February 16, 2011

Pacific Road Runners 'First Half' Half Marathon

Ok, I am going to have to change the name of this blog, 'Trail Running Tales' is getting stretched a little thin when I am posting about road half marathons. I would by and large call myself a trail ultra runner, but why then did I find myself at the start line of a road half marathon this past weekend? Many reasons! An excuse for a trip back to Vancouver, the race is (in my humble opinion) the best half marathon in Vancouver, I hadn't run a proper half for 3yrs, and importantly ... leg speed. I have seen many road runners cross over to trail running and after a few months wonder why they are getting slower. My answer would be that on moving to the trails runners can get slower as they hike the hills, move over technical terrain and often start running longer distances. So one reason I like to still run roads and throw in some short races is I think it can help maintain all out leg speed which is invaluable even in trail ultras.

Race day was perfect - the torrential rain of the day prior stopped entirely, it was a mild 7 degrees and very little wind. After the usual pre-race brekkie of a cup of tea, a bagel and a banana I headed down to the race start at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown. I got there about an hour before the race but already there were lots of familiar faces milling around especially in the form of PRR club members who volunteer and organise the entire race. Bag check done, washroom visit - check, and I headed outside about 20min before the race to escape the crowds (about 2000 runners compete in the race).

I had been lucky enough to get an elite entry so was near the front of the race start next to friends Johnnie A and Dave Papineau. Soon we were off and I was careful to monitor my speed to try keep a 3:47/km (or 6:06/ mile) to go for a sub 1h20min finish. It was going to be a careful balance as I was not really sure of what tiem I was capable of running but thought 1h20 seemed reasonable, despite being 3.5mins faster than my PB. I checked my pace with my garmin as I knew that this being a shorter race than I was used to I had no time to lose a few seconds here or there but also if I went too fast I would fry my legs too soon.
I was a little daunted to be side by side with Kristina Rody who is a road speedster, but felt ok that I was just behind Dave and Johnnie. Kristina said something that implied that she was not on top form so I felt a little more confident to run with her and soon move a little ahead. The first mile was a little fast but everyone questioned if the marker was spot on or a little short, plus with their being a gradual downhill in the first mile I was not too concerned. Another female who I didn't recognise pulled slightly ahead but I let her go, maintained my pace, and hoped to catch her later.

It was great to pass each aid station as I knew PRRers on each one so was buoyed along by their cheers and encouragement. As I passed English Bay bathhouses and climbed a slight up hill I saw John Hill - VFAC coach - another club I used to belong to in Vancouver. I shouted out to John cheerily, 'I have no idea what I am doing here' - meaning was my pace right? could I maintain this? but John called out that I looked relax and at this early stage (probably about 4 miles) I certainly felt comfortable. As we moved onto the Stanley Park seawall I looked up to absorb the harbour views and ocean air that I miss so much, but as this caused me to swerve a little too close to the edge fo the seawall, I pulled my focus back to the race - I didn't want to go for an impromptu swim in the ocean!

One of the great things about the seawall is despite twists and turns you can see quite a long way ahead. My pace seemed steady but I was gradually passing a few men and not being passed by anyone. At the start I had not been sure what ladies had gone out ahead of me, I thought that I was in 3rd place but wasn't sure until I could see the lead female bike a ways ahead with Lisa Harvey (Calgary) in the lead. Ok, she was ahead and I could see the other woman too but the distance was not so far so I knew I could still hopefully move up in terms of position. As I passed half way John called out my finishing time of 1:20:30 (I think) based on the pace I was at, I took note of this but not seriously - I was moving at a pace that felt right and didn't want to pick it up too soon.

As we came around the full circle of the seawall I moved from 3rd to 2nd and I was gaining on the lead bike. But then to my dismay I saw a baby pink toque ahead - who was that?! As I gained on the pink toque I began to study the very toned legs more closely - and as I passed I called out to Sparky, 'geez - I thought you were a girl for a good few minutes there!' Now I was close enough to Lisa Harvey to know for sure that I was in 2nd. I passed Dave Stephens (gulp, he's fast!) and Johnnie A (he can still get sub 1h20 I thought) and was now right behind Lisa. My friend Chloe was lead female bike; the week before the race she had emailed me to tell me that and to jokingly ask 'So what pace do you want to go at?'! I had told her - Ellie might win races, but no road half marathons :) I could now see Chloe checking over her shoulder with a grin on her pace like it was 'told you so!'. I crept past Lisa and took the lead. There are many runners I am not phased to pass but Lisa, although in her mid-40s, is a former Olympian and had far more road and race experience than I even will. She looked tired as I passed her (I later found out she was fighting a bug) but even so - I now knew I just had to push the final 3 miles to the finish as who knew what Lisa would pull out of the bag, or indeed what other females might be gaining on me.

I trailed along behind Chloe, now at 10 miles I just hoped I could cling on for the final 3.1. I lack experience to know what pace I could hold but I so didn't want to lose the lead now I had taken it. I might have imagined it but I thought I saw Chloe on her radio, and I figured that if she was radio-ing the finish line to tell them that I was in the lead There was no way I could let my PRRers down now! I came past the English Bay aid station again and glimpsed some friends, but now it was head down and push the pace. With one final haul up a short hill under the Granville Street bridge and I was on the home, and slightly downhill, stretch. Normally I never look back during a race but in that final section I stole a few backwards glimpses to check that no females were on my heels. Brian and Dave were right ahead of me but there was no chance I was going to catch them - and at this moment in time that didn't concern me. I just wanted the win and it was fantastic to cross the line with so many friends there. 1:18:47 - 1st place female! PB by 4m46secs!

I am so happy with my race. Having started the year injured I have worked hard to get over injury and line up at the First Half in decent shape. I knew a PB was on the cards but not to the extent of running 1:18 something! I'll take the win and enjoy it, even though I know it is a slow winning time for the race and that lots of females did not make the start line for one reason or another. A great way to start off the racing season...and racing season is now coming thick and fast - Frozen Ass 50km next up - on Monday!
And on a final note - a big shout out to all of PRR for once again organising a superb race!


  1. Congrats on a great race.

    Very good food for thought about exclusively running trails slowing ultra runners down. Just the reminder I needed.

    Have a great season!

  2. Welcome back speed demon!
    I totally agree with you about leg speed and fast road races. It is amazing how much faster on the trails I feel right now because of all the road speed stuff I have been doing! Way to go!

  3. Nice race. Is there a distance or surface you don't win on? Try a desert race to complete the set :)

  4. That was a great account of your day, Ellie - I was totally on the edge of my seat! Congrats. A 4+ minute PB in the half is something to get excited about!

  5. Hey Ian - don't put ideas in my head - I think Marathon des Sables look awesome and can trudging through sand really be muich different from trudging through snow (which I am more accustomed to)? - well, other than the temperature difference of course!

  6. Congratulations Ellie - what an awesome start to the year! See you at FA on Monday.

  7. The complete all rounder!! Fantastic stuff Ellie. You are such an inspiration. Keep it up and good luck at the Frozen Ass! What a name for a race :-D Disco Stu (England - Friends with Coach Ken)