Monday, May 7, 2012

The Journey is the Reward: Mississauga Marathon Race Report

I woke up at 4:30 am with butterflies in my stomach.  Today was the day I had trained for for the last 16 weeks.  Was I ready?  Yup.  Was I confident I'd meet my goal?  Maybe.  I got out of bed and jumped into the shower for a quick scrub down.  The hot water felt nice and relaxing.  I wrapped myself in my fluffy robe and went to the spare bedroom where I had laid out all my race clothes the night before.  I wriggled into my cw-x compression shorts, put on my sports bra and hesitated a moment before grabbing my t-shirt.  Should I just wear my singlet?  My doubt got the better of me so I picked up my t-shirt, put it on and then put my singlet on over it.  It was the same outfit that I wore for my A-race last year when I crushed my half marathon PB so I hoped there was still some good race juju left in it.
I ate my pre-race pumpkin protein oatmeal, made a few moves in Words with Friends and then packed up the rest of my post race stuff.  At 6:10 am, my friend Kiki came by to hitch a ride up to the start.  It took us all of 15 minutes to get up to Square One.   Gary drove around trying to find the best place to drop us off.  He pulled up to the lights at Hurontario and Burnhamthorpe and said "All right ladies, time to get out."  We scrambled to get ourselves ready and got out of the car into the bright sunshine and a cool breeze.  I was glad I had decided on a t-shirt under my singlet.
We made our way to past the start line to the baggage check area.  We hung out there for a while looking for people we knew.  Kiki mentioned that Bob Weeks was running the half so we kept our eyes peeled for him.  I found him about 5 minutes later.  Now we were 3.  A few minutes later
 Kelly Webb from the Milton branch of Running Free came over to say Hi.  There was a big contingent of Running Free folks at this race which was so nice to see.
We noticed that the starting chute was open so we made our way towards the start line.  There were no actual corrals, just signs along the side of the fences that had varying pace times in them.  I spotted the 3:15 pace bunny and figured I'd situate myself a bit of a ways behind him as my goal was sub 3:20:00.  My plan was to keep him in my sights for as long as possible.  I hung back a few hundred meters and milled about with Kiki and Bob, fiddling with my necklace and thinking about everything I did to get me to the start line. On Saturday I took off my Tiffany necklace that Gary gave me for Christmas a few years ago and replaced it with the necklace I bought myself after Ironman Switzerland as a reminder of that amazing journey.   It is a sterling silver pendant with the words "The Journey is the Reward" written on it.  A reminder to me that it's not always about the end result, it's the steps you take to get there that are what really matter. 
 Michael Burgess sang the National Anthem and then the countdown was on.  Two resounding bangs denoted the start of the race.  They scared the crap out of me but they definitely got me off and running.  I crossed the start line and made sure I hit start on my Garmin.  The first 6.5km were going to be unfamiliar territory for me.  I tried very hard not to go out too fast.  I kept checking my watch.  4:19's, 4:24's.  Slow down!  People kept passing me and I had to remind myself that I had a long way to go and that I should run my own race.  I checked my watch again an saw 4:38.  Better.  I tried to keep this pace but it felt slow.  I ended up speeding up again.  In fact, I yo-yoed all over the place for the first little while.  My legs didn't feel great but that's probably because I didn't really do any sort of warm up other than a few drills and stretches.  I figured I probably wouldn't start to feel good till about 6 or 7 km in.
We ran along Robert Speck Parkway to Burhamthorpe and then west on Burnhamthorpe to Mississauga Road.  I could see the 3:15 bunny about 500m in front of me.  Perfect.  There was no wind along here and I could really feel the sun beating down on me.  I began to think that perhaps the t-shirt under my singlet was not such a good idea.  Especially a black t-shirt.  Oh well.  I was only carrying two 10 oz bottles with me so I made a concerted effort to get something at every aid station I passed.  I used the GU Brew/X-tend mix in my bottles to wash down my chocolate raspberry Roctane.  This seemed to work well and I figured my bottles should hopefully last me till about 32km or so.
Before I knew it, we were at the U of T Mississauga Campus.  I knew my way from here, for the most part.  I knew there were going to be some spots along the Lakeshore that I didn't quite get right on my course recce a month ago but I knew most of the course.  Mentally this was huge for me.  I felt like I didn't have to worry about what was coming up, I just ran.  At the 8km mark, I noticed that I had gotten a fair bit closer to the 3:15 bunny.  I knew I was running faster but we were also going downhill.  Sure enough at 9km, I caught the 3:15 group.  My legs were feeling amazing.  It just felt easy.  I thought "This is exactly where I want to be".  I ducked in behind the last folks in the 3:15 group and ran with them for a while.  I felt like it was a pace that I could manage until I looked at my watch.  4:27's.  Hmmm....maybe not.  I think I should back it off.  I went through an aid station and slowed down a bit.  As if on cue, the 80's hit Relax came on my shuffle, and I let the group go ahead of me but made sure I kept them in my sight. 
We hit the turn off for the marathon route and I chugged along.  I noticed a wind had picked up and was blowing from the south.  That would mean that our run down Southdown Road was probably not going to be good.  I saw a lot of cyclists riding around and I happened to look over at one guy that was riding along not far from me.  To my surprise it was Gary.  My heart melted.  I figured he would have gone to Sunday morning swim practice but instead he went back home, packed up his bike, drove to the finish line and then hopped on his bike and rode out onto the route.   I'm such a lucky woman to have an amazing husband that supports all my insanity.  He asked me how I was feeling and I said pretty good.  I think I was just coming up on the 15km mark.  We were heading into a few rollers.  My legs didn't seem to like those but I still managed to keep a good pace.  The 3:15 bunny was still within my sights so it was all good.  Gary took off to find another viewing spot and I motored along.  I couldn't believe how quickly the time had passed.  Before I knew it we were turning on to Southdown Road.  Sure enough it was windy.  Not terrible but enough to be annoying.  I caught up to a guy in a white t-shirt and ran behind him.  We were coming up to the halfway mark.  Down the hill, under the bridge and up another small hill.  I saw Gary with the camera.  I hit the halfway mark in 1:37:40, just slightly off a 3:15 pace.  Excellent. 
I started to feel really good along here.  It was slightly down hill so I motored along, listening to Rush and turning over 4:35's.  It was definitely getting hotter as well.  I was sweating a lot.  But I was also drinking a lot.  I couldn't believe how good I was feeling.  I passed a few runners along here.  We were heading into what I called "No Man's Land".  It was an industrial area with not much around but I knew there was a really nice park that we ran through at some point on the way back.  The km's clicked by and then I started to feel it.  The ache in my legs.  I was getting close to the 25km mark.  Then it hit me.  I didn't feel good.  I saw Gary again and I waved but didn't say anything.  He could tell I was struggling.  I was thinking about the last marathon I ran and how I totally caved at the 26km mark.  I was hoping and praying that wouldn't happen today.  I grabbed some Gatorade at the aid station just after the turnaround.  The wind seemed to have changed direction a bit and I was now running into it.  Great.  I heard my name and looked up to see Linnea.  Heyyyyy!!!!  Shortly after I saw her, I saw Kiki.  Heyyyy youuuuu!  I could see Gary waiting for me at the entrance to the park but he couldn't see me because I had ducked behind another guy to block the wind for a while.  Ahhhh..that felt good.
I turned into the park and caught a couple of guys.  I passed them and forged ahead.  I looked around and didn't see anyone.  I wasn't actually sure where I should go either.  There were no pylons, nothing.  I then saw the orange arrows on the ground so I followed them into the park.  I had missed this turn off when I did the course recce so I was in slightly unfamiliar territory.   I wound my way around the park until I eventually started to recognize things.  I was really starting to hurt.  26km had come and gone.  I had slowed down a bit but it wasn't horrible.  I was coming up to 27km and the exit of the park.  I could see Gary sitting there and as I ran by him I said that I was starting to hurt.  I don't remember what he said to me.  I was starting to lose it a bit mentally.  It was time for the head games to start.  If could just get to the 30km mark then I can walk for a bit.  That was going to be my focus. Getting to 30km.  30km came and went and I didn't walk.  I was on a good wave again.  I grabbed some water at the aid station, thanked the volunteers (who were all AWESOME) and motored along.  I was back into the lovely neighbourhood of Lorne Park.  I knew there were another couple of hills coming up.  They weren't terribly big but they were big enough to make me suffer.  I got to the top of the second one just before the 31km mark and I had to walk.  My legs were really starting to hurt.  And my feet were starting to cramp as well.  Not a good sign.  I started running again when I hit the 31km mark.  I turned onto Lakeshore.  I knew there was one other spot along the course that I wasn't totally familiar with and that was coming up.   My legs were starting to scream at me.  I looked down at my watch but the time meant nothing.  I couldn't figure out my pacing any more.  I knew that 3:15 was definitely not going to happen.  I was really starting to lose it.  I desperately wanted to stop.  As I came up to the 32km mark, I grabbed some water at the aid station and realized that I should have filled up my bottle.   This obviously distracted me because I kept running along Lakeshore and somehow missed the turn off the led into the park.  I only realized because I was running with a girl and then suddenly she was gone so I turned around only to hear people yelling you missed the turn.  Crap.  I had to run back up  hill to get to the turn off.  Oh man.  I have no idea how I missed the sign with the big arrow on it but I did.  I was obviously seriously out of it.  The girl I was running with was way ahead of me now and there was no way I was catching her.  We were heading towards the water again and I was on a good wave. Probably because I was running slightly downhill.
The path we were on led into the outskirts of Jack Darling Park, which is a beautiful park along the shore of Lake Ontario.  Once again, I didn't really know where I was supposed to go so I looked for the orange arrows.  I actually managed to pass a couple of people in here which was surprising considering how horrible I felt.  I could see the 34km marker towards the top of the path.  I passed a guy who was walking and thought to myself, "Just get to 34km and then you can walk".  I got to the 34km marker, walked for a bit, took half a gel and started running again.  I didn't want to linger for too long as it generally gets harder to start back up again once you stop.
I got out of the park and back on to Lakeshore.  I distracted myself by doing the math in my head and telling myself that I still had time to make 3:20:00 even if I slowed down to 5 min km's.  The thing is I didn't want to slow down.  I wanted to be sub 3:20.  Period.  My mind started to wander to my other races, other times where I felt this kind of pain.  I thought about Boston in 2003.  I thought about Scotia in 2010.  I wasn't going to crack again and give up like I did those times.  I've worked hard over the last year and I knew I was mentally tougher than that now.  I knew that somewhere deep down inside I had enough guts to get through the last 8km and still break 3:20.  It might be close but I would do it.
As I made my way along Lakeshore, I was caught and passed by a couple that was running together and I was reminded of Gary pacing me to my Boston qualifier in 2002.  This couple looked a bit older and I had the sneaking suspicion that this woman was in my age group.  The competitor in me latched on to them and tried to hold on for dear life.  They were running strong.  I drafted off both of them and actually started to feel good again.  I stuck with them until we hit the aid station just before we turned into the park before the Port Credit Marina.  If I hadn't slowed down at the aid station to refill one of my bottles, I think I could have hung on with them for a while longer.  But alas, I slowed down and they were moving too quickly for me to catch them.  As I made my way towards the park entrance, I saw Gary waiting there for me.  He rode beside me for a bit offering words of encouragement, which I had no problem hearing as one of my headphones had died.  Not only was I falling apart, so was my gear!  I could see the 37km marker at the top of a small hill.  Gary rode with me to the top and then took off.  I stopped at the top, took my last Roctane and hoped that it would be enough to get me through the last 5km.  I passed a guy on the down hill into the Port Credit Park and made my way along the path.  I could hear dance music blaring and I saw a huge group of people that had set up speakers and were all dressed up and holding various signs.  Support like that is amazing and should be acknowledged so I pumped my arms in time to the music and yelled You Guys ROCK! as I ran through.
I was coming up to the Port Credit Marina.  This was familiar territory for me.  I knew the way back to the finish line like the back of my hand.  38km came and went.  I passed a few more people.  39km came and went and the pain in my legs was almost unbearable.  Just 3 more km.  15 minutes at most.  Hang in there.  It's hard to walk when there are so many people around offering encouragement.  I passed some of the folks that were walking the half marathon and they cheered me on.  I hit the 40km mark and the last aid station and I stopped to get a cup of Gatorade.  I quickly gulped it back and started running again.  I felt like I was shuffling.  I was having a hard time picking my feet up.  My left foot kept threatening to cramp.  I could feel my toes starting to spasm.   Only 2 more km...come ON!  From here it was past all the big houses on the water and into the winding path through the small forest and then back into a residential area and then over the wooden footbridge and into Lakefront Promenade Park.  It's not that far.  You can do it.
My body started to operate on a whole other level.  Every fiber of my being hurt and as much as I wanted to stop, I couldn't.  I had to keep moving forward.  I came out of the winding path and headed towards the footbridge.  I could hear Kevin MacKinnon announcing the finishers.  I was so close.  As I crossed the bridge I saw two race photographers and I smiled for both and made some comment about that being a grimace.  Then I saw Gary.  He was grinning.  I said as I ran by: "You realize that every word out of my mouth since 40km has been a swear word".  I'm not sure what he said, because all the other spectators were laughing but I imagine it was probably something along the lines of "Why would that be different than any other day.." 
I could smell the finish line.  My legs started to come to life.  What little adrenaline I had left in my system kicked in.  I spotted a bunch of Team RF jerseys and got cheers from them.  The crowds were starting to get bigger.  I heard my name and saw Kelly and a bunch of other Team RF athletes going nuts.  That gave me such a boost.  I pushed hard as I ran along the path to the finish line.  I came out into the parking lot and could see the clock counting down.  I heard Kevin MacKinnon announce my name as I came up to the finish line.  I kept my eyes on the clock and I sprinted as hard as I could.

3:19:00.1 Woohoo!  That was my gun time.  My watch said 3:18:38.  I did it.  I broke 3:20:00.  And I managed to qualify for Boston again.  10 years after the first time.  That's some good running karma. And the absolute best part of all: I didn't crack.  I didn't give up when it got tough, I dug deeper.  I found a resolve that I didn't know I had.  That is worth more than anything to me. 

I also managed to snag the 3rd place overall Female Masters spot which was an unexpected surprise.  All in all a great day, despite how much I suffered.  I really enjoyed the course and the volunteers were outstanding.  If I had one complaint it would be that they should have had Marshals directing people in some of the less populated areas as well as at the turns going into the parks.  I'd definitely do it again.  And of course, it was so amazing to see all the Team Running Free jerseys out there on and off the course.

Well earned finishers medal.

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