Toronto Waterfront Marathon Race Report

This was my fifth consecutive year running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half or Full Marathon, the first time being my first race ever – the half marathon in 2007, followed by my first full marathon one year later. This year the race moved to mid-October (from late-September), in the hopes of promising cooler temperatures. They also pushed back the start time from 7:30 to 9:00 AM – this made me nervous, but turned out not to be an issue since we had a cool day, and also afforded the opportunity to sleep in to a reasonable time.

We were treated to a comfortable 10C/50F at the start (rising only a few degrees by the finish) and a mostly overcast sky but heavy winds. I managed similar winds at Mississauga so I figured I could handle it and rejoiced that it wasn’t going to be hot.

I hacked up an old fleece top to create a shrug-style zip-off throwaway that I could wear before the race and remove easily.

I’m all about fashion…

We were out the door at about 6:15 to pick up some friends and head into the city, arriving a good 90 minutes early. This race has grown a lot in recent years (almost 20,000 runners) and we didn’t want to take any chances.

We parked at our usual spot and wandered over to scope out the starting area before heading to Starbucks for a place to sit and keep warm.

With about 45 minutes to go, we decided to head out and discovered that it was getting crowded fast. I had used the washrooms at Starbucks but hoped to use a port-o-potty one last time – unfortunately the lines were nuts and I didn’t want to risk not making it into my corral; I hoped I wouldn’t regret that later. Got a hug and kiss from hubs, wished my friends good luck and followed the coloured balloons to my yellow corral.

I managed to run into my pace group who were waiting near the 3:30 pacer. I was planning to hang back for my 3:35 goal, but it was great having some company and exchanging last-minute good lucks in those final minutes. We shed our warm-ups and before long, the gun went off. Even in the second corral, it took more than a minute and a half to hit the start mats. Here we go…

The course was crowded and chaotic right off the bat, and I struggled to keep my cool. I knew I didn’t want to waste energy weaving around, but it was hard to be patient. My Garmin signal also went wonky immediately with the sky-scrapers and running under highway overpasses, so I had no choice but to take a deep breath and relax. I felt like I was going so slowly, but I turned out to be right on pace so I’m glad I didn’t perform any theatrics in those initial kilometres. I settled in and let my legs find their rhythm as it slowly opened up a bit.

*some splits are not completely accurate due to afore-mentioned Garmin issues, but it all evens out in the end…

KM 1-5: 5:01 – 4:57 – 5:02 – 4:57 – 5:05

I know this course very well and found comfort in the familiarity as we made our way along the Lakeshore for a long out and back. We were into the wind, but it wasn’t bothering me too much at this point. I felt good and found the pace easy – cruising along and taking it all in.

KM 6-10: 5:00 – 5:06 – 5:04 (gu) – 5:08 – 5:02 (salt)
10KM split – 50:57

I always look forward to seeing the leaders on their way back and kept my eyes peeled for the escort vehicles. I caught sight of the lead pack just before the road split and noticed that our front-running Canadian Reid Coolsaet was hanging tight with the Kenyans. It was super exciting to see them and gave me goosebumps as usual.

At 12K we hit the first turn-around; there are always incredible crowds and entertainment here, and this year did not disappoint.

I had broken the race down into smaller ‘chunks’ in my head, and now the first leg was complete. The next leg would take me back along Lakeshore to the half/full split at 18K, which is one of my favourite parts. The rush I get from veering right and running under the marathon arch will never get old. It took me back to my first full marathon back in 2008 when I found myself heading into unknown territory, clueless to the challenges that lie ahead. This year I would consider myself an experienced marathoner, and also experienced on this course – I knew what was coming, I knew I could handle it and I was pretty excited about it!  

KM11-15: 5:00 – 5:04 – 4:57 – 4:56 – 4:58

I took a quick inventory of how I was feeling and had no complaints. I felt strong, smooth, relaxed and right on pace. I started to think my A+ goal might be a good possibility, but I also knew there was a lot of race left. I saw lots friends from my training group in a few difference spots along this stretch and got tons of support. I was so grateful to everyone who had come out to cheer us on.

KM16-20: 5:06 (gu) – 4:59 – 4:55 – 4:48 – 4:51 (salt)

I hit the half way mark a little ahead of schedule and feeling great. Each time I crossed timing mats I thought of everyone tracking at home (who would also be texting updates to hubs waiting at the finish) and remembered all of their support and encouragement – so many people believed I could do this and I wanted to prove them right and make them proud. This is the best motivation there is to keep going.

KM21-25: 4:59 – 5:01 – 4:59 – 5:03 (gu) – 5:02
Half split – 1:46:31 

water refill around half way

I was prepared for the next section of the course to be somewhat boring – not much to look out, less spectator support and a couple of short out-and-backs. Typically this portion of a marathon is a bit of a mental “dead zone” where you’ve already put a lot into it, but you aren’t anywhere close to finishing.

Thankfully I felt good and had no issues keeping my head in the game and focusing on keeping the pace. I actually enjoyed the out-and-backs because they allowed me to see fellow runners from my group who were ahead and behind me, so we could exchange high fives and whoops of encouragement.

Our coach rolled up beside me on his bike at one point and I told him I was starting to get a bit tired (to which he replied “you’re supposed to get tired!” – true), but feeling pretty good overall and on pace for 3:35. I realized I had a PR by a few minutes at the 30K mark – woohoo!

KM26-30: 4:58 – 4:59 – 4:59 – 4:56 – 5:00 (salt)
30KM split – 2:31:22 (PR!)

Now I just had a few K until Nik would be meeting me. I had been telling myself that all I had to do was hold the pace until then, and then she could take over. I was definitely ready to have some company. I spotted some more friends out cheering who assured me that she was waiting just ahead.

I plugged along and was now running through the bustling “Beaches” area, which was packed with people. There were a couple of inclines here – otherwise this course is pretty much pancake flat, so I definitely noticed them.

Nik checked in with me at 32K and told me she would be waiting on the other side on my way back. I was well on my way to the final turn-around and feeling pretty decent with 10K to go. I was doing it! Just keep plugging along…

At 33.5K, I made the final turn-around and hit the wind. It got tough immediately and my pace slowed as I struggled to keep moving forward. I was definitely tired by this point as well, but reminded myself that I was now headed back into the City and literally moving towards the finish. I just had to hang in there.

KM31-35: 4:57 – 4:57 (gu) – 5:09 – 5:10 – 5:12
35KM split – 2:56:51 

Nik was waiting right where she promised and hopped in with me. I complained briefly about the wind, but she helped take my mind off it by chatting away. I don’t think I responded much, but I appreciated the company and distraction. I told her I was on track and just had to “keep moving.” She was saying all the right things to keep me going – I was fading but she helped me hang in there.

We had one final hill up and over a highway overpass. On any normal day it wouldn’t be a big deal at all, but it killed me to get up it. I felt like I was crawling. (see my slowest split below)

I certainly wasn’t the only one feeling that way – I just had a chance to read Eric Gillis‘ race report from Sunday – he made the Canadian Olympic Standard for London 2012 with ONE SECOND to spare!

“…Remember thinking, well now the race is REALLY on, and it ain’t going to be pretty! Yep, the following 6.2k was tough, very very tough! Energy was there to fight but with that head wind it felt like a losing battle every step shortening to a point going up the DVP overpass I felt like I could technically be race walking?!?! Seeing the 40k split gave me some life that I hadn’t totally lost it the last few k. With some rudimentary math figured standard was still within reach but it might be close, bit of foreshadowing there, eh?” 

Erin & Reid – Olympic Qualifiers for London 2012!

I knew more friends would be waiting shortly after the hill and focused on getting to that point. Sure enough, they were there and cheering like crazy. They gave me the strength to get moving again. I had given up my buffer and I was going to be cutting it close for 3:35.

KM36-40: 5:11 – 5:15 (half gu) -5:19 – 5:19 – 5:32 
40KM split – 3:23:42

The next thing I knew, Coach rolled up beside me on his bike. I was pretty much non-responsive at this point, but he asked for my mantra and I said something along the lines of “just get this sh*t done.” He asked for my time and assured me I still had a shot. Then he said exactly what I needed to hear in that moment: “You didn’t come this far to give it up now.”

Somehow I found the strength and will to pick it back up. The crowds were really picking up now and both Nik and Coach had to send me on my way.

KM41-42: 5:12 – 5:05

At last I made the final turn on to Bay Street and the finish line was in sight with 500, 400, 300, 200, 100 metres-to-go signs along the way. Out of nowhere, Alex from my pace group showed up beside me and urged me on. I heard hubs call my name and spotted him on the sidelines. I had to make it, but it was going to be soooo close!

I must have been looking down at my Garmin every 10 seconds as I watched it tick closer and closer to 3:35:00. One final push and I crossed the mats with 3:34:59 showing on my screen. Whoa.

Chip Time – 3:34:54
Average Pace – 5:06/KM (8:12/mi)
F25-29 – 20/231
Females – 97/1397
Overall – 728/3951

I wasn’t emotional crossing the finish line this time – no whooping and arms in the air like my first BQ, partly because I wasn’t 100% sure I had made it. I was shocked and relieved, maybe a bit numb. I stumbled along until I had cleared the finish line enough to stop and collect myself. Wobbled toward some friends who had finished just minutes before/after me and exchanged big hugs and brief war stories.
Hubs managed to find me quickly even among the throngs of runners and spectators, and I begged him desperately to check my official results to ensure that sub-3:35 was legit. E confirmed for us via text:  PHEW! We managed to find my friends L & G who had come out to cheer – they saw me finish, although I missed them in my tunnel vision run towards the clock. L immediately started crying and in turn, so did I. It started to sink in. I had done it!

BQ # 2!

47 thoughts on “Toronto Waterfront Marathon Race Report

  1. That's an awesome race report. I think so many of us can relate to most of what you (and Eric) wrote! WTG So glad you made your BQ so that you can run with hubs in 2013! I found another photo of you on course on flickr and sent it to you by dailymile message! Congrats again. That photo of you approaching the finish is awesome…such determination! Great shot.

  2. What a great race report–could really feel your day there. I love, love, love what your coach said to you near the end. Gave me the chills!You are a stud and you've had an amazing year! Congrats for putting in all the hard work and seeing it through!

  3. What a great race report. Felt like I was there with you the whole time except without the sweating and pain of actually running. So much better this way….HA!Great job my friend…..great job!

  4. I had goosebumps from reading this! What a great effort Marlene – truly inspiring! I am so happy for you, congrats on the PR and another BQ! You have become such an awesome runner!

  5. Congrats, again!! Two Boston BQs in one year?! Nothing short of amazing, my friend. So happy for you, and loved reading every word of this. You're quite the seasoned marathoner these days! Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  6. LOVE your shrug! Fantastic idea!This is a great race report. I knew what your time was, but you told the story in such a way that I had knots in my stomach waiting for the finish and the time.Well done!

  7. Yes Marlene!!!! What an amazing race. You dug deep and left it all out on the course. Your coach was right – you didn't come that far to give up. I'm so proud of you and you truly are such an inspiration. Way to go Marlene!!

  8. Yay!! I loved seeing you out there and I was really hoping I wouldn't catch you. Awesome, awesome race. I didn't mind the course compared with the Leslie Spit version they had a few years ago. And I knew going into the race that the headwind would not be pretty at the end. Nice!

  9. Awesome! There are few things more inspiring that a runner who digs deep and pulls it out when the going gets tough. Your coach was right–you had not gone that far to give it up then. Great race!

  10. simply amazeballs maurlene. amazing. and here i thought my 3:33 was hard to run… lord you make me look slow.however, you do make me look good from a fashion standpoint…

  11. what an amazing journey this year has been for you marlene. i'm so happy for you and so so proud of you. i cant wait to see what you do in boston! love you girl!

  12. You are just simply amazing, congrats on another stellar marathon!!! Looks like that cross-training in addition to running really paid off 😉 who would have known?! heh

  13. I was waiting all last week to read this, and then have been out off the internet this week moving across the county, but am so freaking happy to read this. I am so proud of you and loved reading this race recap! You are amazing and how awesome that you bq'd again! Congrats!

  14. Pingback: 2011 Year of Running | Mission to a(nother) Marathon

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