Lil Sis’ first real 10K: The Toronto Yonge Street 10K

A few days before the race, Lil Sis’ called me and asked if I had gone running yet outdoors and it had kind of slipped my mind! When I was training (without the faintest idea of a structured program) for my first half-marathon back in 2004, I nearly didn’t do any outdoor running but did squeeze a couple in and was grateful for them. I’ve been working out in my condo gym at the convenient time of 11 p.m. and I wouldn’t fathom going outdoors at that hour in a neighbourhood still largely unfamiliar to me. I was just a little worried about how I would fare on pavement with fresh air to breathe. Otherwise, I felt like I had trained quite well against the program I had adopted from a Sun Run communication because in addition to running workouts, I would interweave Stairmaster+stepper workouts for my “off days”.

After work on Friday, I wended my way through the PATH to the Sheraton Centre where the packet pick-up and Mini Expo were being held. Mini Expo indeed. There was no fanfare. I rudely declined the one samples booth that was in place–raspberry chews or chocolate energy balls by PowerBar. Couldn’t justify the calories. I also snarked that the new-fangled chip-in-bib better work on race day because I had to pass my chip over the testing mat to get it to read my name. It had been a long and stressful week. For having a better expo: +1 Vancouver. For having just a slightly more expensive 10K but the race t-shirt is a technical one (albeit from and there are finisher medals, +1 for Toronto.

Lil Sis’ drove and parked downtown near me and we planned to take the subway from Union Station to Eglinton, midtown. As we entered the station and dropped our tokens in the slot, a scratchy announcement was made over the speaker and Lil Sis’ asked if it was directed at us. Why would it be? And so we head downstairs to the platform while the thought entered my mind that the subway was not running. An impossibility, I thought, at 8 a.m. on a Sunday!! But the platform was deserted and the screens did not show the trains were not running and I lead us, running back up the stairs. Only then did I notice there was an operator in the booth and he spoke to us over the microphone. “The subway is not running until 9 a.m.” I squawked because I’m completely incredulous because it is 8 a.m., not 7 a.m. “But we need to get to Eglinton!!” “Then you better start running!” He laughed. It’s like 6 kilometers away. Seriously, he told us to go a street over to Yonge and pick up the bus which was still the “Night bus”. I was bitter and complaining and anxious the entire way. -1 Toronto TTC for not running; -1 Toronto Yonge Street 10K newsletter for not mentioning it.

The bus actually drove up Avenue most of the way, diverted from its Yonge route because of the race, and we walked from Lawrence and Yonge down to the start line about a kilometer away but you couldn’t see the start line from the stop. It felt very unideal. We went into the Starbucks at Yonge and Craighurst and queued up behind 15 runners to use their bathrooms and left because 9:00, gun time, rolled around and the queue hadn’t budged. We left the queue in the assumption that once you start running, your feeling of needing to pee diminishes. (I wasn’t queuing for myself, didn’t have any liquids except for what made my oats congee.) On our way to the start line, we went into a Second Cup with no queue and Lil Sis was henceforce relieved.

From a distance even we could see the crowds at the start line banner had shrunk and we approached from behind the patrol car that tails the race and noticed that everyone left behind the start line had a “Walker” bib. Okay, we’d run ahead of them when their wave started. But the announced on the megaphone was saying how everyone had to tread in such a way that not both feet left the ground at the same time (i.e., speed walking). Would Lil Sis and I get disqualified, turned around, if we sprinted over the start line?! A volunteer noticed my bewilderment and told us to start running so we did sprint across the mat and Lil Sis implored that we did not go too fast. We were the last runners to cross the start line, or so it seemed to us. Too late, I lost my breath. The horrible combination of sprinting out of the gate, the hardness of asphalt, and fresh and cold air flooding my lungs meant I was gasping for breath for the first four songs (or about 16 minutes). I only started to get my breath again when my music slowed down to Sweetbox’s Everything’s Gonna Be Alright. Lil Sis was ahead of me from 10 m onwards and I kept my chin up and straining looking for her long-sleeved deep orange form and swinging braided ponytail amongst all the orange–this year’s shirt colour!–shirts.

Without a watch or mile markers until I saw the first one at 4K–pastel-coloured banners sponsored by Milestones and featuring a colour image of brunch I really wanted instead–I really didn’t have an idea of my pace. And that was okay as I adjusted my expectations. I wasn’t going to be on the 55-minute mark because I knew I wasn’t fast enough. But I could trust my training and run non-stop for an hour as I had done a few times on the treadmill. And compared to the treadmill where I set a speed and perish by falling off the back if I slack off, I could slow my pace down to catch my breath, for a break, but no stops for the 10K. A test of my endurance.

The terrain between Eglinton and Bloor was gently rolling with great downhill stretches and small uphill climbs. Everything was so quiet on a Sunday morning and it wasn’t even so early. To keep an eye on Lil Sis and just because I can, I ran down the center line of Yonge Street. Starting to see the CN Tower was awesome. Approaching the CIBC and The Bay at Bloor was awesome, back “home”. I kept an eye on approaching the large billboards at Dundas Square, currently a large round billboard poster for the television show, Missing.

Most of the music on my playlist is pretty old but one song I had never heard during a workout was the Ludacris et al number “Shera Di Kaum” from the 2001 movie, Breakaway. The inspiring lyrics are below (with my response):

Yeah we were always told growing up
We have to strive to be the best [Oh, most certainly I  was told that]
Always strive to success and second place is not an option [How about 4,000th place in a race?!]
That’s what we were told
So no matter what came up in my life, I got through it [I have gotten through it!!]
That was my motivation
Now nothing can stop us [Don’t stop running!!]
We will never lose, never fear, overcome all and persevere [Persevere! Endurance! Don’t be afraid]
Be the best and we down to show it [Be the best you can be]
Any place, anything, we will overthrow it

Approaching the 7 km mark and we were thankfully downtown where the recognizable street names were so much more dense, I realized that I was closing in on Lil Sis and I made sure my pace was even to not got ragged again chasing her to catch up. She was having cramps from the beginning of the race and when she suggested taking a short walk, I took it! After a minute or two, as the Journey song “Don’ Stop Believin'” was ending, we started running “lightly” knowing under 20 minutes remained.

Other than the finish line, the loudest stretch of cheering was on Richmond Street where people held up stock signs with cheeky messages like “Stop reading, start running!”, “Go Random Stranger Go!” and “Your feet will forgive you.”

After allowing us to slow to a walk, running again was mentally difficult and Lil Sis pulled ahead again.

At 9 km, my usual blister on the arch of my right foot popped up again and my hips started to feel stiff. Just as I got to the Three Days Grace “Pain” song. “Pain, I can’t get enough / Pain, I like it rough / ‘Cause I’d rather feel pain than nothing at all.” Be we motored on and when we got to Bathurst, the finish line was so close you could smell it. Lil Sis motored ahead but 200 m from the finish line, she stopped. My 56.8-minute playlist wrapped up and I was into the next song as we crossed which meant we finished in 57 minutes something.

At first, NPY was to accompany us up to the start line and then explore the city by way of finding his way down to the finish. He was flummoxed how he would not have time to relax and had to dash via public transportation to the end while we dashed there on foot, and he wouldn’t arrive much earlier. Because in a point-to-point race, the finish line is… 10K away. And so I realized how the route for the Sun Run is pretty convenient such that it was a loop and spectators who see you off at the start have the time to pick up a coffee and stroll over to the end. +1 Vancouver? There are arrangements made because of the P2P race, like driving your gear from the start to finish in yellow school buses which Lil Sis thought was brilliant (and cute), and (for a fee) shuttle buses between the start and finish. The Sporting Life 10K that spawned the new-this-year Yonge Street 10K has the additional great feature of free shuttle buses to Union Station because it’s a tad far from Bathurst to Yonge… and the streetcar line was a mess until May 7 requiring a transfer for that short distance.

I like getting medaled after a race and realize it’s been a while. I spied NPY right away after we crossed and was thrilled he saw another race. We shuffled through the long finishers chute and grabbed some Gatorade. We declined the free cans of Michelob Ultra beer: +1 Toronto!! I wanted what people were holding, bowls of Oasis yogurt or something but we also just wanted to leave the muddy field (+1 Vancouver’s finish line area)–thank goodness on several levels that it was not raining.

The race results were posted by the time we sat down for brunch at The Counter/Thomson Diner and it confirmed that we finished in 57 minutes (57:44 to be exact) but I was more surprised by my ranking and how small the race actually will be. I should have known that as the newer of the two spring 10Ks (politics and such formed a split), it would be smaller, with 5,000 participants compared to 25,000 for the Sporting Life 10K in three weeks. Neither are Sun Run scale that aims for 50,000 registrants each year. I also hadn’t done my “ethics” and as a race run by CRS, the charities will see far less than the Sporting Life 10K charities. I toyed with the idea of watching the Sporting Life race but I actually won’t be in town that weekend.

Back to the results. I’ve had 10K finishes a minute faster or slower than this finish but my ranking amongst females and in my age category has not been so low. It was a more “elite” race, perhaps enriched with serious runners who consider it a practice race for the Good Life Marathon on May 6 (I should go out and watch that one) than I’m pretty sure the Sporting Life will be. So while it was a decent race for me “I don’t do 10Ks any more”, it was a little disappointing as well.

56.8-minute playlist

Kanye West – Stronger (Harder, Better, Faster)
Jay-Z f. Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind
B.o.B. f. Hayley Williams – Airplanes
Timbaland f. Keri Hilson – The Way I Are
Sweetbox – Everything’s Gonna Be Alright
Addictiv – Tonight
Adele – Rolling In The Deep
Modest Mouse – Float On
Ludacris et al – Shera Di Kaum
The Killers – Mr. Brightside
Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’
Destra Garcia – Celebrate
Melissa Etheridge – I Run For Life
Three Days Grace – Pain
Jay-Z f. Kanye West, Rihanna – Run This Town

**** Race results ********
Gun time 1:09:21.0
Chip time 57:44.0
Place in female+age category 329/499
Place in females 1,772/2,906
Overall palace 3,743/5,186

On this day..