I had an okay sleep – not great – but I’d had plenty the previous three nights. The one and only benefit of the late 9AM start (more on that later) was sleeping in to a reasonable time. I was extremely nervous in the morning (will I ever get a handle on these race day nerves?) and had a lot of trouble getting breakfast down. Par for the course. Everything was packed and organized and we got out the door right on time to pick up my training partner (Martin).
It was a pretty short drive to the starting point north of the city and we found parking easily. We collected our things and made our way into the Civic Centre building, which was open for runners to keep warm. The indoor washroom lines were long, so we just found a spot on the floor to hang out for a bit before meeting up with the rest of our group.
At this point it was not quite 8AM and the half marathoners hadn’t started yet (the half started an hour before the full… another wtf?); it was amusing to see how many half marathoners waited until the last minute to line up. There was a huge stream of people scurrying to the start line after the gun went off.
Things cleared up substantially once they were off, so we finally used the washrooms and started finding our people. We had arranged to meet at the entrance to the cemetery alongside the starting line where we exchanged some final good lucks and photos before lining up. I shed my warm layers and found the temperature quite comfortable – it was about 8C/46F and sunny.
After saying goodbye to hubs, I lined up with Martin and a few others from our pace group. My nerves had finally subsided as I took my first salt, checking my laces, Garmin and pace band one last time. I was ready to go.
And at 9AM (urgh) we were off!
The route is point-to-point, starting north of the city and winding down toward the water (net downhill) where we would run an out-and-back along the lake before headed back up to Queen’s Park for the big finish.
We settled in comfortably and concentrated on holding back as the initial kilometres ticked by. We were taking short walks (30-45s) every 15 minutes, as we do during long runs in training. At Mississauga I started out only walking when I took gels, and through water stations in the later miles. I’m undecided at this point which works better for me. Something to think about…
Around 4K we hit the most note-worthy hill of the race in Hoggs Hollow. It’s early enough not to be an issue, but still memorable.
KM3 5:03 (downhill)
KM5 5:43 (Hoggs Hollow)
We saw hubs shortly after 5K for a quick wave. Our coach, Kevin, was waiting with him and jumped in with us at this point. It was great to have some extra company/support.
I checked my pace band often and knew we were within about 30 seconds of goal pace overall. Looking back, our splits are not very consistent. We were running downhill for the most part with a few inclines in the mix – this could be to blame, but truthfully I don’t think we were doing a very good job pacing.
KM8 5:20 (gel)
After running a long, straight stretch down Yonge Street, we headed toward some older neighbourhoods, surrounded by beautiful fall colours. This was by far my favourite part of the route. Unfortunately, this is when I noticed that I was tiring. I actually felt it around 10K, and thought ‘Huh? This can’t be right!’ I chalked it up to my brain playing tricks on me and did my best to push it out of my mind. By about 12K Martin had noticed that I was no longer talking and asked how I was doing. I was honest and told him that I was a lot more tired than I would like. I refused to let go this early, so I held on to my friends and just kept running.
There was a significant downhill for a few kilometres along Rosedale Valley. We had been warned to be cautious of trashing our quads, so we cruised down comfortably and I worked on collecting myself. I took my second gel earlier than planned to see if it would help (it didn’t).
KM13 5:13 (gel)
KM15 5:07 (salt)
During our walk break around kilometre 18, I finally admitted to myself and my buddies that I was going to have to slow down. I felt completely and utterly spent. Kevin hung back with me as we sent Martin and our friend Lynn on their way.
When I was ready, Kevin and I started running again. I felt like I was on the verge of a complete breakdown, but he talked me through it and kept me going. He told me that it was okay, it might just be a rough patch. He encouraged me to slow down as much as I needed to stop being so hard on myself. I was frustrated beyond words, but kept saying over and over that I was not giving up (even though all I wanted to do was sit on the side of the road).
KM20 6:09 (gel? can’t really remember)
It was somewhere around here that Quinton spotted me from the sidelines. We’ve been at a few of the same races recently, but hadn’t managed to meet until yesterday. I zipped over for a high-five and he gave me a huge boost and managed to snap these awesome pics.
The Garmin signal went completely wonky downtown during KM 21 and 22 (splits below are not accurate!), as illustrated on the map below.
My memory is foggy, but several other friends were stationed throughout the first half and offered some much-needed support. Sarah, Juliana, Marianne, Patricia, Ueli, Paul, among others. I can’t put into words how nice it was to see some familiar faces. Most of them could probably tell by this point that I was having a rough day, but for a few minutes, they made me feel like a million bucks.
Shortly after the half, I knew we were going to be seeing a group of fans from our clinic. I chugged along and sure enough, we soon saw (and heard!) them. I grabbed some high-fives and put on a happy face. This isn’t the most flattering pic, but it just goes to show what a boost I got each time I saw my friends along the course. Trust me, I was not feeling this happy!
We were now running west into a pretty strong headwind of about 40 kph (25 mph). I don’t think it would have been a big deal on a good day, but it sure did a good job of kicking me when I was down. I knew hubs would be waiting to jump in with me just a few minutes down the road, so I just kept pushing.
Kevin was being so supportive and doing an excellent job of keeping my spirits up as much as possible. He reminded me over and over that an off day doesn’t define my training or my abilities and that I was doing better than I gave myself credit for. I was so grateful not to be alone during this stretch – I get teary just thinking about it.
Sure enough, hubs was waiting at 23K and jumped right in beside me. I broke the news about how awful I was feeling and immediately started walking again. I was feeling pretty devastated as my goal(s) slipped further and further away. It took every ounce of will and determination I could muster just to keep moving forward… into the wind… in the opposite direction of the finish line! It was going to be a long day.
KM21 5:19 (wonky)
Half Marathon Split: 1:56:58
KM22 5:15 (wonky)
25-30K were by far the worst of the day. I had zero energy and even less motivation. I kept saying that I didn’t feel like doing this anymore. I would run for a few minutes then stop to walk, saying “I just can’t run.” Early on hubs actually mentioned the option of pulling out and trying again at Hamilton in a few weeks. Without even thinking about it, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. For one thing, I had no interest in jumping back into training mode or starting another marathon. But most of all, there was no way I was going to quit. I would walk the rest of the way if I had to, and I actually considered that until I realized how long it would take. So on we went…. running when I found the strength and walking when I couldn’t.
Kevin stuck with us until 26K or so before heading back to find some others. I thanked him profusely for sticking with me as long as he had, and knew he wouldn’t have gone anywhere if I didn’t have hubs.
I spotted Kenny on the opposite side, heading back after the turn around. I yelled out to give him a little cheer, and noted that he was looking strong. He was on his way to finishing a great race.
I plodded on until, mercifully, we hit the turn-around at about 30K. We were no longer running into the wind, but it was suddenly very warm. The sun was relentless (keep in mind it was almost noon at this point! who starts a marathon at 9AM???) and it had gotten hot. We found out later that the temperature had risen to 19C (66F) at this point, which is not unreasonable by most standards, but I’ve mostly been running in ~10C/50F recently and it felt a lot hotter with that ^$%#*!@ sun. (I even have a nice souvenir sunburn.)
KM30 6:31 (salt and gel? somewhere around here)
Once we had turned around… things turned around. I knew we were on our way back to the finish. 12K felt manageable. I knew it would be slow and all time goals were out the window, but I came to terms with it and decided to make the most of the experience. Coach Hubs continued to talk me through it as we tried to figure out what had gone wrong. He thought I hadn’t eaten enough during the week before and morning of the race. I thought I might have been fighting a cold, but was more inclined to chalk it up to an off day. (We have a few other theories, which I’ll discuss in another post.)
Either way, I was ready to finish this thing and move on. I found myself able to run more and started taking it 1K at a time, allowing myself to walk about every 2K. Hubs, of course, was carrying my water and everything else for me. He had oranges, which I sucked back as well. I dumped water on my head frequently and continued drinking as much as I could stomach.
Aneta spotted me and called out as she made her way to the turn-around. I tried to holler out some support. She was looking good and well on her way to finishing her first marathon!
I was still extremely frustrated with the way things were turning out, but my spirits had lifted considerably over the past hour or so. It wasn’t my day, but that’s okay. I had come to terms with it. I had accepted it. I was still running a marathon and I was damn proud that I had continued on. There was no stopping me now; I was slow, but I was going to finish.
32K (20mi) split: 3:07:53 KM33 6:01
Juliana was waiting at 37K and kept us company for a couple of kilometres. From the look on her face, I could tell that she knew exactly how I felt. She commiserated with me and was able to fill me in on how our other runners were doing to help pass the time. After she headed back to find others, another friend – Greta – was there to jump in.
We were coming up to our little cheer section again where I knew our friends would be. More high fives and another pic. That’s hubs and Greta to my side.
At 39K we made the turn toward the finish, but I knew it would still be a long stretch. It was a gradual uphill which would last the remainder of the race, and it hurt. Greta encouraged me to take it one intersection at a time and told me over and over again how well I was doing. At 40K I took one final walk break and promised myself I would run it in from there. The crowds were fantastic and pretty soon I had more friends by my side, as Kelly and Brian jumped in. I was overwhelmed by the support and caught myself welling up. It had been a long, hard day, but I could not imagine how hard it would have been if I were alone.
I was heading toward the Queen’s Park circle… which went around and around and around (and around). People on the sidelines were screaming that it was “just around the corner”. Hubs, on the other hand, told me that it was still farther than I think; I had to appreciate that honesty. He stuck with me until the barricades appeared, and then sent me on my way. Finally, I could see it. I didn’t have much of a kick, but I did find the energy to raise my arms when the announcer called out my name.
KM40 5:16 (wonky signal, trust me)
0.9 (Garmin) 5:03
Finally, I was done. As I hobbled my way through the finisher’s chute, someone called out my name from the side. It was Quinton again and he snapped a few silly pics of my post-marathon giddy self.
I collected my giant bling, an unpeeled orange (pathetic food selection) and slowly walked to find my people. Many hugs were shared as we started exchanging war stories and watched for our friends who were still out there running. What a day…
ETA: race pics