Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hamilton Road 2 Hope Marathon Race Report

Another year, another marathon, because life is too short not to go for more. The rest is between my shrink and I. Just that I haven't seen a shrink in many years, so I had to convince my coach that I needed to run this distance even after finishing a 70.3 triathlon instead. He didn't think it was a good idea because I am now officially training for the Ironman and I cannot afford any boo-boo's, but hopefully after this race he's accepted the fact that I may be an alien and that I'll survive outside of Area 51. Not only I had one of the best days in my life, but I also came out of it unscathed, without a single chaffing mark or blister. I even have all my toenails. Who am I?

Training wise, coach had to be creative and increase my mileage conservatively, while putting me in the best position mentally to run the distance. This is what my last month before the race looked like. I missed about 5% of workouts that he had scheduled (not on this page), but I tried to follow his plan the best I could and remain in tune with my body and not hesitate to take a day off when I didn't feel recovered.
Volume wise, it was nothing extraordinary, and certainly not your regular marathon training program with 20+ mile long runs and 40+ miles a week totals. Heck, I didn't even run more than 3 times a week, but I put all my energy in the LSDs, with some tempo thrown in the middle for extra fun (not!). I ran at least a half-marathon distance 5 weekends in a row, with very little taper in the end. And it worked.

Many of my friends were going to race as well, either in the full marathon (Carol, Mandy) or the half (Sam, Nicole, Patty, Emma, Amy). It was going to be a party! I knew that with such a company, I'd have enough inspiration surrounding me for weeks. Carol decided to spend the day before the race in Hamilton and I booked a hotel room as well, just minutes away from the finish line. This ended being the best decision ever. She and her mom came to pick me and my older son up around noon on Saturday. Roughly one hour later we arrived at the expo, but we only spent about 1h there as it was wet and cold and we needed to stay off our feet.
First tent: pick up bag, bib and chip.
Second tent: pick up tshirt and spend your money
I ended buying a Sugoi winter jacket because I had been looking for one for a long long time and I was glad to see it so heavily discounted. Then we stopped for a quick lunch and a cup of tea before heading for the hotel to unpack, rest and rewind.
Teenage sitcoms are the best for falling asleep
No name on the bib? Come'on!
The hours went by fast, then it was time for dinner. We went out to East Side Mario's where I had a generous plate of "make your own pasta" (fettucine and shrimp for me) and shared a slice of strawberry cheesecake with my son. It was satisfying to say the least.

Back to the hotel again, I prepared my stuff for the race: gels, puffer for my asthma, water and pickle juice bottles, fuel belt, bib, socks, gloves, buff, insulated tights, wool tshirt and Sugoi outer layer. The only big unknown, which plagued my brain for over a month, were the shoes. I had brought two pairs with me: a new pair of trustworthy Adidas Glide 2 (one of the three pairs that I had bought 2 years ago) and my new love affair, the K Swiss K-Onas in which I had trained most of the year and which quickly became the most comfortable pair of shoes that I owned. The Adidas were known to give me some blisters on the inside of my feet, but not a handicap for the marathon, while the K Swiss always left my feet impeccable, but I had never tried them on distances longer than 24km. Also, the K Swiss were much lighter than the Adidas, with a smaller heel drop as well. Were they going to kill my joints and calves over 42.2km? That was a risk I had yet to make my mind on.

We switched off the lights at 10:45pm and made sure that alarm clock was set on the iPhone (which was going to magically change time by itself at 2pm). I slept pretty well until 4:30am, then I tossed and turned until 6am, feeling more rested than anxious, thanks to the extra hour. Got up 2 minutes before the alarm and got ready for the 6:45am departure with Carol and her mom. Made myself a sandwich with butter and a few turkey slices and ate a banana. Put another banana in my throw away sweater's pocket and off I went. Just 30 seconds before getting out the door I put on my K Swiss shoes and decided not to over-think my last minute choice.

We were dropped at the starting line in some sort of recreation center with a full sized gymnasium and a few baseball fields around. We made our way inside the building and started looking for familiar faces. Eventually I found the #burlingtonskirtbrigade and Nicole who was sticking out like the one sane person out of the bunch. No offense, ladies, but skirts in -7C? Cuckoo, all of you! I love you anyway, but don't mind me if I call you the #burlingtonskirtasylum from now on.
From left to right: Amy, Emma, me, Sam, Patty and Nicole.
I'm pretty sure I don't know anyone else in here
We exchanged hugs and took a few pics, then we all went on a mission to find port-a-potties with no lineups. But guess what, no such luck. Carol and I ended sharing some bushes, which pretty much sealed our best friends for life status. (Psst, her bum is whiter than mine!)

As the starting time was fast approaching, I followed with some dynamic stretches and did a few accelerations and ABCs (not in the bushes!!), then joined the crowd for the national anthem. I placed myself just ahead of the 4:15 pacer, hoping for a final time between a 4:10 and 4:30. The magic pace for a 4:10 was 5:55min/km and I was hoping to stay on track for at least 30km, then adjust my expectations depending on how my body would feel. However, even a 1 min PR would have satisfied me if things were to turn sour.
A quick countdown and at 8am sharp the race started. There were some rollers right off the bat and I wasn't quite sure what my pace was since at km 1, the 4:15 pacer passed us. It seemed to me that I was going a bit fast, but I could not understand why the pacer was going even faster. I noticed that the first km was actually at 1.1km on my watch and realized that I was not going to rely much on my overall pace if the GPS was all over the map. So I eventually decided to hit the lap button whenever I'd run past a km marker and do a mental calculation to make sure I wasn't going slower than 6min/km. At least I knew that I could rely on my 6 multiplication table. Isn't school wonderful? Stick with it, kids, you never know when your GPS is going to fail you.
The view along Ridge road for the first 8km was absolutely spectacular. The sky was so clear, you could see Toronto and the whole GTA. I could not get enough of these sights and kept telling myself how this course was as beautiful as the County Half, minus the rain. I was in heaven.

The heart rate was a bit too high for my taste though. In high zone 4 (170+ bpm), I needed to bring it down a little. Hitting the lap button regularly helped, and I finally settled in a pace that seemed to gravitate around 5:55 as planned. Mandy caught up with us and for a moment I imagined us three crossing the finish line together in 4:10, just like we dreamed.
Carol in Mandy are in tune
Shortly after km 8, my phone shut down by itself. Right away I thought it died of cold, so I didn't even bother to resuscitate it. Alas it meant the end of the pictures for me. Pace was nice and steady, heart rate was coming down a little. I was running relaxed and enjoying every moment.
I ate my first gel between km 5-6 and drank a bit of water. I decided not to stop or take drinks at the aid stations unless really necessary. We made another turn after 10km, this time running along some corn fields. Still quiet and peaceful, I was keeping an eye on my pace, another on my heart rate. All systems a-ok! Around km 12 I took out my first homemade cereal bar and I ate it all (I made them smaller than usual though). Carol made a run to the bushes for a pee break and I slowed down a little, hoping that she'd catch up. 5 minutes later, there she was! Mandy had taken off and she looked pretty strong, so I wasn't even sure that I'd see her again that day.

Three kilometers later I hit my lap button as usual and noticed that the pace had dropped into the 6:05min/km. I told Carol that if we wanted to stay on 5:55 pace, we needed to speed up a little. We had done the first 10km in under 1h, I wanted to stay on track for the next 10, and the next. I pulled away just slightly, but I could still see Carol over my shoulder. I thought I'd need to pee sometime later as well, so I imagined that we'd lap each other a few times until the end. By km 18, I was hungry again. I ate another gel and downed it with some water. I think I took my first sip of energy drink at that water station because I heard someone saying Gatorade. Gatorade my ass, it was Honey Maxx. Some kids knew what they were talking about, others were totally off track. Anyway, I decided to stay away from the mystery drinks and stick with my own liquids.

I also ate an orange slice and that felt sooooo good, I wanted to run back and grab a handful! But then the Red Hill Valley Parkway (aka the death-to-your-knees downhill) came, I was way too happy to care. The whole time I wanted to stretch my arms out and yell "I'm the queen of the world"!! I made sure I ran in the middle of the road to make it my OWN.  I was also on my own from then on.
Thankfully a photographer was there to capture the moment. I believe I can fly... In the middle of this euphoria, I drank half of my pickle juice. My legs were a bit achy and the last thing I wanted to see was a cramp to take me down. I was having a great time on that highway, but I knew that all good times had to come to an end and eventually a ramp took me out of this rollercoaster and onto the city streets again.

But not for long, because to my surprise, the next part of the course was on a trail with a very nasty downhill and some weird bricks that made me go ouch ouch ouch, followed by a hill steeper than the stairmaster and the same weird bricks. To make sure I was not going to leave an ankle in the dirt, I walked those few steps up. I don't think anyone ran there, unless they had Achilles of steel. In retrospective, these were the only steps I walked during this marathon. I still cannot believe it. We were approaching the 30km marker and just after passing this funky bridge, I looked at my watch and got really excited to see that I was still on track and that I had just beaten my 30km PR by over 5 minutes with a time of 2:59.
As I approached the lake shore path, I started hearing the waves and got thankful again for being able to run without music and enjoy the nature's sounds instead. It was really amazing, not a single negative thought had crossed my mind until then. I ran on. I could see marathoners coming back already, which meant that they were only 2-3km away from the finish. Add another 10 for me. I noticed this funny guy in a Mario costume up on a bench and I started laughing. I had no idea that I was looking at Marlene who was there to cheer on her hubby! 

Soon enough, the path split and we were taken away from the beautiful sight of the lake and onto a residential area. Oh well, it was time to eat again. But first, the pickle juice. I finished my bottle, then let my stomach settle a little. A km later, the 4:15 pacer passed me and I knew that I was now running my regular long run pace of 6:15min/km and that I had to say bye bye to dream goal of 4:10. No biggie, I was feeling strong, no aches anywhere and the waves were just around the corner. I ate my last gel at km 35 and went back to drinking water.

Not long afterwards I returned on the "happy" path with the soothing waves. I was in la-la land and the idea of jumping in the lake for an ice bath after crossing the finish lane was a powerful mind numbing drug. I kept on running, but I never had to go to the dark corners of my brain. I saw the 40km sign and I remembered an Instagram picture that said that I was close. You bet!! I found enough energy to speed up and run the last 2km strong, bursting into a loud cheer across the finish line.
I DID IT!! I beat my PR by 18 minutes and finished in 4:17:19. This whole day was just perfect, what a treat!! Now I can rest and embrace the off season. Was it worth it? Absolutely! I had another chance to measure myself against the marathon distance and I am extremely happy that I raced smart and not unnecessarily aggressive, got my nutrition in at the right times and even adjusted my footing to fight stitches the few times they tried getting the best of me. Finally, after 2 bad marathons, I could fully enjoy the experience again. I don't promise that the next will be as pleasant as this one, but one thing for sure, I will try to keep my smile until I cross the finish line.

Geekery below:
Many many thanks to my coach David Jenkin who always comes up with the smartest training plans, that fit me perfectly and keep me injury free. One more PR to make you proud!!

Also, a million thanks to my husband Zin, my most dedicated cheerleader, who put up with me throughout the year and especially in the last weeks of this training cycle - we both know it wasn't easy! To my son Yanis who came with me to the race and cheered me on, and gave me his jacket when I was freezing cold. Love you, my son!

To Carol's mom who drove us around and invited us for dinner. You made our weekend so much easier!! Thank you for your generosity!

Last but not least, my friends online and in real life who share this passion with me and who provided me with a constant dose of inspiration to take me through the best and worst times this year. To many more PRs, BQs, high fives and running skirts - or not. You know who you are - Thank you!!!


  1. Fantastic race, and great race report! Your joy really shines through. congrats on the PR! I'm so excited to follow your Iron Man training!

  2. Congratulations, sounds like a great day. Fantastic PR as well. You sure did get some great race photos as well. Well done. Good luck with the Ironman training.

  3. What an amazing and smart race you ran! So incredible to read how you stuck to the plan and how smart you were. I'm not sure about the pickle juice though. Sweet or dill? How does one palate that after hours of running (I trust the science behind it - makes sense to me)? You have a way that draws people to you; no wonder you find like minded people.

    1. Nicole, I take my pickle juice dill. Actually, it's not even your average pickle juice, it's brine, which is simply water + salt + pickle taste (you have to find the right pickle jar). I find it actually very refreshing in a race and a good "reset" for the stomach after all the chocolate/coffee gooey mess that I eat the rest of the time. It always comes a time when I run marathons that I get sick and tired of sweets. This helps a lot. You should try it sometime if you don't mind dill pickles. I never had a cramp in a marathon, ever! But you have to start early enough, usually 24-25k is good for me.

  4. Thank you so much for your comments!! Stay tuned for Ironman madness... it'll be fun. I never considered myself a human magnet, but it takes two to tango. ;-) I very much appreciate the love, it's mutual.

  5. Wow that is AWESOME!! Congrats on such a great race and a HUGE PR! I'm totally jealous of those race pics - you look great and so happy! What an awesome day.

    Your friends with the running skirts....crazy...way too cold for that, at least for me.

    The sky is so blue in all those pics. It looks just gorgeous!

    Awesome job!

    1. Your comment is full of awesome! Thank you :-) I am very proud of you too! xoxo

  6. Catching up on blogs. What a great report -- makes me want to do Hamilton one day. You ran it smart and you look so happy in the pictures -- even if we aren't, good to smile :). Congrats!

  7. Great race report and plan on running it this year. A few questions if you don't mind.
    1) Any info on where the K markers are for the split time mats?
    2) Was there be a clock at the mat for runner to see?
    3) Any ability to text/email when running cross over a mat?

    Many thanks...Ric

    1. Hi Ric, and sorry for the late reply. I only saw your comments now.
      Alas my memory is no longer that good and I'm afraid I won't be able to answer questions 1 and 2. As for 3, I don't see why not. Sounds like a strange question to me, unless you are referring to automatic updates on social media when you cross a mat.