Have I mentioned my running this year is going really well? I’m still running daily, and this spring my long runs grew longer than I’ve ever done in training. In April, I ran four weekend long runs of 30, 33, 37 and 40 kilometres. It hasn’t all been easy – the 40 km run was the windiest ever, and our long winter this year gave us a fair bit of ice and snow.
My long run paces hovered around a 5 1/2 hour marathon pace, more or less. After my surprising half marathon PB (Personal Best) in March, friends assured me that I’d blow 5:30 out of the water at the Calgary Marathon this year. I could reach for a sub-fiver, eh? I did not want clock pressure to ruin a perfectly good celebration of my training, so I tried not to think about it and focused on staying healthy during the three week taper. My race day would happen however it would happen.
This was to be my second marathon ever. My first one was seven years ago, it took me almost 6 hours to finish, and it wasn’t until last summer that would entertain the idea of trying it again.
Funny, I thought I was supposed to get a pre-marathon head cold. I almost wrote it on the training calendar for the last week before race day, but I didn’t get sick. I slept and ate well the week before the race. And no crazy carbo loading either – I just ate the usual stuff I always eat.
While picking up our bibs at the race expo, the Running Buddy and I ran into a couple of local runners I’d met online. It was cool to hug them in person and gush about our favourite sport. We didn’t spend much time at the expo, but we did stop in to hug the Pink Chick and her awesome grandkid as well, both of them volunteers extraordinaire.
Race day I got up extra extra early. I wanted to drink my coffee and digest my peanut butter banana toast and make sure, absolutely sure that my digestive system would face the day well. We headed over to the race in enough time to stand in bathroom and portapotty cues. That’s how the last pre-marathon minutes go: Get in line, pee, get back in line and repeat until announcers call us to the start. We greeted my boss and couple of others we knew (Tanya from the CRR 10k Group) in the portapotty lines and at the starting chute.
When it was time to start, the chute was so crowded we couldn’t get in all at once. No worries though – the Running Buddy and I wished each other well and moved along with all the other racers. It took me about 4 minutes to get over the starting chip mat, and off we went.
Amidst hundreds of racers I jogged along, trying to remember what my pace should feel like. I felt like I was running slowly, but my Garmin assured me I was faster than I thought I should be. The first 5k in my memory is kind of a blur in a sea of runners. I said hi to Greg, the only other runner I recognized as we headed up the ramp over Memorial Drive. Enthusiastic fans cheered us on in Inglewood, Bridgeland, and the East Village with signs, noisemakers, and music. I shouted thanks to volunteers and cheerers. I was very relieved and excited to be finally getting this thing started.
Running back through downtown, there was a family with signs and cowbells – even their greyhound dog had a sign around its neck that said “Run fast like me”. I think I saw that family four (?) times on the course – they were awesome!
Somewhere in between all the excitement, I calmly realized that I was feeling good. I had tied my coat around my waist just before the start, and it wasn’t flopping or annoying me. Everything I was wearing fit me just right, from my ponytail to my water belt, to my socks and shoes.
At about 10k we split off from the half marathoners and my company dwindled from running 5-8 people across 2 lanes, to single file, with about 5-8 people in view ahead of me. Ken Park from our run club cheered us on as we wound through pretty residential streets up some small hills. I remembered to take an Endurolyte with some water.
As I turned off Elbow Drive I spotted our Calgary Roadrunners President, Melody. She gave me a cheer and I kept on running. Further on, Carla from the 10k group cheered us on from her picnic spot. She offered me coffee with Bailey’s, but I kept on running. I might have stopped for Kahlua… nah. There would be time for that later.
I actually passed people somewhere around 17 km. I made sure I ran across the chip mats at the half way point. I didn’t make any new friends in this race like I often do. We were taking on a long distance with everyone fighting our own internal battles and running our own paces.
We ran past quiet spectators along the course. I raised my hands and egged them on with “If I can keep running, you can keep cheering”, and received smiles and encouragement back. I saw the family with the greyhound and their signs “Toenails are overrated”, and “I think I can, I think I can” again. I knew I could. I recognized a couple of British-sounding cyclists who had been cheering us on at another point too. I like these mobile cheering squads – fun!
I passed the barefoot guy on a descent (wheee!) and figured he would catch me later on the flat, but he didn’t. We crossed the river and and turned into the Kensington noisy spirit hub of cheerers. The sun was shining and I was glad for the sponges and cold water. I laughed as I kept running, “I’ve forgotten how to walk!”
Yes, I was tired, and my legs were getting sore, but the encouragement along the way was very, very welcome. It kind of felt weird when there were breaks in the spectators. I’d trained for months without spectators – I certainly didn’t need them, but I really liked them.
Somewhere around 30k a woman on the median was handing out chunks of watermelon. I love that woman, whoever she was. I had only taken the Endurolyte capsules for each hour of the race so far, with sips of water. No gels, nothing else. I was too excited for hunger, but that watermelon tasted divine.
I was really tired in the last 8 km. Even the people in lawn chairs along Memorial Drive looked tired, and I was getting stingy with my rallying cries. With 6k left to go, however, I realized that I could now start hoping for that sub-5 hour time. It was totally within my reach, as long as I kept going.
By now my steady trot had me leap-frogging with walk/runners. A young woman in pink shorts would start running just as I’d catch up, but with 2k to go I caught her and she just kept walking. I told her “No no, this is the part where you run again, like you always do when I catch you!” She tiredly looked at me and said “I don’t want to do this anymore.” We laughed as I told her she didn’t have much choice. After that she started running again and this time I didn’t catch her.
We ran through the East Village one last time, and the music pumped me up. A nice runner jogged alongside me and told me I was doing well.
There is a big, new underpass 1k before the finish. As we ran through the dip, there were a couple of noisy cheerers on the median, hauling us out with their voices. Thank you for that. I ran up and out. There was a girl whose legs kept cramping up. She agonized and I said “hang in there” as I went by. She passed me back at 42k and grinned when I said “good job!”
Before the very last corner there were lots of tired people waiting for their racers. I raised my hands for one last rally and let loose a whoop of joy. This is it, eh! I rounded the final corner and saw the clock: it had a FOUR at the front. YES! I hollered again and finished like I won it.
Clock time 4:55, chip time 4:51, more than an hour’s improvement on my previous marathon time.
Melody gave me my medal and a big hug. I drank water and posed for my belt buckle medal shot. It is the shiniest, biggest medal I’ve ever received.
Running Buddy found and hugged me, we found me some food, and I sat down for a while. Life is very good.