Last Sunday, I ran the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington. It was my first time running the half marathon there. Despite having registered for it last year, I was injured and had to drop down to the 5k. The day before the race, it was looking like I would once again meet the same fate, but I woke up Sunday itching to get out there and test my pace for Around the Bay.
I didn’t make the journey out to Burlington to pick up my race kit, so I can’t comment on the expo and packet pickup situation. Instead, I had a friend grab it for me and I got it from her on Saturday before the race. If it was anything like last year, it was not crowded and had a decent number of vendors/sponsors on hand for a smaller race.
If you’re here for my thoughts on the event itself and the course, here they are:
The course itself was flat, with a small incline near the end. If you like quieter courses and can do without a ton of crowd support, then I would recommend this either as a winter goal race or a tune-up event. A lot of runners (myself included) use the Chilly Half as a dress rehearsal for the Around the Bay 30k, which is just a few weeks after. It’s a good opportunity to test out pacing, nutrition/hydration, and leaves just enough time to make any final modifications before ATB.
It was an exceptionally well-organized event, and well worth the entry fee. Having access to a large building with lots of washrooms pre- and post-race is a welcome perk, as the late winter weather is often unpredictable. Short massages were available from one of the local massage college program students before and after the race. I didn’t take advantage of that this year, but I did last year and it was great. It appeared that they had more students on hand this year, in fact.
If you’re here for the recap of how I personally fared, here it is:
Originally, there was a swim on my schedule for Saturday. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and I spent most of the day sleeping and otherwise relaxing. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, I had a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs for dinner and spent all my waking hours trying to hydrate. I was in bed by 10:00 and despite napping for nearly four hours that day (!!), I had no trouble falling asleep. Point taken, body.
The race did not start until 10:00 on Sunday, but we got up super early to pick up a car and drive out to Burlington. Traffic can be a total unknown, even on a Sunday morning, but we arrived with plenty of time to spare.
It was cold. For real. Stop rolling your eyes. We’ve been spoiled this winter with some occasional warm temperatures and not much by way of snowfall, so to have a cold, windy day for the race felt like a bit of a kick in the gut. They don’t call it the Chilly Half for nothing. If I had a dollar for every time someone said that on Sunday (me included), I could probably register for next year’s race with the proceeds. 😉
I knew a number of people running (in both the 5k and the half marathon), so the hour we had to kill before the race passed by fairly quickly. I ate my banana and sipped my Nuun water. The bathroom lines were not kind to me and instead of warming up for 2k before the race, I had to settle for a scrambled jog to my corral and some dynamic stretches. Not ideal.
Nevertheless, I started. To be honest, it felt a little surreal to be running a half marathon, to be at a start line for the first time in over a year with a meaningful goal. Most of all, I was both relieved and thankful to be at the start line injury-free. My prescribed plan was to start slightly slower than goal pace for Around the Bay, and settle in at around 3k for the remainder of the race.
Despite a shaky start (which I blame myself for after not having properly warmed up), things evened out at the 3k mark. I felt great in the early kilometres, but knew that wasn’t necessarily indicative of what might come.
I saw both Ryan and Mark (separately) within the first 5k, and then headed out for the long out-and-back. Once upon a time, I disliked out-and-back courses. If I was having a particularly bad race, an out-and-back filled me with dread, and I often suffered in the final kilometres as a result. That all seems to have changed. I now spend most of the out portion looking across the course to look for runners I know. It’s a welcome distraction, and then I get to focus my energy on the back portion, where I often need it most.
I spent a lot of time looking at my watch during the race. I wanted to make sure I was staying on pace, and I was. As I ran through the quiet residential streets, I was pleased to see that I was staying eerily in my pace zone. The only 2 kilometres that were slower, were the ones where I walked as I took in gels, at 8k and 16k, and was able to make up the extra 20-30s per stop easily. I relied on the water stations on course without issue. Well, save a little layer of ice forming on top of the cups. 🙂
Luckily, the suck that I anticipated never really came. Don’t get me wrong: the last 5 or so kilometres were still challenging. The half marathon distance is no joke, and I had to put in a lot of work to stay on top of things in the last part of the race. By the time I got to the 19-20k mark, I still felt relatively well. Time to see what I had left and completely empty the tank.
As I came within the last few hundred metres, I really grit my teeth and dug in. I saw Ryan, Mark, and Heather cheering near the corner before the finish line and I used that energy for my final push. Sorry for not waving or smiling then, y’all, but I was in my zone. I saw my 21st kilometre tick at 5:31, and then I took off for the finish with whatever I had left. Garmin Connect later told me I was able to get just under 5:00/km for that last push, which I was very pleased with at the end of a half marathon.
I crossed the finish line in 2:05:26 (unofficial), with an average pace of 5:56/km. That was bang on for my ATB pace, and I executed the race plan perfectly (minus the warm-up, oops!). It has been quite some time since I have been able to say that. Many times along the course, I gave myself mini pep talks and all I came back to was how I thought I was never going to be able to run long distances again, and there I was. For once in my life, I was patient and it paid off. Ha.
While it was not a PB for me, it was my second to fastest half marathon, and it certainly felt like a PB in many ways. It confirmed the progress that I’ve made over the last few months. Some days leading up to the race, it was hard to see the forest for the trees, but I’m so glad I trusted the work I put in and laid it all out there.
I think that another part of what made this race so special for me is that, after close to a year and a half of unpredictable training and racing due to my injury, I finally started to feel like my old running self again. I’ve talked about how I experienced this during a few of my training runs, but it was nice to have the old feelings come back as I raced. The race gave me hope that there’s still some life in this old body, and that I can still make progress. I wonder if there’s another marathon PB left in these legs down the road. But, first: I tri.
Although I struggled to see how I could run another 9km at that pace on a more challenging course in just a few weeks, my coach quickly talked me down from that. For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be putting in my last bits of work pre-ATB and letting my training do the talking. I’ve put in the work, and I’m ready to see what I can do on March 26.
Did anybody else race the Chilly Half or Frosty 5k? If you’re training for Around the Bay, how are you feeling in the last couple of weeks before the race?