Saturday, September 28, 2013

Running a marathon - 26.2 miles (42k) of awesome.

Last Sunday, I ran my first marathon: the World Alzheimer's Day Run for Heroes Marathon!

A marathon. That's 26.2 miles (42.2 km). To put it in perspective, the marathon was longer than the entire bike course of the Toronto Triathlon I did back in July (which was 40k). Kind of crazy.

And I ran it. When this time two years ago, I hadn't even made the decision to change my life yet. I hadn't discovered that I could be an athlete (a word I still have a hard time equating with *me*)  - despite years of being uncoordinated, chubby, and utterly unobservant. I certainly hadn't realized how much I would love running - love racing - love proving that I can do anything if I set my mind to it.

So, regardless of where you are today - believe that you can do anything. If I can run a marathon less than 2 years after starting my journey on the road less travelled - anyone can. All it takes is time, consistency, a good training plan (or group!) - and being smart.

So - on to the how...

Training for the race

My brother Anthony suggested I join a running club ages and ages ago - and I figured training for a marathon would be a good excuse. After looking around, I signed up with the Marathon Clinic at the Beaches Running Room because it was fairly close and the times were convenient. I was a bit iffy, given the clinic group was prepping for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon - 5 weeks after mine, but I figured I needed all the help I could get.

And it was a great choice. The folks in the clinic were (and are) great. The 3 weekly group sessions forced me to be consistent, even when I was busy worrying about triathlons all summer. There was a great mix of runners with different experience levels - and I got to pick the brains of some very experienced runners. In fact, I was one of only a few newbies in the group - most in the clinic had run at least one marathon in the past.

The training was nice and challenging, but never impossible. I ran 4-5 days a week (one of those was generally a brick since I was training for triathlons too)  - with my longest runs topping out at  30, 30, 32, and 33k. One 30k was actually the Midsummer Night's Run - which I ran on my 35th birthday!

The week before

I got thrown a little curve ball the week before the race. I had a bit of a stomach bug that I expected would just go away. Well, it did: 3 days after the marathon. Maybe I should've gone to the doctor - but c'est la vie. It was never bad enough to do anything other than keep me from eating...

Oh,'re supposed to eat well in the week leading up to a marathon. Especially carbs. Oops. I didn't even have dinner the night before the race. Yes, I know - not a smart thing to do. But given how iffy my stomach was, I still think it was the right choice at the time.

My marathon journey

Last Sunday was a beautiful day for a race. Chilly, but not as cold as it was last year. Or maybe I was just smart enough to wear warm clothes before the race started...unlike last year when I didn't know any better (I ran the half marathon last year).

Picture 1: Before the start - with my parents

My parents and brother Stephen saw me off at the start. My dad got a picture of me starting my brother got a picture of me getting my earphones in. ::laugh:: Oh, priorities!

Picture 2: At the start - trying to get my Ipod working

I started the race off really well. Last year, my first mile was almost a minute a mile too fast. This time, I started much more conservatively - right what I was aiming for.

The first 12k of the course led down to the river and then through the Town of Amherstburg. That's where I saw my parents for the first time. They had signs which made me happy...and made me laugh.

Picture 3: Running through Amherstburg - Laughing when I saw my parents (11-12k)

Around the 10 mile mark, running started to feel harder. That isn't usual for me at all. I haven't had any issues with running under 13 miles in a long time. All of my long runs in training, including my 20 milers went pretty much without a hitch.

That's when I started to realize that lack of nutrition might just be a bigger issue than I expected. If I was feeling it at 10 miles - that wasn't the best of signs.

I am sure the headwind didn't help. In hindsight, I don't know if the headwind was as bad as it felt, or if it was just me running somewhat on empty. Either way, it felt like there was a pretty rough headwind from about 7k to the marathon turnaround point at 23k.

But, even though I was starting to feel it, I was having a fabulous day. I was lucky to have my parents and brother Stephen's family out to cheer me. They chased me all around the course to get pictures - breaking up the run and keeping me from ever having a chance to think about just how long a marathon is.

Picture 4: Heading outbound to the turnaround - Smiling!

Aside: I love pictures where both my feet are off the ground. It's like I am flying for a moment. And look at  my hair flying was definitely windy!

It was at the turnaround that I realized that if I didn't slow down a fair bit, I was going to crash and burn before the end. While I was drinking water, I could barely eat (I only managed 4 Cliff Shot Blocks during the entire race - much less than I'd planned). It was a very odd feeling. I felt good. I wasn't tired at all. My mood was fantastic. I was smiling. It's just that my legs didn't want to go anywhere. Every step seemed so slow! I knew if I wanted to finish with a smile, I had to modify my pace to something I could sustain on that particular day.

It's the that particular day that you should take as a lesson learned. It doesn't matter how fast you can run most days. All that matters is what your body can do on a given day - on race day.

So, I stopped looking at my Garmin and I instinctively dialed down my pace to something that felt sustainable. I stopped focusing on my time and turned my attention to enjoying the day for what it was - a perfect day for a run. Best decision I could've made.

Picture 5: Heading back from the turnaround - smiling (28-30k)

When I passed 33k (my longest run before race day), I had a moment of being pretty amazed with how far I've come in less than 2 years. I spent a lot of time just being happy with being awesome, and with running in honor of a great man.

Around 36 or 37k, I saw my brother, his wife and their two kids. Turns out Steve had gone to get them after chasing me around for the first 10 miles. It was a nice surprise, and I tried to give them a funny wave as I passed!

Picture 6: Waving to my brother, his wife and their two kids (36-37k)

Little did I know, they were going to find me one more time on the course - around the 40k mark. That was awesome and gave me a last dose of energy that saw me through to the finish. I might not have been running very fast, but I was still running... and, more importantly, still smiling.

Picture 7: Getting closer (40k)

The funny part was that at least half a dozen volunteers over the last 5k commented on the fact I was still smiling and looking good. They could've been lying about the last part - but they certainly weren't lying about the first bit. ::laugh:: It's become my signature in pretty much every race. I tend to be smiling in all my race pictures.

So when you're out there running  a race - whether you're having a good day or a not-so-good day - try smiling. You'll feel good - and so will everyone who sees you!

Picture 8: Closing in - (41k)

As I neared the turn to the finish, I saw my mom waiting in the road for me. I think she was as excited about my finishing as I was (and was also nice enough to take my water bottle off my hands). My dad was waiting right beyond the finish line so he could capture the moment.

Picture 9 - Crossing the finish line

I crossed the finish line in 4:15 with a smile on my face - exactly what I was hoping for most of all for this first marathon. I finished, and I finished smiling! And I earned an awesome medal with a ship on it! (I do love tall ships!)

Picture 10: My awesome medal

Final thoughts

Overall, I might not have had a great "race" by any stretch of the imagination (lesson learned: yes, race week/race day nutrition is that important). But I did have a perfect first marathon experience - a wonderful run on a beautiful day - complete with awesome family members out cheering for me.

So what if I didn't go particularly fast? I don't mind saving that for next time. This race was more about enjoying the journey - about continuing to prove that yes, I can do anything - and that I can do it with a smile.

And by that measure - I was awesome.

And hey, I guess I can call myself a "marathoner" now. Not that I plan too. I think that's an even more bizarre thought than calling myself an "athlete".

Ahhh....I really do love this road less travelled. Can't wait to see where it leads to next!