This is the story of My First Marathon. I feel like I can't possibly find enough words to adequately describe the experience, but here goes nothing.
On Saturday, hubby and I headed downtown after lunch and checked into our hotel (the Holiday Inn on King, just a short walk from the race site). We checked out our executive suite (free upgrade!) and quickly transformed the office area to a pseudo-kitchen.
I soon headed to the Expo where I had the pleasure of meeting Laurel (aka Mother Hen of Canadian Bloggers), her friend the triathlete Ann, Marci and Emily. It was wonderful to meet these awesome ladies in person. They helped calm my nerves a bit, although Emily kept saying "Do you know how long 42 kilometres is??"
Hubby met me afterwards and we picked up some takeout spaghetti and garlic bread from Joe Badali's, which we brought back to the hotel room and consumed on the bed.
We had a quiet evening, watched an in-room movie and hit the lights at 10PM. Unfortunately, neither of us could sleep. We both tossed and turned for hours and I know I was still awake at one o'clock. As the minutes and hours passed, I got more and more frustrated and upset and could not take my mind off the countdown to 5:45 when the alarm would sound. At some point I feel asleep, and had a few measly hours of rest. (We both decided we will not sleep in a hotel the night before a race again unless absolutely necessary.)
Everything was laid out and ready to go.
We got up before the sun, ate breakfast (a plain bagel for me) and watched the weather channel. I was a little anxious to discover that it was already 16 degrees C before 6AM, but no sense worrying about the weather.
We got ready and walked to the the race site, Nathan Phillips Square/City Hall, at 6:30. I was surprised at the huge crowds already gathered. Hubby and I lined up for the port-a-potties together and then said our goodbyes as we headed toward our respective corrals.
I was surprised and ecstatic to run into my good friends Patricia and Ueli on the way. My nerves got the best of me and I almost started to cry, but some hugs and reassurance helped calm me down. I finally made my way to the correct corral, where I was surprised again to run into an old friend from my half marathon program at the Running Room. Even surrounded by 14000 other runners, it can feel pretty lonely waiting for the gun to go off and we were both happy to have some company.
And before I knew it, the race had started! I had been so nervous in the days leading up to the event and was relieved just to get moving. Whatever happened was going to happen and I was okay with it. Words of advice echoed in my ears, in particular: The marathon is a reward for your training. I was going to enjoy this.
I had hoped to provide a report broken down into segments by distance, but most of it is a blur of numbers so this is going to be more of an overview.
The first several kilometres went by in a snap. I was feeling good, having fun and even looking forward to the next few hours. I did get caught up in the crowd and started far too quickly, but got it under control by about the 5K mark.
I had taken half a gel 15 minutes before the start, and took the other half about 30 minutes in. For the most part, I was taking a gel (or equivalent in Sport Beans or Shot Blocks; I needed variety) every 45-60 minutes. I should also mention that I elected not to carry my own water and relied on the water stations every 2-3KM. This worked out fine and I was able to time my gels accordingly. I could usually hear voices over the loud speakers announcing "Water at the front, Gatordade at the back, both sides of the road!" several minutes before reaching the stations.
We were running along Lakeshore Boulevard alongside Lake Ontario, the same route as last year's half. It was enjoyable and the temperature was still comfortable, so I was feeling good. I had been looking forward to crossing paths with the elites and it gave me just as much of a thrill this time around as it did last year. Many of us applauded, although they likely did not notice.
Around 10K I saw my Mom, my little sister and her boyfriend as well as my father-in-law and his girlfriend standing at the side of the road. They were cheering like fools and I gave them a big smile. It was amazing to see them, as you can see from this pic!
My 10K split was 1:02:12 (gun time). At 12.2K we made a u-turn and headed back along the Lakeshore in the opposite direction. 12.2K split was 1:14:49.
It was around 18-19K that the marathoners finally separated from the halfers. There were two large red arches over the road and this year I pulled to the right and proudly ran through the "MARATHON" arch. There are far fewer marathoners than half-marathoners in this event (only 2500 of us) so the crowd thinned out quite a bit.
We headed along the quiet streets of the Queens Quay and soon passed the half-way point. My split was 2:10:16 and I had a feeling I was in trouble. I was already pretty tired, considering I had 21.1KM to go. The sun was hot, the air was thick with humidity and I was feeling it. I was taking my gels on schedule and drinking a full cup of water AND Gatorade at each aid station, but still felt depleted. This was not a good sign.
I had completely given up on finishing in any particular time and knew it would be a battle just to finish. Despite how I was feeling, I tried to enjoy the entertainment and scenery, and gradually made my way to the Leslie Street Spit. Up until this point, I had run continuously except for brief 30-second walks through the water stations. As I gulped water just past 25K and wondered to myself how I would survive the next 17, someone came up behind me and squeezed my shoulders. THANK GOD! My good buddy Dave was there to save the day. We began running together and would prove to be each other's saviour over the next (roughly) two hours. (27K split was 2:56:51).
This part of the route took us along a peninsula jutting into the lake, but was not nearly as scenic as I had imagined. We couldn't see much more than dying grass and cracked pavement (or maybe that's all I noticed?) and there was absolutely no shade. Being an out-and-back section only made it seem to last forever. We eventually reached 30K where we had agreed to take a walk break. We were both struggling with exhaustion and the heat was brutal. I had started dumping water over my head at every water station to cool off.
30K split was 3:10:47, so I was still making pretty decent time. And it all went down hill from there!
The next 12 kilometres would prove to be a mental and physical battle just to keep moving. The scenery was dismal as we ran through the streets of an industrial neighbourhood. Thankfully, there was some decent entertainment and amazing volunteers to lift our spirits. We just kept each other talking, kept reminding one another how close we were (although 10KM has never seemed to long in my life). We passed several photographers and gave them big smiles and poses. No matter how much it hurt, I was determined to make it look good!
I was in agony from the waist down. My feet and legs were killing me to the point where I could hardly feel them. Every step was laboured. We took it one kilometre at a time and sometimes had to stop in between. To give you an idea of how much we slowed down, here are the last 10 splits.
Even as we passed the "40K" flags, it seemed like an eternity to the finish.
We finally turned the corner at 41K and began the one kilometre gradual climb toward City Hall. I remember saying "Let's finish this thing!" We could hear the screaming crowds and knew we were almost home. We were running toward the landmark clock tower and could not believe how close we were. I was so exhausted I could have collapsed in a heap right there and then, but no way were we stopping now.
Around 500 metres to go, I heard someone scream my name. My friend Patricia had been waiting on the corner and jumped into the street to run with us.
She pointed out her husband who was up ahead with a bright orange sign reading GO MARLENE GO! Tears came to my eyes as we ran past the "400m to go" sign, then 300, 200...
I was also excited to hear Marci call my name - it was great seeing you at the finish! We could see and hear our friends and family cheering from the sidelines and gave them a huge smile. There are no words to describe how good it feels to have support at the end of a race. Thank you so much to all of you.
Arms in the air, we crossed the finish line before the official clock reached 4:45. This was truly the proudest moment of my life.
It was incredibly hard to keep walking, but we managed to collect our medals, water/Gatorade/food and soon our friends and family came to find us.
Overall, it was a humbling and rewarding experience, one I would not trade for anything in the world. I AM A MARATHONER!
And now it's time to start thinking about which one I'll run next...
Edit: Link to race pics.