I did it. I completed my first marathon, and accomplished my (re-assessed) goal of finishing under 4 hours and 30 minutes. It wasn’t a seamlessly perfect experience, but, I learned a lot from the race.
I was pretty nervous about running since my left ankle had been really bothering me for about two weeks leading up to the race. It’s a different sort of pain than I’ve had before—a shooting pain up the side of my foot, which feels almost unbearable when I run/walk downhill and is moderately painful while on a straight path. I tried to run 5km the Monday before the race, but had to stop after about a kilometre because my ankle was hurting so much that I didn’t think it was worth the risk of worsening the pain just to get a couple more kilometres in. So I stopped, walked/jogged slowly the rest of the way home, and prayed I’d be able to do the full 42.2 in just a few days.
I got to Mississauga (a city neighboring Toronto on Lake Ontario) about 30 minutes before the start, managed to get to the bathroom twice (#blessed), and successfully remained distracted until I had to take my first GU gel (huge fan of gels by GU as they’re vegan and tasty, and more importantly, don’t give me stomach aches). The weather conditions were pretty much the best you could expect for a race at the beginning of May in Toronto/Mississauga. It was a little above 10 degrees Celsius and sunny, with the only downfall being the occasional gust of wind. I walked a 1km loop for my warm-up and then stretched for a bit, trying to keep my body warm as I waited for the race to begin. The nerves started to settle in as I lined up at the starting line. It was almost surreal to stand there, amongst hundreds of other runners, after so many months of contemplating whether or not I should sign up. I was just praying that I would make it through the course alive and not let myself down.
The countdown started and suddenly there was movement. The people at the front of the pack started moving forward and before I knew it I was crossing the start line. This was it! No turning back now.
As I started to run, I noticed that my ankle was okay. It didn’t feel normal per se, but I no longer felt the nerve-pinching pain I had felt on my last run. Great, I thought. I can do this.
The first 8 kilometres flew by. I was keeping a good pace at 5:27/km and I felt energized. I took my second gel. At the 15 kilometre mark the half-marathoners and marathoners split and we went our separate ways. All I could think about was how Will, my good (running) friend (and also the one who got me my highly-recommended running belt from https://www.ronhill.com/) had only 6km to go from there. 6km! And I had 27! How was that possible? Was I going to make it? My head started to fill with doubt but I managed to push it out with good music and light conversation with my pace bunny.
Once I hit 21km, I was ready to hit the ‘real’ part of the course. The following 5km were on a long road without much scenery and a gradual climb. I was feeling pretty good and was keeping pace without tiring myself out (21.1km time of 1:57:45). The first real challenge was the hill on the way to the water, at 30km. I was starting to feel my first bout of pain. However, as I would soon learn, this would not even come close to the challenges ahead. As the road ended and turned right, a series of rolling hills began and I just kept thinking to myself “Can I really surpass that next one? You could just do 30km today. That would be okay too.” I was close to quitting right then and there. My ankle pain had resumed and my legs felt like heavy bricks. But I persisted. My motivation increased as I passed fellow runners who were too tired to keep pace. This is what I came to do, so I might as well put my all into it. As I got through each hill (there were about 5 on this road), I became increasingly tired but I knew that I was getting closer to the end. I was shocked as I passed the marker for kilometer 35 and looked at my watch to realize that I was about 5 minutes short of my goal pace.
The last leg of the race was by far the toughest. It was a long and seemingly never-ending climb around the lake and to the finish line.
I pushed forward as I made it around the bend. I kept going, trying to stay positive and push myself to the limit. As I ran, an overwhelming feeling of pride came over me and I almost started crying of happiness. Now, I don’t know if any of you have choked up while running, but it ain’t comfortable. I couldn’t breathe and was gasping for air as I tried to pull myself together. “Now is definitely not a time to get emotional, Steph,” I told myself. I mean, really. Who the hell starts tearing up during a race?
Once I got my emotions in check and my breathing was back to normal, I had just a few hundred feet left to go. I saw my friends in the distance and started picking up my pace, looking ahead at where the finish line would be. As exhausted as I was, I decided to push myself one last time and sprint to the finish. As I crossed the finish line, I look down at my watch to see my time. 4 hours and 20 minutes! I was so excited to be done. All of my training had paid off and, as I chugged water and tried to regain feeling in my hard-rock legs, I felt so much joy and pride.
My official time was 4 hours 20 minutes and 35 seconds. I placed 27th out of 56 within my age group.
But, now what? Now that I’m done with the race and reached my goal, I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do next. I’m thinking I may sign up for a half marathon while I travel in Asia.
Overall, I think my first marathon couldn’t have gone any better given the circumstances (bad ankle). Although I had some hiccups (the doubt, the hills, the crying), in the end I did what I came to do and I’m so happy with myself.
I guess I can start calling myself a runner now.