To get the full story we have to go back to March when my husband moved our family – him, me & our 2 boys 8 & 5 to Toronto, Canada! For the first time in 8 years I was home alone! 2 kids at school, no job outside the home or work visa to do so, husband at work, and in a country where I knew about 3 people! What would an RMA do? Google all the races & run – a lot!
In quick succession I ran two half marathons (Toronto Marathon and Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon) and had registered for a third. With all these running plans I thought I really need some friends to run with, so I googled running coaches/groups and found one literally meeting at the track at the end of my street! From the first session in June I was hooked! Training sessions with a coach three times a week and running pretty much every day – I was in full time runner mode and tracking towards my long held goals of a sub 2hr half and a sub 4hr full marathon, in running heaven.
Disaster struck in July – shin splints! I tried everything to speed up the recovery time, but ended up missing 6 weeks training and the marathon plans for 2018 were shot, or so I thought! In the midst of rolling, physio, pool running and rehabbing a good friend and RMA who had moved from Australia a year before I did messaged me saying “quickly look at the NYRR Instagram page, there is a virtual marathon to get guaranteed entry to the 2019 NYC Marathon!” Having missed out in the lottery I barely read the details before saying take my money and agreeing to run a virtual marathon this year between the 1st & 4th November (NYC Marathon weekend).
In the days after registering it dawned on me that I can’t currently run 1km and it’s July, how am I going to run a marathon in November?! Nothing like the carrot of an NYC Marathon entry to spur you on, so I was back walk/running on grass and eventually building up the kilometres week by week until training was back in full swing. By September I was running 5-6 days a week – intervals, speed work, fartlek, hills and long runs, but time was running out for long runs so a 15km race in mid September and the half marathon at Toronto Waterfront Marathon would have to be my longest run and only two weeks before the marathon – argh!
The fall (autumn) weather had hit and it was zero degrees and snow was falling on the start line, but it was a good run and finally a sub 2hr half! The next day the focus shifted to the looming Hamilton Marathon and NYC virtual marathon, and suddenly I was freaking out! I had trained harder than ever before but time had not been on my side post injury and I hadn’t done the kms in the long runs, so the sub 4hr Marathon in my mind was off the table and running the whole way and getting that NYC marathon entry for 2019 was my goal.
My coach and so many other very well meaning supporters had other ideas and had me half convinced that of course I could do it, so the ‘Breaking 4’ plan was in place. The night before I travelled half way to Hamilton to stay with Jen (my co virtual marathon RMA) and after many carbs for dinner and an extra hour sleep thanks to the end of daylight savings, race day had arrived and we were on route to Hamilton (a 30 min drive and half way between Toronto & Niagara Falls). It was a freezing morning (literally zero) but there were blue skies and an amazing sunrise.
The start line was complete with indoor washrooms (Canadian for toilets) and even a fireplace! We had dressed for all seasons with short tights (me with calf sleeves), singlet, warm up long sleeve, gloves, ear warming head band & sunglasses. After a very quick warm up in the freezing cold, it was 8am and we were off. The beautiful sunrise over open fields, farms and vineyards was picturesque! We had Jen’s family at 5km to high 5 and drop the long sleeves. The few ‘rolling hills’ that we thought went for a few kms ended up being quite big & were consistent every km, but we held our sub 4hr pace through the 10km mark where we saw my husband for more high 5’s.
The gorgeous views, now from the top of the escarpment with the town of Hamilton and the lake in the distance continued but so did the hills! Between the 10km and 12km mark something happened. Even though I was not out of breath or particularly tired, bit by bit I started to slow down. With each step and each split increase my anxiety rose, subconsciously at first but then the feelings of doubt became overwhelming, the knowledge of being under done on kilometres and the pressure I had taken on to break 4hrs had quite literally consumed me and I now felt sick to my stomach and had the feeling that I would vomit if I didn’t slow down.
My stubbornness told me to push on, but my body just wouldn’t do it. I felt my lip start to quiver, I felt like I was about to cry and as I started to walk I blurted all the things I’d been thinking to Jen and then quickly followed it up with ‘no, I’m not going to do this! I’m going to run my race, at my pace, no more clock watching, enjoy it and run strong’. We hugged and ran on. I can’t imagine what I would’ve done in that moment without her. I joked that she didn’t realize running together meant a side of psychology work. As soon as I uttered the words and made that decision the cloud literally lifted and from that moment on we just ran – we laughed & enjoyed the race.
Over the next few kms we realized that hills were actually about to end (we had said this to each other each kilometre that it was the last hill) and the 21km half way was upon us. Jen’s family and my husband were all there waiting and cheering and we went through the half in 2:05. We dumped our gloves and rounded the corner for the much anticipated freeway and 5km of downhill. As we settled into the downhill and marvelled at being on a closed highway we quickly realised any advantage of the downhill was completely negated by the freezing headwind coming straight off the lake! Again we laughed, what else could we do. The end of the freeway was finally in sight and we were relieved to be turning off and out of the wind, but then came an unexpected trail portion of the course! Dirt, gravel, uphill and down, and then a bridge, we honestly just kept laughing at all the crazy course changes that kept us guessing.
After the twists and turns of the trail we heard the crowds as we approached the finish precinct. This was a great boost as we turned left onto the lakeshore for the final 11km out and back. As with all marathons the real challenge begins at 30km and then after 35km it’s a matter of ‘just keep going’. Inside those last 7km we were right by the lake, which by this point had waves forming from the wind and we quickly realised we were very under dressed in short tights and singlets, but the tough Aussies wearing the least clothes on the course pushed on. Once we passed the 40km mark and the final aid station we were feeling strong & put the pedal down giving the last 2.2km all we had. We ran this last 2.2km below the original pace and I finished my 3rd marathon and first international marathon in 4:17, hand in hand with a beautiful friend and an amazing runner that 1 month prior had run a 3:17 in the Chicago Marathon. We both finished so grateful for this experience & beyond happy to know that our watches, backup watches and Strava all recorded correctly and we are off to NYC Marathon in 2019!
In the week that has passed since the marathon I have reflected a lot and realized how much I learnt in that moment. The key learning for me would be; You know yourself better than anyone else and better than you think. You have to back yourself! Encouragement and motivation from others is amazing and means so much but I know for me to achieve I have to believe in what I am doing. I have to have confidence in my ability and most importantly MY goals, are MY goals! My goal is still to run a sub 4hr marathon and I believe I will do it, one day, when I am ready. Stay tuned!