At the end of 2020 I was just getting back into running after recovering from my November 54 km trail race. Reid had shared with me the idea of going after the 50 km Canadian record, and I was all in. With another raceless season ahead of us, it put something in my calendar to work toward and gave meaning to my workouts. While training for his own spring marathon, coaching, and leading our Bayfront Endurance group, Reid was able to get a course certified and the event sanctioned so that our results would be official. With provincial lockdowns and restrictions he wanted to ensure that it would be a safe event, which I’m sure made for an interesting and challenging experience as he earned himself the title of Race Director. Initially we planned to have the event May 7 but had to postpone it for two weeks due to recent changes in restrictions. There would be less than 10 of us racing and although we knew we might be faced with warmer conditions, we really wanted this rare opportunity. I had kept in touch with several of the runners while training for the race and we looked forward to seeing each other in person and putting our hard work to good use. In particular, I had been regularly communicating with Rachel Hannah who was healthy and back to training. Our build was fairly similar and we were able to meet up twice for workouts with our good friend Mitch Free. As race day approached, we began to discuss a pace plan. Another running friend, Rob Brouillette, graciously committed to pacing us. On a good day, I think my fitness had me in the low-mid 3:50’s. Rachel preferred a bit slower so we met in the middle, aiming for ~4:00 min/km. We didn’t know how we would feel with the heat but knew we would benefit from working together and agreed to adjust as necessary. It likely wouldn’t be a matter of proving our fitness, rather conservatively handling the distance as best we could given the day’s conditions. The record of 3:28 had been set in similar conditions by Catrin Jones at the 2015 IAU 50 km World Championships in Doha, Qatar so I knew it was realistic to target the record. On the men’s side, Chris Balestrini and Phil Parrot-Migas would be aiming for the men’s Canadian record of 2:51 set by Cal Neff earlier this year.
Race morning was uneventful as I woke early to have my coffee and bagel with honey before grabbing my Endurance Tap gels and Eload bottles from the fridge and heading out the door. My 10 year old daughter, Leah, would come with my running friend and neighbour, Tina Perilli to manage the aid station at the 5 km turnaround. We had been looking forward to this day together for weeks, particularly as it would be a special outing where she could volunteer and cheer me on in my pursuit. Upon arrival the runners talked race logistics with Reid, completed a short warm up with a few strides, donned our masks and had staggered starts while staying physically distanced.
Rob pulled up just ahead of Rachel and I and we consistently hit kilometre markings at just slightly under our planned pace. The course was a 5 km out and back that we would complete 5 times. After the first aid station at 5km I began my usual routine of alternating between consuming my fluids and gels. Reid had a third table set up with water that we could use to keep cool. Like I did in Rio 2016, I poured a bottle over my head at every opportunity. Everything was fairly smooth and according to plan for the first 20-25 km with Rachel and Rob.
Rachel then dropped back a bit while Rob and I continued on but it wasn’t long that I started to have some stomach issues. The heat and humidity wreaked havoc with my digestive system, forcing me to make several short stops along the way for the next several kilometres. Then, at 34 km I came to an abrupt stop, vomiting what had to have been the entire contents of my stomach. Rob patiently waited and I started running again, feeling fine and amazingly back to our original pace. I decided I should continue taking sips but not the amount I normally would consume. Everything settled and I had less than 15 km to go, feeling cautiously optimistic that I could get the record. I should note that I’ve had this go the other way, and suffer for what seems like hours to simply jog the remaining distance of a marathon; to this day, The 2017 London Marathon remains my most disappointing race. I was in top form after a month away from my family for altitude training in Kenya, only to become completely depleted after stomach issues hit me in the early stages of the race. This 50 km would have a much better ending.
At the 40 km turnaround, I told Reid what happened and he assured me that I was still on track to run well under 3:28. I grabbed another baggie with ice from Mike Gill to put in the back of my racing top to help keep me cool, ready for the final push. One thing I am often asked is what I think about when it starts getting tough in the later stages of a race. I wasn’t feeling terrible, actually I was feeling surprisingly well, but I still needed to focus and keep it together. On this particular day, I thought about the special trip to Booster Juice that Leah and I had planned to take on the way home. When I saw her at 35 km I told her, “Booster Juice” and kept going strong for the remaining 5 km. Sometimes it’s the simplest things. As I neared the finish line I could see her there (she got a ride back with our Team Orange friends), crying and full of emotion as I approached the end. I gave her a high five as I ran by and a big hug upon crossing the line saying, “We did it!”. It was our day.
Reid was also quite pleased at the finish with a handful of others, some whom I think were complete strangers walking the path and simply happy to stop and cheer us on. My finish time of 3:22 and Chris Balestrini’s time of 2:48 would be the new Canadian 50 km records. It was a successful morning (results here Look at Chris’ metronome pacing!).
We cheered on the remaining runners, helped with some course clean-up, and headed out, stopping for some Booster Juice before arriving home.
I’ll take a solid break for the next 10-14 days in order to fully recover, before resuming training again for the next goal. I’m excited about my fall marathon and looking forward to announcing it later this summer. I’ve really enjoyed and grown with Reid’s coaching and program that is thorough, detailed, flexible and balanced. I’m quite looking forward to seeing what we can do next.
Until then, I will be following the six Canadian athletes who will be running at this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo in preparation for my role as broadcast analyst with CBC’s Scott Russell. Exciting times ahead.
All photos taken by @dreizle André Morgan @dre.run
By the numbers:
Average km/week: 156
Peak km weeks: 180, 170, 170, 170
Rest days/week: 1
Weekly: strides, drills, strength (Anthony Romaniw)
Key workouts: 4×15’ @ 3:46/km, 30 km @ 4:16 to 3:43/km, 6×5 km @ 3:53/km
Longest run: 45 km
Recovery: 4x/wk in swim spa (core, stretching, resting) at ~101 F
Heat prep: 10-30 min in swim spa at 100-103 F and wearing layers on runs