I completed my first half marathon on October 20th, 2013 at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon #STWM. What started off as a great run ended in a series of cramps and injuries that led to my first ever disappointing race. Although the last 3k of the race was a struggle for me and I rather not reflect on my poor performance; I would like to share my experience, my thoughts, my feedback and my love and gratitude for the running community.
Three days before the race, I pulled my right hamstring. I think it happened during my last training run on Wednesday night. I’ve never pulled a hamstring before. I posted to Twitter and immediately had some Twitter Followers (I like to call them Friends), give me great advice and provide reassurance that I would be still be able to run on Sunday.
The weather was a bit chilly the morning of the run, but it was expected for October and especially in Toronto. I thought it was the perfect running weather. There was no rain predicted and although it was cool; once you start running, you warm up quickly. I had packed some warm clothes and a jacket for after the race. I packed my Vega Recovery Accelerator mix. I filled my water belt with water and some Vega Electrolyte Hydrators. I had my Honey Stinger Waffle and Chews and a Powerbar Gel as well. I was ready to give it my all. This was the fuel I used during the 25k RBC Run for the Kids race that I ran a month earlier. It worked really well and I felt great after the race and even the next day. I decided to stick to what worked well for me in the 25k race and was hoping for the same results for the half.
Before the hamstring injury, my goal was to complete the half marathon in 2 hrs and 15 mins. The competitive side of me actually wanted to complete it in 2 hrs or less. :) After the injury, my goal changed to 2:15-2:30. I started off strong and running a pace of about 6:05/km. Once the initial traffic of runners dispersed a bit, I started running faster at a pace of 5:53/km. I passed the 10k mark in under 1 hr and figured I could run a negative split and accomplish my competitive goal before the hamstring injury. My right hamstring was starting to hurt a bit but I compensated it by running lighter on it and a bit more heavily on my left foot. My left knee then started hurting but I had such a runner’s high and was ecstatic I could finish in sub 2 hrs, that I ignored the pain.
At the 18k mark was when I started feeling a cramping in my left calf. I had taken my gel and I also took the Gatorade at the water station. I started to drink all my Electrolytes hoping the cramping would go away. I had to slow down and could even feel my left toes starting to curl under. I knew I had to pull over to the side to stretch it out. I had never experienced that cramping before nor have I ever stopped running during a race! I ran the 25k RBC race and the 25k Spartan Beast Race and didn’t stop once during either of those races. It took so much effort and pushing aside my pride to stop because I really wanted to continue despite the cramping. I also knew that once I stopped, the pain would worsen. However, since I’ve never experienced it before, I didn’t want to experience something horrid at the finish line or worse, not even able to finish. I was so close; the thought of not finishing the race scared me. I’ve never DNF before.
I stopped a little after 18k and found a wall to stretch out my calf. Once I stopped, I began to wobble and could feel the pain immediately; my right calf was starting to hurt as well. I remember looking at my Garmin and saw the time of 1:50. I knew there was no way I could finish in sub 2 hrs now and tears started forming in my eyes when I saw the hundreds of runners pass me as I stood there stretching. This was not a sight I was used to seeing, being on the sidelines watching others run pass me; I felt defeated. My ego was bruised. I felt like I let myself down, I let my Charity down and worst of all, I let my family, friends and colleagues who have sponsored me, down as well. This was not my proudest moment.
After about 5 minutes of stretching, I started to walk and decided to run lightly. I had this vision of me sprinting the last 3k to the finish and my time would be just over my goal of 2:05. In reality, my legs could barely run. I stopped about 3 other times to stretch. A little past the 19k mark, I walked past a lady that was limping; she looked like she was in so much pain. I asked her if she was okay, she said yes and that she might have pulled something. She stopped on the side and I kept walking. I then had to stop to stretch and I saw her approaching, she saw me and it was her turn to ask if I was okay. I told her my calves were cramping up. She continued on past me as I continued stretching against the fence. Close to the 20k mark, I caught up to her again and she was still limping. There were more spectators along the side now and they were shouting her name, (Joyce), to keep pushing. I was behind her and it felt great to have random strangers shouting out your name and telling you to keep going. I caught up to her, tapped her on the shoulder and told her we were almost there and to hang in there. I saw her struggling and told her I would walk the rest of the way with her. She told me to keep on walking. I remember looking at my watch and noticed it was past 2:10. This would not be one of my best races and I no longer had a goal time. It was no longer about my time. I wanted to motivate Joyce to the finish line. We lightly ran a bit until Joyce said she couldn’t and had to stop. I stopped with her and told her that she could finish and that I was going to cross the line with her. She asked me if this was my first half marathon and when I told her it was, she said I was doing really well and looked great. This wasn’t her first. We started walking and limping again and the cheers, support and motivation from the crowd was phenomenal. It definitely pushed us along to the finish line. As we neared the finish, Joyce had both her hands up and told me to put my hands up as well. I did and she held my hand. It was such an emotional moment. Here was this stranger and I holding hands as we crossed the finish line of what turned out to be my most difficult race ever. I could barely walk and stopped right after the finish, leaning forward to stretch my calves. Joyce turned to me and said “I just wanted to thank you so much. You are so strong and definitely pushed and motivated me to the finish. I couldn’t have done it without you.” This brought tears to my eyes. I thanked her and told her she did really well. Joyce told me to keep walking to get our medals. I had totally forgotten about that finisher’s medal at the end and I also forgot to stop my watch to track my time. This was the point that I realized, it was no longer about my race, but Joyce’s race. I was so happy to have been a part of her accomplishment and special day. I did stop my watch and saw a time of over 2:18. The tears started flowing again. Not because of the pain I was in but because I was still a bit disappointed with myself. Disappointed that I could have ran a better race and beaten my goal of sub 2 hrs for my first half marathon. It was a bittersweet moment; disappointed in my race but glad to have motivated Joyce on hers.
When we got to the volunteers with the medals, Joyce was in front of me. She stepped aside and told the volunteer to put the medal on me first – that I deserved it more. I was so touched by this. The volunteer saw my tears and asked if I was in pain, I said I was just happy to have finished. Joyce thanked me again and we parted ways after we received our medals; she had to go look for her husband. I took a few cups of Gatorade and stood by the fence to stretch out my calves and drink my water. A former colleague of mine, who also ran the half marathon, saw me and approached me. She asked how I did and then asked if I need a paramedic; I guess you could tell I was in a lot of pain. She had to look for her friend who also ran and told me not to move, that she would be back to check on me.
As I stood there stretching, a volunteer in a Medic bib approached me and asked if I was okay. She gave me water and told me to keep stretching. Then another volunteer Medic saw me and he gave me two bananas. He said he was going to call for someone. At this point, my calves really started cramping up more. Two more Medics came and they said they were going to lay me down on the ground while they stretched me out. One was holding my head up while the other stretched out my calves. I started shivering and my quads and hamstrings started seizing up as well. The Medic girl said I was too cold and I needed to go to the Medic tent to warm up because I was seizing up all over. Some volunteers brought a wheelchair and they lifted me on it while the girl wrapped the heat sheet around my legs.
I spent 45 mins in the Medic tent as a nice gentleman worked on my legs, trying to massage out all the tight spots. I was in so much pain because once my calves were better, my hamstrings would tighten up, then my quads and then my calves would tighten up again; it was an endless circle of cramps. My Medic personnel did an amazing job and was able to put up with my screaming and squirming. He massaged all my cramped parts until I felt better and had no more cramps. Thankfully I ran with my phone and had my phone on me to call my friend who was also running the half marathon. Before the race started, we agreed on a meet-up spot at the Friends and Family Zone once we were finished. He was waiting for me and when I called to tell him I was in the Medic tent, he went to get my bag from bag check to bring it to me. He arrived just as my cramps finally started to all go away and I was lying there covered in blankets. My Medic personnel stayed with me until my friend arrived and to make sure I was okay to get up and walk. Once I had my bag, I immediately put on my extra pants, sweater and jacket. It was a good thing I brought warm clothes to put over, I definitely needed them. I thanked my Medic Savior and we left the tent to walk to the finish area and took our professional post race photos. I normally take a few post race photos; but for some reason I didn’t bother to take any that day. I was sore, exhausted and hungry. Perhaps I also did not want many photos and memories from a race that I felt was my worst race ever.
You should also know that I had signed up to run the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon in 2012 as well. Two weeks before the race, I fractured my right ankle and had to miss out on it. I showed up to cheer on my friends and watched them finish. Being a part of the crowd was an amazing experience and I knew I wanted to sign up for it again; not just for redemption but also for being a part of a dynamic event filled with so much love and support from people you don’t even know or will ever know. It brought communities together and runners from all over the world.
This motivated me even more to sign up to run the half marathon in 2013. I was able to see how organized the race was from start to finish, from a runners perspective. The race expo was excellent. There were guest speakers and Elite Athletes, plenty of vendors to shop and sample from and there was barely a wait to pick up your race kit. Our race kit included your typical bib number and chip timing, a technical race souvenir shirt, some goodies to sample and other race promotional material, all packaged into a convenient reusable drawstring bag. I love the bag because it was functional to wear instead of holding a plastic bag, which allowed both hands to freely browse and try on merchandise. :) The course was a fairly flat and scenic route equipped with adequate water stations, bands along the way and spectators cheering everywhere, I don’t think there was any point in the race where there were no spectators or that I felt alone. There were spectators with signs and some even dressed in costumes to cheer us on. The route ran through some of Toronto’s diverse and multicultural neighborhoods and along the Lakeshore, which made for some lovely views and photo ops. The volunteers were awesome and provided water, gels and words of encouragement and cheers. I was also impressed at how organized the finish line was. There were spectators lined on both sides of the road towards the last 500 metres of the race. I am so grateful for them. They shouted our names and screamed words of encouragement to myself and Joyce as we wobbled slowly on the left side towards the finish line. Words such as “Keep going Linda, you can do it!” “You’re almost there, give it all you’ve got” “Finish strong” “Congratulations, we’re proud of you and we don’t even know you” Those words will forever be etched in my heart and I would like to thank these spectators, whoever they are. You helped me stay standing and crossed that finish line.
This is one of my favourite races and CRS always does an amazing job making sure logistics are met and that every runner has a safe and fun run. The Medic tent was right at the finish and there were tons of Medics and volunteers on hand to watch out for people like myself. I spent most of my time after the race in the tent so I didn’t get to eat any of the post race food, other than my banana from previous and did score a yogurt on the way back to the car. CRS never fails to deliver, going above and beyond expectations. I have only the deepest gratitude to the race organizers and the Medic staff who were on hand to assist me (and every injured runner) immediately after the race. Thank you!
Pros: Excellent race expo and race kit. Beautiful scenic flat route, amazing volunteers and bands along the course, lots of spectators, adequate water and gel stations, Medics readily available after the race. Adequate post race food.
Cons: None that I can think of
Would I run it again: Definitely! In fact, I plan to come back and run my first FULL marathon at STWM! :)
My Charity: Right To Play Canada