I think I was a little too enthusiastic when I was signing up for races this year. It’s June and I’ve run 10 races so far. I haven’t blogged about any of them yet. There have been challenges but also incredible moments at each race that I can’t wait to share with you. Let’s start with my latest. Caution: It will probably take you as long to read this post as it took me to run the marathon. I also ran with my GoPro and will share a video of my experience once I’m done editing. Stay tuned!
At the end of May I ran the Ottawa Marathon. It was my third full marathon and my first race in Ottawa. I didn’t take any time off work to run it, so after work on Friday, Dan and I hopped into the car and drove to Ottawa. We brought our dog Daisy with us this time. She was thrilled to be part of the action for once instead of being left behind and sulking.
We arrived at the Delta Ottawa City Centre a little after midnight. Daisy was thrilled at the carpet in our hotel room and pranced around. We should probably invest in an area rug at home for her.
The next day I slept in until 8 and missed the 9 a.m. 3k friendship run with John Stanton, the founder of the Running Room. It was ridiculously hot and humid and it turns out it was the first May heatwave in Ottawa in 100 years. Lucky us. Race officials were looking at options so that runners could participate safely. There was even talk of some of the longer distance events potentially being cancelled due to the heat. Everything seemed up in the air but we were promised an answer later that morning. I don’t do well with heat. Ten years ago my friends and I rented a car and drove through the Australian outback. We didn’t have air conditioning and I haven’t been the same since. It was still a once in a lifetime experience that I’ll hopefully get around to blogging about one day.
Dan and I headed off to the expo at the Shaw Centre that morning. It was about a 1k walk from our hotel and I started sweating the minute we went outside.
I couldn’t believe how crowded the expo was. I guess that’s what happens when 48,000 runners sign up! As I picked up my bib I heard someone say that the 10k, which was taking place that evening, was being pushed from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Meanwhile Sunday’s half marathon was moving back from a 9 a.m. start time to an 8:15 a.m. start. I thought those changes made sense but didn’t hear anything about the full marathon. We were set to start at 7 a.m. and I hoped that it would get move back to 6 or even 5 a.m. to avoid the heat. I knew it wasn’t likely though. To do that they’d need to get everything set up earlier, volunteers out earlier, permits and permission to close roads earlier etc. It would be a logistical nightmare.
We headed up two levels to the rest of the expo. They had the area to pick up your t-shirt, then the official merchandise and the Saucony booth and then the bib verification. I got my bib verified and went into the rest of the expo. The expo actually seemed smaller than I imagined it would be, or more tightly packed. There were people everywhere. We did a quick lap but didn’t see anything of interest. On our way out I bought some body glide from the Running Room booth because I forgot mine at home. It definitely worked because after the marathon I had no major blisters, chafing or black toes. Always a bonus!
We went back to the Saucony booth and asked if they had any women’s Hurricanes left because there weren’t any on display. A man named Mark (I think) helped us out and I was pleased when he found a pair of Hurricanes in my size. They’re my go to shoe. These ones are the ISO 2 model, which I haven’t run in yet. We’ll see how it goes. I also got 20% off and will continue my streak of never paying full price for Hurricanes.
Overall I was a little disappointed with the shopping at the expo (though Dan’s credit card was not disappointed at all by this!). The official race merchandise was a little underwhelming. The race jackets were beautiful but I don’t need another jacket. The shirts they were selling all just seemed to have the race name on them. I’d been hoping for more Canada gear. Maybe next year? On our way out, I stopped by the info booth and picked up tickets for the 1:30 p.m. bus tour of the race course. The plan was to meet up with Karen and her friends and ride this bus tour together. We went back to the hotel to drop our stuff off, take Daisy for a walk and then had a quick lunch at The Glue Pot Pub across the street.
Then we headed back to the expo and lined up for the bus tour. Dan was hot and insisted on getting on the bus instead of waiting outside. So we got on and the next thing we knew it was full. I got a text from Karen saying that she was on the other bus at the back, so we ended up missing her. I was sitting by the window on the bus and soon got very hot and tired. I’m sure our tour guide had some interesting things to say, but I didn’t hear most of it due to the crackly microphone and the people sitting behind me who talked for the entire tour! So while I don’t know much about the race course, I do know about their plans to someday run an ultra. I’m not sure if taking the bus tour was the best idea. I usually like knowing about the course in advance so I can judge my distance when I’m running, but the bus tour scared me. It was long and I was so hot that I nodded off and fell asleep. I missed an entire 10k portion. I was already not feeling that confident about the race, given that I had trained less for this marathon than any other marathon. The bus course tour did not help!
After the tour we wandered over to Byward Market where I immediately zeroed in on the Beaver Tails booth. I love Beaver Tails and got my favourite cinnamon, sugar and lemon. Feeling hot and tired we went back to the hotel and rested up. On our way there we saw the 5k runners running along the river. I can’t imagine running a 5k in the heat and humidity that they did it in, but there they were.
We had dinner at Baton Rouge and as we were waiting for our food it poured rain. It happened right at 7 p.m. when the 10k runners were starting and must have helped cool them off. What crazy weather.
The next day I walked to the race start with Dan. He wished me luck and then I headed into the back of my corral. The full marathon went ahead as scheduled at 7 a.m. Thankfully it was overcast and 17 C, which was still comfortable. My plan was to use the marathon as a training run and take it easy with a goal to finish. In the first few hundred meters I saw Dan and I waved. This would be the only point on the course where I would see him. We had asked the Delta about late checkout but they could only extend it to 12:30 p.m. I knew that I wouldn’t be ready by then so the plan was for Dan to go back to the hotel, check out and sit in the lobby with Daisy (it was too hot for her to be outside too much). When I got back the hotel said that I could use the shower in their fitness club (this turned out to be really annoying after running a full marathon. I probably wouldn’t stay there again for that reason).
The first part of the marathon was good. I enjoyed the scenery as we ran alongside the Rideau Canal and I remember wondering what state I would be in later as I passed the 39k marker. I saw people with signs on them (running faster than me) running for Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. I ran past a woman running with an American flag on a flag pole and thought about how she would probably pass me back later. You can tell what state of mind I was in. At one point, a song came on and I remember thinking that I must be really slow because it hadn’t come on until nearly 30k in at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October. Then it dawned on me that this was a different playlist!
The crowd support in Ottawa is some of the best that I’ve ever experienced. People lined the streets cheering, with home-made signs, cowbells and other noise makers. Race officials had asked residents to run their sprinklers and hoses for the runners and they obliged. They sprayed me down and kept me going. I touched more than one sign that promised an extra boost of speed or power and happily high fived kids along the route. I ran into JP (aka The Dark Knight Runner) along the way. He was running this race as himself and not in his usual Batman suit, which was good because it was way too hot for that. He looked strong and I ran up to him, tapped his shoulder and then stuck my GoPro in his face. We leap frogged each other for a while since he was doing ten and ones with the 4:45 group. Eventually they passed me as I started to fizzle out.
I was happy to get some banana and an orange slice along the way. As it started to heat up volunteers handed out ice and the race officials had also set up misting stations that I took full advantage of. The sponge stations also became a hit with me as I tried to cool down. As I got closer to the halfway point, disaster struck! I started to have GI issues and made it to the porta potty just in time. My number one goal for every race is not to poop my pants. This time it was close, but I still achieved my goal! Judging by what I saw in some of the porta potties along the way, I wasn’t the only one having issues that day!
After the halfway point I became too uncomfortable to run a lot so I started walking more and more as the half marathon runners (and other full marathon runners) rushed past me. Some even turned and waved at my GoPro. At the 26k point I made eye contact with a woman in a rainbow tutu carrying a wand. She asked me if I was ok and I said I was. A little after I passed her I felt like crying. 26k is too early to boink and the rest of the race seemed so far away. I didn’t cry though, mostly because I didn’t have any liquid left in me since I was sweating so much!
We crossed a bridge and I admired the beautiful view but also paused when I saw a runner go down. She was surrounded by other runners packing her with ice and the race officials were calling for a medic. Seeing that she was taken care of, I continued going. Hopefully she’s recovered. At the first split between the half marathon and the full marathon I decided that I was going to cut it short and run the half instead. As I got closer and closer to the split, my mind said to go with the half marathon runners but my body didn’t listen, and I continued the lonely long journey with the other tired, hot marathoners. We ran through Quebec and people cheered and sprayed us with their hoses and gave us water and Nuun. I continued to stop at porta potties but still felt relatively ok so I kept going. We rejoined the half marathoners and then split again. Once again I wanted to go with them but my body wouldn’t listen and I continued on the even lonelier, emptier route. It was so empty that I could see all of the chalk writing on the ground cheering on the runners. Somebody had drawn a hopscotch game on the ground so I jumped through it. A spectator saw me and started laughing so I smiled and waved at him.
Then I continued going, running less and walking more. I couldn’t take any gels because of my stomach issues so I was also starting to feel tired as the sun beat down on me. I walked past the 37k mark, which was on the other side of the course and saw a pace bunny sitting by an aid station throwing up. I heard someone ask if she was ok and she said she couldn’t keep any liquid down. I saw a lot of puke along the race course, so I know she wasn’t the only one.
I went past 24 Sussex Dr. (the Prime Minister’s house, though that’s not where he’s living right now due to it being in disrepair). I stopped and took some video. I thought about all of the ways I could quit the race. I thought about how I could stop at an aid station and try to get a ride back to the finish line. I thought about how if I quit the race now I could shower in my hotel room and then go meet up with my friends who live in Ottawa and have something to eat. I’m stubborn though, so I just kept going.
As I was thinking about yet another reason to give up, I saw someone go by with a brace on her leg and “@karengeterdone” printed on the back of her shirt. It was Karen! I called out to her and when we saw each other, it was a turning point in my race. I can’t describe how happy I was to see her and I knew at that moment that we were going to finish. I can’t explain it. I just knew. She was having a rough race too but keeping a good attitude. We even stopped and took a selfie. We ran into someone else who she knew and suddenly there were three of us, out in the part of the course that I like to call the desert. The desert has no spectators, aid stations are mostly packed up, the sponge station is out of sponges and there’s very little cover from the sun. We ran and walked together for a while and then I had to use another porta potty and lost them.
I continued on my own, enjoying freezies from kids along the way. As I passed every aid station I did a check in with myself. I felt mostly fine; no nausea, headaches, no puking or dizzyness. Strangely I did feel a little chilly despite the heat, but other than that I couldn’t think of a good reason not to continue. I also had a mosquito bite on my hand. I think I’m allergic to mosquitoes because my bites swell up.
I saw people in “Extra Mile” orange shirts along the way who smiled at me and said encouraging things. I finally got to the 37k mark and thought of the pace bunny who was down earlier. I hoped she was ok. At this point it was very empty but people were still out cheering. A woman with a half marathon medal pushing a stroller shouted “Way to go! I have so much respect for people who run the full marathon. You can do it!” I saw the woman in the rainbow tutu and the wand again and she cheered for me too. I must have looked better because she didn’t ask me if I was ok this time!
Around the 39k mark a woman who was also walking started talking to me. Her name was Sara and it was her first full marathon. She was hoping to finish in under six hours. I was so happy for her and told her she was going to do it. We had a nice chat and then she ran the last few kilometres.
With one kilometre to go the woman carrying the American flag passed me and I told her she was looking good. She said the same to me too. One of the stations offered to pour cold water on my neck, so I took that option and revelled in it.
With 200 metres to go I said “This is half a lap on the track at Pantry Park.” I started to run and pick up speed again. I saw a man who was limping and struggling to get to the finish line. The race announcer was cheering him on. I saw the half marathon clock on the left side and the full marathon clock on the right side and in my heat addled brain I thought as a marathoner I was supposed to cross on the right side. So I ran past the limping man and then ran in front of him to cross on the right side. I look like a complete jerk in the video and Dan can’t stop laughing at it. After I crossed they announced my name. My apologies to the man who I crossed in front of. I hope I didn’t ruin his finish line pictures.
I couldn’t believe I was finished. It had taken me 6 hours and 5 minutes but that was ok. I know that my worst is somebody’s best and my best is somebody’s worst. It’s all the same distance in the end and finishing is what’s important. I went through a misting station, collected my medal and mylar blanket and then went to get food. My medal was one of the most beautiful medals that I have ever seen. I may be slightly obsessed with it.
At first I thought the mylar blanket might be a cooling blanket (I may have been a little delirious at this point). I put it around my shoulders and felt like a baked potato so I ended up tying it around my waist.
I picked up a yogurt (that I later threw out because I didn’t know how long it had been sitting outside for), banana and a granola bar. I took a few pictures and then walked the very long kilometre back to the hotel where I met Dan and Daisy.
It was hard but I’m glad I never gave up.
Ottawa is a beautiful city to run in and the weekend race events were very well organized. It has some of the best spectators and crowd support I have ever seen and I’m very appreciative of the race organizers for keeping runners safe in a very difficult situation. With that said, I won’t be running the full marathon there again. I’ve learned my lesson with me and the heat. Full marathons in May or June are just not a good idea for me. I am hoping to run the half marathon next year though, especially since it’s Canada’s 150th birthday!
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Love this Mei! So happy we got to share part of this race together since you’ve been a big part of my running journey over the last 2 years. My favourite line “I know that my worst is somebody’s best and my best is somebody’s worst.” Regarding expo shopping, I could help you with that problem clearly Lol. I agree about there being more Canada gear. Thankfully I loved the stuff so much last year that I loaded up knowing that I would keep training for this race .. now I get to wear them finally …. YES, I pre-bought. I linked this post on my blog. Glad you wrote it.
Thanks Karen! If we hadn’t run together during the race this would have been a very different post! I love the idea of pre-buying at the expo! I think sometimes people get so caught up in their race time that they don’t properly acknowledge their accomplishments (me included) so I always try to keep in mind that my best time is someone’s worst and my worst time is someone’s best. Helps to have perspective. 🙂
Congrats for surviving! I’m surprised you were able to finish. I heard that they shut the course early because of the heat.
Thanks! I think you had to reach a certain point of the course by 11:30 a.m. or else you had to run the shorter course. The shorter version cut out the 10k loop (what I call the desert). I guess I made the cut off!
What else can be said except that you’re amazing Mei! Sounds like such a tough run but YOU DID IT!
Thanks Lyndsey! 🙂
Congrats on finishing and surviving your 3rd marathon! Thanks for sharing your ups and downs of this hot race. I loved reading about your perspective! I look forward to your video, which I’m sure will be snazzy!
Even though we didn’t meet up in person until we were both back in Toronto, I’m glad that we kept in touch before and during the race weekend. 🙂 You and Karen were on my mind throughout the weekend and race.
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