Friday, May 2, 2014

Waterloo Marathon - April 27th, 2014



You know it's probably not going to be the best day to run a marathon when your legs feel tired just getting out of bed. I spent far too much time on my feet on Saturday, and had probably run more & harder than I should have in the days preceding the race as well, particularly considering I'd been ill. For that matter, the 36k long run I did a 2 weeks after Around The Bay & 15 days before the marathon (just after getting sick) was probably not my best idea - 42.2k is a bit ambitious to race 4 weeks after a hard 30k even without catching a cold. Despite spending a lot more quality time with my bed than I have in years during taper and getting over the actual coughing, stuffiness and goo-stuffed head, I still arrived at the start line easily susceptible to fatigue. Hell, it took me a week of lots of rest just to get to the point of being eye-twitchingly tired, which is the point at which I found myself in the days leading up to the race.

Up at 4:35am after a pretty lousy night's sleep peppered with interruptions, I stood naked in my kitchen munching a bagel with probably-too-much cream cheese, almond butter, honey & cinnamon (not all on the same bits) and just felt like going back to bed. My legs felt dead and my belly was a bit unhappy - maybe I shouldn't have eaten all that chocolate frosting. After a medjool date with a bit of maca root powder (because I'll try any kind of hoodoo if I think it'll help a marathon suck less) and a tiny bowl of cereal with almond milk, that's exactly what I did. Then I got up again and popped a digestive enzyme to try to settle things down, and crawled once more into bed.

Mmm. Tanker cuddles.

That would be it for this race report, except some idiot part of me didn't want to kiss off on my entry fee. Back out of the Best Bed in the World at 6am to put up the war braids, leaving it to the last possible moment to disturb the blanketed burrito that was my husband. It was his birthday, after all, and he'd not only agreed without protest that I should race on it but also that he'd come and sherpa for me. Y'know, like he always does. That guy's pretty awesome, I tell you. I hit the livingroom carpet for my odd warmup consisting of air-humping and other assorted things noone else really wants to watch (except the one cat who always wants tickles while I'm doing it), then we headed to Tim Hortons - bought Tank a pretzel bagel and got us a couple of cups of coffee, mixing mine with almond milk & chocolate syrup to make my ghetto mocha. Armed with caffeine and cruising on nerves, we drove through the rising sun up to Bechtel Park.

Starting Line

Phase 1 complete: I showed up. It was a chilly morning - just over the freezing mark - with sunny skies and a predicted high of 12c/54f. This, of course, is somewhat difficult to dress for: how do you not freeze at the start or melt before the finish? The answer, in a prime example of ill advised racing philosophy, was to try a brand new and completely untested piece of gear purchased on Friday night.

And dork really, really hard.
Most of the outfit is recognizable from past races - the skirt has been worn so much that it has developed marks from the corners of race bibs rubbing on it, and the calf sleeves offered puffs of Horror Hill mud as I donned them - but the longsleeve shirt had only been tried on prior to Sunday morning. Still, I was pretty confident it would do the trick; very soft, lightweight merino wool (my love affair continues) with flatlocked & external seams to prevent chafing, side gussets for good fit & easy movement, thumbholes to provide some hand warmth, and eyelet mesh over the whole back and underarms to keep the hot bits cool. For the very beginning, I'd just have to TRUST THE CHUB as I did at ATB. I ran into a couple of friends, including Ron Gehl (yay for getting a straw!), used the washroom a couple of times, discussed wardrobe choices with other racers ("..but then again I wore this skirt for the Horror Hill 6-hour last October in the snow, so maybe I'm not the best judge.."), and twitched a bit.

Gel flask in tri top pocket, gloves, earband & hand bottle. Ready...ish.

Or maybe not.
I did some high knees, butt kicks and bounced up and down a little (as I had at Around the Bay), still not feeling terribly energetic. With about 10mins before gun time, I followed Race Director Tony Lea out of the indoor soccer facility (which was a balmy 15c/59f or so) toward the start/finish arch in the driveway. The air didn't feel too frosty at first, but then the wind out of the North hit us and I exploded into goosebumps. I got a kiss from my sweetheart, then tried to find tall people in the start area to hide behind as we were heading out directly into the wind. I saw one other racer in a skirt, and a glitzy one at that - about the colour of my shirt with a swirly pattern on it done in blue, black and glitter! Within a minute or two the air horn sounded and we were off - I'm told that it was actually incredible masters runner Ed Whitlock who gave us a pre-race pep talk and sent us off before hammering the half marathon, but I was too lost in my own trepidations to notice.


0-10k: Um, what's going on here?

So, off and away. The plan is to go out conservatively, because marathons are long and the last 10k (in my memory) is very hilly - there are no pacers at this race, as only about 100 people total run the full distance per year. Out of Bechtel Park, right turn on Bridge, and down a big hill - as we reach the traffic circle at Lancaster I can already tell this is going to go better than my other attempt in 2011. Y'see, I experienced something at the start of my very first marathon that has never happened before or since: as I ran down that first big hill, it felt as though someone had inserted glass rods in the quads on both my legs and then smashed them with a hammer, filling my thighs with a million shards of pain. I've no explanation for why it happened (I actually did a warmup run before the race and don't think I ran very hard down the hill), but since it occurred within the first kilometer, it completely changed the character of the rest of the run. This time, however, my legs felt fine.

Though running with my eyes closed proved too difficult to sustain.

I did, however, have another problem. I was running along at an effort level that felt like it might have been a bit high for the start of a marathon - breathing wasn't really laboured, but I definitely wasn't just strolling along - and watching most of the other racers pull away from me. Ok, that's fair: I'm not fast, and most of the people who come out to the Waterloo Marathon are pretty strong, since it's not one of the "flat and fast - set a PR" kind of courses that appeals to the masses (hence the small field). I figure I can probably settle right around a 5:55-6:00/km pace and run pretty happily for most of it, and that may very well put me toward the back of the pack. Except I check my watch as I pass the 1km marker, and it says 6:14. I started it when I crossed the timing mat at the start, so there's no offset, and it's not like I had to thread my way through traffic at all. I hoped the marker might be off a bit, but when I came through 2k at 12:36 I knew it was going to be a long day.

The first 10k.

I tried picking it up a bit, basically hoping I could surge up to something above my desired pace and then back off in comfort to cruise along where I wanted to be - I was through the 4k mark in about 24:28, so coming closer to managing a decent clip, but it was feeling really tough. The elevation profile above shows that after the initial descent we had a lot of climbing to do, and just before the 5k marker (which I completely missed seeing) the road curved around directly into the wind. I had a swig of EFS Liquid Shot from my flask around 35mins in and was drinking regularly from my hand bottle - I was warm enough without being too warm, and it was actually turning out to be a pleasant day. My legs kept turning over and I was even dealing with the hills reasonably well; I just didn't have much oomph. It was super nice to see a friendly face and get a high five just before the half & full courses diverged at the corner of Sawmill & Crowsfoot - thanks for coming out again Dave!

1st 10k split: 1:00:28 @ 6:03/km

Just before the turn onto Crowsfoot, after getting my high five.

10-20k: Chasing a bunny

After managing to climb up Crowsfoot Road I was feeling slightly less sorry for myself, especially since I had passed a few people along the way. I tried to pass a friendly word with those around me, but noone seemed very talkative - most were plugged into their headphones and ignoring the world around them, or at least the part of it that contained skirted dorks. Seems like a lousy way to spend a race, but then again what do I know? With so few racers and the course being a single loop it was best to anticipate being alone for most of the run, and I know I'm kind of a weirdo for never running with music even in training. Whatever makes your pickle crunch! I just kept on trucking, taking another swig off my gel flask around 11k and moving it to my right-hand pocket instead of my left. I don't know why.

The dead deer in the ditch on the side of the road was a less than inspiring sight, but the kilometers were ticking by and at least I seemed to have stabilized my effort a bit. This was about the flattest section of the whole course, and I was making up a bit of time while gaining on the racers ahead of me. Around 13km in I spotted Ron Gehl's fluorescent tie-dye hat up ahead and decided I was going to catch him. I worked steadily, reeling him (and, coincidentally, a few other people) in one step at a time, and finally caught him in the sugarbush right around the 15k mark...just as he dodged off for a natural break! I'd seen him running together with another fellow in a tie-dye shirt (how perfect!), with whom I now found myself virtually in step.

Note that the "flattest part of the course" is mostly uphill.

Map of pain
I offered a bit of friendly chatter, and it turned out my new companion was game for a bit of conversation. His name was Scot, his lovely Mum kept turning up along the course to cheer him on, and he was an engineer who totally gets my incessant calculating of fractions during races (ie: 14k is approx 1/3 of the way done, 18k is 3/7, etc). I noticed he was wearing a Garmin GPS watch and asked what kind of a finish he was working toward: he said he was trying to keep it right around 6:00/km (as he has the common tendency to go out too fast) to finish between 4:12:xx and 4:13:xx. I told him he was my new best friend, as I figured I could just try to keep up with him and I'd be home safe. I was realistically looking at between 4:15-4:20 for a finish given that I was just on the edge of being able to converse with Scot as we ran, but figured I could do a lot worse than having a friendly pace bunny to tow me along and socialize a bit.

2nd 10k split: 59:46 @ 5:59/km
20k split: 2:00:14 @ 6:01/km

20-30k: Hanging on by my fingernails

I'd had to stop 3 years ago right around the halfway mark to use the portajohn, and that was one more way in which it looked like I was having a better day than the last time. I will freely admit that I could have used a washroom break, but it wasn't anything urgent. I'd felt the same way while running Around the Bay last month, and was totally able to keep it together. Still, I wondered if I might not be searching for a new pre-race breakfast again, or maybe if going back to bed was a bad idea - would I have digested better if I'd stayed awake?

On the dirt section of Maryhill Road near the halfway mark it became apparent that I'd have my work cut out for me to stay with my pace bunny. As you can see from the elevation profile below, there's a dip and a significant hill as you approach 22k. Scot trucked up that hill like every other one I saw him run: at exactly the same pace he was running on the flats. I'd apparently found myself a metronome, but trying to keep up with him was costing me a bit. Additionally, he was just grabbing a cup of sport drink at the aid stations, where I was having to pause to get my bottle filled before surging back up to him again. This was not the best way to pace a marathon, but I still felt like trying to run with Scot was the best chance I had of putting in a decent finish, as it was making me push myself a bit harder than I would if I'd just been toddling along on my own.

Artist's conception of Scot and I running.
Apologies to Scot if he ever sees this. The "artist" will be duly flogged.

The day was warming up, so I had ditched my gloves in the spare pocket of my tri top - it's amazing how much of an effect my hands can have on my temperature regulation. Turning off Maryhill Road onto Katherine Street/23 as I polished off a chocolate raspberry Gu Roctane gel (y'know, to keep things interesting), we were approaching the covered bridge that is one of the pretty little highlights of the course. When I'd seen him before the race, Dave asked me how tough the big descent to & climb from the covered bridge felt, shown in the middle of the elevation profile below.

I'd forgotten all about it.

Well, it turns out it sucks. A lot. My legs were definitely starting to talk to me by this point, and had very little positive to say. I'd also developed a blister on the bottom of my left big toe, seemingly from a tiny bit of gravel that made its way into my shoe on Maryhill Road. Scot and I ran down the fairly steep lane to the covered bridge, then he was just about rid of me as we made our way up the correspondingly agonizing climb back up to Line 86. His mum appeared in her vehicle as we trucked up the road, first parked and then pulling past us saying "This is an uphill!". Thanks. I'd never have known.

Yep, I got dropped.

Working to catch up again.

I did manage to get back together with Scot, and the fellow behind us in this photo (whom the race results tell me is named Cornel) made his way up to us just as we made the turn West toward Elmira. It turns out Cornel is South African, and had been in Canada for a couple of weeks - he heard about this marathon and decided to jump right in before he flew home the following day.

So, the three of us ran together across the relatively flat and featureless expanse of Line 86. I was really starting to struggle to keep up, as I'd ended up death whistling trying to stick with Scot as we came off the covered bridge. I saw a set of street lights approaching and wondered if it was really Northfield Drive - we were only about 27km in and I could have sworn that we didn't turn South until 10k left to go. I stopped to get my bottle filled again at the aid station just before the lights, and it became apparent that it was indeed our turn. The "last 10k of rolling hills" were actually more like 15km - call it closer to 10 miles.

A kindly volunteer provides precious, precious fluids.
As we made the turn and headed down a long hill before climbing back up, 2 things became undeniably apparent:

1) I was not going to be able to hang with Scot and Cornel.
2) I was not getting through this race without a portajohn stop.

I was actually having to scold myself quite a bit to keep from dropping to a walk, and as I forced myself to keep running I was forced to watch my two companions inch further and further ahead of me. By the time we climbed the hill just after 29k they had outdistanced me by at least 15 metres, and would do so even more as I sought relief from a perfectly positioned loo. It was even vacant - hallelujah!

Relieved of my - ahem - burden, I felt a bit better, but now I had a pretty major issue: in pulling my skirt (with its seamless boy shorts underneath) off to take care of business, I seemed to have removed the essential layer of BodyGlide I'd so carefully applied to my upper thighs before the race. This was bad. I have what are technically known as "fat friggin' thighs", and have boundless knowledge of that particular experience darkly referred to as chub rub. I could feel friction with every single step, yet couldn't think of anything I could really do about it. Spit in my hand and apply? Might very well make things worse, especially since I'd continued to swig on gel. Squirt some water in there? Umm, it may help temporarily, but not a long-term solution. Pee myself? Apart from having just used a portajohn, what did I think this was, a triathlon? So, I decided to ignore it and get on with things as best I could. I actually managed to pass some of the people who'd gone trotting by as I was in the loo!

3rd 10k split: 1:01:24 @ 6:08/km (including portajohn stop)
30k split: 3:01:38 @ 6:03/km

30-40k: The wheel fell off, so we took it out to the back 40 and shot it.

I invite you to look at the elevation profile below and ask yourself if it's something you'd want to experience toward the end of a marathon. Gee, I wonder why registration is always so low for this race?

The words "net downhill" never rang so hollow.

I pulled off my earband and stuffed it in my pocket with the gloves, and turned up the sleeves on my shirt a bit - I had a tailwind and I was feeling warmer than I needed to, but not by much. The new shirt was actually pretty awesome; I just have too much surface area (ha, ha!) in order to cool myself effectively in anything but sub-arctic conditions. Thoughts of a 4:15 finish were gone - it simply wasn't going to happen. I could still probably take a solid whack at 4:20, though, which would still be a 17+min PR. Really, I'd hit such a point in damage control that I was just forcing myself not to walk. Slowing down on an uphill (and my, there were plenty of those) was ok, but walking was not an option. As I wound down Northfield Drive to Conestogo I reflected on how much nicer this route really is on a motorcycle - rolling hills and sweeping curves, with farmlands stretching all around. Around 33k I downed another packet of Roctane, hoping the caffeine would give me a bit of a lift. Come to think of it, that may be what caused the portajohn stop: I usually don't use caffeinated gels until the final hour of a race.

Finally re-entering Waterloo around kilometer 37, there's a bloody great climb up to University Avenue, where the penultimate turn of the course takes you past RIM Park. Suddenly it all came flooding back: for the last 5km of the race, they pack as many damn hills as possible in just to mess with you. It was this point in 2011, coming up a nasty hill into a headwind, that I quite literally snarled and told the entire universe to bugger all the way off. I also remembered having my legs destroyed by these same hills at the 2011 Re-Fridgee-Eighter 8 mile, but used my usual tactic at the end of a long race: telling myself "c'mon, it's only 5km - any asshole can run 5km". My hamstrings pointed out that they'd already run 37k, thank you very much, and threatened to cramp on a couple of occasions. Fortunately, their threats were empty.

Artist's conception of my legs.

On the bright side, none of the hills actually seemed to be as big and steep as I remembered. On the not-so-bright side (and I definitely wasn't feeling very bright at this point), there were just So. Damn. Many of them. I was, however, actually passing people. Others were clearly suffering worse than I was, and I tried to offer a kind word to each of them as I ran by. I also giggled a bit at some triathlete out riding his P5 in an aerohelmet. Pfft. Tridorks.

Legs sore & chafed, feet complaining, and totally ready to be done, I finally hit the 40k marker. How many hills could they really pack into the last 2 kilometers?

4th 10k split: 1:02:20 @ 6:14/km
40k split: 4:03:59 @ 6:06/km

40-42.2k: MERCY

It turns out the answer is two. One of which is almost a full kilometer long.

I was full-on death whistling by this point, but I couldn't care less - I was almost done and had nothing to hold back for anymore! Legs wingeing on the uphills and positively screaming on the downhills, I finally hit the bottom of a climb and spotted the 7-11 gas station at the top: that was at the corner of Bridge & University, less than a block from Bechtel Park! I crested the hill at last, knowing that the final stretch down the driveway to the finish was a bit of a decline. I was going to make it after all!

Thanking the police and volunteers who were directing traffic (as I'd thanked all the other volunteers & officers along the way; it's what I do), I was pleased not to have any cars cut me off as I passed the busy plaza and made the final left-right onto Bridge and then into the park. Around the curve and down the hill, Tanker spotted me and gave me a really wonderfully emotional "YEAH! Way to go babe!" I continued through the arch, arms aloft, then totally failed to stop running. I'd got my legs so accustomed to turning over even when they didn't want to that it took a moment or two for me to put it together that "hey, you're done; you can stop now, dummy!"

Ill Advised Racing gang sign for Tanker

2.2km split: 13:29 @ 6:03/km

Official chip time: 4:17:28 @ 6:06/km
20:25 PR vs 2011

53/92 finishers O/A (101 starters)
16/33 female finishers (36 starters)
9/11 in W30-39
Hooray for not sucking as badly as I did 3 years ago!


I was congratulated kindly by some friends after the race (some of whom were weird enough to have run the Pick Your Poison 50k the day before - MANIACS!), then headed inside to get myself a post-race massage. I was still in love with the new shirt - I seem to have pretty good luck with the new stuff I try on race day (knock wood)!

Best I've felt all day!
A glance at my flask post-race showed I'd taken in approximately 250cal of EFS Liquid Shot in addition to the two packets of Gu Roctane for a total of about 450cal. I might have been better off leaving the caffeine for later than 22k into the race, as it may have led to the portajohn stop at 29.x kilometers. However, I also recall really needing to "lighten my load" by the end of Around the Bay as well, so maybe my current pre-race nutrition only allows ~3hrs of running before requiring expulsion. Something with which I may continue to experiment.

While I'm hugely happy with the 20min PR, I really feel like I had a better race in me had I not been ill and come in carrying so much fatigue. In retrospect the 36k run I did 2 weeks out was probably pretty stupid when I was just getting sick - I'd been running pretty well by a week after Around the Bay, but never quite seemed to get it back after that long slog. The light, easy stride that taper usually brings around just never appeared, and my left eye was twitching before I even arrived at the starting line on race day - never a good sign. It seems like I'll have to make another attempt at a road marathon at some point, taking a little more care of myself in advance to stay healthy & rested.

Sense of accomplishment: check.

On the other hand, for only being my 2nd road marathon and facing the challenge of adjusting pace to accommodate the post-illness fatigue, I'm pretty pleased with how even my 10k splits were - the slowest (from 30k-40k, in really the worst of the hills) was only 02:34 behind my fastest (10k-20k). Furthermore, in the grand scheme of things, I ran this 29 seconds per kilometer faster than my first attempt - as a matter of fact, I was 2sec/km faster than my first half-marathon back in 2009 (on a net downhill course). The only thing better than seeing how far I've come is being able to share it with my best friend, who coincidentally happens to be the world's best husband and sherpa.

The best finish line treat is being able to spend the rest of the day with him.


  1. thanks for this race report - what a thorough and thoroughly entertaining review! i'm tackling my first ever waterloo marathon this weekend and wanted to get the best handle possible on what i'm going to be facing - and now i realize just how hilly it's going to be!

    1. Thanks for reading, Patrick - all the best for your race! Since I'll actually be running Pick Your Poison tomorrow at the Heights of Horseshoe (though only the 25k), I can truly sympathize with you about the hills. Happy racing!


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