I am home now from Toronto and have had some time to reflect on my marathon experience on Sunday. Going in to Sunday’s race I knew I was fit and ready to run a great race, I also recognized that this is a marathon and sometimes it doesn’t matter how fit and ready you are things happen and the race doesn’t unfold as expected. Although I say that, I went in to this race truly believing that great things could happen and that this could be the day that I finally get this marathon thing right. My training all pointed to that, and the half marathon I had run 2 weeks prior also indicated I was on the right path. I was feeling pretty confident that this marathon would go well.
I had been pretty open regarding my goals this training cycle, which can be a scary thing. My A goal being to PB and break the Canadian 45+ marathon record currently held by the amazing Marilyn Arsenault, my B goal to place in the top 10 of Canadian athletes (this race also doubled as the Canadian National Marathon Championships ) and my C goal to get to the start line healthy. It’s hard to put goals out publicly sometimes as sometimes it feels hard when you don’t achieve them. I do truly believe however that it doesn’t mean you fail, it just means that this wasn’t the right time . It also means I am dreaming big and aspiring to higher goals, which is necessary to grow as an athlete and person. I was able to achieve both my B and C goals which is ok but I did want more. I”m not going to lie, I am disappointed in my time result. I wanted more, I trained for more but it just wasn’t there that day. In fact it wasn’t there from quite early on in the race which made the entire race much more of a mental than physical race for me.
Standing on the start line was amazing. Alan Brookes and Clifton Cunningham of the Canada Running Series had put together a fantastic elite field and provided us with all the support needed to help us achieve our goals, including pacers. My plan was to run behind our 2:39 pacer Johanna for as long as he stayed in the race. I was really excited as there were several women also hoping to achieve similar times, meaning I would have other women to run with over the next 42km. The conditions were pretty nice at the start, a bit warmer than I would have liked and also higher humidity than ideal but I still felt the temps were manageable. I have definitely competed in worse conditions (Pan Am Games Marathon 2015).
The horn blew and we started, Johanna said something and seemed to bolt ahead. I didn’t quite catch what he said but Melanie Myrand thought he said we would all connect around 1k, so Melanie, Anna Boniface Lyndsay Tessier, Kate Toohey, Faviola Perez and I set off together. Lyndsay was only with us briefly before she moved ahead, a very wise move, as she had a stellar race with a huge pb and a second place Canadian placing! It wasn’t long before the rest of us connected with Johanna and we formed a strong crew all working together. We ensured we gave each other space around getting our bottles and would move up and down positions within the group. It really was a fantastic group of women to work with and I feel extremely lucky that I had them. Running always feels easier when you are working in a pack.
I had decided before the race to only look at my splits at 5k intervals as I don’t like to get caught up in splits too early. I had wanted to run by feel, plus having a pacer took much of the guess work out. The pace felt pretty comfortable early on so I just went with it. Our first 5k split was slightly faster than our goal time at 18:39 (goal was 18:50) however the next 5k went by in 18:27. This meant our first 10k was in 37:06. Around this time we also arrived on Lakeshore Drive.A nice long stretch of road, however it was in full sunlight with no shade to be had. I started pouring water on my head during this stretch to ensure I didn’t get to overheated as I was definitely feeling a bit warmer.
Our little group stuck together for around another 6-7k but around this time Faviola and I fell off the back of the pace group, Anna disappeared (I found out after her foot was injured and she had to DNF) and Kate had also fallen back behind us. This left Melanie with the pacer and she was running really well (she finished 3rd Canadian in 2:39, great racing). Up ahead we could see Natasha Lebeaud and her husband Marco. Natasha was having a rough day and had to DNF but she was really encouraging to me and told me to keep going even though I wasn’t feeling great. Basically at 16-18k I was feeling like I thought I would feel at 35k. Part of me thought maybe this was just a rough patch and things would improve but sadly that wasn’t the case.
I was definitely slowing and then my stomach began to churn. I have experienced GI issues several times in marathons and I really had thought I was on top of it this time as was only taking in liquid fuel and had taken Immodium prior to racing. Sadly though at 23k I had to pull off to the bathroom. Never a fun moment but thankfully it was only the once i had to stop. When I came out of the bathroom I was on an out and back stretch of the course and was able to see Leslie Sexton, Tish Jones and Lyndsay coming by the other way and all looking strong. I yelled encouragement at them and then continued to grind out my miles.
Basically from here until the finish of the marathon I was in survival mode. I was dealing with a bit of calf cramping and my body just didn’t want to cooperate. 19k is a long way to be in survival mode and it took a lot of mental grit to keep moving forward. For me it was really important that I finished this race. I already knew there was no way I was going to get the record but I did know that I would feel so much better going home having gone the distance. I also knew there was still a strong possibility of achieving my B goal of top 10 Canadian. So I kept running.
What I will say is when you are in that zone of hurt it’s amazing the power of someone yelling your name or encouraging you. I may not have looked up or over every time but the crowd really made a huge difference to me being able to push forward. When I see the photos from the race, I see how deeply focused I was on moving forward. I am very proud that I was able to be that mentally tough for so long and it did pay off. I was able to finish. No it wasn’t pretty and yes I did almost collapse at the line but I finished and to me that was everything that day. My time at 2:49 was well off my goal but it represented mental strength and perseverance and that means a lot. That time did give me the Canadian National Masters Marathon win and took me to a top 10 performance overall and 5th Canadian.
What do I take away from this experience
1. the marathon is tough. it is a beast and it beats you up but it also can give you the highest of highs. Three women: Leslie, Lyndsay and Melanie killed it out there and had those highest of high experiences. They ran well and they deserve a huge congratulations for their efforts.Watching them achieve that makes me want to get out there and chase that feeling again, maybe not in the marathon for a while but I love that feeling when it comes, that elusive feeling when it all comes together and you just flow
2. The race is just the pinnacle of the hard work you put in. It is important to celebrate the journey there, and I loved the journey. This training cycle was a huge confidence builder for me and even though it didn’t come together in the race all that work is still there and will pay dividends going forward
3. Our running community is amazing. I had the opportunity to run with some amazing women and we all worked together. I also got to meet marathoners from other countries and that is always fun. The crowd support out on the course was phenomenal as was the support from runners on the course.
4. It’s ok to dream big and not reach those goals right away. Yes it’s disappointing but it’s ok. It’s not the end and there is always more time to grow.
5. Getting selected for doping control post marathon it is tough to pee! I spent a long time trying to produce a sample but I am extremely grateful to be part of a running community that respects the integrity of sport and importance of athletes competing clean. Thank you Canada Running Series and Athletics Canada for ensuring drug testing is in place at these competitions.
Lastly I need to say a huge thank you to so many:
Firstly my family, who support me in this passion of mine for running, my friends and running community who sent me so many beautiful messages both before and after the race. Seriously they brought me such joy and lifted me up. My friend and Oiselle Team Mate Sasha Gollish who hosted for a few days before I moved into the hotel.
My coach Richard Lee who knows what to say even in those tough moments. My BC Endurance Project teammates who encouraged me in workouts, who sent me funny messages about oatmeal, who all love this sport as much as me. Also a huge thanks to Brian McCalder and BC athletics for supporting and believing in high performance training groups.
Alan Brookes, Clifton Cunningham and all the Canada Running Series Staff who put on an exceptional event and really promote the sport of running here in Canada.
The volunteers who ensured we were fed, well rested and got where we needed to be over the weekend.
Lastly thanks to my sponsors who have supported me as a masters athlete. Not all companies are willing to support older athletes and I love that these companies believe in the life long pursuit of goals and running. Oiselle, Nuun, Zensah, Addaday Canada, Forerunners, New Balance Canada Thank you !