Hey everyone! I’ve been putting off writing this for about a week so I could process what happened at my race. Long story short, I dropped out of the marathon somewhere in between kms 26 and 27. Before I get into the full recap, I’ll tell you about the whole weekend.
If I hadn’t mentioned it before, my boyfriend was also going to be running his first half marathon at the same race. We left Friday morning to drive out to Toronto so we could stay at his sister’s place and visit for the weekend (she also was running the half!). Her husband was going to run the 5k so it was a running weekend for everyone. We got to Toronto with no problems and had a relaxing Friday night consisting of eating pizza and binge watching American Vandal. We went to bed early and I managed to get a pretty decent sleep, which is unusual for me on a race weekend.
The next morning, we all got up and got ready to go to the expo. I had no problem picking up my bib (less people do the marathon). Alex had to wait in a huge line to pick up his bib. For some reason, they had the pickup divided by race and gender. I guess it was supposed to help the t-shirt pickup go faster. The volunteers were working as quick as they could, but this set up was not very efficient. Surely the marathon people could have helped the half people out to help kill the line. All in all, it didn’t take that long, it was just strange.
I didn’t really need anything so I walked through keeping my eyes peeled for any really good sales. I didn’t look very hard but I didn’t find anything I needed. They had lots of booths to look through. They also had a really cool area dedicated to Ed Whitlock, complete with his running kit!
We finished up at the Expo and headed to Little Italy to have some lunch. It was warm enough to sit on a patio. I ordered some pasta with plain tomato sauce, since this is normally what I would have for lunch the day before a race. We headed back to their condo and played board games all afternoon. We had my usual dinner of chicken and potatoes and watched the Leafs play the Sens. After the game ended, we all headed to bed since we had an early morning ahead of us.
I didn’t sleep terribly that night, but I was awake at 5am. It was a little early but I stayed in bed and just tried to relax. I woke up feeling ok, not too nervous to race. Since we had to make it to the start of the 5k, we had to leave before 7am. I had some coffee before we left and made my oatmeal so I could eat it in the car. I was worried that if I ate it too early, I would be hungry by the time the race started at 9am. Just as an aside, I wish that this marathon started at 7am instead of 9am to help avoid running through midday sun (and lunch time!). I took this picture on our way to the race.
We made our way to the half/full marathon start. If you aren’t familiar with STWM, they races start at the same time and follow the same course until the half marathoners make the turn to head up to the finish line. I guess this is why they have the marathon start late. We parked and hung out in the car for a bit. We decided to try and get to the washroom before the race start. It felt nice and cool when we walked over but this wasn’t going to last.
At 8am, we attempted to find the porta potties. This was a nightmare. I guess because of how the area is laid out, they couldn’t put in long lines of them. I only saw clusters of 5 or 6. And the lines for them were very unorganized and confusing. The end of one line and the start of another were in the same place. I think this could have been organized better, even if they had just put some fences or something to indicate where people should line up. Luckily, we had gone early enough to use the washroom and make it to the start; it took us 25 minutes to get through the lines.
After that, we headed to the start line which meant splitting up from Alex and his sister. They were going to run much faster than me so they were in different corrals. I tried to stay calm and get mentally prepared for the race. Closer to the start line, I saw a long line of porta potties. Maybe someone could have directed people to those ones when the lines were building up.
I tried to get my watch ready for the race. For anyone with a GPS watch, you know it sometimes takes a little while for the watch to find the satellites. There were tall buildings by the start which made it worse. My watch never found me before I crossed the start line. This was strike 1 in a series of bad things to happen. I didn’t panic though because I figured it would find me eventually and it would be fine. Unfortunately, this meant I couldn’t trust my pace. Next thing I knew, I was crossing the start line and we were off!
This is where things already weren’t so great. I tried to run what felt easy and tried to stay a bit behind the 2:15 half marathon pace bunny. My GPS was way off and I couldn’t figure out how fast I was running. I run in miles but the course had km markers. I was probable close to my goal pace but I definitely went slightly faster than I should have. No big deal, I tried to slow down. From km 1 to km 4 I also had slight stomach cramping; strike 2. This has happened before during my long runs and I knew it would go away. It was only a little uncomfortable, not seriously painful. Again, I tried not to freak out and kept trucking along. I decided to use the lap button on my watch when I passed every 5k so I’d at least have a general idea of where I was and how fast I was going. I normally take fluids every mile so I was trying to keep a general idea of when this was happening. I crossed the first 5k in 32:06, which was a little fast but still ok.
Despite it being a warm day, the first 8km were pretty cool because there were in the shade. However, I felt the sun affecting me as soon as we stepped out into it. I was feeling a little weak so I had my first chew here. I usually take them somewhere in between 8-10km so this was normal for me. I figured I may be a little hungrier than normal because of my early breakfast. I walked to eat my snack and I started dumping water on my head at the water station. Luckily, it wasn’t a humid day so the water actually made a big difference since it could evaporate. I made it to the 10k mark at 1:04:43, putting my second 5k split at 32:37. I was still doing ok at this point and was running consistently.
This part of the course was nice because it is out and back. I could see all of the faster runners on the other side of the road and it was distracting me from the long race ahead of me. I tried to look out for people I knew running the race. I didn’t see any of them, but I did see some funny costumes.
I still wasn’t feel great but I keep trying to run consistently and keep cool. I would dump water on my head at the water stations and then try and hold onto another cup for as long as I could so I could dump it again before the next station. It was a little annoying running with the cup but I managed. The cloud cover was starting to burn off at this point and it was affecting everyone. The temperature in the morning was 14 but it was heating up to 21 in the afternoon and it was well on its way there.
I made it to the 15km mark at 1:39 and had a 5k split of 34 minutes. I was still on track and doing ok. I opted to eat my second snack on one of the only hills on the course so I could walk up it. In my head I was thinking about if I should take the half marathon turn off when the course splits. I decided to see how I was feeling when I got there, but I was still doing well enough to think I could do the full marathon.
Nothing too interesting happened in the next few kms. I saw lots of the half marathoners trying to make the final push to the finish line. I was jealous that they would be done soon and I had hardly gotten started. My legs were starting to feel a bit sore but I ignored it. Eventually I made it to the splitting point of the race. This was a huge mental game. They had banners over the left side of the road that said “Half marathon” and then ones over the right that said “Marathon”. It was going to be a lonely race from here on out.
Another thing I should mention is that the part of the race right before the split was all in the shade of road above the one we were running on. I felt ok and still really thought I could finish the race at this point, and I think this was a large reason why. Had it been in the sun, I would have most likely made the turn and just finished the half marathon instead.
I crossed the halfway point of the marathon course in 2:22 at 11:25 am. I was still on track to PR but this is where things started to really go south. Both of my hips started to lock up and it was making my legs feel really sore. I had never had this happen in training so I was very surprised by it. I figured that if anything would bother me, it would be my knee since I had problems with it last year. After crossing the timing mat, I pulled off the course so I could stretch my legs out in hopes of them loosening up. They didn’t. Strike 3.
I still didn’t panic at this point because I could still do a run/walk routine. I tried to maintain this and the 4:40 pacer bunny ran past me. Still no big deal, I let them go by and was out there to run my own race. I was having a hard time maintaining running for more than a few minutes and this is where I started to wonder if I was in trouble.
I passed the water station at 23km and tried to cool down with a water over my head again. I made it a few minutes past this station and my stomach started to gurgle. And not the “oh I think I need to burp gurgle”. Strike 4. I didn’t want to turn around and try to get back to the washrooms behind me since this stretch was out and back. I figured I could walk until the next porta potty and be ok. I found one at the turn around point but there was no toilet paper left. So the only option was to try and make it to the one I had already passed.
Thankfully, I did make it to the next one without any incident. Unfortunately, my stomach was starting to seriously cramp up like it has in previous races. I decided to text Alex to alert him that they may need to pick me up.
The “keep going!” text was so hard to read. There was nothing I wanted more than to keep going and finally conquer the marathon. I remember feeling frustrated and then so sad that it probably wasn’t going to happen. At this point, I tried run walking some more but couldn’t sustain running for more than 2-3 minutes. I knew something wasn’t right. I had never felt this bad in training. I crossed the 25km mark in 2:56. It had taken me 34 minutes to cover 3.9km.
At this point, I was done. The rest of the course was going to provide little shade, it was sunny, my legs hurt way more than normal, and my stomach was hurting. My options were to gut it out for what probably would have been another 3 hours, or cut my losses and save my legs. I opted to drop out at this point. It clearly was not my day to conquer the marathon and I wanted to give myself the option of trying again. Otherwise, my legs would be trashed and that would be it for the season.
I had no idea where I was so I asked some very helpful volunteers where I should walk so I would be in a good place to be picked up. I walked over and was like “Hello, I would like to stop now. Where should I go?” which they thought was pretty funny. They congratulated me for making it that far and I walked myself off the course. In the midst of trying to call Alex, I also accidentally called my dad. I talked to him for a few minutes about my race and then found an easy pickup point. I sat soaking wet in a Staples parking lot; that wasn’t exactly how I had pictured my race ending.
By the time they had come to pick me up, I had already come to terms with my DNF. I knew it was the smartest choice for me and I may have even prevented injury. I still don’t know what happened to my hips, but I’m wondering if my shoes were too worn out. What happened during my race was an unfortunate combination of race ending factors. Had only one or two of those things happened, I probably would have finished. I am also not sure why my stomach was so angry either. I tried to do things as close to normal as possible and don’t really know what else I could have done. Maybe not getting a long enough sleep meant poor digestion? I really don’t know.
We went out for lunch to celebrate our races after they picked me up. Alex ran 2:06 in his first half marathon and I’m very proud of him. He had hip problems during training and didn’t get out as often as he would have liked. After a big plate of food and a cup of coffee, I was feeling almost back to normal. We headed back to shower and relax for a bit and then packed up to head home. I only had one brief moment of feeling disappointed and upset.
It’s too easy to think of this race as a “failure”. I don’t believe I failed. I think I made the smartest choice I could with how I was feeling. Yes, it does stink that months of hard work and training culminated into a bad race. But this happens even to the most elite runners. When they struggle in a marathon, they don’t gut it out to the point of injury. They back off and try and salvage their running season. That is what I tried to do. I know in my heart that I could have finished, but it would have been the most unpleasant experience. I don’t feel like I have failed myself at all.
So where does this leave me? Ideally, I would have liked to race a marathon before the end of the year since I should still be maintaining most of the fitness I gained. The only one that would have been reasonable would be the one in Hamilton this weekend. But it’s on the day of my graduation and I would not have enough time to get back for it. So my new plan is to rest up for a bit longer and start running again. If I feel recovered and well enough, I will try and cover 26.2 miles on my own. I have also been sick the last week so the runs I have gone on have felt (probably) harder than they should have. My legs felt fine the days following the race. After my first recovery run, my butt felt really sore. That was funny to me because it hadn’t been sore at all after the race.
All in all, I wish my race could have gone better but I made the right choice. I am in a position to try again and I came home healthy. We went on a nice recovery walk one night; here’s proof that I’m still smiling.
TL;DR: Watch didn’t show pace properly, stomach cramped up, hips locked up, race too hot and needed emergency porta potty break. Dropped out at 27km and went for lunch instead. Will re-attempt a marathon in next month. Also, my butt is sore.