I stared at the flashing cursor for a long time trying to decide where this story should start. In January when my world turned upside down and my husband went into rehab for drug and alcohol addiction? In April when the bombings occurred and I vowed to do whatever it took to earn my way back to Boston? In May when I finally allowed myself to admit that my heart was no longer in it and bowed out of Ironman Lake Placid? Or on Sunday morning as I toed the start line of a marathon for the 12th time, unsure of what the day would bring but proud of every step that brought me there.
Most of you will be surprised by one piece of that story (although you may remember this post). It’s not something I have shared publicly outside of close friends and family, and I do so now only with Mark’s blessing of course. I won’t go into details except to say that he went through a very dark period last year but had the courage to face his demons and turn his life around completely. Through all the ups and downs of the last 9+ months, I can easily say that we have both become stronger individuals in the process, and stronger as a couple. I think anyone would agree that this makes Mark’s recent 3:11 marathon comeback even more meaningful and impressive.
So, this year has been a long and curvy road with its fair share of challenges and a lot of uncertainty. This might offer a better explanation for how much my priorities shifted and why I struggled so much with motivation and commitment to training. Running took a backseat and combined with spending the previous year running marathons exclusively for fun, I had a long way to go. I needed the break, but the time eventually came when I woke up and realized that something was missing and I no longer felt like “me.” I needed to have a direction again. I missed the rush that comes from crossing a finish line knowing I had given it all I had, not only that day but in all the weeks of training leading up to it. And I wanted, more than anything, for running to feel good again.
And so began the long road back. It was a slow and somewhat demoralizing process to start, but I kept my focus, stayed positive and gradually started seeing the results. There were times that I wondered how or even if I would run a 50 mile week, finish a long run feeling strong, reach my tempo run targets or keep up with my running buddies again. I couldn’t have done it without their support, as well as all the support I have received from my “virtual” running buddies near and far. Thank you all for finding ways to lift me up when I was feeling down on myself. It also helped that Mark was on a similar path of building back so we faced challenges together and shared the milestones along the way.
Looking back at where I started when I officially decided to train for this marathon, I had no idea what to expect in terms of results. Ultimately I was looking for a “comeback marathon” as a springboard into next year where big goals await. I knew I wouldn’t be breaking any records, but that I could make big strides and find my way as a runner again – which I have. After spending most of the summer working on building my endurance back up with little focus on pace, it was only in the last few weeks that I started to think about possible goal times and talked to anyone who would listen as I tried to figure it out. I finally settled on 3:45 based on my recent half marathon and a few pace-focused training runs. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the goal since I would typically have weeks and weeks of training runs geared toward “race pace”, but I believed it was a possibility. There was only one way to find out.
It was a good day for running with temps of about 5–10C (41-50F) throughout the race, although the sun made it feel quite a bit warmer. I was glad I decided on wearing shorts and a t-shirt (with throwaway sleeves thanks to $1.50 kid-sized leg warmers – they were gone by 5K). There was a headwind forecasted for the tail end of the race, which is typical at Scotia.
We were there way early in my usual fashion and kept warm in the car for a while before heading to the starting area. A few photo ops, a couple of bathroom stops (not at the same time) and before long, the corrals were already filling up. Is it me, or does time go by unusually fast on race morning? I said my goodbyes to Mark and Miles and made my way toward the front of the yellow (2nd) corral. Each corral started as a separate wave 5 minutes apart, which helped a lot with crowding. It was busy, but I never really had trouble finding space so I was able to find my own pace pretty easily.
I was aiming for a 5:20/KM (8:34/mi) pace, but seemed to keep drifting closer to 5:15 if I didn’t pay close attention. I knew I had to be careful since I felt that 3:45 was just within reach, and continuously tried to reel it in. I felt comfortable so eventually I stopped trying to force the slightly slower pace and just went with the flow.
I really enjoy the Scotia course, this being my 6th time running either the half or full, even though it has changed slightly almost every year. I find it easy to break up into sections mentally, from the initial loop around downtown streets to the long out-and-back on Lakeshore, through the Commissioners Street area then heading east in the beaches for another out-and-back, and then suddenly you’re on your way back into the city for the finish (if only it were that easy…).
I found there was a lot of great crowd support throughout almost the entire race this year and there was always something to look at. Some memorable signs that caught my eye: “Your pace or mine?”; “Run like someone called you a jogger”; “Sketchy street. Run faster.”; “I have all my toenails. Do you?” It was nice to see Mark and Miles waiting at 6K for a quick wave.
10K split: 52:49 (overall average pace 5:17/KM, 8:30/mi)
We were running into the sun after the 12K turn-around and I started feeling warm (I won’t say hot). Even at about 10 degrees (50F), the sun always takes its toll on me and it felt much warmer. Just looking at some of the people around me wearing pants and jackets was making me sweat. I carried my handheld water bottle, which I refilled on the run several times, and tried to remember to sip at every KM marker. I took salt at the start and every hour thereafter, and gels every 8K as per my usual plan.
At about 20K we split from the half marathoners, which is always a good “Booyeah!” moment. I felt great running under the “MARATHON” arch, also wondering what the rest of my day would bring. There is still a lot of uncertainty at this point in the race, but I reminded myself to stay in the moment and not get too far ahead of myself.
Mark and Miles were waiting again at 22K – I could see them sitting on the ground as I approached, but luckily they got up off their butts up before I ran by. Spectating is hard work! Mark had a water bottle for me, which I used to refill my handheld – much easier/quicker than doing so at a water station. I started feeling a bit tired through this stretch, although it seemed to come and go in waves. One moment I would feel like I was really dragging and the next I felt like a million bucks again. So, I just tried to stop thinking about it and keep running. I knew it was normal to be tired, and told myself “You’re fine. You’ve got this.”
My friend George surprised me and jumped in somewhere around 26K to keep me company for a couple kilometres. I told him that I wasn’t feeling particularly chatty, but I appreciated the company and listened to him chat away while taking some pictures.
It helped carry me to the turn-around point at 29K. The wind was there as expected after the turn, but I actually enjoyed it for its cooling effect this year. I knew we were now heading back toward the finish, even if it was a long way to go. It gave me a bit of a boost, although I wished I was feeling stronger at this point.
30K split: 2:38:08 (overall average pace 5:16/KM, 8:28/mi)
I won’t say the wheels came off, but some bolts started feeling loose after 32K. I allowed myself a quick walk (my first) in the hopes that it would help me collect myself, but it actually made me feel worse. I went from consistently pacing under 5:20/KM to 5:44, 5:33, 5:40, 5:45. I quickly became discouraged and disappointed, so it only got worse from there.
6:06, 5:40, 5:33. I let my head get the best of me and it was a slip ‘n’ slide of negative thoughts. I cursed myself for running the first half too fast or even believing I could run a 3:45. I gave Mark a big thumbs down when I saw him at 36K and whined “I’m tired.” I remember the look on his face and it clearly said “So what? You’re supposed to be!” Ha! Good point. I tried to turn things around and flooded my head with all the positive energy I could muster.
This part of the course was a new addition this year, with a bit of a loopy out-and-back from 36-40K. On the map it looked completely convoluted and confusing, but it wasn’t nearly as bad in person. I actually enjoyed the break from running essentially in a straight line for so long and it was good knowing that after this section, I would be at 40K.
Something seemed to help, because I finally managed to turn things around and found a second wind by 39K. I picked my pace right back up to 5:15-5:20 for those last 3KM, which tells me that it was a mental battle I had succumbed to and not a physical one. It has been two years since I’ve raced a marathon for a time goal so I wonder if I had just forgotten how hard it is and gave up too soon. When I wasn’t feeling just peachy at 32K, I let the doubts get the best of me.
I noticed my time at the 40K mats and it was only one second off my finish time (and PR) at this race two years ago. I still had 2.2K to go, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s the importance of acknowledging how far I have come as opposed to how far I have to go. I actually really enjoyed those last 2K. It felt like a true victory lap for the past 22 weeks of training and everything that has happened over the past year.
Kenny was waiting somewhere along here and jumped in with me, yelling “Welcome back!” I welled up a bit and started looking for Mark who was waiting at the last turn before the home stretch. No thumbs down this time!
Despite missing the 3:45 mark, I am nothing but proud of this result and everything it took to get there. I earned some more experience, learned a bit more about myself in the process and savoured the joy of the marathon finish line once again.
I have a lot of history with this Sunday’s marathon, at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront races.
It was my very first race back in 2007 when I ran the half with hubs. In 2008 it was my debut marathon, and the following year in 2009 I ran it as my second marathon. I did the half in 2010 for my first sub-1:45, then in 2011 I ran the marathon again which stands as my current PR. (I skipped 2012 since it fell the day after my 30th Birthday – ’nuff said!) Needless to say, I have a lot of positive race memories there. Each time I’ve run the half or full has been a debut or a PR. I’m a little bummed that the streak will be broken this weekend, but I am looking forward to another awesome race experience nonetheless.
The number of participants has almost doubled since we first ran it 6 years ago, and it’s amazing to look back on how much I have grown as a runner during that time as well. I don’t know what time will be displayed on the clock when I finish this year, but I intend to leave my mark on the course again, just as it has repeatedly left its mark on me.
Meanwhile, hubs has been sick in bed since yesterday afternoon and my paranoia is in full effect. Please let me stay healthy for just a couple more days!
Race week is upon us! It’s time to rest up, hydrate, fuel well, check the weather frequently and try to stay sane in the process. And then there’s the small matter of determining a race goal/plan…
A month ago I would have told you that I didn’t have a time goal. Despite improving so much over the summer, I was lacking confidence after starting out so slowly and doing most of my long runs on the slow side. Things continued to improve in recent weeks, but I kept shying away from naming a goal. I think part of the issue is that it has been such a long road (so far) building back up, that I am afraid of setting myself up for disappointment. What if I name a goal and can’t achieve it? What if the pace is too fast and I blow up after 30K? Would I feel like a failure?
That being said, I have worked my butt off (literally) and I want to see where my true fitness is right now. I need to push the limits in order to see what I’m capable of. And I am not going to do my best without taking a chance. Goals are supposed to be a little bit scary, and I certainly haven’t made achievements in the past by worrying about “what ifs.”
In 11 marathons, I have only ever raced for a PR or exclusively for fun (Disney, Boston, Chicago). This “in between” feels a bit like limbo and was making it very hard for me to figure out how to approach it. I started talking to hubs, friends and mentors to get some guidance and the result has been a mixed bag. Some people suggested that I just go out and run by “feel” and stop dwelling on needing a time goal. I respect that approach and I have probably suggested it to others in the past, but I don’t think it works for me. I need a number to focus on in those later miles of a marathon when it gets really hard and every part of me wants to slow down. I’m afraid that if I’m not chasing down a time, it will be too easy to give in.
Thankfully, I’ve had a few workouts recently that have helped me zero in on what I am now referring to as “hopeful” marathon race pace. A couple weeks ago I had a great workout with the group of 3x4K at pace during a huge training week and it felt surprisingly easy. That Sunday I did my last long-long run of about 31K/19mi with the second half at pace. It gave me the confidence boost I needed because the pace felt manageable even at the end of a 103KM/64mi week.
Last week my final mid-week medium-long run of 10 miles included most at pace and it felt pretty comfortable. So finally, with a week to go, I have zeroed in on my race goal.
Previous two weeks of training (last big week followed by first taper week):
So, my “hopeful” marathon race pace would result in a 3:45 marathon and that is the “A” goal. It’s a full 9 minutes slower than my PR, but it scares me because I was barely doing tempo runs at that pace a few months ago. On a good day, I believe it is achievable. Ultimately, though, I want to execute a smart, strong run and reach the finish line feeling accomplished regardless of the time on the clock. I’ve gone on and on in recent posts about everything I have already achieved this year and I am not going to forget that next weekend. I have a lot to celebrate and be proud of every step of the way. The marathon is just one run on one day after 22 weeks of training and it’s not going to define this year for me.
But let’s be honest – I would really REALLY like to reach that goal and I owe it to myself to try.
I can hardly believe it’s been nearly 5 months since I made the Lake Placid decision official and kicked off a fresh new marathon training plan. It hasn’t been an entirely smooth ride (is it ever?), but I find myself here in week 20 feeling proud of the progress I’ve made and how I’ve handled the challenge of clawing my way back. This started as a demoralizing journey and I really struggled with accepting where my fitness level was (is) and not comparing to “2011 Marlene.” I am not in the best running shape of my life – far from it – but I am finding my way back there and enjoying all the little (and big) accomplishments along the way.
After my brief set-back caused by the achilles issue I had to drop my mileage for the week of September 9th, which was supposed to kick off three peak weeks. Thankfully, I had a “bonus” week in my pocket because we modeled my plan based on a race date of October 13th when it is actually October 20th. Whoops! I never did get around to fitting that extra week into the schedule, so it worked out perfectly. I kicked off my three final weeks of training before taper on September 16th, which included the half marathon, and I’m plugging along in the final push.
Last week I hit the 100K mark including my longest run of the training cycle (37K/23mi), which went very well. It’s crazy to think this is my last big week of training and I have been finding myself looking back on the last several months. Almost every run was hard when I started and workouts seemed impossible, but things gradually came together. I have never had to exercise so much patience during a training cycle, spending weeks slogging through my runs until things finally turned around. I have been feeling strong for several weeks now, the weight has been coming off and I am starting to build some confidence for my upcoming marathon. I have gotten used to running on tired legs all the time, so I am looking forward to the freshness (and hopefully results) that taper will bring. I still don’t have a concrete goal in mind (don’t expect any PRs or BQs here), but I do have some loose expectations. Regardless of the race outcome, success lies in the training as well and I have plenty to celebrate already.
“I was in agony from the waist down. My feet and legs were killing me to the point where I could hardly feel them. Every step was laboured. We took it one kilometre at a time and sometimes had to stop in between. To give you an idea of how much we slowed down, here are the last 10 splits.
Even as we passed the “40K” flags, it seemed like an eternity to the finish.”
This turned out to be a good reminder of how important it is to acknowledge how far we have come, as opposed to how far we have to go.