Toronto Marathon 2013: how to be ok with a personal worst

Yes, it’s true. Your correspondent trained hard and fell far short of his goal. I wanted to go under 3h 15, was on track until about 32k, and finished in 3:31:50.

My strides shortened, and I couldn’t run properly. After the finish, I hobbled off to massage and went into mild shock once they started working on my left hip. So I spent much of yesterday post-race in a medical tent, and then a hospital, still in my race gear with sticky gel containers in my pocket and a salt-encrusted face. X-rays rule out broken bones, but I can’t raise or rotate my left leg/hip without severe pain. I don’t know about muscle tears or strains – specialists will figure that out – but I am using crutches and painkillers.

Yesterday’s experience is on my sports failure podium. On the face of it, you’d think I’d feel pretty terrible. But I don’t.

“Equanimity” is a word we don’t use much. But its definition, “mental calmness, evenness of temper, esp. in a difficult situation” best describes how I felt about it all. Here’s why:

I did what I could: You should line up for the start of your race believing you did all the training and took care of the details. I did all the distance and speed work, saw steady improvement, tested my tempo and nutrition, and even scouted parts of the Toronto course. And my race day plan went as planned – exactly on pace half-way, and holding….until my body had other plans.

“Thank God it was physical failure, not mental!” Arguably, there’s no greater sin in sport than being unable to push through pain. Athletes judge themselves and each other this way. If your body breaks or tears, then you are excused. But if your brain shuts things down to avoid “regular” discomfort, you have shown moral weakness. If I had just plain choked yesterday, rather than broke, I wouldn’t feel a whole lot of equanimity right now.

Our minds are more complicated than bone and muscle. I’m glad I don’t have to delve into my brain to figure out why I didn’t go faster.

Owning my flaws: remember how I said “I did what I could”? If I’m honest I have to say  “not quite”. Physical failures aren’t accidental. I have had some issues with my hip, which I handled with some physiotherapy, some specific exercises, and some rest. Evidently not enough on all fronts. We can’t, or don’t always dedicate the resources or diligence to take care of our bodies so they can serve us the way we want them to. I’m guilty as charged, and can’t go around blaming the world.

Warmth and Sunshine: For four months, I trained in gloomy, often freezing conditions, bundled up in multiple layers. There wasn’t much freedom or joy, running in the southern Ontario winter. Then came Sunday’s clear blue skies and temperatures in the high teens. It was the first time I ran in shorts in 2013. You know that “first day of spring” feeling? I had that yesterday.

Friends doing well: A more cynical soul would say there’s nothing worse than your buddies succeeding when you’re not. But, loitering and texting in the medical tent, I was pumped at the news of past and current training partners setting personal bests in their respective running races. Also, members of my club had good performances at a rowing regatta on Sunday. These people all did that themselves, but it’s nice to feel I contributed to their success in a small way, or even just vicariously.

Now what?: Running is out for a good long while. That was going to be true regardless of the outcome. I have a general interest in trying completely different sports than the linear, repetitive, endurance activities I’ve done all my life. How about I try to see how much weight I can gain (healthily) this summer?


Toronto Marathon 2013: How It’s Gonna Go…and Top Training Moments

Sunday’s plan:

  • Up at 5am, oatmeal and tea by 5:30am.P1020726
  • In the corral at Mel Lastman Square by 7:15am
  • Off and running at 7:30am
  • A GU gel every 40 minutes (4 in total) and water at every station.
  • Use the downhills to get 2 minutes ahead of target pace by halfway
  • Hold and fight the rest of the way to finish under 3h15 (my Boston-qualifying standard)

Sunday’s reality? Read all about it on Sunday!

And now, in chronological order, ten moments from four cold months of preparation.

  1. A dark December morning, at Burlington Central H.S. track. A test-run kilometre at marathon pace turns out to be way harder than expected. I guess I really will need all that training.
  2. A frigid January morning, at Port Credit H.S. track. On my hands and knees dry-heaving after the fourth of five 3-minute tempo pieces. I guess I really will need all that training. I get up and do the
    My running colours. Blue/black top, yellow shorts, white legs, black toenails.

    My Boston-honouring running colours. Blue/black top, yellow shorts, white legs, black toenails.

    fifth piece.

  3. A frigid January evening, in Port Credit. Training with a friend in a growing blizzard, we interrupt our run to help a family look for their lost Chihuahua, but don’t succeed alas.
  4. A sub-zero January Saturday workout including 12x100m strides. The wilier of my two training partners sandbags the first 11 sprints, then destroys us on the last one.
  5. A long, wind-chilled run along Lake Ontario leaves me with extravagant icicles on my beard. I buy a balaclava the next day.
  6. A drab February Saturday, on Lakeshore Road at Bronte Creek, Oakville. Bonking, hard, with 10 of 30 kilometres left to run.
  7. Under a steaming shower, February, Burlington. Looking down at my mangled toes. Contemplating lancing blood blisters and excising dead toenails.
  8. A tolerable March Sunday in Burlington, finishing the ninth of nine brain-numbing 4km loops, all without iPod. Proud of myself, but not exactly sure what for.
  9. A decent March Sunday, within sight of Copps Coliseum, Hamilton. Walking off a stitch in the last kilometre of the Around the Bay 30k. The shame.
  10. A sunny April morning, cruising down Mississauga Road with the wind at our backs, on the way to a strong 27k run ahead of target pace.
  11. (Bonus 1) A bewildering April afternoon’s news from the Boston Marathon. Qualifying just got harder, and more meaningful.
  12. (Bonus 2) Another sunny April morning, the same tempo workout we did in January hurts just as much, but we’re 15 sec/km faster now.