Monday, September 29, 2008

Race report: Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

The night before the marathon, I was pretty relaxed. I had spent the day in low-key mode. I had gone for a 2K run to test out the shoes. I did a load of laundry. I laid out the running gear and pinned on the bib and I carboloaded on pasta and other such food. I tried to be in bed by 9 p.m. because I was going to get up at 3:45ish to get in my breakfast. Phoned R and was actually in bed well before 10. I actually slept well, if not waking up every once in a while to check the time.

I got up, ate two waffles and a banana and went back to bed for another hour. By 5, I was getting ready. I looked out my window and saw the race crew putting up the 19K flag just to the east of my condo. I phoned R, she wished me well, and after taking washroom breaks, it was time to leave. I started the walk to City Hall, about 2.5K away.
It was a nice walk. I could feel the warmth in the air and I knew it wasn't quite the perfect weather for racing.

Arrived at the race site with one hour to spare, so hit the porta potty, sat down for a bit, then hit the portapotty one more time. Bumped into a few friends and in the final 25 minutes, lined up into the corral, where I saw Peter, an former colleague of mine and also a many time marathoner. We chatted a bit -- he was running the half with a goal of hitting 1:35. I started looking out for the 3:10 pacer but they were no where to be found. I just saw the 3:30 but that was it.

So as the clock counted down to 7:30, it was an odd feeling. I was about to run a marathon in my home city, the biggest race of my life on home turf, without the aide of a pacer. 'Oh well, here goes nothing' I thought as I crossed the line and started the Garmin

0 to 10K: Running with the pack

We sped down Bay Street, which is on a decline so we gathered speed. The corral system works quite well since most of the runners were going at a decent enough speed. Too many runs in Toronto you have to seed yourself up at the front for fear of veering off course to stay on your pace. I tried to contain my speed as we rounded the first major corner on to Wellington and I looked ahead at the horizon for the rising sun. It's a nice view and I enjoyed the scenery.

We passed the first kilometre mark in a too-quick 4:18. I found myself running right behind Peter and we ran a bit together. Lee came running by at this point and said hello around the time we clicked past the second kilometre at 4:22 and I knew we were running too fast. Lee, who was gunning for a sub 1:30 half, sped off and wished me luck (His blistering half was 1:27 and change). Peter advise that I slow down and "run your own race." I knew too well that was perfect advice so I slowed down. We ran on the Lakeshore for a bit and I skipped the first two water stops, taking drinks from my bottle that I was carrying with me. The next few kilometres clicked thorough and I hit the 5K mark in about 22 minutes, which was about 30 seconds faster than pace. I decided to slow it down a bit and settle into a consistent run. It's really difficult to run in a race that's predominatly run by half marathoners because they can give more effort while a marathoner has to be conservative.

I took my first gel at 8K and I was enjoying running on the road that had a nice downward slope to it since most of the course is flat. During this and so many of my kilometres, I got into a nice smooth groove.

8K in 4:30
9K in 4:30
10K in 4:29.

I hit the 10K split in around 45 minutes flat.

Splits: 10K split: 45:08 12.2K: 54:32

12.2K to 21.1K: Pack running, then the split
From the turnaround at 12.2K, we headed back east for a long trek to the city's east end. At the turnaround, you could see who was behind you, so I took a look for this supposed 3:10 pacer. I didn't spot any and I was perplexed. Luckily, there seemed to be a marathoner who was about 10 metres ahead of me who was running at the same clip as I was. I guessed that he was going for a 4:30 pace so I gave him his room and just used him as a marker. As it turns out he was going at around that pace, which was perfect for me. I kept to my plan. I took a Clif Shot Blok a few kilometres after taking the gel, then I'd take the next gel at the 15K mark. It's a pattern that I repeated for the rest of the marathon.

It was important at this point that I maintained 4:30 pace because quite a few of the half marathoners had gone out too fast and were slowing. This began the pattern that would happen for most of the rest of the race. I was running a steady pace and just passing people based on that pace.

We hit the half/full marathon split off before the 18K mark and I knew that's when the real race begun. If I was passing anyone ahead of me at this point, they had to be fading because it was my goal to run even splits.

Here are some splits

13K: 4:28
14K: 4:24
15K: 4:29
16K: 4:23
17K: 4:28
18K: 4:29
19K: 4:20
20K: 4:25
21K: 4:25
These are splits from my Garmin and I think some of them are off (as in recording the splits as too fast). From looking at my watch throughout the run, I was only 30 seconds faster than pace.

I remember running with four guys and I asked an older runner 'has anyone seen the 3:10 pacer?' Silence. Then he said, I'm going for 3:15. He asked the guy beside him (right behind me, how fast he was going. No answer. Then it turned out noone in that group knew what time they were going for. I just told them 'We're on 3:10 pace' to which the older runner said '3:15, lets go!'.

I left them about 100 metres later.

Running on Queens Quay was a dream. This is my neighbourhood and I was so happy to see real crowds gathered there. I know a lot of people cheering on friends and family were here to see marathoners before going to the end of the course, so I knew these people were actually out there to see us. Quite a few people were saying my name from my bib which was nice to hear. I was running alone, feeling strong, in a groove.

Hit the half marathon mark in 1:34:36 and as I write this, this is pretty amazing. Two years ago my fastest half marathon was 1:34:41 (My current PB is 1:31:34) yet during this marathon, I was cruising into the same time with plenty of gas left in the tank. This just shows where my training and experience has gotten me. (Reminder to self to race a half marathon in the next half year to see what I'm capable of).

21.1K to 30K. In and out of the Spit.
Shortly after the half, I saw a surprise cheering section that included a friend of mine (she's R's best friend who ran the 5K). That was a nice boost. I gave them a thumbs up and powered my way into the next section. I knew that the halfway mark to 20 miles would be an exercise in restraint. To try not to waste too much energy and emotion -- that's what the last 6.2 miles are for. The sun was fully out at this point and I was getting a little worried about the lack of shade on this course. We ran on Commissioners, which is an ugly industrial area, but it's also my home training ground. At about the turn into the Leslie Spit, an out and back into a park/reclaimed land/landfill dumping ground, we spotted the lead marathoners coming back. They were about to hit the 37K mark and looking strong.

I had still remembered to take my gels but I was increasingly consuming them well before I hit water stations. I was so intent to get my fuel in me that come hell or high water I'd put them in my mouth and just wait for the next water stop to take the water to wash them down.

Here are some of my splits

23K: 4:28
24K: 4:27
25K: 4:29
26K: 4:24
27K: 4:26
28K: 4:26
29K: 4:28
30K: 4:29

As you can see, I was within one to 4 seconds my marathon pace. At around the 27K mark, the guy who i'd been using as my semi pacer suddenly stopped at an aid station. At this point, I was truely alone in reaching my goal of a 3:10. Quite frankly, there was no one else around me who seemed to be going for that pace. I just bared down and decided to keep the pace up. I would not let the pace of those ahead of me dictate my running turnover. I hit the 30K mark in 2:14:35, which was 25 seconds faster than planned. I was very happy with this pacing job. In my head, that gave me about a 1:30 bank to meet 3:10:59.

30K: 2:14:35. Target pace 2:15

30K to 39K: The homestretch

The next bit had me run farther east, into the Beaches then up to Queen. It was a lonely road. There were only a few runners ahead of me and by keeping up my pace, I was starting to over take people. I continued to take the water, the gels, the bloks and I felt pretty good, pretty good for going more than 20 miles alone. I hit the last chip check mark at 33.7K, which I clocked in at 2:30:10. At the turnaround, I could see the CN Tower and I just told myself, it's only 9K home. I started to think of the distance in miles and it really didn't seem that far. At around the 35K mark, I felt a slight twinge in my right calf but I thought I could shake it out. I wished that I'd change my stride a bit and make kick it out a bit. I wish I had a group leader to talk us through the inevitable rough patches. Instead, I was alone with my thoughts. It was freeing, but also daunting.

Before the race, I decided that I would dedicate miles 23 to 26 to my mom. She's been through so much but is fighting and I thought that at the very least, some 20 odd minutes of suffering on my part was nothing. I hit the 37K mark and I couldn't believe where I was. I was a little more than 5K away from my goal and it was just within reach. But while it was close, 23 plus minutes felt so far away.

The splits below tell the story. I was simply on a tear. Not too fast, just pounding out those kilometres.

31K: 4:27
32K: 4:30
33K: 4:27
34K: 4:29
35K: 4:29
36K: 4:24
37K: 4:29
38K: 4:31

39K to the finish: The struggle home
Then it happened. The cramps just hit. First a twinge, then it hit with full force. That's it. After more than 38 kilometres, I was forced to slow to a walk. When I think back, I don't know what forced it. It was maybe by this point that despite hitting all my splits my breathing pattern and gone to the red line stage? I was running in the sun and I felt over heated. The cramps caused my first walk break. I remember a few moments before that. I felt that I was staggering a bit. I remember a course volunteer biking by me asking if I was okay. I remember another volunteer asked me if I wanted to sit down, if I wanted to just take it easy.

There was no way I wanted to. My Boston goal was still well within reach so I forced myself to start running. My watch says I did 39th kilometre in 4:50, which is still a decent pace. In fact, if I was able to keep up that pace, I could have very well met my goal.

The next kilometre was not as kind as the cramping continued. I may have been in a panic at this point, just dismayed that with every second of rest, I was throwing away all my training. Every second of rest felt good, a respite from the pain and three hours of running at a hard intensity. But every second worked against me.

Again, I summoned more and ran toward Bay street, turning the corner, taking frequent walk breaks. My Garmin goes wonky at this point due to satellite coverage, but I know that in the last kilometre or two, I did fit in bouts of running. If I were smarter, I would have reverted to a recovery run. Instead, I decided to beat the cramps by running strong and I was able to do this for a bit. I must of ran up to a kilometre at real pace but then it became too much. I was out of breath.

If you've ever seen a runner stagger near the end of a marathon, stagger like a drunk tries to walk a straight line, then you may have a good idea of what I looked like when I took a walk break around 600 metres from the end. I heard people cheering my name, but the only thing I could see was how far away the finish line seemed. In other races, I can visualize 800 metres as two times around the track and it'll give me an impetus to finish the race. But at the end of a marathon, the last thing I wanted to picture was any lap around any track. Trackwork, I guess, I associate with hard running!

I walked slowly and was losing control of my cramping legs. My friend Peter, who emerged out of the crowd, grabbed me by the arm and helped walk me a few metres. A race official also went out and asked me if I wanted to stop. Peter urged me on. He steadied me when I took one step back then a step to the side. He then convinced me and the official that I could totally finish the race. He grabbed a bottle of Gatorade and told me to take a few sips, which I did, then he yelled something like, 'it's only 500 metres to go, you can do this'!

We exchanged emails later Sunday and he told me that someone almost pulled me off the course!

And he shared a little more of the carnage he witnessed.

I saw a guy about 10 minutes ahead of you who was having an even tougher time - he was weaving right across Bay Street. There were others - after I left you there was a guy on the ground around Richmond. And an ambulance a little later on in the same area. I figured the sun, the heat coupled with the humidity in the morning would really take a toll on a lot of people.

Ain't no way you weren't gonna finish that race.

Thanks Peter.

And off I went. This was the toughest end. I was checking my watch as my A and B goals went down the drain. I knew then that I just had to finish it for myself. I fought through panic of a summer dedicated to training for one race. I fought through the pains in my legs, my head and in my very lungs. I fought because the crowd was urging me on, cheering my name. I staggered to the finish and it was over.

(Chip time: 3:19:39.)

After I hit the finish line, I guess I was staggering, because a race official came up to me, while another came with a wheel chair. I was spent but alert. I was wheeled into the medical tent. They took my pulse, they took my name and address and lifted my legs on top of a case of Gatorade. It was an odd feeling. My legs were done, the muscles were throbbing and I had a Charley Horse or two while there. I drank a few cups of Gatorade that they advised me to sip. I had to ask for another few cups before I felt good enough to sit up on my bed/stretcher. I looked around and saw other marathoners, guys and gals like me who had finished around my time. There were at least 10 of us in there. Wow, I thought, this race that done in a lot of people. After about 15 minutes, I got up, thanked them, checked out and lined up to grab my medal. (I remember sitting on the bed thinking 'hey, am I gonna get a medal or not?!')

I hobbled around the corner, grabbed a foil blanket and hobbled all the way home, down Bay Street. As I walked, my legs were recovering. Blood was moving into my legs and as I watched marathoners go by, the 4 hours, 4:15, 4:30, I saw the same faces as mine. I saw smiles, I saw determination, I saw courage, I saw young, old, male, female. They were all headed up the same road that I had toiled on earlier. I felt proud to be among them. They were my kind of people. Marathoners.

Which brings me back to a funny moment after I staggered past the finish line, a mess of a runner with jelly like legs. A volunteer who was guiding me toward the wheelchair asked me if this was my first marathon. I just held out my hands, put up my four fingers and smiled. 'Four,' I said. 'This is my fourth.' I'm sure she'd think I was crazy if I told her I'm running my fifth in 28 days.

Chip time: 3:19:39
Overall: 180/2532 (92.8 percentile)
Age group: 34/219 (85.8 percentile)
Gender: 156/1577 (90 percentile)

Run details on Garmin Connect. Note that it records it as 3:16 and change. I think I hit my stop button really early.

Next: Reflection on my training, on goals and what's next for the Marine Corps Marathon.


Arcane said...

That was heartbreaking to read Kenny. You ran very consistently for most of the race and i know you've got that 3:10 in you. Maybe on a better cooler, more overcast day??

The guy that paced 3:10 last year was originally supposed to do it this year too but I see that he ended up pacing the 3:30 group. I think they ended up switching around the pacers at the last minute due to pacers dropping out.

Well as someone who knocked 5 minutes off a second marathon 2 weeks later, i would tell you to go for it at MCM. 4 weeks is an eternity! I know I'm just crazy, but in case you need some prodding Pfitz says it's possible (page 208 and 219) Whatever you decide, good luck!

Marci said...

Great blog, and thanks for sharing your race report. Its humbling how quickly things can turn in a marathon. Still you did terrific. It was a warm day. Rest and recover well.

Marlene said...

The weather on Sunday definitely didn't make for a PR or BQ. Way too hot and humid...I was dying.

I'm so sorry that it didn't go according to plan, especially since you got so far before it fell apart. I can only imagine your pain!

You did a great job staying on target until the craps set in, so I know you'll do it at your upcoming race! Thanks for sharing.

Marky Mark said...

I hadn't realized the significance of the goal time so that's really a shame given all your effort, the lack of a pacer and the fact that you did everything right. (I never found my 4:30 pacer either-someone told me he lined up with the sub four hour corral but maybe he/she too also didn't show.)

The weather just didn't cooperate on Sunday. You have it in you and when you reach the goal you'll look back at Sunday as part of the journey.

By the way, that race account was gripping! I hadn't realized how much pain you endured at the end. Glad you're recovering.