“Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.”
Yes, I realize this saying is related to weddings and it’s typically reserved for the bride, but it seems appropriate for my race report for the Toronto Marathon, so I’m stealing it.
That would be me. I am now officially an old man who cringes at the sounds of a party. In the hotel room next to me. The night before a marathon.
Becuase my kids had a full day of baseball games and tournaments on their schedule for Saturday, and because my parents were also in town visiting, I didn’t want to leave Cincinnati until Saturday evening. My flight got me into Toronto at about 8:30 PM and to the hotel by about 9:30 PM. As I made my way down the hallway to my room, I could hear loud music and a bunch of people obviously in full party mode. There were plenty of, “Dude! That’s so cool!” to be heard. It reminded me of dorm parties in college. So I called down to get my room moved, which they did without any fuss at all. After getting situated, I got to bed by about 11:00 PM. Not too bad. Now, I typically don’t sleep well the night before any race, so I didn’t expect a full 6 hours, but I also didn’t expect to hear from Dude and the Dudettes again either. But, Dudes ‘R Us and crew decided that the hotel couldn’t possibly contain their “epic blowout” (that’s an actual quote), so they noisily made their way to the elevator. And back. Twice. 2:00 AM and 4:00 AM.
Dude. Not righteous. I felt like the old man at the end of every Scooby Doo cartoon. “And I would have made it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids…”
I went down to the start area early on Sunday morning. This was a well organized set of races, and the way they set things up was great. The half marathoners started at 8:00 AM, the marathon started at 9:00 AM, marathon relay runners went off at 9:20 AM and the 5K start was at 10:00 AM. That made for almost no congestion at the beginning of the race. No time spent zig-zagging in and out in order to keep any kind of pace at all. Loved it. They also had an indoor area where runners could wait before the start, which helped me a ton. Since I couldn’t make it to Toronto until late the evening before, I had completely missed the expo, which meant I had to pick up my bib Sunday morning before the race start. It was pretty cold Sunday morning, in the mid-40s, and it was raining off and on, so being able to relax inside for the hour and a half I had until the gun went off was very welcome indeed.
Another “new”. The race started promptly at 9:00 AM in a light drizzle and temps somewhere in the 40s. I had made the call that morning to wear a long sleeve running shirt instead of the short sleeve one I had thought I would be wearing. Later on, I’d be very glad I did. I settled in early and found my pace pretty easily, right at about 8:30 min/mile. There were a few nice downhills and one decent uphill pretty early on, but even with those, I managed to keep my pace pretty steady. As I was running along, I realized something the “something new” that should have been incredibly obvious: I wasn’t in the U.S. More specifically, the markers along the course were all in kilometers, not miles. Didn’t seem like much of a big deal, I’d just keep watching my Garmin to keep on pace. Until I couldn’t.
Just after the halfway point, the course takes the runners under a large, relatively long underpass. This was borrowed from the Chicago Marathon, I’m certain, because how else could I keep up this ridiculous analogy? In Chicago, that underpass is right after the start, and it threw me for a loop then too. That same kind of satellite-blocking underpass in Toronto was far later in the race, but it had the same result for me: mild panic. When I glanced at my watch for the next couple of miles, it was reporting really odd paces. Like 13:00 minute miles although I hadn’t slowed a bit. The great part was that we got to go through it again at about mile 24 and mess me up one last time before the end. I need to investigate this more so that I don’t get mentally thrown by this in the future. That, and I need to begin wearing a pace bracelet so I only really need to know my elapsed time. Lesson learned.
One other borrowed item; a quote. All week long prior to the race, the weather report kept getting worse and worse. Last Monday, the race day forecast was mid 50s and overcast with a slight chance of rain. As the week progressed, it deteriorated to what it actually ended up being on race day: high 40s/low 50s, steady-ish rain with wind gusts from the north at 20-30 mph. After seeing that, a friend of mine sent me a quote from Bill Bowerman, the famed University of Oregon track coach: “There is no such thing as bad weather, just soft people.” I kept repeating that to myself after making the turn back towards the finish. This out and back portion of the course is a tough, long slog under good circumstances, but it was even harder on Sunday. The turn for the change from “out” to “back” is made in the middle of mile 19, and honestly, I was hurting by then. As I made the turn, we found three wonderful things greeting us: steadier rain, a long slow uphill, and the hard wind in our faces. I wished I had borrowed Bowerman’s steely resolve because my pace really deteriorated during this stretch.
Once again, the something blue was me. More on that in a moment.
As I fought hard through the last portion of the race, I found myself having to stop to walk every now and again because I found myself cramping pretty badly. Just my hamstrings at first, then lots of other leg muscles later. While I had been alternating Gatorade and water at the stops in the second half of the race, I still don’t think I did a good job with my electrolytes. I had absolutely no issues at all with dizziness and my heart, which was a huge relief, not only to me, but to my family and friends as well. But, I think if I would have done a better job managing that, I could have finished the race a bit stronger. Another lesson learned.
When I finally made my way into Queen’s Park for the finish line, I was just physically wrecked. I know you’re supposed to be, but since this was my first marathon where I ran the whole way, I hadn’t really experienced the physical toll before. I couldn’t get myself to run, even though I had just a quarter of a mile or so to go. I tried repeatedly, but I had nothing in the tank. One of the race volunteers wearing a red vest saw me struggling and came up to me to help.
“How are you doing?” she asked.
“Hurting,” was all I could muster.
“Sick or just tired?”
“Not sick,” I said.
“OK, so let’s try something. No running yet, but let’s just see if you can bounce a bit.” And so I bounced. “Let’s turn that into a shuffle. Just a shuffle.” And I started to shuffle. “Doing great. Can you make it a jog?” So I jogged. “Don’t look now, but you’re about to enter the chute. 50 meters to go.”
I looked at the finish line, looked her in the eye and said, “Thank you,” as I took off to finish my vindication marathon running.
Whomever you are, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Amazing what a positive impact a complete stranger can have.
After crossing the finish line, I kind of stumbled my way through getting my medal, a mylar blanket, a carton of chocolate milk and a bagel. I asked a volunteer to point out where the shuttle buses back to the hotel were. My flight back home was at 4:30 and by then it was a little after 1:00, so I knew I couldn’t waste much time. I made my way to the buses and started to shiver a bit since the wind was still up and I was soaked, head to toe. I, along with about 6 other marathoners gingerly climbed the stairs of the bus, then ever-so-slowly sat down in our seats. After sitting and enjoying the heated bus for about 5 minutes, the driver announced that the bus taking us to the Marriott had just pulled up. “We need to get off this bus?” “You sure do.” And in unison, 7 rain-soaked, exhausted, freezing runners, said, “F*#k.” Pretty comical moment.
We slowly moved from one bus to the other, and in another minute, we were pulling away to head to the hotel. After what only seemed like three blocks, our driver said, “OK, you’ll hop off here, then go down this block, make a left, and the Marriott is 2 blocks up.” “You mean we have to get out and walk?” asked the Grumpy 7. “You sure do.” And we all sang the same refrain again.
By the time I walked to the hotel and was waiting for the elevator, I was shaking uncontrollably I was so cold and tired. A group of people who were walking toward the same bank of elevators stopped talking all at once to say, “You look kind of blue. And cold.”
A warm shower has never felt so good. And I did make it to the airport on time, made the flight, and was able to get back to my family in time to exchange marathon stories for baseball stories.
This marathon truly was a vindication for me. After having to walk/run the entire second half of the Chicago Marathon last fall due to a knee injury, then blacking out after the 16th mile at the Flying Pig two weeks ago, this one was my first, solid, no injury, no issues marathon. I went into it not necessarily caring what time I ran, just wanting to complete it running and anything else was gravy.
I learned a lot of lessons out there on Sunday. I learned that I’m not quite as far along as a runner as I thought I was. That’s not me beating myself up, it’s just me looking at the facts, and I am completely OK with that. Now I know what I need to improve if I want better times. I also learned that I need to rely a lot less on my Garmin to help me keep pace. Sometimes simple really is better.
And finally, I learned that when you set a goal for yourself, and you let nothing stop you from getting to it, not even fear, you can remind yourself, your kids, your wife and your family, that anything can be achieved.
When I started this marathon training cycle, I had set my goals to be: A) 4 hour marathon, B) 3:50:00 as a stretch, and C) 3:45:00 if everything went absolutely perfect. Well, I attained my A goal by running a 4:00:40 marathon, and I’m damn proud of it.