meeting spots for runners pre and post race).
Jeph was waiting for me in the parking lot and we jogged over to the Performing Arts Centre (it was too cold to walk!). One of the reasons I absolutely love this race, and something I discussed in previous race reports, is the fact the race attracts so many amazing people from Toronto and the surrounding areas. Just about every run crew is hanging out in the Performing Arts Centre and it really helps take your mind off the pain you’re about to endure! I love the running community and have met so many amazing people along the way; many of whom were also participating in this race! There’s also a 5K option and a few of my friends were running that as well!
Jeph and I walked over to Burlington City Hall to say hello to a few other runners we knew and bumped into the Newmarket Road Runners crew. After chatting with them for a few minutes, we joined them for a warm-up run before the start. I follow a bunch of the NWRR folks on Instagram and they’re an awesome bunch!
I popped a gel 20 minutes before the start of the race. By this time, I was already starting to get hungry!
We started to make our way over to the starting corrals and I heard the announcer say there were 6 minutes to go! We squeezed into the corral with seconds to spare, found a spot near a few speedy runners, and before you knew it, we were off!
Just like last year, the race started at 10:05am. The later start would be awful in the Summer, but when it’s -1 when you wake up, every degree above zero before the start of the race is a bonus! Last year it was really cold (dare I say chilly?!), but this year the temperature was on the plus side of zero! I wore shorts, a short sleeve shirt (with a singlet over it not so much because it was an extra layer, but more so because it was a Saucony singlet and I was hoping to just wear the singlet and arm warmers! I also wore my Tiux compression socks!
For the past 3+ years, I’ve only raced in Saucony Kinvaras. After speaking with a few friends, they recommended I try racing in the Saucony Fastwitch. They’re definitely a lighter shoe, ideal for races up to the half marathon distance. I’ve worn them for most of my workouts during this training plan and was curious how they would respond in the race.
First 5km splits: 4:07, 4:09, 4:13, 4:09, 4:08
For the first few kilometers, I didn’t look at my watch at all. I should also mention my heart rate monitor died a few weeks ago and I haven’t had the opportunity to replace it, so I’d be racing on feel; even more reason not to look at my watch! I knew we were running pretty fast, but again, no idea what the pace was. So far it felt effortless and I was feeling really strong!
There are two turnaround points in the race and the first one came at the 3km mark. The cool thing about the turnaround is you can watch the elites racing past and that distracts you for a bit. Once you start heading back, you get to see the runners who were behind you. I saw a bunch of friends and it was awesome hearing your name being called out and equally cool calling out the names of some friends.
Unlike last year where I blew past several aid stations, I was feeling parched at the start of the race and grabbed water at the first aid station.
Second 5km splits: 4:03, 4:12, 4:06, 4:11, 4:07
I felt the pace pick up a bit at the end of the first 5km splits and around the 5-6km mark, I peeked down at my watch. I started seeing paces of 4:08, 4:05, and faster and turned to Jeph to say I thought we were moving a little quicker. He said he thought the same thing, but I don’t think we made a conscious effort to slow down! I suspect we were running the pace we were supposed to run and Jeph did not want me to slow down!
At the 5km mark of the race, runners pass one of the most popular spots for spectators and I noticed my friends from Blacktoe Running. Everytime Maya from Blacktoe sees me at a race, she calls out “Hey redcap!” This is always so much fun to hear and was a nice distraction for a few moments!
The next 8 kilometers or so is straight across Lakeshore Rd. While this would normally be a boring point of the race, you get to watch the 5K runners heading towards the final turn before crossing the finish line.
I popped my second gel of the day (first of the race). I was also grabbing cups of whatever I could (Nuun or water) at the aid stations because my mouth was really dry for some reason.
Third 5km splits: 4:09, 4:09, 4:11, 4:07, 4:08
The quickest pace bunny that I noticed was 1:35, so I didn’t really have a reference for how fast I was going other than staring down at my Garmin a few times when we reached the kilometer markers. I have a race predictor app that will tell display your expected finish time for the next distance milestone. As soon as I passed the 5km mark, I switched my display to see what my 10km predicted time was and it was just over 41 minutes. I did some quick match in my head and realized I was in pretty good shape at this point of the race!
My breathing definitely became a bit more labored at this point and I kept looking for the second turnaround. To me, this meant the final turn and less than 10 kilometers to go in the race!
When we took the turnaround at the 12-kilometer mark, I peeked down at my Garmin and noticed my predicted finish time for the half marathon was around 1:27:45. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! I probably shouldn’t have looked, because my breathing started to get even more labored!
At this point in the race, with about 7 kilometers to go, I was having some really deep conversations with my brain. My legs felt great and I knew I had the energy to finish strong, but I always panic in the late stages of my races (regardless of the distance) and my mind starts to swing wildly from fight to flight. In most of my races, flight wins and I don’t mean in the form of running faster; flight, in this case, means slowing down or even walking. I ran a clean Chilly Half in 2016 and 2017 and there was no way I was going to let my brain get the better of me now. I kept repeating to myself “you’re feeling great and you’re going to smash your PR today!” I repeated this every kilometer.
I also tried to think about the race in smaller chunks and instead focused on the next kilometer marker instead of saying to myself I had 7, 6, or 5 to go.
16km to 21.1km splits: 4:09, 4:11, 4:04, 4:05, 4:09, 3:58, 4:41
By the 16 kilometer part of the race and knowing there were 5 kilometers to go, I pretty much blocked out everything else from my mind. My only focus was to finish. I did hear people calling my name and heard a bunch of people yell “Go runthesix!,” but at this point, I was so dialed-in, I couldn’t even turn my head to look who was on the other side. The only visual I had at this point was a truck picking-up orange pylons from the other side of the road; an indication there were no more runners behind them.
Somewhere around the 17-18 kilometer mark, I felt myself pulling away from Jeph ever so slightly. I remember turning to the side and not seeing him and my thought at the time was, I really hope he’s OK! I tried to look back, but the only parts of my body that appeared to be working at this point were my arms and legs. Every ounce of energy in my body was being used to keep them moving.
With two kilometers to go, I pulled up to Jessica Kuepfer. Jessica is a 1:25:51 half marathoner and an incredible athlete! We spotted each other at the start of the race and she pulled out ahead for most of the distance. As soon as Jessica spotted me, she immediately took on the role of coach, pacer, and friend. She started to talk me through my paces for the final two kilometers and did an amazing job keeping me moving. I was more mentally drained than physically and I was really trying to catch my breath with every step I took. Jessica told me to take deep breaths and that actually helped!
As we approached Brant St where runners made a right turn for the final 200 meters of the race, I heard the loud cheers of the spectators including my friends at Blacktoe running again and a few other running clubs. When we made the turn, I could barely make out the time on the clock., but thought I saw 1:26:something. I had a serious case of tunnel vision heading towards the finish line and when we finally crossed the finish line, I looked back at the clock with amazement. I came in under 1:28!
I hugged Jessica and Jeph, who was just a few seconds behind me, then just stood frozen in place for a few moments trying to collect my thoughts. At that moment, I realized my half marathon time was good enough to qualify for the 2019 NYC Marathon! I said this over and over to Jessica and Jeph, more to convince myself it happened than anything else.
Side note: men ages 45-49 need to beat a time of 1:28 to earn guaranteed entry to the NYC Marathon; I really wanted to do it!
There’s no question this was the best race of my running career. When I participated in my first half marathon in 2014 and finished with a time of 1:48:44, I was beyond thrilled and felt great about that time! I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d ever break 1:30 as that was just a ridiculous time. Now I’m sitting on a 1:27:35 and wondering what’s next!
I didn’t have to head back to Toronto right away, so I hung out in the Performing Arts Centre for a bit and Jeph and I headed over to a pub to grab lunch and a pint. It was great to chill out a bit before heading back to Toronto.
Next up is Boston! Yesterday the Boston Athletic Association released the bib numbers, starting waves, and corrals and now it’s feeling really real! Just over five weeks to go!
The toughest part of my training cycle is still ahead of me, so my primary focus is to stay strong, stay healthy, and stay focused. Sadly I won’t be able to participate in the Around the Bay 30K because it’s 3 weeks before Boston, so no more tests before the big dance.