Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

28 Oct 2018

Race information

Goals

Goal Description Completed?
A 3:30:00 Yes
B 3:25:00 Yes
C 3:20:00 Yes

Pre-Race

That this was my first full marathon meant that it was going to have a weight to it regardless, but this year has been a hard one – more than this year, truthfully. At points I have felt a bit untethered and getting out to train has been one of the ways that I have stayed grounded. Even when I had a bad run or fell off my plan, the routine was a banister that I could reach for when life did what life does.

I can’t recall how far back I set my B and C goals, but coming in under 5 min/km was the aim from the very beginning. It was completely arbitrary and, after my first half marathon back in May, it was fairly clear that sub-3:30:00 was an entirely reasonable time to aim for. Over the summer, I swayed between overconfidence and worry, neither entirely grounded in reality, but eventually I settled into 3:25:00 as within reach if the conditions were right.

On an unrelated note, it doesn’t take much for me to consider assaulting strangers: my Airbnb was next to some sort of acoustic guitar open mic night that went until well beyond my entirely reasonable 10pm bedtime. Upside: I had a roommate. I have not decided if that roommate made up for the 5 hour Greyhound ride I had to take in order to get into Toronto (and nothing makes up for the 5 hour ride back after the race, but #lifechoices).

There was one additional detail that I couldn’t resolve in training, but had to learn by doing: each race I did this year had me bursting out of the gate, trying to go stride for stride with those who were in better shape than me. As far as strategies go, it is not a particuarly strong one, but adrenaline and idiocy are hard to overcome. The plan this time was to set myself up so that it would be difficult to lead the pack, even if I wanted to: I was going to start at the very back of the first corral and gradually work my way up to race pace. When you don’t have very good discipline, sometimes you fake it.

Race Start - 10km

And sometimes, you’re a liar. No, I was nowhere near the front – and I did have the 3:25:00 pacer a decent length ahead of me – but the back just felt so far… back. To my credit, I did start off at a comfortable 4:45 min/km pace. I distinctly recall thinking that I could have kept that up forever. It is a completely different sensation to be casually rolling along with a pack of runners rather than weaving through them in an attempt lead rather than follow. Gradually, I settled in somewhere around 4:30 min/km, which was ahead of my goal time, but I had no intention of maintaining that for the whole race. If I maintained it through the first half, even when I hit the 30k wall, I would have banked some time.

I am not a cold weather runner. I much prefer the sensation of rapidly approaching dehydration that comes with hot weather running. But people who race in late October can’t be choosers. While I had a couple of long training runs in the cold, I hadn’t figured out what my clothing strategy was going to be. So my game day decision was to stick with a long sleeve technical shirt and leave my running jacket at the bag check, on the assumption that I would regret racing with it. This was a silly idea given that I checked my bag almost an hour before the start, but it was the right call: very early in the race I was gazing longingly at folks running with exposed skin, which is somewhat of a creepy sentence to have written, but I regret nothing: I was warm and jealous. To get a bit of cool air flowing, I pocketed my gloves and took my stretch headband/cap/thing off and wrapped it around my wrist. It proved to be a weird look, but I appreciated the cool air.

11km - 20km

The first half of this course is a delight: nice scenery, comfortable elevation, and good spots for crowd interaction. I was glad to have had my “bad” half-marathon last month, because I remembered to have fun with this one. I laughed and smiled at strangers. I tapped those tap here to power up signs. I even grabbed a couple selfies on the course – which felt strange at the time and feels stranger still in retrospect, but I tried to enjoy myself with the course. Plus, I wanted to commemorate the moment on the course where the half-marathon runners split off to do their last couple of kilometres, while the rest of us fools were just getting started.

Around kilometre 18, a runner ahead of me fumbled while taking off gloves, and one fell to the ground. Before I knew what I was doing, I leaned over and scooped it up as I ran by – only to see another drop. Not wanting to either return a single glove or hold onto a stranger’s sweaty glove for the rest of the race, I grabbed the second and sped up to return them. The confusion I saw looking back at me as I handed them back made me realize that it was deliberate. But, because I had done a mitzvah, they weren’t going to just throw them away. Worse still, I settled into pace with them, so they were stuck with those gloves for the foreseeable future. At least until I was out of sight, anyway.

21km - 30km

Somewhere around this point, I had one of those dumb runner fantasies that are completely ungrouned in reality: “I bet a sub-3:10 is possible”. Sure, I had run a comfortable half and felt like there was lots of energy left, but that energy was already claimed by my traitorous brain to fuel my legs for a reasonable finish. There certainly wasn’t enough for me to shave 2 minutes off over the next 21k. But we runners love our lies like “I’m saving something for the last 5k” or “I don’t care when someone passes me”.

The race began to get a bit lonely towards the end of this stretch. I had joined a few racers who pushed ahead of our pacer, but we lost cohension as people started to hit their walls. All of my training this year has been solo, so I was surprised to find myself looking for a buddy to stay with for a while. Yet, despite the fact that I was keeping relatively steady splits, anyone I fell in with either pulled ahead or dropped back. The legs still felt good and my breathing was fine, so, as I crossed the 30k marker, I resigned myself to keeping company with Chromeo and Carly (Rae Jepsen).

31km - Finish

For the last year and a half, I have used my AirPods almost every day – and certainly for all my training. The problem is that the battery has to be big enough to fit inside your ear and, over time and usage, batteries degrade. Add to that the fact that I had a solid hour between putting my headphones in and the race, and it is no surprise that Chromeo abandoned me at 32km. It be unfair of me to blame a Canadian electro-funk duo for my lagging pace, but it certainly is not this guy’s fault.

However that guy clearly did something wrong: a woman passed me in this section with a level of aggressiveness usually reserved for people trying to bring a full shopping cart to the 10 items of less lane. We were on what might have been the most wide open stretch of the course and I was hugging the side of the road pretty tightly. Apparently, not tightly enough. After staying on my heels for a few strides, she decided to overtake me with something in between rubbing elbows and a body slam. I made Canadians everywhere proud by apologizing for her behaviour, but I am not sure she even noticed what had happened: whatever reserve of energy she was drawing on to burst ahead had her stumbling along like Jackie Chan in The Legend of Drunken Master. Remembering how that movie ended forced me to reconsider returning the favour.

There were couple minutes here where I swear it started to faintly rain. It was so light that I thought I might be imagining it, but the cold reached my fingers which made it real enough for me to care. I had a brief thought for my glove-dropping friend 15k ago and wondered if there was an engagement ring waiting for me at the end of the race (or bread – boy did I want bread more than anything in that moment), before snapping back to reality and putting mine back on. Unfortunately, they were not magic gloves of endurance. Every kilometre from the 35th on, I told myself, “Next kilometre I’m going to turn on the gas”. That… did not happen. No amount of Maple Syrup Gel, chewable gels, or Gatorade was going to change the fact that I was tired down to my bones. If the half-marathon turnoff had come at this point, there’s a very good chance I would have taken it. Unfortunately, the only way out was through, so I shambled onward to the finish line.

A constant theme of my races this year has been that I end them like a drama queen. This was no exception and, thankfully, a race photographer snapped what might be my favorite photo of me ever. That is a man with regrets. It’s also a man steps away from the finish line and I certainly was grateful for that.

Post-race

I was also grateful that the photographer did not follow me after that last shot, because I immediately started to have a big ol’, cathartic ugly cry. One of the medical staff came over to check up on me, which I simultanously appreciated and recoiled from. He seemed to understand and left me alone after confirming that I was not dying on the outside. The same level of understanding cannot be said for the volunteer who handed me a space blanket: that teenager looked horrified at the conspicuous display of emotion and tried to give me the blanket without being any closer than he had to be. The difficulty I had wrapping it around myself did me no favours in earning his respect. Rather than trying to convince him of my coolness, I let it slide and sought out the sweet oblivion of warm clothing – or, at least, warm reflective plastic.

Just like with my first race of the season, I again exceeded my most optimistic expectations. That has a lot to do with being new to this and not having the best sense as to what goals are reasonable, but I also put in the work necessary to have a great running year. Crossing that finish line in Toronto comes from almost 1500km of training runs this year and I feel good about it. I am already idly wondering how low I can get that time and there are obviously lots of things to improve (diet, pacing, moving to a climate where there is no snow), but this is an unequivocal win that couldn’t have come at a better time. Knowing me, I am very quickly going to move onto the next challenge, but this race was last weekend and I’m still basking in its afterglow. Granted, that might be indicative of brain damage suffered over the course of the marathon. Still, I am going to enjoy it.

See you out on the pavement.