Two Eighteen

The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (STWM) was this past Sunday. I ran the best race of my life – so far!

This was the third straight marathon build that I was able to survive and that was a big deal because I haven’t been healthy at the start line of even two marathons in a row since my first two in 2013 (although technically I did make my third marathon start line, my training was severely interrupted by injuries and I took the entire week before the race off in a last-ditch effort to get healthy). Because of that consistency over the last year and a half, I’ve logged the most mileage in a year by far! I’m 1000 km above my previous best and there are still two months left in 2018.

I had three minor injury scares during the build-up to Toronto but I was able to work through them with reduced mileage, slower paces, adjusted workouts, and the foam roller and lacrosse ball. In two of those instances, the impact to training was minimal and I was still able to complete a solid week of training by shuffling things around. In the third instance, I ended up taking a whole week off as the timing coincided with a fishing trip during which I wouldn’t have much time to train anyway. Thankfully that was fifteen weeks out from the marathon so it couldn’t have come at a better time and best of all, that rest seemed to be just what was needed.

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A humid 1:09:42 at the Boy Scout Half Marathon seven weeks before STWM.

I ran a bunch of tuneup races after Toledo and while I gave each my best effort, the resulting times were disappointing and not even equivalent performances to the 2:20:58 marathon I ran in April. Some were even slower paced than that marathon while being shorter races like the 1:09:42 half marathon I ran on a hot morning in Bowling Green, Ohio. Whereas in the past I had looked to my tune-up races to see fitness gains and progress from my training, these races told me nothing. I had to look to my training and trust that the entire body of work from April to October—all 2600 km or 200 hours of running—would produce the goal I was hoping for in Toronto. Not only were the majority of my workouts faster than in my previous cycles, but I also ran a bit more volume with a stretch of seven consecutive weeks averaging 166 km/week when I’d never before run more than 165 km in a single week.

Picking a goal time was tricky and it often is. I’ve been wrong plenty of times while using tune up races in an equivalency calculator and when doing ‘predictor’ workouts like 26 km or 90 minutes at ‘marathon pace’ so I have moved away from using those tools. Instead, I tried to guess how much better this cycle was compared to my last. It worked pretty well in Toledo where I aimed for just under 2:20 and ended up just over a minute slower. This time, I had just under 2:18 in mind (3:16/km would result in 2:17:50 which also conveniently was below the 2:18 mark where prize money at STWM would be reduced and also under the Athletics Ontario ‘Quest for Gold’ athlete funding standard of 2:18:12).

Leading up to the race, I reached out to Terence Attema, Thomas Toth, and Blair Morgan to see if any of those guys wanted to work together at that pace and thankfully they were all on board! Other than occasionally checking the forecast, I tried my best to stay distracted with work, kids, reading a book, and playing video games with my kids. Two weeks out from the race, I completed my last significant workout and the final two weeks were just a formality. I had my bag packed a week in advance and I was ready to get on the line.

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Forecast was good and cold; just the way I like it!

In addition to my wife and our two kids, my parents, my grandparents, my sister and her husband, and my aunt and cousin were all coming down to Toronto to watch the race and see some sights. That helped me keep my mind off whether it was going to be too windy or not because there was no way I could bail on this race for a later one! They took the time to come watch me run so I was going to be sure to give them my best effort.

The night before the race I got to catch up with Eric Bang and Kyle Wyatt (and Trevor, too!) after their triumphs in Chicago (2:19:03 and 2:18:55, respectively). It was great to hear about their races and talk about what lies ahead. They both have huge aspirations—much like me—and their attitude about not limiting themselves is inspiring.

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Two of my favourite cheerleaders :)

Come race day, I was strangely calm. I was ready. My training had gone as well as it could have. Conditions looked ideal. I took my time going through my morning routine, sipping coffee and chatting with my roommate, Jacques-Sylvain Lecointre. We walked over to the elite room together which was just across the street from our hotel. I got my pump-up playlist blasting and went for a short jog. I got to wish Cameron Levins luck in his attack on Jerome Drayton’s 43-year-old Canadian record (which he would go on to improve to 2:09:25). I saw my dad at the start lime and gave him a big hug. Then my kids and wife and mom and the whole rest of my family. I was so excited and ready to get this race underway.

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Maybe starting in the third row helped keep my pace under control for the first 5K but I suspect I might’ve been able to dip into the 2:17s by gun time if I had started on the line.

The gun went off and I slowly got into position with Thomas Toth. Terence Attema had gone out quicker and was in the pack ahead of us. I couldn’t see Blair Morgan but he must’ve been just behind us. The first 5K was controlled, and that was a good thing because it was one of the few stretches of the course that was both uphill and directly into the wind. The effort was right. 16:34 or 3:18/km (14 seconds slow).

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Thomas Toth and I around the 6 km mark. Thanks to Daniel Clarke for this photo.

Heading back south with the tailwind and downhill nature of the course, the next 5K split improved to 16:13 (3:14/km) and I got down my first bottle of Maurten (40 g carbs in 250 mL). We slowly caught some people falling off the pack ahead.

Along Lakeshore Blvd, Thomas and I eventually joined up with Terence briefly and split the next 5K in 16:17. I saw my family around 20K and gave them high fives. Somewhere between 15K and halfway, Terence fell off the back and Blair joined up with us. The 20K split was around 16:22 and we came through half in 1:09:00. With Cameron Levins and Reid Coolsaet ahead of us, Blair, Thomas, and I were left to duke it out for third Canadian.

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Thanks to Ararsa Kitaba for this photo around the 20 km mark.

For the next several winding kilometres, the three of us worked together coming through the 25K split around 16:24. Blair and I rolled through 30K in 1:38:11 (another 5K split of 16:24) and we had put 10 seconds into Thomas. It was at this point that my GPS watch succumbed to the cold temperatures (as it had done numerous times this year when exposed on cold days); the battery quit so I’d be running the last 12 km without knowing my pace. Thankfully, Blair and I seemed to be rolling steadily stride-for-stride, clicking off the kilometres with what felt like perfect effort and he reassured me the pace was good.

(Strange how things work out sometimes. Twice this summer I raced a 10K without a watch; the first time was on purpose to simply focus on racing a competitor and the second time was purely by accident and I had to pace myself off those around me and what their goal times were. I wonder if that ended up being good practice for this scenario in a marathon…)

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I wasn’t worried about racing Blair. As far as I was concerned, it was in both our interests to work together as long as possible. I tried to be positive and as I often do in races, vocally encouraging him but knowing that I needed to hear the same things.

This is where we earn it. Get to the top of the overpass and it’ll be easy from there.

That mindset kept us on pace through what I consider the toughest part of the race–kilometres 32 to 38 km–where the pace no longer feels easy but you can’t afford to throw seconds away. This is where you setup your final push to the line. We came through the 35K split in 16:29, slowing only slightly. The crowds were encouraging and we got to that final overpass around 38 km and I think that was where I started to pull away from Blair. I was thrilled to crest that hill, see Eric, Kyle, and Trevor cheering, and give them high fives.

At this point in the race, with only 3 km to go, my mind focused on the fact that I had no idea what pace I was running and whether my goal of dipping under 2:18 was still within reach. I told myself, “Don’t you DARE use this stupid watch as an excuse to not reach your goal. You HAVE to give everything you’ve got NOW or you’re going to regret it for the next six months.” I kept pressing the pace and that is what I’m most proud of looking back on this race. I ran the 40K split in 16:14 feeling like I was really moving. Someone told me that the next person up the road was Reid Coolsaet and that gave me an extra boost. I didn’t actually expect to catch him but it was a carrot to chase and gave me something to think of other than my hamstrings and quads burning.

I made the final turn onto Bay St into that headwind from the start of the race and what was a comfortably hard effort quickly turned into an all out effort. This was the only part of the race where I wasn’t having fun and my face showed it. I was breathing like I was sprinting. I was counting down the distance to the finish… 500m… 400m… 300m… 200m… I still couldn’t see the clock until Bay St bends just before the finish line and I finally saw the clock counting up 2:17:51…52…53 and I sprinted with everything I had left in me, hitting the timing mat at 2:17:59.8–three minutes faster than I ran in Toledo this past spring, making me the fourth fastest Canadian marathoner since 2016 behind Cameron, Reid, and Eric Gillis… all three Olympians. 😳

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I should probably frame these splits…

I was thrilled. Never had I felt so good late in a marathon. Never before had I come so close to a goal time that felt equally possible yet unlikely. I ran an almost perfectly even-split marathon with the both halves in ~1:09:00. The final gun time would be rounded up to 2:18:00.

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The Canadian Championships podium – 3rd: Krista DuChene, 2nd: Leslie Sexton, 1st Kinsey Middleton. 1st: Cameron Levins, 2nd: Reid Coolsaet, 3rd: Me!

This was the second year in a row that I finished as the third Canadian at this national championship event; last year in a time of 2:24:39 behind Trevor Hofbauer (2:18:06) and Sami Jibril (2:22); this year in a time of 2:18:00 behind Cameron Levins (2:09:25) and Reid Coolsaet (2:17:36). It was pretty cool to have a chance to share the podium with those two and I wrote a lengthy facebook post about it that I’ll just copy here…

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Congratulating Cameron Levins on his new Canadian record – 2:09:25!

I imagined this particular moment (that thankfully my mom snapped a photo of!) before the race and thought to myself, how cool would it be for me—some guy from Camlachie who runs around our country roads in short-shorts and tight stretchy pants in his spare time—to be on that Canadian Championship podium with these two guys. Reid Coolsaet who has been atop the Canadian distance running world for much of the last decade with particular dominance over the marathon, coming within twenty seconds of Canada’s notoriously long-standing marathon record. I watched those races and refreshed those results many times over the last few years to see if he’d finally pull off a sub-2:10 and take down that record that I imagine he wanted so badly.

Reid has been a huge source of inspiration for me over the years not only for his impressive race results but also for his insane dedication and resilience in the face of what would have likely been career-ending injuries for anyone else.

And to also share that stage with Cameron Levins who today made his long-awaited and highly-anticipated marathon debut in a record-breaking 2:09:25. I’ll admit, it was a little bittersweet to see that record finally go down by someone other than Reid but it was a privilege for me just to be in the same race and have the chance to wish Cameron luck before the race and shake his hand in congratulations afterward. I can’t wait to actually watch the race and see that record broken.

The marathon finally ‘clicked’ for me today. I ran within a handful of seconds of my goal time for the first time in 8 tries! My legs are wrecked. I’m so thankful for my wife who believes in me sometimes more than I do and together we somehow find a way to carve time out of our busy life for me to train. My parents, in-laws, sisters, and family and friends who have supported me in this endeavour with encouragement, helping watch the kids while I sneak in yet another run, or are patient with me showing up a little late to family dinners. I hope you know how much it means to me and that your investment in my dream is not taken lightly! I hope I held up my end today! 😋

Thanks to Canada Running Series and all the people out cheering or volunteering along the course. Thanks especially to my family who came to cheer me on today… it chokes me up to think that you took time out of your day to experience something I enjoy and that I put so much effort into. Thanks to Eric, Kyle, and Trevor for your pre-race hospitality, encouragement, and unreal cheering along the route. Thanks to Thomas Toth and Blair Morgan for the company out there today. (Congrats on your races and I can’t wait to see what you’ll do next!) Congrats to all the runners out there who gave it all they had today. It is a whole lot of fun… even though it hurts!

As is always the case, there will be another race on the horizon for me to get excited about for but for the next few weeks I’ll be taking some time off to rest and recover. This result was another step in the right direction. There is so much I’m looking forward to in 2019!

Thank you for reading and sharing in this experience with me.

Here’s some local coverage about this race:

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