OK folks, I have finally sat my backside down for my report on the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. This was supposed to be my redemption run as last year’s was disappointing for me as I completely missed my time goal. The fact that I had received a concussion and couldn’t train for two months had been a major factor in my performance. This year’s recovery from the 50 miler did not go as smoothly as I had hoped so who knew what the day would bring. On top of that was the weather: drizzle and thunderstorms. Goody.
Originally when I had signed up for the race, I was not scheduled to work but a new position meant that I would be working evenings for that stretch. I didn’t tell any of my colleagues until the end of Saturday (probably closer to Sunday morning) and rather than try and drive home and back after an hour, I decided to try and catch some shut eye there. Now I often have trouble sleeping at the best of times and in a place other than home? Forget about it. I finally fell asleep around 4:30 am and woke up with my 6:30 alarm.
The group of us that were running met there and stopped at Tim Horton’s (yuck) on the way to the starting line where I was able to choke down a small coffee and some oatmeal. We sat and chatted for a little bit before making our way towards the starting line and another, almost as important line: port-a-potties.
I don’t remember the lines being as bad as they were last year and a friend and I waited for probably close to 30 minutes to get there. The rest of the team got tired of waiting and headed to the corrals. As a result, we ended up losing them which is odd because they were wearing bright yellow and one of the guys is well over six feet tall. Oh well.
Once the horn sounds though, it all changes. I tried my hardest to stay nice and slow and even though I felt like I was plodding along, I would look at my watch and think “whoa” before slowing back down.
The first half of the race is, in my opinion, the nicest. I am familiar with almost all of it because it passes through my alma mater (University of Toronto) and then areas where I work. Then the run along the lake is nice because you look of to one side and there is Lake Ontario.
The most striking thing for me about this race is how different it feels once the half marathoners turn to run up Bay Street. For the first half there are so many people cheering and you’re in this big group of people and you own the streets. Then they turn and you’re just some Sunday runner on the road instead of the sidewalk.
The roads also become more residential which is nice in someways but it’s a lot quieter so you don’t have the same energy to feed off. I’m also not as familiar with that part of Toronto which is good in that you see different sights but bad because a lot of those sights are people’s houses. There’s a stretch along Queen Street East that is fun because there are stores and restaurants to look at and think “I should go back there”. Too bad I can’t remember any of them.
I felt really good for the first half. A light rain had fallen but it was overall nice and we didn’t have the cold wind that sometimes blows off the lake I started to notice some people needing medical treatment just before halfway but it wasn’t too bad. Around 25 km in, I started to feel a bit of pain in my left hip but it was just something to monitor. A bit later, my right shoulder (which had been giving me problems for a while) started to burn. And finally at 28 km, I had to slow to a walk as my lower back seized up and with it my left hip. No problem. I had a time goal but as long as I beat the cut off that was all that mattered. I watched people run by me and on one hand was envious that they were still running but then I would think about the ultra marathon that I had run just over a month ago. I knew that this was going to be hard. And yes I could have really pushed myself but then if I hurt something I’d be luck to even finish never mind the long-term damage.
After the aches had eased, I started running again until a weird sound caught my ear, something like a scratch that I could hear even over my headphones. At first I thought it was my bib folding or the cord to my headphones caught in the paper or something else that was loose. Then I realized it happened when I moved my left leg. I put my hand on my hip and could actually feel grating whenever I stepped forward. Holy shit did I do something serious to my hip?! I racked my brain trying to sort it all out as I tried to avoid a full on melt down. It took me a lot longer than it should have to realize that it was the insole in my left shoe shifting. My feet were wet from the rain and it made the insole squeak. With that crisis averted, back up to a run until my hip hurt too much and then a walk.
I did figure out that I had put too many gels in the back pocket of my tights. Since there were only two gel stations on the course, I had wanted make sure that I had enough and when I ran through, I ended up grabbing a few extras but totally lost track of how many I had stuffed in there. Four. I had four towards the end. A little excessive perhaps. Once I pulled them out of the pocket, the aching in my back began to ease. It was a small comfort.
And that was how I continued the race: running when I could and walking when I had to. It was awful and it sucked but the most important thing for me was that I never felt like quitting. At no point did that thought ever cross my mind. I was going to finish this damned thing. Besides, the 100th place medal looks the same as the 1000th place medal so no one but me really cares how fast I go.
I did notice something that seemed to be concerning though: it seemed as though there were a lot more people needing medical attention than last year. And I do mean A LOT. I don’t know how the numbers compare to last year but I did notice it more.
Then finally there was the last stretch along Wellington Street East and up Bay Street. This I was running. There were people cheering you on and telling you that you’re awesome (don’t feel awesome), you look great (you’re a liar), and you’re badass (I don’t feel badass).
Then finally, there is the chute ahead. To give me the motivation to keep going, I recalled my friend yelling at me at the end of the Harricana to “Go go go”. I locked my eyes on that finishing arch and just ran.
And Hear I am going to confess to something that I feel like a bit of a jerk for doing. Just ahead of me at the last maybe 200 metres, a little girl joins her mother to run through the end. I thought “do I drop back? Or do I run ahead?” I wanted to let them run through together without me in the picture. Well I decided to run ahead since I thought I could beat them to it. I did…barely. And I do mean barely. I thought about turning to her and saying sorry but my mind stopped thinking of anything but keep moving.
I walked to the lines of volunteers and thanked them as a medal was draped around my neck and a foil blanket over my shoulders. Then I joined the people who shuffled to where the food was being handed out. When I tried to tear the tab off the bottom of my bib for the food, I realized that my fingers were not quite as dextrous as they usually were and finally just asked the volunteer to do it for me. Then with bag in hand, I walked back to where we had parked.
I was the last person of our group to cross the line and after congratulations and high-fives, we went back where we had all parked our cars. And after a shower and lots of cursing, I worked my scheduled shift.
My opinion of the race itself? The organization has been top-notch however more port-potties around the start line would have been nice. I know that can be a bit difficult but when you have over 25 000 people plus volunteers plus families plus sightseers then you NEED lots.
I’m not a huge fan of the course as it is basically three loops: the stretch along Lakeshore Boulevard West then loop back east along the lakeshore until you run north on Bayview then run back south. Then you go east on Queen Street and turn around and run back west. It would be nice if it was one big loop but I guess when you take over a massive section of downtown you want to try to minimize the disruptions as much as you can. And it allows you to keep your aid stations close together.
The volunteers are outstanding and no matter how lousy I felt, I tried to choke out a thank you every chance I got. There were always a ton of hands holding out Gatorade and water at each station and lots of gels being offered. They even tried to clean up the empty cups fairly quickly.
Not as many spectators as I remembered from last year. The cheering stations were great from steel bands to Greek dancers. I wanted to join in but I’m clumsy at the best of times, never mind in a race.
The food leaves much to be desired: a banana, a juice box, and a multigrain flatbread. Since I was at the end, I was able to get two bags of the food. Then there’s a free sample of yogurt.
Would I do it again? I doubt it. But then I said that last year too.