26.2 miles / 42km
Can’t believe it’s been a month already. On June 30th, 2019 I set off to accomplish one of my craziest goals yet. Running straight for about 4 hours.
How It All Started
Lululemon Queen St West (Toronto) Run Crew – 5km
I had run a few 5km distances here and there to keep up with cardio/fitness and started attending the Lululemon Queen St West Run Crew on Mondays (6:30pm if my Toronto peeps are thinking of joining). I met a lot of cool people and started attending a bit more regularly. They switched it up from one Monday a month being a straight social 5km at easy pace to the other Mondays being dedicated to speed training. At this point in time even though I was quite fit, 5km for me was a challenge (especially the speed training, not my favourite). I left those Mondays feeling like I achieved something good and was pretty proud of my accomplishment!
I had competed a 7km race maybe a few months prior to that and it drained me. Just to give you an idea of where my cardio level was at. I did complete it at a good time but wow was that a challenge. After a few weeks of being with the crew and just constantly inspired by all those marathon runners I decided to up my goal to 10km.
10km: It was a harder challenge but manageable. At this point with the speed training from Lulu and separate training of I think 3-4 weeks with the Nike app I completed the 10km. Manageable. I was quite surprised. The Nike app incorporated some speed exercises (which is what mainly builds your speed and endurance for longer distances) and some gradual distance increases. Once this was completed, I signed up for a 10km race with the goal to complete it under 50 min (8min/mile). Done & done. I hit my goal and from there I was hooked.
10km – Half Marathon: At this point I just wanted to aim higher. I found an online plan for a sub-2hour 10 week to a half marathon (link here). I pushed myself really hard while listening to my body to avoid injury. Basically if I felt good pushing past what was expected, I’d go for it. I had some minor ankle issues (weak ankles) and compensated with extra stretching and weight training to build them up and avoid anything more serious. (Also God bless my physio guy Roman for the therapy)
By week 4 during my long run, I hit my goal. I think that’s where it all changed for me. That sudden realization that I had completed a half marathon, no real pain, and that I felt good. I remembered a couple weeks prior when I was looking at my Strava app at all the runners I followed and they were just out there running 13.1 miles/21km like it was no problem and I couldn’t even fathom being there. Well, there I was.
At that point, I made a decision. Switched my plan and booked myself a marathon. No backing out.
3 month Marathon Training
I think I slowly realized I had maybe bit off more than I could chew… I wish I could say it was all easy breezy from here but there were some major highs and super lows. I decided to go through with a plan on Strava (btw if you are just getting into running or you are a runner and don’t know this app, give it a download – great plans, great way to track your runs and follow other runners for motivation).
This plan included 5-6 days of running a week with the basic structure of most running plans: 2 easy pace runs, 1 mid-distance run, 2 speed trainings and 1 long distance run. Your speed intervals, distances, pace and long distances increase gradually until you hit about 32km in total distance prior to your race.
Week 1-4: Super motivated. Tough but I could manage. I think at this point my long runs were playing around 21km -25km. At the start of this plan to give you an idea of where I was at, a half marathon was a good comfortable “fun” distance for me. Anything more was a struggle. When I hit that 25km mark I felt GOOD! But wow was I dead.. I started using gels which helped with energy levels for anything past that 21km mark.
Week 4-8: The lows started hitting. My motivation was starting to drop. “Why am I doing this? What’s the real reward? Isn’t it easier to just quit, you’ve already made it pretty far..” I wasn’t quite hitting my goals, I wasn’t always sticking to my schedule which just made me doubt myself. At this point I started to notice that I needed to be around people for longer distances to keep me going. I joined the Culture Athletics Sunday long run which helped me out of the slump. (They have 5km social runs, beer runs and long runs – if you’re in Toronto I’d highly recommend this run group they are so so motivating). I got to meet Darren from runtomtl (an ultra relay race from Toronto – Montreal) and he became my coach. Just what I needed. Darren helped me get back on track, push harder and keep my mental focus on the end goal. Forever grateful!
Week 8-12: At this point I knew the finish line was around the corner. Did not feel ready whatsoever. The longest distance I had accomplished was 28km and that was a brutal run. I over-hydrated and got hyponatremia feeling super sick, dizzy.. not the best. I couldn’t fathom at this point adding on 14kms. I knew that I only had 4 weeks to my race and that I should start to taper (recommended for longer races that about 4 weeks out you slow down your distances to max maybe 10km to rest your body and be ready to give it your all on race day). I kept pushing until about 2 weeks out with shorter distances of 21km and when I did start to taper I just felt like at this point, I gave it my best and that’s all I could do. I was warned I’d feel super lazy not running or training hard before a race but I trusted to process.
My Marathon & What I Learned
I picked a marathon that was somewhere I had never been before, through the Cascade Mountains of Washington. I wanted this to be a special trip, by myself, accomplishing one of my biggest goals and really having the time on my own to process.
I think this was the most crucial part for me. Having a plan of when I would consume my carbs – where the water stations were located and what pace I should be hitting at my check points.
Nutrition – prior to Race Day
The few days leading up to my race were crucial for me. I knew I had to start to carb load to get my body ready for my race not just the night before but a few days prior. There are different opinions on this online on what is right/wrong but I just went with the gradual approach. This meant consuming about 350g of carbs a day. I was kind of in the middle of nowhere (in the Washington mountains) so my best option was a cute lil restaurant about a 30 min walk from my airbnb… quite limited. My last big meal was during lunch the day before my race. Making sure I had enough time to digest.
I set an alarm for 3:30am (leaving me about 3 hours to digest before my race) for breakfast. This included a full banana and a cup of plain oats. I made sure to consume enough water as well to ensure that I was well hydrated. Back to bed I went.
Waking up, I made sure to keep consuming water up to 30 min prior to my race. Lil pee check before the race to ensure I was well hydrated and off to the start line I went. Nutrition wise during the race I was all set with my gels. I knew I’d have to consume a good amount of carbs and caffein every 30-45 min to not hit the infamous “wall” (when all your energy drops in a race due to a lack of carbs – you can’t come back from this no matter how much more energy gels or carbs you consume). Since I am caffein sensitive I timed my gels with non-caffeinated ones in between the caffeinated ones. I used chews as well since I knew sometimes gels did not react well with my taste buds. God awful no matter what the flavour is.
Most races include pace groups. I knew my goal was to finish this marathon in 4 hours. I didn’t even know if that was possible since I had never attempted this distance before but I had to have a general goal in mind. I walked up to the 4 hour pace group with Nigel, the pacer keeping us in check with our speed throughout the race. I hit a certain point where I felt comfortable leaving the group and picking up the pace a bit.. which I am glad I did!
Official Marathon Time: 3h53m
This was by far the most challenging mental game I had ever put myself through. I felt good for the first half, great actually. By 25km I was starting to feel it. My mind was getting harder to grab control of and all sort of things go through your head. You feel people pass you, you check your watch for your pace, you question your training.. all of it. I kept pushing. Those energy gels and chews got me through.
The last 5km..
I can’t even describe this feeling. To anyone, “it’s the last 5km, who would even consider giving up at this point when you’ve come this far?” I did. Many, many times. The brain is so powerful. It can just take control when you let yourself slip. “Why am I here? Why am I doing this? No one will know, why are you still running?” The heat from the sun at the point was brutal. My legs were so weak. At the last water station I decided to stop to consume my water and right away I almost fell over. My legs were done. I couldn’t even stop, I knew I had to keep going. I pushed through. I had to keep repeating to myself, “don’t stop. Just keep pushing. One foot forward”. No music, just me and my thoughts.
Well, I made it. I fucking did it. My toes were bleeding, my arms were burning from chaffing, I got a cute lil sunburn and it took me a few hours to truly realize what I had accomplished. Funny story, I had absolutely no service in the middle of the woods, there were no ubers so I actually had to walk about 45-1hr back to my airbnb. Nice lil stretch post marathon I guess.
How I Felt
Overwhelmed. Grateful. Blown away. This has always been a far fetch goal of mine and I had just crushed it. Honestly so happy I was alone to process and just take a look around at the beautiful Washington wilderness and just breathe. I did it.
My legs felt fine that day surprisingly, aside from my feet being in quite a bit of pain, muscle wise I felt good. The next day, not so much.
You can accomplish ANYTHING you set your mind to. What might seem unreachable eventually is.. the more hard work you put in, the closer you get. I look back at when all I could run was 5km and when I would see people casually run a half marathon thinking they were just nuts…
then one day, that became me. Slowly, one foot forward at a time.