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!

Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon 2016 Course Guide

The route for the 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is slightly revised from past years, but still quite familiar if you’ve run the race before.

The biggest changes as compared to the 2015 version of the course are a reduction in turns through the Canary District, the removal of a couple of small hills and fewer areas with limited spectator support. The net result: flatter, faster and more festive. Here’s the racePOINT Interactive Map version for reference.

The start

Racers set off from University Avenue and Queen St. heading north. There are some tall buildings on the west and south sides, but lots of open sky to the east once you get near the start line. Some of the corrals a little ways back will be in the midst of the tall buildings where GPS reception might be an issue. Pro-tip: you’ll want to give your GPS watch some time to get locked in here before the start, so maybe fire it up ten minutes or so before just to make sure you have a good lock on the signals to get a precise position.

The first 2km are a steady incline up to Bloor St. It’s not a hill, by any stretch, but it’s good to remember that you aren’t running flat over the first little bit so if you feel a little sluggish off the line, that might be the reason. You’ll swing around Queen’s Park Circle and the Ontario Legislature on your way up. You can run the tangents here if the crowds allow it and avoid adding on too much extra distance.

The left turn onto Bloor at the 2km flag brings you past the Royal Ontario Museum. The next 2.5km are pretty much dead flat, with a wide road so congestion shouldn’t be an issue here as the throng starts to spread out. The first water station is a 2.3km, just past the left turn onto Bloor.

Down Bathurst

At 3.4km, racers make another left and head down Bathurst St. The biggest thing to watch for here are the streetcar tracks in the middle of the road. Have an eye out for potholes and areas of broken concrete around the tracks, especially at intersections. If it’s rainy, the tracks get slippery. No matter the weather, it’s dangerous to run near the rails. Don’t risk a turned ankle or a trip and fall.

Bathurst features a nice, steady downhill slope. Like University Ave., this isn’t a hill per se, but the running does feel easier here as you head towards the lake. There’s another water station around 5km. Pay really close attention just before that as Bathurst crosses Dundas (there’s a McDonald’s on the corner for reference) and the intersection is full of streetcar tracks.

Spectator support along Bathurst is usually pretty good, and it generally gets better the further south you run. Around King St. is generally the busiest area for crowds and you’ll see a good crew around Blacktoe Running (a local indie running store).

Around 7km you’ll cross over a bridge (with great views to your left) and then make a right turn onto Fort York Blvd. There’s a quick downhill here as you pass under the elevated Gardiner Expressway. That road sweeps down past Fort York on the right, and curves to the left for a few hundred metres. Then you’ll take another right turn onto Lakeshore Blvd and head west.

Look for the Princes Gates that mark the entrance to Exhibition Place. Depending on the weather, there can be either a headwind or tailwind here – usually winds are westerly, so you’ll probably get a slight headwind heading out, and a tailwind coming back. This is an out-and-back section so if it’s a windy day, the winds will both give and take here.

Lakeshore Heading west

The next few kilometres are flat as you pass in front of BMO Field (home to the CFL Toronto Argos and Toronto FC of the MLS). Look for the elites already heading back on the other side of the road here and marvel at how far ahead of you they already are. Grab some water around 9km.

Around 10km the road splits and you won’t be able to see much of the eastbound runners. There is a quick downhill section next and then the road comes back together and you’ll be running opposite more of the faster runners heading back east – they’ve already made the u-turn at the far end of the course.

There’s another water station at 11.8km just prior to the westerly turnaround. The energy from the cheer station at the turnaround is always good with residents from the Polish and Ukrainian areas of Toronto. Stay tight to the inside to save some distance on the turn but watch that you don’t get pinched as the turn is a tight 180º.

Lakeshore Heading east

At 14km you’ll hit the first real uphill on the course. It’s pretty mild and short — about 500m at 4–5% grade. The Royal Canadian Legion marks the top and look for the giant poppy to your right as the signal that you’ve crested the hill.

15.5km is the location of the next water station and there’s another one not much further down the road. Just past 18km you’ll swing under the elevated highway again and then up a short hill on what is effectively a highway offramp. You’ll pass in front of Rogers Centre and the CN Tower around 19km. The bonus here is a short downhill section to even out the uphill you just ran.

Just before 20km, bid farewell to the half-marathoners who make the left turn up Bay St. as you make the right turn towards the lake. Beware here – you’ve been running under a highway, and that, plus all the buildings around can affect the accuracy of your GPS. You might just find that the km markers on course don’t match up with your watch anymore after this section.

Because of that potential for inaccuracy, a paper pace band is recommended to track your splits against the kilometre markers vs. relying on average pace or predicted finish time on your watch.

Queens Quay

The next 2km are along Queens Quay, which is a nice wide road along the lake. Watch out for small road issues here. This area is under construction and the road isn’t as great as it could be. There’s also the Redpath Sugar Refinery on your right which contributes both a funky smell and a huge mural of whales on the side of their storage facility. Often a huge ship is moored here bringing sugar up from the Caribbean to Toronto.

At 21.9km, you’ll turn left and duck under a bridge to get past the railway tracks. Once on the other side, you’ll find yourself in the Canary District which was home to the 2015 Pan Am Games Athletes’ Village. It’s now a brand new residential community with a college residence, affordable housing and lots of condos.

You’ll hit another slight hill up and the road bends around past the Corktown Common park to get onto Bayview Ave., along the Don River. There’s a short out-and-back section here to add some distance before runners head further east to the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto. A water station at 23km marks the start of this section, and another station at 25.5km on the way back marks the end.

Eastern Avenue and Lakeshore

After another quick run back through the Canary District (watch for friends heading out on the other side of the road), racers take a couple of right turns onto Eastern Ave. The YMCA will have a big cheer station here. for runners on the way out east, and coming back later in the race. Eastern takes you up and over the Don Valley Parkway – it’s a decent hill to climb, but you get a hill on the other side to even out any lost time.

Another water station at 28km marks the next right turn south towards Lakeshore Blvd. again. A left onto Lakeshore will have you heading east towards the neighbourhood known as The Beaches. This is a long, flat section and like the western end of the course, if it’s windy, you might have either a headwind or tailwind here.

Lakeshore eventually curves to the north, past the elevated swimming pool at Woodbine Beach and becomes Woodbine Ave. At Queen St. runners turn right and head east through the heart of The Beaches. Crowds will be strong here and the street narrows a bit. Take on some energy from them. Watch the streetcar tracks here and also be aware that you’ll be climbing eastbound through this section.

Beaches and the turnaround

The easternmost tip of the course is at Beech Avenue and it’s also at the top of a minor hill. You’ll be around 33.5km now, and heading home from this point. The skyscrapers are visible in the distance…not much running left!

Heading back west along Queen Street, you’ll enjoy the crowd support and you can pass the time window shopping and looking for your friends coming east on the other side of the street. There are water stations at 30km, just past 32km and at 34.5km along this stretch. This section is mostly downhill.

Lakeshore and Eastern again

Hopefully you’re running well through 36km and you’re back along Lakeshore Blvd. yet again. It’s the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and the course really lives up to its name these days, spending a lot of time near the lake. It’s still flat here and you’ll still be looking for, and waving at, slower runners heading east along this section. Removing the Eastern Avenue section that used to be a part of the course was one of the best changes made over the last few years. The road here is in great shape and nice and wide unlike Eastern which passed through one of the less beautiful areas of Toronto.

Racers will make a right onto Carlaw and then a left onto Eastern Ave. You’ll need to climb up and over the DVP highway again just before 40km, but that’s the last hill you’ll face before the finish. Remember that you get the benefit of a short downhill section too. Grab some energy here as you run through the big YMCA cheer station again.

The crowds will start to build as you head towards downtown. The big skyscrapers are your carrot and they’ll get closer and larger with every step. You’ll hit the very pretty St. Lawrence neighbourhood, and the Flatiron Building at 41.5km before you run down the canyon of skyscrapers and make a right turn onto Bay St.

The finish

As soon as you make that last turn, you’ll be in the crowds around the finish area. It’s about 600m up Bay St. which does climb ever so slightly. You can’t see the finish line, but you will see the Clock Tower of Old City Hall. That’s about 100m before the line, so run strong here and draw energy from the spectators who will be lining either side of the course.

The half and full runners are separated here, so there’s no worries about having to dodge the walkers finishing up their 21.1km race. You’ll see markers that countdown every 100m. At about 150m, you’ll be able to see the finish. It’s a quick left/right jog and then you’re done!

Cross the line, stop the watch and grab your medal – you did it!

Am I Ready?

The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is just two weeks away now and you are probably asking yourself, “Am I ready?”

This is a natural question to ask before a marathon. Running 42.2km is no small feat.

If you’re a first-time marathoner, it’s important to know that you are alone in wondering this – I’d venture a guess that every single marathon runner has asked themselves this very same question.

In fact, seasoned veterans of multiple marathons ask themselves this question every single time they run a race. I know I will, even going into what will be my tenth full marathon.

What it takes

You might also be asking yourself if you have what it takes. Perhaps you’ve heard horror stories about what happens after 35km (hint: it’s nothing good) or maybe you’ve seen friends hobbling around for days following their race.

I’ve often said that what it takes to run a marathon boils down to three things: courage, determination and physical strength.

Marathon runners need equal parts of all three to be really successful, but the good news is that you can get by on just two as long as the one you are missing or a little short on is “physical strength”. Here’s why:

  • Courage is what led you to decide to do this in the first place and it’s what will bring you to the start line on October 16. Without courage, you won’t find yourself standing there with thousands of other runners just like you.
  • Determination is what you’ll draw on when the going gets tough in the later stages of the race. Without determination, you won’t find yourself pushing through the tough parts and making it to the finish.
  • Physical strength is what you’ll rely on to push yourself forward for three, four or five hours depending on your pace. Without that physical strength, you’ll be faced with increased demands on your courage and determination to get it done. But rest assured, courage and determination will see you through to the finish even if you run low on physical strength.

Trust your training

If you’ve put in the time and kilometres over the last few months, then you’re ready to run. You can feel confident about your race because the training program is designed to get you to the finish.

Your training program helped you build physical strength, as well as determination and courage.

Remember the days when you didn’t feel like running and you went and did it anyways? Determination is what made you get out and do it. Those long Sunday runs in the heat of the summer where you wanted to pack it in but you didn’t? That was determination in action.

How about the days you woke up and laced up your running shoes and went and ran 29 or 32km? You showed courage to believe that you could run further than you’d ever run before. Even the simple act of signing up for the race was a demonstration that you were willing to take on something very challenging. That was a very courageous act!

Draw on your experience

As race day approaches, think back through the weeks of training and remember all of your many accomplishments. If you kept a log of your training, look back through it and see how far you’ve come (literally!) and how much you’ve improved as a runner both mentally and physically.

medalA good look back over your training will bolster your confidence going into the race weekend. You ran all those runs. You worked hard. And because of that, you’ll run well and you’ll finish your race.

Marathon starters are almost always marathon finishers

Maybe you don’t believe me…but what about some cold, hard facts? The facts don’t lie and the fact is that the vast majority of runners who start a marathon go on to finish that marathon.

The 2015 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon attracted 3,826 participants according to Sportstats. Of those, fewer than 100 failed to finish. In 2014 there were more than 4,000 participants and again, less than 100 failed to cross the finish line.

You are ready

On the morning of October 16th, 2016 you’ll courageously stand in the starting area and you’ll be nervous and you’ll wonder what lies ahead of you for the next few hours and 42.195km. 4,000 other runners will be standing in that same start area thinking the exact same thing.

And then the horn will sound and you’ll start running and after a few hours or determined running you’ll find yourself coming up Bay St. with cheering spectators on both sides of the street and you’ll cross the finish line with your arms in the air and a smile on your face.

A beautiful medal will be placed around your neck by a fantastic volunteer and you’ll wear that medal and the title of “marathoner” with pride!