Every year, the online women’s running group that I’m a part of (LLR) selects a city, a race, and a time to meet-up. This year, we converged on Toronto. It had been in the works for a while, but with triathlon training, it seemed to sneak up on me. I had registered to run the full, and Joe decided to tag along and run the half. We arrived in Toronto on Friday, met people at the airport, and our host Lisa kindly picked us up and dropped us off downtown at our hotel.
The next morning, we headed across the street for the official race shakeout run and a talk by the race director and the founder of the Running Room. Even though we stood around for a while, the talk was helpful and informative. People came from Mexico, South Africa, and Australia to run the race, and we met people from all over. Then we set out on an easy 2 mile loop around downtown. After grabbing coffee and some breakfast, we went back to the hotel and promptly ran into a huge contingent of our group. For many of us, it was the first time meeting in “real life,” but due to Facebook and our forum, we all knew each other already.
Several people were going to the race expo, but we needed to get cleaned up, so we made plans to go a bit later. In addition to picking up the packet, I also needed to purchase some arm warmers for the race. The race provided shuttles (well, school buses) to the expo from downtown. That was a nice touch since it meant we didn’t have to fuss with cabs or public transit or walking too far.
It was a good-sized expo, though I think I managed to purchase the last remaining pair of small arm warmers in the whole building. The other group told us where they had signed the big wall, and I managed to find it!
After the expo, we tried to meet up with people at the St. Lawrence Market. I was hungry and needed to eat, and the market was very crowded. We ended up at an eastern European counter, where I got a beef and cabbage roll. By dinnertime, I realized that I had not eaten enough that day. We had reservations for the whole group at a restaurant a little bit from the hotel. A few of us were up for an adventure and took the subway and streetcar, even though we ended up being a little late.
Flouting the advice I’d read in Runner’s World on the plane about not eating too many vegetables the day before the race, I had a kale salad with grilled chicken. I also had two glasses of red wine. Two other LLR ladies who were not with us in Toronto had PR’d in the marathon that day, and after talking with Sara and Margaret, we decided to shoot for 4:25 the next morning. I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to do and had even mentioned that I just wasn’t really feeling that fire in my belly. Sometime in between that comment and dinner, I decided that I wanted to go for it. I would run with Sara and Margaret the next day and see how it went.
After dinner, we planned to meet in the hotel lobby before the race. Much to my surprise, I slept REALLY well, something that rarely happens the night before the race.
Race morning dawned cool (38*) and clear (for a little while anyway). With a late start at 8:45, I slept in until 7 am before drinking my coffee, eating my RxBar, and getting dressed. Then it was time to head downstairs!
We all met up and took pictures, discussed our hopes for our races, and shook out the nerves.
Then we all headed to our corrals to shiver and wait.
The first start was at 8:45, but our corral didn’t get started until close to 9 AM. We crossed the timing mats and were off! After standing around in the cold, my legs and feet took a while to get warmed up. When my watch beeped for the first mile, I looked around for the mile marker and then remembered all the markers would be in kilometers for this race! After making a downtown loop, we had a long out-and-back along the lake. Because it split a few times, we didn’t see anyone else until we turned around. We were ticking off some pretty quick miles, about 20 seconds faster than our 10:00 miles we were shooting for, but I felt good.
A photographer was taking photos from the back of a motorcycle, so Margaret gave her her phone, and she took this action shot of us running and looking happy.
The half marathon split off pretty close to their finish, and we continued on. Our halfway split was right at 2:10, and Sara said, “That gives us about a 5 minute cushion,” more than enough should we start to slow. On another out-and-back, we saw Liz and Stef ahead of us looking really strong and fast.
We continued to tick off sub-10 miles until Margaret’s back started hurting, and she decided to drop back and stretch. My legs were feeling the pace and the distance. I knew if I could make it to the turnaround, it would be a straight shot into downtown from there. Sara continued to encourage me, even as I got quiet, focusing on digging deep.
Our names on our bibs were actually big enough to read, and the spectators made good use of them. I don’t know how many of them know what a huge lift it is to hear someone say, “Looking strong, [your name], you can do this!”
This obnoxious woman from New York came running up and started talking about Marathon Maniacs and running ultras with us. She said she was having a rough day and had been having stomach issues, even as I was struggling to keep pace. I was not sad to see her drop behind us eventually.
With about 4 miles to go, I ripped off my arm warmers, not so much because I was warm but because they were bugging me. We saw a sign that read “Shut Up Legs,” and that was what I needed to push through the immense soreness and pain in my quads and IT bands.
I knew we had one more bridge to go up and over before we got to downtown. As we crested the bridge, I knew I had it in the bag. We ticked off the final few kilometers and made the turn onto Bay Street with Old City Hall in front of us. I knew from the shakeout run that we wouldn’t be able to see the finish line because the road jagged in the last 100 meters, but they had signs with 500, 400, 300 meters. At 400 meters, my watch read 4:18, and I knew breaking 4:20 was not going to happen, but I gave it everything I had left with the crowds cheering us in.
My watch read 4:20:21, official time 4:20:19. I cried and hugged Sara and thanked her profusely. They gave us our medals and space blankets, which I had trouble maneuvering.
Margaret finished just a few minutes behind us, and we found other people still on the square. Liz helped Stef run a huge PR, and a lot of our group had good, solid races. Most of all, we had fun, and we ran together. Those who didn’t run, cheered with signs and crazy hats. It was an awesome experience.
Afterward, we cleaned up, changed, and walked (very, very slowly in my case) to Lisa’s parents’ condo where there was food and beer and more time to hang out together.
Several days later, I’m still flying high from the race, the camaraderie, and the wonderful time I got to spend with my friends.