Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mississauga Marathon 2014 Race Report

Note: This is long, even for me. I wrote this mostly for myself - you only get one first marathon and I wanted something I could re-read in the future to remind myself of all the little details. If you actually read the whole thing, you definitely deserve a prize (not that I'm offering any. You'll have to supply your own).


“The farther I run, the better it feels when I stop.”

Non-runners have occasionally asked me why, why the longer distances? What possesses a person to decide to run for hours on end? I’m only half joking when I give them the above answer.

Sunday May 4th was my longest run ever, and my first marathon. How would it feel to finish that kind of distance? Could I even finish that kind of distance?

Saturday night I got to sleep surprisingly easily, although I did wake up at 2:30 in a panic about missing my alarm. Then I laid in bed wide awake for what felt like about 20 minutes and then my alarm really did go off at 4:30, so obviously I did sleep again somewhere in there. I made myself a big mug of tea, pounded back a large glass of Gatorade, and ate an English muffin with butter. I followed a fairly aggressive carb loading/hydration plan in the three days leading up to the race, so I wasn't too worried about eating a huge amount the morning of the race (plus I knew I would have a nervous stomach and probably have trouble eating much anyway).

Flat Emma ready to go.
After the very important bathroom trips (runners know what I’m talking about) (poop. I'm talking about poop.), I got on the road a tad earlier than I’d originally planned and was off to Mississauga, where I immediately managed to turn the wrong way off the QEW. I am Smart.  Eventually I got turned back around and found my way to the community center parking, got my stuff organized, and hopped on the shuttle to the start line. I chatted with a lovely lady whose name I can’t remember who was running her first half marathon and was gratifyingly impressed by the fact I was running the full. I wish I could remember her name, I’d like to know how she did!

Met up with my brother, who was running the half, and hung around trying not to freeze to death. I started second guessing my clothing choices because the wind was COLD, but I hadn't brought any other options with me so was stuck with the tank top/arm warmer combo. I put my faith in the fact that Amy, who would be my running partner for the race, was also in a tank top, so at least we’d freeze to death together. I do tend to run hot so I figured we’d probably warm up after a few km. Hopefully.

Me and my brother bundled up and trying not to look like we're half frozen. Isn't it supposed to be May right now?
So, that wind. Yeah. I had been hoping this would be like Around the Bay, where the Weather Network was all 'HORRIBLE WIND!!!!!' and then there was pretty much nothing. Unfortunately as soon as I got on the QEW the wind almost immediately pushed my car sideways, so the Weather Network was right on the money for this one. Damn you Weather Network. I figured given the wind direction that we’d at least get some decent tailwind on certain portions of the course, but we were also clearly going to have to deal with a headwind at other points. Short of tracking down a mad scientist with a weather machine, we were just going to have to suck it up.
Daily Mile group pre-race. No mad scientists with weather machines, alas, although there were plenty of skirts. Photo via Patty, the shadow of the photographer is Paul. Thanks, Paul! Go read his blog to see his sweet superman outfit.
I ran this race largely without looking at my watch, which I’m getting increasingly comfortable with. It’s a bit of a cheat since Amy was keeping an eye on the pace, and of course when we passed the timing mats I could calculate roughly how we were doing. But still, this seems to work for me. If I run a km too fast at the beginning I’d kind of rather not know about it. So although I’ll include the splits in this report, I didn't know them at the time (for the most part).

Pre-race Marilyns hidden behind some trees. Not my best photography. I was a little distracted with the whole I'm about to run a marathon thing, OK?
Almost before I knew it it was time to make our way to the start corral. We moved about halfway up towards the start line and suddenly the race started (no Oh Canada? No Hazel? so confused!).

Pre-race selfie in the start corral! Still freezing our butts and arms off! Note how everyone else is wearing sweaters!
The first 5k


We settled into our pace fairly quickly – the very wide streets for the first few kms really help with a smooth start (although we still had to dodge around a few walkers. Every race with the walkers, what the hell). The race starts by heading west on Burnhamthorpe for the first 5k. The wind was a west wind. So, headwind right off the bat. YAY! I didn't think it felt too bad (I commented on that to Amy, and then immediately a massive gust of wind hit us in the face, so really I should just learn to shut the hell up). 

Some of our paces were a touch fast (we were planning something in the 5:50/5:55 range), but there’s some downhill in this section, plus race start excitement. By around 3k I commented to Amy that my feet had thawed out and my hands were starting to get warm. It was also becoming clear that I would need to take off my arm warmers at some point – I run hot and was glad I’d gone with the tank top!



On to Mississauga Road and through the U of T campus. Still feeling good, taking advantage of downhills to pick up a bit of time. No wind on this stretch that I can remember, but possibly it was a tail wind. I did notice around 6k that my right knee was feeling a bit twingy, which was concerning, but I ignored it because what other option did I have? Took a gel at 8k on schedule. This first 10k went by fast! And not just because of our paces, it just seemed to fly by.

I put my music on just after 10k – I’d put together a play list with just over 3 hours of music on it. I wanted to run the first 10k without and then use music to motivate me for the rest of the race.



The one significant hill in the first half of the course was no problem (after Around the Bay, it didn't even seem all that big). You can see by that 6:00 we slowed down for it – Amy and I have the same hill running philosophy I think, which is slow down and just focus on getting up it steadily, don’t try and maintain pace. I think we probably had a tailwind going down Mississauga Road after the hill, looking at those paces!

The short ponytail just doesn't swing as impressively as the longer one used to. Early in the race, feeling fantastic.
I spent quite a while in this section trying to determine if the rank BO I was smelling was coming from me. Frankly I'm still not entirely sure. Given that I only smelled it for a few kilometers it probably came from someone else? Maybe I should apologize to Amy just in case it was me. I swear I put on antiperspirant!

Just before 15k the full and the half marathon routes split. Not going to lie, I got a bit emotional as we approached the corner of Indian Road and most of the runners continued on straight for the half, and only we lucky few made the right turn onto the full route. “I’m not going to cry, it’ll screw up my breathing!” I thought. Amy said she had goosebumps. I asked a volunteer on the corner ‘why are we doing this?’.

Good times.



Just after 15k, shortly after we’d turned away from the half route, with the full force of the west wind smacking us in our faces, my playlist produced Hedley’s ‘Anything’. Even if I’d tried I don’t think I could have scripted that better. I was all HELL YEAH I CAN DO ANYTHING! WE ARE DOING THIS! It was good to have the motivation because the wind really sucked along this stretch.

I took my second gel at 16k. We worked our way west, still against the wind (have I mentioned the wind?), looking forward to the turn onto Southdown (and possibly getting out of the wind). Our pace was definitely slowed a bit by the wind (THERE WAS WIND). At this point we also started taking water from the water stations (roughly at every even numbered km), and walking maybe 5-10 seconds at each one to drink.



Onto Southdown and a TAILWIND! Which was fun. We crossed the 21.1k timing mat at 2:01:23 – this was one of those points where I knew we were running faster than planned, because even while running I can do the math on that one. But I was feeling good, legs good (knee still twingy, but not getting any worse), brain good, so I just let that information slide off my back and back into the universe. Wasn't even worried about it or thinking about the potential consequences or possibilities. During this section my arms were getting sweaty so I took off my arm warmers and looped them around my Spibelt.

Then we turned the corner at 23k and lost the tailwind. It became a decidedly unpleasant cross wind, and I occupied myself trying to spot friends running back the other way – we screamed encouragement at Nicole & Peter, waved to Patty & Robin, and I muttered angrily about how much I hate out and backs while the out portion is taking you away from the finish line. It’s demoralizing! We made the turnaround and were finally heading back towards the finish.

I....don't know what I'm doing here. 


Took a third gel at around 27k, which I really didn't want but figured I should force down. I believe this was also when I started grabbing Gatorade and water at each water station – I didn't always drink the Gatorade, probably about half the time I just swished and spat (reasoning behind that approach). The 28th & 29th km featured the worst headwind of the day. It was ugly. There were moments I wasn't entirely sure we were even still moving forward because of the force of the wind pushing back against us. If Amy and I were smarter we’d have traded off breaking the wind for each other, but I didn't think of it until just now while writing this. D’oh. Me no think good during races. Turning onto Orr road and getting out of the wind was a huge relief (and led to that 5:47 km!).



Km 31 included hills through the residential portion of the race, on Meadow Wood Road. I hated those hills. I’m not sure I can even adequately express how much I hated that kilometer. Oh, and the headwind was back, which made them EXTRA SUPER DUPER FUN (I believe I've mentioned the wind once or twice so far?). This was about when I started really focusing on just getting to the next water station, knowing I could walk for 10-20 seconds at each one and sort of pull myself together. My legs still felt fine (other than the still twingy knee), but my brain was definitely starting the check out process.

And then we turned to run through Jack Darling Park. We hadn't run this in training, which I now regret. Getting down to the lake was great, since it was downhill, but then the wind (yes, shockingly, more wind) was pretty nasty along the lake and there were disgusting bugs. As much as I enjoyed the view of the Toronto skyline in the distance, I could really have done without the bugs. Getting back up to Lakeshore was uphill and I was struggling. It felt so hard. Because we hadn't run this part on our training run, I didn't realize that the path back up to Lakeshore was really pretty short. I felt like the hill was going to go on forever. really, really, REALLY wanted to stop. A girl ahead of us did stop. I though about joining her. And then Amy gasped out ‘I’m not stopping, if I stop now I’ll never start again’ and I said YES. Can’t stop, won’t stop.

I was pretty freaking happy when the turn onto Lakeshore showed up a lot earlier than I was expecting it, and with it a water station and the chance to walk for a few seconds. I knew I should probably take another gel, but I could still taste the last one and I had the sense that my stomach would rebel if I tried to force it down, so I settled for drinking a few mouthfuls of Gatorade and hoping my carb load had been good enough to see me through to the end of the race. We took a pretty long walk break at the water station here, which I think is where that 6:36 came from.



The paces slowed, we were walking longer at each water station, but this part felt, strangely, better. Maybe knowing how close we were getting to the finish. Maybe because the wind seemed to have died off. Maybe knowing the hills were done (I didn't find the Lakeshore hills too bad – not as bad as those awful Meadow Wood hills, anyway). As every km ticked by I would calculate in my head how much longer there was left to run, and the number kept shrinking and I kept thinking I AM GOING TO DO THIS. Amy didn't say anything but I got the sense she was struggling a bit (she can confirm or deny!) so I tried to just keep us moving forward, staying slightly ahead of her so I could pull her along behind me.

There were about a billion photographers in the last 5k, and I don't think I have these in the right order, but I paid for the whole set so I might as well toss them in here. This is well before the finish because I'm still trying to look good for photos.
Shockingly, there was more headwind during the 38th km. Also, I think this is where I got a bug in my eye. Lovely. Nature is just the worst.

Still smiling for the photos. Sort of.
I kind of like how the Mississauga course winds around from 38k on – it was more engaging than just running straight. Spotting the familiar landmarks like the lighthouse, and looking for Amy’s husband and kids who she knew would be waiting for us I think at around 39k. It’s good to have something to distract you when you get close to the end of the race! My knee was still bothering me, but other than that my legs felt great. Tired of course, but still strong. And my brain seemed to be back on board with things, especially since we were down to about 12 minutes of running left.

Amy and I doing our best gum commercial impression. Just two friends out for a jog, chewing some Trident.


The last two km were rough. My right knee was hurting more, plus I started getting pain in my right thigh. Cripes, NOT NOW, stupid leg. Just keep running, I kept telling myself. Don’t think about stopping. 12 minutes to go. 10 minutes to go. 6 minutes to go. YOU CAN DO THIS.

I see you there, photographer. I ain't smiling any more until I see the goddamn finish line.
The crowd support along this section was great, especially as we came around the lake. Lots of people cheering us on, including Pranada in a tutu! We saw Amy’s family again, and her daughter yelled ‘go faster mommy, you are going too slow!’ which made me laugh. Not sure how Amy felt about it! Then I was really focused on scanning the crowds for my husband who was supposed to be meeting me at the finish. I was so focused I have to confess I completely missed seeing Phil and Elaine cheering for us!

Clearly Amy spotted them. I was far too focused on NOT DYING. Thank you Elaine for the pic!
Finally, the 42k sign! 200m left! Spotted my husband and that put a big smile on my face as we ran for the finish line. Well, spotting him and also the whole thing about almost being done. That may have been part of it.

Look how totally in sync we are. Sometimes I think Amy and I share a brain. Thank you Irina for the fantastic picture!
I see the finish! Almost done! OH MY GOD!
Time: 4:08:41 chip/4:10:49 gun
Overall place: 353/723
Gender place: 126/307
Category place: 41/86

There it is. 42.2 DONE.

This is what it feels like to get your first marathon medal:

That is how good it feels to stop running after a marathon.

Thank you Amy for running every step with me. Could not have done it without you. 
A few overall thoughts on the race. I love the Mississauga course, with the exception of the industrial section from about 22k to 28k or so. That part is kind of blah, although it is the one out and back spot on the course where you can spot your friends. The organization of the race is really well done, the baggage check was very efficient, and the shuttle buses back to the parking worked very well (although admittedly post-race they are probably the worst smelling buses in the world – cramming a bunch of sweaty runners onto a city bus, ewwwwww). Lots of great volunteers and I appreciated the aid stations every 2k, and how they consistently had Gatorade first, water second. I would definitely recommend this marathon to anyone considering it.
Outfits: adorable. And big congrats to Patty for her first sub 4 hour marathon! You can't quite tell in this picture how much I felt like I was about to fall right over. It's hilarious how quickly you go from a full out run to hardly even being able to walk.
I prepared well for this race. The carb load did its job, as far as I can tell, in that I never felt anything like a bonk even though I didn't take the 4th gel (I am very glad it wasn't hot out – that could have gotten really ugly). My legs were strong through the whole race; it was my brain that was busy objecting during various parts of the last 10-12k or so. And I have to give a huge thanks to all the great people who came out or stayed to watch us finish! I don’t think I've ever had so many race pictures before, thanks Irina and Phil and Elaine and Jenn and her husband all taking pics. And of course big thanks to Sam for staying after her half to cheer for us, and my husband for tolerating all the hours spent training and then taking care of the post race driving.

So will I run another one? I believe the first thing I said to Amy after our sweaty half falling down drunken sorority sister style hug at the finish was ‘I can’t believe people do this more than once’. But of course now I’m wondering how fast we would have gone if we hadn't had to deal with that headwind; how close we might have gotten to a 4 hour finish…hmmmmmmm….

So yeah, I’d say another marathon is probably in my future.

But before I think about that I'm just going to bask in the glow of this one for a while.

I ran a freakin' marathon!


  1. Congratulations to you! What a terrific first marathon. Mississauga is such a great race to run the first I think and this holds true for you! You looked great from start to finish and executed perfectly. Well done and enjoy your moment. There's truly nothing like the first marathon! You are a marathoner!! Loved the race report and the detail. Always nice to see you again as well.

  2. Such an amazing race report!! I loved being part of your journey and this special day when you became a marathoner. You always have such a positive attitude, I can only see bright running days in your future. Maybe one day we'll all go for that sub 4, and hire Robin as a pacer, even if she says that she's done. ;-) She paced one person, now what about 3 more!? Hahah. Great job out there!! I have yet to run a 4:08 after 4 marathons. You girls did amazing!

  3. Congratulations! I loved reading this report! Hard to believe it was just your first marathon because you ran it so extraordinarily well. Great pacing. I forgot to mention those darn bugs in my blog post. Those were nasty.

  4. Great race report and congratulations again on your first marathon Emma! Mississauga was my first marathon in 2012 and getting across the finish line was such an unbelievable feeling. I'm sure it will be the first of many for you

  5. Awesome! So well done on a tough day in terms of weather! I know you'll be back for more, that's for sure. Congrats. Bask in the glow and enjoy reminding everyone about the POINT TWO! Well done!

  6. Congratulations! You're a marathoner and no one will ever be able to take that away from you! Enjoy the glow! Bask in the glory! You've earned it!!

    I'm glad I got in the photo (even as a shadow)