Setting Myself Up for a Bad Race: Toronto Marathon Part 1

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I began training for the Toronto Marathon shortly after the holidays with the goal of stepping myself closer to a BQ. I wanted to pull five more minutes off my time with the idea I could then, possibly, pull another five minutes off in the fall, hitting the qualifier. I’ve wanted a 3:30 marathon since college, but there was always one excuse after another as to why I wasn’t there yet. But finally, I was running without a looming pregnancy, without nursing, without injury. The only one holding me back was me — and not having excuses turned out to be scary in and of it’s self.

So the goal was a 3:35, but I wanted a 3:30, and I fanaticized (secretly of course) about a 3:28. I envisioned myself doing well, running strong, crossing the finish line with a kick and seeing on the clock that I had indeed done it! I trained with the idea that I would do it. And then I wrestled with the fear of disappointment.

And then, just as my training was winding down, things began to fall apart. I began to fall apart. My new shoes, despite having a hundred break-in miles, were continuing to cause pain and blisters. I didn’t have the money to purchase another pair and my back up had close to 500 miles.  I had been convinced in the store to purchase a pair they had in stock rather than what I had gone in for. I was told that the shoes I wanted wouldn’t stand up to a marathon distance and I needed a sturdier shoe. But I’m used to running in light, flexible shoes so these just never ended up working for me. Without a receipt, definitely worn, and past the 15 day return period, my never-take-no-for-an-answer husband was able to get the shoes replaced AND a store credit! But now I had less than a month to get these broken in & race ready. Plus, if these shoes didn’t work out, there was no time to replace them. This started the trickle of anxiety.

Three weeks before the race I began to slack on my workouts. I was tired and sore after every run and it was all I could do to get up in the mornings. With only two weeks left I was completely exhausted, only getting out of bed to put the kids on the bus, feed the animals, and then crawl back in to sleep. I was quickly losing weight and I had almost no appetite. I feared that I was suffering from over-training. I began to panic.  If I was really this tired, HOW could I ever get through the race? Suddenly a marathon seemed like the most daunting task in the world and I was sure I wouldn’t be able to make it, let alone come anywhere close to my 3:35 time. I could rest, but not training didn’t seem like an option either. I altered the remainder of my training so that threshold runs and intervals were to be run at race pace (8:00 min/mile) and everything else was to be run at 9:00 min miles.  I cut nearly every workout in half and took it incredibly easy. If I nipped it in the bud, perhaps full on fatigue could be kept at bay and I could pull this thing off anyway.

I carbo-loaded. I hydrated. I worked on gaining weight and sleeping. I cleaned my house like a mad woman to keep my mind off running. My darling children brought home a stomach bug that kept me confined to the bathroom for far too long. I was now terrified of running. I so badly wanted to do well, but I just wasn’t catching a break. Finally, with just a few days to go, I began to feel like a normal person again. But my nerves were already frayed.

On the long drive from Connecticut to Toronto I couldn’t help but think of the things I did wrong. I had greatly slacked on strength training. I’d lost a lot of weight and feared what that could mean for the distance. I ran a lot of workouts much too fast. I ran a lot of workouts much too slow. My longest training run was only 22 miles and I had only done it once in the whole training cycle. In fact, all of my weekly mileage was fairly low. Then I started second guessing myself. Maybe I should wear a different singlet. Maybe I should just wear long sleeves. Maybe I don’t really need my hydration pack. Maybe I’ll fall apart without it. Then something terrible happened.

The day before the marathon I went out for an easy 20-30 minute jog before meeting up with my friends and family at the Expo Center for packet pick up.  We had walked around the city a great deal the two days before, so I felt confident leaving my phone at the condo. I ran loops around the convention centers and up and down the streets until I ran into a gate. I needed to get through the gate to head back to where we were staying, but a highway and lack of sidewalks was on the other side. How exactly had I gotten here? I had crossed a narrow bridge, so all I had to do was get back to it, keeping the CN Tower on my left and a billboard advertising a beer on my right. Unfortunately, every time I looked up, I either couldn’t see the billboard or the CN Tower was on my right. It got truly terrifying once the Tower ended up directly behind me.

I kept getting stuck on the wrong streets. I stopped and asked directions several times and people either had no idea where Liberty Street was, or they sent me in the opposite direction.  Everyone was very nice to me, but also very wrong. As time clicked by and my watch continued to beep mile markers at me, I became more and more afraid. It was very cold, very damp, and very windy. I knew that being exposed to these elements for this long wasn’t going to me any good. Plus, running this far on pavement the day before a marathon was probably not ideal.

When I made it to the harbor I was nearly in tears. I knew this wasn’t where I should be, and I had no idea how far I had to go and whether I needed to head east or west. I found a streetcar map, but it only showed the train’s route, not all the streets and where I needed to go was not on any route. I was cold, wet, and very hungry. I was frustrated and scared. A woman approached and with a thick Scottish brogue asked if I was all right. I explained that I wasn’t from Toronto and that I needed to get back to Liberty Street. And no, I didn’t have a phone with me, and yes, my husband was probably freaking out by now (and I had his keys so he couldn’t even come looking for me).  She held an umbrella over me as she carefully and patiently explained where I needed to go. And man, once I saw familiar streets again I was beyond elated. I got back to the condo having run more than ten and a half miles!

Now my fear from being lost dissolved into anger at myself. I knew I had screwed up my race. I was stupid to have run in a new place without a phone or a predetermined route. With everything else I had messed up along the way, this was the final excuse to ensure I wouldn’t be able to do it. I still wanted that 3:35, but I was very disappointed that I was going to have to work that much harder for it in the morning.

I went to bed grumpy and hardly slept at all.

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