Sunday, May 10, 2009
Race report: Mississauga Marathon
For me, the biggest indication of how this marathon would go was set back in March, when I ran the Around the Bay race. I was sick for two weeks in March and I ran that race while recovering, but nevertheless it didn't give me with the sought-after 4:30 or faster pace. For me, that would be the building block for a BQ attempt today. I entered April just trying to build my mileage back up (and I did) while trying to get my weight back down (which I also did, a bit).
For me, a spring marathon is a must-do, it's what can get me through a winter and get me into decent shape for the spring/summer training so I can peak for fall. I followed that prescription last year with much success. Mississauga I knew could be quick with rolling hills and had a good chance at cool temperatures.
That was evident this morning when I decided not to wear a singlet and opted for (for the first time) a T-shirt, gloves and shorts. I arrived at the race start early from the hotel, bumped into my co-worker Z and his wife. Z was going for a 3:10 for his first marathon, even though at 44 all he needed as a 3:30 for his BQ (He got it with a stellar 3:08). I wish him luck and met with T. at the starting line, and told him I'd be pacing with him today.
I've known T. since we both worked at the university newspaper 10 years ago. While I was editor in chief, he was one of my photo editors. During and after university, we were both really, um, out of shape and probably the last two people you'd think would be runners. I was really happy to see him turn into a runner the past year and a bit and was eager to run with him through his first marathon.
I decided to try a few different things in this marathon. First, I ran with my fuel belt with 3 bottles of Gatorade. I also switched to GU energy gels. Also packed some Clif Shot Bloks.
We saw the 3:30 pacer, lined up next to him, and the gun went off. That was the last time we'd get up close to the 3:30 until 31 kilometres later.
1 to 5: Finding our stride
Our first kilometre was an exercise in restraint. We're both runners who do long runs at 5 minute kilometres so on marathon morning, we had a temptation to run a lot faster. But we purposefully slowed down and as we reached the first K, was happy to see we hadn't gone out too fast.
The next few kilometres was nice and easy, right into the wind, and we were just chugging along, trying to find our bearings among the half and full marathoners. I was surprised to see a water stop at the 2K mark, forgetting that they promised one every 2K, which is awesome by the way, let me tell you.
The next four kilometres were fairly ho hum. We were keeping up the conversation and tackling the down and uphills. A lot of jockeying for position around the water stops. At one point, a few older guys ran by us and some guy goes 'Going for a 3:20 or so, yeah, i'm using this to get my BQ over with' I looked at T. and said 'wish I can say that one day' By the end of the fifth kilometre we turned and said good bye to the flats. We had yet to run a 5 minute kilometre and were banking a lot of time. That's fine, it felt good.
6K to 10K: A campus visit, a pee break and a game of catchup.
(reset the lap) 0:25
The next section featured rolling hills and we entered into the University of Toronto campus, which meant veering into a downhill (the 4:45 7K probably had something to do with that. All I remember at that point was eyeing the trees in the park near the school jealously. Yes, I had to take a washroom break. Only at my first marathon did I have to take a pee break and I did it at Grant Park, I think.
I then thought maybe I could get by for awhile but when I saw a bank of portapottys in the distance, I told T. I needed to take a break. I sprinted ahead to the portapotty only to have another person stop right before me. She took one of the free ones and I had to wait an eternity (15-20 seconds?) before I could get in, do my business and exit. That would make for my slowest kilometre:
And lead into the fastest. I ran out and decided I should get back to T. So I turned up the tempo and hauled ass big time. Caught up to him about a kilometre later. We then went hurtling toward a big hill, which we took with little problem (around 4:45 or so. The marker was off)
11K to 15K: Breaking from the halfers and rolling roads
The next 10 kilometres were great, the first five or so we were consistently below 5 min kilometres. We were running in residential neighbourhood and I was glad the streets were well maintained (In Hazel's city, of course). There was a slight downhill as we went under an overpass but overall we maintained pretty much 10 seconds faster per kilometre so that we almost built up 50 seconds during this stretch, which is great, because we were about to split off from the half marathoners.
16K to 20K: Go west, into the wind
When we turned off from the halfers, I told T., 'Now the real race begins'. It really did at this point becuase there was so much jockeying happening before the 15K mark. After that, our field stayed pretty much the same. In fact, from here until the end we slowly started to reel in runners. I had taken my first gel at 9K so I took my second around the 17K mark. Was happy to have my Gatorade so I could take it with the gel (but was rewarded 400 metres later with a water stop.). You can see that from kilometre 11 to 20, we were right in the 4:50 to 4:59 zone. This is one of my favourite parts of the marathon, when you just start clicking off kilometres and your pace and cadence just stays the same. During this strech, we were running right into the headwind, so we were happy to be maintaining pace.
21K to 25K: Turnaround and a mis-paced runner
We felt really really good going past the half marathon mark. The sun came out and we weren't running into the wind any more, and it felt great. I remember at this point that we were thanking everyone who cheered. I kinda enjoyed that about this marathon. I had alot of energy so I could talk to T., thank people who were cheering me on, as opposed to full on race mode when, well, none of that would happen. We started seeing the leaders coming back toward us and I looked out for my friend -- no sign.
Took my third gel around this point, when we reached the turnaround to start heading back to the finish line. Then we saw the 3:30 pacer, clearly minutes ahead of us -- we were minutes ahead of 3:30 pace. I was really pissed for those who wanted to do 3:30 and had this speed demon as their pacer. Another runner who heard me complaining said that it was demoralizing that the 3:30 was so far ahead. As the 3:30 passed us on his way back, I shouted "hey 3:30, you're going too fast!"
26K to 31K: On the way home
We winded our way back along parkland along the water's edge. It was pretty windy here but it was kinda nice to run in, a lot of narrower trails. The wind became a headwind again and we were toughing it out for a few kilometres (you notice that 28 and 29 were both over 5 minutes by just a smidge). By the time we finished the 29K, we had the wind at our backs and I urged T. to step it up a bit. I also gave him advice to change up his stride to work different muscles.
Between the 30K and 31K mark, we were hitting a few hills and guess who we caught up to? Yes, the 3:30 pacer was taking a break. Maybe he looked at his watch and realized he'd gone too fast. Without a word, T. and I ran by him, and never looked back. Bah, pacers.
32K to 35K: T.'s no man's land
When we hit the 32K mark, T. mentioned this was the farthest he'd ever gone. We kept up the pace but it was feeling hard for him and even I hit one or two bad patches. We were weaving our way through park area and there wasn't a water station that we thought would be there. I remember at this point we passed an elite runner who was running a lot slower than she usually does. We ran by her and emerged back on Lakeshore. As we were climbing another one of the hills, T. started to lag behind me, and I realized I'd have to slow down. After doing a quick check, I decided to let him finish while I would pursue my own pace. (Read T.'s race report and find out about the rest of his race at his blog)
36K to 42.2K: Ramping up the pace now it's my race
Now that I decided to run my own race, the first decision I made was to up the pace until it felt comfortably hard. I felt good, no cramping, no wall, just a slight tweak to my left leg that wouldn't manifest itself. I immediately went into racing mode, starting to pick up runners ahead of me and just maintain quick turnover up and over hills. I noticed quite a few runners had started to walk or take breaks and I must have caught some of them by surprise by my sudden increase of pace. The next two were my fastest kilometres since kilometre 9 when I had to catch up to T. after my washroom break.
We entered a park and there were a few strong runners ahead, I targetted them. One girl had a MCM 2007 hat and I wanted to say 'hey, i ran MCM too' but I just concentrated on keeping my strong pace, even on the hills.
I felt really godo and with four kilometres to go, it seemed so close. I actually pictured a normal running route of mine in Toronto, at Tommy Thompson Park, which is exactly four kilometres from my condo. With that in mind, I stepped up the pace
And kept it for the next kilometre. I was just passing runner after runner, just trying to keep a high turnover. I came up on an older runner, who, as I passed, said, "go for it, young man|.... i said thanks and turned it on.
I was very happy to hit the last two kilometres. Funny thing is this last year was my marathon pace and it was feeling, well, comfortably hard. I'm pretty sure today I wouldn't be able to hold this pace.
And in the final kilometre, I was weaving in and out through the half marathoners, and the finish line, oh, it's so close yet you have to run a curve, so it's actually where was the finish.. started to push a little harder till the finish...
Picture taken by Fran (thanks!)
So that's it, my sixth marathon is in the books. I went into this as a run with lowered expectations but I knew I wanted to run a marathon strongly throughout. I've learned a lot through this one, learning to hold back and when to push. I've learned more about hydration and fuelling that will come in handy and I've recaptured the good feeling of what it's actually like to run 42.2 kilometres in a row without stopping. I'm telling you, there's no other feeling like I had today pumping my fists after crossing the finishing line, hearing my name being called, at the end of a well run race. I'm gonna savour this for a few weeks. Training season begins in 5 weeks, running begins in a few days.
Chip time: 3:24:11