A week after I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2019, I watched a stream of the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. I was still on a high from my race and was already thinking about what my next fall marathon should be. Toronto’s flat, pretty course looked appealing. When I learned that a neighbor and her husband had just run the race and enjoyed it, I decided to go for it and signed up at the end of October in 2019. The 2020 race was canceled due to COVID and the 2021 race offered a 10K instead of the marathon. I was thankful that runners were allowed to defer their entries both times. I was determined to run the marathon whenever it actually took place. Nearly three years after I had signed up, I finally got my chance to run it on Sunday, October 16.
Marathon training went pretty well throughout the summer but then I got COVID a month before the race. I took five days off of running and was a little iffy for another week or two after that but got back on track and hoped it hadn’t messed up my overall training. Just as I got over the COVID hump, I developed a new pain in my right hamstring two weeks before the race. I raced the Ann Arbor half marathon the day after I first felt it and since it didn’t bother me, I thought I was fine. The next time I ran I realized I wasn’t fine. I’ve had some slight discomfort lurking in my other hamstring since the spring but this was a bigger problem. I took it easy for a few runs, took a couple days off, and got a massage. That spot was problematic when I did a weekend long run of 10 miles so I took four more days off. Taper time means there’s a reduction of mileage and intensity, but not THAT much rest. I discovered a bruise on the back of my leg five days before the race and Google made me worry that it could be the sign of a hamstring tear. Really, I think I just found the sore spot and massaged it enough to create a bruise. Either way, I worried that I might have to bail on the race. I did a test run the Thursday before the race and didn’t feel anything definitively bad enough to make me pull the plug. Maybe a little rest had helped. I would rest the next couple days leading up to the race as well. I didn’t feel very confident heading into the race and I hoped I was making the right decision.
One of the factors that made me choose this race is that the drive is just over four hours from the Detroit area. I headed out early on Friday morning so I could enjoy a little extra time in Toronto aside from the race. All of the border crossing restrictions tied to COVID had been dropped a couple weeks earlier and I had a smooth experience driving into Ontario. Smooth other than feeling extremely uncomfortable from sitting on that problematic leg for so long.
I drove straight to downtown Toronto and hit the expo at the Enecare Centre when it opened. It wasn’t a huge expo but there were plenty of booths and a few caught my attention.
I pulled up Google to figure out the exchange rate and realized that my money would go farther in Canada. That was a nice perk!
Asics sold the official race merchandise and I bought a tank top for under $20. I stopped at a booth with running and triathlon clothing, browsed the Brooks Running booth, then headed out.
Next I chose to explore a nice path along the water. I enjoyed the fall colors and pretty views of the CN Tower.
After that I drove 45 minutes or so to spend the rest of the afternoon at the Toronto Zoo. I got to see more gorgeous colors and had fun using my good camera for some fun animal photos.
I stayed outside of the city on Friday night and went back downtown to see more fall colors on Saturday morning. I knew I shouldn’t do any heavy-duty hiking but I wanted to explore a little bit while I had a chance. I decided to check out High Park in the southwestern part of Toronto.
I found that the roads are closed to traffic on the weekends and it was a gorgeous park. In addition to being able to walk on the roads and sidewalks, there are a number of trails throughout the park as well. Fortunately the rain held off most of the time I was there.
It was a little early to check in at the hotel but I drove and parked by it then went to Nathan Phillips Square across the street. The ice rink is a big draw in the winter months but the cool Toronto sign makes it a nice spot to visit year-round.
I spent some time wandering around the Eaton Centre mall and Yonge Street until I decided I better get off my feet. I checked in around 2:00 and was thrilled when I saw the view from my room.
I booked the hotel last December and forgot that I had chosen the scenic view. I spent plenty of time taking photos as it turned from afternoon to night. I watched as tourists posed, wedding photos were taken, and as a march came down a road and into the square. Downtown hotels near the start and finish of a race are always a bit pricey but it was definitely worth it. Plus, the exchange rate helped!
Before 5:00 I went out to get a sandwich and chips for dinner then settled in the room again, aside from a quick trip back out to the square to enjoy the sign while it was lit up at night.
I got my race gear sorted out then got a decent night’s sleep of about seven hours.
Being so close to the starting line made things super easy in the morning. I still woke up a few hours early so I wouldn’t feel too rushed or stressed. I drank plenty of water, ate one Picky Bar first thing, then a second one about an hour before the race. I only wanted to pay for one night at the hotel and although I couldn’t have a late check-out time, they were kind enough to store luggage so runners could collect their stuff after the race.
Gear check was located down in the square so I headed out there a little after 7:00 to drop off my post-race clothes. I jogged around a little bit and didn’t notice any hamstring issues. I went to scope out the location for my starting corral to make sure I knew where I would be able to enter. Temps were in the mid-40s and I realized it was warm enough that I wouldn’t need gloves for the race.
I went back to the room for a bit since the official start time was at 8:45. The convenience factor of a close hotel is wonderful and I waited until 20 minutes before the race to head to the start.
When I entered my corral I saw signs for multiple pace groups but not a 3:30 marathon – the one that I wanted. There was supposed to be one but I never saw them if they were there. I’d just have to hope I could do it on my own.
One tricky thing about running a race in Canada is that the course is marked in kilometers instead of miles. I didn’t know exactly what my goal pace converted to in kilometers but figured a 3:30 marathon was close to 5:00/kilometer. Keeping track of multiples of five was an easy way to think about things. I still had my Garmin watch of course, but I know that the accuracy is often off in big cities where the signal can get blocked by the tall buildings.
We started in the heart of downtown and had plenty of spectators cheering in spots, especially by the University of Toronto. The first mile was a bit congested but then people spaced out enough that I had an easier time running my own pace. Since my legs seemed to feel okay I hoped I could actually aim for my goal of a 3:30 marathon. That meant running somewhere around 7:55-8:00 per mile. The first mile was 8:11 which was just right for the start. My next four miles came in at 7:45, 7:39, 7:49, and 7:42. I didn’t know if my Garmin could be off or if I should worry that I was starting a little fast. By the sixth mile I settled into 8:00s and a few 7:50s which was more of where I wanted to be.
I enjoyed looking at the shops as we ran through the city. One of the prettiest spots on the course was the out and back segment on Lake Shore Blvd. I took some quick pictures because my phone was easy to grab in my shorts pocket. I must have jostled it too much though because it locked me out by the time I had run 7-8 miles. No more photos after that!
There were some fall colors to enjoy and it didn’t take long before police escorts and video cameras came through on the other side of the road with the leaders of the race. I always love the added distraction of watching other runners. It makes me realize how many of us are out there doing the same thing with paces all across the board.
On that stretch I went to grab chews from my pocket and one of my packets flew onto the road. I was moving too quickly and it wouldn’t have been ideal to run back against traffic to try to get them. I calculated that I should be okay with the remaining two packs of chews I still had if I ate one every 1.5-2 miles from that point forward. I’m glad I usually err on the side of bringing extras because that could have turned into a big problem.
We ran by an outdoor concert venue, a soccer stadium, and at times we had a view of the CN Tower. I loved seeing so many sights while running through town. Eventually we reached a spot where the half marathon runners made a turn while the rest of us kept going. My watch came in at 13.1 miles at the halfway point so it seemed like it was fairly accurate.
The course was basically flat other than some overpasses and few spots on a path that ran along the river. Any slight incline felt significant even when it really was pretty minor since the rest of the course was so flat.
By the time I had run 16 miles my legs started to feel tired but I didn’t slow down yet. I went from an 8:05 pace for mile 18 to 8:24 for mile 19. That’s when things started to fall apart. I slowed down even more to 8:41 for mile 20, then 9:14, 9:16, and 9:17 for the following miles. The out and back stretches felt like they went on forever and I kept wondering when I’d be able to turn around and head back.
I tried to appreciate the scenery to distract myself from the fatigue. I didn’t expect to see a bunch of film studios and thought it was interesting to run by that studio district. It was nice to run past a beach area and there was also a cute downtown area with lots of spectators. A bunch of people yelled my name since it was on my bib and told me I looked strong. That helped keep my spirits up a little bit. I didn’t feel strong but appreciated the encouragement.
I was cringing and swearing to myself by the time I had 10K left. While I had worried most about hamstring issues in my right leg, the outside of my left leg became a problem. I had a spot up by my glute and hip that hurt. I wondered how I could continue to drag along for nearly an hour. I kept counting down the K’s and calculated whether I could still pull off a Boston-qualifying time. I knew that even if I ran a 10-minute pace I should be able to pull it off and I hadn’t slowed down that much yet! It was motivation to keep moving. I told myself that if I could still manage to get a BQ time even while suffering that much it would be a big accomplishment. I also told myself I was lucky that I was even able to run the race since I had been on the verge of pulling the plug just a few days earlier. I was dragging but my legs still cooperated enough so I was thankful for that.
When I reached the turnaround at the far east end of the course I had less than 10K to go. As I continued to count down the remaining distance I put it in terms of my regular training runs. Five miles to go? That’s just like running up to the cider mill and back. Three miles? That’s like running down to the park and back. I played these mental games with myself to try to get through it somehow.
It seemed to take forever to get back to the heart of the city. The CN Tower was visible for a while so that was a landmark to run toward. Any time I thought I’d try to pick up the pace it didn’t last very long because my hip/glute area made me swear and I’d back off again. I did manage to pick up the pace a little bit for the last full mile when I ran an 8:41.
The spectators were great during the last mile. When I rounded a slight curve before heading to the final stretch, I got a little emotional from all of the cheering and was on the verge of tears. That messed with my breathing so I tried to settle myself down. I’m 10 marathons in at this point but the emotions can still hit me.
My Garmin made it look like I ran a 7:10 pace at the end but it sure doesn’t feel like I picked it up that much! When I looked at my map after the race it was clear that the GPS jumped around in spots that should have been a straight line. That may have resulted in some inaccurate data.
Somehow I forced myself to smile for the camera as I crossed the finish line!
Once I crossed the line I swore, which caused a guy next to me to say, “Oh no!” in shock. I felt totally miserable and could barely shuffle along. I walked past the medical area and kind of wondered if I’d need their help. Then my stomach started to feel upset and I figured I better move faster to get to a porta potty. I questioned if I would make it that long and went back to medical. I probably looked miserable enough when I asked if I could use one of their porta potties because they let me in. I was lucky my stomach was fine during the race because it sure wasn’t once I stopped.
I went back to the finishing chute and found a place to stop and stretch my legs a little bit. A tear or two rolled down my cheek because I was in so much pain. It was tempting to have an all-out cry! Not due to the emotion of finishing so much as a release for all of the pain I felt. I may have felt worse than I did after finishing my first marathon. I didn’t feel this beat up after doing 33 miles at a 6-hour race. This one took a lot out of me and everything hurt from my hips to my calves.
After that I got a cup of water and a cup of Nuun but I don’t think they had any water bottles or chocolate milk for us to take. Just those cups at the finish. I got a heat sheet and wrapped it tight because I was getting cold and my fingers were a little tingly. I found a bench and settled for a bit to try to compose myself. I could barely stretch because everything hurt so much. I knew I better get moving at some point though and thought I ought to at least go to one of the picture spots where a very nice runner offered to take photos for me.
The next stop was to get my warm clothes from the bag check. I put those on at a bench and felt a little better.
With a little more recovery time I finally checked out my race stats. My official time was 3:38:25. That means I got a BQ by a minute and a half! That cut it a bit close but I’m glad I used that as motivation to keep going.
Eventually I worked my way over to the food where they had apples, bananas, Larabars, and a bag of chips. When I got through the line I looked over at the next booth and realized it was the same stuff. That was it?! After a marathon?? I’m always let down when there isn’t a variety of good stuff after a big race. I’ve been spoiled at several races this year hosted by Epic Races who offer pancakes, egg and cheese wraps, cookies, etc. THAT’S what I hope for after a race!
I had scoped out a Tim Horton’s across the street and knew that could be a good place to go afterward. I decided to start with a couple muffins and a hot chocolate. I got through one muffin and my stomach started to go bad again.
I wanted to splurge and have something good to eat but was afraid my stomach was too iffy. I planned to drive home after the race and didn’t want to eat something too heavy that would set it off while I was on the road. I relaxed and ate my other muffin before I went to the hotel to collect my bags, then I headed to the car. While my right hamstring made the drive to Toronto very uncomfortable, I barely noticed that leg on the way home because my left leg made me squirm the whole time. It wasn’t fun driving the 4+ hours home but somehow I survived it with a couple of stops along the way.
I didn’t expect to sleep well that night and I was right. My legs were achy and painful and I had terrible, restless sleep. By the middle of the next day my stomach had finally settled enough to get treats like donuts and pizza. Aside from some soreness in my hamstrings and quads, I felt pretty normal by Wednesday or Thursday.
Now that the pain has faded I can look at the race more objectively. I’m really happy with my time of 3:38. Many of my races have been faster and ideally I want to strive to improve. I don’t want to question “where did it go wrong” because I know I ran a pretty great time. I guess the question is more about why I suffered so much at the end. For one, it IS a marathon. It’s not easy and it shouldn’t be all that surprising that running 26 miles might make me hurt! Proper training should help with that but the last few weeks of my training wasn’t ideal because of COVID and hamstring issues. Swimming had been a regular part of my routine until a month or two before this race. I got lazy about my strength training leading up to the race as well. Maybe weaknesses developed as a result that led to the issues. Maybe I spent too much time on my feet around town. Maybe I ran a little too fast early in the race and it messed me up later. There are a ton of factors to consider and it’s hard to know if any one thing made me struggle or if it’s a little bit of everything.
During the most difficult miles of the race I told myself that part of the “fun” of doing a marathon is knowing that I can get myself to do this even when it’s hard. Pushing myself through something extremely difficult says a lot about my dedication and perseverance and I should be proud of that. It’s not all about the time, although a good one is always a bonus. A little less suffering would have been nice, but I guess that extra pain makes it even more apparent what an accomplishment it was. I could start to get complacent now that I’ve done 10 of these things but I should recognize that it still isn’t an easy thing to do!
I’m usually anxious to return to running as soon as I think I feel normal again but I am going to be more cautious this time. If I start back too soon I might not get this hamstring issue under control. I might like to do some sort of turkey trot in November but I haven’t signed up for anything and shouldn’t rush back to racing. It’s a good time for a break and to return to cross-training that I’ve neglected lately. The next BIG goal will be my third trip to the Boston Marathon in April. I want to make sure I don’t have any issues when I start that training at the end of the year!
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