Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

28 Oct 2018

Race information

Goals

Goal Description Completed?
A 3:30:00 Yes
B 3:25:00 Yes
C 3:20:00 Yes

Pre-Race

That this was my first full marathon meant that it was going to have a weight to it regardless, but this year has been a hard one – more than this year, truthfully. At points I have felt a bit untethered and getting out to train has been one of the ways that I have stayed grounded. Even when I had a bad run or fell off my plan, the routine was a banister that I could reach for when life did what life does.

I can’t recall how far back I set my B and C goals, but coming in under 5 min/km was the aim from the very beginning. It was completely arbitrary and, after my first half marathon back in May, it was fairly clear that sub-3:30:00 was an entirely reasonable time to aim for. Over the summer, I swayed between overconfidence and worry, neither entirely grounded in reality, but eventually I settled into 3:25:00 as within reach if the conditions were right.

On an unrelated note, it doesn’t take much for me to consider assaulting strangers: my Airbnb was next to some sort of acoustic guitar open mic night that went until well beyond my entirely reasonable 10pm bedtime. Upside: I had a roommate. I have not decided if that roommate made up for the 5 hour Greyhound ride I had to take in order to get into Toronto (and nothing makes up for the 5 hour ride back after the race, but #lifechoices).

There was one additional detail that I couldn’t resolve in training, but had to learn by doing: each race I did this year had me bursting out of the gate, trying to go stride for stride with those who were in better shape than me. As far as strategies go, it is not a particuarly strong one, but adrenaline and idiocy are hard to overcome. The plan this time was to set myself up so that it would be difficult to lead the pack, even if I wanted to: I was going to start at the very back of the first corral and gradually work my way up to race pace. When you don’t have very good discipline, sometimes you fake it.

Race Start - 10km

And sometimes, you’re a liar. No, I was nowhere near the front – and I did have the 3:25:00 pacer a decent length ahead of me – but the back just felt so far… back. To my credit, I did start off at a comfortable 4:45 min/km pace. I distinctly recall thinking that I could have kept that up forever. It is a completely different sensation to be casually rolling along with a pack of runners rather than weaving through them in an attempt lead rather than follow. Gradually, I settled in somewhere around 4:30 min/km, which was ahead of my goal time, but I had no intention of maintaining that for the whole race. If I maintained it through the first half, even when I hit the 30k wall, I would have banked some time.

I am not a cold weather runner. I much prefer the sensation of rapidly approaching dehydration that comes with hot weather running. But people who race in late October can’t be choosers. While I had a couple of long training runs in the cold, I hadn’t figured out what my clothing strategy was going to be. So my game day decision was to stick with a long sleeve technical shirt and leave my running jacket at the bag check, on the assumption that I would regret racing with it. This was a silly idea given that I checked my bag almost an hour before the start, but it was the right call: very early in the race I was gazing longingly at folks running with exposed skin, which is somewhat of a creepy sentence to have written, but I regret nothing: I was warm and jealous. To get a bit of cool air flowing, I pocketed my gloves and took my stretch headband/cap/thing off and wrapped it around my wrist. It proved to be a weird look, but I appreciated the cool air.

11km - 20km

The first half of this course is a delight: nice scenery, comfortable elevation, and good spots for crowd interaction. I was glad to have had my “bad” half-marathon last month, because I remembered to have fun with this one. I laughed and smiled at strangers. I tapped those tap here to power up signs. I even grabbed a couple selfies on the course – which felt strange at the time and feels stranger still in retrospect, but I tried to enjoy myself with the course. Plus, I wanted to commemorate the moment on the course where the half-marathon runners split off to do their last couple of kilometres, while the rest of us fools were just getting started.

Around kilometre 18, a runner ahead of me fumbled while taking off gloves, and one fell to the ground. Before I knew what I was doing, I leaned over and scooped it up as I ran by – only to see another drop. Not wanting to either return a single glove or hold onto a stranger’s sweaty glove for the rest of the race, I grabbed the second and sped up to return them. The confusion I saw looking back at me as I handed them back made me realize that it was deliberate. But, because I had done a mitzvah, they weren’t going to just throw them away. Worse still, I settled into pace with them, so they were stuck with those gloves for the foreseeable future. At least until I was out of sight, anyway.

21km - 30km

Somewhere around this point, I had one of those dumb runner fantasies that are completely ungrouned in reality: “I bet a sub-3:10 is possible”. Sure, I had run a comfortable half and felt like there was lots of energy left, but that energy was already claimed by my traitorous brain to fuel my legs for a reasonable finish. There certainly wasn’t enough for me to shave 2 minutes off over the next 21k. But we runners love our lies like “I’m saving something for the last 5k” or “I don’t care when someone passes me”.

The race began to get a bit lonely towards the end of this stretch. I had joined a few racers who pushed ahead of our pacer, but we lost cohension as people started to hit their walls. All of my training this year has been solo, so I was surprised to find myself looking for a buddy to stay with for a while. Yet, despite the fact that I was keeping relatively steady splits, anyone I fell in with either pulled ahead or dropped back. The legs still felt good and my breathing was fine, so, as I crossed the 30k marker, I resigned myself to keeping company with Chromeo and Carly (Rae Jepsen).

31km - Finish

For the last year and a half, I have used my AirPods almost every day – and certainly for all my training. The problem is that the battery has to be big enough to fit inside your ear and, over time and usage, batteries degrade. Add to that the fact that I had a solid hour between putting my headphones in and the race, and it is no surprise that Chromeo abandoned me at 32km. It be unfair of me to blame a Canadian electro-funk duo for my lagging pace, but it certainly is not this guy’s fault.

However that guy clearly did something wrong: a woman passed me in this section with a level of aggressiveness usually reserved for people trying to bring a full shopping cart to the 10 items of less lane. We were on what might have been the most wide open stretch of the course and I was hugging the side of the road pretty tightly. Apparently, not tightly enough. After staying on my heels for a few strides, she decided to overtake me with something in between rubbing elbows and a body slam. I made Canadians everywhere proud by apologizing for her behaviour, but I am not sure she even noticed what had happened: whatever reserve of energy she was drawing on to burst ahead had her stumbling along like Jackie Chan in The Legend of Drunken Master. Remembering how that movie ended forced me to reconsider returning the favour.

There were couple minutes here where I swear it started to faintly rain. It was so light that I thought I might be imagining it, but the cold reached my fingers which made it real enough for me to care. I had a brief thought for my glove-dropping friend 15k ago and wondered if there was an engagement ring waiting for me at the end of the race (or bread – boy did I want bread more than anything in that moment), before snapping back to reality and putting mine back on. Unfortunately, they were not magic gloves of endurance. Every kilometre from the 35th on, I told myself, “Next kilometre I’m going to turn on the gas”. That… did not happen. No amount of Maple Syrup Gel, chewable gels, or Gatorade was going to change the fact that I was tired down to my bones. If the half-marathon turnoff had come at this point, there’s a very good chance I would have taken it. Unfortunately, the only way out was through, so I shambled onward to the finish line.

A constant theme of my races this year has been that I end them like a drama queen. This was no exception and, thankfully, a race photographer snapped what might be my favorite photo of me ever. That is a man with regrets. It’s also a man steps away from the finish line and I certainly was grateful for that.

Post-race

I was also grateful that the photographer did not follow me after that last shot, because I immediately started to have a big ol’, cathartic ugly cry. One of the medical staff came over to check up on me, which I simultanously appreciated and recoiled from. He seemed to understand and left me alone after confirming that I was not dying on the outside. The same level of understanding cannot be said for the volunteer who handed me a space blanket: that teenager looked horrified at the conspicuous display of emotion and tried to give me the blanket without being any closer than he had to be. The difficulty I had wrapping it around myself did me no favours in earning his respect. Rather than trying to convince him of my coolness, I let it slide and sought out the sweet oblivion of warm clothing – or, at least, warm reflective plastic.

Just like with my first race of the season, I again exceeded my most optimistic expectations. That has a lot to do with being new to this and not having the best sense as to what goals are reasonable, but I also put in the work necessary to have a great running year. Crossing that finish line in Toronto comes from almost 1500km of training runs this year and I feel good about it. I am already idly wondering how low I can get that time and there are obviously lots of things to improve (diet, pacing, moving to a climate where there is no snow), but this is an unequivocal win that couldn’t have come at a better time. Knowing me, I am very quickly going to move onto the next challenge, but this race was last weekend and I’m still basking in its afterglow. Granted, that might be indicative of brain damage suffered over the course of the marathon. Still, I am going to enjoy it.

See you out on the pavement.


Sub-sub Elite

28 Sep 2018

Jeré Longman for The New York Times:

“That is both the gift and the curse of the marathon,” Cass said. “When you finally get it right, it’s the product of 30 variables that you have maybe 50 percent control of. When you get it wrong, you try to analyze all 30 of those variables. It’s nearly impossible to figure out exactly what went wrong and how to make it better next time. But that’s the goal. To take a look at what happened and go back to the drawing board. And, if it’s in the cards, to give it another go.”


Army Run Ottawa Half Marathon

23 Sep 2018

Race information

Goals

Goal Description Completed?
A 1:30:00 Yes-ish?
B 1:29:00 No
C 1:25:00 No

Training

After a chaotic summer, most of my race plans got thrown out of the window. I didn’t lose much in the way of training, but the races that I had intended to do all got cut for various reasons.

Having done a half back in May, I have been wanting to do a full to finish off the season – so I’ll be doing the Toronto Waterfront next month. This race was meant to be a bit of a tuneup in preparation for that, but I have been feeling pretty good about where my training has been and started to take this race more seriously. My C goal is an overly ambitious jump from my PB of 1:29:05, but it’s hard to overstate how confident I have felt over the last couple weeks. Feeling stronger and stronger with ever run.

My plan was to bank some time in the first 5km with a strong 3:50min/km pace, before settling into 4min/km. If all went well, I’d only be spending those spare seconds on the few mild inclines of the course. I didn’t really think I’d be able to maintain the pace needed to meet my C goal, but I wanted to strive for it. I made the last minute decision to wear my water belt so I could hydrate on my schedule, rather than the course organizers.

Going into race day, things felt good. Fresh legs. Hearty pasta dinner the night before. Peanut butter toast when I got up at 7:00 and a coffee on the way to the course for a 9:30 start.

Race Start

I am obviously not an elite runner, but I’ve learned that I am better served starting at the front of the pack. I usually clip along out of the gate a few seconds faster than I should before settling into race pace. However there still seems to be this mindset some folks have of needing to start as close to the front, even if they are going to immediately fall behind. So it was tight initially with more dodging and weaving than I wanted to do (Rhetorical Question: do I ever want to be dodging and weaving to start a race?).

That said, it was a nearly perfect start for my pace. Blew through the first kilometre at exactly 3:50. The second kilometre had me speeding up to a 3:33, which I knew was unsustainable, but I was feeling better than any of my training runs. After a couple of breaths, I prepared to calm myself down and settle into my plan.

Kilometre 2.1

Or not.

I still haven’t decided what it was, but the bottom dropped out on my stomach all of a sudden. There is no need for graphic detail, but I was immediately in severe bowel distress. It was not a question of whether I could run it out. It was a question of whether I could make it to the water station a kilometre away. The answer was a resounding no. The good news is that this happened right along an out-and-back portion of the course and there was an aid station just across the road. Part of me wonders what would have happened were that not the case: would I have forced myself to tough it out and been fine? Or would it have been an absolute disaster?

Either way, I peeled off and threw myself into a Porta Potty. Maybe it wasn’t actually a name brand Porta Potty, but just a generic portable toilet. Like a frisbee versus a flying disc. I didn’t muse over this point at the time, because I was fuming. Between the (incredible) racers I had been keeping up with, the crowd of people cheering at the sidelines, and a course photographer (who better not have turned the camera towards me in that moment), I felt like the whole world watched my race fell apart.

Yesterday I had felt like a 9:30am start was a wonderful luxury, but I’ve been debating whether it threw off my routine just enough to mess me up. I probably ate 45 minutes earlier than I would have. Was that enough? Or was I too lackadaisical with my coffee-drinking and stretched it longer than I should have? Or any number of other things. I am not going to spend the next four weeks speculating on what I did wrong and instead use all of my upcoming training runs as an opportunity to test different routines, because science!

If you’re curious how quickly someone can angrily use the washroom, Strava says I only stopped moving for 30 seconds. I think the less that is said about that, the better. In a sight that was probably hilarious to the runners who could see me, I flew out that toilet like a bat out of hell and right back onto the course.

Kilometre 10

When something goes wrong on a training run, you can stop, shake it off, and reset. Or you can keep going at a slower pace, knowing that you’ll get it next time. My running belt came unzipped a few weeks ago and I took the time to fix it before head back to finish my scheduled 19km. I didn’t much care, because there was nothing to be concerned about. It’s was just a run. No big deal.

If I’d been able to find that attitude in myself, it would have been little more than half a minute lost. It is not as if I had any illusions about winning the race (1:08:05? No thanks, Maxime Leboeuf – I do love watching him speed by when there are early out-and-backs though). Instead I let me get the better of me. All the way to the 10km marker, there were some lingering doubts whether I’d need another bathroom break, but that’s a lousy excuse. I started ignoring my pacing altogether, got fixated on the people who were passing me as I tried to restart my legs after the abrupt stop, and was generally beating myself up.

After 5km, I was still only 30 seconds off my PB time: 19:59. Sure, that meant I didn’t have the banked time that I wanted to, but that’s a 4min/km pace. After 10km, I was barely under 43:00. Not that I knew either detail at the time, because I had mentally checked out. Apparently some friends saw me around this point and said I looked dead-eyed, which matches how I felt.

Kilometre 15

I completely forgot to appreciate what I described back in May as my favorite part of the course: seeing Parliament from behind as we cross the bridge back into Ontario. However the moment I recognized that, I was able to snap myself a bit out of my funk and started to have fun with the run. I let the PB go. I tried to find my proper form again. I snacked the fruit bar I had brought, not because my body needed it, but because I wanted to. I was also high five-ing people on the sidelines and throwing my arms up in victory every time I passed a crowd. At one point I may have given the finger-guns to someone holding up a suggestive sign, because why not.

My pace never got back to what I had been aiming for, but I wasn’t trying to. I like running. Spending four, five, or six hours a week hitting the pavement isn’t something I do to get a personal record every time I train. Most of my days are spent thinking and working far too hard, so I really like the mix of adrenaline and blankness in my mind that comes from a good run. A race filled with spectators and competition is a very different environment, but the sentiment is still the same: do the best I can, but enjoy myself.

So I did.

To the End

I think this is fairly common, but Ottawa’s racing scene has pacers at a bunch of different speeds, so that you can let someone else keep track of that for you. In my last half, I never saw them after the starting the line, because the fastest pacer clocks in at 4:16min/km (a 1:30:00 time). At some point in this run, it became clear that I had slowed down enough that the 1:30:00 pacer was close behind me. If I had been paying more attention to other runners, I might have guessed as much from the number of folks who were passing me, but didn’t really care because I was too busy looking as uncool as possible (I can only imagine that I have ruined some people’s photos with my shenanigans. Sorrynotsorry).

That being said, I have enough competitive spirit in me that I didn’t want to do worse than my A goal for the race since it was still within my reach. I still was having fun and cheering on people as they passed me, but kept enough of an eye on the time to make that happen. With a helpful verbal push from the pacer right at the end, I did. Or at least close enough for government work. Those milliseconds. They getcha.

Post-race

I was about to type “Well this is what it feels like to have a bad race”, but that’s not even true, is it? Given where I’m at, 1:30:00 time is nothing to sneeze at. And the reality is that I pulled off that time despite having an unpleasant experience early on and pouting for the first half of the course. That’s a great sign of where I am at in my training. I have no illusions that I will be running the Toronto Marathon at a 4:02min/km pace, but I this race serves as a good reminder that I should be on track for my goal of 3:25:00.

And even if I don’t? Hopefully I’ll remember to have fun.

Ugh. Gross. Positivity.


The Crisis of Judgment

23 Aug 2018

Roger Berkowitz for Democracy: A Journal of Ideas:

Judgment is not mere personal taste or preference. To judge is to speak the truth, a truth that must always appeal to a common sense beyond one’s own prejudices. At a time when tolerance trumps truth, judgment’s claim to the truth leaves it vulnerable to mockery and derision.


Transmutation

14 Aug 2018

Angelica Jade Bastién for RogerEbert.com:

Through a variety of high profile blockbusters, low-key dramas, and interested misfires in period pieces, Keanu is still stuck in the amber of our first impression; we don’t treat him with the seriousness he deserves. At best, Keanu is regarded as a guilty pleasure. At worst, he’s seen as a truly bad actor of little worth. No matter where you fall, you likely believe he isn’t worthy of critical study or even much respect for his craft. But this image—of odd blankness, affability but dim wit, worth only found in action films—ignores how purely cinematic his acting style is. For Keanu, acting isn’t a mode of transformation but a state of being. He transmutes story into flesh.


Regarding Teetotalism

11 Aug 2018

Kristi Coulter:

But who said anything about fairness? This isn’t about what’s fair. It’s about what we can afford. And we can’t afford this.


“On The Pile”

30 Jul 2018

Simon Schama in an interview with the New York Times:

What do you plan to read next?

Robert Musil, “The Man Without Qualities.” But then I always plan to read Robert Musil, “The Man Without Qualities,” next.


The Great Wall

28 Jul 2018

Regarding The Great Wall, Vern writes:

Whitewashing is a real problem that can’t be solved by snarkily lumping in movies you have no knowledge of. It appalls me that people can pretend to be enlightened while arguing that a great Chinese director can’t do a movie with a white actor if he wants to.

Far from a white savior, [Matt] Damon plays a representative of the west who has to learn how to be a better person by following Chinese ways (and who helps the Chinese heroine, played by Jing Tian, stop the monsters). At worst it’s Chinese propaganda, at best it’s an international co-production extolling the value of cross-cultural sharing. The former isn’t too big an issue to me in America and the latter I’m all for.


"Do we need a reason?"

28 Jul 2018

Laura Tretheway for The Walrus:

We had never made a sex tape, I realized. We had documented a passing moment in our relationship.


"Dune fandom is an un-fandom"

12 Jul 2018

Sean T. Collins for The Outline:

In the contemporary internet sense, the Dune discourse is wild and wide open, without the warring-camp, protect it at all costs mentality that plagues so many other geek-culture staples.

Dune is one small, goofy, vital way of sharing something wonderful with each other, and with nothing and no one else.