Monday, 21 October 2013

Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

Three weeks ago I completed the Berlin Marathon with mixed emotions. While my finish time was disappointing, I was able to look on the bright side in overcoming immense physical pain and being in an incredible environment. Upon my return to Toronto, I began to contemplate my participation in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. I had run the Goodlife Toronto Marathon five times previously since the start line is by my house, but the Scotiabank Marathon I had reservations about running in. These two marathons used to be separated by only three weeks, which is pretty ridiculous, so they moved the Goodlife Marathon to the spring a few years back. The Goodlife Marathon covers many neighborhoods and went through Rosedale Valley, where the fall colors made that part of the course particularly beautiful. With the Scotiabank Marathon, about half the run is near the waterfront, including the Gardiner Expressway and the industrial parts, which is not exactly my favorite part of the city. I mean, the waterfront is nice for a few kms, but not 20. This year however, I found out that this race allowed for bib transfers and found someone who was injured selling their bib for $50, more than half the price of what it would cost me to register. This would be a great opportunity to get in one last marathon this year and redeem myself after Berlin.
Going in, I had little to no expectations. I had concerns that my previous injury would flare up again, but was feeling good physically. Wanting to avoid the same issues that arose in Berlin, I left my house super early to ensure I could get into my corral a good 20 minutes before the starting gun being fired. The Scotiabank Marathon and Half-Marathon start at the same time, so there were about 14,000 near city hall getting ready to run. Luckily my corral was spacious and had no problem finding the 3:05 pace rabbit and getting close to the starting line. We were soon introduced to the several elite marathoners participating, looking to win the minimum prize of $20,000 (If the men's winner was Canadian and ran the course in under 2:06, they would win $105,000). The national anthem was then sung and Councilor Doug Ford was introduced as the race ambassador to a chorus of boos. The gun was then fired and we were off.
The start of the run went pretty well and was quite scenic. We passed Queen's Park and the ROM in the first few kms. Running west along Bloor Street, crowd support was fairly strong and appreciated seeing it was about 5 degrees and 9 in the morning. Turning south on Bathurst, the crowd support waned but picked back up once we reached King Street and again at Exhibition Place. As I was approaching the waterfront, I felt good and was keeping up with the pace rabbit. Not bad. Along the way I saw a guy in a foam rubber beer bottle costume with a sign that read "You know you want me", which made me chuckle.
At the 12 km mark, we were handed energy gels, which is a high sugar syrup that serves as a quick digesting fuel. I took one, hoping to not "hit the wall" later on (hitting the wall is when you have exhausted your glycogen reserves and have to burn fat for energy, which is not an efficient method of fueling the body when running). However, at the 15 km mark I hit the dreaded Goo Punch, which is when a gel gives you a massive stomach cramp. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don't. I started slowing down, but my pace rabbit was only a 100m or so ahead of me. Maybe I could recover and catch up.
Unfortunately, between the 17th and 18th km my foot pain started to act up again. It wasn't the same pain as before as this time my ankle started to flare up, which was more concerning than before. Slowly but surely, the pace rabbit starting fading in the distance. Disappointing, but I can't give up.
As I passed the half marathon mark, I could hear the spectators laughing and shouting "Cookie Monster!" and knew exactly what was happening. Before the race there was a guy in a giant Cookie Monster headgear, with a carrot on a stick attached to it, except instead of a carrot it was a box of cookies. This dude was fast! He was wearing a costume not conducive for running yet he was motoring past myself and the runners ahead of me. I wonder how fast he would be if he wasn't wearing the costume!
Even though the pain in my ankle persisted, I was finally able to shake the goo punch. I also had no need to take walk breaks like I did in Berlin. The crowds became very sparse between kms 22 and 27 as we entered Polson Pier and the industrial areas, but there were still some cools sights and sounds, like a large Chinese dragon costume with Chinese drums being played and a great steel drum band. Soon we reached the Beaches where the crowd support picked up again. A few kms later, I could see the Toronto skyline in the distance. Not much further to go!
At the 40km mark, I reached the St. Lawrence Market and the crowds from here on out were going to be their strongest making it incredibly encouraging. Once I turned north on Bay Street, the finish line was only 500m away. Time to dig deep and finish strong. Crowds were getting thicker and louder. Signs were telling me 400m to go, 300m, 200m, 100m. The finish line is now in sight. I finally cross with a final time of 3:15:52. Only a couple minutes off my personal best time and I'm pretty happy with that.
I found out soon after that at this marathon the Canadian women's record was set by Lanni Marchant and the men's course record was set by Deressa Chimsa of Ethiopia. For setting the course record, he took home $55,000. Also, and most amazingly, Canadian Ed Whitlock ran his marathon in 3:41 at the age of 82! (exclamation, not factorial)
I'm very glad that I participated in this marathon. It was a well organized event and the volunteers were helpful and top notch. Their efforts as well as the crowds were highly appreciated. Not sure whether or not this marathon or the Goodlife marathon is the better event, but it's safe to say that my perception of this run has changed for the better.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

"The mind is willing, but the flesh is spongy an bruised" - running the berlin marathon

Earlier today I had the opportunity to run the berlin marathon. For the last few days I haven't gotten much sleep and last night was no exception. As usual, woke up at around 330, falling in and out of consciousness until 5, excited for the day ahead. I headed out to the marathon at around 730, hoping to get near the front of my corral by 815. When I arrived at the Brandenburg gate, near the starting line, I made a wrong turn for the baggage check. For about 10 minutes I continued on my path, increasingly noticing none of my fellow runners were carrying bags. When I found out where bag check was, I had to run if I were to make the start of the race, not a good way to begin. I ended up having to run about 2 km and weaving through many confused and lost participants. After dropping off my bag, I had to make another dash of a over a half km to make the start. Luckily I made to the the corral just as the gun went off. Unfortunately I was at the back of the corral, meaning I would have to weave through hundreds of people to reach my desired pace, burning more energy than I would have liked.
The race was somewhat difficult in the beginning as there were some bottle necking points, but I could tell that this race was going to be crazy as thousands of spectators cheered us on in the first few kms. While it was only 7 or 8 degrees outside, the sun was out and shining. It was going to warm up and be a beautiful day. Even though I had a rough start to the day, I felt pretty good, finding open gaps and weaving in and out of traffic. I decided not to run with an ipod for this marathon and try to take in and appreciate my surroundings. good thing too as there were supposedly 80 bands performing and plenty of entertainment. At around the 10km mark I saw a guy dressed as Mario for super Mario bros and thought it was pretty funny.
When I reached the 20km mark, I was only a few minutes off my desired time and thought that was pretty good seeing how the day started. It's funny how your body and mind can quickly turn on you, as only 1.1 km later, at the half way point, my body decided to quit on me. It started with very sharp pain in my right foot. For the first 20 km, I was passing people, now those behind me were starting to catch up and passing me. At the 25 km mark, my stomach started to cramp and it seemed that the number of runners passing increased exponentially by the minute. I had been constantly running up to this point but now I had to pull over hoping this gut punch would go away. It didn't. Every km or so I had to pull over for an 20-30 second breather. Plus, my foot was getting worse.
At 30 km I had to wonder what kind of damage I was inflicting upon myself. I had never felt a pain like this and it started to work its way up my calves and knees. My strides were getting much shorter and my breaks were longer and more frequent. Should I stop and tap out?
I soon started thinking of a Winston Churchill quote at this point. "Never ever, ever, ever, ever give up" (I read it on an inspirational card once, I'm not a historian or anything like that). I also saw a shirt that read "pain in inevitable, suffering is optional". These motivational words were much needed. Even if I was going to have to walk long stretches I would finish.
The crowd support was absolutely amazing. For all 42.195 km, there were large groups making noise and encouraging you. Every walk break I took, the crowd was there calling out my name and pushing me to keep going. At the 40km I looked like I was going to die. My running pace consisted of me dragging my feet. The crowds were getting more dense and louder. "Only two more kilometres!" an older man told me. I was able to keep running but with about 1.2 km left I had to hunch over with my hands on my knees. It couldn't have been for more than 5 seconds before another runner tapped me on the shoulder and while passing me said "Let's go!". There have been marathons I've run before where at the 40km mark I had to be careful with how much i pushed myself because of the possibility of heat exhaustion or dehydration. This was not one of those times. I had not sweat that much during the day, only physical pain was holding me back. I can push myself for 1 more km. I picked up my pace and could see the Brandenburg gate. I did my best sprint attempt and crossed the finish line. The time on the clock was about 3:40, I ended up with a chip time of 3:37 and some odd seconds. My second worst time, I felt some disappointment but did not feel defeated. The experience was absolutely incredible and was without a doubt the greatest marathon I had experienced.
After crossing the finish line I grabbed some food and drink. I then saw that Wilson Kipsang had set the world record for the marathon distance with a time of 2:03:23. I believe this is the second time he won this race and set the world record. (Correction: this is Wilson Kipsang's first win at berlin and first WR title)

 When trying to sit down I resembled Frankenstein's monster. My knees did not want to cooperate and bend. Trying to leave the finishers area was crazy as there was an entire field of people laying on the grass resting and recovering as seen here
I decided this would be a great chance to go to the finish line area and be a spectator. With the size of this field there were still many runners to cross the finish line, and I never really got the chance In previous runs to cheer runners on. the support from the people of berlin definitely made me want to spend a couple hours doing this. 
The finishing area had an amazing atmosphere with a large beer garden, reasonably priced food and grandstands. The crowd definitely saw this event as a celebration. I think the reason why berliners embrace this event is because after the fall of the wall, it was decided that the marathon would pass through the Brandenburg gate, so this event is a symbol and reminder of the unification of Germany.  I tried to take some pictures of people crossing the Brandenburg gate, but there were too many people to get quality pictures and a good look at the runners
I moved closer to the finish line and got a much better view. To see the expression on everyone's faces was amazing and put a  smile on my face. People were smiling, laughing, crying and pumping up the crowd. They had pushed themselves to the limit and in moments were going to celebrate. A lot of runners were showing their national pride, wearing their flag as they crossed (the Danish especially).
I want to thank the city of Berlin for putting on such an amazing event. I hope to run another marathon in Germany and would love to run Berlin again. I definitely recommend this marathon to any runner. No matter your speed, you will never be alone and have the time of your life.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Berlin marathon

It's been a while since I last wrote about running and now seems like as good a time as any to start again. I apologize in advance for poor spelling and grammar as I am doing all my writing on a phone.
About three weeks ago I bought a ticket to Berlin so I could participate in the Berlin marathon. The berlin marathon is part of world marathon masters, making it one of the six biggest marathons in the world. This run will have 40,000 participants, with over 300 from Canada. It takes place on September 29 and there is also an inline skating marathon the day before as well. It is estimated that there are 1 million spectators for this marathon as well. Because of the increased popularity of running, demand for this marathon has increased greatly. In the last few years this marathon has gone from taking a few weeks to sell out to selling out in a few hours this year. I guess it was a good idea to make it out this year.
The first thing I did after getting settled was go to the marathon expo to pick up my racing bib. On my way over I was expecting the expo to be fairly large like it was in Tokyo, but this one was dwarfed it. The expo was held at an old airport that looks like its only used for private flights and filled up a couple of airplane hangars. Definitely there wouldn't have been an expo like this 25 years ago. Hundreds of vendors it seemed. Representation from just about every shoe company. Marathon representatives from other races advertising their runs and hoping to capture a piece of the Berlin frenzy. There was even a guy selling shake weights, though he wasn't selling too much it seemed. It was easy to get lost in this maze of people and merchandise. It probably took me 30 minutes just to get my bib because of the number of people and the size of the hangars. The pictures below may give you a sense of how many people were in front of me and the size of the hangars.

Oh, and on top of that, once I finally got my bib, there was another line to leave the bib area as we have to wear a wristband leading up to and during the marathon.

Even though the expo was exhausting in itself, it was still pretty cool to see how they operated it and to see the all the displays and exhibits. For example, at this marathon your bib is printed for you when you get to the front of the line as opposed to it sitting in a bin and having a volunteer look for it when you arrive.
I'm also very excited for this marathon. Usually with these larger races, I don't do very well as there is a large crowd density and it becomes very tiring trying to pass runners and groups. However, this summer I logged a lot of hours and kms which will help my endurance and prevent me from hitting the wall.
I've also decided to run this marathon without an iPod so I can fully appreciate my surroundings. While running without music can be boring at times, there are about 80 bands performing on Sunday, so one band every 500m to keep us entertained.
Hopefully tomorrow I can carb load in the morning and catch the inline skating marathon.