I kept going back and forth in my mind with the decision to sign up or not for a couple of weeks way ahead of the race. Around 1.5 months before it happened, I finally bit the bullet and signed up for Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon 2018, scared and excited in the same time. I mean what could have been more exciting than a first marathon? Well, not so fast.
I will always be on the cautionary side when it comes to big steps and believe it or not, signing up for the first marathon is a big one no matter how trained you are or you think you are. Running 42.2 km or 26.2 miles is not something to put you at peace at night even if you would sign 6 months or one year in advance. Maybe my self esteem is not sky rocketing and to be honest it never was. But it might or it might not be a confidence thing. After all, aren’t we all runners a bit crazy? Ever seen a crazy man lacking confidence? I don’t think so. My point? I don’t know, I was scared shitless when I clicked the registration button. Then I was excited, then scared again. This, for a couple of hundreds of times until the race day.
Race day attitude = fuck it, let’s do it.
So here I am, among another some 26,000 runners, on a cold Sunday on October 21, 2018, waiting for the starting gun for my first marathon ever. I drove from Milton and left the car parked for free at Yonge and Eglinton Community Centre but I came at the race start line a bit overdressed with a warm layer under my winter running jacket. The jacket doesn’t look like much but I knew it will get me really hot and sweaty after the first kilometers, no matter how slow I would run. And for god sake, it’s a marathon so I didn’t intend to run it slow necessarily.
I’m lying, I was slow.
I ran slower than a turtle the first 2-3 km, around 6 min per kilometer. We started at the City Hall, on University Avenue and the course took us north to Bloor, then west for a bit just to go back down south and right on Gardinier to High Park. Then back on Lakeshore and Gardinier, a hint north towards cabbage town with a loop on queen street, south again and left towards Woodbine. Then back to the finish line which was the same place we started the race at the City Hall.
I started slow and steady and I continued on an ascending trend throughout the whole race. Checked on my breathing, making sure I don’t go too fast too soon but I noticed how easily is to go faster (or slower) while running with other people – it is distracting. For that reason I tried to not pay much attention to other runners, stay inside my head, listen to 2pac and enjoy it. It felt like a celebration and it’s been for me 100% a beautiful day. It’s the way every race day should feel for everyone. We are for so many times too entangled in the pace and finish time numbers unfortunately, to be able to enjoy it.
If after signing up I was more like, shit I will run like a cheetah. Kidding, I never run like a cheetah, I am more like a tired horse. I kept reading anything I could find online about running marathons, calculating finishing time based on my current pace and so on. I even thought at some point based on my training pace, I could actually finish in 3 hours and 30 minutes. Which ended up to be far away from the truth, not that I went for that time anyway to begin with.
Something funny I read just before the race was How to lose a marathon – very motivational in fact despite the name and of course as you can guess based on the title, hilariously written as well. I definitely recommend you to read it – it’s in digital format as well if you are anything like me and for whatever weird reasons you prefer reading on a Kindle or Kobo as I do (nerds, I know).
So initially I though I will try my best because it’s my first and it will always be my base to compare with the next marathons.
But one day, someone beautifully said, just enjoy it, it’s your first, make it fun. And fun it was from the start to the end. I laughed, waved my hands, high-fived adults and kids on the side, you name it. I even did a little bit of dancing when the music was booming, cranked some big smiles and showed the ok thumbs-up sign every time someone would cheer for me. Some people even screamed my name which really put a smile on face and a spring in my steps.
I definitely took advantage of all encouragements from the side and they have been of great help. Thank you to everyone cheering from the side, you guys are all beautiful! Well, it’s most likely this page will be read by one person BUT if you happen to be one of those amazing people, I would love to meet you for a beer one day. I’m serious!
I wish I can do what other runners do on their blogs when talking about the race they just finished, going kilometer after kilometer and writing about the things they felt, what was in their minds, how much water they had at every aid station, how many times they stopped or where they used the running gels. But I have no recollection of what happen to me other than my Jabra Elite Sport bluetooth earbuds dying around kilometer 26 leaving me to run the most difficult part of the race with no music to take my mind away from my beaten body. Blurg!
Ohh, I also remember seeing the elite runners (we called them Kenyans though most likely they are from more than one African country) coming fast from the opposite direction while I was running towards High Park. I even remember asking myself, how long is still left to reach the western point in the race since these guys are already back??? By the time I was at the location I’ve seen them, I already forgotten about it, that’s how long it was. They are fast. Actually I just saw the other day this 1 hour documentary about the first atempt done by Nike to break the 2 hour in a marathon. Unsuccessful but hey even the 2 hours and 25 seconds that Eliud Kipchoge runner managed to pull off is completely INSANE! I mean seriously, my BIB time was 03:53:09.7. Eliud Kipchoge pretty much finished in half my time. Comparing apples and oranges but still, these guys are something else.
Man, a marathon can mess up so bad with your head. I was one kilometer away from the finish line and for whatever reason I thought a marathon is actually 41.2 and not 42.2 kilometers so I stopped the Jabra app on my phone one kilometer short. I realized the mistake shortly after and the thought of not being able to have a full marathon distance logged in as done is bugging me ever since.
Hydration is crucial. I stopped pretty much at all water stations. I started trying to gulp the water down while moving and that was a big mistake, I almost choked at my very first stop. After that I literally stopped every time, drink then go back at running. That definitely added up time but I found this method to work the best for me. They were handling running gels at some points in the race but I had mines with me and I didn’t want to risk it so I went with what I knew, chugging them down here and there throughout the race. The constant hydration and the gels helped tremendously along with the side cheers.
It might be that the stations with water were exactly the ones I skipped but all the ones I stopped were handling Gatorade. I am not against Gatorade at all but I wish I could have had some water along the way. Still, one thing I noticed at this race and other, the Gatorade they give to runners is not as sugary as the one I buy at the store. Which is great but still water is water and I really felt like I could have used it.
I run the races alone not because I am a loner, in fact I love running with others but because it’s hard if not impossible to find someone running the same pace. Now I’m thinking there should be an app or website to hookup runners like Tinder does for dates. I would be definitely checking it out. Should be great to have someone to train for races. I have my running friends to whom I enjoy running with and it’s plenty of fun, I just wish I can also run races side by side with them.
The second part of the race was pretty much all a blur. I remember pushing harder on the last 2 km. Before the finish line I first heard a friend of mine, an Ironman veteran calling out my name while taking some shots of me (the only ones I have since I didn’t want to pay an additional $50 for the official race pictures – I already paid $150 for the race so paying an aditional $50 was a no-no). Then I heard my son’s excited voice right before he started moving towards the finish line. However they made it difficult for people to join you or hug you at the end of the race.
Robert wanted to run with me the last hundreds of meters but he couldn’t get on the race path. I called my wife after getting the finisher medal and I met her, my son and my Ironman friend with his wife where the street food trucks are on Queen, right in front of the City hall.
I did it, I ran my first marathon, my mind already racing thinking of the marathons will take on moving forward. I was emotional and the cold also started getting at me. I did 2 major mistakes, not taking a backpack with changes to swap clothes after the race and secondarily I didn’t get the thermal foil they handle to runners when you are done running. I couldn’t wait to get in the warm hotel lobby across the street while figuring out where we can go eat something. Met Matt, my running friend from the running group Rockies I run on Saturdays with, he did the full marathon as well and since he didn’t have any use for the thermal foil I just asked him for it. Damn, it looks ridiculous but you know what, it keeps you warm. I walked like that to the food place, medal on and a big grin on my happy face.
Walking around the City hall, there was a big sign 42.2 and people were lining up to take pics. I cut in front of everyone without seeing that there was a line, my son and my friends took some pics of me, then I saw some angry faces and realized, oops I cut in front of these guys. I managed to put on a smile and to say sorry, my head down but hey no one threw anything at me! I was safe! haha
I sent my friend from Romania the link to the live race coverage telling him what clothes I have but imagine 30k runners plus probably the same amount on the side. Even if I had worn the most colorful running gear, the chances to spot someone in that ocean of people is ZERO. Except if you are one of the race favorites which obviously wasn’t the case with me.
What I will do different next time
1. First and foremost I will make sure I will take more running clothes with me – a backpack to drop off with he organizers and pick off once I am done.
When I left Milton it was one temperature, when I arrived at the starting line it was a different thing. Weird enough it felt colder and not warmer as expected if you look at the 2-3 hours difference. It was most likely the lake effect. However I wish I brought with me the sub zero fleece. I could have run with that only. One of the reasons I didn’t purchased the official race pictures is because I look like a bag of potatoes in my running gear, my pockets stuffed with my gloves and visibly overdressed.
2. I will make sure I had my bluetooth earbuds tested properly for long distance runs. One thing I did wrong is activating the hear through feature which I believe it drained the life of the battery, hence them dying well ahead of the finish. Also probably, wouldn’t be a bad idea to have the voice readouts spaced out even more. I had them set to every 2 kilometers but I’m thinking I can set them to 6 or 7 km (6 – 7 readouts over 42k).
Probably turning the music one notch down and disabling the HR monitor would have helped the battery stay alive throughout the entire race. The HR monitor seems to be way off anyway, or at least comparing with my Fitbit Versa, is about 20 bits per minutes higher. Not sure which one is more closer to reality. Needs testing for sure.
3. I will make sure I will use gels more often and test a bunch of them way ahead of the race day. I never ran with gels before and I only got to test the ones I bought from Running Room, one week prior the race when I was practically in my taper phase. I only used 2 gels and I hoped they won’t make my poop my pants or even worst, take me completely out of the race. It didn’t happen but like they say, don’t change anything in the race day. Same shoes, same clothes, same everything. It applies for nutrition and hydration as well.
4. If I want a better time at the next race I will have to push harder. I think I will start doing that somewhere in the middle of the race. 6 min per km for the start should be reasonable but I really need to run faster if I want a better time. My goal is 3 hours and 30 minutes but I really don’t see that possible in the near future, not with my current level of fitness anyway. To be able to finish with that time I need to race in 4 min and 58 seconds per kilometer. That is not necessarily a crazy pace on a regular 20 even 30 km of training runs but it could be hard over 42.2 km.
A more realistic time will be 3 hours and 40 minutes which is 5 min and 12 seconds per kilometer. My preferred pace for my weekly runs is about that. Sustaining that speed over a full marathon distance is a completely different ask. Anyway, shaving 13 minutes off the current time would be a great accomplishment. So most likely, or at least as of now, I think I will try to finish in 3 hours and 40 minutes. Goal all set, ready to start the work on the next!
5. I will take that thermal foil and use it. It really is a life saver. I was wet and cold and I felt miserable. This shouldn’t happen again.
This summarize it. Thanks for reading, see you on the run or at the race! And don’t forget to comment if you feel so.