Let me tell you a story.
Yesterday was amazing and wonderful and painful and terrible all at the same time. On paper I ran a personal best time, and for 20 glorious miles I executed a damn near flawless race.
Lets start with some basics.
Last week went as such training-wise:
- Monday: 1.5 miles w/ Dreamfar
- Tuesday: Spin Class
- Wednesday: 1.5 miles w/ Dreamfar + Yoga
- Thursday: 1.5 miles w/ Dreamfar
- Friday: Rest
- Saturday: Rest/Walking
- Sunday: MARATHON!
I flew up to Toronto on Friday night after work. I’m at the point now where they legit do not even stamp my passport at the Toronto City Airport, I’ve been there so many times. My brother picked me up and I checked into the guest suite at his apartment building, and we chatted over some dinner. Saturday was filled with family time; I went to the playground with my niece, meme-traded with my brother, and went to a party with my sister-in-law’s family. I was a little worried about the amount of activity and unfamiliar food that was entering my system, but overall I felt a sense of peace. I was in bed by 8:45 for my 5:30 alarm, and I slept straight through the night.
The next morning I woke up early, had oatmeal with peanut butter and applesauce as well as a bottle of Nuun and 2 cups of tea. I did a little stretching and braided my hair. I decided to wear 7/8 length Lululemon leggings, a tank, a 3/4 zip long sleeve, my fave Lulu headband to cover my ears, and throwaway gloves with mitten warmers. I also wore a new running belt that is a little more snug and stuffed it with 5 gels. Then I pulled on an old hoodie of my brother’s on for warmth at the start line, since the forecast was temps between 33-40 with a windchill. My brother and I headed out to the start line around 7:15am for an 8:55am start.
We hit terrible traffic on the way there, so at about 8:20 I ended up having to jump out of the car a few blocks out to use a Starbucks bathroom and give up completely on the idea of baggage check. I jogged the rest of the way to the start from the Starbucks, which ended up being a decent warmup. My brother, who is unfailingly and almost troublingly responsible, became my personal bag-check and had to lug my race bag full of protein bars and a coat to the finish line. To anyone wanting to run this race; take the train or surface roads to the start, as the freeway is a freaking nightmare.
But magically I managed to take one more nervous pit stop to a start line porta before my corral got sent loose! I LOVED the starting line near City Hall; the music was fun, there were tons of super helpful volunteers and hundreds of portas. The corrals were color coordinated, and as each corral got let loose, confetti in that color got blasted into the air. It was very festive and helped me change my traffic adrenaline into RUNNING POWER.
I took the first mile easy both so that I could warm up and because it was super crowded. There were over 20,000 runners running the half marathon, and an additional 5000-ish running the full. Mile one clocked in at 9:55, and then I let myself run based on feel.
Sidenote: I was not fully aware going into this race that there would be legit no mile markers and only kilometer markers. I don’t know about you guys but being the good little American girl that I am, I have no context for kilometers besides knowing that 5ks=3 miles and 10ks=6.2 miles. So I relied HEAVILY on my apple watch. I entertained myself during some of the boring miles in the middle posting insta stories like this:
I felt freaking awesome. The course first took me through a few neighborhoods where my brother, sister-in-law and I used to hang back when he first moved to Toronto, and then we looped down and ran along the waterfront, which was stunning. My legs felt fresh as hell. My weird playlist concoction of EDM+Broadway Showtunes+ everything by the Chainsmokers was super fun. I took gels every 4-5 miles, and alternated between gatorade and water at the many well-staffed aid stations. There were tons of spectators along the first half of the course, and my brother, his wife and my niece were even out there in the first few miles. My hands warmed up and I dropped one of my gloves on the ground taking it off at Mile 12, so I just threw the other one away. The mitten warmers chilled in my pocket for a bit then I tossed them too. The course wasn’t as festive or pretty once the half marathoners turned off to their finish line, but it was still really well organized and well staffed. The only inclines were onto bridges and overpasses which felt LAUGHABLE what with my New England training routes.
I ended up running the first 19 miles between an 8:53 and a 9:27 minute pace. I sped up a bit through miles 13-19 in the hopes of executing the elusive negative split marathon. And I almost did! Then…
At mile 19 I noticed a slight pain in my left knee that felt eerily familiar. I couldn’t place it at first, but I knew I also had to use a bathroom and I was more than on track to run under a 4:10, which was my DREAM goal, so I decided to take a pause, use a porta, and try to stretch it out. This helped for about a half mile, then all of a sudden the whole side of my left thigh cramped up and my knee locked out right around the 20 mile mark. I limped to the side of the road beside a man dressed as a clown telling me “YOU CAN DO IT” and legit considered calling my brother to come and get me as I kneeded my IT Band.
Ah, my IT Band. The thing I technically have been in PT for since I ran Boston, but which hasn’t bothered me since May. I started walking a little bit, took some deep breaths, and considered the following:
1) My orthopedist had examined this a few months ago and told me that while it was painful, it wasn’t actually an injury and was safe to train through. 2) I was doing pretty darn well and I’d probably still PR even if I had to slow down. And 3) I am lucky as all hell to have made it to the starting line and I’ve got 10k to go til the finish line.
I began a pattern of easy-paced running with power-walk breaks for short stretches (mostly through water stations and up inclines) and that helped me keep the pain at bay. Sometimes it was so bad I felt nauseous, but sometimes I barely felt it; ITBS is weird like that. My last 6 miles went as follows: 10:11, 10:32, 10:18, 10:19, 10:26, 10:58, 10:17.
Those miles felt like I was crawling, but in reality the majority of them were faster than my entire second half when I ran Boston back in April. I was also really happy with how I did mentally/emotionally throughout all this. I was pretty mad at my leg for about a half mile, and briefly started beating myself up for not taping it/rolling it out more/doing more of my PT exercises/doing more strength training. But then I pressed the STOP button on that thought process and picked a few upbeat songs to listen to. I didn’t panic, I didn’t freak out. I just kept moving and got excited for the finish line.
And then, eventually, I was there. We looped back into downtown and me and a few other runners started hooting and hollering with happiness. Just as I got to the finish line I heard my name and saw my brother perched in the window ledge of the building holding a sign he and my niece had made me.
And then I was done!
I finished with an official time of 4:18:16; a full 15 minutes faster than my last full marathon. I decided that I wasn’t going to wallow about not quite meeting my goal; I’d been hoping for sub-4:10, and expecting a 4:15. Instead, I enjoyed the after-party at Nathan Phillips Park as much as I could considering it was 39 degrees and I was soaked in sweat and spilled gatorade and my IT bad was stiffening up like crazy.
My brother was the BEST and brought me my coat, hat and gloves to put on which totally saved my butt because those heat sheets do literally nothing. They do make fabulous capes, though.
Also, this is the sign he and my sister-in-law made me. It is both literally and figuratively TRUE. My niece, who is 1, added some stickers and crayon scribbles for good measure.
Post-race I forced myself to eat a protein bar and a “Fuel for Fire” protein squeezy packet. I always lose my appetite after races, which is not great for recovery. Then once we got back, I made use of the hot tub in my brother’s apartment building’s gym, which calmed my IT band down so, so much. Aside form some normal quad-tiredness, I felt great after 15 minutes in the hot tub and a hot shower. I re-packed, managed to get a meal down around 4pm, and boarded a flight back to Boston by 6pm. My other brother retrieved me from the airport in Boston, which was helpful as I was pretty darn stiff after my 90 minute flight. I went straight to bed afterwards and then managed to get up and go to work in the morning:)
Running is such a weird hobby because you put in so, so much time and effort and you never really know how race day is going to go. In all other parts of my life, I have a hard time relinquishing control and trying things with uncertain outcomes. For a long time I went for the safe options in my personal and professional life over and over again.
This race might not have gone how I’d planned, but it went how it should have. Because at the end of the day, I run because it makes me strong. And mental toughness is the strength we all need most. I still have work to do but running has shown me once again that failure is nothing to fear:) It’s just a part of the process, and I’m just glad to be going through this process.