“It all comes down to how badly you want it.”
After a great sleep, I was wide awake 10 minutes before the alarm on race morning. I hopped out of bed at 4:20AM and ate my usual breakfast. Everything was laid out organized, so I went through the motions of getting dressed and gathering my things. At the last minute, I grabbed a Sharpie on the way out the door; there was something I had to write on my hand (as pictured in yesterday’s post). We were out the door at 5:20 and on-site by 6:00.
With 90 minutes til the start, we had plenty of time to find a good parking spot, mill around and use the washroom
3 times once or twice. I was extremely anxious, not so much with nerves but with anticipation. I wanted to get started already!
It was around 11C/52F in the morning and 18C/64F by the finish; certainly not a drastically hot day, but it made for difficult conditions after training during the cool months. The sun was out in full force and would prove to show no mercy.
Closer to 7:00, we met up with everyone from my clinic including several who were not running but had come out for support. We have a wonderful group! After some final words of encouragement, many hugs and photo ops, we made our way to the start line. I decided to position myself farther back than I normally would, not wanting to get caught up in the fast crowd from the start.
And they’re off…
It was a relief to be running! I had a plan and I intended to stick to it. In my mind, I divided the race into three parts: (1) 0-14K – Start smart. (2) 14-28K – Stick with Coach Don. (3) 28K-finish – Give it all you’ve got.
For the first few kilometres, I checked my Garmin frequently to ensure that I wasn’t getting too excited and swept up in the crowd. My knee still felt a little tight, but all I could do was hope that it cooperated for the next ~4 hours. I did my best to put it out of my mind and concentrate on my pace, form and the miles that lay ahead.
KM1: 5:44 *1 salt cap at the start
It was somewhat congested at first as we shared the course with the half marathoners. I tried not to waste energy weaving around people and settled into a relaxed pace. I was carrying my trusty handheld, so I was able to avoid crowds through the aid stations as I ran on through.
KM4: 5:38 *1 Gu Chomp
The first section of the course took us from Mississauga city centre through a commercial area. The long straight stretch and wide open road helped a bit with crowding. We soon turned south onto a winding, treed road which would lead us around the University of Toronto Mississauga Campus. It was beautiful and the shade was welcome.
KM8: 5:26 *Gu
At 9K I got to see hubs for the first time. I knew he had water and oranges for me, but I didn’t need anything at the time so I gave him a wave and he snapped a pic.
I remembered this section from the half last year, and I knew we had our first hill coming up. It wasn’t anything to get worked up about, but it did seem to go on forever as it continued around a long bend. I was rewarded at the top when I got to see three of my girlfriends who had come out just to see me. They were all decked out in matching cheetah RunningSkirts (they have one for me too!) with awesome signs and cowbells.
I could hear them as I climbed the hill, and they went wild when they spotted me. I was smiling from ear to ear. Thank you Leanne, Erin and Ali!
Erin snapped these pics:
KM12: 5:43 *1 Gu Chomp
I knew I would be picking up Coach Don at 14K and I was ahead of my target pace more than I wanted to be, so I eased off slightly in order to avoid getting in trouble from
the pace guru Coach. I expected to meet him on the other side of a highway overpass just beyond the 14KM marker, and we spotted each other easily. He asked how I was doing, and settled in beside me. I immediately felt the pressure lift and knew I wouldn’t have to look at my Garmin for a while.
Just moments after Don joined me, we split from the half marathoners. I always find it to be a significant moment and thought to myself, ‘Here we go. No turning back now.’ We chatted away and the kilometres were ticking by quickly. We were running through some beautiful and wealthy residential neighborhoods and enjoyed taking in the sights. Shade was sporadic and I enjoyed it when I could.
KM16: 5:24 *Gu
While my knee still felt tight, it wasn’t getting any worse and I was grateful for that. It was only a moderate annoyance and really wasn’t getting to me. At 20K we took a left to start making our way toward the water. I saw hubby right on the corner and grabbed a water bottle to refill my handheld. I also got to see my girls at the same spot, and once again they blew me away with their cheering. I felt like a rockstar!
Hubs snapped this pic… I’m tucked behind the guy in yellow and that’s Don to the left.
KM20: 5:42 *1 Gu Chomp
We continued on and I knew we were going to see the gang from my training group at the half way point. Sure enough, there they were. We waved our arms so they would see us coming and they started jumping up and down, cheering and high fives all around. What a boost!
Half Marathon Split: 1:59:00
I felt great crossing the half way mark exactly one minute ahead of schedule. After getting caught up in the excitement of seeing everyone, we picked up the pace over the next few kilometres without even realizing it.
KM22: 5:14 *1 salt cap
KM24: 5:15 *Gu
I don’t know if it was the quicker kilometres, a few small inclines or simply the stage of the race, but I started feeling tired around the 25K mark. I realized that I didn’t feel as strong as I hoped I would at this point, I knew the sun and heat were taking their toll and I also realized that I needed to use the washroom. I find this stage of any marathon difficult and Coach Don refers to it as the dead zone: you’re well into the race, beyond half way and starting to feel it, but the finish is a long way off. I knew it was time to start flexing some mental strength to push through.
When I spotted an empty port-o-potty, I decided to take advantage and duck in. Coach Don was kind enough to refill my water bottle while I was in there. I was in and out quickly (no more than 30 or 40 seconds) and the relief was worth it. I immediately felt refreshed when we started running again.
We were making our way along the waterfront trail which was absolutely beautiful. We even enjoyed a stunning view of the Toronto skyline across the lake. I was definitely tempted to splash my way into the water. At this point, Don insisted on carrying my handheld for me. He also asked if I was getting tired. When I said that I was, he reminded me of a conversation we had two weeks ago when we ran 10×800 together. After the 8th repeat, he looked fresh as a daisy and reminded me that we were going to pick it up for the last two. I asked him at the time, “Are you even tired?” to which he responded, “Of course I’m tired. What does that have to do with anything?” I knew he was right and I just had to keep going.
KM32: 5:54 *Gu
We hit 32K at three hours exactly and I knew we had an hour to cover a little over 10K. We saw some friends from our training group again at this point. Coach Don told them I was doing great, which made me smile. Right around the corner, hubs and the girls were there again. I realized that the next time I saw them would be the finish, which still seemed a really long way off. Hubs swapped water bottles with me (he took my large handheld and gave me the smaller one), handed me some oranges and wished me good luck. The girls cheered loud enough for me to carry their voices with me all the way to the end.
More pics from Erin:
KM36: 5:40 *1 salt cap
I was completely exhausted. I was telling myself over and over that I only had 6K to go, but in my mind there was no “only” about it. I just had to hold on. I fell slightly behind Coach Don, but he stayed on pace and forced me to catch up. With 5K to go, Don “gently” pointed out that we had “lost our buffer”. In other words, I had to be on pace til the finish if I was going to make it under 4 hours. This was too close for comfort and I got nervous, especially based on how I was feeling. My quads were screaming and it felt like each step took everything I had.
As we passed the 39K sign, Don tapped it and said “Last of the 30’s!” All I could do was nod and grunt. I was spent. Don knew how much I was struggling, and also knew exactly what to say. He looked at his watch, turned to me and said (paraphrase): “You have a decision to make. You can ease off and cruise in to the finish at around 4:01 or 4:02, which would be a huge PR and an enormous accomplishment. Or you can suck it up, keep pushing and finish this thing under 4 hours like we both know you can. It all comes down to how badly you want it.” I get emotional thinking back on that moment, because it was a true turning point for me and he was absolutely right. I knew it was going to be close, but I could taste it and I wanted it more than anything. 4 months of training and dedication and it came down to three kilometres. No way was I giving up now. I looked at my hand: BELIEVE.
At 40K, another friend from our clinic jumped in with us. I remember saying, “Talk me through this, Alex!” And he and Don both did. They kept telling me the finish line was going to be there before I knew it, that I looked great, reminded me of all the times I’ve finished strong when I thought I had nothing left in the tank. Before I knew it, I saw the 41K sign. One kilometre (point two) to go. Juliana was there and I glanced at my watch and told her, “I have 8 minutes to finish!” This was the first time in the race when I was 100% confident that I would achieve my goal.
As we neared the final turn, Don and Alex congratulated me and sent me on my way. The finish line was in sight. I saw Kenny’s smiling face as well as the girls who were cheering like it was their job. Next I spotted a bunch of my training peeps and gave them a thumbs up, while snagging some high fives. Finally I saw hubs and called out, “I did it!” He knew it was close and wasn’t sure how long after the gun I had started, so I loved seeing the relief on his face.
I heard Sarah and her hubby call out my name as well, though I wasn’t able to pick them out in the crowd. Thank you for being there! Laura was there as well and managed to snap this pic of me on the way in.
And one from hubs:
I felt like I was running through concrete. I have truly never been so completely exhausted in my life, both mentally and physically. I heard the announcer call out my name and crossed that line with my arms in the air.
Final 0.6 (Garmin): 2:36
Official chip time: 3:58:56
I grabbed on to the railing in an attempt to keep myself upright. My legs immediately started cramping and it seemed virtually impossible to make my way through the finish area to remove my chip and collect my medal. I kept looking down at my watch and simply could not believe it. I actually felt like I was in shock. I could hardly bring myself to smile. Coach Don soon came around the corner and was the first to find me. He gave me a big hug and I broke down into tears. I thanked him over and over again, though he kept assuring me I had done the hard work myself.
Soon hubs and my friends found me for more congratulatory hugs. I was so happy, I was barely able to react. This goal seemed unattainable just a few short months ago and it’s difficult to express in words how amazing it feels to have broken through the 4-hour barrier. This is not a day I will soon forget.
Thank you so much for all of your support over the course of this journey (so far) and especially those of you who were tracking online and rooting for me all the way; you have all inspired and encouraged me more than words can say.
ETA: race pics