Race Report: 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

The marathon is a cruel sport. You do the work, you train hard, you deserve better and it sometimes just eats you up and spits you out. But after ten of these things, I’ve learned that sometimes the time on the watch isn’t the most important part.

I put in the work on this one. Five days a week, no missed runs, extra mileage on all the long runs. I was ready to go and run a personal best and hopefully come in under 3:30 for the first time. In the back of my mind, thoughts of a Boston Qualifier of 3:25 were there as well.

The weather wasn’t great. It was way warmer than it should be for mid=October in Toronto and there was a threat of rain and gusty winds. But it was dry as we waited in the red corral for the 8:45am start.

The first 10km

The horn sounded and we were off. I ran near the 3:25 pace bunny and group, thinking I would run about 4:50/km and position myself for a strong finish. I ran a similar strategy in Ottawa in 2015, running with the 3:30 pace group, and that served me well. 4:50/km is comfortable for me and I’ve run that pace over 30km at Around the Bay twice.

The first five kilometres clicked off quickly. I eased back on the uphills and ran well down Bathurst.

Along the Lakeshore section, we watched for the elites coming back towards downtown. I saw the lead marathoners, and then cheered Krista and Rachel on their way west. By the turnaround at 12km, I was feeling okay, but there was something not quite right. My upper body was starting to feel tight and strange.

If I clenched a fist, my hand locked up and if I swung my head left or right, I got a weird feeling in my neck and head. Not good. This is not something new, but I usually don’t start to feel like this until way later in the race.

Feeling off, but running okay

I kept pace with the 3:25 group still and continued along the route towards downtown. The hill near the Rogers Centre was find and while I dropped back a bit from the bunny, I was able to work back up to them by the turn onto Queens Quay.

The halfway mark was crossed at 1:41:56. Nice! I did the math and realized I was still in decent shape, but in the back of my mind, I knew that things were not going to be easy on the back half of the course.

Into the Canary District meant a few hills to deal with. I was running well here still, but it was getting tougher to maintain the pace under 5:00/km. The 3:25 bunny and his group had pulled away a bit, but I was still in contact around the 24km turnaround. Not for long…

The wheels fall off

Coming out of the Canary District, the next challenge was the hill over the DVP. I heard Diane cheering at the turn onto Eastern and I was already starting to really struggle to keep pace.

By the turn from Eastern onto Carlaw, I was out of gas. It falls apart that quick in the marathon. One minute you can run 4:50/km and then then next that feels like an impossible task.

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An unhappy runner with about 2km to go. This is the face of someone who just wants the race to be over.

I stopped an contemplated walking up to Queen to catch a streetcar back downtown. That’s how crap I was feeling. But I thought about how I was still ahead of the 3:30 group and how I had put in all the training. So I decided to finish what I had started no matter what.

I walked for a bit, then started running again off and on towards the Beach. Around 31km there was an ambulance tending to a runner who was down. That’s way too early to be seeing people in trouble.

The struggle continues

Here I was, still ahead of the 3:30 group and I wasn’t the only one walking. I’ve never seen that before. Something about the conditions was really taking a toll on runners.

I kept it going towards the turnaround in the Beaches. Heather passed me now along with the 3:30 and 3:35 pace groups. It’s really disheartening to have those groups pass you because it makes it clear that your time is slipping away. There would be no PB today, and probably the finish time would be nothing to get excited about. I was thinking about 4 hours again as I had in Ottawa and working towards that.

Around 36km Ashley passed me and I tried to run with her for a bit as we had done in Ottawa. Unlike that day where I ran with her for a good hour, this time I couldn’t hold the pace and so I dropped back and walked a bit again.

Running buddies for life

37km, and then 38km passed and then a familiar face was coming down the road towards me. Nicole, who was my longtime running buddy going back to before our first marathons was out to cheer. We walked, ran, chatted and swore for a then next two kilometres. I was thankful to have a good friend to share the misery here. She’s been battling a knee injury for a couple of years and I reminded myself that I could at least be out here running at a pace that both of us used to dream of.

She dropped off at the far side of the DVP and I saw Diane and Erin from the Canary District marathon clinic. I decided it was time to run as much as I could from there to the finish. I had about 2.2km to go and no legs left at all. More friends cheering, and a little more walking.

The 4 hour mark was out of reach and I really didn’t care. I’ve run marathons between 3:36 and 4:13 and after ten of them, the finish time only really matters if it’s a personal best.

Finished…

Around the corner onto Bay and the finish was finally in sight. I was happy to have pushed through and not quit. I was happy to almost be done. I walked a bit up Bay, which sucked because I hate to be the person walking in the last 500m. But I had so little push left that I couldn’t keep it moving up the road. I saw Mac on the side and that was the little kick of adrenaline to get me through the last minute or two.

Across the finish line and I stopped my watch at 4:01 something. I didn’t really even look at the time. It didn’t matter to me. Finishing was the goal by the end today and I had done that.

What’s next? I don’t know. I’m frustrated by my two results this year. I put in a ton of work and didn’t get rewarded on race day with the time I was after. Maybe a break from the stress of marathon training would be good. A part of me wants to never run one again.

This marathon thing has a way of drawing you back, even after it beats you down. Maybe that desire to pay it back for the crap it’s given me is what will have me out there running another one in the future.

STWM Race Weekend Todo List

Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon weekend is here and there are a few things every runner should have on their todo list before the races on Sunday morning.

Expo and Speaker Series

First up, make plans to get over to the Running, Health and Fitness Expo to pick up your race package and maybe do a bit of shopping. The race package contains your number bib (with a timing chip attached), as well as your participant shirt. The shirt is a nice one, designed by local artist Mango Peeler.

After you’ve got your bib and shirt, you may want to check out the Speakers Series to hear from a great line up of speakers including Canadian Olympian Lanni Marchant, Masters Runner and World Record holder Ed Whitlock, Running Room founder John Stanton and more. The schedule for the Speaker Series is here.

Apps and Course Guides

New for 2016 is the official STWM App for iOS and Android
New for 2016 is the official STWM App for iOS and Android

You’ll also want to download and setup the official STWM app on either your iOS or Android phone. The app has all the info you need for the weekend, including live tracking on race day for all events. Get your friends and family to grab the app to so they can track your progress as you race.

Knowing the course is super important. Have a good look at the RacePoint course map (complete with road closure information and other details like water and cheer stations). Once you’ve memorized all the turns, give my STWM Course Guide a read.

The half and full marathon share the first 20km of the route, so whether you are running 21.1km or the full 42.2km, the guide has lots of info on things like where the small hills are and what to watch out for on the streets (hint: streetcar tracks).

Carb-loading and Friendship Running

Carb-loading is key to a good marathon performance, especially in the latter stages of the race. This article from the Globe and Mail explains how to carb-load properly and points to a study that shows it really works. Spend Friday and Saturday eating all the carbs!

If you are at the Expo on Saturday morning, you can get in an easy 3km run at the Running Room International Friendship Run. Here’s your chance to meet all the Pace Bunnies and run with John Stanton of the Running Room and a few hundred of your fellow competitors.

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The Running Room Friendship Run at the 2016 Ottawa Marathon

This really is a worthwhile and fun run to help calm some of those nerves and shake out your legs 24 hours before your big run. Meet at the Expo site – more information including the 3km course map is here.

The More You Know

Saturday evening is when you’ll want to lay out your race day gear and make sure you have everything you need for your race on Sunday. Hopefully you already have the gels and sports drink you’ll need.

Take a minute to create a checklist that has everything you’ll need at the start line so you can double check that you’ve got it all when you head out the door on Sunday morning.

There’s some other last minute info at the STWM website on things like bag check, transportation to the 5km start line, and race etiquette. The more you know, the better. Read it all!

Sleep Well, Run Strong

You may not sleep well the night before your race. That’s to be expected. Research shows that the sleep you get the night before that is very important. So pack it in early on Friday night and get a good night’s sleep heading into Saturday.

Hopefully the Blue Jays game will be over early with another dominant win over Cleveland in Game One of the ALCS. Either way, take it easy on the alcohol and load up on nachos and other carbs instead.

Check the raceday forecast a million times and make sure you’re dressed for the weather. Right now it’s looking like it’ll be warmish for mid-October so shorts and a t-shirt are probably the right call. Expect some light rain here and there too. Pack a big garbage bag to stay warm and dry at the start.

Whatever happens this weekend, get out and take part in the festivities and run well on race day. Toronto will be out in force to cheer you along the way. Enjoy!