Yesterday, I pulled on my running gear and ran a scant 2 kilometres. The air was crisp, the sky clear, the wind slight. Later, I traded email with my friend Lee who said he had a good feeling about today. Weather was perfect, he said. I agreed.
My track record for marathoning is mixed. If it were baseball, I would be doing well, batting two for six, the two representing marathons in which I felt strong throughout and never hit the wall. But marathoning is not baseball, and I had too many hard races.
The good ones, both of them were spring marathons on cool days. Like yesterday morning. An omen for today?
The Toronto Marathon is a special event for me, it's where in 2005 I went sub 1:35 for the half marathon. It was there, three weeks after I did another half in 1:36, where my Boston dreams were born. Back then, I remembered doubling the time and adding a few minutes and saw that maybe, just maybe, I would have it in me one day to run the whole distance at that pace.
I spent most of Saturday lounging around, eating pasta, drinking soup, watching running documentaries, generally doing nothing. Oh yeah, and I hydrated very well. Was in bed early and slept relatively soundly. Up at 4:45 for brekkie then started to get ready. R. was in town to run the half marathon, her first. Her sister was running too so R and I took the cab to the sister's place. Her husband dropped us off at the start with a mere 15 minutes to go before the half marathon, which starts an hour before the marathon. We dropped our bags and said goodbye.
I saw the halfers off then wandered into the civic building to keep warm, as it was probably 3C (just a few degrees above freezing). There, I saw the 3:15 pacer! I walked up to him and said "I'm glad to see you." He told me he was going to go out a bit fast because he was going to give a few minutes for the last 3K, which was on an uphill. He said he'd pass the half at 1:35 ("and change"). A little fast, I thought.
Hit the washroom a few times and found myself at the start with 10 minutes to go about to shed my track pants and two sweaters. Fran found me and we chatted, so it was nice to see him. He took my picture here. (Note my trackpants were still on!) He's running a full next week and thinking of another one the week after. I may be crazy enough to join him on the second one.
Here`s a picture that Fran took and sent to me (yes, I am still wearing the track pants, very unfashionable).
I also met Mike who was standing right behind me. We chatted on Twitter throughout the summer so it was nice to put a face to him. He was running his first thon.
I thought this was a downhill course: 1-5K
We took off and I settled into it. As we passed the first 300 metres, I really thought about making a dash for the portapotties. But I decided if I did that too early, I would have to weave my way back to position so I promised myself I'd do a pit stop sometime in the first 8K. The splits we were aiming for a 3:15 finish was 4:37 kilometres (7:29 miles).
As you can see from the splits below, we were going out pretty darned fast. The second kilometre was near tempo pace even though we were climbing. I was a little mifffed at my splits when I saw them cause I knew our pacer was going out too fast. The 4:18 3rd kilometre is understandable given the downhill section but I didn't want to be out of breath.
Kilometre five included a major hill and it's really daunting. As we hit it, I just let the pacer and his group charge up the hill while I took it easier. At the end of the hill, I was out of breath and then I saw my chance. A free portapotty! I ducked inside, checked my breath and relieved myself. It was a perfect breather that also let the pace group get far out of sight, so I didn't have to worry about chasing them.
5K mark in 22:49
More downhills, but a better pace: 6-10K
By a very happy coincidence, by the time I left the portapotty, I was right behind a group of 5 runners who were moving at the perfect pace. I was so lucky to encounter them, because they really helped me settle down. We hit quite a few splits within my time goal, so with the up and downhill portions, I felt I was in a better place. I took my first gel at the 7K mark.
I remember thinking that I was just about perfectly dressed. The weather was around 5C around that time (mid 40F I believe) but it was also sunny and the wind not strong. Perfect for me to run hard with gloves, a long sleeve (singlet underneath) and shorts.
At the 9K mark, my good friend Jelly was there waiting. She called me yesterday and wished me well. She's the one who convinced me to sign up for my first marathon in 2006 so I was very happy to see her. We then turned to the right for running in residential area, which was a great break.
6. 00:04:20 8.60mph 9.2mph
7. 00:04:35 8.11mph 8.5mph
8. 00:04:24 8.45mph 15.3mph
9. 00:04:34 8.14mph 10.6mph
10.00:04:36 8.10mph 8.7mph
10K in 45:21
Tony neighbourhood, a castle and downhill!: 11K-15K
I really enjoyed the next section. It had a few turns into a fancy part of town where we encountered church goers and million dollar homes. You can see my splits were pretty freaking fast in these areas because we had some downhill portions. Also, a few of the runners i'd be pacing off were going a little fast (the group of 5 kinda broke down by then).
I was really happy I'd done a preview of the first half of this course last week. I knew what was coming up and how to prepare for it. I really think sometimes it's an advantage to know the turns, the topography so there are no surprises.
As for water stations, I thought they were okay, some of the areas didn't man the Gatorade sections and some of the water cups were unpinchable, which made it hard to get in a good glup without splashing yourself in the face. I was happy to have my own water supply, three bottles in a fuel belt. I put them to good use for taking in my gels. I took my second at kilometre 15.
11. 00:04:29 8.31mph 8.9mph
12. 00:04:31 8.25mph 9.0mph
13. 00:04:18 8.64mph 9.8mph
14. 00:04:28 8.33mph 8.8mph
15. 00:04:24 8.47mph 9.0mph
15K in 1:07:34
Yay, consistency! 16K to 20K
The next four kilometres were run in a beautiful Rosedale Valley road, a mostly downhill section lined with older trees. Lots of curves, some sunshine in bits, but a very interesting and varied terrain. I really used my 3 or so kilometres in this section to regain my stride, get my breath back in check and start clicking off real consistent splits.
If there was a rough patch to hit, I hit one for kilometres 19 and 20. I emerged to go west into the city and I was finding the flat terrain a little hard to get used to. A few runners I was with were erratic in their pace and I had lost all the guys I'd been pacing with. Added to that, as we reached the city, the police were letting cars go through the intersections and I saw at least one time when runners were forced to slow. Not good. Also, a few relay runners were blazing by, which was a little weird, and also we were zipping by half marathon walkers. It made pacing a real challenge.
16. 00:04:28 8.32mph 9.1mph
17. 00:04:33 8.19mph 9.6mph
18. 00:04:31 8.25mph 8.5mph
19. 00:04:30 8.26mph 9.6mph
20. 00:04:31 8.25mph 8.6mph
The half, past home and chasing bunnies: 21K - 26K
We were running west into the downtown district when we passed the half a little faster than I thought we would. I hit the half mark at 1:35 and change, two minutes faster than 3:15 pace. I saw my friend Lee, Chris, who was handing out water, and Jelly again. I was feeling a little tired but energized for the next bit.
We turned south and into the waterfront trail that is MY HOUSE! As we made our way to Queens Quay, I spotted in 400 metres into the distance a pack of runners. The 3:15 pacer and a good 20 runners behind or ahead of him! I smelled blood and gave chase.
As you guys know, I run the waterfront trail all the time. I live by the water and this marathon`s 21K to 38K is basically run on my home course. I set my sights on the group and upped my pace. When I hit the 23K mark, I took my next gel. As we entered the trail, I was right on their tail. By the 25K mark, I was two runners behind.
21. 00:04:34 8.15mph 9.2mph
22. 00:04:03 9.17mph 12.8mph (this was off as we went under a bridge)
23. 00:04:31 8.24mph 9.0mph
24. 00:04:26 8.41mph 8.6mph
Garmin lap RESET. 00:00:41 8.38mph 9.4mph
25. 00:04:30 8.26mph 8.6mph
Westward and workman miles: 26K to 30K
I made my way right beside and behind the pacer and we just clicked the kilometres away. He promised us that he would start doing consistent 4:38s, which made me happy because I wasn`t about to start burning myself up with fast mileage. It was a gorgeous day by then, the sun full on out there and a slight breeze, not too much to hold us back.
We were on an out and back and the pacer was describing the terrain, but my body just knows this trail, almost every rise and turn. When a pace group is doing well, it starts to swallow up other groups of runners, and inevitably, the group grows, swells until it drops those who can`t keep up. We hit the 30K mark with less than half the bigger group I was with. We turned around, went under an inflatable Wall, I punched it once and we were headed back into the city.
26. 00:04:31 8.25mph 8.6mph
27. 00:04:38 8.02mph 8.3mph
28. 00:04:38 8.04mph 8.5mph
29. 00:04:30 8.28mph 8.6mph
30. 00:04:36 8.09mph 8.7mph
30K in about 2:16
Now, the real race: 31K to 35K
I had firmly established myself right beside or behind our pacer by this point. He was an unpredictable runner, but some of his tactics probably did me well. He always walked through water stations to take in the liquids, whereas I like to jog or run right through them. I ended up doing slow jogs at the end of every water station then waited for him to catch up with me. He`d then speed up because of that lost time, forcing me to go from a jog to an MP pace to faster to make up for time. I saw this was good cause it gave me time to work out kinks that started to appear as mini cramps.
I was a little worried that the faster than planned first half could bite me in the end. I had taken my fourth gel by the 30K mark and was hoping that it would help me fend off the wall, but the changing pace was not helping me find the consistent splits that I`m used to clicking off.
As we reached the end of this 5K stretch, I was confident. I distinctly remember hitting the 34K mark and saying to myself, "okay, now you only have 5 miles to go, that`s nothing." You will see at kilometre 35 my pacer decided to throw down a 4:23 kilometre in order to make up for a hill. I`m almost sure that broke most runners who were following him.
31. 00:04:34 8.15mph 8.9mph
32. 00:04:32 8.20mph 8.7mph
33. 00:04:33 8.17mph 8.9mph
34. 00:04:48 7.74mph 8.4mph
35. 00:04:23 8.48mph 8.8mph
Facing your demons, and smashing their heads in: 36K to 39K
We had built up such a big cushion but with six kilometres to go (I thought, "four miles!") I knew there was big room for error. I could have cruised in with slower splits but I think slowing down opens the door to defeat and perhaps walking. I remembered last year and how I had done 4:30s and faster on my way to a 3:10 marathon and how after 37 amazing kilometres of hitting my splits, the heat and humidity did me in.
Today, I very well knew that the weather had handed me a perfect day, and as a result, the job was now mine to capitalize on it. I figured that the only way to really survive is to get my splits in and since I had the pacer in front of me, to hang on to him. I shed a water bottle after I couldn`t fit it back into my belt, took my last gel at 36K and fought on. Around this time, I heard my name being called out and later found out it was runnerlisa. I later saw Marlene as she was making her way out west to meet with some of her friends.
Mini cramps had set in from time to time, and I tried altering my stride a few times. By luck, I was reading a few running books yesterday and they addresssed mini cramps in races. First advice: Get fuel and water in you fast. I also happened to read an article recently that said gulps, not sips, are more effective. So to that advice, I gulped in my water and Gatorade in copious amounts. It helped.
By the time I passed my condo at kilometre 38, the pacer was only carrying me and one other runner, an expat who was really chatty. He took off and suddenly, I had my very own pacer! Hilarious, since I told the guy hours earlier "I`m glad to see you." Now, I was glad to have someone bring me home.
36. 00:04:44 7.87mph 8.4mph
37. 00:04:30 8.26mph 9.4mph
38. 00:04:35 8.13mph 9.1mph
39. 00:04:40 7.97mph 12.6mph
The final climb: 40K - 41K
We turned north and started a 3.5K run up University Ave, which is on an incline. It was this hill the pacer was telling me about this morning that he usually gives that buffer. I was pretty focused and I knew that I had more than a few minutes in the bank. All I had to do, I thought, was to make it up this freaking hill.
A few weeks ago, on a Saturday, I ran up this hill and had to take breaks at the stop lights. It was bothering me back then, but today, with a taper, a mind with a big goal, I kept up a decent pace despite the incline.
(Picture above, with 3K left, taken by Lee)
We were in the full sun, and it was warming up, but still cool. People were on the sides cheering and I knew I was strong. My friend Lee was on his bike, taking a picture, then I`d see him 500 metres later. And here I was, making my march up to the finish. Boston was mine, I thought. My body wanted to take a break, but I told my body to shut the hell up and endure just a few more minutes. For years, this has been a pursuit, now it was minutes away and mine.
(Picture taken by Lee with about 2K to go)
My pacer asked what I needed and I said 3:15 and he said "you are fine man, you`re there". He was right, I had a massive 3 minute bank by this time. So my personal pacer proceeded to sweep up a slowing runner, trying to drag him with him, and at that point, I took off and into the final 2 kilometres for myself.
40. 00:04:35 8.13mph 15.1mph
41. 00:04:43 7.89mph 10.0mph
Victory lap: 41K to the finish
I so wanted the incline to finish, but it would not finish me off. I knew that I had friends waiting for me, and I was thrilled to see them. I saw Jelly, then I saw R`s sister. Seeing R`s sister made me just explode. I was there. I accelerated and I saw R. and two of our friends. They were jumping up and down. I pumped my fist and just powered on. That kilometre, it says on my Garmin, was a 4:18. Among my fastest.
I LOVE this picture that R`s cousin took. Of course, she`s also a professional photographer. You actually see R and two of our friends jumping up and cheering me on as I run on the right side.
The final curve and turn into the finish was amazing. I pumped my fist. I raised my hands and just soaked in the final 200 metres. I thought I would cry after qualifying for Boston, but I slowed to a stop, walked a confident walk, and put on a broad smile. As R and friends beckoned me to them, I walked over and gave R a massive hug, but not before saying "I`m going to Boston."
No tears. Just a plain and simple statement. I have just qualified for the Boston Marathon.
Picture from Jelly`s cousin, who also ran the half.
42. 00:04:18 8.67mph 11.9mph
12:17:15 0.24mi 00:01:44 8.17mph 8.7mph
(I just forgot to note that I just lowered my PB by about 7 minutes!)
Chip time: 3:12:36
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