The day had finally come! After 24 weeks of training, it was time for the 2013 Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon. This was only my second full marathon, but I had pretty high expectations going into the Toronto Marathon. As far as training went, this year felt totally different than last year. What changed? Let me tell you.
Really sticking to my training plan – Jack Daniels’ Marathon Training Plan. A 24 week program broken down into four phases of six weeks (I. Foundation / Injury Prevention, II. Early Quality, III. Transition, IV. Final Quality.) The long threshold runs in phase III definitely made me perform better once the distances got up around 30km. I’ve never felt more ready to run a race in my life.
Running more, sleeping more – Setting my peak weekly mileage at 90km made me realize that I had to start running more. I created a Google Calendar for the entire training season and worked backwards from race day, plotting my training plan. This meant running 6 days a week (starting in phase II) and doubling up on easy runs once a week. After a really hard workout I also tried to get 9 hours of sleep.
Strong feet, better form – All of my runs were done either barefoot on the treadmill or in Vibram FiveFigers. All of the little annoyances from running in the Kinvara’s last year were long gone, and the extra year of experience running barefoot and in FiveFingers had done wonders for my form. I also stuck to my pre-run foam roller / dynamic stretching routine to keep my muscles loose.
Diet change – Eating more unprocessed foods (juicing kale and spinach for breakfast.), subbing real food for gels and coconut water for sports drinks. It may be more psychological but I felt more energized, and not just on the runs. I also did a proper carbo-load for the first time for 3 days leading up to the marathon.
Confidence – Setting PB’s at my first two spring races (Chilly Half Marathon and Around the Bay 30k Road Race) gave me a lot of confidence going into the marathon. Last year I just wanted to make it across the finish line, and this year I wanted to tear up the course. I went into all three spring races feeling like I would PB, and not by just a few minutes.
It wasn’t just one thing that made all the difference. All of these things working together contributed to my success. I learned a lot from the up and down experiences of last year, and without them I wouldn’t have made the necessary adjustments to the training plan. Alright, let’s get down to the actual race. Here’s the breakdown of my experience at the 2013 Toronto Marathon.
Race morning is like Christmas morning for runners. I’m never too worried about not getting enough sleep the night before a race because I made sure to get plenty of sleep in the days leading up. Getting everything organized the night before also helps to eliminate some of the stress. With the Toronto Marathon starting at 7:30am, I set my alarm to 4:45am to fuel up. My standard pre-race breakfast is the same one I’ve used for all of my races this spring. Why change what works, right?
- Toasted sesame seed bagel with peanut butter
- 8oz glass of water
- Cup of coffee
I didn’t feel super hungry (thanks to carbo-loading) so I cut out the greek yogurt that I usually have. After eating, I did my dynamic stretching routine and rolled out for 10 minutes on the foam roller. The weather was supposed to be pretty warm by the end of the race so I also made sure to put on sunscreen before getting dressed. I would have liked it to be a little bit cooler because I (and everyone else) had’t spent any time training in the heat since last summer. What are you going to do, right?
I packed two ziplock bags with figs, pretzels and teddy grahams. Since I was going to be keeping these in my pockets, I figured that packing identical bags would give me even weight distribution on both sides. My race bag was very light with only a change of clothes and flip flops, but my wife agreed to bring it with her to the finish line (I didn’t have much luck making the bag check cut off this year.) It was now around 6:15am and my ride had just arrived. My bib was pinned on, I had my race fuel, a fully charged Garmin and sunglasses. Let’s rock!
Since the subway doesn’t run before 9am on Sunday, my brother was nice enough to give me a lift to the start line. Traffic was really light, even on Yonge st., so we made great time. With lots of time to spare, I headed for the North York Civic Centre in hopes of finding a bathroom. It was already buzzing with runners but the line up wasn’t too long. With that business out of the way, I looked for an open spot to do some more dynamic stretching, then waited around till about 7:15am before making my way towards the start line.
What are the odds of the 3:30 pacer standing right next to me? Other people started coming over and listening to him talk about race strategy. He said he’d run the course 12 times and that we can “bank time” during the downhill first half and ease into our race pace (4:58)/km for the second half. This sounded exactly like my race strategy so I decided I was going to stick with the pace group. After a minute of silence for Boston, the race had begun and I was on my way to completing my second full marathon.
Toronto Marathon Start – 21km
Wait a minute… aren’t we going a little fast? I thought that “banking time” would mean a 10 second/km speed increase on the downhills. Running 4:45/km sounded very doable to me but the 3:30 pace group was going about 20 seconds/km too fast. A few people next to me thought the same thing and decided to back off. There was only one big uphill (Hoggs Hollow) on this course at around the 4km mark, but it wasn’t very steep and I made it up no problem. I drank water at the aid station at the top of the hill and decided I was going to stop at every station after that to stay hydrated. The temperature hadn’t gone up too much by this point, but it was still very early in the race.
I knew that we were running above pace, but was pretty surprised when my Gramin flashed Lap 3 – 4:28/km Avg Pace. To the left you can see my lap splits for the entire race. Notice how fast the first 13 miles are compared to the rest of the race. That 4:28 mile should have been a huge warning sign but I chose to ignore it.
We were now almost at Eglinton Ave. Once we rounded Chaplin it seemed like the course was all downhill, and the pace group was just flying. They were quick but I was bang on race pace all the way down the hills on Spadina, Davenport and Rosedale Valley.
I don’t like to run downhill too fast for fear of pulling a muscle or over striding, and the group had started to gain some distance on me because of it. I could still see them in the distance all the way down Bayview Ave. but lost sight of them before turning onto King St. E. It was around this point where the course had flattened out and I settled down to my actual marathon race pace.
I hit the half marathon point at just over 1:42 – only a minute over my PB!
22km – 30km
This is where things get sticky, literally. I was on pace, but the temperature had started to rise. I was fuelling up every 30 minutes as planned, but it didn’t occur to me that the heat would turn my ziplock snack bags into a melty, chocolately mess. The figs were salvageable so I only ate them for the rest of the race.
This downtown portion of the Toronto Marathon was definitely the busiest (probably because of all of the condos). There were tons of people cheering and waving signs. I wouldn’t get to see my wife and son cheering until I got to the finish line so this really helped to lift my spirits. Oh yeah… I almost bowled over two people who jumped out in front of me on Front St. The crowds really thinned out once we got onto the Bathurst bridge and headed towards Lakeshore Blvd. As I got to Marilyn Bell Park the 30km mark came up. I looked at my Garmin and realized that 2:26 was my new 30km PB! It was now time to enter the final leg of the race.
31km – Toronto Marathon Finish Line
The final stretch was mostly along the Martin Goodman Waterfront Trail and seemed like it would never end. The race volunteers kept saying “you’re doing great… the turn around is just ahead”, but it took a really long time to get to Humber Bay Park. There was a nice breeze coming off of Lake Ontario, but the sun was now directly above and it was getting pretty hot. Seeing runners laying on the grass being attended to made me thankful that I’d been hydrating the whole race. Even still, the combination of the heat and starting too fast began to take its toll. My pace had slowed to about 5:30/km and I began to walk through the water stations. We passed the turn around and got back onto Lakeshore Blvd. I crossed the 35km mark at around 2:57. Not too shabby… only 7km to go! This was the furthest I had ever run in my FiveFingers and the rough pavement on Lakeshore wasn’t very forgiving. My feet were a little tender but it wasn’t going to stop me from finishing.
The crowds started to reappear just past the CNE. One woman had a sign offering cold beer, but when I asked for one, and she said it was just a joke. I did not find it very funny. Only a few km to go at this point, so I picked up the pace as much as I could (5:16/km). There were people calling my name and that really helped me push through the last few hundred meters. I saw the finish line just around the corner and was overjoyed when I saw that the clock said 3:36. I wouldn’t get a 3:30 finish but I was well under my B goal of 3:40.
My official finish time for the Toronto Marathon is 3:36:57. I got my huge ass medal (which must weigh about 30 lb.), gulped down about 10 cups of water and got my obligatory post race bagel, banana and power bar. After basking in the glory of a 43min marathon PB, I met up with my wife and son in the cheering section and made our way (slowly) back home.
The last 6 months has been both the toughest and most fun I’ve ever had running. I accomplished everything I set out to do on this race and hit all of the milestones on my training plan. I was super focused the whole race and I didn’t have to stop once to re-group. I’ve been visualizing myself crossing that finish line since last November and getting there and seeing the time on the clock was an unbelievable experience. I’m going to take some time to properly recover before I really get back into training, but I’ll be running all through the summer. I may sign up for a fall half, or maybe a 30k, but I haven’t decided on anything yet. I’m still riding the high from last Sunday, but I already can’t to see what the next marathon will bring.