I came into the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront marathon with a fierce determination to perform. My personal best marathon time was 3 years old (3:24:44 - Okanagan Marathon 2012) and my most recent 3 marathon results were disappointing and ugly. Not only because I didn’t run the times I wanted, but more so because they planted nasty seeds of self-doubt and criticism.
After injury last summer and fall, I returned to a long period of base building and slowly, strength and speed leading up the BMO Vancouver Half in May. I hit a PB in the half (1:32:43), which built some confidence, but I was slow to put too much expectation on a fall marathon. I simply focused on putting in the work. Day in. Day out. I willed myself to trust the process. All 22 weeks of it.
Through the summer, I ran a strong 15k race (1:04:08) mid-training cycle and posted a couple more consistent half times (though none as fast as Vancouver). I felt fit, yet I remained cautious with my expectations. I avoided getting too attached to a goal marathon time. As I started to hit interval and tempo paces that were never accessible to me before I knew I was on the right track. I just had to keep at it.
September rolled around and I started to think I might be able to do more than hit a PB or run sub 3:20 in Toronto. Come late September and early October, marathon indicator workouts suggested a 3:15 might be possible. I didn’t get carried away or become obsessed with the time but let myself dream a little and gave myself permission to be hopeful. Two weeks before race day that I firmly decided I would go out for a 3:15 pace.
In the days leading up to the marathon, I kept waiting for the nerves to hit, but something was different this time around. I was not stressed about it. Nothing about race day preparation fazed me. Setting out my race day gear did not induce the usual waves of nausea. I woke up race morning, and still, no nerves.
The start was seamless. I stood in porta-potty lines and peed on a tree in the middle of downtown Toronto…all the typical race morning shenanigans. I was excited. I felt really happy to be there. It felt damn good to feel prepared and confident.
The first 6k flew by. Josh and I ran side by side. We were a little too quick on some splits but nothing crazy. Initially, we had to back off the 3:15 pacer because he was running fast. As we approached 11-12k, I remember feeling a little anxious to get further along in the race. There was just this teeny tiny bit of fear that threatened to creep in. I confidently pushed the thoughts aside.
Between 12k and halfway, the pace stayed smooth and easy. I was running just ahead of the 3:15 pacer now. Everything was going along better than expected. I stuck to the nutrition plan and got excited about every less GU in my pocket. I hit the halfway mark and was more than happy with the time on the clock (1:36:40)– under 3:15 pace but not too fast. My legs were still fresh. I remember saying to Josh that the race was just about to get started.
We continued at a smooth pace and I felt really in control. At 30k a guy asked me what time Josh and I were going for and kindly encouraged us that we were ahead of a 3:15. He was shooting for 3:12. In that moment, I realized a sub 3:13 (NYC qualifying) might be possible and I went with 3:12 dude, slowly pulling away from Josh. I must have got a little bit excited because my 30-35k split was quick (4:30min/km). I honestly do not think I’ve ever been so happy in a marathon as I was turning around at 33k to head to the finish. It seemed like every spectator was calling my name and urging me on. I felt on top of the world. This is what I had trained for and it was going to be my day.
I passed quite a few people from 33k to the finish line (48+ to be exact, and a total of 85 from halfway). It was exhilarating.
I slowed a little from 35-40k and the final uphill overpass at 39k was a real killer. My calves were screaming but my mental game was so on. As much as I wanted the NYC qualifying time, I was simply determined to give it my all, leave everything on the course and be proud of my effort. I literally ran my heart out in the final 2.2k, hitting some of my fastest splits for the day. When I turned the final corner and saw “500m to go” when I thought it was about 200m, I knew I’d be in a little over 3:13, but it didn’t matter. I was truly proud of my race and even gave a little fist pump as I crossed the line at 3:13:22.
Over this racing season, I have learned to trust the process and to persevere. I let go of single runs, interval times, or race results in determining my ability or my worth. Slightly slower half marathon results mid-season did not mean that a big PR for a fall marathon was out of reach. I have grown to look at the big picture as more relevant and more important.
The really cool thing about setting goals and chasing them down is that it spurs on new goals and an evolving belief in oneself. Achieving something I once thought impossible totally transforms the limitations I put on myself. When I consider what this means for my running, I get excited. And when I consider what it might mean for the rest of life, I get really freaking excited.