Saturday, October 29, 2011

Please don't leave me yet.

I find this time of year so bitter sweet.

The days are getting shorter.

The trees are getting barer.

The air is getting colder.

A foreshadowing of what is to come.

And yet, at this time of year, the air is more crisp and fresh. There's something about the air that makes me feel so much more alive than at any other time of year. I love how natural and whole it feels to breathe outside.

Taking walks in the fall is so calming.

I always get a little bit anxious in the fall, knowing that it'll be over before I know it, and dreading the thought of the cold, long, unfriendly winter. So I spend a lot of my time outside, taking it all in. And I spend the rest of my time worrying about how I should be outside, while I can still do so comfortably and enjoyably.

The fall is too short here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I ran a freakin marathon! (Toronto Scotiabank Race Recap)

The week before the marathon, I got sick. I had a horrible cold which was only made worse by the fact that I was terrified that it wouldn't go away before the marathon and that I would feel awful and wouldn't be able to run.

So, I took the whole week off from running. On Thursday, I still felt awful, and it felt like my head cold was working it's way into my chest and I was finding it hard to breathe - not exactly something I wanted to struggle with 2 1/2 days before running 42.2km. I went to the doctor on Friday, who patiently listened to my anxious rambles, listened to my chest (and didn't hear any congestion), and prescribed me a puffer.

I woke up Sunday morning feeling much better, and able to breathe!
I was pumped.

After eating my breakfast and getting ready (the Kleenex clearly makes the outfit). My dad drove me to Toronto where I stood outside with the thousands of other runners, trying not to be cold in my layers of clothing.

Then I got down to business, stripped down, and headed to my coral.

When I found a comfortable spot to stand and wait, I started to look around and I realized that everyone around me was wearing a half marathon bib. I finally spotted another girl who was also running the full, and we chatted for a bit, sharing words of encouragement. There were so many people and I was so far back that I didn't even know that the starting gun had gone off. It finally clicked that the race must have already started after I had been shuffling forwards towards the starting line for a few minutes. It took over 10 minutes before I actually crossed the starting line.

Since there were so many people, it was hard to keep up my pace at the beginning without stepping on peoples' heels, but I wasn't too worried about that since I was too busy enjoying the experience and taking it all in. There were a lot of spectators at the beginning which kept me entertained, along with thinking to myself "I'm running a freakin marathon!", which I kept repeating in my mind for the entire race.

After the first km, there was more space to run and pass people, so I tried to maintain about a 6 min/km pace. Of course my competitive self interfered a little, and I ended up running just below that, but I tried not to go too fast cause I knew I'd be regretting it later. I maintained that pace for the first half of the marathon, resulting in a half marathon time of 2:07 (which was actually 21.3km - not 21.1km). The best part of the first half was when we got to see the super fast Kenyans coming back towards us along Lakeshore. I liked the fact that for a large part of first half I was able to watch the runners on the other side of the street - both on the way up the street, where I watched the faster runners, and on the way back, where I watched the slower runners/walkers.

My quintessential two thumbs up mid-race pose.

When we separated from the half marathoners, at around 19k, there were big banners that we ran under identifying one way for the half marathon and another way for marathon. When I passed under the banner with "marathon" written on it, I was so excited and filled with pride that I raised my arms up in the air triumphantly, as if I had just tackled some huge feat. But really, I still had 23k to go..

After the halfway mark, my pace dropped to around 6:10-6:20min/km until about 27k, where the one thing happened that I realllly did not want to happen. My bad knee started to hurt. I didn't want to make it worse, because of what I experienced the first time I screwed it up (i.e. not being able to run for a year and a half), but I knew that I still had 15km to get through. My pace dropped a little, and I took a couple of short walking breaks and stretching breaks in the next few km, trying to ease the pain.

Eventually, either the pain legitimately went away, or my brain told the pain to hide until I finished the marathon. However, I then started experiencing massive muscle pains instead - but at least that was "normal" pain that I knew I could push through.

The best part of the second half of the course was definitely going through the Beaches. - But they lied to us. On the website, for some reason, they went out of their way to note that the part of the course through the Beaches is "Pancake flat". ROLLING HILLS! NOT pancake flat by any means. The worst was at the turn around, where we had to run down a hill to get to the turn around point, only to have to run back up that same hill right after we turned around. Okay, so the hills weren't THAT bad, but I still don't understand why they would advertise it as "pancake flat".

Oh right, I was going to talk about why this was the best part of the marathon. Well first of all, the Beaches is such a cute area with lots of little shops and restaurants and all sorts of things that are fun to look at while you run. Plus, there was great spectator support along this stretch, which was especially helpful so late in the run (31ishkm - 36ishkm).

It was near the beginning of this stretch where I saw my family! I didn't know where they'd be watching from, so it was a wonderful surprise - my mom, dad, and sister all came out to watch and support me. It gave me an amazing boost. I was going to give them all high fives, but as I got closer to them, my emotions took over and I gave my mom a hug - until my sister yelled out: "Why are you hugging her?!" Apparently she was even more competitive on my behalf than I was. (But I don't think that hug lost me too much time, really)

I was once again surprised when I saw them again on my way back along the other side of that street. It's amazing how much other peoples' support can mean in such an individual sport.

Unfortunately, soon after I saw them for the second time, the course got uglier, the spectators disappeared, we were running directly into the 30km/h winds, I was running further than I had ever run before, and there were still 6km left. And then suddenly, I had to run uphill. The next 5km were the hardest km of my life. I wasn't sure what my time was because my watch had automatically paused the few times that I stopped to stretch, so I knew it was a little off. I knew I'd be close to my time goal (4:30), but was starting to worry that I wouldn't make it. I calculated in my head that if I could just run each km in 7 minutes, I should almost make it.

37: 7:11
38: 6:53
39: 7:01
40: 7:27
41: 6:40

And then the endorphins kicked in.
42: 6:08
last 500m: 4:52/km

I'm not sure where that energy came from, but I was on fire in those last 500m. I was sprinting and passing so many people.

Me passing people at the finish line:

I did it! I ran a freakin marathon! And I beat my time goal! I finished in 4 hours and 28 minutes!

Apparently Z was running with me along the side lines for the last 300m, but I was so focused and in the zone that I didn't even notice! (But I appreciated it nonetheless!)

After the race, I grabbed all the food that I was offered, but really didn't feel like eating anything, so I ended up walking around aimlessly, trying to awkwardly hold a banana, apple, bagel, waterbottle, and yogurt container - all with my cold, wet hands. Some nice lady saw me struggling, and offered me a plastic bag that she had in her purse. So helpful. I love friendly strangers. She also directed me to the family meeting area. My family wasn't there yet, so I continued to wander around, as the feeling and pain started to return to my legs, and the feeling of hunger began to take over, so I started eating and stretching.

Eventually I met up with Z and my family, and we all headed home where I had a much needed ice bath.

Today, 4 days after the marathon, my muscles are finally feeling back to normal. My knee however, is not. I'm choosing to stay in denial optimistic, and have already spent hours researching possible future races.