What… a… ride!
Spoiler alert, I successfully completed all 50 km’s of my first ultra marathon! It’s still hard to believe that happened, and in the grand scheme of ultra running, went so well. I have no doubts in my mind Brian played a role in this race, carrying me through the lows and pushing me towards the highs. His spirit and energy kept me moving.
There’s so much I want to say about this race, but one thing stands out above it all. It was SO MUCH FUN! It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a race environment (and the Haliburton Forest 26k I did last year with Bri was pretty fun too). As I drove home from the race, I couldn’t help but just keep repeating to myself ‘I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe I actually did that’. And even more so, that I actually felt okay. (Note: By ‘okay' I obviously mean everything from the ribs down hurt like hell, my legs were randomly spasming, radiating heat, and all I could think about was falling into a pizza coma) but in the grand scheme of life, I felt OK.
So let’s start at the beginning.
I woke up the morning of the race and settled into my typical pre-race routine. Coffee, deep breaths, and some general imagery on how I wanted the next few hours to play out. Luke had flown to the UK the night before and I would be joining him the next day, so for the first time I was going to be experiencing a big race 100% solo. This had actually been one of my draws to this race. I wanted to experience it completely alone without any external pressure. I wanted to see what I was capable of.
The apartment was quiet and peaceful as I sipped my coffee and slowly allowed my body to wake up. I had made sure to pack up everything the night before so there weren’t many logistical tasks to do. I spent those early morning minutes tuning into my breath, reminding myself about my reasons for doing this race, and accepting the pain that was inevitably coming my way. Somehow however, I still managed to lose track of the time and found myself scrambling to get out the door.
As I ran out the door, without thinking, I grabbed the keys to Brian’s car instead of my own. It was still parked outside my house as I had driven my sister and niece to the airport the morning before. It was an instantaneous reflex that lacked conscious reasoning or thought. It wasn’t until I was outside the car that I realized what I had done. I was already running late and couldn’t afford to run back upstairs to grab my keys so I took it as a sign and hopped in his car. Memories of driving this car over the past 3 months suddenly flooded back to me. Images of frantically picking up prescriptions, dropping off and picking up Davida and circling the city trying desperately to find organic grapes. Yes, organic grapes THAT would save Brian! Feeling so helpless and scared my heart began to race. I took a deep breath and then turned on the ignition. Al Green’s voice flooded the speakers, filling the space around me. 'Slow down, take your time' he sang. It was Brian's voice to the tune of Al Green. Instantly the fear disappeared and gratitude towards Brian ignited me. I took a deep breath, pulled the car out of the driveway and headed out of the city smog.
I arrived at the course with just enough time to sign in and get my bib. There were already a lot of people there and I could feel the excitement in the air. I was assigned bib 25 and knew immediately this was a good sign. 25 felt like a special number. Brian’s birthday was August 25th, I was 25 years old when I met my love, Luke, and Brian’s last day on this earth in physical form was March 25th. 2 + 5 = 7, One life cycle. The number of years Brian was a part of our life. The number of years I've spent with my love. These were no coincidences. Brian was with me, and he was going to make sure I finished this race.
I quickly used the toilet, went back to the car to get all my gear ready and headed to the start line. It was surprisingly cool that morning, bordering on cold. I wasn’t complaining though knowing that when the sun came out I would be grateful for the cool temps. There were a small group of runners at the start line, all extremely friendly. I chatted to a few different runners, most of them had run this race many times before and were excited that this was my first ultra. I realized then how special this moment was. Standing on the start line to my very first ultra marathon was an experience I would never have again. I took a deep breath and grounded myself in the moment. Before I knew it we were counting down.
The course is broken up into a 25 km out and back, which you complete twice. 12.5 km’s out, 12.5km’s back, repeated again. The course consists of a river crossing (hence the name Seaton soaker) which we would cross 4x total. Breaking the course up into these 4 quarters made the whole thing seem more manageable.
Back at the start line, we crowded together keeping warm as the start time inched nearer. We all counted together in a symphony of voices for the final 3 - 2 - 1 and the horn sounded. The pack started moving forward at a slow and easy trot and we headed down a winding paved road that would lead us onto the trails. With the gradual slope ahead of me I could see the long line of runners both in front and behind. I had this wave of emotion hit me at this moment like I was a part of something so much larger than myself. I could feel myself embarking on a spiritual practice with a community of souls that shared my love for these crazy events.
I was initially surprised by how slow everyone was moving. Wasn't this supposed to be a race? But as the trail merged into single track there wasn’t much I could do but follow in line. There was a comfort in this slow, single file start, as if the collective runners around me were carrying me forward with them. It is however, one of those races where if you want to RACE it, it’s best to start off near the front. We meandered through the trails, chatting and laughing, everyone in great spirits and happy to stay at this easy pace.
Three km’s in, we got to the first river crossing. The waters were high, as there had been so much rain in the weeks prior so the water came up above my knees. The cold water gave me a shock as it hit my skin, waking me up to where I was and what I was doing. The rocks under my feet were slippery and I was careful to hold tightly to the rope and slowly make my way across the rocky creek. When I emerged from the water my legs were numb but I was invigorated and ready to run. ‘That was SO fun’ I said to the runner beside me. ‘See if you’re still saying that on your 4th crossing’ he responded back! I filed his comment into my brain curious to see how I would feel on the fourth crossing. Curiosity fuelled me as I set off to see what was the limit of what my body could do.
On the other side of the river the path opened up a bit but I continued to keep my pace super easy hiking all the uphill sections and running the flats and downs. I made sure not to push too hard despite passing a few people here and there but only working within my limits. When I neared the first turn-around, I started to count the women coming back towards me. I like to do this just to get a sense of where I am in the pack. As I approached the quarter mark I only counted 4 or 5 women in front of me. I started to panic. “Shit” I thought. My mind started to race. This is way too fast. I’m totally going to be THAT person who’s new to ultras and goes way too fast in the first half and then falls apart in the second half. I tried to stay calm reminding myself that I WAS taking it easy, or at least what felt easy. I couldn't control anyone else's pace. I took a little break at the turn-around aid station chatting with the volunteers, grazing the buffet table and then headed back out onto the trails. One down, four to go.
The second quarter continued pretty uneventfully (which is what you want in the first half of a race). I continued to feel really good, keep the pace easy and take in the nature around me at every opportunity I got. I made sure to fuel with a gel every 40 minutes or so, snacked at all the aid stations and ingested a continual drip of water from my hydration pack. I approached the Forstream aid station at km 17 and ran into the previous Haliburton Forest race director. Wearing my Hali t-shirt we connected immediately chatting while I refilled my water and grabbed a handful of potato chips.
Heading out of the Forstream aid station there is a pretty steep paved hill that leads you up to a short trail along the highway. It’s the type of steep that you would run in a road race, but could also argue to hike in an ultra. Going down upset my knee and going up just hurt my soul. It’s also right by the road so I felt assaulted by the fast cars and harsh sounds emerging from the woods. I decided to hike the hill this time as I knew I still had a lot of trail to come. At this point I was cautiously optimistic. Things were feeling good but I knew we still had a long ways to go.
Before I knew it, I was back at the second river crossing feeling that cold water rush up my legs. 'Still feeling good' I thought, not quite knowing how that was possible. I continued along the trails and before I knew it I was back at the start/finish approaching the halfway mark of my race. I was pumped from the energy and music at the start/finish and forfeited a stop deciding instead to continue with my momentum and fill up at the next aid station. Out I went, to do it all again. 25 km’s on my legs and 25 more to go.
There was no doubt in my mind as I set out on lap 2 that I was going to complete this race. I was so confident and so sure this was my day. I would get through it no matter how hard it got. I was in fighting mode. I set off with this guy who’s name I’ve forgotten (sorry new friend!). He was a friendly fellow and we shared the next few miles chatting about the races we’d done, our favourite trails to run and what brought us here today. I would run a bit ahead and then stop to take a photo or two and he’d catch up. We’d run for a while together and then part ways organically when our paces weren’t compatible. Every so often I’d hear a whisper in my ear, Brian’s voice, reminding me to slow down and look around. To take in my surroundings, appreciate where I was and what my body was doing. My eyes filled with tears many times on this second lap but instead of the lump in my throat that often accompanies my tears, they were invigorating. They pushed me forward and kept me moving as the miles grew more and more difficult.
When I approached my third river crossing a couple guys had set up a bbq and were cooking jerk chicken and handing out cold beers. Although I was tempted by the delicious smell in the air, BBQ’d jerk chicken and cold brews hadn’t been part of my fuelling strategy and was far too risky for my first ultra. I thanked them for the offer and said I’d rethink it on my way back. With the waft of chicken in the air I made my way back across the river.
When I got to km 30, I was shocked by how good I was still feeling. I had been running for approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes and was feeling good? How was this possible? I reminded myself that even though I was 30 km’s in, I still had 20 km’s of trails to make it through. Lots can happen in 20 km's. Keep it paced.
And then, almost immediately 33 km’s hit and it all changed. I vividly remember thinking at this moment ‘holy shit, what have I gotten myself into? Ultra’s are fucking hard'. I continued to press forward knowing the final turn around was under 5 km’s away. I could make it to the turn around and then work the rest of the race out from there. The trails were familiar and I knew it was in my capacity to complete this. I pushed on.
The section of trail that leads in and out of the turn around is a really nice run-able section without any big climbs or descents. In the early hours of an ultra this is nice, but in the later stages, it means there are no excuses to hike. I forced myself to run the whole section convinced the turn around would come any minute but it felt like it never came. This stretch felt like it went on FOREVER. I was sure each bend in the trail would lead into the opening but just more trail lay ahead. Finally the trail weaved left and there in front of me was the grassy field that housed the turn around aid station. Relief washed over me. I took a short break at the aid station, ate some jelly beans and grabbed a handful of chips. I took a deep breath, regrouped and then head back off into the last quarter of the race.
Rejuvenated by my short rest, I clicked off some pretty decent running splits heading out of that aid station. By this point, my thoughts weren’t much deeper than ‘one foot in front of the other’. It’s funny. I had imagined that during these final miles of the race my mind would flood with thoughts. I was certain I would have my deepest most profound thoughts during these hours but in reality my mind never once wandered from what I was experiencing in that moment. I had a laser focused attention in a way I'd never experienced before. But I guess this is the definition of mindfulness. I was experiencing a focussed attention on the present moment. Right foot. Left foot. Keep moving forward.
I could feel myself slowing down in that last section. Running turned more into shuffling. But instead of getting frustrated I gave myself only one rule; Keep moving forward. I kept my mindset positive and kept the story in my head that I was feeling good when in reality the wheels were starting to fall off. There’s a fine balance between being aware of your body without letting the discomfort take over. During these long painful events you have to be able to shut off some of the physical discomfort you are experiencing . Yes, my feet were killing, my legs were burning and it felt like every time I lifted my foot I was carrying a piles of bricks. I acknowledged these feelings but then focused on how I was really feeling on a deeper level. I felt AMAZING. On a soul level, my body was on fire. I had to change the dialogue in my head from the superficial pains that I knew would heal with rest, and focus in on how my body really felt.
At 42.2 km's I acknowledged the marathon distance and how I was heading into un-chartered territory. Who knew how my body would respond to anything beyond a marathon distance. Curiosity fuelled me as I made my way past this point.
I got to the Forestream aid station at km 43 and knew even though I just had 7 km’s to go I needed a short break to re-group and refuel. 7 km’s isn’t much, but with 43km’s already under your legs, it feels like a marathon still ahead. By this point in the race, candy and chips weren’t looking so appealing but I eyed some crackers and guacamole on the table and decided to give it a try. I took one bite and immediately knew this was what I needed. I shovelled another cracker with guacamole into my mouth and then another. Bliss, pure bliss. This was what I needed to get me to the finish line. I wish I could tell you that with this new fuel I ran outta that aid station with jets under my legs, but guacamole can only do so much. The last 7 km's were still going to be a slog.
Coming out of that aid station we were back at that HORRIBLE hill. Its long, it’s harsh pavement, and it’s just annoying. At that point I started to do some math and make calculations in my head. I could probably make it in under 6 and a half hours if I maintained a decent pace from here to the end. It would be tight, but I could do it, and it would start with running this hill. But then almost immediately I laughed out loud and the thought came into my head. I don’t care. I honestly just don’t care. This race is literally just about having fun, and feeling good and if I try and really push it, it might ruin the whole experience. From that point in the race a switch went off in my head and I just stopped looking at my watch COMPLETELY. This disassociation from any time goal or expectation is what ultimately pushed me to the end. I ran whatever I could run, right until the very end. I didn’t walk any of the flat portions and hiked with intensity and vigour.
The dialogue in my head went as follows:
“Just make it to that tree up ahead”.
“Well done that was such a good stretch, now just try and make it to that tree ahead”.
“AMAZING, you made it! Let’s try that tree over there”.
Etc. etc. Positive reinforcement at its finest.
In my mind, I just needed to make it to the river crossing, then I knew I’d be okay. Once again, It felt like the river would never come. Those km’s were hard. So. Hard. I wasn’t looking at my watch so have no clue how long this period went on for. I never EVER considered quitting (how could I really… unless I wanted to sleep the night in the woods). Finally, after what felt like forever, I saw the river in the distance. I smelled the sweet smell of BBQ chicken and heard the rush of the water. My senses were so heightened I felt like I could feel the water on my skin, and taste the finish line. I approached the river and grabbed hold of the rope crossing carefully over the slippery wet rocks. Balance and agility had diminished over the past 6 hours I had journeyed through forest and field. Here I was, river crossing #4. Only 3 km’s from the finish. I took inventory over my body. How was I feeling? I wanted to find that guy from the start. I felt AMAZING. On a soul level I felt amazing.
Once past the river crossing I had 3 km’s left to go. Right away, there is a steeeeeep hill. It was so muddy from all the runners that had passed this trail I had to use rope to pull you up as you went. I thought to myself there is no way my quads could handle this. I very honestly thought they would give out on me halfway up. This voice inside of me started to roar in my head though. Just keep going, just keep going. It was gentle but firm. I’m certain it was Brian. He was making everything groove, and smooth and I felt so grateful to have him there with me and to feel so connected to him throughout the whole run. He was watching over me.
Those final km’s from the river crossing to the finish are kind of a blur to me. What I remember vividly is the moment the trees parted and I saw a clearing in the distance. A winding switchback paved road lay ahead ushering me to the finish line.
Emerging from the clearing I saw the same guy that I had left the aid station with ahead of me. He was walking and running and then walking and I just thought I’m gonna run it. I could see him see me and pick up his pace. I had no interest in catching him, I was completely focused on my own race and my own experience (At the finish line he told me that he was was worried I was coming to catch him. I assured him, I was not). Right foot. Left foot. The cheering got louder, the smell of the finish got stronger. I pulled into the final straightaway with every last ounce of strength. I couldn’t believe i did it. I couldn’t believe it was over.
I ended up finishing in 6:33:54 placing 5th woman (of 31), and first in my age category (of 14). My second lap was approximately 23 minutes slower than my first which is pretty common in ultra races. You can view my Strava data of the race Here.
I hung around the finish line for a while, chatting with some of the other racers and revelling in our accomplishments. I felt on top of the world. After some stretches and chats, I made my way back to the car to drive home. It felt like a lifetime had passed since I had gotten in the car and driven to the race. I felt changed. I knew it would take time to process and fully understand what I had accomplished, but for now I was just looking forward to a warm shower, a giant pizza and putting my feet up for the night.
Pretty spontaneously, I decided to register myself for my first ultra.
Ultramarathons are anything greater in distance than a marathon, ranging from 50 km’s to 200 miles and beyond. Yes, that is crazy. No, I am not going to run a 200 mile race (yet…?). Ultra’s aren’t usually the type of thing you register for ‘on a whim’. They are usually carefully orchestrated and planned to a tee. They usually involve a dedicated training block, complete with taper and a nutritional plan. I mean, ultra’s are no joke, right?
I get it. There are a lot of reasons why I shouldn’t run this race tomorrow.
The last few months have been nothing short of a blur. 6 weeks ago, my brother in law passed away from a very aggressive form of melanoma leaving my sister and their 3 year old daughter with a whole new future they could never have imagined. It was only 6 weeks before that, he was diagnosed. Everything happened so quickly. With our world flipped upside down so suddenly I’ve been frantically looking for something to ground me.
During this time, running was my only escape from the stress and uncertainty of the life I was now a part of. It was equal parts an ‘escape’ from this emotional rollercoaster I was both a part of and witnessing and equal parts when I felt everything the most deeply. What I knew, was that at the end of my run, I was a different person. Whether it was a short 20 minute spin around the block or a 4 hour exploration through the forest I always felt better and somehow changed. I had processed something. Emotions and thoughts that were stagnant inside me were diffused and shifted and I felt stronger and more capable. When I ran, I felt like I could handle anything anyone sent at me.
However, the physical body’s needs and the emotional body’s needs don’t always line up perfectly. I started to increase my mileage, sometimes pulling double days if I felt particularly stressed. At first my body was handling it like a pro, but eventually old injuries and weaknesses started to show their ugly faces. Eventually my IT band started to act up causing some discomfort and signalling to me that I needed to pay some more attention to how I was caring for my body.
So basically what I’m getting at is I was running with no real plan or schedule, my body was starting to revolt and my first thought was ‘I know, I should do an ultra’.
Put that way it sounds like the most ridiculous idea, however a different perspective will show a different story. I’ve had my eye on an ultra for a while now, diving into the ultra community and learning about the sport before having actually completed one. Although I’ve never done an ultra, I have a pretty good understanding of what it looks like (says the person who’s never done an ultra… I get it).
Then, the stars aligned and a race that I’d had my eye on for a while became an actual possibility for me to run.
Beyond all the reasons that I knew I shouldn’t run this race (I hadn’t done a run longer than about 28 km’s since last year, I had only done about 3 real trail runs this year, and my IT band was acting up pretty regularly etc etc) a greater force was driving me to complete this run. Something I couldn’t ignore was pushing me to this race, and pushing me to run this distance. I had no choice but to listen.
I am genuinely curious to know what running 50 km’s feels like. It’s a hella long time, especially on trails with a pretty decent amount of elevation gain and loss. I’m equal parts excited and nervous. I’m going into this race with the thought that 50 km’s is the A goal. If I make it to the end, Wow, that’s amazing. I will have accomplished something pretty epic and feel great (well… I will eventually feel great. I hear in the immediate aftermath of an ultra you don’t feel all that hot). If at 30 km’s I decide that I don’t want to go on anymore , that my body has had enough then I just ran 30 km’s in the forest! That’s pretty fucking amazing on its own. If I get to 40 km, shit man that’s a marathon through the forest.
I have never felt such a deep love and appreciation for running, for being in nature and for LIFE. Experiencing loss of life, so close to the heart gives you this wild new perspective. When I think deeply about why I would chose to not do this race it all boils to fear. Fear of those dreaded letters (D - N - F... did not finish) coming up after my name on a webpage no one actually cares about or looks at. Fear of trying something and failing. Fear of reaching beyond my comfort levels and having to endure pain.
I am going in with no pressure on myself, hence why I hardly told anyone about this race. The past 3 months have been filled with enough stress, enough emotional turmoil .. ENOUGH. Just enough. This race is for me.
It’s for me to connect with the trails, connect with nature, and connect with Brian.
<3 <3 <3
Earlier in December I embarked on a… well, a running experience. I’m calling it my midnight 30.
There were two elements to this running challenge. Firstly, I wanted to test out my endurance one month post marathon, and secondly I wanted to set out on a run with the specific intention of running into the night. The plan was to begin the run at a time when I would normally be starting to get myself ready for bed. Many a times have I gone on a morning run and watched the city gradually wake up, but never before have I experienced the city by foot in the dark of night. I didn’t have an end goal in mind, instead I wanted to keep running until my body told me to stop. I wanted to watch the city fall asleep. The whole experience was extremely enjoyable… until it wasn’t anymore, but I guess that was the point.
Let’s backtrack a little to what inspired me to do this late night run.
One of the things that draws me to running is the act of testing out the boundaries to what I'm capable of. I love the process of choosing a goal race and working through a training block to peak for that specific race. I did that with my Ironman 70.3 this year, and again in the build towards my first marathon. Working towards a goal and achieving that goal is hugely motivating but it also doesn't allow for much randomness or creativity in training. During these training blocks, everything I do is working towards this one goal. Sometimes, I just want to run to run! No goal, no plan, just RUN.
Since that marathon, a month ago, I’ve been in a bit of a limbo state; no new races planned for the new year but feeling pretty much recovered from the race. The past month I’ve been taking it really easy running only when I feel like I want to or when my body craves it. If I wake up in the morning and the thought of leaving my bed doesn’t sound enticing I don’t run. Because I genuinely enjoy running I still find myself lacing up more often than not purely out of joy but I’m not attached to any structured program. It’s been a good flow and I’ve been enjoying this less structured approach towards running. But one thing has maintained and that is my curiosity in the limits of my potential.
Sometimes, not being in a structured training program can lead to decreased motivation. The positive side though, is it’s opened up possibilities to do some fun and wacky things I’ve been thinking about for a while. Enter my midnight run.
For a while now I’ve been intrigued by the idea of doing a night run. I’m totally NOT a night person! Almost all my runs occur in the morning, only once in a blue moon will I run in the evening and it’s usually only due to scheduling. You’ll usually find me in bed before 10pm. Because of this the night feels like the unknown.
So why was I doing this? It’s a good question I’m not sure I have a really good answer to, other than a gut desire to do something that intrigued me and scared me a little. Ultimately, I was curious what it would feel like to be alone on the streets at night, my body tired and longing for bed. What would it feel like? What strategies would I use to keep going? What would ultimately cause me to stop? Would it be systemic fatigue ie. just a full body desire to stop moving, close my eyes and go to sleep? Would it be mechanical pain in my muscles and joints? If so, which areas would break down first? Would it be fear of being alone on the streets at night? I wanted to discover what would ultimately be the thing that stopped me.
This was meant to be used as a learning experience and as a way to see how my body and my mind responded to suffering. I recently heard ultra runner Courtney Dauwalter interviewed and in this interview she said something that really stuck with me. “No one ever became a worse person from trying something new”.
The first thing I asked myself and probably what many people would was did I think this was actually a dangerous thing to do? I thought about it, and the answer I came to was no. I believe Toronto is a very safe city, even at night and I decided to take the precautions that I needed to ensure I was safe. I decided to plan a route that stayed on main roads that were lit, and checked in with Luke regularly. I made sure I was visible wearing bright colours and carrying a light with me. I used the Strava Beacon feature so Luke could track me while I was running (until he fell asleep… ). I carried with me money, ID, and my phone in case I needed to call for an emergency uber!
I had a loose goal of making it past midnight. There was something about running from one day into the next that I was drawn to experience. Speed wasn’t important, instead I focused on time on feet. I rarely looked at my watch and instead focused on the internal cues my body was giving me. Upon completing the run, I took some time to sit down and reflect on the experience.
I finished with my last client at 8pm and was the last one left at work. I took my time changing into my running clothes, collecting the layers I had brought to ensure I stayed warm throughout the night. The temperature was hovering around zero, with some precipitation in the forecast. All day I had been mentally preparing for my evening adventure. I had slept in that morning, found some quiet time in the afternoon to rest and even close my eyes for a few minutes. I had a coffee at 6pm which is unheard of for me, but I figured if I was committed I might as well have a little help from my dear friend caffeine.
Starting at The Runner's Academy, where I treat Tuesday evenings, I zig zagged my way down side streets eventually heading onto Dovercourt Rd. I eased my way into a slow pace I could sustain, careful of the slightly slippery sidewalks. Loads of people were out on the streets, walking home from work, yoga class, or whatever they had been up to. It was a lovely night, the perfect temperature for an evening run - cold when I stopped moving but comfortable while I was running. I saw groups of people walking together, bundled up in their winter coats and happily chatting away. When I got down to Queen St. I turned East to make my way towards Yonge. Queen St. was at that perfect state of ‘busyness’ with enough people wandering around to make it enjoyable to people watch but not so busy that you were constantly dodging people on the sidewalks. My pace was easy and enjoyable - to be honest I was hardly thinking about it. When I got to Nathan Phillip Square I decided to stop to watch the skaters. It was magical down there with the Christmas lights and holiday energy in the air. I was shocked with how busy it was at almost 9 O’clock and then realized "riiiiiight, most people aren’t wrapped up in bed by 9:30pm every night". There’s a whole world out there in the evening!
I continued running along Queen St. turning north on Yonge St. I had my first little snack and then realized in all the planning of my night run I had made one big mistake. I had forgotten to bring water! Luckily it was still early, so I stopped in a Starbucks to ask for some tap water. Refreshed with energy and water in my system I continued on my journey past the bustling evening Yonge street crowd. I crossed over Bloor St. and for the first time in ages, noticed all the new developments that had gone on at that intersection. It had been ages since I had stepped outside of the Bloor-Yonge subway station and the intersection had really changed.
I zigzagged my way off Yonge until I was heading west along Dupont. The streets were getting quieter - it was almost 10pm by this point. As I turned on to Dupont a light flurry of snow started to fall. It was quiet and peaceful. I continued running along Dupont towards Ossington, realizing I had completed my first 'lap' of the city. I hit 15km and texted Luke to let him I know I was feeling good and rocking my run. I knew he’d be heading to sleep soon. Once I turned onto Ossington I put my headphones in and started a podcast of Bart Yasso being interviewed. It was wonderful to run to the voice of Bart Yasso, a man who exudes love for the sport of running. I was still feeling pretty good and maintaining a consistently slow pace, one I felt I could hold forever. I munched on a few more snacks and then turned left onto Dundas heading back east into the city.
By this point the streets were much quieter and Dundas had a bit of an edgier feel to it at this time of night. At no point did I feel unsafe in any way, the quietness of the streets allowed me to go more inside my body and actually enjoy the experience. I continued along Dundas until I got to University and then headed north again. North running was always the most challenging - the small but consistent incline along with a bit of wind increased my effort level. I made my way up to Bloor, past the ROM and then stopped for a short walking break. I was at about 20km here and was starting to feel an ache in my left hip. Hmmm. I knew I should also take in some fuel so took this as an opportunity to walk hoping a change in gait may settle my hip. I opened my bag and took out some of the dried apricots and banana chips I had packed away. I kept putting one foot in front of the other - even if it was slow I was determined to constantly be moving forward.
While running, I hadn’t noticed the cooling temperatures but as soon as I started walking my body immediately felt the cold. My fingers froze each time I reached into my bag to grab some dried fruit. I was shocked at how quickly my body temperature dropped as I had actually been feeling a bit too hot while running.
The snow was continuing to fall and the streets were now blanketed by a sheet of white. It was spectacular to watch. Feeling safe, I decided to change up my planned route and take some side streets. By this point it was just past 11pm and the roads were almost completely empty. I zig zagged through the Annex, a neighbourhood that holds nostalgic memories for me. One of my favourite things to do is run in the very centre of the road, something that isn't often possible to achieve in a bustling city. At 11pm at night however, I had the road to myself. I felt powerful and in charge of the streets. The city was quiet and peaceful and my body mirrored that.
The pain in my left hip brought me out of my state of calm and back into my body. I began to notice every little thing. The twinge I felt in my left hip on each push off. The way it travelled down my thigh and congregated into my left knee. It was like a little fireball that I could trace down my leg. I started to focus more on my gait, picking up my knees, driving my feet down under my pelvis and using my arm swing to gently allow my spine to rotate. I continued with this intension to move through the pain and sort it out while running. For all other purposes I was feeling amazing!
I continued down Shaw, until I got to College. I turned east through little Italy, a neighbourhood usually bustling wth people however at 11:30pm on a Tuesday night was deserted. A passed a few people but by this point I was more wrapped up in the sensations I was feeling in my own body rather than what other people were up to. I alternated between walking and running here trying to decide if the pain I was experiencing was manageable or if I thought it was doing damage on a deeper level.
In the end, I decided to call it a night when the pain in my hip grew to a point I no longer wished to endure. But looking back it wasn’t actually the pain ITSELF that caused me to stop - that I could manage. It was the fear of the damage I might be doing to hip that ultimately caused me to stop. It was fear. Not pain… fear.
Pain is a signal. It's our bodies way of telling us that something is wrong and we should take notice. Had this been a big goal race that I had worked tirelessly for months to get to I would have kept going. It would have probably put me out of commission for a few weeks, potentially months after, but for a goal race that would have been worth it. It wasn't worth it in this particular situation. The body is incredible and gives us so much information if we choose to listen. The key is we need to learn how to listen.
Fear ultimately was what made me stop. I thought it might be fear of the night. Fear of the dark. Fear of the city. Fear of being too tired. It wasn’t in the end. But it was fear of what might happen if I continued to run with this clear dysfunction in my running mechanic. Just past midnight, I called it a night having covered a total of 31.6 km's.
The next morning I allowed myself to sleep in and when I woke my body was tired and sore but I could move. I stretched and walked and stretched some more. I ate nourishing foods and reflected. Within the week the pain in my left hip/knee had lifted and I could run pain free. One of my New Year intensions for 2019 is to put more care into strength training and corrective exercise. Practice what I preach, right? I’ve been working diligently the last few weeks to correct muscle imbalances, restore my ideal gait and be mindful of my postural patterns.
I’ll take back to the streets at night - I'm sure of it! It was really a magical experience.
You can check out my run on Strava.
Wow wow wow! I did it! My first marathon is officially in the books and I have to say, it was incredible.
Two questions everyone have been asking me since finishing the marathon:
The answer to question 1 is surprisingly well! My legs were/are sore, as is to be expected but 3 days post race I am feeling incredibly good. I’ve been militant about rest and recovery and reaping the benefits. I’m feeling good enough to start asking that dreadful question "Could I have run it faster??"
The answer to question 2 is abso-fucking-lutely. There is no question in my mind. Now that I’ve gotten a taste at the marathon distance there is no going back. I'm hooked and already scheming my next attempt at the distance.
The race was incredible and I had the absolute best time. As usual, most of the race is a blur in my mind of one foot in front of the other, with a few intermittent breaks of water, gel, high fives and a lot of counting in the final few km’s. I’ll do my best to recount the experience.