Every year, Toronto holds two marathons within a three weeks time span. The first one is the Scotia Waterfron Marathon, which offers large prizes to top finishers so it attracts a lot of top runners. The course is really flat, if a bit boring. The second one, held three weeks later, offers little prize money so few "pros" show up. To give you an idea, the top finishing time at Scotia hovers near 2:10 but the winning time at the Toronto Marathon yesterday was 2:30. The Toronto Marathon has a more interesting course going through the whole city.
I ran the Scotia Half Marathon a few weeks ago as a tune-up race. It really helped mentally by confirming that the training was working and that running my goal marathon pace of a shade under 5min/km (8min/mile) was achievable.
The Toronto Marathon is a point-to-point course, which I like a lot, so I took one of the shuttles to the start line, in the northern part of the city. The half marathon start was at 8am, the marathon at 9am. I got there at 7am, probably the first marathoner to get there. What can I say. It was freezing outside and I waited inside, savoring the moment and chatting with other runners.
Finally, 9am came and I went outside. It was freezing, about 3C (40f). I had made myself some disposable arm warmers by cutting the sleeves off an old long sleeve t-shirt I had. I used elastics to hold them up my (bulging?) biceps. I also had an old t-shirt on top of my "real" running shirt. My number was on my number belt so that I could get rid of the t-shirt easily. I also decided to take some nutrition with me. I had a Gu strawberry gel and a pack of Cliff Bloks in a small compact nutrition belt I had bought at the Expo.
I located the 3:30 "pace bunny" and positioned myself about 20 meters back. I had talked to him earlier and he said he was running the whole thing, except that he would walk for about 10-15 seconds at the drink tables. I could live with that.
We started at 9am, right on time. The pace bunny went out really fast. The course is mostly downhill for the first 15km, but the last 3 km are uphill. He said he had run that course many times and we would need a little extra time at the end. This concept of a positive split went against everything I had learned, but then again, you have to adapt to the course. After 7km we had a whopping 3 minutes in the bank. I was worried. The bunny's pace was all over the place. Between km 10 and 15, we shed about 300 feet and by that time, my feet were feeling it. From 15k on, it was flat until the last 3km. By then I was running with a guy named Bill and we chatted away. Somewhere around 25km, the pace bunny stopped at the potty and Bill and me decided to move on. We settled on a real nice pace. We were out of the buildings so I "lapped" my Garmin 305 and kept an eye on the pace. By then I had gotten rid of my arm warmers and extra t-shirt. Weather was perfect, about 10C (50-ish F) with very light wind. The only problem was a guy from the pace group. He also enjoyed our pace and decided to follow Bill and me. He was a heavy breather. He did say a fucking word the whole time. He would just sit right behind us and suck air LOUDLY. It wasn't so bad at first but as you grow more and more tired it gets to you.
There was water and Gatorade every 5km or so. The Gatorade was crap. I would estimate that they only put half the powder in the mix. I was so happy I carried the nutrition. A few stations seemed ok and I would not take a blok on top of the Gatorade, but after most of them, if I believed the Gatorade was weak, I took in a blok. At about 27km, I took the gel and drank two cups of water with it. I never hit "the wall".
At 38km, the pace bunny caught up to us and then passed us. By then he seemed to have lost most of the group and had maybe 5 people still following, down from probably 12 at the beginning. The heavy breather decided to go with him! Thank god! I decided to keep my pace and let the bunny go. Bill follows him. At that point, my feet are on fire and my legs hurt. I concentrate on my form. I can't deal with his erratic pace.
At 39km, there's a left turn and you head north and the final uphill commences. At 40km I see the heavy breather and Bill in front of me. The bunny is all by himself about 50m ahead of them. I joine Bill and the friggin heavy breather decides to follow. By then I'm fantasizing about telling him to work on his breathing, after the finish of course. Doesn't he read "Runners World"? Heavy breathing is like number 2 on the "things not to do in a marathon"! With 1200m to go, I pick it up and we finally break him. We pass the pace bunny, who decided to "adopt" two guys that are struggling and he's edging them on. Bill follows and we finish at the same time. I look at the clock and see 3:28 and change. I'm going to be 45 before April 2009 and that means BOSTON! Before I get to the finish, I adjust my number and I finish with my arms in the air! I want a good picture!
Gun time: 3:28:43
Chip time: 3:27:49 (Boston baby!)
After the finish, I hear my name and see that my wife and youngest daughter are there! I go to them, hug them through the fence and kiss them. I choke up a bit, out of nowhere.
When I get home, even though I know I should jump in an ice bath, I can't do it. I get in a nice hot shower! I just stand there and think. When I was a kid, I was always the slow one. When then bunch of us ran in the street, I'd always be a few paces back, never able to catch up. Any sport we did, I was always the least athletic. This summer I did 3 Sprint and two Olympic triathlons. Today I ran 42 km and qualified for Boston. All of a sudden, I'm crying like a baby. What can I say? I got emotional.