Pacific Road Runners First Half: The Character Builder / by Jonas Caruana

After a winter of training it’s always exciting to toe the first start line of the season. You’ve had months of early mornings and long, cold (and usually wet, if you live in the Pacific Northwest) training sets indoors and outdoors, and it’s nice to get back into race mode, pin a bib onto your shirt and lace up for some competition.

The First Half race course: starting and finishing at the Yaletown Roundhouse, it runs the perimeter of Stanley Park.

The Pacific Road Runners First Half half-marathon on Valentine's Day, February 14th, was my season opener. Unlike last year (a cool, sunny day), it was a wet, cold morning with rains that had settled in. It was going to be one of those character builders that in a special way, we were quite fortunate to get – because the reality is, this was the first race of the season for many endurance athletes in Vancouver and it’s more about blowing out the cobwebs than having the best race of the year. So if you can toe a start line in a puddle an inch deep, and get through 21.1km of soaken wet, and cross the finish line smiling, you’re going to do just fine if come your “A” race day, you face similar conditions. ‘Cos you’ll be ready.

So with gratitude for the rain and the cold, we were off!

Two kilometres in, and we stopped side-stepping the puddles. Soaked to the you-know-what!

The Race Plan:

Being the first race of the year, this one was about kicking the tyres of fitness and form and getting a sense for where I was at after the winter. There were three goals:

VO2 Max test at lululemon's 'Whitespace Workshop' (their R&D facility)

1. Get to threshold heart rate and stay there, plus or minus 1-2bpm. I’m working towards Ironman Canada and basing my training on heart rate zones, and have done quite a bit of work to get these dialled (including some rather fun VO2 Max tests). I felt pretty confident that 162bpm was the threshold number to work around, whilst not ignoring other important factors like level of fatigue on the day, perceived level of exertion, and the simple fact that the numbers can always be off.

2. Focus on form, throughout the race. I’ve been noticing a slight nerve-y pain in my left hip in training, and knew that with the intensity and duration of a race day effort that if something was unhappy, it would really make itself known (it sure did…). Best to find these things out now, early in the season, so there’s plenty of time to address them. 

3. Stick to the plan! This was a ‘C’ priority race for me, meaning that it was just another workout in the context of my Ironman training plan, which, that week, totalled 12 hours of training. So having a plan and sticking to it was key... which requires discipline, especially when many of the people you know start passing you. Comparison with others is a battle that can’t be won – you gotta run your own race!

The Outcome:

Thanks to a speedy start, I got to threshold quickly and then stayed there ’til the final build in the last two kms. Check. I played with threshold during the race, going a few beats over for periods of time here and there to test where I was at. From that, and looking at the data post-race, I learned that my threshold number was probably a couple beats too low. Bumped this up to 164 post-race, and will continue to see how that feels in training.

At the physio getting IMS: those needles are about 60mm in, but it looks worse than it is. Feels great after!

At the physio getting IMS: those needles are about 60mm in, but it looks worse than it is. Feels great after!

I lapsed in form somewhere around the 12-14km mark and again around 18km; noticed my heart rate was still at threshold, yet my pace was dipping. Form was getting sloppy, and required a conscious effort to get back in line, particularly as the pain in my hip was becoming increasingly noticeable. There's work to do here on the strength of stabilizer muscles (like glute med), along with a visit to the physio (post-race, my body let me know just how unhappy it was: felt like I was getting tasered in certain ranges of motion!).

And, I stuck to the plan, even when my buddy Steph Corker ran by me as we were coming around Lost Lake, tapped me on the back and said “run with me champ!”. As much as I wanted to, I stuck to running my race and proved to myself that I could have the discipline to stick to the plan. When it comes to Ironman, that discipline will be key to having a good day.


Official finisher time: 1:31:11. This beat my previous personal best over 21.1kms by about 3mins. My hope was to be pacing around 4:05-4:10/km; at threshold I was pacing around 4:15-4:20, and you are where you are on race day, and I am happy with that!

Overall, it was a great day and the race was a blast. Vancouver is still beautiful in the rain. It was my first time at this event and I can see why it’s a favourite amongst so many locals. It’s early in the year, well organized and well run, with cheery, efficient volunteers and what seemed to be the fastest crowd of runners I’ve ever raced with. I'll do it again!

A special shoutout:

...goes to my new friend Karen Tulloch. I’ve been riding alongside this powerhouse at Steph Corker’s classes at Method Indoor Cycling in Kitsilano. I knew this lady had speed, but hot damn: she came in fourth overall amongst the ladies, and I bow in respect at her guts, speed and grace as she crossed the line with a finish time of 1:17:26!

Here she is cruising across the line:

Great job Karen!