Stay strong and hug a runner – Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (#STWM), 2016 race recap

I admit that I overdid it this year. On Oct. 16 I ran my 15th race of 2016 (3rd full marathon in 12 months). For the last six months I feel like I’ve been running on fumes and I paid for it at this race. I was originally planning to run the half, but Dan wanted STWM to be his first full marathon. Admittedly, I signed up with him due to FOMO. Training was going well and then Dan got injured. By the time it was confirmed that he wouldn’t be running the full marathon, I was already up to 32km training runs. Too late to back out. The medal reveal with RunTOBeer and the t-shirt reveal with Night Terrors Run Crew sealed the deal. I even managed to talk my training buddy Sam into running the full too (sorry Sam!;).

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This card by Sarah Marie Design Studios perfectly describes my taper crazies.

The Health and Fitness Expo

This year I took Friday off to rest and relax before the marathon and beat the crowds at the expo. I met up with Karen and we got a much needed stretch at a free yoga class led by Heather from Tribe Fitness.

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Post-yoga selfie with Heather and Karen. Photo by @karengeterdone

After yoga we caught Jean-Paul Bedard‘s talk about his quadruple marathon, which was incredibly inspiring (he ran the STWM full marathon 4 times in a row this year to raise awareness for childhood sexual abuse and money for two organizations that provide important counselling services to survivors – The Gatehouse and Little Warriors).

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Karen and I with JP. Photo by @karengeterdone (I basically stole all her pictures. Thanks Karen!)

STWM 2016

JP shares some numbers during his talk: 42.2 km (the number of kms in a marathon), 5,373 km (the number of kms that Terry Fox ran), 7, 453 km (the number of kms to run coast to coast in Canada), and 9,893 kms (the number of kms JP logged in a year). Not pictured are two of the most important numbers: childhood sexual abuse impacts 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys in Canada.

Then we wandered the expo and got a PB in shopping.

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I’m not kidding about the PB in shopping. This year’s official race merchandise was awesome and I also bought a Run Toronto shirt and a Team Canada singlet from Athletics Canada (the singlet that Canadian athletes wore at the Olympics in Rio). On the left are free samples that we got and some free goodies for doing yoga.

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Karen and I also signed up for the Commander’s Challenge at the Army Run in Ottawa in September. I also signed Dan up!

We also met John Stanton, the founder of the Running Room who had a good long chat with us.

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Karen and I with John Stanton. He gave me some pace bands to help me with the race. He told us that he’s run 61 marathons and still gets butterflies on race day. It was good to hear that the nerves never really go away.

Before I knew it they were announcing that the expo was closing in 5 minutes, so I texted Dan and he came to pick us up (much easier than hauling our shopping bags on the shuttle bus or transit!). I had such a good time that I may take the day off to shop at the expo from now on!

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Some goodies from our race kits (plus back issues of iRun magazine that we picked up at the booth). I love the race shirts, which were designed by local artist Mango Peeler. The race shirt has paper photocopied 42 times and has the STWM race route on it. Also, thanks to Canada Running Series we never need to buy sunscreen.

#Back4More & #JPsTeam

Since I had done so much damage to my credit card I decided to skip the Friendship Run the next day and avoid going back to the expo at all costs. Instead, I checked JP’s quadruple marathon schedule and Dan and I decided to run a few kilometres with him. The marathon route goes right through our neighbourhood so it was a no brainer. We walked over to Mill Street and watched him run up Cherry Street with another runner, and photographer friend Edison Yao on his bike.

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The other runner high fived me, we took a quick picture of them and then she headed off while we ran with JP for a few kilometres. We chatted while we ran and headed up Bayview. There aren’t any sidewalks on Bayview so we had to run single file as cars swerved around us. I can’t believe how busy that road has gotten in the last few years. Edison rode up and down the street, stopping to snap pictures and telling us to stay safe.

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Photo by Mary-Anne and originally posted on Twitter (@RunJPRun)

Since Dan had switched to the half marathon for race day he decided to continue with JP and run with him to The Beaches.

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In the Beaches with many of our fellow Beaches runners and friends. Photo by Mary-Anne (originally posted on Twitter).

Later that night, Dan also took Daisy out for a walk and timed it so that he saw JP during his second marathon. I always have trouble sleeping the night before race day and every time I woke up that night I thought “JP is still out there running.” It was inspiring to think about. In the end he said that he never ran any part of his four marathons alone. I love the running community.

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Flat Mei ready for my own marathon the next day. The one advantage of flat runner pictures is that it helps you get organized the night before.

Race Day

I was hoping that after suffering through a ridiculously hot summer of training (the hottest August ever on record in Toronto!) that we would be rewarded with perfectly cool fall temperatures for race day. The weather gods had other plans. By 8 a.m. it was already 19 C with 90% humidity and expected to go up to 22C (feels like 26C with humidity). These are not ideal conditions for me at all. It also rained enough to get our clothes wet but not enough to cool us down.

Sam’s husband was kind enough to drive us to the race start. At bag check we ran into more running friends, including my shoe twin Gillian, and fellow runfie lover Andrew.

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A quick selfie with my shoe twin Gillian!

After some quick hugs and well wishes we went to the Sheraton where we met up with the rest of our running clinic as well as other friends from the Toronto Beaches Runners Club.

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Sam brought a “picnic” of pre-race fuel. I really appreciated this Werthers.

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My marathon clinic (along with some more running friends). The picture didn’t seem right without our marathon clinic instructor (who was actually working at the race) so I Photoshopped him in. 😉

After more hugs and well wishes we were in our corrals, nervously waiting for the race to start. While we were standing in the corral I saw Katherine (who had missed the morning group picture) so we tapped her on the shoulder and started our race with her.

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I took this selfie while I was waiting in my corral.

Kilometres 1-5 – Just warming up

The gun went off and I lost the rest of my clinic. I knew they were going to be faster than me so I decided to run my own race and try to warm up and ease into things. I took the first few kilometres slowly and felt pretty good. By 3k I was all warmed up. I saw Ashley (who is 17 and was running her first half marathon!) and Tracy so I cheered for them. They looked strong and steady. As we ran past the hospital where my grandpa died I got a little teary eyed.

Kilometres 6-10 – Gels hit the ground

At the 45 minute mark I took my first gel and somehow dropped four gels (out of the six that I was carrying)! I’ve been practicing this all summer and I’ve never dropped a single gel. I managed to pick up one gel and a very nice runner picked up another and gave it to me. As we approached Lakeshore I saw the elites running and I cheered. I was gaining speed and feeling good. Then I hit the 10km mark and things started to go downhill.

Kilometres 11-15 – the side stitch that wouldn’t end

A little after 10k I saw Dan on the other side and shouted at him. He cheered back at me along with Maureen who was right on his heels. That gave me a short boost until my stomach started to feel quesy and I developed a stitch in my right side that didn’t go away for the rest of the race. I tried to run it off but it didn’t help. We ran past the first gel station and I had intended to grab a gel to replace the ones that I dropped but I couldn’t hear the flavours so I missed it. I also managed to lose two more gels! Not good, but lucky for me, I knew there were more gel stations on course and that they had my favourite chocolate flavoured Powerbar gel. It was muggy and hot but I was also cold from the rain. The wind was hitting me and I felt flashes of hot and then cold. I longed for dry clothes.

Kilometres 16-20 – decision point

At the 16k mark I seriously started considering joining the half marathoners and finishing early. I knew that any time goals were out the window and it was now just a matter of survival. I thought about calling Dan who was probably finished by now. Things were looking dire and then Lynne from RunToBeer (who was also having a rough day) ran by and said hello and wished me a good race. That was enough to get me running again. As I was approaching the decision point where the half and full marathons split, an image flashed in my mind of Sam and I wearing our matching marathon medals. I knew then that I had to finish and hung a right with the other full marathon runners.

Kilometres 21-25 – The hugs begin

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This stretch of the race took me onto familiar territory and it was hard to resist the urge to just run home and call it a day. My stomach settled a little but the stitch in my side was still there. As I got closer to Corktown Commons I saw Trevor and Bhreigh headed out. They looked strong and we cheered for each other. I thought about how I had run this stretch the day before with JP and how he had already done this three times and was on his fourth time. As I went up Bayview I saw my friend Allison, who was running her first marathon on the other side, and we cheered for each other. Then I saw Cliff, who was pacing a friend. On my way back down I saw Sam on the other side and we stopped and hugged. I told her about the image in my head that had kept me going and we both said how we were going to finish this. Shortly after that I saw Batman and called out to him (I seriously shouted “Batman!”). He and the Justice League Runners raised over $40,000 for Oolagen youth mental health. When I hugged him his Batman outfit felt hot and reminded me to suck it up about the heat. He also introduced me to his friend Jaime who was dressed as Robin. After this section I was fully committed to completing the marathon. I kept thinking “Do I feel better or worse than I did at the Ottawa Marathon?” and I always felt better, so I just kept going.

Kilometres 26-30 – High fives kept me going

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The next 5km was tough but I felt comfortable as I headed towards The Beaches. I saw runners from the red corral (around 3:35 finishing time) heading back. This is my fourth year running a race at STWM and the first time I’ve ever seen so many people walking. This entire race was a humbling experience. I saw Ed Whitlock, who  ended up running a sub-4 hour marathon at the age of 85 and set a new world record that day (so inspiring as he ran and I watched people a quarter of his age walking). I saw a gel station and asked for the chocolate flavour. The volunteer said “Here’s your chocolate Mei. You deserve it.” As I turned onto Carlaw I ran out of gas again and started walking. Then I saw Bill from Night Terrors Run Crew running back with the sub-4 hour marathon finishers. As he approached I started smiling and then he said “Good job Mei!” and ran towards the centre line. I ran to join him and we high fived and I started running again. I ran the lonely stretch along Lakeshore picturing all of my training runs. When I crossed the 30km training mat I wished that this was Around the Bay and it was over. Even though I wasn’t taking water from this water station, one of the volunteers saw me and said “Keep going Mei! You’re doing great! You’ve got this!” So I started running again.

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I took this picture because I was bored while waiting in the corral. I found that the longer the race went on the less I checked my watch and the more I looked at my  “Stay Strong” bracelet.

Kilometres 31-35 – My home away from home

As I approached The Beaches I saw Larry. I told him how I was having stomach issues and he said I was still looking strong. I ran up Woodbine and saw Scott headed out so we cheered for each other. I ran into The Beaches, which is basically my second home, and it started raining again. Then the cheers started as friends and fellow runners from the Beaches Runners Club (Beth, Ardith, Ginny, Olivia, Dave, to name a few. Michael and Erin were also there. There were so many people that I lost count) and Beaches Running Room (including Glynnis) cheered for me. It made me so happy. I ran the full stretch of The Beaches and only stopped once to eat a banana.

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Peeling my banana. lol.

 

On my way out I saw Sam again and we stopped and hugged. Trudy ran by and I high fived her. The energy was amazing and I was sad to leave. I ran back down Woodbine where Larry rode his bike next to me and kept me company as he headed back to the water station. I saw JP heading into The Beaches along with his wife Mary-Anne who was on her bike (she was with him for all four marathons!). We stopped for a quick hug. He was eating cookies and looking pretty good, especially considering this was his fourth time that day running the marathon! I’m still in awe at that.

I asked Larry if he had seen Karen yet and he hadn’t. Five seconds later I spotted her on the other side, bopping people on the head with her smiley face hammer. She raised over $2,000 for Cystic Fibrosis Canada and the more money she raised the more smiley faces she added to her crazy costume. You couldn’t help but smile when you looked at her. We stopped for a hug and a selfie.

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Selfie with Karen! Photo by @Karengeterdone

When Larry reached his water station I hugged him goodbye and he said “You’re going to fly through the last part of the marathon. You know this part.” I crossed the 35 km timing mat and headed out onto the home stretch.

Kilometres 36-42.1 – The home stretch

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I ran for four kilometres before a cramp in my leg threatened to take me down. All of the people who I passed running then passed me as they walked by. I ran off and on until I hit 40 km and then I started running slowly again. I wanted it to be over so desperately that it hurt.

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People were still out on the street cheering for us and as we turned back onto Bay Street it started raining again. Another runner said “Can it stop raining already?” And I said “Seriously!” We continued on and then I saw the 500m to go sign. I set my sights on the 400m sign, then the 300m sign. When I got to 200m I mumbled to myself “half a lap at Pantry Park…” With 100m to go I saw friends from JP’s Team (including Melly, Cathy, Leanne, Scott, Ashley and Tracy) cheering for me on the side and it gave me a boost so I picked it up. I would have stopped for hugs but I was worried that if I stopped then I would never finish. Right after them was Dan, Nanlee and Jane, who had all stuck around after their half marathons to cheer. Seeing them meant a lot to me and helped propel me to the finish line.

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Sam finished shortly after me so we were able to make the picture that had kept me going throughout the race a reality. It was really special to share this experience with her.

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Post-race thoughts and celebrations

STWM 2016

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By the time I collected my bag and finished changing the post-race food station was closing. At most races when you’re one of the slowest runners there’s not much food left. In this case they added more food to my bag (this isn’t even all of it! I ate some of it before this picture!).

This race was tough for me. I know I would have regretted it if I had given up and it’s hard not to be disappointed when the wheels come off a race that you’ve been training for all summer long. The running community makes up for that. With my time goal out the window and trying to make the best of things, I was able to take some time along the course to hug my running friends (something that I’ve never done before and something that most of them don’t do because we’re usually racing!). Those hugs, cheers and high fives are what kept me going and powered me to the finish line.

Kathrine Switzer once said “If you’re ever losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” She was right. The countless spectators, volunteers, organizers and fellow runners lifted my spirits in the drizzly, humid weather and proved to me once and for all why the running community is the best. While it would be easy to wallow in my less than stellar result, I can’t help but feel pride and love for my fellow runners who also trained through the ferociously hot summer and gutted it out on the race course. Congratulations to everybody who ran and thank you again to the volunteers and organizers. Thanks to you, we did it!

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I added my new medal to my STWM medal collection (2013 to present).

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7 thoughts on “Stay strong and hug a runner – Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (#STWM), 2016 race recap

  1. Well done on getting it done!

    We are having some bad luck with races this year. I just wanted one race where I didn’t feel like crap because of the weather 😉

    Sunday was really tough. I ran the half and trained well for it – but the wheels came off at 8K for me. Sick + humidity apparently don’t mix!

  2. Great blog post Mei! Another marathon in the books & looking forward to winter running after so many hot hot hot running experiences this year. Happy to be a bad influence anytime 🙄

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