Chilly Half Marathon Race Recap

People that have no interest in ever completing a distance race must look at us like we just escaped from the looney bin.

“Let me get this straight…… want to pay hundreds of dollars…..spend ¾ of your free time pounding the crap out of your body, icing sore joints and muscles and fretting that you aren’t training hard enough or long enough…..all for the privilege of freezing your tails off outside for 3+ hours in the dead of winter while you battle ragged feet, aching muscles and joints and frozen lungs, and walk like you just got off a horse for 3 days afterwards?”

You bet we do. And all of that stuff you just described is so immeasurably worth it for this moment right here.

Finish Line

The Chilly Half Marathon was this past Sunday, and I came away from it feeling an ENORMOUS weight lifted off of my shoulders. This really was the race that almost wasn’t for me. Back when I injured my knee about a month ago, I really thought that there was no way on earth that I would be able to run for 5km let alone complete a half marathon. I can remember sitting on my chiropractors treatment table with my knee hooked up to all of these electric therapy machines and asking him what he thought the likelihood of me being able to run a half marathon in 3 weeks was. As he fiddled with the dials on the machine I was hooked up to, I remember him shaking his head, smiling and saying “We’ll have to see Sara; we’ll just have to see.” And see we did!

Neil and Jess came into town on Friday afternoon for the race weekend, and we had a pretty low key night in. My goal was to be in bed by 10pm on Friday night and Saturday night. I missed it by 35 minutes on Friday but was still so unbelievably happy to hit the sheets after an incredibly long week. It’s sad how happy sleep makes me sometimes, honestly.

On Saturday, I pretty much did everything exactly opposite of what I should have done leading up to a Sunday race day. Goodlife was hosting a big fundraiser event called “Spin4Kids” on Saturday morning in support of the Goodlife Kids Foundation. The GLKF is Goodlife’s national charity aimed at providing grants and financial support for kid’s activity programs and fitness programs to get kids active and combat childhood obesity. It’s a cause very near and dear to my heart, and there was no way that I was going to miss out on the fun just because I had a silly half marathon to run the next day. So I was up at 7:30am and out the door to go and ride my hour leg of the 4 hour spinathon at the club! Bonus: I got in an hour bike ride that I totally wouldn’t have done otherwise.

After the fundraiser, I had to go and teach my regular Saturday morning BodyAttack class, so off I went, beat up on my poor legs a little more, and then came back to the house to do as Tyler Hamilton says and get off my feet at all costs, and avoid stairs like the plague.

We took a quick trip over to the grocery store to get supplies for a “build your own pasta” bar which I had been dreaming about all week. I’m cursing myself for not taking a picture of it all laid out, such a rookie blogger mistake!! You can imagine it looking something like this if you like…..

Pasta Bar

Anyways, once we are all sufficiently “carbed up”, we started gathering all of our race stuff together, pinning on our bibs and getting ready for the next morning. Everything was still kind of feeling surreal at this point for me, even as I was lying in bed with all of my race stuff laid out for the next day, it still didn’t feel like it was really going to happen.

Matt wanted to get to the race at least an hour early in the morning to do a warm up jog with some of his running buddies, which worked out in our favour anyways because we got a free parking spot downtown pretty much right next to the start line! I love it when a plan comes together!

It was cold outside, about -6 degrees and just enough wind to bite. All four of us had kind of learned our lesson from our last race (the Eggnog Jog) where it was below -10 and we all FROZE our tails off waiting for the race to start. We dressed warmly this time, which meant way more cargo for poor Jess to cart around. Honestly, there should be a medal for spectators and race crew.


Matt managed to hook up with some more guys from his running group, I managed to take a few (very rushed) pictures, and before we knew it we were herded into the starting chute like cattle ready to go!

Stagg Chili


Finish Line

Sara and Matt

Full Group

Neil and Jess


I always find those couple of minutes that they leave you standing in the chute to be so super stressful. I usually put in my iPod and turn it up loudly so that I can’t hear the people around me (who are inevitably talking about all of the training they’ve done, or how they’re just using this race as a warm up for a bigger one, or a recovery run from a full marathon or something like that), but this time one of my participants from the gym was actually running the race as well and somehow ended up right beside me in the chute! So we just talked about group exercise for a few minutes, which did a fabulous job of killing the time, and we were off before I knew it.

The course was a bit funny, we started by going out on a 5km loop that brought us right back to pretty much where we started. We then had to run right PAST the start/finish line as we went out on another 16km loop out and back around to the finish line.

Chilly Course Map

As Matt put it so eloquently, “it’s a good course for chasing mothers down”. Meaning that because the course was set up as a 2 way loop, you could see the people that were ahead of you (or behind you) and approximately how far they were ahead of/behind you. Oh how different the race is at the front of the pack then it is at the back!! We’re just trying to survive back there man!!

On the first 3km stretch, I saw an older gentleman take a nasty tumble about 5 people in front of me. The terrain was a little uneven on that first 5km loop, and I think he stepped in a rut in the road and he came right down, it was awful, and not a good way to start the race. 2 or 3 people stopped to help him get up, but he walked off the course and was hobbling around with a medic by the time I had come back around the loop. 😦

I saw Matt on his way back while I was still heading out on the 5km loop out and gave him a high five, but for the life of me I couldn’t find Neil!!

The first 5km seemed to disappear quite quickly. I can’t say it wasn’t tough to run past the finish line knowing that we still had 16+ km to go, but thankfully there were a lot of fans and spectators around that part of the race so that helped a lot. After about 8km, my head started playing tricks on me. And I don’t just mean the inside of my head.

When I moved into our new house about a month ago, I had forgotten a couple of key things that I didn’t realize until the night before race day. Like my running hat, headband, neck warmer and gloves. All of minor importance during a winter half marathon. I started out the race wearing one of Matt’s old hockey touques, but changed my mind and gave it back to Jess just before the start because it didn’t really fit over my ears and was bugging me before we even started moving. That left my poor head uncovered however, and within the first 3km I knew I was going to need to cover my head with something, so I put up the hood on my running jacket. This worked well for the first couple of km, but after a little while the flopping of the hood was starting to really bug me too, and the hood was sitting too low over my forehead so that it was kind of getting in my eyes as well. It was time for the hood to go. I think it was at the 13km mark that I ditched it for the rest of the race.

That's me in the hood!!
That’s me in the hood!!

The problem was that since I had had the hood up for about 9km by this point, my head had gotten sweaty. And when I took off the hood, it froze. And I mean, froze like an icicle!!! I first realized it when I felt an icicle hitting the side of my face as strands of hair escaped from my ponytail!!

Lesson learned – invest in a good running touque.

I struggled on and off from about 9km all the way to the end. I would get a really good 2km in and feel great, and then hit a brick wall with the next kilometer and start doubting that I was even going to make it to the finish line at all. I knew that I was running way ahead of my pace, because I had passed the 2:15 pace bunny a long time ago, and I caught sight of her when I had turned around to start making my way back towards the finish. I figured she was at least 10 minutes behind me which would have put me at a 2:05 pace all else equal. While I knew there was no way I could hold a 2:05 pace, I made it my mission at that point to beat that bunny to the finish line.

I had seen both Matt and Neil go by on their way back while I was still on my way out, and both were looking really good! Both told me later on after the race that they were wondering what the hell I was doing so far ahead of the 2:15 pace bunny when my PB was 2:15. That made me laugh because I really had no idea what I was doing pace wise, I was just running. What can I say! I had also seen my good friend Shivonne (who was running her very first half marathon!) out on the course; she passed me just before the 13km turn around and was looking fantastic as well!

If my (already failing) memory serves me correctly, I felt great between kilometer 13 and 15, and then REALLY struggled between kilometers 15 and 19. It’s all a bit of a blur now, but I just remember my breathing getting really uncomfortable, everything hurting a lot, and these volunteers from a church dressed in church robes in the dead of winter handing out oranges.

I remember as I ran past the orange benefactors thinking to myself how kind it was of them to be out here handing out oranges, and how I’d really like to say thank you to them for their generosity. I remember opening my mouth like I was going to say something to them as I passed by, but nothing came out. I guess it was just too much energy to expend at that point in the game.

Once I hit 19km, I knew that it was almost over, and I had better give ‘er if I wanted to beat 2:15. I started looking over my shoulder for the pace bunny, which I know is a major faux-pas in races, but I couldn’t help myself. I knew I had given some time back moving slowly through water stations, and I could just feel it. She was getting hot on my tail.

I picked up my pace big time for kilometer 19, and by the time I made it to 20, I was nearly in an all-out sprint. I was getting closer, and closer, the spectators were cheering, I could see the turn to run up to the finish line…..and then suddenly….there she was, with her pink ears cheerfully bobbing on by. The bunny had caught me with literally about 300 metres to the finish line.

As she ran by though, she actually stopped running?! There was a group of runners around her, and she yelled out “Whatever you have left guys; go now, just go!!”, and she peeled off to the side of the course?! I was totally baffled by that, but by that point, I was basically one of her runners, and so I did what she said and gave ‘er. I started all out sprinting for the finish line, passed a bunch of people, and finished with the clock saying 2:16 and some seconds. I later learned that my official chip-time was 2:15:33, or 8 seconds slower than my personal best in Manitoba last year. The difference was definitely in the water stations, I had taken too long at some of the later stations and it cost me a PB! I was a bit disappointed at first, until I gave my head a shake and remembered how lucky I was just to be out there that day, and to have finished injury-free and happy. I was absolutely THRILLED with the time, and the whole race, even the parts that I struggled through.

I hooked up with Matt, Neil and Jess just after I got out of the chute (I somehow acquired a Power Bar and 2 bottles of water on my way out which I seriously don’t even remember anyone handing me), and we slowly made our way back over to the Performing Arts Centre where we had parked. Victory.

Finish Line

Matt had some pretty funny race stories about partnering up with some of the faster guys that he was running with and chasing runners down together. The way he told it sounded like a pack of wolves where they would see someone up ahead and say “let’s get him” Or in one case, “let’s get HER”. He he he. He finished in an all-out, “balls to the wall” sprint with another guy and ended up beating him by a tenth of a second. They both collapsed on their backs at the finish line and high-fived each other for a good run. What I wouldn’t have given to have been at the finish line watching all this unfold!!!

Matt absolutely crushed his personal best and finished with a blistering time of 1:21 (I know right, are you wondering if he’s part antelope?). Neil was also cruising right along and finished with a super fast time of 1:51! I can’t even imagine running a sub-2 hour half marathon, these guys make it look so easy!

Well – I could go on for days, but this is getting to be a marathon (or half marathon??) post already, so I’ll leave it with all four of us recovering on the couch, eating pizza basking in the after-race glow that never seems to really go away, even days, weeks and months later. Maybe it’s that after-race glow that keeps us coming back for more and training even when it’s not convenient, and everything hurts and we’d rather just sit on the couch and eat pizza. Maybe it’s the post-race stories and the laughter as we remember everything that happened out on the course that day. Maybe it’s the sense of pride and accomplishment that we actually did it, even with all the odds stacked against us. Or, maybe they’re right, and we really did escape from the looney bin.

Whatever it is – I can’t wait for the next race already 🙂 🙂

Have a fabulous week!!!

6 thoughts on “Chilly Half Marathon Race Recap

  1. Congrats to you & the guys for a great race! Roy had told me your times, but this is the first time I had a chance to read the details of race day. I’ve been basking in the afterglow of Hawaii & can’t quite get my head around reality yet 🙂

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