Saturday, 8 June 2013

The One Where We Run....Far

I (Leigh) have been charged with writing our official Tamarack Ottawa Marathon race report. Lexie claims this is my job because I "am better at remembering the details" but we all know the truth is that spending an extra 28 minutes out on the course afford me the opportunity to observe much more than her. When you run as fast as she does, everything is just a blur. In my defense, I am in the faster than the average marathoner in my age group. Here is some proof:

Also, I beat the following celebrities: Ethan Zohn (Survivor winner), Oprah, Drew Carey, Al Gore, The Subway Guy, Katie Holmes (sans supportive undergarments), and Al Roker. In Al Gore's defense, it was really hot the day he ran, hotter than average.

Lexie is right, I do remember much more than her. On the drive back from Ottawa I kept say things like "Did you see some cool thing in some part of the race" and she would just reply "No, I must have been running too fast to see that" OK, that never happened, but I can't confirm or deny whether or not she thought it.

I'll start with race morning. We woke up bright and early (5:00 am). The race was starting at 7:00 am, it was about a 15 minute walk from our hotel, but there are certain types of business that needed to be taken care of before running long. We woke up, took care of business (several times) got dressed, filled our fuel belts with some combination of Gatorade, Nuun, Shot Bloks, and Honey Stinger Waffles. I also got a Facebook message from Tobey all the way Down Under that helped get me pumped up:

We stretched all the right muscles, took some pics (see below), and headed out the door. Lexie was smart and brought some garbage bags that we made into ponchos to keep us warm/dry (it was threatening to rain all morning). We expected to see some more poncho wearers but our style was clearly too exclusive.

One of the perks of stay at the Race Weekend host hotel was that all the elites were also staying there. On our way out of the hotel we saw a bunch of the elites, including the lady that won the marathon, which would be way cooler if I didn't run with olympians all the time.

We started making our way towards the start line from the hotel and we realized if the rain held off, it was going to be a perfect day for a run. It was cool, but not cold and just a little bit of wind. We got to the starting line, and to our luck found a port-a-potty with a short line. We pottied it up, not to be confused with partying it up, and made our way to the starting line. We were both in yellow corral (3:30-4:00 finish). For the sake of full disclosure I had no plans to run sub-4, but didn't feel like wasting time at the expo changing my bib number. We spent the next bunch of minutes waiting for the gun to go off, during which not much exciting happened other than some guy kept bending over to stretch and sticking his butt into me, but it kept my mind of the painful 26.2 miles starting me down.

The gun went and off we went!

Miles 1-5: My Legs are already tight and I make a rookie mistake.

I made a major running faux pas by wearing new running shorts on marathon day. I found some shorts with a built in compression shorts at MEC the day before the marathon after much searching and my coach Lexie said they should be fine to wear. They were great, but I had to spend the first half mile tightening them back up while running and slinging my fuel belt over my shoulder, it was fun!

The first 5 miles were along the Rideau Canal into the Little Italy section of Ottawa, it was a beautiful section of the run with great spectator support (much like the rest of the run). Given the nature of the taper my legs felt weird during this part of the marathon, not sore at all, but super tight. It eventually loosened up, and after that I felt great. I had no problem keeping my 9:45 minute per mile pace and managed to zone out for a bit. I was still worried about my knee, but my pace was good and the support was awesome. I didn't turn on my music until the halfway point so I really focused on soaking in the environment during these first few miles.

One of the best parts of these miles was the number of free high fives being given out. Lots of kids and adults were dishing out high fives, and seeing as I was running alone, I took as many as I could. There was also a series of funny signs including "Fast girls have good times" get it?

Miles 5-10: I love water stops, volunteers, and body glide

These miles were ones that I really zoned our for. They were through the Westboro neighbourhood in Ottawa. They crowds started to thin out around here and it was around this point I started to think that I might actually finish this thing. When those thoughts arose, I tried to push them back. I'm not a very superstitious person, but I wanted to be able to focus on the moment and not think too far ahead, because there were many miles still to come. Near the end of this section of the race we started to run along the Ottawa River. It got a little colder at this point, but the scenery was beautiful. I spent 2km near the 9-10 mile mark looking for Lexie amongst the faster runners that had turned around and were heading back the other way along the Ottawa River. I had no luck, but it was a great way to waste 15 minutes.

The spectators continued to be amazing through these miles. Lots of cheering and entertaining signs. It was also around this point that I started to hit up the water stops. This race had THE BEST water stops ever. Each water stop had lots of tables with Gatorade and water. The Gatorade and water tables were separated from each other and the volunteers were AH-MAZING at advertising which was which. But the best two parts of the water stops were; 1) The volunteers handing out the water were also fantastic cheerleaders. At least 5 volunteers at each stop would say something encouraging to me as I ran by and it was a huge pick me up. I can't say enough about how great they were. Volunteers really do make a race and we were so grateful for them. These were the best we have ever seen at a race 2) The water stops had tables on both sides of the road. This meant that if you did want water/Gatorade you could choose the side that had the least traffic. But more importantly, if you didn't want water, you could just continue to run through the middle of the road and not worry about the usual congestion that happens around this point of a race.

Miles 10-15: They told me this course was flat!

Around mile 10 we turned around and started heading East along the Ottawa River. At this point I figured that I was probably near the back of the pack, then I got a chance to see that there were in fact a large number of people behind me, which was slightly calming. I took in the sights of the Ottawa River to my left and tried to ignore the rolling hills that were making my legs start to feel funny. Around mile 13 we headed over the Ottawa River and into Gatineau/Hull (Ottawa is the only marathon that runs in two provinces!). Hitting the halfway point was huge as I knew I had been able to hold a good pace and I still felt strong. My injured knee was starting to hurt a bit, but as my hero Ben told me, that was an inevitability. All I can say about miles 13-15 is that given the sample we saw during our run, I don't see myself ever returning to Gatineau, unless I'm running through it again, hopefully at a much faster clip.

Mile 13 is also where I decided I would put my music on to try and break up the run a bit. Luckily this little ditty was blasting through Gatineau and made it more exciting.

Around Mile 15 I realized I was really going to be able to get it done. I'm not sure I really believed that beforehand, but I knew now that even if I had to walk, I was going to become a marathoner, and that was a pretty special feeling.

Mile 15-20: Crying Makes Running Hard

As we exited QC and headed back into Ontario, I was feeling great, pace was still right on target and I started to think about goals. I wasn't sure if sub 4:20 was a goal, or sub 4:15. I decided on sub 4:15 because it would force me to push a little harder. It was also at this point that I decided I was not going to walk. NO. MATTER. WHAT. It was at this point in the race I started to get a little lonely. I thought a lot about the boys and I knew I would need to think of them to make it through to the end. As we turned to head across the Alexandria Bridge I saw two boys, around the same age as mine, sitting in a jogging stroller cheering. I smiled at them, and then something weird happened. With no notice, I got teary and choked up. I heard marathons were emotional, but I didn't expect it that early in the race. I actually said to myself out loud "you can't run and cry at the same time" so I pushed the emotion back and was rewarded with this view:

Miles 15-20 were some of the most beautiful of the course. We ran across the bridge above with some beautiful views of the Parliament Buildings, along Sussex Dr past the Canadian Mint and the Prime Minister's residence and past some more beautiful views of the Ottawa River.

This point was also where the pain really started to set in. My knee was predictably sore and the general fatigue of the race was setting in. At one point we could see some faster marathoners coming back the other way and they also looked very uncomfortable. Shared misery is a comforting thing, if that makes any sense.

As I neared mile 20 I was excited, I knew I could do a 10k no matter what and I was pretty pumped to hit a personal distance record. The pain was constant, but I just embraced it and focused on my music. My pace dropped into the 10 min/mile range for a couple of miles in here when the real pain started, but I was able to pick it back up again after a while. I was going to do this thing!

Mile 20-25: The Mantra

The spectator support waned a bit between mile 18 and 20, but it picked up right after mile 20 and didn't let up for the next 10km (including some guy a bear costume!) and it was much needed. I wanted to push through this part and try and get sub 4:15 but my body was starting to revolt. My brain kept saying "Hey, just walk a little, its fine" and you know what I said?

They say every marathoner needs a mantra near the end. Not to get too sappy, but mine was simply "Cooper". When I wanted to walk I just said his name and thought of the pain he has endured and it gave me the push I needed.

I was sore, but running strong through to mile 23. My confidence was high and I was excited to be so close to being done. Just as I though about kicking it up into another gear, something scary happened. Cramps. Where you ask? EVERY-FREAKING-WHERE. My groin, my hamstrings, my quads, my calves. Because I was feeling so good at mile 21, I had emptied my fuel belt bottles and figured I could just drink at water stations. Bad plan, I needed electrolytes and I needed them ASAP and I had none. So I took my last piece of food out of my shorts, a Honey Stinger Waffle. I was a little sick of sugar at this point and thought something a little more solid might be a good source of electrolytes. WRONG! I put it in my mouth them spit it out everywhere. It was dry and made me want to VERP. So I just kept running until I hit water stations. The cramping wasn't constant so I would slow a bit when it hit and then let is pass then kick the pace back up again when it subsided. To combat it I drank 3-4 cups of Gatorade at each of the water stations I hit in the last 3ish miles and it seemed to keep the cramping somewhat at bay. The pace dropped slightly during miles 23-25 but I still felt okay. Oddly enough when the cramping started my knee pain diminished. That, I was not complaining about.

Marathoners often speak about "The Wall". Neither Lexie or I really experienced this, other than our brains telling us to slow down or walk. Why? Candy, it does the body good.

Mile 25: Where did all these people come from?

The marathon had stayed pretty thinned out for most of the race. I was running with the same people for most of it and there were maybe 6 or so of us in a given 100m span. Until mile 25 that was. One of the only complaints I have about this race was that in the last 2 miles the marathon and half marathon merged. This was bothersome on two levels. One being that it got clogged with runners doing a slightly slower pace (2:15ish Half Marathoners) which caused me to duck and weave for the last mile or so. It also made it harder for me to get my Gatorade because the water stations were busier. Second, some of the half marathoners were pushing hard in the last mile, which was mostly annoying because I was jealous I didn't have any more energy to push with. Mile 25 was a repeat of mile 1, so I just put my head down and focused on pushing as hard as a could to the finish. I just kept telling myself, "You can do anything for a mile".

The last .2

This is the part of the race where I really allowed myself to soak in the fact that I was about to do something stupid awesome and become a marathoner. I started to get a little emotional again as I scanned the crowd for Lexie. She was going to try to see my finish but the finish line was pretty locked down, presumably due to the events at the Boston Marathon. Luckily for me, she didn't make it. My crying face is not conducive to a beautiful finish line photo. I pushed with everything I had down the chute and in another example of poor race etiquette stopped running the second I crossed the line. But I had done it, finished my first Marathon, ran the whole time, and stayed under 10 minute miles. To say I was please would be like saying Lucas likes watermelon. In other words a HUGE understatement.

The End

Because of the tight finish line security it took a while for me to get out of the finish line area and to the pre-ordained meeting spot Lexie and I had decided upon. I gathered my space blanket, my medal from a super nice lady, and worked my way out of the finishers area.

When I got to our meeting point I assumed (correctly) that Lexie had gone to the finish line to watch for me and was stuck in the crush of spectators on her way back to meet me. I checked my phone and answered a few text messages. Because there were so many people the internet on my phone wouldn't cooperate as I desperately tried to determine Lexie's time.

About 15 minutes later she arrived. We both beamed at each other. We had achieved a goal we had both worked so hard and sacrificed for. Lexie cried when we locked eyes. I was wearing sunglasses, so there is no proof of me shedding any tears. We hugged, shared our times, giggled like little school girls and started to walk SLOOOOOOWLY back to our hotel.

We had done it, and we already knew we were going to do it again.

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