At the beginning of the year I set a fairly arbitrary goal for myself and announced it to the “world” (aka my few instagram followers LOL) that I wanted to run a sub 2:40 marathon. Why? Because I like stretch goals and I like holding myself accountable to them. Let me tell you just how much of a stretch this was…
Rewind to 2019 at Scotiabank Waterfront Toronto Marathon. I wanted to take down 2:45 in the marathon. I ran a 2:46. In May of just this year I trained my ass off for a virtual marathon in Edmonton to chase that 2:45 again (hoping it would get me one step closer to 2:40 by end of year) and I ran a 2:46 again…18s slower than when I ran Toronto. This could have left me feeling like maybe I’d peaked. Maybe that 2:40 was a pipe dream if I can’t even break 2:45. But I kept thinking of Trevor Hofbauer’s story – how he knew he was capable of more than he was putting down on paper and he proved to himself and the world he was. Don’t worry – I have no false hope I’m going to be the next Trevor Hofbauer – but it inspired me not to give up. I knew I had more in me.
I also had set another goal for myself at the beginning of this year: drink less wine. It started out with making sure I didn’t have wine two days a week and by May I thought that’s not enough. I will only allow myself a glass or two on weekends. The increase in my sleep quality and my ability to recover quicker was noticeably different. I also struggle with IBS and inflammation quite heavily so cut out meat to help with that in July 2020. It has helped considerably.
I also embraced all the recovery. Trevor did a talk for our club early in the year and one of the biggest takeaways was how important recovery is. So, I listened. In the two months leading up to my race I sat in compression pants almost daily. I did strength/stretching every week. I used the hot tub. And I visited my physio, Tyson, every other week. The body stayed healthy and strong. Physically I was doing all the things I was supposed to be doing.
I designed a plan for myself leading up to CIM that challenged me physically more than I’ve ever challenged myself in my life. If I wanted to do something I’d never done before, I knew I needed to train that way. I actually decreased my mileage, hit my workouts HARD, and took my aerobics and recoveries slower than ever. I embraced listening to my body versus chasing mileage and it was working well for me. But the workouts challenged me to a whole new level.
When asked what the biggest shift was, it was mindset. I was ready to challenge myself to this new level. I was ready to go for it. I was ready to try. And that kept me committed to all the other things I’d mentioned above.
A race result is simply one performance. What we don’t see is all the other stuff behind the scenes. On the way to the marathon, I purchased the book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu*k” and while I found it a bit too F-bombish for me (I know, I know - the title may have alluded to this) I did take away one important thing: “Who you are is what you are willing to struggle for”. Marathons are a struggle. But the struggle is even more in the process – the commitment day in and day out to achieve what you want. We often *think* we want something until we realize just how much work it’s going to take to get there. This goal of breaking 2:40 has been years and years of “suffering” to make it happen. It’s been an accumulation of 10 years of running, of consistency, of dedication to getting out there. And I have found much joy in this process of “suffering”.
So now that I’ve talked about the lead up to the race, I’ll share my race experience with you. WARNING: it’s not very glamourous and I do some gross things:
The start of CIM has porta potties galore. Sarah Penny and I did a warmup to one and I was grateful that I had done my business (unlike in TO). I ran into Cat Young and we did a little jog together. And then I lined up in my “seeded corral” (the standards for this race to run as elite have drastically increased so I was only granted a seeded entry which really meant starting 1m ahead of the main group and 1m behind the elites). All of a sudden, my stomach started to turn and I think “Uh oh…I need the bathroom again” but it was way too far away for me to make it back in time for my start. So, I found a bush that also happened to have another runner squatting in. That’s one way to meet people. Also, I owe that bush my race…
At 7:00AM on the dot the gun went off and I soon find myself thinking, “ooh, legs feel heavy. I’m barely holding pace, how am I going to do this?” Experience has taught me to change my thinking and do it quick…so I started reminding myself of the workouts I did in this block that have started out feeling like this and then I found a groove. This is that #trustheprocess everyone refers to. By the time I got to the halfway mat I was on pace and feeling great. Things were looking up. For any that have run CIM before, you will know it is a fast race with fast people. The energy is contagious. It’s technically a net descent, but don’t let that fool you. My GAP (grade adjusted pace) at the end of the race was the same as pace and the hills are alive for the first half. If you don’t stay patient, they will bite you in the second half (case and point my 5 min positive split in 2018 when I ran it).
I made sure to keep my nutrition in control by forcing a gel on myself every 45 minutes whether I wanted it or not. I even took in a gel before the gun went off (advice from Blaine and Rich given how bad my stomach usually turns later in the race).
Throughout the race I’d find myself in a swarm of people. There was a little wind, although nothing major, so I did my best to hide behind runners if I could. There are benefits to being small. The packs of runners were useful both physically and mentally. Kilometres were ticking off quickly and I was lucky to be in a small pack for about 6-8k of the race leading up to the halfway marker that was running at the effort I wanted to run. By approximately km 23 the pack ran away from me on a hill and I knew the effort to stay with them was beyond where I was ready to push this early in. At this point I had caught up to Blaine who was suffering a hamstring issue and he encouraged me to grab the pack ahead. He didn’t know they had just dropped me. Ha! His words of encouragement as I passed by, however, was the exact boost I needed as I was worried about losing that pack. It was the right decision. I learned after that my pace stayed consistent – the pack had simply picked it up.
There were a few lonely kilometres to come. At one point I tried to make a friend by puking on him. Yes, this is a true story. The nutrition on course was Nuun and GU. I had brought my own Maurten gels but no fluids. I went for Nuun and it didn’t sit particularly well. Within a km of taking a sip I could feel a burp ensuing, which ended up being vomit and spewed orange all over some dude passing me on the right (doesn’t he know it’s keep right except to pass?!!!!). He was NOT impressed. A few more of those ensued in the kilometres to follow, luckily without any other casualties. Once I got my stomach under control I was able to keep pushing forward.
Talking about pace is important here because I ran this race completely on feel. I kept an eye on my watch for the first 5k just to make sure I didn’t go out the gate too fast. And then didn’t check again until the halfway mat. I didn’t check again after that until I hit the mat with 2k to go. I was willing to go as deep as necessary at this point to get my goal. Upon seeing my watch and realizing I’d gone about 200m over distance, I had some work to do. I literally could not see a 4:00/km on my watch or I was going to miss my goal. But I knew it was within reach. I always tell my athletes when they’re pushing hard for a goal and are on track for it, “You don’t want to have to do this again for just a few seconds.”
Upon rounding the last corner with 200m to go, I knew I had done it, but I didn’t take my foot off the gas. “Every second counts” I kept reminding myself. Upon hearing the announcer say my name and that I was going to come in under that 2:40 mark, it felt a bit surreal. I couldn’t actually quite believe I had done it.
I could hear Ren and Rich cheering for me as I finished, both having just achieved their goals. As soon as I crossed the finish line mat, they were both there, Ren with open arms to give me a hug. I pulled away for two more dry heaves and then embraced his hug. Running…such a glamourous sport.
I watched Megan cross the finish line and get her sub 3 marathon which was a major highlight. However, I was in GI agony and had to leave the race to get it under control before getting to see my other athletes finish. 3 hours later I was feeling better and able to meet up with the WRTWC and others. It was a day I’ll never forget. My athletes crushed it. I had achieved my goal. And for that very moment, all was good in the world.
As with any race, we go home and back to reality and the novelty wears off. But marathons really do teach you a lot about yourself and those learnings never wear off. I’m proud of this race. I’m proud of myself for going for it. I’m proud of myself for actually believing that I could do it and for making the changes in other aspects of my life to make it happen.
And that is the end of my #breaking240 story.