It is the day after the marathon. That glorious day when you know you are due some rest and a serious supply of chocolate. Your body aches but it is a good ache. Each little pain reminds you of what you have done, what you mentally pushed your body to do. And today, despite two previous marathons, I finally feel comfortable calling myself a marathoner.
For some reason I have struggled with saying I’m a marathoner. I’m not a fast runner at that distance. I don’t think I have even managed to reach the average female marathon time. No matter how hard I train it is doubtful I will ever come near a Boston qualifying time. I know many people who are fast marathoners. Sometimes it is hard not to compare myself to them. I think though that I have finally let go of that comparison. If you are on a marathon course you are pushing yourself to the limits no matter your pace. You are having mental arguments with yourself no matter what time you plan to cross the finish line. Yesterday I fought the worst headwinds I have ever experienced. I dealt with GI issues that I have come to realize are just forever going to be a part of my running. I was sick the entire week before the race and still not 100% by race morning. (I am coughing still as I write this). I several times thought that 42.2 is just not the distance for me. But I did finish, 4 minutes faster than my first marathon. Without the bathroom breaks it would have been closer to 10 minutes faster. I felt like I accomplished something big when I crossed that line.
As for the race itself, I highly recommend you try Road2Hope. To me this race was “just right” – not too big, not too small. The organization was excellent. Race kit pick up was a breeze on the Friday afternoon and a helpful volunteer took the time to talk to me at length about the marathon course. Probably the only thing I would suggest the organizers change is how they distribute race shirts. When you register you do not give your shirt size – it is instead done on a first come, first serve basis. This wasn’t a problem for us as we arrived early, but I know I would have been frustrated if my size was gone even though I had registered months ago. One bonus about the shirts though was the fact that you got to choose your colour. Women had a choice of black, red or pink. I also appreciate the long sleeves; I have more than enough short sleeve race shirts.
We stayed at a hotel only 5 minutes from the finish line, which offered a very reasonable price of $99 for runners and late check out. They even opened their Sunday breakfast extra early so that runners would have a chance to fuel up. It was quite nice for me to be able to walk from the hotel to the event site in Confederation Park to watch 2 of my friends do the 10k race on Saturday. The 1k, 5k and 10k races were all held along the recreational path tracing the shoreline of Lake Ontario. With free parking and heated tents for racers to get their food, you really couldn’t ask for a better location.
The half marathoners and marathoners had to start their races high up on the escarpment, or what everyone calls the mountain. Parking was again free at Confederation Park, where a huge number of volunteers ushered the cars in quickly and efficiently. And if you happened to be staying at our hotel, there was also a shuttle to the park. Once parked we were on one of the many, many school buses within minutes. As we boarded the bus driver handed out sweat check baggage tags and a black marker was passed around. Once you got the marker, you simply wrote your bib number on the tag and you were ready to drop it off at the start line, where it would then take a much easier route than you to the finish!
The shuttle ride was about 15 minutes and then we were dropped off at a warm recreation centre with lots of room for nervous runners. We didn’t bother to head outside until 15 minutes before the race. I always appreciate a race where I do not have to spend almost as much time huddled at the start as I spend running. There were no official corrals but there were pace bunnies, so it wasn’t difficult to figure out where you should be prior to the start gun.
The course is awesome. We just had the unfortunate luck of running on one of the windiest days possible. Running on rural roads on top of the escarpment is fantastic, but look out when those winds start gusting across the open farm fields. All was good until a turn somewhere around the 8k mark and then you found yourself fighting the wind until the half way point. Once in a while you would get a little break and think how nice it felt, only to be blasted by more wind gusts. Some of the km signs had been blown over or off their stands. Apparently there were people who had their bibs blown off their shirts and they had to hold on to them for the chip. I tried to take a salt pill only to have the capsule literally fly out of my hand. Some cow may find a little treat in its field this week.
We did get a break on the long downhill. I admit, this part was fun. I even did the Little House on the Prairie move – you know the scene when the little girl goes running down the hill with her arms spread out? Instead of a meadow I had a concrete path leading me down the mountain to Lake Ontario.
Unfortunately, by km 30 I knew my intestines were going to protest all the work I had been doing. Why can every other part of my body adjust and adapt to running, but my intestines insist on steadfastly fighting the whole process. And guess what? They win, every time. Despite all my hopes to not have to waste time in porta potties, stops were made. My last 10k was just about walking when I needed to, running when I could. I did finish strong though, even making it up this hill without walking in the last km of the race.
I will note though (and someone else has commented on this too on the race Facebook page)… Runners – if you are finished the race DO NOT use the path as a place to stand and chat. A group of runners parked themselves in the middle of the pathway somewhere around the 41k mark. From what I can tell they were just hanging out. That’s great for you if you are done your race, but others are trying to finish too. GET OFF THE PATH! Sorry for the shouting but I couldn’t believe they were there. I even called out “runner coming through” and they didn’t move! I had to step around them. Maybe this is just me but at that point in a marathon, having to take a couple of extra steps to go around something feels like being asked to climb a mountain. As I say to all the kids I teach – come on guys, common sense!
In those last 10k I started to accept the fact that I am not a fast marathoner. It was weird, but I wasn’t frustrated. I did not look at my watch. I knew my pace had slowed significantly. I have chosen not to look at my watch since for fear that I will forget the things I should be proud of and instead be disappointed in just how slow I was in the last quarter of the race. In the end, it was a PB and a PB in tough conditions. I am going to hold on to that.
And finally, the best part of this weekend? The great people who joined me for the race. When I decided to do this race I spread the word amongst my running friends and 4 wonderful women joined me on the trip. We are all at different stages of our running and have our own goals, but what a supportive group of people! First I have to thank Karen, who is a faster runner than I can ever dream to be, but she stuck with me for the whole race. I was a pretty quiet running partner in the last part of the race but just having her beside me kept me going. To Rebecca, another Boston runner who ran an amazing time on Sunday – your words of encouragement are priceless. You may be a fast runner, but you totally know what all runners need to hear. To Noreen (who PB’d her 10k!) and Cathy – oh my gosh…Best Race Crew Ever! They took care of me like an elite runner after the race, including letting me sit in the car while they went inside to get me the Dairy Queen treat I had been looking forward too.
Two other great friends also made the day special for me. To Rod and Doug who drove out early on a Sunday morning to give me good luck hugs and words of encouragement – what a kind and generous thing to do. And Rod, joining me for a bit of a run at the 16k mark gave me a mental boost as I fought the winds. I can’t thank all of you enough!
Of course I have to thank my family too. Behind every marathoner (see, I am calling myself that!) is a very patient family who supports you in the idea of running 42.2km for no other reason than to prove you can. Thank you to my husband and kids for putting up with it all! And thanks to everyone else who has managed to look and act interested as I babbled on about marathon training.
Will I do a marathon again? Honestly I think I might. I have found a training schedule I love thanks to Jason Fitzgerald at Strength Running. Without a doubt I became a better runner thanks to that schedule. I have found a course I love and would definitely try again thanks to Road@Hope Marathon. I have other goals in running besides marathons, so next spring I can focus on those. All five of us have already agreed that we want to do Road2Hope again next year. When the time comes I will decide if it will be the marathon or the half. (It think the half course would be very conducive to a PB!) In the meantime, I think I am about to sign up for another trip to Hamilton… Around the Bay, here I come!
Follow me on Twitter @AverageRunnerK