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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Race Report: Toronto Marathon

This was my first-ever marathon after taking up running two years ago. What a blast!

Results - 3:56:42 (742/1703 overall, 75/146 in M30-34)



I got there about an hour early, just in time to watch the 1/2 marathon start. I couldn't believe the sea of people... I clapped and cheered them on with the rest of the crowd, until I started feeling chilly.

Weather was great today, it started off around 5C or so, warmed up to to the low teens. Perfect running weather, I went with shorts and a technical T-shirt, and my cycling arm covers.

Not much to say about pre-race actually. I munched on my Cliff Bar and drank some fluids, and kind of paced around nervously. With 15 minutes to go I took my first of many gels, then with 5 to go walked to the start line.

And they're off...

I positioned myself between the 3:45 and 4:00 pace bunnies, and started to plod along. Despite the mass of people there was plenty of room so I got into a rhythm quite early and easily.

I was doing walk breaks (10 and 1's) for this race, something that I took up to help me train without injury. The first walk break was so hard to take... the crowd is there, they're cheering, and pride is telling you not to walk! But I stuck to my 10 and 1's religiously, right from the first one, so slowed for the first walk break.

Despite everything I've been told over and over, I went out too fast... I didn't feel fast, I just kept what I thought was a very comfortable pace, but I know for sure it was too fast. Only a few kilometers in I was over a minute ahead of my target pace... but every time I would try to slow down, we'd come to a downhill section and I'd just keep the legs moving with minimal effort and the speed kept coming.

I love Toronto

Before I go on with any more of my race story, I just want to say how much I love this city...

Running through beautiful neighbourhoods, past Casa Loma, St. Lawrence Market, through the downtown core, the lake front, it was just amazing. And Torontonians get a bad rap for being "cold" (by Canadian standards anyway!), but today it was as if I personally knew every one of them. The spectators would read your name off your bib and yell things like "Way to go Jonathan, just 8K to go!"... and after the race I had literally dozens of people congratulate me as I made my way home, proudly wearing my finishers medal.

Toronto the Good was out today, in full force, and I loved every minute of it!

(Except the drivers stuck in traffic... lol... should have listened to 680 News, traffic and weather on the 1's)

Half a Marathon Down, the Tough Half to Go...

I hit the halfway point at 1:52:36. That is when it really sunk in just how fast I had been going, and it was not a good thing... this was faster than my stand-alone 1/2 marathon time from February! Now granted, I'm in much better shape now, but still. I had a pretty strong suspicion this early pace was going to bite me in the butt.

I started backing off at this point, trying to get back to my original pace goals. I figured if I could just stick to them, I would crush my goal time of 4:00:00!

At this point I still felt fantastic, the energy was there, and the legs were moving easy. Nothing hurt, I felt strong.

After winding through Queens Quay, we joined the lakeshore trail section. At about 26k, making my 5:24/km goal time (and keeping it under 6:00/km on walk break kilometers) become more challenging. It was starting to feel like work, but the legs kept moving.

By the time I hit the 30k mat, I was still doing well, but my hamstrings were starting to hurt, and my energy levels had sunk noticeably...

The last 10K

Pretty much everything they say about those last 10K is true. It is where you pay the piper. And I paid!

By this point my hamstrings were sore and stiff, and my legs weren't flowing along smoothly like they had been at the start. My times started to slip, and slip... and I didn't feel like I had the energy to keep the pace I wanted. I started doing math to see what kinds of times I'd need to meet my goal, and it was still looking pretty good, so I didn't panic... instead I took extra walk breaks and just made sure I kept myself going.

Before the race, I had some delusions about dropping the walk breaks at the end (Galloway suggests this) but instead I took more of them. Humbling indeed! So in addition to my 10 and 1's, I was walking through aid stations, taking the full minute.

By the time I hit York/University to go north to Queen's Park (about 3-4k to go) I was hurting, it took everything I had just to keep my legs moving. I took one rather brutal walk break that I didn't even remember deciding to take, my legs just stopped running.

But I kept my eye on that watch... and when I hit 41k I knew I had it in the bag, I had 10 minutes left to do 1.2k! So I dug deep and kept going... the crowds were lining the streets by this point, what a rush... clapping, cheering, people calling out your name, it was surreal.

I rounded the final corner of Queen's Park and saw the finish line... then started my finishing kick. I passed a few people in that last little stretch, using up everything that I had left in me...

The Result

3:56:43! I couldn't believe it, after all that suffering at the end, I'd beaten my goal time by over 3 minutes... it felt amazing.

I'm not usually one to get too sappy about medals, but when they hung this one around my neck I felt like I had really accomplished something special. When I took up running 2 years ago as a way to keep active in the cycling off-season (winter), never in a million years did I think it would lead to running a full marathon. Being a marathoner was something that fast, fit, skinny people did... here I am two years later, and I'm fast, fit, and... well 182lbs isn't skinny, but I'm not fat! :)

Next Marathon?

Next time I run 42.2K it will be in Penticton, during Ironman Canada... oh and before I do that, I'll have swam 3.6k and biked 180k. The piper will get his pound of flesh that day I'm sure!

So my next stand-alone marathon will have to wait, probably until 2010. I can't wait, though, I have the bug.


Anonymous said...


Congratulations ! NICE !

No one can ever take that away from you, you've run a sub 4 hour marathon. At full fitness I figured you could go under 4 hours pretty readily, but with your season and running setbacks I was guessing you'd be around 4:05 - still a pretty darn good time.

I'm sure we'll cross paths again sometime. I lurk around the Running Room forum and Canadian Cyclist forum.

Brian B. (from Halton Hilly a couple of years ago).

bbrill02 at aol dot com

Unknown said...

Well Done Jon,

I enjoyed reading the blog. I have not accomplished a full marathon yet, but I am drawing inspiration from you.

Many thanks,

Bob Tonner