21 October, 2011

My First Marathon: Qualified for Boston... 23 Days Too Late!


61/293 AG, 699/3951 OA

23 days?! This is not to say I needed over three weeks to finish my run, just that I did so after Sept. 24th, 2011, the date when the BQ time for my 50-54 age group was dropped from 3:35:00 to 3:30:00. C'est la vie! It was a great experience to finally find out what is behind the curtain of all of the 32km training runs I put in and am happy to report that I came through the 42.2 virtually unscathed, especially if one ignores that I walked like a cowboy for the first couple of hours afterwards. Most everything went according to plan (including my pace through about 35kms!) and outside of the nasty westerly winds I can't really point to any downsides to the day. Temps were on the cool side - just nosing above 10C. - the threatened rain held off, the water and gatorade were flowing from the well-staffed & friendly aid stations, and the helicopters tracking my progress remained aloft in spite of the gale-force gusts.

The corrals that wound up and down University Avenue were well organized and packed. At the start our 3:30 pacer left 'hot', seemingly about 30 sec/km faster than necessary. I was hardly committed to him, and this just reinforced my choice to fly solo. Nevertheless, I kept tabs on the group for a large part of the race, as they settled in to the right timing after several kilometres. We hustled south onto Lakeshore Boulevard and turned west into the full effects of the day's weather. "That wind was standing people up," said Dave Scott-Thomas, head coach of the Speed River Track and Field club and its third and fourth place finishers - and Olympic qualifiers - Reid Coolsaet and Eric Gillis. Luckily it was still early in the race, and by the 12k turnaround I was spot-on for pace. From here it just a matter of running across the metropolis to the far east side with what was now a lusty tailwind. Along the way a couple of out-and-back detours to the edge of the lake piled on the mileage, often accompanied by live music of every genre coming from intrepid bands on temporary stages. Great crowd support throughout, though through the docklands it predictably dwindled to a few close-huddled souls clapping their hands more for warmth than cheer. At those times I tried my best to re-assemble my form into something graceful enough that I could muster a wave and smile of appreciation for them.

We eventually turned onto Queen Street and continued east; the road began to rise and fall in gentle rolling hills (at least, I think they were rolling, unless I was hallucinating by this point) as we headed to our far turnaround. And now the race began. We were just past the 20 mile point, now facing square into this wind, and rising up what we had just come down. It was very sobering, and it really broke many remaining clusters of runners apart - folks were dropping like flies left and right. There was very little respite from the winds; at points it seemed like 100m of open road between me and the next runner ahead. Perhaps it was the novelty of being in my first marathon: although I progressively slowed in the final 7kms I wouldn't exactly call it a bonk - it was maybe The Wall but without the despair, suffering, nausea, and fabled "dark places" that so many others speak of. All that stymied me were the twinges from my calves and hamstrings that told me I couldn't claw my way back to the 3:30 pace group that was tantalizingly close at the east-west turnaround. If I was to push any faster I knew I would cramp up (which, in fact, happened once when I abruptly changed my plans at the final aid station @ 40k. With no intention to stop, the fetching siren calls of Water?! and Gatorade?! made me self-evaluate, and as if on cue my legs tightened up. I veered over, grabbed a gulp, touched my toes to stretch it out, and continued my feeble pursuit of the 3:30s)

It's really funny how our constitutions fade in the final phases of endurance tests, often with such little warning. As the office buildings and CN Tower loomed larger, and the crowds became thicker, and the cheers got louder, and the gusts became stronger, the streetcar tracks criss-crossing the final intersections devolved into a cruel test. They were like a barbed wire fortifying the finish area, as if only those souls tough enough to navigate across these scars in the cement without tripping themselves up were worthy of finishing. My feet were gimbaling around between strides with a mind of their own. It must have looked like I staggered out of an all-night office party and right into a marathon finish.

No longer was I hoping for my C goal (sub-4:00), nor my B goal (sub-3:40), I had now replaced my A goal of sub-3:30 with Don't Fall on Your face in the Chute in Front of Your Family and Thousands of Strangers.

Mission Accomplished. And, I am happy to say, with a smile on (although my wife insists it was a grimace. I just say she was on the wrong side of the road)

Lessons learned:

1) It's not worth engaging another runner in one-upmanship when said competitor is dressed up like a large green lunch bag, or pepper, or cushion, or something similarly stupid interesting. This green "thing" (I was frankly afraid to turn & look closely) almost matched me step for step through the midway point in the race, and I was worried that as time went on it increased my chances of being caught up in some race photos with the guy. So I wondered, do I let this (admittedly fast) green pepper go and have to look at him for hours, or should I bury him now and hope to rest up a bit once he was in my mirrors? Of course I hit the afterburners and left him standing, but I may have burned more matches in my book than was wise. Silly male pride.

EDIT: Good grief. I was in the midst of greatness and didn't know it... ran neck and neck with a bottle that ended up in the Guinness Book of records.

Yes, son, I may not have BQed, but I still finished ahead of a record-setting bottle.

2) Members of the general public - even tubbies - can walk really, really fast when one doesn't want to be in a hurry, like the minutes following the end of a marathon. I crossed the finish line, ambled along with the dream-like flow towards the food/medals area, walking like I'd just completed a week-long cattle drive, and once I merged onto the public sidewalk to find my family it was like being thrust into some cartoon, with humans scurrying about everywhere. Old ladies cutting across my bow, even. What a hilarious sensation.

3) It is possible to run a marathon on shoes (Mizuno Wave Precision 12s) that have over 200kms on them and still walk away on uninjured feet, with skin as smooth as a baby's bottom. Thank you, Mizuno, and John & Paula at Foot Tools for the advice.

4) Continue to practice drinking from aid stations without slowing down, but do so with water until it's perfected. Gatorade splashed in the eyes can sting like the dickens. Must be the electrolytes.

POSTSCRIPT: My sister called me later that afternoon, with what I thought might be congratulations, she being the running pioneer in our family. Instead, she had the task of informing me our 85 year old father had died that very morning. He had a good life, and had, in fact, successfully cheated death on an ongoing basis this past 3.5 years, since he was in a huge car accident that no one could be expected to survive. Long story short: at the visitation on Tuesday, my three sisters and I popped in early with a cordless drill and an old, favourite vanity license plate of his, and hot-rodded his coffin for him.

Having been born & raised in Cairo before moving to England, he'd become skilled in five languages, and chose to have IMSHI on this plate, which loosely translated from Arabic means Vamoose! I can only hope he's tearing around now in a red TransAm or Corvette, with my Mom riding shotgun...


  1. CONGRATS! I hope you were able to have a smile on your face, instead of the dreaded grimace we've perfected in our running photographic moments!

  2. I'm sorry to hear about your dad, but I'm sure he was looking down on you the whole way, maybe giving you the push you needed to beat the bottle!

  3. Thanks very much, Brianne. Yes, I think even with the headwinds there was a little shoving from behind from "up above"!