Marathon Redemption: Race Report

See also: I did it!

PRE-RACE

I had a pretty good sleep on Saturday night and woke up feeling excited. I had everything packed up and laid out so all I had to worry about was getting dressed and eating breakfast. I had a hard time getting my bagel down as the nerves settled in, but finished off about three quarters of it.

We hit the road around 5:20 and arrived downtown just after 6. We found parking easily and walked toward the starting area. There were already plenty of people around and we heard the announcer say that they were expecting a record 20,000 runners. Over the next hour, it got extremely chaotic and crowded!

We managed to run into some friends as well as almost everyone from my training group. It was nice to get lots of good luck hugs and pre-race encouragement!

Around 7 hubby wished me good luck and headed off for his warm-up routine. I lined up for bag check with some friends and waited almost 15 minutes. They only had two lines (Bibs 1-7000 and 7000+) and the lines were insane! By the time we got out of there, the lines were even longer and the race was starting in 15 minutes. I have no idea if/how those people made it through in time.

We headed to the starting corrals to line up and it was extremely congested as thousands of runners tried to squeeze through tiny openings in the fences. We could hardly see if we were going in the right corral. This race has not been like this in the past. With so many participants, they’re going to have to work on the starting area logistics.

We could already hear the National Anthem as we wormed our way into the corrals. We all got separated in the sea of runners, but somehow I managed to bump into another lady from my training group. It was nice to have someone to chat with for a couple minutes while we waited for the horn.

And before long, the race had begun! We barely moved at first, but I finally crossed the line after about 7 minutes (it has never taken longer than 1 or 2 minutes in the past).

THE RACE – FIRST HALF

My plan was to maintain my ‘happy pace’ (6:00/KM = 9:39/mi) for at least the first half and take short walk breaks at most water stations. Despite having A, B and C time goals, my primary goal for this race was to feel better than I did last year.

Once we got moving, I realized that it was a much more warm and humid day than anticipated. It’s no secret that I don’t do well with the heat, but I was determined not to let it ruin my race. There was nothing I could do but hydrate, hydrate, hydrate so that’s what I did.

I mentioned previously that I had decided to use my 10-oz Nathan Sprint handheld, which was the best decision. I didn’t have to worry about the nuisance of my fuel belt and the handheld didn’t bother me one bit throughout the entire race. I had a constant source of water (necessary!) and had no issues quickly refilling at water stations when needed. I also wore my new SPI-belt to carry gels. I had 6 crammed into it and I hardly noticed it.

I didn’t have a precise game plan for gels, but I took a total of 5 or 6, taking one every 45 minutes or so and timing them with walk breaks. I also took 2 eload electrolyte capsules every hour.

Coach gave me two pieces of valuable advice last week, which I concentrated on for the initial kilometres: (1) Don’t waste energy weaving around people, and (2) Stay in the present. I used the first few kilometres to relax, settle my nerves and practice staying in the present. It was pretty overwhelming to start running and realize that I had 40K to go, so I constantly reminded myself not to look too far ahead.

Around 3 or 4K I got to see a bunch of people from my training group who had come down just to spectate and support us. They called out my name and it was a pleasant surprise to see them so early in the race. Just minutes later, I spotted coach who snapped my picture and told me I had a “Great start!”

My Garmin had trouble keeping a strong signal (which was expected) early in the race with the skyscrapers of downtown as well as a short leg where we ran beneath a highway overpass. By about 5K, it was already off by ~200m, so I tried not to look at it too much and only used it to monitor my pace occasionally. Mostly I was concerned about getting caught up in the early-race adrenaline and going too fast.

My ‘happy pace’ wasn’t quite as comfortable as I would have liked (I blamed it on the humidity), so I was slightly slower than planned, but didn’t worry about it. I concentrated on feeling good and staying comfortable so if that meant I was slightly behind on pace, so be it. I knew I still had a long way to run.

At about 8K (I think?) we got to see the lead runners heading back in the opposite direction. They would be at about 16K at this point. (Wow!) This always gives me such a rush and is one of my favourite parts of this event. What a thrill to be racing among such amazing athletes from all over the world. [The male and female winners went on to set new course records of 2:08:31 and 2:28:31 respectively, 2:08:31 also being a new record for a marathon run on Canadian soil.]

Shortly after, I got see hubby run by as he flew through the half marathon. He was easy to spot in his fluorescent yellow but I had to yell out a couple times to get his attention. It was good to see him and make sure he was okay. (He was having a lot of issues with his left leg last week.)

10K split: 1:02

I decided to turn on my iPod at this point and enjoyed listening to many of my favourite songs. One of my biggest regrets from my first marathon was not having music and I found it made a big difference in keeping my spirits up this time around.

At 12K we hit the turn-around and it was a good feeling to be on the ‘other’ side. We were running along the lake shore all the way until the half and full split around 17K. I remember feeling like I was joining a special club when I ran under the big MARATHON arch last year for the first time. This year I was already a part of the ‘club’ but it was still an exhilarating and empowering feeling to veer off with my fellow marathoners as the half’ers headed toward the finish. This is where the real fun begins. I thought to myself, “Here we go!”

The crowd thinned out significantly, with only about 3000 runners in the full marathon. I finally had room to breathe!

The next few kilometres ticked by easily. I knew I would be seeing some smiling faces from my training group around the half way point. Sure enough, I heard my name and saw a line of familiar faces. There must have been 8 or 9 of them and I grabbed some high-fives as they snapped my photo. This gave me a great boost and I felt euphoric as I made my way toward the half-way mark.

21.1K/13.1mi in 2:10 – interestingly, my exact half marathon split from marathon # 1. Only this time, I felt good. Last year, I already knew I was in trouble at this point.

THE RACE – SECOND HALF

Around 22K I got to see hubby for the first time. He hopped in the car after finishing the half in 1:33 and made it to this point with time to spare. I was happy to see him and asked him to get some oranges ready for the next time I would see him, 2K later.

This stretch took us along an out and back where I got to see several people from my training group. It was a welcome distraction because this leg of the route was bor-ing! I saw hubby and got my oranges at 24K before heading along an even more boring stretch of road. It was an industrial area and rather desolate. There wasn’t much to see and it wouldn’t improve for 6K or so.

My memory is a little foggy, but I believe it was during this section when I ran into Kenny from A Whole Lot of Soles. He was out adding on some mileage after his half marathon and kept me company for a little while. This was actually the first time we have had the opportunity to have a conversation in person, after communication back and forth via our blogs and Twitter for well over a year. Kenny shared some encouraging words and sent me on my way.

I finally made it out of this dreadful section of the route and headed toward the famous “Beaches” area of Toronto. This was a significant improvement over last year. We no longer had a 5K out and back along the Leslie Street Spit (which I hated last year) and instead ran along Queen Street through lively neighbourhoods hopping with spectators, the general public out for brunch and some of the best organized cheering sections. There were a few good hills (which we had to go up and down twice, being an out and back) but they didn’t bother me much.

I celebrated at the 30K marker where my time was only one minute slower than the 30K race I completed in August, and I felt much stronger. I saw hubby again at this time and took some more oranges, which I shared with a couple of runners who were nearby.

30K split: 3:06

My pace had slowed gradually, but I still felt pretty good. I resisted the urge to take any unplanned walks and stuck to my brief breaks through the water stations.

I saw many of my friends again during this stretch and sharing some high-fives and smiles made me feel really good. In particular, I was excited to see two girls from my pace group who were running their first marathon, way ahead of me and looking strong. I was so happy for them!

I soon passed the 32K mark (20 miles) and knew it was just 10K to go. I felt good, but didn’t think I could pick up the pace. I just tried to hold it steady and not slow down as my legs got tired. Mentally, I was feeling really strong. I knew I wasn’t going to make my B goal, but I was okay with that. I also knew a PR was well within reach and nothing was going to stop me now.

The final turn-around was at 33K and many volunteers and spectators pointed out that we were “On the way home!” It was a straight stretch back into the city toward the finish line. I saw hubby one more time around 34K where he told me he’d see me at the finish. This was it! Time to leave it all on the road.

I was undoubtedly tired, but not compared to last year. I had completed training runs feeling like this, so I knew I had it in the bag. I just kept running, counting down the kilometres one at a time and knowing that each one was bringing me closer to the big finish.

The sun decided to come out, which was not a welcome surprise, but I wasn’t letting it get to me. It didn’t matter what happened now. I was almost finished!

35K split: 3:39

It was getting more and more tempting to walk, but I stuck to the 36, 38 and 40K aid stations where I was guzzling water and Gatorade, and dumping water on my head.

At about 39K, I spotted coach up ahead running with one of the guys from my group. They were probably 100 metres ahead of me and it took everything in me to catch up. I definitely didn’t have much of a sprint in me, so I called his name a couple times until he heard me and slowed so I could catch up. I was so happy to find some familiar faces. Coach chatted away and kept me distracted, encouraging me to just keep going. As we passed the 40K marker, he reminded me to pose for a photographer and we celebrated being “into the 40’s!”

Moments later I spotted some others from my group, and one of the ladies jumped in to run with me. She offered to carry my handheld and did a great job of distracting me from how exhausted I was. She stuck with me until the final turn toward the finish line where she sent me on my way for the big finish.

They had signs from 800m to go. It’s amazing how long 800 metres can seem! The crowds were crazy and I was flooded with emotions as it finally sunk in that I was seriously almost there. I got to see Kenny again as well as Marky Mark, which was awesome.

Pretty soon I saw hubby as well as Sarah and her hubby who screamed my name. I waved to everyone and tried to look good as I crossed the line. I found out later that there was a live feed of the finish available online and many people got to see my cross the line. Apparently, it did look good. :)

I did it!

Official time: 4:33:15
Chip time: 4:26:02
6:18/KM = 10:08/mi
Overall: 1841/2918
Gender: 543/1089
F25-29: 81/148

In many ways, completing my second marathon was even more satisfying than my first. I achieved a 16 minute PR and felt way stronger from beginning to end. There was never a moment where I felt like I hit the wall. Yes, I gradually tired, which is to be expected after 4+ hours of running. But this time, I kept running and didn’t once consider stopping.

Since my half marathon split was identical to my first marathon, I ran the second half 16 minutes faster than I did last time AND felt better doing it. This is ultimately what I was hoping to achieve with my Marathon Redemption.

POST-RACE

It was amazing to meet up with all of my friends and family after the race, many who had run themselves and others who had just come out for support. There are no words to describe how good it felt to have so many people rooting for me, both in person and from afar.

After hobbling to the washroom to change into fresh clothes, we took some photos and headed out for a yummy lunch. Last year all I wanted to do was go home and crash after my race and could barely eat all day. I think this is another testament to how much better I was able to handle the distance this time around.

I’m definitely stiff today and pretty much everything hurts, but I embrace the pain as a constant reminder of what I accomplished yesterday.

Photos

More Photos

1 more sleep!

Thank you so much for all of your awesome support. I will definitely remember your encouraging words tomorrow. It’s a great feeling knowing that you’re all out there rooting for me and I truly appreciate it.

We hit the expo this morning and everything is ready to go.

They stamped the back of my baggage tag to indicate that I had paid for bag check. Take a look at this stamp.

Somebody has an interesting sense of humour. I hope it’s not an omen!

All that’s left to do now is eat, relax and eat some more. Go figure, I have zero appetite today. Must be nerves. Fortunately, hubs is following me around hounding reminding me to eat and drink constantly.

There’s no question that I’m nervous, but I’m also very excited. Tomorrow is the victory lap after several months of training. It’s still a long way to the finish line, but I’m ready to enjoy it. 26.2 miles of celebration.

This is it. Hopefully I’ll be posting some good news around this time tomorrow.

Is this a wedding or a marathon?

Old

I’m wearing my trusty red shirt that I wore for Marathon # 1. (Hopefully this isn’t bad luck?) I tried finding something new, but I really love this one. It’s super light and comfortably, especially the all mesh back! And I think it’ll make me pretty easy to spot.

New

My MPG skirt! Sooo comfy and passed the test of a 23-miler.

Borrowed

My girlfriend loaned me this “ActiveHold” hair elastic when we were going for a run from her place about 6 months ago. I have worn it for every single run since then and it has held up remarkably well. This thing is griptastic. Sure, I could probably go buy my own pack for about $3.99, but what’s the fun in that? (Now that I think of it, I’m amazed that I haven’t lost this thing yet!)

Blue

My snazzy new SPI-belt with turquoise zip. Love it!

Speaking of weddings… good friends of ours are getting married tonight! It may not be ideal to attend a wedding two nights before a marathon, but don’t worry – I’ll be wearing flats and drinking water! Wedding cake has carbs, right?!

We had our last pre-marathon session at clinic last night and got a great pep talk from coach. This is it. Expo tomorrow. Just 2 more sleeps. Time to get excited!