Together Apart – Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (#STWM) 2020 virtual race recap

Like many, this year has made me throw all my plans out the window. When I ran the Chicago Marathon last year I was so heartbroken by my result that I thought I would never run another road marathon again. 2020 was supposed to be the year I returned to focusing primarily on the trails. I was supposed to get to play outside all year and return to Squamish for my second 50k. I was supposed to get to enjoy the view at the top of Galactic this time, compared to when it had been shrouded by smoke from the forest fires in 2018. I was supposed to erase all of my disappointments. Then the COVID-19 pandemic and everything changed.

Leading up to October, I knew that I was going to participate in this year’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (STWM) virtual race. I’ve run a race in STWM every year since 2013 and even though things were going to be different, I knew that I had to do something. I was honoured to be an ambassador for the virtual race this year and I decided to challenge myself by running The Whole Shebang Challenge. That meant that I had the month of October to run a 5k, 10k, half marathon and full marathon (one year after I said no more full marathons!). I was the most nervous about the full marathon, since I don’t feel like I’m trained for it. But it’s called a challenge for a reason, right? To me, a challenge is something you undertake that has the possibility of failure. I knew I could fail, and that made me want to do it more. That and you got a pair of cute socks for running the challenge (the things I do for socks!).

Because it was the scariest to me, I decided to run the marathon first and work my way backwards. Knowing that each subsequent run was going to be less distance was going to help me mentally. Of course that meant I’d be the most sore at the start of the challenge, but I was ok with that.

One of the advantages of virtual races is that you can do them any time you like (within the time frame). From running virtual races this summer I also knew that if I was having a really terrible run, I could end it and decide to try to run again another day. There’s no need to suffer so much in a virtual race.

The Marathon (race #1)

I was originally planning to run my marathon on the Saturday of Canadian Thanksgiving weekend but the temperature ended up being too hot for me. It went up to a high of 17 C, and as somebody who runs better in cooler weather, I decided that it would be better to postpone my run by another day. Sunday’s weather was perfect. It was sunny but cool, so I was already happy with my decision when I started. When I first told Dan that I was running the marathon he said “Are you trained for a marathon?” and I said “No. But I have a 7 hour audiobook I can listen to.” I listened to Colin Jost’s “A Very Punchable Face” and laughed the entire way.

I’ve missed flat runner pictures during the pandemic. Flat Mei was ready for the marathon!

Thanks to ActiveTO being extended into October, I was able to take advantage of the street closures and run most of my marathon on the actual STWM marathon route. As I ran past the ROM I remembered running past it during my first marathon and shouting to Arlene “There’s the ROM crystal that will be on our medal!”

I still get excited whenever I run past the ROM Crystal.

As I made my way across Bloor Street I missed the turn that I was planning, which worked out because up ahead I saw somebody who looked very familiar running towards me. I thought “Please let it be Pickles!” and it was my friend Kate (nicknamed Pickles). I can’t tell you how happy I was to see her. I had wondered when I started that morning if I would run into her, and there she was! She had 8k to go in her marathon and she would be finished The Whole Shebang. She asked me how much more I had and I said “I’m only 6k in.” She said “Oh no! I don’t want to hear that!” and we laughed before saying our goodbyes. Seeing Pickles gave me a pick-me-up and I ran with a smile down Bathurst and towards Lakeshore.

A quick selfie/runfie with Pickles during our marathons for The Whole Shebang!

I felt pretty good as I made my way across Lakeshore. Everything changed when I turned around and was hit by the wind. I was wearing shorts and quickly realized that that was a mistake. Fortunately I saw more friends along the way back, which made things a lot better. I also decided to run past Kardia Athletica. I didn’t know if Heather would be there or if she would be teaching a virtual class, but as I got closer I saw her run up to the window and give me a big thumbs up. It was like getting a high five through the window. From here, I headed home and, because it was a virtual race, stopped for lunch and to change from shorts to tights.

Dan was running his Chicago half marathon when I was running my STWM. It was nice to see him in person!
Ben and Simon were out for a training run and cheered for me as they ran by.
Me outside of Kardia Athletica where Heather cheered for me. Really feeling the love during my marathon!

The last 16k of my run was much slower. I was tired but felt exhilarated with how it was going so far and the knowledge that I could run on familiar streets and paths for the rest of my race. I saw Peter on Lakeshore and we said hi to each other. Every time I see someone when I’m running my feet feel instantly lighter and it’s like getting a quick jolt of extra adrenaline. Sam had asked me to let her know when I was in the Beaches, so I sent her a text as I ran up Woodbine and turned right onto Queen Street East. She found me on the route and had a sign and a cowbell, ready to cheer for me. It was really nice to have her company for a few kilometres and also have my own personal cheer squad. We said our goodbyes, but I let her know that I would keep her posted on my plans for the half marathon. From there I just had to run home.

Sam cheered for me during my run/walk through The Beaches. What’s not pictured is that we also wore masks/face coverings while we were together and just took them off briefly for this picture. I can say it was very hot with them on, but better safe than sorry!

When I got near the Starbucks at Leslie and Lakeshore, I realized that if I ran home, I’d run 3 extra kilometres. The thought of it was unbearable, so I called Dan and he agreed to pick me up from the Starbucks at Leslie and Lakeshore. Overall, the marathon was more fun than I thought it could be. It was such a different experience from any marathon that I’ve ever run. Since I didn’t need to worry about time and could take as long as I wanted, I actually really enjoyed it. It was a good reminder of all the things I should be grateful for.

I ended my marathon near here.

Half marathon (race #2)

A week later, I decided to run my half marathon. Dan was planning to run his marathon on the same day so I decided to end my half in the same place as his full marathon so I could cheer him in. This time Steph met me outside my condo (with a cheer sign! I am so spoiled!) and we ran the first 8k of my half marathon together. It was really nice to have company and we also stopped to watch the sunrise at Cherry Beach. I’ve decided that since we don’t get the positive energy from spectators that we would in a live run, it’s definitely better to let people know what your virtual race plans are. It’s nice to have so many people come and support you.

Flat Mei ready for the half marathon.
Steph and I stopped to catch the sunrise during my half marathon.
Selfie/runfie with Steph and her cheer sign. It was so nice to have some company!

I ran the bulk of my race on the Leslie spit (Tommy Thompson Park), which is one of my favourite places to run. Every time I’m there, I’m in awe that I’m still in downtown Toronto. There was another group of runners on the spit that morning and it looked like they were running a virtual race or a time trial. They had their own aid station set up, which is a nice idea as well. It was a beautiful morning and I stopped to take some more pictures by the lighthouse on the spit. Then I realized that with all my dillydallying, I might miss Dan’s marathon finish so I started to hustle.

It was so beautiful that I had to stop and take pictures.

When I was headed into the Beaches, I started to feel tired and the last two kilometres suddenly felt never ending. Part of me wished that I had asked Sam to come cheer for me on the MGT near the end of my run. As soon as I thought it, Sam rode by on our bicycle, waving her cowbell. Then I thought “I wish I could win the lottery,” since I couldn’t believe that my wish actually came true. She rode alongside me as I suffered through my final few kilometres. Then I heard voices behind me and it was Kathi and Christine running with Dan, who was ten minutes ahead of schedule. He blew past me, we cheered for each other and Sam waved her cowbell. I ran behind him and still got to see his finish, but not in the way I had originally planned. I still had a few hundred metres left for my half marathon so I ran across Queen Street East, with Sam riding alongside me and ringing her cowbell. I kept telling her how many metres I had left until finally I saw 21.1 km. What a finish! We walked back to Starbucks together and we all cheered for each other. Dan ran a personal best time of 3 hours 30 minutes and 26 seconds. He was ecstatic. It was another lovely virtual race morning. I should add that it was also the weekend when STWM was originally scheduled to take place, so everything just felt like it came together perfectly.

Our post-race runfie.

10k (race #3)

A little less than a week later, the weather was unseasonably warm. I planned two different race outfits, depending on whether or not I could take advantage of the warm weather. I couldn’t resist the chance to run in shorts and a singlet in October, so after I work I headed out on my 10k route with my light vest on.

Flat Mei ready for race #3!

I always forget how fast it gets dark, so I ended up running through Cherry Beach in the dark, wishing that in addition to my vest I had planned enough to wear a headlamp. There was also a storm rolling in so my main goal was to outrun the storm. It was windy and while I made my way through Cherry Beach, I could hear the wind howling in the trees on either side of me. I also wore brand new shoes (because when you’re running a virtual race you can break all the usual race rules). They weren’t even a model of shoe that I had ever worn before but I ended up loving them. In the end, race #3 was a nice solo effort. It was eerie and I kept scaring myself, but I also felt happy to be able to wear shorts and get that much closer to finishing The Whole Shebang.

Cherry Beach at night.
Night time 10k done!

Cheering for a relay (or trying to anyway)

One of the reasons why I wanted to run my 10k on Friday night was so I could run to High Park to cheer for my friends doing the STWM relay the next day. I was moving very slowly as I made my way to High Park and it was a lot cooler than Friday night. On my way, I saw several people out running their virtual races. There were a lot of people cheering and it made me happy. As I ran across Lakeshore I saw Simon who asked me “Are you running a race today?” and I said “Not today! I’m cheering!” Though technically I was aiming to complete 20k for my October 5 Peaks virtual race.

High Park is so beautiful. This was a reminder that I need to go there more often.

Since I was moving slower than expected, I messaged my friends to let them know not to wait for me and that I would find them in High Park. When I got to High Park I messaged them to find out where they were, but nobody got back to me. So then I started wandering around until eventually Kate let me know that they were by the Inukshuk. I was confused. I didn’t know there was an Inukshuk in High Park. I even stopped to look at a map of High Park and didn’t see it. Then I googled “High Park Inukshuk” and didn’t see it. She told me to make my way down Colborne Lodge Drive towards Lakeshore and we would meet there. Then I finally understood. They were by the Inukshuk on Lakeshore (the one I had passed on my way there). I made my way back down and eventually finally found them as they were finishing the last of their relay. I don’t know if it was the combination of the cooler weather and stopping and starting that did it, but my left hip flexor was extremely angry and I realized I couldn’t run anymore. So I walked the rest of the way. When they finished their relay we walked together through High Park where we tried to go to the zoo. Unfortunately the zoo was closed until 11 a.m., so we called it a day. This was the second time I missed cowbelling someone but we were all wearing matching socks so it was still fun!

All about the matching socks.

5k (race #4)

I think it’s fun that for The Whole Shebang my clothes ranged from shorts and a singlet, to crops and a long sleeve, to long tights and gloves. The weather in October definitely kept things interesting. I ran my final race, the 5k at lunch time one day. There’s nothing really to note about the race. It was fun and I stopped for runfies and jumping pictures. I also managed to wear gear from most of my run crews including a RunTOBeer hat and singlet, BRC gloves, Kardia Athletica socks, and a November Project buff. My outfit made me feel colourful and it reminded me of the communities that I’m fortunate to be part of.

The final Flat Mei of the Whole Shebang.
Jumping for joy at finishing the STWM Whole Shebang.

Overall, despite the pandemic I had a really wonderful experience during the STWM virtual race. I felt connected again, which meant a lot after so many months of solo running.

My medals and swag. I love that CRS takes the time to sign their notes by hand too. And yes, the socks were worth it.

Finally a chance to cowbell

With The Whole Shebang completed I was free to run whatever I wanted. So on Oct. 31 I ran 9k for November Project’s 9th birthday and 10k for the Badass Lady Gang. I also stopped off at the track where I finally got to cowbell and cheer. Ben ran a virtual New York City marathon and did an amazing job (he pb’d as well). Overall, October was a pretty good month!

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