Sunday, September 27, 2009

How I qualified for Boston*

* if I had magically gone twice as fast, for double the distance -- in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon.

The last month has been pretty rough athletic venture-wise. I knew that if I participated in the Underwear Affair I would have an injury problem. Sure enough, I ran, had a fabulous time, raised a solid amount -- but injured my left leg quite badly, incurring either a really ugly shin splint or a minor stress fracture.

Consequently I haven't been able to run. The days ticked by and I realized I just was not going to be able to run in the half, at least not without serious injury. But it irked me that I wasn't going to be able to participate -- in recent years the waterfront marathon/half marathon has exploded and become a huge race for Toronto. Plus I hate shelling out money for nothing.

photo: 2009 Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon finisher's medal
My finisher’s medal
I decided to try an experiment -- I'd WALK the half-marathon. That way I could avoid further injury, yet still legitimately wear a race t-shirt and hang my finisher's medal, without any suggestion of deception. I am no poser!

My race target was arbitrarily set at 10 minutes per kilometer. I would try... to finish LAST in my age group. The only rule: no running or jogging permitted -- just brisk walking.

I've never walked that (measured) length of distance before, so it was an entirely novel experience. I literally had no idea what it would be like. It turns out that life at the back of the queue is quite interesting in and of itself. I learned a number of things from my experience:
  1. It's harder than you think. For the simple reason that... you're out there almost twice as long. Walking sounds easy, right? Sure, for half an hour. At three hours? You're taking a trip to Soreville.
  2. Everybody is super friendly... and yet also way more determined. I admit, at the start I felt sheepish walking. I think of myself as a runner, and the natural inclination is to go, get a decent pace going, get a decent position. But walking, you had time for reflection and conversation with your peers. I heard a number of touching and inspirational stories from the other participants. As a runner, you kind of look down on walkers. It's instinctual. But now I have newfound respect for walkers. These two ladies I did the last 5k with even 'kicked' at the end, it was hilarious, and heart-warming. They were NOT going to lose to me! They had grit.
  3. Technique is useful. You know during the Olympics when they show racewalking and you think to yourself, give me a break, that looks so simple. Guess what -- those guys are impossible to catch with normal walking. I tried to keep pace with a couple of them at the start but they just zoomed off; it was clear that mechanically speaking my gait rate and length was far less efficient. I had to settle for a steady purposeful stride.
  4. Pee when you get the opportunity. When you're walking, the length of time between rest stations telescopes out incredibly! I drank a normal amount of water/gatorade for an event like this and it felt like being in kindergarten all over again about 10 kilometers in. "How much longer do I have to hold it in?!" Trust me, you do not want to be in a situation where it's 'just another kilometer' before the next washroom.
  5. Everything happens in slow motion. When you're running, you can usually surge a bit and pass someone if you need to. Walking, you had to gain an inch or two at a time... It was funny boxing someone in or getting cut off slowly...
And the final result? 3:13:33, a Boston Qualifier -- if I had run that time over twice the distance. Ha!

It was mentally tough, not running today. But it was still worth doing. I guess I've just got to be patient, and look way, way forward to Around the Bay next year. I can get into gear by then!