Race Report: GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon

Toronto Marathon uneditedOn Sunday, May 1, I learned two important things: 1) I’m stronger than I think I am; and 2) I worry way too much.

That morning, I ran the GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon for the third time (my fifth full marathon), in the most unpleasant weather imaginable and with a nagging hamstring injury. I had spent the weeks leading up to the race worrying—first, about the minor injury that popped up after the Around the Bay 30K and put a hitch in my peak week training plan, stripping me of my confidence entirely; and second, about the weather forecast that was calling for rain, cold and wind. In the final days before the race, my head was spinning with doubt and concern. Would my legs hold up or would I aggravate my injury and be forced into a DNF? Should I even bother trying? What should I wear? Will this experience be so miserable under these less-than-ideal circumstances that I’ll regret doing it altogether? Will all my training have been for nothing?

I spent some time with Haruki Murakami‘s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running to help get in the right head space, and I just hoped for the best. I trusted my training and put faith in my legs to carry me through. Above all, I just wanted to have a good, strong race, and an enjoyable one. Nobody wants to be in a world of hurt for four hours.

As it turned out, all that worry was unwarranted. I had a pretty great race despite both the injury and the weather, and it’s one I know I’ll never forget.

I debated over what to wear for a really long time, finally settling on the following:

  • my favourite Lululemon running hat to shield my face from the rain;
  • a thin, long-sleeved Lululemon top to keep me warm but not overly so;
  • my old faithful Lululemon running jacket that repels water like nobody’s business while still being breathable and comfortable (fun fact: I bought it the day before my first-ever half marathon back in 2009 because the forecast was calling for rain—worth every penny!);
  • a pair of thin Nike gloves to keep my hands warm;
  • a storage belt to pin my race number to and to hold a few emergency supplies;
  • cropped Nike tights;
  • Nike compression socks; and
  • my new Nike Free RN Distance shoes (which I’ll speak about in more detail in an upcoming post).

Personally, I think I played it perfectly. I felt comfortable, just warm enough and I stayed dry-ish until the final stretch when the rain and wind became too strong for any gear to withstand.

As for the race itself, the first 10 kilometres were a bit rough. My legs felt heavy and tight, and it took longer than usual for them to loosen up. I started off a bit slow, but gradually felt better and better, and was able to slowly increase my speed. I managed to keep my average pace between about 5:35 and 5:25 minutes/kilometre for the duration of the race, which I’m quite pleased about. My hamstrings didn’t start to hurt until around the 18-kilometre mark, but even then it was only a dull pain that wasn’t overly concerning. I worried that it might worsen, but luckily it never did. I also expected to hit a wall around the 30-/35-kilometre mark, but that didn’t happen either. I felt strong and steady throughout, both mentally and physically.

Music was definitely my secret weapon this time around. This training season I started listening to podcasts during my long runs and running without music for my shorter runs, which meant that on race day I wasn’t already sick of all my tunes. I mindfully scoured my iTunes library the night before the marathon and picked out all the songs I knew would lift my spirits on even the dreariest of days, and that’s exactly what they did. I thought a few times that my earphones might stop working and/or electrocute me due to all the rain, but luckily they held up. (Shoutout to Bose for their rainstorm-resistant earbuds.)

My biggest challenge during the race came when I turned the corner at 35 kilometres for the final stretch going east along Lake Shore Boulevard. The wind was strong and the rain started coming down hard—so hard that at times I had to put my head down to keep it out of my eyes, even with the hat. It was during this time that my jacket’s water repellence no longer held up and my outfit became soaked through from head to toe. The whole situation was so unfortunate that it became almost comical, and thankfully the end was near.

Spectators seemed surprised that I was still in good spirits at this point in the race, so they joined me in laughter and gave us all some extra encouragement. I spotted my boyfriend as I neared the finish line, and then passed Coach Inge, who wins hands-down for loudest cheer. Then I sailed through the finish line, strong and smiling.

Toronto Marathon 2016 medalThis was the best I had ever felt at the end of a marathon, which I think is a testament to the effectiveness of my training and my overall improvement as a runner. My official finishing time was 3:55, a 15-minute improvement on my personal best marathon time, and 10 minutes faster than the goal I set for myself back in January. Looks like I’ve come a long way this season!

Mere moments after finishing, the adrenaline wore off and the cold set in. I was completely drenched and the air felt freezing. And then I couldn’t find my bag. Eventually it was located, but not until I had spent 15 minutes shivering and teary-eyed, fearing I wouldn’t have dry clothes to change into. (Race organizers, if you’re reading: foil blankets for finishers and a tent over the bag check area might be worth considering for next time.)

Overall it was a fantastic race and I commend each and every volunteer and cheering spectator for spending their morning out in that miserable weather on our behalf.

I forced myself to spend a full week resting post-race, which was tough but necessary. This week, I’m focusing on yoga and slowly incorporating some strength/interval training to give my hamstrings some more recovery time. As much as I enjoy marathon training, I’m looking forward to mixing things up a bit for the next few months—getting back to Bikram Yoga Yonge and the gym, and finally trying out the CommUNITY Classes at Academy of Lions.

Next up on my race calendar is the Lululemon SeaWheeze Half Marathon in Vancouver in August, so I’ll be spending the summer training for that and working on speed. My SeaWheeze shorts just arrived in the mail last week and got me all excited for the hot-weather running days ahead. Call me crazy, but I’d take a humid, sunny run over a snowy or rainy one any day. Good riddance, spring showers!

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