As I begin training for what I am confident will be my 1st Spring marathon success, let me continue my running journey where I left off in Run Karen Run. January 2014, I joined my 1st Marathon Clinic with the Running Room. It was a big group of marathon veterans and newbies coached by the legendary Beaches marathoner Duff McLaren.
My goal was to run my 1st full marathon in 2014. Given my age, lack of running history and my head issues with running I figured I might want to start training as early as possible. I might just need 2 clinics to pull off this big goal. Not that I didn’t believe in myself but starting in January would definitely give my body time to adapt to the increase in mileage, if needed. Turns out this was one of my brighter ideas.
Quickly, my mind wandered to Spring marathons. Apparently the Ottawa Marathon was celebrating their 20th anniversary in May and I knew my sister really enjoyed this race. Along with the promise of red Canada swag (an addiction of mine), I decided this should be my 1st ‘kick at the can’. Sold out already by early January, my sister pulled some strings and got us both registered. Goal set, I was super excited and motivated!
I decided to stick to the training schedule exactly. This meant 5 runs a week. I knew my body would hate me but I was more committed to this goal than most anything I’d taken on. I was killing my runs despite the most snowy winter on record. I was also able to continue my weight training schedule until the middle of Feb when the mileage was starting to affect my energy along with a new job and long commute. The running was now more important than any other form of training. I kept up with weekly deep tissue massages and added yoga after my long Sunday runs to help deal with the expected tightness. To say marathon training completely ate up my life would be an understatement. Every spare minute was consumed with training, nutrition, learning or preventive treatments. Socializing was mostly cut out unless you were a runner cause then it was called multi tasking. Needless to say, Jeff began with a running clinic in Feb as well.
As the mileage went up each week everything started to revolve around long runs on Sundays. Days before I’d be extra focused on nutrition, hydration, sleep and I even decided to cut myself off alcohol for 4 months. Being good on Friday and Saturdays was quite the sacrifice I have to say, not one that’s easy to buy into until the affects are felt in a terrible long run or bad recovery. Those Sunday long runs were made less painful thanks to my running pace buddies Lyndsey and Jessica. We were all 1st timers and seemed to fall into the same pace on long runs. We were having so much fun with our big group but we were at the back of the pack so we decided to start our long runs earlier than the group so we could at least high 5 them on the way back. Finishing with them made us feel falsely super hero like too. Each of us had our strengths at different points on long runs and it all seemed to work. We were all totally committed to the prize in May.
The beginning of March we ran the Chilly Half Marathon. Minus 28 definitely qualifies as Chilly! Flat course and fit in nicely with our training mileage although definitely not my favourite route but it was a successful race and I was able to PB my 1st Half in October by 7 minutes despite the cold and slush.
At this point I was now meeting weekly, even twice some weeks, with a sport Doc (physio/chiro/acupuncturist) close to my new office for preventative treatments. This mature newbie needed every benefit she could get! Funny how I used to be unhealthy and had 1 Doc, now I was healthy and athletic and had a whole team of Docs. Anything that would help my body get used to running 60km+ a week was worth the effort.
This all went great until mid March. Then OUCH, what’s wrong with my knee? Over use makes sense that’s for sure. I’m sure it will pass so I stuck to my schedule. Then came Around the Bay (ATB) the end of March. My very 1st 30km race. The 120th running of ATB, the oldest road race in NA, older than Boston I’m told. Every single marathoner I knew adored this race and it fit in perfectly with the distance in our training. My knee was sore in the weeks training up to this race but I kept running cutting just a few runs short. I knew it was a bad injury but, until an official diagnosis, I was not going to stop training. IF it was a bad injury, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do Ottawa but I sure as heck was going to pull off my 1st 30km race. Call it runners logic! That logic can give us a very high pain tolerance and very stubborn decision making.
The week before ATB I had to cut out my runs to recover. I knew the race was going to be hard for me but I had a group of cheerleaders who would be waiting at the stadium and most of our marathon group was running the race. Luckily at the start line I began chatting with a retired police officer who was just coming off an injury and we ended up running together. A veteran marathoner but this was his 1st race back. We got to chatting and before I knew it we were 20km into the race. The distraction worked amazingly. It’s entertaining what you can learn about someone during a run. Runner’s etiquette though, “What’s said on a run stays there”. As the rolling hills began I was running into trouble literally. I went for the advil gel I had tucked in my waist band and it had melted with my body heat. Darn! I told my running partner to go get his best time but he didn’t want to leave until I pushed him onward. That was a big mistake for me. I had absolutely no idea how big of trouble I was in until I was alone. The infamous escarpment hill was approaching soon so I made a commitment to run to the top without stopping then take a walk break. Since most people were walking up the hill (cause they are smart!) I counted everyone I passed, almost 60. Then, I hobbled a few minutes and I’m sure double that passed me. Walking actually hurt more than running and I still had 5km to go so I tried my best to keep running forward. Left. Right. Left. I just decided there was no way I wasn’t going to finish.
Finally I saw the Grim Reaper ahead and stopped to line up for a quick picture. The Grim Reaper is a famed character in this race who stands near a cemetery with a sign “The END is NEAR”. I had to stop. I should not have stopped. I should have known what would happen. Now I was totally seizing up but I sure look happier than him in the picture!
I swear the last 3km of the race seemed like the 27km I’d already done. With about a km to go I saw Lyndsey on the sidelines jumping up and down cheering me on. It is such a rush having people you know there for support. I was so thankful to see her since I was really struggling at this point. I was limp running but now the crowds were really active and boisterous. Then I rounded the corner into the stadium to a rush of cheers and music and the thrill of knowing I’d just completed my very 1st 30km. I could actually see Jeff with his sister and our brother in law in the stands. It was a moment of joy. Then I had to walk! Then I had to do stairs! Once I finally managed to get back to our section without medical assistance, they were all over me. The accomplishment hit me and what I’d just accomplished brought me to tears.
I don’t regret doing that race at all. Turns out I had a very bad injury and would not be able to do the Ottawa Marathon. Although I didn’t get a diagnosis for a few weeks after ATB, I was having trouble even walking for 10 days after the race, stairs I did on all 4’s. Turns out I had a stress fracture of my tibea plateau. I’d be out of commission for 6-8 weeks completely. No Spring Marathon but I had just earned the Tough Cookie label running several weeks of training runs and a 30km race on a fractured tibia. The post below clearly shows I was not quite willing to admit defeat race day. Call it endorphins or the expectation distance runners have for pain after races, bragging rights even. The next morning after the race though I rushed to my Doc and was able to have an MRI within a week.
For 6 weeks I focused on upper body weights, ran in the pool for hours on end, rode a bike without tension. I was trying so desperately to keep my cardio but it would be impossible given the improvement in my heart rate from running. I was like a gerbel on a hamster wheel but I listened to the Docs, ate very nutritiously and did everything possible to support my healing.
I’m a big fan of doing Obstacle Course Races (OCR’s) and we had started with Tough Mudder a year ago. This summer we were registered for 2 with our team; Spartan and our 2nd Tough Mudder. I was happy to get Doc’s okay to start back to training after 6 weeks in June. I’m sure he didn’t mean Spartan right out of the gates but I was careful on the jumping obstacles. I finished easily, better than I thought. I was back! I felt strong with no pain. Then in August we were able to earn our 2nd head bands with a triumphant Tough Mudder course. I was able to ping off obstacles that messed with me a year ago. The upper body training while recovering was definitely a bonus and would really help with my running.
Then getting back into running I took it very slow. I did sign up with another marathon group lead by veteran marathoner Nir Meltzer but knew that my regime and the groups would be a bit different. No running down hills for me and all my long runs would be on my own. Getting back into running was difficult. Not only had I lost conditioning but there was a constant fear in my mind of re-injuring myself or not being fully healed yet. MRI’s don’t come quickly so I had to assume the fracture was healed and start training slowly with a promise to my Doc to stop at the 1st sign of pain. It’s sometimes hard to decipher phantom pains versus real pain after such an injury.
At this point I decided the best thing I could do was run 3 times a week. I managed to train by myself for my 1st half marathon injury free running 3 runs a week. I would just build up to full marathon distances on my long runs. I did a mini poll of my veteran marathoner friends and all of them ran 4-6 times a week. Hmm, this was going to be an experiment but might help me hit my ‘Marathon in 2014’ goal. I was going to try it, cross train like crazy, stick with 3 runs a week and continue with weekly massage and physio treatments.
The biggest challenge was long runs on the weekends. We spend Summer weekends up North in bear country this meant figuring out routes where I felt safe. Ends up taking along a noisy bear detractor was my best defence. Jeff would be on his bike, sometimes with a few beverages in him, riding back and forth to check on his runner. A few times he would drop his bike in the bush and run some of it with me and other times he would be in his car with our dog. He was a true God send. I’m sure it was boring for him and took him away from his pet projects but he did everything he could to support my marathon goal. Such a loving supporter!
Then I got to head out on some great girl weekends with my sister to Quebec City for their race the end of August. 90 degrees and hills! Yuck! But what an amazing city in the Summer. I’ve only been there in the winter to ski before so it was a treat and very difficult to be a good girl pre-race with all the wonderful French food and wine. I’m beginning to think races should be held on Saturdays so all the visitors can really ‘go to town’ the day after the race. If I were Queen!
Next was a weekend in Prince Edward county. One of my favourite races to this day! What a lovely smaller race. Great location, the route was awesome and supporters along the countryside. Again, I was wishing the race was on Saturday so we could wine tour on Sunday but alas the life of a runner. This race they bus you to the start line and you run back. I totally rocked this race. Despite the hills coming back into town I was able to PB by almost 4 minutes to cross the finish line in 2:13. My 1st half marathon less than a year ago I had a time of 2:26 so I was thrilled. I pushed myself so hard toward the end that I burst into tears at the finish line and it took me a while to get my composure and breathing back. This is probably my greatest true race effort to date. I was strong, happy, pain free and didn’t save anything; athough still guilty of stopping for a quick picture during the Sandbanks portion of the race.
What a great way to go into my 1st marathon which was just a month away! Prince Edward gave me the confidence boost to understand I was truly over my injury and I could push myself without repercussions. Just a few more nasty long runs to go and I would get to taper.
I decided to take my final long run distance to 34km. Most marathoners seem to go up to 32km then taper. For me, I thought mentally having less than 10k to finish on race day would be an added bonus. I planned out a 34km long run that included a race in the middle. Lo and Behold the inaugural Toronto 10 Miler race was along one of my favourite training routes so I ran to the start line, raced out to the lighthouse and back, then ran home meeting up with my sister who did the final big hills with me. She knew I spent hours in the tub after these crazy runs so she even ran with treats for me. Despite being a really hot day, my longest run ever went great. Not having to carry so much water and nutrition due to the race pit stops made it easier and the cheerleaders along the route made it exciting. My last long run was done. Taper time!
Then comes Oct 19, 2014 – Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. After 9 months of training, a stress fracture, 8 races so far in 2014, 4 pair of running shoes, 7 Doctors and 100’s of training kilometers, race day was here!
I knew I’d be running the whole marathon by myself and I had convinced myself that it would help me to be in the moment and take in the whole experience. Everything happens for a reason. All those lone training runs through the summer had trained me for this day. In retrospect, the only place where I would plant a runner to help me next time I do this race would be the last 7km.
There were 3 pivotal points in the race for me:
- The point in the race where the Half marathoners break off. There is a very real ‘in your face’ point in the Scotia marathon where you could decide to save yourself for another race and still get a great medal. OR, looking at it another way, there is a point in this race where you have mental confirmation that you can and will double what you’ve just done and get your 1st marathon medal.
2. The Beaches! Loved it!! Can’t say enough about this point in the race. As I approached a turn into the Beach route, Jessica and Lyndsey were yelling like crazies from a crowd of supporters. Someone running beside me said, “you must feel like a million bucks right now” and they were right. Then came the bands, the supporters, the amazing running community, the wonderful small town feel. The race actually runs right past my sisters house twice so my Mom and her partner were out front cheering along with Jeff standing on the median in the middle of the road with a great big sign and their neighbours yelling from the balconies. That was pretty cool! For approximately 8kms it was easy to forget what I was doing and just have fun. I recall actually dancing at the turnaround point and bouncing past some of my running buddies who were volunteering on the route. It was AMAZING! Thank you!
3. Eastern Avenue. As I was coming out of the Beaches, Lyndsey and her daughter were there with a poster with my name on it. I was so touched. It meant so much to me that I had to stop for a selfie with them.
THEN, after the McDonalds it got dead. I still had about 8km left to run. Eastern was rough. There were a few pockets of supporters but most had finished their marathon of cheering. It was about 4 hours into the marathon now. That’s a lot of cheering and a lot more exciting runners than a 50 something trudging along not so gracefully. I turned my music up real loud and talked to myself. I went back to distracting myself with calculations from a pace tattoo on my arm that I never really figured out. I was happy to get to Front Str where more supporters appeared. One man tried real hard to get my attention to take off my earphones. Once I did he said “Feed off the energy now, just a few km to go”. He was right.
The last kilometer I saw 2 officers in the middle of the road with the Old City Hall towers behind them. I wanted a picture. They tried to talk me out of it “It will affect your time.” LOL Later I realized I would have been totally ticked off if I’d wasted just 12 more seconds.
I got my picture then mustered what felt like sprinting but I’m sure looked more like walking as I saw someone else from my running group cheering towards the end. It was a great boost for my final push then my sister found me and finished the race with me. She made sure I went through the correct medal corral and got a picture of them putting my very 1st full marathon medal around my neck. I will say I just cried typing that, yup I did, but at the finish of this race I did not cry. It was unusual for me with big accomplishments. My sister might have even been a bit disappointed with her camera all ready to capture my ugly cry 😉 You see as I was finishing my 1st marathon … I was pondering the ridiculousness of running my 2nd marathon in less than 3 months at Disney. What was I thinking? Ignorance can be bliss I guess.
It’s a good thing I was already registered for Disney! There would be no break for me but I was now officially a Marathoner.
11 thoughts on “Marathon Quest”
Wonderful work, well done with great success. Congratulations.Ed
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What an awesome post Karen! You are such a true inspiration to so many! You must be so incredibly proud of everything you’ve done and how strong you’ve become. Thanks so much for sharing this! I know it will inspire others and show them that they too can do whatever they set their minds to! Keep on going and geterdone my friend! Cheers!
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Thanks for the awesome comments Christina! My hope is to inspire others to reach past what they ‘think’ they can do. There’s real joy & change in getting out of your comfort zone. Thank you for your super support!
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Karen, this has been such an incredible journey for you. To be able to persevere through the disappointments, setbacks and injuries and come back and complete this STWM is nothing short of AMAZING.
Enjoyed hearing about the “Chilly” and “Around the Bay”, both which I had the privilege to run this past year. There was no escarpment hill in 2015 as there was road construction and the route was changed up some. Loved hearing about you running with the retired police officer. Many of my races I have had other runners run with me that I only met on the course. Time goes by so fast. and it is always so wonderful to make those new connections.
And reading about Toronto Waterfront 2014 was a pleasure to read. Like yourself, STWM 2014 was my 1st full marathon, being 56 years old at the time. Like your previous “ATB” race, I ran it injured, should not have, but had that stubbornness in me.
Loved your pictures throughout many races and events. And all the best for 2016. Maybe I might see you at the starting line of one of the races. 🙂
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I’ve read this about 3 x… you are giving me a lot of hope today Karen. While my Achilles gently reminds me of it’s prickle of pain after staying off it for 6 days, I am reading this and I’m getting teary. I don’t want to go to a doctor because I’m afraid she’ll tell me what I dont’ want to hear…. and all sorts of people telling me different things I’m fearing so many different scenarios. All I want to do is reach my goals for this year, and that includes ATB and Goodlife in May. I’m giving it another week of training and see where I get …. I just love this blog…. you are so inspiring!!!!
Thank you for your kind words! It is tough being injured and I have a few running friends (you included of course) who are dealing with that right now. I just went live with my post on injury. Hope it helps! Thanks for reading my blog and for your cheering on social media. It is much loved and appreciated!
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