The not so good news is that my time was 2:36:27 (3:42/k), technically a 32sec PB, but almost two and a half minutes slower than what I was gunning for (2:34) and what I realistically feel I should have been able to run. But given the circumstances of the situation, I must admit I shouldn't be all that surprised. So perhaps some context to put it all in perspective...
As most of you know, running the Road2Hope Hamilton Marathon was not what I was expecting or particularly (psychologically) prepared to do, even some 48hrs before I lined up in some random park at ~8:10am yesterday morning. In fact only 24hrs earlier on Saturday, I was still in New York City, desperately trying to get on a plane to take me back to Toronto. And only 24hrs before that I was on a flight TO NYC and both ready and excited to run the ING NYC Marathon two days later. How quickly things can change...
Melinda and I woke early on Friday morning and made our way to the Toronto City Airport where we boarded a flight at 8am for Newark International Airport (in New Jersey and some 10 miles from downtown NYC). A few hours later we were on a bus into Manhattan and around noon, we checked into a Hotel with no power or hot water, the status quo for most buildings south of 34th street. This hotel had been frantically booked not 48 hrs earlier when our original reservation for a hotel on 57th street was unexpectedly cancelled and we were forced to find new accommodations (not easy given that millions of NYC residents were also looking for temporary accommodations after being displaced by the recent Hurricane).
Around 1pm, we walked the few short blocks to the Zavitz Centre where the marathon expo was being held and joined thousands of others in picking up our bibs and race kits (including our official NYC 'Marathoner' finisher shirt). A few hours later, already feeling exhausted from the days events, we boarded a tourist bus and perhaps inappropriately, rode the 'Downtown Loop' and witnessed first-hand the very real and very scary signs of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy that was still affecting much of lower Manhattan. The place (everything south of 34th St) was nearly deserted, almost entirely without power, a majority of businesses were closed and some boarded up, areas were still flooded and being pumped of water and everywhere was still buzzing with sights and sounds of emergency vehicles and recovery efforts. We were not in the New York City that I had seen before or wished to see any more of. We were not in the right place at all nor at an appropriate time. For the first time, I questioned why I was there and whether I truly should have been.
A short time later after concluding 'the tour', we tried to get connected at a coffee shop and contact our many friends who were then somewhere in the city. Without any luck and beginning to hunger, we sought out a restaurant for dinner. As we walked around midtown searching for a place to eat, Melinda got a text from a close friend which cryptically concluded: "I'm so sorry". We both wondered what it could mean and concluded that our friend had decided last minute not to come to NYC to run the marathon. It wasn't until a short while later while waiting to be seated at Heartland Brewery at 8th and 41st (terrific by the way) when we overheard a random conversation which seemed to concern the marathon. I curiously inquired as to what they were discussing and it was then that we heard the most disheartening news: "They've cancelled the marathon."
Upon hearing this, I was instantly angered and emotionally upset which was visibly shared by a number of others in the restaurant. How could they wait so long to cancel the event? We were all already here. Some travelling thousands of miles and spending thousands of dollars to be here. I was confused, I was angry, I was in utter disbelief. 'What now,' I wondered?
After forcing myself to eat dinner, I sought out the others who were staying at a nearby hotel. Doyle, Rob C et al., had made the journey to NYC via car (a 9hr voyage!) and had only recently arrived and checked into 'the New Yorker.' We joined them for a collective venting session and began to consider our options before heading out to meet up with Roger and Dave Clark. Again we expressed our shared frustrations, mostly directly towards Mary and the NYRR for waiting so long to make such an important decision. Surely they must have seen how bad things truly were after the storm hit on Monday evening? They must have known that the marathon couldn't happen. Why didn't they say so sooner?!
In my mind there were now only two options. Stay in New York City and continue to spend money whilst essentially giving up all the months of training by forgetting about the marathon. Either that or go home immediately, no matter what the cost (it would be cheaper than staying) and run another race in another place... Hamilton. For me, the choice was obvious.
And so, Melinda and I opted to head back to our Hotel relatively early with the intention of checking out first thing in the morning and then getting on the first flight back to Toronto. I had no desire to stay in the city or spend another cent there. We were 'fortunate' to arrive back to a fully functioning hotel with both electricity and hot water (although oddly no WiFi) which hadn't been expected for another 24hrs. Unfortunately, that meant that the fee for a one-night stay (in our case totalling less than 8hrs) doubled to almost $450! It also turned out to be much less restful than I would liked for the penultimate night before a marathon.
On Saturday, we woke before 6am and were checked out and waiting for a train to the airport by 7. We were at Newark by 8 and after a difficult and trying interaction with the Porter people (and another $350), we were on an 845 flight back to Toronto. We arrived back in the city and were home by 1030 and spent the majority of the day lounging about, trying to rest, relax and wrap our minds around the prospect of running a very different race in Hamilton the following morning. I really must say that my head was never quite in it and nothing seemed unique or exciting about the whole situation. We were able to get a descent nights rest and seemed to effectively max out our glycogen stores as our bodies were refusing to take on any more carbs/sugar.
Simion, our savior of the weekend (who had graciously volunteered and was successfully able to register our group for the race and pick up our kits on Saturday) was also kind enough to drive us to Hamilton on Sunday morning. We made a slight detour to pick up Doyle, Rob, and Stefan who had stayed the night in a downtown Hamilton hotel (after driving all the way back from NYC on Saturday!) and arrived in Confederations Park just shy of 7am to board the buses to the race start. We arrived at the 'start' closer to 745 (the race was set to start at 8) and quickly checked our bags and did a brief warm-up in the parking lot. After some last-second bus arrivals and the singing of our national anthem, the countdown to the start was under way at ~815am.
The horn sounded and we were off. I started right on the line so was with the lead pack (of 4!) during the first hundred meters or so before the leaders began to spread out. The previous year's winner, Joseph Onwenga, made an early move to take the lead from some guy from New Zealand with long frizzy red hair in second, and another really tall dude in third which put me all on my own in 4th place (the worst place to be). I ran a fast first km (3:29), then a perfect km (3:40), followed by a few very 'slow' kms (3:49, 3:45, 3:43). In sum, I was all over the place. My nerves steadied a bit when I heard somebody come up behind me and I instantly knew it was Doyle. We chatted a bit and tried to calm ourselves. We were running south on the edge of the escarpment which afforded wonderful views of East Hamilton, the lake and just visible in the far off distance, the CN tower and the city of Toronto. We turned right after about 5k heading westish and here I found myself pulling away ever so slightly from Doyle but more or less hitting my target pace of ~3:40/k. Around 10k, we turned right again and now ran north into a negligible but noticeable headwind. This continued for almost 7k and despite the wind, I found my pace had increased slightly and I was now running consistent low to mid 3:30 kms. Just after 10 miles (16.1k), the course began its signature descent down the Red Hill Valley Parkway, a considerable decline in elevation that continues for approximately 6km. My pace again increased to ~3:30/k and also meant I was running past a large number of half-marathoners who had started ~20min after we began. This meant weaving through and around large numbers of slow moving individuals which often prevented me from running the tangents I would have liked. I was both pleased but also surprised slightly when I passed the half-way mark of the race (21.1km) in 1:16:10 (3:36/k) and was thus well on pace for my dream time of 2:32 and even looking okay for a slight slowdown in the second half to still hit 2:34. I would have liked to say that the first half felt comfortable, but since starting the downhill portion at ~16k, my quads and hamstrings were beginning to feel tight and would only get worse.
The pain in both calves was become excruciating and my stride and foot strike were clearly altered because of it. I knew I was slowing down but didn't dare to look at my watch to see how badly. I completed the second 'loop' of the course passing a number of fellow marathoners in the process. At one point, I was surprised to see past winner Omwenga just ahead of me and struggling badly. I flew by him knowing he had nothing left and would find out later he would eventually drop out. Here I was in second place, with about 7k to go but knowing full well it was not going to be easy nor pleasant. I recall seeing km 37 and telling myself there were less than 20min left to go (not true!) and counting down the final k's one at a time. At some point, I re-merged with still more and still slower half-marathoners and could barely muster the energy to say anything to get them to move out of the way. 38, 39 and 40km came and went in what felt like an eternity. Seeing 41km lifted my spirits ever so slightly and I gave what little I had left as I entered the finishing area in Coronation Park, made the final turn and ran (I certainly didn't sprint) that final 200m to the finish. It was then that I caught a glimpse of the clock which read 2:36 something and my heart sank. Had it really been so bad in those late stages of the race. I looked at my watch: 2:36:24 (for 42.41km). I stumbled across the line, my lower legs almost immediately cramping/seizing up, was covered in a space blanket and a medal placed around my neck. I limped painfully away from the finishers corral, stumbled over a concrete curb and without any reasonable explanation whatsoever, broke down in tears of bitter disappointment. This was not the finish I had dreamt of for many weeks and months. This was not the place I wanted to be nor the time I had wanted to see. All those months committing to the hard work and training had not paid off. I had not met my goal, had not really come close, and now I was alone, cold and in terrible pain for all my efforts. It was a definite low point in both my running and in my life.
My father and sister who had come to see my finish soon appeared to congratulate me and feeling ashamed and embarrassed I tried to hold back the tears but my disappointment and frustration seemed obvious. I settled down a few minutes later and returned towards the finish to see my team mates complete their respective races. One after one they came in, first Rob Campbell (2:46), then Bellamy (2:48). Hiddleston and Gough (2:49) followed with Conrad (2:54), Simion (2:56) and Stefan (2:57) not far behind. A short time later, Melinda finished in an amazing time of 3:12! Darren, Davey and Chapman went 6th, 8th and 9th in the half all in a time of 1:16! Some incredible results for some, and modest gains for others. Overall a very good showing for the group.
As I sit here writing this, I continue to experience among the worst running-induced pain I have ever felt. My lower legs (especially my calves) are very tight and extremely sore. My quads and hamstrings are likewise but less so affected which has made walking generally but climbing stairs specifically an absolute nightmare. I plan to rest and recovery for several weeks knowing that my fitness will remain for some time and that there is no need to force anything. I wish I could have ended my season and this current cycle with a better result, but again, given the extreme circumstances surrounding NYC and just getting to the start of Hamilton, I feel that it was never meant to be. Much is to be learned from this race (such as never run this race!) and taken forward.
Currently I am not particularly looking forward to doing this all again. If I wasn't already signed up for Boston in the spring, I might have said I would prefer to give marathoning a break for awhile. It's a considerable challenge that deserves a great deal of time and energy to properly prepare and if not taken serious, can make you pay in numerous ways. Sometimes I wonder if the reward is worth the price to be paid. This time, I can't say it was. Next time, who knows...