I had very a enjoyable experience in Toronto, despite not meeting my goal of achieving the Canadian Olympic B standard (2:14:00). As those close to me know, I set high goals for myself in my running career and although I may not always achieve them I believe that shooting high is what has allowed me to continue improving in this sport. This was my first marathon so it was more difficult than usual to predict the outcome, but I knew from my training over the past two and a half months that my aerobic fitness was at an all time high. Before the race I was informed that a pace maker was being provided for runners that were hoping to go through the first half of the race at sub 2:14:00 pace. I was both excited and disconcerted by this fact. I was happy that I would have runners around me to help me with the pace but I was also concerned about running too quickly at the start. All of my best races finish with the second half run faster than the first, so I had planned on running the first half of the race in about 1:07:20. The pace setter on the other hand had been instructed to take us through in under 1:06:50. In retrospect I wish I would have had the confidence to run on my own at my slower planned pace.
Our first 5km was run in 15:45 (2:12:55 pace) and, although concerned, I was also feeling great and was optimistic that perhaps I was in even better shape than I thought! The pace settled into a 3:12/km rhythm over the next 13km before the pace maker suddenly dropped back. Until the 32km mark I was left to do most of the pace making for the group. I attempted to get the New Zealander and the Peruvians to share the lead, but they were suffering more than I and opted to tuck in behind me and hold on as best they could. (The Kiwi, who finished :10 ahead of me at the finish, both apologized and thanked me later.) It was during this 14km stretch that I began to feel the insidious fatigue that results from going out too fast in a marathon; something I had been warned about but had obviously never experienced myself. I felt like I was still running strong and yet, the 3:12 kilometres had slowly become 3:13s, 3:14s and 3:15s.
With 10.2km to go I did the math and knew that the best I could hope for was to run the Athletics Canada Carding Standard (monthly financial support for athletes) of 2:15:48. I would need to pick up the pace again to 3:12/km if I wanted to do this and I felt like I had it in me. I was 3/4 of the way done and this was the time to start driving for home. Unfortunately, this "drive for home" lasted less than 200 metres. One second everything was fine and the next my stomach completely seized up and I was bent almost double. From experience I knew that the way to control stomach cramps was to try and breathe in and out as deeply as possible. By doing this I was able to keep on running, albeit at a much slower pace than I would have liked. A few times over that last quarter of the race I was able to get rid of the cramp completely, but as soon as I picked up the pace again and my breathing increased the cramp would come back with a vengeance. It was a very frustrating experience; I had the energy and the muscular freshness to continue running hard, but my stomach just wouldn't cooperate.
From researching the experience after the race it turns out that the most likely cause of this cramping was my choice of drink during the race. I had chosen to consume an energy drink that was also high in electrolytes because of the flavour and carbohydrate content, but have discovered that in moderate temperatures extra salts can actually induce the same type of stomach and muscle cramping that results from dehydration. Ahh, hindsight! This is part of the whole adventure of racing a marathon though. Wouldn't it be boring to always get everything perfect on the first try? On the other hand …
In the end I lost over a minute and a half over that final 10.2km (averaging 3:22/km during that last stretch instead of my planned 3:12/km) and finished 11th in 2:17:23.9. I was pretty disappointed when I first finished. I'd made two big mistakes in going out too fast and choosing the wrong fuel and turned a really good feeling race over the first third into a very painful one over the second two thirds; and, furthermore, I hadn't met either one of my initial two goals. However, over the next hour or so I had started to feel a lot better about it. The enthusiasm of everybody that had brought me to Toronto as well as my teammates, family, friends and sponsors gave me a bit of perspective. I realize now that despite my difficulties it was still a solid first shot at this humbling distance. I also found out soon after the finish that this time made me the fastest marathoner in Canada this year; my first ever number one ranking! I am now thinking about taking another shot at the Olympic standard on January 13th in Houston, Texas. My body has been recovering really quickly from the race and I expect to be building up my training once again this coming week.
Thanks everyone for your support!