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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Peach Bud 10k

Last race of the season complete!

A big motivation for me signing up for this was when I couldn’t perform as well as I’d hoped at the MEC Race 2 10k back in May. I needed a do over.

This local race is part of the Niagara Running Series, I ran one other of the races this year, the Grimsby 10k where due to the small number of participants (it was February and -30C that day) I was able to easily place in my age group. This race I knew would be harder to place but I’ve improved so much in the last month I was up for the challenge.

This race was held on Tuesday night (night before Canada Day) with the 10k starting at 7:30. Worked well for me as it gave me plenty of time to get there after work. What did not give me plenty of time was same-day race kit pick up, you had from 5pm-7pm to get your kit. I left work at 6pm which is about 30 minutes away without traffic. Schools out now so traffic wasn’t bad. But every time is slowed I started freaking out. I ended getting there at 6:35 so I really didn’t need to worry, but still it was a stressful situation. I big improvement for this race would be to offer kit pick-up somewhere the day before.

By the time I had arrived the kids 1k was underway so access to the parking lot was blocked and I had to park on a nearby side street, not too far away. I jogged over to the arena the kit pick-up was in because I was still in high anxiety mode. Got my bib, my t-shirt and my kit. Which was actually just a bag of fliers…

Quick stopped at the bathroom (yay short line!) and I went back to my car to drop the bag off and get my ipod since I forgot it on the way in.

And then it was waiting game. I mostly just wandered around inside and outside. The 5k started at 7:00 so we started seeing them come in before the 10k which was nice. 10 minutes to start and I did a light warm-up jog again to get warm since it was a bit cool out, perfect temperature for a race though! This is when I know I might have a problem, my legs were feeling heavy and not up for speed. I didn’t let that bother me then and just shook them out trying to get loose.

At 7:30 we’re off. There was a last minute change to the course and instead of the usual loop we were to do 2 loops of the 5k course. I was worried about this, I didn’t know how the loop would affect my head, it didn’t bother me during MEC Race 3 so I was hopeful but still concerned.

The race actually went really really well for me. My legs stuck in their stubborn way to not move as fast as they could, so my speed wasn’t where it could have been. But I pushed myself the entire time, I remained positive, any doubts in myself I was able to quickly brush away. I hadn’t had a race go so well mentally all season. And I finally ran a race where every single split was below 6:00 min/km! My slowest km was at 8k with a pace of 5:58 but that was during a hilly section and Strava actually put my GAP at 5:41 for that and aside from it every other km was actually below 5:48!

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I’m really proud of that last km, my lungs were not having a good time by this point as I’d been solidly pushing myself though 9km which included 2, 2k sections of rolling hills. I didn’t even slow down for the water stations aside from the amount necessary to get water into my mouth, and I still just mostly got the water all over me. I really tried to put everything I had into that last 1-2km and I think I succeeded pretty well, my final sprint was far slower than it has been in recent races (peaked at 4:35, about 30s slower than other sprints) which means I didn’t have too much left in the tank by the end, and my lungs were definitely feeling the burn.

Official chip time: 56:59

Squeezing in to nab that sub 57! So glad I picked it up even more when I saw the gun time clock cross 57 minutes. I was pretty close to the start line at gun time so I thought I’d missed the sub 57 so I was pleasantly surprised when I checked my time to see 56.

On another day my time would have been a lot faster (figured I’d be able to do a sub 56 and possibly push for a sub 55), but my legs were just not up for speed that day. I still pushed them through to a PB by over a minute and a half so I think that says a lot more than if I my legs were feeling fast. I couldn’t get them to move as fast as they’re capable of, but I didn’t let that stop me and still managed a significant PR. If I can manage a performance like this on a sluggish day, imagine what I can do when the cards line up perfectly on race day?

Post race was alright. Nuun was there! Loved that! Food was pizza from Boston Pizza, banana and a granola bar, not the best but hey, pizza!

I didn’t stay for the award ceremony since it didn’t start until 9 and I’d already confirmed I had not placed. So I made an uncomfortable walk back to my car as I’d apparently developed a blister on my foot (stupid shoes!!!). And then grabbed my phone so I could show off my adorable medal!

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Peach Bud Review

Overall the race experience was well put together, great aid stations, there was 5 for the 10k, 1 with Gatorade, as well as a fire hose to run through and a sponge station. It was a cool night so these weren’t necessary (though I did run through the hose on my second lap just for kicks), but could have been a life savour on another night. T-shirt is pretty nice, by the same company that made the Mississauga shirts actually, but this is a much smoother fabric and I may actually wear this one. The women’s shirt is blue with nice capped sleeves and features my favourite little peach buddy!

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The series could do with some better communication with the runners, they don’t send out any emails before the race and the website is not well maintained, they had the old 10k course map up until just a few days before so I’m sure most people did not know of the course change until they got there. But once you’re there everything is well done and they added chip time results which is great! The last race I did with them was gun time only so having the start line mat was great since it was a much bigger crowd at this race.

Mississauga Half Marathon Recap & Review

I signed up for the Mississauga Half Marathon just after finishing the Chilly Half Marathon at the beginning of March. I was pretty sure before that point I’d be running the Miss. Half but I’d still been toying with the idea of doing a full marathon this spring. Chilly was awful and I decided during that run I needed redemption. So Mississauga was to be my redemption for a horrible race. I think I succeeded.

The morning of and the weeks leading up to this race I was at a confidence low. I didn’t trust my training, I felt like I hadn’t done enough, and I was doubting myself in what I could achieve. This race was a huge win for me because I proved to myself I could fight passed those doubts coming out of this I know I could have done better than I did, but I had to run this race, to experience that first. Now I’ll be ready for next time.

My dad, deciding when I'm busy refuelling is the perfect time to take a picture
My dad, deciding the perfect time to take a picture is when I’m trying to chug milk and eat bread without puking.

Race Kit

The race of course starts off with the Kit pick up and expo which was great. I haven’t run a lot of big races to compare but this expo was pretty large (Around the Bay is only one that was larger of races I’ve done) and really well organized and there were a ton of free samples. In the kit itself my personal favourite was the honey stinger chews (yum), there was also a Larabar but I got the coconut flavour in my kit and gross nope. There were also some vender giving out free samples including protinis (I got Chicken Souvlaki, don’t bother sub-par chicken skewers and I don’t even want to think about that ‘taziki’ sauce) power bar, some pet food(I still find this odd) and someone who was giving out bread, I don’t remember who they were all I know is they had cinnamon bread and it was amazing. Running Room was there with a small selection of gear and their usual wheel of discounts and also Sketchers. Most other venders I believe were other races, there was some medic type ones too, one selling injury prevention straps and things and probably a massage/physio/chiropractor or something I don’t fully remember. Very smooth and efficient process. Shirt is okay I suppose, I haven’t worn mine yet but there’s no logos on the back so that is a plus.

Race Day

The 7:30 start in a different city meant I was up at 5:20 getting dressed and going to the bathroom 500 times. Had a Larabar for breakfast and got to relax in the car as I got a ride to the start. This was a big plus for me as I don’t like having to stress about parking and the shuttle buses if I don’t have to. My parents dropped me off at Square One where the start line was and continued on to the parking lot to wait for me at the end. I got there 40 minutes before gun time and there was zero lines for the porta-potties so I went. And then sat around on the curb for awhile, I was a bit chilly in just my tank top looking at the runners in the throw-away clothes with envy. The idea of buying a sweater to throw away just seems like a waste of money, I’ll be cold, whatever. As we’re getting close to the start, lines never really gather at the porta-potties so huge kudos to the Mississauga Marathon for providing enough. I had visions of my first half marathon and the massive lines and people taking their sweet time in there so much so the marathoners with their earlier start had to ask to cut ahead some only just making it to the start on time. None of that for Mississauga!

My hip had been tight for a couple of weeks so for the first time ever I took a little warm up jog before the race to get it loose and was pleasantly surprised to find it was okay. I got into the start shoot at a loss on where to place myself. Some of the pace bunnies weren’t in yet and there weren’t any signs on the gates to give you a guide. So I awkwardly stood in the middle until the rest of the bunnies came. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to place myself in front of or behind my goal time, in the end I went slightly in front of the bunny. Opening ceremonies included a speech from the old mayor who talked about the beautiful course we were about to run, a shout out to one of the marathon racers who ran to the race from Markham, the finish line would make 100km for him for the day. And an odd rendition of the Canadian Anthem. The race started and they played Uptown Funk, which amused me as the Chilly Half played the same song. I wasn’t complaining, it’s a good song to get you pumped for the run. Nearly 2 minutes later, my race began.

I told myself I wasn’t allowed to go out fast, and I wasn’t allowed to worry about my pace at all. I worried too much during Chilly and I paid the price in a big way. I wouldn’t let myself look at my watch so the first couple km were a lot of be checking with myself to see how I was feeling, was this pace at all fast? Could I maintain this pace for 2 hours? I have a really hard time with pacing, generally if I’m pushing the pace in a training run, I think I’m okay but then 3km in I’m not. So it was a struggle trying to figure this out while not looking at my watch. At the 3k mark my watch beeped and I looked on reflex. My pace was above 6 min/km. Damn. Not where I wanted to be. I was mad at myself for checking but wouldn’t let myself speed up either. I needed to take this slow, I’d catch up later. At some point the 2:05 pacer passed me. I think it might have been before I check my watch. That was hard, it hurt to let her go and not pick up the pace. It took a lot of strength to tell myself not to worry, I’d see her again. But 5k in and I’m doubting myself. My pace was not where it needed to be, I never got to do any negative split training like I had planned, I didn’t think I could do it.

What finally did it was around 6km, when I’m feeling low, feeling like I’d slowed even more and I had no chance to recover, the 2:10 pacer ended up at my back. I thought oh hell no and picked it up. I will PR I will PR became my mantra for the next couple of km. I found my pace, I check my km times a couple times and I was right around where I needed to be. I was feeling good and started to believe in myself more, that I could pick it up in the later half. Around 8 or 9k I had the 4:15 marathon pacer back in my sights (he had passed me just after the 2:05) and I knew the 2:05 wasn’t too far ahead of him. I was feeling great. I got around that group I think as I was heading for the big hill – closing in on the 10k mark. And there was the 2:05 pacer. I’d done it, chased her down. She was till far ahead of me but I knew I could pass her. Slowly but surely over the next few kms I got closer and closer and finally passed her as we were running along the waterfront trail.

I’d done it I thought, sub 2:05 in the bag.

I ran the rest of the race swiping dead bugs off of me (and eating one, gak). The last 3km felt really long to me. I felt like I was repeating just 3 more to go for an hour. i did my best to hold on to my pace though knew I could have held on more. It was like I’d won something after getting around that pacer and now I was done. I kept going though, To get to the finish you have to go around a bay and then there’s a small climb. I didn’t even notice how close the finish line was until I had less than 100m to go. But then I took off and flew across the finish, that felt amazing, it as a great sprint. My watch has my best pace at 3:50.

In the end I did not have a sub 2:05, I thought being far ahead of the 2:05 pacer meant I was okay, should have check my watch I ended up with a 2:05:22 😦 if only I’d looked I definitely could have motivated myself to push harder on those last couple km and probably shaved nearly a minute off my time. In the last 2k my pace slipped back up to the 6min area. I definitely could have made up those 20 seconds. This fact haunts me and I’m so angry with myself for not checking my watch. It didn’t even occur to me. Oh well. Next time.

The Course

So Mississauga Marathon bills this as a fast net downhill course. Erm… yeah.. net downhill. That’s not exactly a lie. They have the elevation graph to prove it. But I’m sure most runners know by now, elevation graphs don’t always mean much. below is the elevation graph my Garmin recorded. And this is far more accurate looking than the one on the website. But even this doesn’t paint the whole picture. Like I said, the course ended with an uphill, that’s not see there. We also had to go up a ramp to get over the road. And the last downhill we did, was followed by and uphill, also not seen as we went under a road. This was all in the last bit where it looks pancake flat. Now, these are nothing major, you’re not going to loose your breath over these hills. They’re just babies.

Elevation Graph my Garmin recoded of the race.
Elevation Graph my Garmin recoded of the race.
Elevation Graph of the Half from the Mississauga Marathon website - bit different eh?
Elevation Graph of the Half from the Mississauga Marathon website – bit different eh? You do see the slight up in the end here though which mine didn’t really show

The fact I just want to make clear here is, this is not a downhill race. For every downhill, there was an uphill. And that one around 10k, not the worst hill in the world, but it’s long and on a bend so you don’t quite know when it will end and is significant enough to leave you breathless and to definitely impact your race if you’re not use to hills. For me, this wasn’t such a big deal. I’d just come off Around the Bay training after all and run some very hilly trails weekly. And no road can ever complete with some of those hills found on trails. But enough about that.

I went into this race expecting a downhill. I thought, I just need to get passed that hill, then the rest of this course will be easy with the downhill helping push me a little faster. Except that never happened. So I just want to be clear, don’t expect any help from this course in landing you a good time and most of the good downhills you will face will be in the beginning half of the course. Despite the deceptive wording I did love this course. It’s a pretty scenic route once you make the turn onto Mississauga road and has the perfect amount of hills to keep things interesting without effecting your time.

And while I cannot guarantee this, it really was an amazing day for a race. The weather that morning could not have been more perfect so the 7:30 start was totally worth it in the end. The temperature was perfect I wore heat gear capris and a tank top and felt completely comfortable. The sun stayed behind light clouds for most of the race. As we neared the lake on Mississauga Rd there was the gentlest of breezes that felt lovely. On a windy day, this would have been an awful stretch as the wind would have been pounding you right in the face. But Sunday, it was perfect. The last 5km of the race were gorgeous as we weaved in and off the waterfront trail and finished in a park. I honestly had no idea there was such pretty parts of Mississauga.

The race route definitely tops my list of favourite courses so far, pretty, scenic, not a single out and back section and just the right amount of hills. There also wasn’t really a boring stretch. Going down that first street might have been if it were not at the beginning but you get that out of the way and the scenery is interesting the whole rest of the way. There’s a nice little detour around UofTM (where you’ll find some hills) as well. Really is a fabulous course. Also the aid stations were top notch. The organisers do a good job of reaching out to high school students to fill the aid stations and they must prepare them well as I didn’t have any issues trying to get water.

Race medal is nice, nothing fancy but still pretty nice.

And the post race food, fabulous. Okay not really, it was mostly normal stuff, they did have cinnamon bagels though! Hell yes! And chocolate milk! The best part! It was great to see a race sponsor that was actually present at the race giving out their product. There was also a vendor giving out an entire box of cereal, hey why not!

The course had a split map at the 8k mark, online it said there would also be on at 16.5 but it wasn’t there, not a big deal though. They also had timers at 5, 10, 5 and 18k which was kind of nice. Especially for me who mostly ignored their watch, it was fun seeing how much time I’d banked.

Official chip times
Official chip time results (age category – 20-29)

One of the thing I’m really proud of here is seeing how much time I made up, and also. for the first time ever I finished in the top 50%. While I’m still annoyed with those 20 seconds, and wished I’d believed in myself more during training, this was still a 4 minute PR for me, after only 2 months and a much more successful race. I learned a ton about myself during this race, and I proved I’m far more capable than I give myself credit for.

Overall, this race was a massive win and I’m ready to get out there and go crush those times. I’m feeling way more confident in my abilities now and know I can make some big gains in increasing my pace.