This was the second time I’ve competed in this event and on both occasions representing England. Having run a pb on this course in the past I knew this would be a great opportunity for me to put a marker down and set myself up nicely for next year when I’ll be chasing the qualifying time for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow that follow in 2014.
Before heading out to Canada, I was aware that the weather conditions weren’t looking very promising with rain and 25mph winds, this was going to make getting a pb tough, but I felt it could still be done. On arrival on Thursday those predictions seemed about right! Fortunately, looking at the course I could see we would at least get a tail wind from 13k up to 32k. On race day, however, things had improved, on my 10 minute jog at 5am I noticed that it was almost calm outside. Again this changed and at 8:30am on the start line it was raining steadily, but the wind was probably less than 20mph.
I had my drinks and gels set up at 10k, 21k, 30k and 36k which was cold black tea with sugar, works great for me as a lot of sports drinks are too sickly. I would have my gels at 21k and 30k. The luxury of elite treatment! Or so I thought…
In the early stages of the race I didn’t feel great, the pace didn’t feel as easy as I’d hoped and I seemed to be labouring just slightly with 16:23 at 5k. By 10k in 32:42, I had my first drink (cold black tea with sugar). I was running okay, but just okay, not quite as well or in the time range I was aiming for. My team-mate Kevin Skinner came alongside me shortly after and we ran together to 15k and I was disappointed with being nearly 30 seconds out at 49:24. Now, I’ve been in this situation before and my view is that you never make up lost time in marathons, unless the second half is downhill. I decided to run harder and if it wasn’t looking good I would settle back into the group at 20k and settle for targeting a slower time. I gradually pulled away from Kevin and the others reaching 20k with a 5k split of 15:54 going on to halfway at 68:46, back on schedule! I was about a minute ahead of the others and was out on my own, but I was feeling good. I saw Kevin at a switch-back and he was also looking good running with a Canadian, I figured he was also on his target pace. At this stage the weather was improving and the roads were starting to dry, which would be fine just so long as it didn’t warm up too much.
I then hit my first snag; as I came up to the drinks table I couldn’t spot my drink and nearly picked up one that wasn’t mine. “No worries” I thought, as I could get my gel and drink at 30k and make do with a bit of Gatorade being handed out, even though it didn’t stay down very well! I was closing on a Canadian guy who then dropped out before I passed him, his pacer then very kindly paced me on to 30k which pulled me through to 1hr 37:30, it was looking good, I was 30 seconds up on my schedule.
I then had another drinks snag; again, I couldn’t see my bottle on the table. Perhaps I didn’t mark it out well enough, or maybe it just wasn’t there, in a race you don’t have time to stand around at a table looking for drinks. I now had to rely on Gatorade until 36k, but it meant I was going to have to make do without any gels. At that stage it didn’t concern me, I usually only have one or two and felt that I was doing nicely with only about 7 or so miles to go. From 30k it was starting to get difficult , there was some tight u-turns which made keeping up a good rhythm tough. I had slowed a little, running that 5k split to 35k in 16:50, but I was still on for 2hr 18. After 35k there was a right turn heading towards Toronto and for the first time since the early 10k stage I noticed there was a bit of a headwind. I was working hard battling against slowing down and decided not to try and get my drink at 36k (probably wouldn’t find it anyway) as it would upset my pace and waste crucial time. I must have been slowing quite a bit because I decided to check my watch at 37k, knowing that I had 5.2k to go. I knew that if I ran anything better than 17:25 that I would have a pb, but this modest time seemed to be beyond me. Another kilometre further I was really struggling to manage any sort of useful pace and in the space of ten minutes I had gone from looking like finishing in just under 2hr 18 to being considerably over 2hr 20!
Worse was to come, I took another drink Gatorade and spewed it back up, then reached a short climb on an overpass near 40k which I barely got over, but I knew if I stopped I would be finished! The last two kilometres took an age to cover, nearly ten minutes in fact, and I flopped over the line in 2hr 23:27 for 11th place, amazingly, nobody passed me. I was lifted up and helped over to the first aid tent, where I was given sugary biscuits, sweets and drinks. I just couldn’t move!
After the race I had a look at the results and noticed nearly everyone had slowed significantly at the end, in a field that included two 2hr 6 and one 2hr 7 guy, no-one broke 2hr 10. Clearly the wind had played some part, but there were also issues of humidity from the wet roads drying in the sun. This made me feel a little better about my race, although nothing makes up for the disappointment of having a big pb in your grasp with only 8k to go! I later learned that other elite athletes had difficulty getting their drinks, there had been reports of some runners accidently knocking other drinks off the table when grabbing theirs, which clearly impacted my race.
On reflections there certainly is a lot to mull over, on the positive side; I ran my best ever 30k, even 35k and I clearly have the potential to do much better than my 2hr 19 time set earlier in the year. I also think making an effort to get back on schedule at 15k was the right decision and the training of high volume intervals and paced runs enabled me to do this, something I wouldn’t have been able to do in previous years.
On the negatives, I clearly made mistakes in not carrying a gel for back-up, I also need to make my bottles stand out more so that I can spot them, if they are there. I also had the chance to take a Powerbar gel before 35k, but decided not to risk it as I’ve never had them, clearly with hindsight it would have been a risk worth taking. One mistake, which wasn’t my fault, more of the race, was that the drinks stations weren’t manned and the athletes that had their drinks knocked away had no assistance.
As for the biggest lesson? Even at 35k, you may think you’ve got the race in the bag, but a lot can still go wrong before that finish line!
It was also a tough day for my team-mate Kevin Skinner, who bravely fought on to cross the finish line in 2hr 31 for 17th place. He said he found it very tough after 25k and therefore was suffering 10k earlier than I was, I think most runners would have dropped out, it takes guts to gamely fight on with over 10 mile still to cover! The women fared quite well, Emma Stepto ran a brilliant pb of 2hr 42 for 9th place (2nd vet 40 as well) and Sam Amend ran 2hr 48 for 11th, only 2 weeks after the Berlin marathon!
It was a great experience being out in Toronto and being part of a team with such great hard working runners. Our team manager Richard Pickering did a terrific job looking after us, often going beyond the call of duty, whether it be from arranging for the women to have a drive over the course, or pulling me up from the tarmac at the finish!!!