The Big Smoke in all it's glory was a beautiful race from from start to finish. The Don Valley, Casa Loma, Queen's Park, the Waterfront, the scrapers... it all came together in a perfect amalgam of beauty, excitement, and positive energy. From start to finish the sights are stunning, the course well planned, and the fans, although sparse, were cheerful and super supportive. As the tee-shirt advertises, it's "fast, scenic, and downhill". Would I run it again? Absolutely! Would I recommend it to friends? Absolutely!
So, if it's fast and downhill, why did it take me almost 5 hours to complete when all around me people were setting new PB's. I was hoping for a 4:15 or better and was prepared to accept a 4:30, but a 4:49? Ouch! What in heaven's name went wrong? Good question that; in fact I've been playing the race over and over in my brain for the last 4 days in an attempt to figure that out. Here's what I think... a blow, by blow so to speak.
The race started well. Elaine, Erick, and I were having a good time at the start joking and burning off some restless energy. We started together in a throng of several thousand runners. I ran with Erick for a couple of blocks, realized we were running sub-8's so I fell back. I fell into a groove of between 8:45 and 9:30 and all was well. I remember consciously reminding myself to slow down, to keep the pace at an easy 9:00 - 9:30. It was good. I felt strong. I felt as though I might break 4:10 (fatal flaw number 1.... never be cocky, always maintain a healthy fear of the marathon).
We left Queen Street and entered swanky Rosedale... still feeling good. As we passed Casa Loma there's a serious winding downhill for about one kilometre. I found myself going way, way too fast, almost out-of-control-sprinting-too-fast. I remember hearing my shoes slapping the concrete really hard (fatal error number 2.... never have loud feet running downhill, it's bad form and means your pounding the ground). It was shortly after the hill that I felt the first twinge in my quad . I ignored it and kept running. (fatal flaw number 3... I should have stopped and stretched). Several miles later it was really hurting so I stopped and stretched (too late). At mile 14 I was walking about every mile, but my speed was still good (fatal flaw number 4.... I should have slowed way down). I remember thinking, for the first time, at mile 16 that I'm in serious difficulty; my body felt like 22 miles, but my Garmin said 16.
At this point I was passed by the 4:15 pace bunny. At about mile 18 I was walking as much as I was running and by mile 20 I had all but given up. I walked a few hundred meters and ran the same. The quads were stiff as planks and the lactic build-up was intense. Every pore in my body hurt, every muscle was taut, every ounce of energy had evaporated. Sheer willpower got me home. The fans were amazing. One young woman looked into my eyes and said with such conviction "you can do this, run man run". I told her she was an angel and blew her a most feeble kiss.
As I rounded Queens Park to the finish line the endorphin release was overwhelming. I hurt all over, I was happy to be alive but wishing I was dead, I was choked up... where was the damn finish line anyway?... my body was screaming to stop, the tears were welling, I saw the clock and I felt so defeated... so damn defeated, and yet so elated. I had finished what I had set out to accomplish many months previous. I had failed. I had succeeded. I was exhausted.
Bummed out terribly, but all the support and words of encouragement from all of you has helped erase that negativity. I leave you with this sweet email from my good friend, that fine gentleman, Nazir:
Mike, I hope you, Elaine and Erick had a better race than me. I thought I was better prepared this time but some how it turned out to be the roughest race of all. My disappointment was, however, short lived as my wife reminded me to be grateful for finishing the race and being alive.
I am going to give my body a little break for the next two months and run only three to four miles for five days a week and then join 4:30 group in January. Wish you good health and happiness as we head towards holiday season and talk to you soon.
Thank you all for your positive comments, emails, and phone-calls. Your encouragement means so much.
So, what's next? I suppose I'll take a few weeks to lick my wounds and massage my ego and then I'll be right back at it; pounding the pavement, trying to find what I'm looking for. It's still a good day to be alive... bruises and warts included.
PS Congratulations to that other fine gentleman Erick O. for achieving a 3:48:57... not bad for a first marathon, not bad indeed!