On Sunday, Oct. 20, I officially became a marathoner! The day before my marathon I went for an easy 3k shakeout run. I saw some other runners along the way and one of them had the official long sleeved Toronto Waterfront Marathon tech tee. I knew that I would be getting mine soon and smiled at her. She smiled back awkwardly.
Later that day I headed to the race expo. It had only been open for about an hour so it wasn’t ridiculously busy yet, which was good since I had three race kits to pick up. I had to pick up the kit for my Running Room marathon clinic instructor Jason (who was very kindly going to pace us at the marathon) and for my running buddy Kristen. Picking up the kit for Kristen was bittersweet for me. On the one hand I was excited that I’d be running the marathon, but on the other hand it was hard knowing that she wouldn’t be with me. Kristen originally signed up and started to train for the marathon. We thought it would be nice if we ran our first marathon together since we ran our first half together. Weeks into training Kristen got injured. With her support and blessing I continued to train and I knew she would be with me in spirit at the marathon.
Picking up the race kits was really easy and the volunteers were extremely helpful. I bought some merchandise, signed up for a Santa 5k race, bought compression socks, a new arm band, saw John Stanton (founder of the Running Room. He was busy talking to people so I didn’t interrupt him to take a picture) and signed the Inspiration Wall.
That night, I had dinner at my favourite restaurant to carb-load pre-race, The Old Spaghetti Factory. I feel like you can never go wrong at The Old Spaghetti Factory. Most of their pastas come with a soup or salad and a dessert and tea or coffee.
The next day I woke up feeling refreshed and excited. The weather was cool and perfect with blue skies and some sunshine. Not too hot and not too cold (and none of the rain that had been threatening us all week). I had breakfast, got dressed and my friends Leena and Shamor (and their dog Bono) came over to wish me luck and walk me to the start line. It was really nice of them to come by so early and I felt very grateful for the extra support of my friends. Arlene and Jason from my running group were going to meet me at the condo but they walked in the wrong direction and ended up downtown. Because of this we decided to try to meet at the Starbucks at Bay and Queen (not realizing that the 5k would be running through on Bay Street there). By the time we all got there half of us couldn’t make it across to the Starbucks. Kelly from my running group was also stuck on one side, so after some texts and calling each others’ cells, we decided to meet at the corral. This made me a little nervous because 25,000 people were participating in the race that weekend and I wasn’t sure how we would find each other. Thankfully Jason called me and said that everybody was by the stage, which made it a lot easier to find everyone. I said goodbye to Dan, hugged Leena, Shamor and Bono (who all wished me luck) and then we were on our way. At this point I had to pee again, but didn’t have time to wait in the long line and I didn’t want to end up in the wrong corral (my usual thing). We found our corral and nervously waited for the start.
Finally it was our turn to run and we were off! One of the things that made me angry was all of the slow people and walkers ahead of us (we were in the corral before the walkers’ corral, yet some people were already walking ahead of us before we reached 1km). Because of them we had to do a lot of dodging. At the end of the marathon I found out that all of our dodging around other runners and walkers caused us to add over a kilometre onto our distance! Jason ran with a camera so most of these pictures are his.
I should note, I’m a very visual person so here’s the race route with my scribbled notes on what I saw/what happened along the way. If you want you can look at it or you can just read my blog post (or do both!).
First we ran past the ROM crystal. I was really excited about this because the crystal is featured on this year’s medal. I said “There’s the ROM crystal!” and Arlene kept saying “Where? I don’t see it!” and finally realized that I was referring to the building. We all laughed (because it was still early in the marathon).
We were still running along Bloor when suddenly I heard somebody say “Hey marathoners!” I turned and it was Katharine (one of our marathon training buddies. I usually saw Katharine on our long runs out in Caledon). She was running the marathon too and had somehow found us. We then turned the corner and ran past Honest Ed’s. People kept cheering for Arlene along the way and it felt like she was a celebrity so we started to keep track. I think we were at 17 or so cheers for Arlene by the time we reached Fort York.
When we were running on Lakeshore, just before 9k disaster struck! My stupid shoelace undid and I had to pull over to the side to quickly tie it up again. I was so mad because for most of my training my shoelaces were fine and on one of our last training runs my shoelaces undid three times. I think part of it has to do with tying them in a hurry. I quickly tied my shoelace and found that my running group had waited for me. It was really nice and I’m glad I didn’t have to sprint to catch up.
A little past 10k I was feeling good and started singing along to the live band. They were playing “Hey Jude” and I was singing “na na na nanana na! nanana na! Hey Jude!” I was probably pretty annoying.
As we approached the halfway point we reached a slight incline and the group started to split up. I still managed to run with Jason. When we reached the split between the half marathon and the marathon it suddenly felt real to me. I guess we were really doing this! Part of me wished I had run the half, then I would be done by now (I had also thought the same thing about 5k when we reached the 5k point). The number of runners thinned out considerably at this point. Soon we were left with just the other people crazy enough to run a full marathon. Dan was at the halfway point waiting for us.
As we crossed the halfway point somebody cheered “Go Mei! Go 4723!” (Jason’s bib didn’t have his name on it. Just a number). This was the first time somebody cheered for us. I used the halfway point to have a quick bathroom break (I’d been holding it since before the marathon) and then we were on our way again. Arlene caught up with us briefly before we were off. “I’m running my own race.” she said. Those words definitely stuck with me.
As we reached 22k I started to feel tired. Maybe I had lost some of my momentum from the bathroom break, or maybe now that there weren’t any crowds of people cheering I had lost some energy (or it could have been my mind playing games), who knows. I stayed with Jason until 23k and then grabbed a drink from the water station. That’s when I lost him. I decided that I would also run my own race.
At around 26k the funniest thing happened. I heard what sounded like mumbled talking and then I realized it was a girl singing badly at the top of her lungs as she ran. I turned to see her and she had her long sleeved tech tee wrapped around the top of her head like a turban. She looked like she was having a great time. I envied her a little as she ran past me. As we reached The Beach I started to feel even more tired. I started to think of all of the training runs that I had done to prepare for this, all of the early 5:30 a.m. runs I had to get in before going to work, all of the hills I had climbed and the toe nails that I had lost. With all of this in mind I kept going. The Beach was tough because there was a small incline and an out and back. Due to the small incline every step felt harder and seeing the people running back made me wonder why I wasn’t there yet. Then I saw Jason (running back on the other side) and that helped motivate me. He took this picture of me as he passed me.
I finally made it to the turnaround and got to run back. I saw Arlene, then Katharine, then Kelly. Everytime I saw someone who I knew it motivated me. They all looked like they were running well and were in good spirits. At some point I kept running with a man dressed as Spiderman. I would know he was beside me when people cheered “Go Mei! Go Spiderman!” At 33k I started feeling tired again. I promised myself when I reached 36k I’d be allowed to walk. Running here was really hard for me because I drive on this road often. It only takes a few minutes to drive on this road so running felt like an eternity. This is also a spot that has one of my favourite views of Toronto’s skyline, so I tried to enjoy it.
At 36k I gave myself permission to walk. And of course that’s when I saw Dan and my sister-in-law Ericka! I told Dan that everything hurt. Every bone hurt, everything in my body hurt and that I just needed to walk. He walked with me for a bit. Then somebody recognized my shirt (I was wearing my “I believe in the blerch” shirt from the Oatmeal’s “The terrible and wonderful reason why I run long distances“). Nobody had recognized my shirt until this point and now a runner was passing me yelling “Go blerch! Yeah!” and I smiled and waved. Then I knew I had to start running again.
“Only 6k to go,” I said to myself and then I was off again. There was another out and back section on Bayview so I saw Jason again. Then I saw Lisa (who we also trained with a lot for this) so that was motivating. On my way back I saw Arlene and Katharine. I can’t remember if I saw Kelly because my brain was starting to turn to mush at this point. The volunteers for the last 10k were really key for me. Every time I stopped to take water they would tell me “You are doing a good job! Good for you!” and I’d feel my heart lighten. It was just what I needed and I was really thankful for them. Somewhere here a speed walker from New Zealand passed me. He was amazing! I saw Ericka and Dan at the 40k point and Dan made the motion “Don’t poop your pants!” When he had asked me what words of encouragement he should say I had requested that. It just seemed like the thing that I needed to hear at the 40k point.
For the last 2.2k I ran my little heart out. I felt like I was moving so fast as I passed people who had stopped to walk or were struggling like I had been back at 36k. It was funny because at 36k I thought “After this I’m never running another marathon again!” By the time I reached 41k I thought “I’m going to run another marathon. I bet I can get a better time!” Anyway, I thought I was so fast but in my pictures I look lame and slow. I also found out that it took me 17 minutes to run the last 2.2k (usually I can run 3k in 17 minutes).
Finally I was nearing the finish line and they called my name. I was elated.
I didn’t realize until later that I threw my arms in the air at my first half too. As I crossed the finish line I felt my right calf seize up. I knew they were recording the finish so I tried to act casual and not limp off. I can’t really describe how I felt when I crossed the finish line. Part of me wanted to cry but most of me couldn’t stop smiling. A volunteer put a medal around my neck and congratulated me. I picked up the medal and kissed it.
Jason was waiting at the finish and we waited for Arlene, Katharine and then Kelly. I was so proud of all of us. We made our way to our friends and families and took a group picture (somehow we missed Katharine. Again I don’t think we were quite thinking straight having just run a marathon).
I feel so grateful for all of the support I received during my training and during my marathon from friends, family, acquaintances, strangers and more. I can’t ever express how thankful I am for their support and grateful that I am healthy and able bodied enough to even run (let alone run a marathon).
So that was my first marathon. On to the next challenge! (whatever that may be)