On second thought, maybe this post should be called “A Mental Battle Won.” There was a lot of mental dialogue going on in my head during this race, I would venture to say more than normal. In the end the voice of perseverance won out over the voice of despair and discouragement but it wasn’t an easy fight. As a result however, I finished ATB feeling positive and happy.
Despite being the first “spring” race of the season, the weather was anything but spring-like. Saturday, the day before the race, had more than its share of snow and wind, making everyone a little nervous about what we would wake to on Sunday morning. I still have very distinct memories of fighting the wind in Hamilton at my fall marathon and really had no desire to repeat that scenario again. The five of us who traveled to the race spent rather a lot of time trying to decide on just how many layers we would need come race time.
Luckily for us, Sunday brought cold weather but also sunny skies. There was definitely a wind, but not enough of one to suck the life out of you. It was cold enough for there to be ice in the water at the stations, but warm enough that I did end up tying my running jacket around my waist after 10k.
My experience this year was very different from that of 2014 in many ways. I have strong memories of how the 2014 race seemed to just come together for me, at least up to 26k. That time I felt so strong at the beginning and went out at a faster pace than I had planned. For lack of a better way to explain it, I simply felt happy to be out running. During that 2014 race I did slow down as the race went on, and the big hill after 26k forced me to walk and made me light-headed. I fought hard for the last 3k and when I finished the race I needed to sit down and put my head between my legs for fear I might pass out. It was a race I was very proud of though.
This time I started faster, but at the same time didn’t feel like it was going to be my day. I’m not sure how to describe it but if you are a runner you probably know what I mean. It just didn’t have that feeling of everything coming together. But 30 km is a long way (a long, long way) and you can never really predict what will happen based on the first part of the race.
After a solid 10k I started to get slower. It was a strange feeling as I didn’t feel like I was struggling, but when I checked my watch there was a definite change in pace. I think I was running into a bit more wind at this point and maybe that was what made the difference. My mood changed here too. Many of the thoughts that plagued me during training came out in full force. I could not seem to turn off the discouraging voice in my head. I was frustrated that these legs of mine just didn’t want to run faster, though at the same time pleased that I didn’t actually want to stop altogether. As I started the hills of Burlington I finally got angry with myself. Basically, I told myself to suck it up and just keep moving at whatever pace my body was prepared to do. If I couldn’t beat my previous time of 3:04, so be it. I stopped looking at my watch. I told myself that no matter what, I would pick up my pace once the hills were done and show some speed in the last couple of kms.
Interestingly, I remembered there being more rolling hills two years ago. This year of course the final hill was not included due to construction. Am I a bad ATB runner for saying I was quite grateful to not have to do that hill this year? But I was surprised when approaching a hill and I heard a woman behind me say, “This is the last hill.” I was sure she was wrong as I was preparing for at least a few more rollers. Amazingly she was correct and suddenly the hardest work was behind me and only a few more kms left!
With that my spirits picked up as did my pace. I felt confident that I was not going to hit a wall, even if a big portion of the race felt like a giant speed bump. I was able to high-five the Grim Reaper Jr. and make my way to the finish line inside First Ontario Place. This was the stretch that two years ago seemed to last forever; where I fought light-headedness while quietly hoping I wouldn’t pass out. This time I can honestly say that while I was tired, I did not feel like I had run almost 30 km. That is a pretty amazing feeling, even when not quite reaching the hoped for pace.
It was during this stretch that I said to myself words I never thought I would:
“Thank you, thank you, Taylor Swift!”
I can’t say I’m a Taylor fan – indifferent would probably be the best description of my thoughts on her music. But right before the race I added a few new songs to my iPod, and Swift’s “Out of the Woods” was one of them. I often use music as a motivator when I run. I would argue I am somewhat addicted to listening to music both when training and racing. Music can sometimes pull from me strength that I otherwise can’t find. It is not always predictable what song will work at any given time so I keep quite a variety on my iPod and simply skip forward if I need to. I don’t even rely on songs with a specific beat. Slow songs can push me forward as much as something with a quick tempo. I have a memory of one day running joyfully to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Carefree Highway” and let’s face it, Gord is probably not usually thought of when making a running list.
In this case, after 28k of running, it was “Out of the Woods” that somehow pulled that little extra out of me – so much so I played it twice. To my ears there is some female anger and a fighting spirit in that song, just what I needed as I edged closer to the finish line. In less time than I was expecting, I was on the steep ramp (with unhappy quads I might add), entering the stadium. I watched the gun time just roll over the 3 hour 3 minute time and told myself that at least I had managed to come in before the 3:04. In fact, I reassured myself that my chip time would actually be 3:02 and was satisfied with the result.
It was only later that I checked my watch and then Sportstats to find the best kind of running surprise. I really had no idea how much time passed between the gun going off and me crossing the starting mats. Where I was, you couldn’t even hear the start gun, something I would really like to see this race address. It ends up it was longer than I thought and so, quite a while after I finished the race, I discovered that I had actually finished in 3 hours and 53 seconds! Another time I might have been a little frustrated with just missing a sub 3 hour 30k, but this was just such a good surprise I couldn’t feel disappointed. In the end I had salvaged what for a while had felt like a run that might not come together. In fact, I didn’t even take a walk break. How could I complain?
If there is one thing I will take away from this race it is that I can keep going and I don’t have to listen to those negative voices in my head. I know they won’t go away, but I sure don’t have to pay attention to them. When I run I sometimes find it easy to give up when I think all is not going to plan. I never quit, but I easily convince myself to just change it to an easy run, because hey – at least I’m out there running right? This run proved I don’t have to do that, I am capable of pulling it all together again and fighting for a strong finish. No, I am not as fast as my friends, but as cliché as it sounds, I can still fight for my own personal best.