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Milton, Ontario, Canada

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mississauga Marathon Race Recap

Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they've got a second.
 Let's play a game of contrast shall we?


This is the story of my third marathon.

Pre Race

I went into this marathon with huge plans. I wanted to qualify for Boston. The training plan was written and despite a winter for the ages, I managed to stick to the plan for the most part. Being honest (and using hindsight), I have to say that things really feel apart for me after Around the Bay. I ate poorly, I didn't hit training as hard or as much. I was burnt out. To be honest, the 23 week training plan is not for me. 


Still, I went into the race with high hopes that taper and a personal pacer and friend would help to pull me through. I had loads of positive support from near and far and decided that I'd go for it. That 3:39:59 would be enough for this year. It would reach the main time goal of that BQ.

Getting to the start line at 6:45 that morning only to find that it was much colder than I had thought. It took me all of five seconds to decide to pull on my long sleeved top over my tank top and send my husband away with my arm warmers. I hoped that the weather would improve. That the sun would keep shining. That the wind would die down by 8:30. Hope is a powerful thing, but it can't change the elements. At least not on this day.

Sunday May 4, 2014 was not to be my day.

KM 1-10: I've got to sort myself out here

After the group meet up at the Running Room and the requisite bathroom stops, Peter and I walked over to the start line and pushed our way past the crowd toward the front. 

And then it was go time. I heard something from Mayor Hazel about sunshine, but they didn't play O Canada (or anything else) and it was go time.

Right away, Peter and I knew we hadn't pushed forward enough. The crowd was crazy. Peter kept directing me with his hands when we had open lanes and told me not to worry too much about pace in this first bit. "Yay, there's that bit of downhill soon anyway." We were also joined by our Running Room friend Gerald, who was running the half and was his usual amazing, chipper self. Him and Peter chatted, but I was focused.

Focused on breathing: Good.
Focused on legs: Good.
Focused on mind: Good.

The first 5k fly by of course. I am drinking a bit from my own toss away water bottle because nerves have made my mouth dry, but I don't want to carry it at all - its like a brick in my hand. I think I tossed it around this point. Then I tossed my throw away mitts and that was it for that. We enjoyed blasting down the downhill on Burnhamthorpe, the turn onto Mississauga Road and were then into UofT and it was time to take my first gel. Got that down no problem and then my belt (which has a pocket for my iPod, gel holders and a bib holder) felt all lopsided. Turns out I had somehow managed to drop two of my six gels out of the iron grip of elastic death of the belt and lose them. I tried not to panic as I still had three left and only ever took four in a marathon before, but I did. Then my earphones (which weren't in yet) got all tangled. 

"Hold on Peter, I've gotta sort myself out!!!"

We walked for a few seconds while I untangled and got everything on right again and I spent the rest of the race feeling for my gels from time to time. (Gerald ended up giving me an extra which Peter ran with for 10k before he gave it to me to put into my skirt pocket.) Then we were out of UofT, had caught back up with Gerald ("I was worried about you guys") and I was looking for De at Dundas. She's been there in each of my marathon's to give me a high five. This year, she had her four month old son with her and again, that was the boost I needed to climb the hill with a nice, even pace.

5:14-5:04-5:09-4:59-5:03-5:08-5:07-5:16(GU)-5:12-4:57, split: 51:09, pace band (3:40): 52:00

KM 11-20: I don't want to be a whiner but... The wind. My BACK. The WIND. THE. WIND.

As soon as we got up the hill, we resumed pace. "No problem," Peter said, "we're making great pace." It was at this time that I started to feel odd in my back. I had absolutely zero idea what the hell was wrong except that my lower back hurt. I had doubled up on taking my birth control pills this month (because a marathon is enough on its own with out cramps and bloating and potential skirt-stain disaster), so I thought that my back and body was rebelling. I kept quiet for a while and tried to enjoy the run down Mississauga road and the rich houses but my back was just hurting so badly. I was already walking through water stations for a few seconds to drink but that didn't matter - it wasn't slowing us down. Finally at 12k, I told Peter that my back was, "all... I don't know!" HA. He gave me all kinds of form advice (which basically results in - relax!!!) and I tried to stretch it a bit while drinking by bending over. I even tried to use the trick of thinking of my elbow (because its pretty unlikely that your elbow is going to hurt while you run!). I don't know. The back (which I now know was super tight) occupied me for about 4-5km and then we were turning onto Indian Road to the cheers of a volunteer, "WooHoo! Go marathoners! Alright!!!"

We also hit our first headwind.

About 500 meters after the turn, I cried out, "I can't. Peter. The Wind." And then I hunched over to try to stretch out my back. "Don't stop moving!!!!" Peter cried... so I kept walking and then started running again. A man in front of us told us, "The way to beat the wind without extra effort is to lean into it slightly. Trust me. No extra effort." He was totally right too. And my back finally stopped protesting. And then we were turning onto Lorne Park! Out of the wind!!!

Only to turn back onto Trustcott and into the wind. And we hadn't even hit Southdown yet.

5:28-5:08-5:13-5:09-5:33-5:18 (GU)-5:48-5:16-5:43-5:32, split: 54:08, total: 1:45:17, paceband: 1:44:00

KM 21-30: Okay, I can still make a PB time. Are you kidding us, WIND?!?

At 20k, Peter stopped to use the washroom and told me to continue on. I made the turn onto Southdown and then the wind was at our back. How amazing did that feel. I knew right away that it only meant a headwind on the way back to Orr road, but I tossed that thought... into the wind. As I crossed the half marathon mark at 1:51:53, I realized that I was only 2 minutes behind goal. This meant I was still in HUGE PB territory! That plus the wind gave me some pick up and I ended up stringing together some faster kilometers. Before long, Peter was beside me, "I just ran a few 4:30/km to catch you. Felt great!" and we were continuing along Southdown and on to Lakeshore. The wind started to pick up and I tried to ignore it and look for friends and Chris. For the first time, I didn't see Chris on this section (he was the 3:30:00 pacer and was already too far ahead). I had a pang when I realized I won't get to see him, but then we saw Richard who was running this I'll-just-sign-up-on-Saturday marathon on a post London-LA-Jetlagged high that only other runners would understand. He looked awesome. 

By this time, it was 24k and time to force down another gel. I always have problems with this one, but know I need it. I was really looking forward to the turn at 25k because it meant we'd be out of the headwind for a while. Peter and I didn't talk about it, but I knew he was looking forward to it as well. 

How do I know?

Well, we made the "little out and back" turn.... and somehow continued into the headwind. Yes, it makes zero sense. We ran west into the wind, only to turn straight east... into the wind. I believe Peter's exact words were, "Are you freaking kidding me?" I just laughed. What could we do? The road up to Southdown would be the same the whole way. Before that, we saw Robin and Patty and when we were in the park bit right before getting back onto Southdown proper, we saw Emma and Amy! That was nice. 

The wind was not. At 27k, you get out of the park and go back north on Southdown to Orr Road. You turn at Orr just before 29k. So, this bit is about 2km. At times, I was sure we were barely moving. The paces tell their own story about the wind here.

5:30-5:23-5:23-5:27 (GU)-5:48-5:30-5:47-5:43-6:03-5:29, split: 56:02, total: 2:41:19, pace band: 2:36:00

KM 31-40: Just get to the next water station!!! Jennifer gets up. EVERYDAY.

Do you want to know how badly a marathon can fall apart? Let me tell you a tale.

At 30k you turn up Meadow Wood Road. It is one kilometer of rolling hills. Last year I was prepared for it. This year, I also knew what was coming and it wasn't a good thing. I started to think about walking right away. I'll just walk a bit. I'll walk the next big one. I can just walk (Peter: "Use your arms, relax your shoulders. You can do it."). He was slightly ahead and I walked. Then I saw the end of the street and started running again. I was like a kid who was taking cookies out of the pantry in these parts - Peter would get ahead, I'd steal a cookie (a walk) and by the time he turned, I'd be running again. He wouldn't know until he tried to get his own Oreo anyway.

At 31k you hit Lakeshore. Now I always remember Lakeshore as this big mother of a hill. This year, when I looked at it, I thought, I can run this. Its not even as bad as the Streetsville hill that we do repeats on. I know I ran the whole damn thing. It really helps that there is a water station right at the top and we were walking through them so I had a reason to push. By this time, my left calf had cramped so I had to take both Gatorade and water at each station. I tried my best to run to the first cup and run as soon as the second cup was done. Throughout the race I had been taking my gels on the fly right before the water stations. I got this part very right.

33-34k you run through Jack Darling Park. We never run this on training and I think its a mistake. The change of scenery is nice (it was clear so we could see the CN Tower) even if you know, the WIND was brutal. 

My legs were honestly toast at this point. I was taking mini-30s walking breaks now, full on stealing the cookie right in front of Peter. I was almost begging him, "Just 30seconds." And I would watch my watch diligently and then go. The problem was, we were also walking through water stations and my walks were ill-timed. I'd walk and then 30-45s later we'd be at a station. "Look," said Peter, "I'm not having the best day either." Then the wind blasted us and we kinda laughed together at it all. Ain't no one was looking at watches any longer.

Not all was lost - you still have to fake it for the photogs and the fans:

(You may recall that my other goal in this race was to raise money for Make A Wish Canada. This was to support Wishes for Olivia which is a charity founded by my friend Jennifer in memory of her daughter who died in her sleep on December 25, 2012 at 5 years old. I surpassed my goal and raised $3,705)

35-39k were a blur. I kept thinking one of two things:

Me legs hurt SO BAD.

Jennifer gets up every day. 

What the heck is a little pain? What the heck is a little wind? What is this compared to what anyone who has lost a child has to go through?


Oh, but my legs hurt soooooooooooo badly. Around 39.6k, I gasped, "30 seconds, Peter. Just short." And finally, he grabbed that bag of cookies away, "NO. NO! There is a water station at 40k. GET THERE." "You're right. You're right."


6:26-5:33 (GU)-5:35-5:37-6:43-5:44-6:06-6:04-6:07-6:07, split: 1:00:01, time: 3:41:20, pace band: 3:28:00

KM 41-42.43: We are holding hands at the end!

Blur, blur, blur. My legs hurt so badly. I don't care about anything anymore except for the end. We saw some DailyMile friends at 39k and that was awesome. Then, there's Pranada jumping like a mad-woman with a tutu. And I know we are in the home stretch and my legs hurt and I just want another fucking cookie and there is no way because I'm on a god-damned diet now. At least until I can stop my Garmin.

And then there's Sam and Irina. I shout out, "This wind fucking blows!" and they jump in. Sam slaps me hard on the ass and tells me to speed up. I cry, "I have nothing! My legs hurt so much." And then I don't know what, but they are gone? We are running the last 800 meters now. I know this because a man tells us, "800 meters to go." We can see the fencing set up at the turn and we make it and start the straightaway to the end. 
photo from Elaine
There is Phil and Elaine and Phil jumps in, "Let's go ass-kicker, let's go!!!" I'm crying, I'm laughing. My LEGS HURT SO MUCH. But I won't stop running. All of a sudden, Phil's gone and I tell Peter, "We're holding hands over the line. I don't care about anything else." "Yep," says Peter. Let's get this done."

6:05-5:54-2:29 (430m), split: 14:27, total: 3:55:48, pace band: 3:40:00

Gun: 3:57:27
CHIP: 3:55:43
Place: 269
Females: 77/308
F30-39: 25/86

Marathon #3 is in the books. 

No matter how much suffering you went through, you never wanted to let go of those memories.


  1. Sounds like awful conditions and a lot of adversity so you have to be proud of that effort. For what it's worth, my first BQ did not happen until my fourth mary, then they came in bunches. Half of it is wanting it badly so you're almost there! Great work and write-up.

    1. Thanks very much for your kind words! I will get there for sure!

  2. That wind was so unfortunate....really makes it hard. Congrats on sticking it out and crossing the finish line with a great time. It's tough when we plan for a race and can't execute it the way we want. I felt that way in April. On to the next one...3:30 in PEC if you are interested :)

    1. Thanks Robin and I will have a decision after MidSummer for sure. I may just go back for the half as I'm missing my traditional girls weekend this year anyway.

  3. Nicole, what crazy conditions, but you toughed it out -- huge kudos for Peter for sticking with you. I always think after rough marathons that there are always lessons to learn, and the victories are always so much sweeter. If the marathon were easy, everyone would do them, right? They're not, and you've come a long way.

    1. Thanks Kenny. I was selfish with Peter. I told him only once to leave and go have a better race. He was with me for the long haul though and luckily for him most of my battle was internal. I doubt he's ever heard me talk less. :-p This one teaches a lesson and makes me stronger for the next.

  4. Oh hugs! I know you're disappointed, but man you ran a great race, and you trained your butt off!!! Those conditions sound brutal! I ran one marathon with similar conditions and I dropped out at the 20 mile mark - I just couldn't do the last 6 miles. Congrats on toughing it out!!! Your training was also very inspiring - following you on facebook really helped to push me to train more too, you have no idea how inspiring you've been to me. I've got a bum ankle right now, but maybe in a few weeks we can go for a run together? Congrats on your race!

    1. Thanks Janice. I really hope you're taking care of that ankle and yes to running together soon!

  5. You legit made me cry reading this. Tough, tough race, but I'm so proud of you for training hard and raising a ton of money for a great cause. You'll get that BQ.

    1. Thanks Emma! Huge congrats again on your first marathon!

  6. You're an incredibly impressive woman Nicole. I've been impressed with your fundraising, your training, and your spirit. But I'm most impressed with how you've handled this race.

    I know many runners that fall into desperate dismay after not reaching their goals. But, even though you didn't make all of your goals, you're still, happy, positive and looking to the future. That's more inspiring than ANY time, qualification or achievement! Your indomitable spirit shines through.

    Congratulations x 3705!!

    1. Thank you kindly, Paul! Hey, I finished another marathon and under 4 hours so I can't be too sad, can I? Also, I'm serious about running you to a sub-two (um, but locally - I can't get to Disney!!!). You tell me when and we'll make it happen!

  7. Oh man, I TOTALLY know how this feels. The wind, the hurting legs. It all freaking sucks. Congrats on a well earned finish and a really well written recap!

    1. I'm not going to lie, Phaedra, I thought about your tough Boston race when I was out there. To be honest, knowing that really talented athletes also have bad days does help to pull you through. Thank you for your kind words!

  8. Awesome, honest, heartfelt report. Thanks for sharing it all - felt like I was there with you! (and definitely have had those days). CONGRATULATIONS!

    1. Thanks Marlene ... one for the books for sure! It just means better days are coming!

  9. I ran this race too. That wind was really tough. It's impressive that you toughed it out. I actually think I was standing near you at the start line!

    1. Congrats to you on the race! Funny how small a marathon can be! Tough wind is right!

  10. Congratulations on finishing your third marathon! You did great considering the conditions (the wind was HORRENDOUS here too, last week was just..... ugh). I hope you are proud of yourself, you'll get your BQ I know it!

  11. Wow, that wind sounds horrible!! I'm impressed that you toughed it out and came in sub 4:00! I'm even more impressed at how much money you raised, amazing. You'll get that BQ!

    I've enjoyed following your training on DM, and reading your race reports, etc and so nominated you for a Leibster award - if you want to play along, see my post at http://terryruns.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/leibster-award/


Thanks for joining in the conversation!