Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Last Chance at the Last Chance Half!

Race Recap – Last Chance Half – Nov 10th, 2013
With the odd burst of winter weather heading our way intermittently since mid October, it was no surprise that on the morning of the last Half Marathon of the year we were blessed with a winter storm. Until now however, the weather had been pretty reasonable. We hadn’t had any significant influxes of arctic are and hadn’t yet reached temperatures in the -20C range (-4F).
The forecast going into race weekend was not looking favourable. On race morning we woke up to the first big blizzard of the year. It was blowing snow and the temperature was sitting at -18C. Granted, our position next to the Rocky Mountains means that we can be running in snow even in July and August, but this was the first really cold, cold snap we had seen weather wise since April. Come on, -10C (14F) is shots weather here after all!
The cold burst took a lot of us by surprise. It had been some time since the last time I ran at -20C that I wasn’t even sure what to wear for race day. Thankfully, the weekend before I had picked up some Sugoi run pants. I guess today was the day to give them a test drive! I’m not usually one to test new gear on race day… but with the temperature as cold as it was, the snow blowing sideways and the prospect of an unmanned course, I was willing to give it a go! Boy I am glad that I did!
Packet Pick Up:

The race itself was run through Gord’s Running store. Packet pick up took place the day before the race (Saturday) at Gord’s store. Dozens of us were lined up at the 10am opening vying for position in the small parking lot and side streets. At sign in we were issued our chipped bibs, a race shirt and a small bag of goodies. Little did any of us know how suitable the design on the front of the race shirt would be by race morning, the next day. 

Foreshadowing of things to come.... hahaha.... if only we knew!!!

Race Morning:
New run pants with tags still attached, it was time to prepare for race morning. Normally I prepare for races the night before. With the weather so unpredictable this time of year, it really is hard to gauge exactly what it is you will need to run in on race day. I had a stack of run attire perched on the bathroom counter ready to sort through after a quick dash outside to test the weather. HOLY BATMAN! My ‘quick dash’ was just that! Usually I stay out for a few minutes and jump around or run up and down the drive way to see how quickly I warm up…. Not this morning! I made it to the bottom of our front steps in my PJ’s and runners. Hahaha…. It was cold!
A quick glance at the morning news reaffirmed just how cold it was. For the first time this fall we had a winter storm. Driving conditions were dismal at best and motorists were warned to stay off the roads for any unnecessary travel. The roaring wind had the temperature sitting at about -24C (-11.2F) at 7am. Awesome! Heat wave! … wait, what is the opposite of a heat wave? Icicle?  

So, what to wear? Hahaha… a little bit of everything! I pulled on a pair of ProCompression calf sleeves to keep my lower legs warm and then proceeded to sift through my pile of run gear to pick out a few layers. I always run with Injinji toe socks, so they would be my base layer on my feet. Nothing beat not having to worry about blisters when you can’t feel your toes in the cold! On top of them I threw on a pair of hiking weight Icebreaker merino wool socks. That was it for the feet! Anything more and my feet wouldn’t fit in my shoes! My new Sugoi pants with a windproof front panel were my only pants layer. On top I opted for a long sleeve Salomon compression shirt, my new race shirt (I’m not superstitious – I will always finish a run I have started!) as the image on the front was just too good to pass up on this cold and blustery day, and an Under Armor, base layer pullover with hood (not on my base but still warm!). I topped off my already stylish and grossly mismatched albeit colourful look with my florescent orange Saucony run jacket (with LED lights!!!), a fleece and cotton dual layer Buff, a baseball hat, fleece headband and my 40-below snowboard mittens. Somewhere under the three long sleeved layers my Garmin 310XT was hiding…. And my heart rate monitor! One day, some day, I will remember to get my heart rate monitor on before I finish tucking in all of my shirt layers….! I hope..!
After a few last minute gear checks and collecting some dry clothes for after the race, it was off to the races! Hahaha… slowly, and very, very carefully!
The Race

My mom decided to come along with me on race day. Well, that and I got her a brunch ticket – anything for food! I rode shot gun in her little tractor of a car, attempting to pin my race bib to my pants without stabbing myself en route. I had my great big winter boots on to keep my feet warm and race shoes dry until the start of the race. Oh what a morning!
It took us nearly an hour to do the usual 20 minute drive into the heart of the city. The race was being run out of Eau Claire. Our initial plan was to park at her office tower but we scrapped that idea and opted for the parking garage below the mall. $2 for parking… it was a good deal and saved us a four block walk in the ‘blah’ for lack of a better word!
I threw my race shoes over my shoulder and off we went to find the runner check in.
The facility was already crawling with runners. Tens of people were standing in the doorways with their arms held up towards the sky in an attempt to find satellites through the snow and dense clouds… and building without the need to go outside. Dozens more were doing their warm ups in the large pavilion and still more were arriving every minute.
I soon joined the group of runners in the doorways in an attempt to locate my satellites on my Garmin. Apparently I had some issues though. Five minutes later and I still had nothing. I gave in and threw my parka back on and had to go stand in the court yard with my arm up in the air for a few minutes before my satellites locked in. I don’t know if clouds are a common issue for other runners, but for some reason I have a really hard time picking up satellites on the 310XT on really cloudy and REALLY cold days (as in -40C cold!). If you have the same problems, give me a shout, I’m curious!!!

Anyways, after finding my satellites I decided to put my shoes on and get warmed up. I opted to do the early start which left twenty minutes before the main crowd. I hadn’t run a lot in the snow for long-ish distances and didn’t know what to expect of my performance. Donning my new trail runners (yes, another new item, what a day! I got them after package pick up!), Mizuno Wave Ascend 8’s, I was good to go! I did my usual warm up routine to get my legs primed and then headed off to the start area. My mom followed me out so I was able to keep my parka on until the very last seconds before the countdown began. What a relief that was! There is nothing like being turned into a runner-sicle before the race even starts!
Being a goof and trying to keep warm. I think I scared a few people with my awesomeness! :D

The countdown was on. I tossed my winter jacket to my mom and scrambled to find my GPS under my multitude of layers. I found it just as I stepped over the starting mat. What a relief that was. The early start had about three dozen or so runners. The bulk of the pack would be behind us shortly. I started somewhere in the middle and stayed that way for the first three or so kilometers as my body and lungs adjusted to running into the headwind as we headed west along the banks of the Bow River.
Waiting for the final count.

Off we go!
Shortly after Prince’s Island Park I took the lead of the pack. I was way out in front with only the lead cyclist in front of me. At this point I was feeling really good but also a bit nervous and I hadn’t studied the route map as well as I normally do. I hoped that the cyclist stayed near by, or at least in sight for a while!  As we headed towards our crossover at Crowchild Trail (the pedestrian underpass), I passed the course marshal who was shouting out directions as we had beaten her to her post. Cross at the bridge and go right. Easy!
The signage on route as actually quite good! I was pleasantly surprised to be able to see anything! There were kilometer markers almost every kilometer and arrows at all of the turning points! Woohoo! Amazingly, the paths until the bridge at Crowchild were also clear or in the process of being cleared. I had to pass a ride on snow blower on a narrow section on the pathway and had to slow to a walk and all but climb on the fence to get by. The blasting of the snow at this stage was actually quite welcomed as I was definitely starting to warm up. 

As I passed over the Bow River I was able to get a glance at where the rest of the filed was. The next closest person to me had yet to make it to the bridge. Also in bright orange, she was nice and easy to spot! There were the odd few people that I could make out amongst the trees making their way to the river crossing but they were a good 500-700m back. I was definitely way out in front! 

The pathway along Memorial Trail was beautiful. It was hard to fathom that only a few short months ago most of it was under water in the worst flooding the city has seen for hundreds of years. Here we are, mid-November amidst a blizzard where only six months ago the water would have been over my head at this same point. I took in the sights and sounds along the river. There were lots of geese and ducks floating by on the still un-frozen river. Traffic hummed by on my left. A few houses that had flooded were gaited and workers were working away, dumping materials into industrial sized waste bins, hammering, shouting. The world seemed quite relaxed for 9am on a Sunday. No hurry. 

The lead cyclist and I began to talked with one another for some time. Given the snow, I was definitely not pushing myself so talking was a nice way to break up the run. I was running comfortably just over six minutes a kilometer on the still cleared pathway. We talked about various races, past and future. He was a multi-time ironman and all around amazing! He had run the Grizzly Ultra as a soloist, the same race that I had tackled with a team a month earlier. What a nice guy! I enjoyed chatting with him for another three or four kilometers. Every now and then he would ride ahead but we would chat again as I caught up with him. 

As we neared the Zoo the pathways were no longer cleared. I was nearing the 11km mark of the course and knew the faster pack would be catching up to me in no time. I was the first to make it through the aid station – YAY, how exciting is that? On the menu was slush water and slush orange Gatorade. Hahaha, it was quite funny! I tried to take a quick drink but ended up having to stop and take off my mitten and fish out the slush with my finger so I could get a bit of fluid! I was not running with a hydration belt knowing my water would just freeze. Why carry the extra weight right? I was amazed that we even had a water station. The conditions were definitely less than stellar and the volunteers were quite clearly frozen. Kudos to them for sticking it out to support us! They truly were amazing! 

I got a pat on the back and some more cheers as I headed off from the aid station. Solo. Still!
Shortly after the aid station we rounded the zoo. Here the course got slightly more hilly and more snow laden. JUST as I was rounding a corner (on a hill… go figure) the elite men caught up to me and passed me in a flash. I recognised our local run hero Benard Onsare fly by with two others hot on his heels. After that, I was on my on again for a few minutes. From then on, the odd body trickled past. 

The course was getting tough! It was a luxury to run on cleared pathways for the first 10k of the race, but from then until the end of the race, the rest of the course was a mine field. You knew there was ice under the powdery snow, but where was the question. I continued, carefully onward. One foot in front of the other. My pace started to slow on the unbroken snow covered path. The snow was a good six or so inches deep, fluffy but at the same time, quite heavy. Our early season snowfalls tend to be quite heavy with moisture. This was no exception. The flakes landing on my face were a good indication of that. At times I felt like I was crying with the amount of water I had running off of my face from the snow. 

We continued on our course around the Zoo. We could see guests inside the Canadian Wilds section. I even heard a little boy ask his mom why all of the people were moving so fast on the other side of the fence. How cute? As I rounded the final, big corner by the zoo I could hear the wolves howling. It made my hair stand on end and my heart skip a beat. What an incredible sound, and no one around to share it with! On they sang until I was out of ear shot. The final large corner of the zoo brought us onto the Nose Creek Pathway system. We were no heading north by the Deerfoot Trail with the freeway on our right and the Zoo and Science Centre on our left hand side. We continued heading north until our turn around point a kilometer or so after the science centre. 

This section was really difficult. I could tell by the foot marks in the snow that had kicked up significant amounts of snow that there was a LOT of ice in hiding. Running cautiously, I expected to land on my rear at any moment. As I neared the science centre, I thought for sure the lead pack should have hit the turn around and I should see them coming over the rise any moment. But I didn’t. I guess it was a lot further to the turn around that I thought! Either that or they couldn’t get back up the little hill because of all of the ice? Who knows? I almost made it to the little downhill section before I caught sight of my cyclist friend with Benard hot on his tail. A quick wave of recognition from my buddy, I guesstimated that I was about a kilometer from the turnaround point. Maybe less. I think they may have extended this section of the course as I know on our maps that we hardly passed the Science Centre before turning. Not the case on race day!

Anyways, one foot in front of the other! More and more people started to catch up with me now so I knew the bulk of the main pack was near. I kept going and tried not to let the heavy foot falls of those around me change my pace or the feel I had for my run thus far. I was so relaxed. Hearing a herd of elephants (okay, so they aren’t elephants but having 50 people come up behind you, it is kind of loud!) come from behind started to make my anxiety rise a bit – the make or break moment of the race. As I hit the turnaround I had a good sense of how many other runners were around. I was definitely greeted by the bulk of the pack as I headed up hill and back toward the science centre. It didn’t take them long to catch up. 11.5k in almost solitude and then BOOM! I’d be running the final 10k with the rest of the group! It is what I planned on but still, when you hear the masses coming up from behind, it definitely gets your heart pumping a little faster! 

The turn around was hard. It seemed like the wind had changed direction. Again! Boy was it cold! Maybe I was just really sweaty at this point but WOW! At least the snow had started to subside. The remainder of the race was pretty uneventful. I saw a field mouse as I neared the final leg of the Zoo corner and high-fived some friends that were still running towards the turn around. It seemed like the race was a lot longer than the usual 21 kilometers given the conditions. Boy I couldn’t wait to finish the race. We had a pedestrian overpass to climb our way up and over the Bow one final time around kilometer 18. I remember thinking “OMG, are we there yet? 18? Seriously?!?” I was starting to get worn down from trudging through the snow. It was starting to hurt. 

The over pass and the final bridge on the home stretch were terribly ice laden. It definitely took some careful footwork to make it across the puddles that had frozen in to works of art by Jack Frost overnight. I know I slowed significantly over the final, small bridge. I didn’t feel confident in sprinting on ice as this was really our first anything of the season where the ice was unavoidable. Instead I just kept it slow and steady. 

The middle of the pack-ers filing into the finish area.
Amazingly, I finished with a PR of almost 4 minutes. In the snow… at -18C (when we finished)… after carefully shuffling over ice patches the size of small lakes. I was floored! I definitely did NOT expect that to say the least! 

A quick hug to my cyclist buddy and I was off to find my mom and some warmth. I learned that Benard had hurt himself (his hip?) on the ice but still won the race. What a day. Congratulations bud, you are amazing! 

Holy BUR! Happy to be back in the warmth! My cheeks were frozen making it really hard to smile! LOL

Post Race:

For a measly 21km race, that was almost tougher than the marathon I had run only a few weeks earlier. Ha! It’s amazing what snow and ice can do to a run!
A quick change into dry clothes and it was off to celebrate another great season of running at the Garage with my fellow Last Chance runners. What fun! Our brunch ticket numbers were checked upon entry in the bar to see if we had won any draw prizes and then we were off to collect some munchies. What great munchies! There is nothing better than finishing a long run on a cold day with warm food and fruit. Eggs, bacon, sausages, pancakes and fruit salad, orange juice, tea and coffee! What more could a girl ask for? While definitely not my usual post run food… it was warm, and I was more than happy and grateful for that! I may have chowed down more on the fruit salad than anything (see earlier post, but most of my family thinks I’m a vegetarian because I eat so much in the way of fruit and veggies!). I also don’t usually drink coffee, but today was a definite exception. I was happy to have finished my run with feeling in all of my extremities and digits but I was definitely cool. Something about coffee and hot chocolate after long cold runs – it tastes so much better when it warms you from the core!

My mom and I stuck around and mingled with other runners for about an hour before decided to head home.
A nice ending to the first real wintery blast of the year – we were blessed with a sunny and clear ride home!

Thank you again to the race organizers and all of the volunteers, timers, and everyone else that braved the cold on race day to make this event happen. It is always so hard when that first real blast of cold hits after a few months of enjoyable weather. No one really remembers how to dress to prepare for the worst – I think we are all optimists and hope for the best! I know I am grateful to those that give up their time at any given race, but a definite heartfelt thanks goes to those on races like this where the conditions are more so poor. Thank you for all of your support! Without awesome people like you willing to give up your time and brave the cold, we wouldn’t be able to do all of the crazy things we do! Thanks again!  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

STWM - Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon


Oh my goodness, where to start?!?! Well, it won't be a short post, so sit tight and enjoy!

I flew out to Toronto on the Thursday night before race weekend. I wanted to make sure I was at the expo early to get everything sorted, pick up my bib, get a feel for the weather and attend some of the race weekend events. Our flight was rather eventful. We were slightly delayed on the home front and were treated to a rather bouncy ride across the country. We made up for lost time in the air but, upon arrival into Toronto airspace… we lost whatever time we had made up and then some. Our flight had to abort landing three times. It was mildly terrifying.

The low-lying clouds, the fog, the rain, the dark. The plane approached the airport on three different occasions. We were traveling quickly as if we were prepared to land. It was difficult to see much through the fog, but on occasion, it was possible to discern just how close we were to the ground as the odd roadway or building crept into view. A fast approach and then the nose of the plane was thrust upward, time after time. By the third aberrant approach eyebrows started to raise and questions started to fly through the air as people began speculating what was going.

More than an hour late by the time we actually landed, I was glad that I booked a late shuttle to take me to my hotel. Apparently our plane suffered from some landing gear issues. Hopefully they solved the problem before its next voyage. Either way,  I made it safely, and in one piece!

The shuttle ride to the hotel was blasé. There wasn’t much to see save for thousands upon thousands of blurred tail lights from the cars in front of us on the freeway as viewed through the pouring rain. It took about 30 minutes or so to reach the downtown core. I was required to transfer shuttles and get on a smaller vessel to take me to my hotel in an older, more cramped part of town. If not for the dumping rain I could have walked from the transfer point as it was hardly but two blocks from my hotel on a maze of one way streets that appeared to frustrate the driver.

The hotel was in an old, almost Victorian style building (maybe?). The exterior was beautiful and the interior was extremely modern. I was stunned upon my arrival to find the lobby of the facility absolutely filled with people… I was even me stunned when I realized I was a lot taller and the only white person in sight. It didn’t take long for me to put two and two together… especially after hearing the concierge explain to the gentlemen in front of me that ‘his party was waiting for him in the lounge on the second floor and that the other elites had already arrived.’ HA! Little Jane-Doe just walked in to a room full of elite marathoners from Kenya, Ethiopia and elsewhere. I’m sure I blushed right then and there but kept my ‘cool’ until I made it to my room on the sixth floor. OOOOMMMG! I nearly died when I discovered who was in the room across the hall from me! Holy runner envy!!!!

The reality of what I had set out to do this weekend hit me like a ton of bricks when I opened the door to my hotel room. I’m not a fan of flying so the nervous anticipation for a flight is one thing in and of itself. NOW I was nervous for an entirely different reason; one than spanned a distance of 42.2km and called itself ‘Sunday Morning!’

My night was very uneventful. I treated myself to room service as it was dark and I didn’t want to go out in an attempt to find somewhere to eat; especially not in an area known as the ‘distillery district.’ The image conjures up pictures of lots of shabby old pubs with large bearded men hoisting glasses of beer the size of pitchers. I enjoyed my dinner and called it a night. I knew tonight was the night I needed to get sleep leading into ‘the big day.’

On Friday morning I made it my mission to find a Tim Horton’s on my way to the race expo. The carb loading breakfast of choice for this girl was a whole grain bagel with cream cheese. That, and I was dying for a warm coffee. The wind on the Friday before the race was impressively strong. As it wove its way through the mountainous buildings it created what felt like a wind-tunnel effect. No matter which way your turned, it felt like the wind was in your face. After finding the ‘local addiction centre’ (as Timmy Ho’s are often referred to in Nova Scotia) I continued on my 8km trek to the race expo.

The walk was pleasant despite the roaring wind. I passed the CBC building in the Entertainment District, the CN tower, the aquarium and the Blue Jay’s Stadium. It was quite the adventure! I was even more thrilled when I got lost in a bunch of construction and blocked streets when I happened upon a grocery store. I was going to have fresh fruit for the weekend! YAY! I stocked up on apples and bananas and walked the last few kilometers enjoying the sights and sounds of the booming metropolis. The last thing I passed before finding the race expo was an old armory fort. They were tarring the roof in front of the doors or I would have gone to investigate. It was a nice looking, old building.

The CN Tower reaching up in to the big blue
The facility housing the expo was gargantuan. I can’t say I have been in such a large building before. It was easy to know I was in the correct place. There were at least a few thousand people in line waiting to enter the venue. The press conference for the event was just wrapping up with the race organizers and the elites and high profile athletes.

Expo lines. I was standing just behind the marathon lineups and was looking toward the half
marathon lines and the 5km race lines on the far side of the building.
When the doors opened it didn’t take long at all for the massive line up to move. I had to have been a few thousand people back (we went down the hallway from one side of the building to the other and back again, I was near the end!). Within a few short minutes I was in another, significantly shorter line up where the marathon runners were collecting their bibs. Bib and ‘swag’ system was impeccable! The marathon runners were at the far end of the room and had about 8 small lines that were allocated for bib numbers within a given range. Next to our lineup was probably a good 20 or more lines for the half marathon and on the side of the room nearest the entry way was the lineups for the 5km race. The lines moved extremely quickly. We were given our swag bags, our bibs and a clear drawstring bag with a number on it to use for the bag drop on race morning. As soon as we collected our gear, we went through a ‘chip checker’ to ensure that our timing chips were reading correctly and then it was off to the expo.

My expo experience so far this year has been pretty small, for lack of a better word. Ever event I have gone to has had an very small expo. Sometimes there was one or two booths, with a bit of luck, maybe even ten…. There was one expo had only a Running Room booth. You could well imagine my surprise at the size of the race expo in Toronto. I was in runner heaven.

I don’t know the exact size and despite spending the entire day at the expo, I didn’t think to count the tables. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say there were probably close to 40 independent tables/operators. It was fabulous. There were booths advertising countless other races, booths selling running gear, sport fuel specific tables, you name it… it was probably there!

It took me about an hour to walk through the various goods at the expo and I picked up a few things in the process. I was pretty happy about finding some run tights for winter knowing that the snow had started falling at last weekends race. It was only a matter of time before the snow decided to stick around for the winter…. Or spring like it did last year. I spent a large chunk of my day at the talks at the expo. The speaker series was great and I even got to meet a few of my running idols. What more could a girl ask for?  I also waited around for an hour or two (during the long break in the speakers) for the only two people I knew running the race to show up and catch up on all of the goings-on. It was almost dinner time by the time I finally left the expo. It felt like bed time. It was a long day!
So he closed his eyes, but meh! I got to meet one of my running idols, Eric Gillis!

I ended up taking the shuttle back to the down town core with one of my friends instead of walking the entire way back to my hotel. I didn’t know if my phone battery would last for the walk and didn’t particularly care to chance getting lost in the labyrinth of construction between me and my hotel!

After a quick stop for dinner I more or less locked myself in my room until race morning. I popped out for some pictures of the area I was staying in and a shake out run of 5km on Saturday morning. I found a Subway restaurant and grabbed a sub for an early dinner (more like a late lunch) and then settled in with my books. It was a VERY early night for me. I thought if I turned the lights out early the night before the race that maybe, just maybe I would be able to get a bit more shut eye than I did before my previous races.

It was close to 12am before I finally got a bit of shut eye and thus, my plan clearly backfired. I was up and getting ready to go by 3:30am. Race day routine in order, I was out the door and walking my way up Younge Street towards the race area, in the dark wearing sunglasses and shorts. The police and countless volunteers were out already barricading the course and rerouting traffic. There were numerous other runners making the same trek although some opted for taxis!

It took me about 25 minutes to get to the bag check area. I was frozen solid but I was thrilled when I discovered that City Hall (at least I think that was the building we were in) had its doors open so we could stay warm for a little while longer. I talked with countless other runners and did my warm ups before wondering out towards the race course and the massive lineup of Porto-potties (no joke, there had to have been at least 100) for one last pit stop before finding my corral.

I was placed in the purple corral. This meant that I was one of the last to leave the starting area and I would be up against the clock to finish the race before the cut off time. This made me quite nervous as, from my previous posts it is clear, training had not gone according to plan. As a result of my less than stellar training leading into the race and reoccurring knee/hip issue my only goal for this ‘race’ was to use it as a learning experience and long training run. I knew in August that my marathon race for time had turned into a marathon training run… my only hope was that my knee/hip cooperated and let me get through the day.

We were freeeeeezing in our corrals while waiting for the race to start. I knew I was significantly faster than most, if not all of the people in my corral (provided my knee held out) so I made sure to line up early. With 45 minutes before gun time I found myself at the front of the corral with about 5000 people behind me. This whole ‘early’ stuff must be a Canadian thing….!

I made friends with those around me. Race day nerves tend to make most people quite chatty. Thankfully the loquacious bodies around me made the time pass quickly. Nearing gun time most of us were having difficulty getting words out between the chattering of our teeth. It was a cold morning!

Mayor Rob Ford (drew a significant amount of eye rolling from those around me) and the Mayor of the town of Marathon in Greece were there to kick off the race. After introducing the top elite contenders for those watching the race live and at home, the horn was sounded and the race began. The elites and those individuals in the first corral were off. The people on the main street in front of us shuffled forward. The horn went off again and the people in the second corral began their races. The process continued until it was our turn. We were the last of the runners, a good 8000 or so strong with the walkers in the orange corral behind us. As the volunteers holding the rope in front of our corral began to usher us on to the main street (slowly), my nerves began to pick up. I lost my spot at the very front but was only a few bodies behind the start line when our race horn went off.
I didn’t know whether I was going to throw up or not, but the butterflies swarming in my stomach were definitely having a delightful time.

There were thousands of people lining both sides of the street. The bodies were three and four people thick, in some places even more. Many people had signs cheering on loved ones but everyone was cheering and clapping, whistling or ringing bells. It was a pretty special moment crossing over the start line and beginning my 42.2km journey. It was almost overwhelming. I don’t think I expected it to feel quite like that. I expected it to feel like any other run I have done…. But this one was different!

I chose to continue running with a 4:1 run to walk ratio for this race. It had allowed me to work on distance while my knee/hip was acting up and to get back into the swing of things in August. I didn’t think a change in my game plan was in order before a marathon or I would have run the race solid. It was my second walk interval and I had almost made it to the Royal Ontario Museum, my charity group, when I was cut off by a group of 10:1 people following a pacer. It made me a pretty angry to be cut off (i.e., have someone stop dead in their tracks without looking or signaling that they were slowing down) but I tried to not let it bother me. I sped up to get around the group of bodies that were stopping throughout the width of the street, all of whom seemed to be following the pacer. This is my only complaint about the race – PLEASE make sure, if you are a pacer or a pace-ee, that you follow your pacer and stick to the side of the road and/or use proper run etiquette so those behind you don’t bowl you over when you stop!!!! GAH!

Anyways, the race went on. For a long time! I was happy to pass the ROM knowing it was my charity of choice for the charity challenge and that it was also going to be on my finisher medal when I crossed the finish line. What more could a girl ask for? I was elated! Along Bloor Street (kilometers 2 and 3), the course was nice and flat. The tight mass of bodies began to spread out ever so slightly. We rounded the corner of Bloor onto Bathurst Street for the next three kilometers. There was a slight downhill gradient to this part of the course which allowed me to view the seemingly endless sea of heads leading straight down to the waterfront area along Lake Ontario. Along Bathurst the crowds were impressively large. In places there had to have been at least 8-10 bodies thick lining the sides of the street and cheering. IT was incredible.

I reached for a gel and dropped it as I was trying to open it. A slight moment of panic ensued. I could turn and grab it as there wasn’t someone directly on my heels… or I could leave it and keep going. I think I thought about grabbing it and then decided to just keep going. It was $1.50 loss (or so, maybe more or less?) but I couldn’t let it phase me. I wasn’t concerned so much about the cost of the thing or having wasted it so much as I was about the fact I didn’t think I brought any spare gels with me…. Less weight to lug right?!?! Oh well! Onwards!

Passing the Fort I had seen on Friday, we ran in front of Exhibition place and onto the Lakeshore. The group of cheerleaders by Exhibition place was incredible. They belonged to a charity and all were in matching red shirts. They lined both sides of the street and were cheering up a storm. High fives all around for a good hundred or two hundred meters. If I wasn’t overwhelmed by the crowds before, I definitely was at this point. I actually had to fight back tears at this stage. What an experience! With every step I was more and more satisfied with my decision to run a ‘big’ marathon in Toronto. I wanted the experience of running with many, many thousands before heading to Disney in January. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to experience the crowds and the people. WOW!

The lakeshore section of the course was really cool. While the elites had long since passed through this section, probably before our corral had even started, it was a nice feeling being able to see thousands of other runners coming back at you along the other side of the freeway along the water front. While separated by a good few hundred meters until closer to the turnaround point between kilometers 12 and 13, it was nice to both encourage those on the other side and also to receive encouragement. This would be one of the few sections in the course where this was possible.

...don't ask what possessed me to take a photo while running!
It was somewhere along this section that I saw the infamous ‘Sign Guy’ Mike K. dressed in a beer bottle costume. Not a big drinker at the best of times, I still couldn’t help but wonder how good a beer would taste post-race, and whether I splurge and get one to celebrate! I received a quick high-five from Mike as I passed and then it was back to thinking about post-race celebration. Hey, whatever keeps your mind off your feet and on the race right?!?

I was feeling REALLY good when I passed the turn around and went up the small hill (bridge maybe?) and headed back towards the city. The bodies on the roadway were thinning out even more than they had previously, but there were still many thousands in my sights. When we started we were probably running at least 15-20 abreast. Now we were running about 10-15 abreast. There was wiggle room, or weaving room as I all it, and I was definitely doing a lot of weaving to get around slower people without allowing my rhythm to falter.

As we re-entered the part of the city with skyscrapers that really do touch the sky, we ran under the Gardiner Expressway. At this stage of the race, pylons were placed down the centre of the double wide section of the road. Volunteers were placed ever 20 or so meters and they began to direct people to one side of the course or the other. THIS is when the race became even more real to me. Had I been running a half marathon, I would be entering sprint mode. There was just over 1km left for those running the half marathon. I was directed to the right side of the road while those running the half marathon were directed to the left side of the road and began their final ascent up Bay Street to the finish line. This made me wonder how my two friends had made out in their respective races. Had they finished yet?

I passed under a red blow-up archway that read “MARATHON.” Now the roads were very clear. Where we had been running ten across (easily) only a few minutes before hand, I now had only three of four people near me and probably only about 20 in my line of sight until we turned onto Queens Kay ( approaching kilometer 21). My race was half over and therefore, it was only just beginning. At this point, I was still feeling really good. I had received a text from my mom while running to say who the race winners were and that they had JUST finished the mens race. I was dying to know who won and I had my phone with me to keep my intervals consistent… still relatively new to my Garmin 310XT, I didn’t know whether it would allow me to program enough 4:1 ratios into it to allow me to finish my marathon or not. Again, I wasn’t about to change anything for race day so why not lug the phone… I do in practice anyways!
Okay, fine! Because I wasn't running for time, bur using the race for 'experience' and as a long training run I felt I could take pictures! I only managed 3! You've now seen two of the three! :D

There were probably a few hundred runners around me along Queens Quay, which felt like next to nobody after having been so tightly packed earlier in the race. As we turned on to Commissioner street I saw the first signs of the race taking its toll on people. There were the odd one or two bodies stopped to stretch their legs on the side of the curse, but at the turn from Queens Quay onto Cheery Street I watched a guy only 10m in front of me go down in agony. Thankfully he landed on a small patch of grass. My heart jumped into my throat. I don’t know who he is, but I stopped briefly to make sure he was okay and to make sure that one of the course marshals knew he was in distress. His legs had cramped so violently that he collapsed and fell to the ground in a heap. It was probably then that I realised the seriousness of the race and what it really means to run 42.2km. I’ve seen lots of people go down before in races, some out cold, but on this day I was feeling so good that I didn’t want to believe anything like that could happen to me. Not a chance. The reality sunk in with this guy crumbling to the ground. I don’t know if he got back up or if he finished his race. My mind was elsewhere. Even if I had read his bib number, I wouldn’t have remembered it for the next 17-18km with thousands of other bib numbers around me.

Not terribly far up the road, now back onto Lakeshore Bullivard on the way to ‘The Beaches’ I saw a few other people go down in a similar fashion. It was safe to say that with each runner I saw fall, you could see dreams being shattered by the looks on their faces. It was a reminder to ‘drink’ and ‘take in electrolytes’ and ‘monitor your body.’ Now the words of Eric Gillis were swimming through my head. It was a pleasure to meet him in person at the expo. I have to say I was pretty lucky to get a picture with him and a personal pep talk. Kilometer 26 and his words were engrained on the back of my eyelids. Not only could I hear him saying them in my head, I could see them!

The Beaches district was a lovely area. The street front shops and cafés were filled to the brim with people. The sidewalks were bustling with early morning shoppers. The cheers were plentiful. The hustle and bustle of the district made my pace quicken slightly. My body was starting to tire after the turn around just after kilometer 29. The somewhat ‘sharp’ turn (I say sharp, I’m sure it really wasn’t all that tight, but on tired legs that were beginning to feel more like lead, sharp felt like a good descriptive) make me feel the weight of my legs as we reached the plateau of the gradual uphill section and began to run down it again. There were hundreds of people behind me. I was tired but still comfortable. Seeing the 30km and then the 31km marker made me confident that I was going to finish this sucker. I was also amazed that I had just run 30kmand my knee/hip hadn’t given out yet. Holy cow!

At the kilometer 32 mark I knew, from reading online, that the “Dream Team” was close at hand. If I needed company or felt like I was starting to struggle, all I had to do was ask and someone would come join me for a few hundred meters – just enough to give one an extra boost of energy. This was a really neat idea and I hope that the marathon out here elects to do something similar!

The hardest part of the race for me was the overpass on Eastern Avenue at kilometer 35. The bridge. I had a feeling the bridge would be my downfall. For the few meter incline it offers, it made my lead-like legs scream. I would normally hasten my pace on a downhill but I really didn’t have enough left in the tank to push on the downward side of the bridge. After hitting the 36km marker, the course got interesting.

You could describe the next few kilometers as though were running in a knot. There were 3.5km of very tight, angular turns to make over a relatively short distance. I found this part to be exceedingly difficult. There were laid bricks over a short section of the course and all I could think about was ‘ooooh goodness, please don’t trip...if you fall, you won’t be able to get back up.’ This was probably not the best thing to have running through my head at this stage in the race, but it was there none the less and I couldn’t really help it! The knotted section was also comprised of small undulating hills. Although small, they definitely did a number on your legs. Mentally, they felt like small mountains.

On the longest portion of the knotted section I had to stop for a moment and re-tie my right shoe.  That was fun! Thankfully the curb was rather tall or I would have gotten stuck! I was still surrounded by hundreds of other runners and it was when I bent over to tie my shoe that I realized how much of a toll the race to this point had taken on my body. My fingers were slightly swollen and, the need to re-tie my shoe (loosen it) suggested my feet were a bit swollen too. That’s a first! I also think it was at this point that I started seeing more and more people go down and watched their races end before my eyes. That was hard.

I don’t like seeing others struggle (animal or human) and I wish I could have helped them get to the finish line but for a number of them, you knew they were done. I had just passed the hairpin turn at kilometer 38 and was approaching kilometer 39 when I watched an EMS SUV pull away with its lights flashing and its horn going to get through the hundreds of runners still on the trail. That was intense. Someone’s race came to a grinding halt, to say the least.

While still okay plugging along with my legs feeling like led and the rest of me feeling like I had been hit by a ton of bricks, I kept pushing. As I approached the corner that was kilometer 39 I found three girls from the Dreamteam and shouted out “anyone want to go for a run?” and just kept going. I don’t know why I shouted out, but I’m glad I did. I was alone in my running and alone in my journey. It was more than thrilling to be able to share the last few kilometers with someone and have a bit a ‘pick me up’ for lack of a better word. I had two girls run with me until I reached the next corner and then I met up with one other girl. Her name was Lisa DC. Instead of running a few hundred meters with me, she ran about a kilometer. Her company was amazing. I was definitely feeling worse for wear at this stage (now kilometer 40) and it was positively delightful to have her by my side. I knew there were still hundreds of runners behind me and a few thousand had already finished, but I had someone with me at the race and I was now over the moon.

I run by myself. I train alone. I do the odd group run, but I’m usually running solo. I wanted anyone from my family to join me at the race and someone was going to until they pulled out last minute. I don’t know if I was feeling the blow from that as I neared the end of the race or not, but I all I knew what that I was elated to have someone to talk to, even if only for a quick minute. I’m really strong so far as the mental side of sports goes (yay for being brought up in a competitive, Olympic level sporting world with sports psychologists coming out ones ying yang), but for whatever reason as I neared the end of my journey, the only thing I wanted more than to cross that finish line was to have someone on the other side waiting for me. I didn’t. But sharing the last few kilometers, even with total strangers was more than fulfilling.

I was handed off by Lisa to Paul and then to another lady for hardly but twenty meters. I was on the home stretch now and I could feel it. I didn’t have enough ‘umph’ left in my tank for my usual sprint to the finish, but I finished! I don’t know how many people were still behind me, but the stand were still filled with people. The yells from the crowd had finally taken its toll. All I have to say is I was really happy that I had sunglasses on and you couldn’t see the tears they were hiding in all of my race pictures. The crowds on the home stretch along Bay Street were phenomenal. I crossed the finish line with tears of joy rolling down my face. I also finished with Batman! Technically, I actually beat Batman, but we crossed the line together and that’s all that matters. I am so proud of him and I’m thrilled to call him my friend.
Seriously, it's Batman! His bib even says so! Well done sir!

Kilometer 42.2 and I was still standing. I felt indescribably stiff but I was nothing short of amazed that my knee/hip held out for the entire duration of the race. That in and of itself was incredible!

As soon as we crossed the finish line, there were tables and tables filled (stacked a few rows high actually) with Gatorade and water. After grabbing a drink, I was given a space blanket and proceeded through a maze to receive my race medal. I’m damn proud of that one! After collecting my medal I was given a bag to put my race food in. I received two bagels, a banana and a bottle of water. I think they had yoghurt earlier in the day but they had run out by the time I had finished. I would have liked the yoghurt more than anything, but that’s okay. I think we were all given a second bagel for compensation.

I started munching on my banana right away and joined a line for a finisher photo. It was still hard at this point to hold back the tears. It took almost everything I could muster to put my space blanket, food bag and run belt down so I could have a quick picture taken. It was nice to know that I was not alone in this feat as most others also appeared to be struggling with the whole ‘bend over’ thing. Hahaha!

I followed the slow moving line out of the finishers area were family members of those who had just finished were awaiting their arrival. It was pretty anticlimactic for me, for obvious reasons, so I pointed my legs in the direction of the bag check.

Having missed the turn I had taken when I dropped my bag off earlier in the day, I was challenged with a set of stairs on my way to the bag drop area. Ooooh you can well imagine my excitement! I thought that I could turn around and figure out where I had walked in the dark a few hours earlier but then decided it would be best to ‘put on my big girl panties’ and get it over with. I was done my race and if my knee/hip decided to go on the stairs… so be it! I could crawl my way through the airport to get home! Meh!

I actually fared rather well. Better than I thought I did although the trek to the bad drop was definitely a challenge for tired muscles. I showed my bib number (now hidden by my space blanket), gathered my things and found an area to stretch in the main pavilion area of the race. I had my post-race munchies, put on my jumper and proceeded to prepare myself mentally for the almost 2km walk down hill to my hotel. Thank goodness it was downhill and not up!!!! I’d also like to mention how unbelievably lovely it was to receive congratulations from random strangers on my walk down to my hotel – young and old alike. I was almost floored when a kid I would probably describe as a ‘punk’ walking with his buddies walked up to me and said congratulations. That was unexpected to say the least and, once again, nearly brought me to tears!

In the end, my trip ended almost the same way it started; with room service and a bumpy flight across the country. At least going home I could say I accomplished my goals and that I shared the course with some of the best runners alive! Incredible! Oh, and my pilot on the way home also ran the marathon! It was fun to share stories with him!
The Race: Toronto Waterfront Marathon
Thoughts: The best race I have run to date! By a long shot! The first half of the course, even though you are released in waves, is very tight until you hit the 20km mark. I actually had a distance of 43.44km on both of my GPS devices by the time I finished – from weaving in the early part of the race. I am really good at picking my tangents so that isn’t an issue, but the weaving adds a LOT of distance to your race, particularly if you start in one of the later corrals. While there are no real ‘pinch points’ on the course were you have to walk to get through a section, there were still so many bodies out there that in order to run a comfortable pace you were going to have to weave to some degree.
Would I run it again: In a heartbeat! If I’m out east again, I will be there! No doubt about it!
Course: Fabulous, but it is definitely not ‘flat.’ The back half gets a bit technical (naturally, when you get more and more tired). Flat would be the marathon in Winnipeg. This is a great course and, as the records indicate, it is also an extremely fast course!
Crowds: Incredible! Not what I would have expected from Toronto at all. I was totally blown away by the support!
Aid stations: Awesome! The setup of the entire course was perfect! While I brought a hydration belt, I definitely could have gone without easily.