Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon: How to Have the Time of Your Life When Running A Marathon

It has been over a week since I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon as my first ever marathon. It has taken me this long because how do you even start to put down thoughts to something so epic?

Crossing that finishes line was quiet possibly happiest moment of my life. I had a big stupid grin on my face that lasted for days.

The run however, went the complete opposite of how I’d planned. In my mind I broke the race in to 14k thirds. The first third I was going to keep it cool with a steady-easy pace, the second third either hold that or pick it up slightly. The last third, just do everything I could to hold on to my pace. The first third went really well. I kept my pace under control and was enjoying the massive crowds STWM brings both on the course and on the sidelines. This portion was all done with the Half Marathon group as we traveled out to the Lakeshore and then back.

I was still feeling just fine at the beginning of the second third, I had kind of forgotten about my thirds strategy and was just keeping on with how I was doing. But not long later at around 16k everything came crashing around me. My body started to tire bringing my mind with it. I couldn’t push passed it so I ended up pulling my ipod out to turn on some music. A massively upbeat song comes on and I carry on. Tired, but okay.

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This is actually near the end but I have no photos from the first half of the race

As we approach Bay Street on Lakeshore they start dividing the crowd. The half to the left, marathon to the right. Knowing that alot of people were almost done and I wasn’t even at halfway yet didn’t bother me, but seeing the few people running the marathon did worry me. I’d explicitly picked this race for the number of runners and it was looking like I’d be running with very few for the rest of it. But once we passed Bay and things opened up I saw it was false alarm and though significantly less, there were still plenty of runners on course. I’m hurting quite a bit by this point but knowing the halfway point is approaching and that I’d be seeing my parents soon helped a lot. And at 20k I see my parents standing waiting for me, arms out stretched to give me high fives which was a huge boost and I also begin to see the halfway arch ahead of me.

When things really start to test me is when we get to the Don Valley section. Something about seeing all the runners come back from it and the bit of a ‘hill’ involved going to it and coming back just hit me hard. I was miserable that entire trip up and back. It was in here I first started to succumb to the pain I was in as in and took a walk break,  probably around 25k. Everything was tired and my hip was incredibly tight.

But happy Jessica returned once I was out of there. There was a photographer and I smiled and waved and all was good mentally.

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This is it now, the last out and back section. To get me through I counted down how many kilometres it would be until the turn around, I’d looked ahead of time and knew it was around the 33km mark. This stretch towards the Beaches was a bit quiet but being out and back there were plenty of people around as many were making their return to the finish as well. And even here there were still spectators scattered about, more about these amazing people later.

There were also still some cheer sites along here, some so loud I couldn’t even hear my music anymore. Not a problem with me! Loved the amount of noise they amazing people were making. These sections helped keep that smile on my face even through all the pain I was in.

In to the Beaches section brought tones of spectators and cheers and finally that final turn around well positioned as it meant only a straight back 8.5k to go. Also a man giving out pieces of banana, awesome man if I was more with it I probably would have hugged him.

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I’m in terrible pain this whole time, taking walk breaks frequently and doing everything I can to try to keep going. My nutrition was good, I didn’t feel drained in that way but I started occasionally grabbing Gatorade (yes a complete no-no as I never drink it but I was desperate for something to help!) to see if that would help. But by this point I’m not finding sugar of any use. And I find Gatorade a poor sports drink because it is so sweet. Nuun probably would have helped me a lot more at this point. My muscles just don’t want to move me forward but I persist.

Going in to this race I’d wondered if the CN Tower would become a Beacon of torture. But I actually found it pretty comforting on the way back because I knew I got to turn before it. It was like, look where that is, it’s not as far as I have to go. Also seriously well placed turn with having 8k left to go. After 33km you know you’ve got this thing done.

Obviously the pain and tiredness I’m feeling is only escalating but my mind is happy. I’m having a lot of fun even though I just can’t wait for it to be over and I’m thinking a lot about how I didn’t know it was going to be this hard and hurt this much, especially so early. I did not expect the pain to start setting in at 16k. I didn’t expect it until the mid-late 20s so I’ve pushed through much more than I thought I’d have to.

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I kind of love this picture because I’m unaware of the camera and I just looked focused. Not exhausted or with my head in an unflattering angle like most are.

Coming back into the city at 39k we face our last ‘hill’ a road overpass we’d already come over once just after the Don Valley. Something on a normal day you wouldn’t even think about, it’s not even a bad one. But let me tell you, and excuse the language but at 39k you don’t care, that felt like one big giant fuck you. I even took out my headphones to tell a girl walking (yes of course I walked it, I made it 1/3 up and only because I forced myself to run until the 39k sign) beside me that. At least we got to go down it though. But trying to get my legs to run again took a great deal of work.

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I love this one so much because it so accurately depicts my thoughts. Who the HELL thought a camera at 40k was a good idea? I’m in terrible shape right now and just want this to be over. But fine, I’ll smile with what little I have left. ps behind me is the last little hill we’d just gone over, it is a BIT worse the other side but still, nothing.

I’m listening to one last song and then we’re back into the downtown and I take my headphones out to enjoy the last 1km. The spectator crowds have filled right up and people are cheering all over the place. As I head to make my way onto Bay Street. Run Dem Crew/Parkdale Roadrunners is there welcoming one of their own home and they’re going crazy and since I’m right behind them I get a piece of their insanity too. They formed a tunnel for us to run through and it was one of the highlights of the race for me. Cheers on both sides of me and high fives all around. Then I turn the corner and see the distance countdown. 500m to go. It’s uphill and it’s a struggle but I’m doing the best I can at a sprint. And then my friend are there on the sidelines going absolutely crazy.

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Welcome back full smiles!

I’m rounding the last little bend before I see the finish arches and Taylor Swift starts playing. Could this moment be any better? No it cannot. My name is called and I cross that finish line happier than I’ve ever been.

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Best. Moment. Ever.

Immediately upon finishing I can barely walk my hip is such a mess. But I’m still so amazingly happy. And I felt that high for days. And over a week later I’m still so happy and emotional reflecting back on this experience

The Event

The race was everything. Going in to this you hear everyone talking about how great it’s, best race ever. Participating in it you see why.

Starting right with the expo, super well organized and a ton of vendors. And I mean actual vendors selling things, not just booths and booths of other races. Though they were there, they took up an insignificant amount of the booths.

Race kit was okay, nothing significant but the shirt is Asics, mesh and the women’s has a bit of a v-neck so should be more comfortable but truthfully I haven’t even tried it on yet.

Race morning was smooth I got there early enough that I had no issues getting a Porta Potty though the line did pile up quite a bit. I saw after they did have another row set up on the street by the corrals but many probably didn’t know about them. But, more Porta potties could definitely have been added (and a replacement of toilet paper at the end I went in to a couple that were out). I dropped a bag so my parents wouldn’t have to carry it around the bag drop was also well done, split up by distance and then by bib number with large labeled signage so you knew which booth was yours.

I got in to my corral around 8:30 as you needed to be in before the 8:45 start. The time flew by even though my corral didn’t head off until 9:00 with the constant heading up after each wave it felt quick.

Now the big event, why everyone loves this race so much. The spectators and volunteers. These people were phenomenal and I cannot thank them enough. They were the most encouraging people I’ve ever experience on a race. Calling you out by name and looking directly at you as they give you their little pep talk. I was fully grateful for each and everyone of them and know I probably would have laid down to cry at some point if they were not there. To give up hours of your Sunday to cheer on a bunch of strangers who lost their mind, and to do it with such passion. You’re all heroes.

I’m so glad I picked the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon as my first marathon. The amount of runners, the spectators and volunteers really help keep you going when you’re slammed hard in the face with just how much a marathon will take. You know it’s going to be hard, but you really don’t know what to expect, so do yourself a favour when you finally take that plunge for a full and go for the big one. And if you’ve already run a full go for this one too because the experience is insane and you should live it.

I would absolutely consider running in this event again, though probably just the half next time. I liked that I didn’t study the course map too well going in to my first full so I’d like to repeat that ignorance and not know what’s coming for me when I decide to do another full.

My one thing was with 2 water stations. One of them in the first half was a bit spread out for me. I’d wanted to take a gel at 7k but then had to wait until 9k to take it. Not huge and if I’d paid attention to the map better I could have planned for this, but 6-8k is a common area for people to take a gel I believe so seemed odd, they were giving them out a 9k though so maybe I’m wrong? Anyways all others were well placed. I didn’t have any water with me (and I usually do) and never found any too far expect that one and only because of my gel not because I wanted water. And then I found it weird they had the last water station within the last kilometer. Seemed a bit unnecessary and should have been placed a bit farther from the finish. At that point there’s so much adrenaline no one cares about water (though for some reason I stopped anyways), and we’re about to be handed a full bottle anyways.

Other than that, perfection.

My finish time was much slower than I expected it to be, but I didn’t even care, I was having too much fun enjoying the whole experience and crows to be concerned that I’d missed every single one of my time goals. And now, I am official, a marathoner. That is an identity I can take with me for life.

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Why I’m Running a Marathon

All 3 of my runs so far this week have felt on the same level, I had to kind of push myself to keep going, but I didn’t struggle. These are just kind of your everyday runs. I went out, I did the work, it didn’t feel magical, but it also didn’t feel awful. And I ended each run satisfied with how I’d done. Monday was the MEC road run, we did 6.5k in total, with 6 repeats of 1min on 1min off. It was tough! We were running fast. I thought I was doing horribly at the end because I couldn’t keep up with the people I was running with to start. Then I looked at my times, and the 1min on I was running in the 4’s! Insane I never run that fast. Even at the end when we were done the fartleks and running back I thought I was slugging it but I was actually mostly in the mid-high 5’s.

Tuesday I went out for a 10.5k easy run. Felt good to finally get some distance in! Wednesday massage. Oh man, RMT found a knot I’ve been feeling for months. Getting that our hurt to say the least. Thursday my legs were feeling Monday, Tuesday and the massage. Wore my compression socks because calves have been tight still and we’d be hitting some hills. I was running great but legs were definitely tired. At 4k some people decided to keep going a bit longer and 4 of us turned back. We were all just kind of like ‘nope not happening’ I’m usually not one to say no to running longer but for a mid week run, especially during maintenance. I do not need to go over 8, especially on tired legs and a trail with some hills. Even during training I often do not go over 8k during the week. 8k is really the perfect distance, not too long not to short, really the perfect mid-week easy run distance.

But back to Monday…

That night’s clinic we did goal setting so Cole gave us each a sheet of paper to fill out with our immediate 1-2 month goal and our longer term 6 month goal. We filled them out and put our email addresses on them so he can go over them and give us some feedback. I’m pretty excited!

For my immediate goal I wrote about working on speed and hitting my 10k goal time (3rd try is the charm!) on June 30th (signed up for the Peach Bud 10k, a local race the other day! I’m excited!) I mentioned overcoming my mental struggle with tempo runs there as well.

For long term I talked about my marathon training and getting though it sans injury by doing strength training.

On the sheet we were suppose to write why this was important to us. My immediate one was easy, I want to prove to myself i’m stronger than my mind thinks. My mind does not like to go fast, it thinks my body can’t take it, I prove to myself all the time I can, but the mind is week. Getting faster mean beating down my doubts that much more.

Why do I want to run a marathon? This was harder. I just ended up putting ‘I want to.’ It doesn’t seem like a good enough reason. But it is, it’s something I want to do, so I’m going to do it. I’m not someone who has always wanted to run a marathon, not even when I was training for my first half. While running my second half when I had decided I’d do the full I thought. Am I crazy?? WHY?? I think that’s why. Because I’ve never done crazy things, I’ve always taken the smart path. This is my little bit of rebellion from always doing the right thing. I’m going to go do something a little crazy but for all the right reason, I may not love every minute of it. But I’m going to love the journey. It’s going to be hard, and that’s why I want it. I’ve never faced things that are hard. School was never hard from me. Things in life, yeah there were hard things in life, but I never faced them, I’d run or push away from them. This, this is something hard I’m going after, head first I’m chasing it down.

From this week on I’ll be slowly building my weekly milage back up. To make sure i’m on the right track I decided to rough out my marathon training plan. Only a very basic guide and I’ll be doing some experimenting over the next month or 2 to see what my body can handle and I’ll be using that to help structure the plan. So I’ll be making a ton of changes to it I’m sure. But I feel good about it so far. Some weeks will be hard but I’ve built in a lot of scale back weeks as well and right now I actually only have a few weeks in there of 5 days a week. I thought I would have had to do more than that. So I’m happy about that, I want to be able to handle 5 days a week at some point, but I think for now it’s just too much while doing a build-up as well. I’ve done it a few times and it just gets to be a lot, not enough recovery time. I’ve definitely experienced running tired in the month of April though and handled it better than I did in February when I was trying to add 5 days so I think I should be okay for the fews weeks I do it. I’ve also been considering doing double runs on Thursdays. A tempo in the morning and then the easy trail run in the evening so I can get I’m some extra speed work that’s spread out from other hard runs without having to give up Thursday nights completely. I probably won’t be able to do every Thursday once training kicks into full gear but i’d like to not have to give them up completely.

I’m excited and terrified for this anyways!

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My sunset picture for #RunChatHunt (more on that later) taken after Thursday’s group trail run