Oh, the taper. Fewer runs, reduced mileage, achy joints and plenty of time to start obsessing over your next race - like the Goodlife Toronto Marathon or Mississauga Marathon if you're in these parts. I get a lot of interest here about proper strategy to race Goodlife Toronto, or the same on Mississauga. Today, in light of my lighter load, I'm outlining a relatively simple course strategy for the Goodlife Toronto Marathon, which runs this year on May 5. Here is my Mississauga Marathon race strategy from last year.
A bit of background on my experience with this race. I've run the marathon course the last four years and used it for a successful BQ attempt. The course, if you run the first half strategically, can give you a fast and well earned first half. I'm also a "co-pacer" this for the 3:50 marathon group with my friend Sam (I took it as a last-minute assignment). The way I outline it may have nothing to do with how we actually pace it on May 5.
Course description, the short version: The race (see course map) starts up in North York at Mel Lastman Square. You go slightly north, then plunge down Yonge Street, make a diversion west past the Upper Canada College and Casa Loma before crossing Yonge Street. That first 10 miles is net downhill, with only one big uphill really worth mentioning. You then plunge again down Rosedale Valley Road for about three kilometres, when you basically enter the second half of the race that's flat. The second half is an out and back on the waterfront, passing the finish line on your way out. The race ends at Ontario Place, which spares racers prior versions of this course where you had to march up University Ave. up to Queen's Park.
Race strategy in short: Use the downhill to your advantage in the first half, the hold on for the flats in the second half.
Half marathon strategy is much like the full, except you don't have the UCC/Casa Loma but you do have the benefit of having Rosedale Valley Road. Here's the course map.
Start to 4K
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The race starts at Mel Lastman Square, and you start the race going north. Because organizers split up the half marathon from the full, you will have a relatively small marathon field, which makes it a little easier to get into your groove. The start is early (7:30 a.m.) which, if the weather holds as usual early May, can start on the chilly side, great for marathoners. One thing to point out is that if it's a sunny day, and plus 4C to 6C at the start, it could warm up to T-shirt weather (14C-16C) by the time you finish. Who knows though.
Once you join Yonge Street, you will see why this is known as a downhill course. Within 2.5 kilometres, you start to go downhill. Many pacers will let the downhill do the work for them, and lead out runners a little too fast. My advice is to find your pace early, establish your cadence, and if the downhill gives you speed, let it do so. As you hit the 4K mark, you be speeding down towards York Mills, where you will hit the part that most runners hate.
Hoggs Hollow: 4 - 5K
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After York Mills, you will hit Hoggs Hollow, the one big uphill in the entire race. There are other uphills, but this one is not fun. Merciful enough, it's early in the race. Take it easy, and when you get to the top, you'll see a water station and portajohns. In a few races, I've done a pitstop here, which helped ease the heart rate and get your pace on.
Down Yonge: 6K-9K
This is a great part of the course, Yonge Street is a lot of fun to run down, and you'll enjoy the rolling hills, mostly downhill. I find this is a good stretch to really zone in on your pace. You can go slightly faster than you plan. I often use gauge my effort against those who are running with me. It's enough into the race that the crowd has thinned and is also a good place to start catching up to your pace group if you let them get away in the overzealous first three kilometres.
UCC/Casa Loma/Davenport: 10K to 16K
This part of the course features a lot of turns (12) and though there are good flat portions, it features way fast downhills, first around Casa Loma, then as you cruise down Davenport. They added a north portion (up UCC) to add some mileage to the course, but it's a pretty part of the course. I think it's among the most scenic parts of the race, as you run by a church, a neighbourhood waking up on a Sunday morning, and tony residential area. A lot of runners usually turn the game face on by the 14K mark as we hit great downhill portions.
Rosedale Valley Road: 16K to 19K
Rosedale Valley Road is a glorious stretch of land, a plunging downhill for three kilometres where you are dwarfed by trees, car free, and shaded. There's no reason why on these hills if you give effort, let gravity do its trick, that you wouldn't have any problems lowering your pace. I've hit this stretching going 10 seconds per kilometre faster than planned, and letting effort be my guide. Enjoy this, because this is your last downhill portion.
Bayview to Downtown: 19K to 25K
By now, it's well into the morning, and if it's sunny, you've got a lot of kilometres without shade. On a good day, this is great. On a bad day, you start to hate this run. Bayview is flat and seemingly endless, then you turn west to head downtown. Flat as a pancake, this land is, so this is where you want to hit your metronome pace. Feel good, click off the kilometres, take in your liquids and gels. There's not much room for emotion as you know on this stretch.
The Waterfront Out: 26K to 35K
You wind your way onto the waterfront trail, in fact, you're basically running on the Martin Goodman trail, which is my daily training ground. When you hit the 27.5K mark, you can see the finish, so yes, that is kind of a drag. But, hopefully you're past that and you just click your miles out west. The path out to the course's most westerly point is flat, with a small downhill around a Legion Hall. The path is pretty narrow, just enough for four people to run side by side. Toronto's waterfront is a mixed bag when it comes to wind. On some days, the air will be relatively still, with light breezes. Other days, it can gust, and the direction varies with the day. Personally, if I were to face a wind, i'd rather face it head on on my way out west. The 33K to 35K mark is again on a small path with small rise at 33K, then a bit of a windy path before you head back home.
The final stretch: 36K to 42K
Since you've run all those kilometres out, now it's time to come back. You do actually run on asphalt, and there are a few small rises, but the roads are relatively well maintained. The sun, if it's out, is directly overheat and it can be warmer by then. Again, hope for a tailwind if you have any at all. And you will see the marathoners going out to where you were, if you're a front to mid-packer.
That's basically it. It's a simple course, the first 19K I think has a lot of great scenery to help you enjoy your marathon experience. The last half has a lot less character, but why worry, you're too busy trying to finish a marathon.
The nutshell: A positive split in this race is not a bad idea, especially if you finish the first half faster than your goal pace and settle into your goal pace in the second. This also assumes you don't do something stupid like flame out in the first half. Know your limits, run within your abilities and do a marathon pace you think you can back away from.
Here's the course from last year, when I did it sort of as a leadup-marathon to Ottawa. Weirdly, I ran faster here than in Ottawa.