Sunday, May 01, 2016

Race Report: Toronto Marathon 2016, Project Audacity and the crazy idea

Nine days ago, a day after I got back from Boston, my quads still stinging, my hamstrings sore and my spirit undiminished, I sent my coach Rejean an email with the subject line: "Update and an audacious plan?"

A few days later, my friend Lee, sent me an email titled "My latest crazy idea."

The night after the Boston Marathon, Lee and I commiserated about the day that was not ours. It was too hot, too sunny and just not ideal after a winter of training. Lee was thinking that he'd love to make it back to Boston next year. I was lamenting a strong season of training that resulted in only two races. Over three dollar drafts of PBR, we drowned our sorrows, quietly hatching plans.

I suppose there's something in the water in Boston.

Goodlife was 13 days after Boston. And as I saw the forecast shape up, it looked like an ideal forecast. Cool. Like good cool. So I asked Rejean whether he thought I should go for it. I reasoned my Boston, run in 3:23, didn't see me entirely empty the tank. Running 42.2K 13 days out isn't common, but it can be done. We worked on a workout plan to see how my legs were bouncing back.

So over the past week, I threw in a medium run, a few quicker workouts. I was tired, I was sore, but I knew I was still fit. My goal, I presented to Rejean, was to get to 3:10 or faster, which I thought was well within my aerobic capability. And also a good shot at a BQ, which for my age is 3:15. Rej hatched a sensible plan and Lee was on board to run with me as long as we could.

By the time I was making my way to the race start, only five people knew I was racing.

Codenamed Project Audacity.

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Of course, this seems to be the year where weather throws some challenges at you. It was a light rain, lots of wind and it was cool. Lee and I started together and just ran by feel, mainly. The course takes a north turn where we were able to get a sense of the wind (North East) but we were able to plunge down Yonge Street. We've both run Goodlife on numerous times so we knew what to expect. A big downhill before Hogg's Hollow. We did that split in 4:30 km.

Splits: (4:22, 4:29, 4:28, 4:11, 4:30)

I took a kilometre or two to settle down from Hogg's and I was paying close attention to how my body was responding. To me, the effort felt slightly harder than it should -- i'll take it as fatigue following Boston but when I compare it to my course feel at Boston, this run was way better. I was wearing a double singlet, a visor, arm warmers, gloves and shorts. All were great ideas. I felt I was cool enough, but not risking of hypothermic. I wouldn't sweat too much which would have been my major worry. As well, the stride I was running felt efficient. I was taking careful notice of my left calf which was what seized at Boston and hoped that taking in Gatorade and gels would delay any issues.

The course has a bunch of rollers, then turns around Davisville where you wind your way around UCC. We felt the tailwind for the first time and it was glorious, so we kind of let the feel dictate the pace. By the time we hit 14K I knew we were banking big time with the faster downhill splits.

Splits: (4:31, 4:21, 4:25, 4:21, 4:16, 4:30, 4:28, 4:23)

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The Casa Loma to the bottom of Rosedale Valley is what makes Goodlife a fast marathon. You can run it and bank time but also save your cardio. We hammered it where we could but while running down Rosedale Valley Road you could feel the headwind running east. It was noticable, even with the trees as cover.

We ran down Bayview extension and the pace still felt good. Saw my teammate Bart who took this picture and we just kept on chugging.

Lee and I hauling ass.
We hit the half mark at 1:33:22, which was a 3:06:44 pace. We both kinda knew that we'd probably be giving up some of that time so I told Lee I would regulate the pace a bit.

Splits: (4:14, 4:15, 4:28, 4:18, 4:22, 4:22, 4:30, 4:25)

22K - 35K
This section is what I call the 'home course' all the way from Corktown past to Humber Bridge, along the MGT. This year, we had a nice tail wind, sometimes a crosswind, and if we had buildings ahead the wind would bounce off and push us. In all, I was able to bank effort while using the aid to save some energy. As I was hitting the 24K mark, I felt that today, barring wind, I would be able to power through the 30-35K mark with strength.

We entered Ontario Place and out on the trail and Lee then went ahead. I decided not to give chase. In retrospect, maybe I should have taken advantage of the wind and done a stronger run up to 35K but I just was content zeroing in on runners around me. My gloves were soaked, my glasses were fogging up and covered with droplets but at least I was cool. Today I felt I would go for it.

Splits: (4:24, 4:31, Garmin wonky for 2K, 4:22, 4:22, 4:24, 4:31, 4:25, 4:27, 4:24, 4:29, 4:32, 4:26)

35K to 42.2K

The wind.

The 3:10 pacer caught me at 35K tearing around me with a big group. I thought they were going fast so I didn't give chase but I wish I had -- they would have been a good wind block in future miles.

So as we turned back, we were hit with a wall of wind. I can't even describe it but it felt you had a parachute attached to you. I run on the waterfront often and this I would call an exceptionally windy day. I felt my pace suddenly drop. Breathing was hard. And lo and behold, the left calf was strarting to show signs of cramping.

Once we got past a particularly windy section and hit the bridge the wind wasn't as bad -- though horrible, and I forced myself to pick up the pace.

Each kilometre became a negotiation. I was frustrated that my effort was not turning into turnover and speed. I fought impulses to slow down to walk. As each kilometre came (38, 39) I was looking at my watch thinking of all the banked time that was now coming back to me. I knew that if I hit the 40K mark in 3:00 that I could probably hit the 3:10 target.

If only two kilometres could be so easy.

I asked myself if I could run two kilometres. I thought about the marathon and how I committed myself not to run one this fall. This was it. This was my chance to put it in. Taking walk breaks would slow me down, but just keeping my movement on would push me closer to the end. I found a second wind in the final two. It was hard, I won't lie. Running two marathons at effort in two weeks is something I haven't done in awhile. But I saw friends, the crowd and realized that if I just pushed for a few minutes, it would be a difference between hitting 3:10 and a 3:13. It would be the difference of qualifying for Boston with 1 minute of buffer and a lot more than that.

So I pushed. And hit the final corner with a great crowd cheering.

The final stretch. Photo: NightTerrors

I looked down at my watch and laughed. 3:11:00 by my hand. 3:10:59 chip. A 4:01 under my Boston Qualifying time.

Splits: (4:30, 4:46, 4:39, 4:52, 5:07, 4:54, 4:55)


I quickly caught Lee at the end. He hit 3:10:15, and also a big BQ for him as well.

I've run faster and I've closed races much stronger, but of my 33 marathons, this was one I'm proud to have run.  Would I suggest runners try a 'revenge' or 'redemption' race so close to after the one they went wrong. It's probably not for everyone. And it's probably why I've been keeping this under wraps.

But for sheer audaciousness? Absolutely, sometimes, it has to be done.

Lee and I post race.