After 6 weeks of the most focused training I’ve ever undertaken race day finally arrived. During Ironman training I put in more workouts and hours per week, but never in my life have I trained with such a singular focus: see if I can run a marathon in less than 3:05. I was very happy with how my training went. Sure, I wished my pace was a little quicker for some of my hard runs (who doesn’t), but I was injury free and got in all of my high quality workouts. No question I was in the best running shape of my life and I was ready to go. I had my doubts about whether or not I’d be able to run 3:05. These weren’t going to play in my mind on race day, I just thought that realistically I would have needed another 4 solid weeks of training (to give me 10 total) to have a real good chance at running a BQ time.
Sunday morning I woke up at 4:50, but it felt like 5:50 since we got to turn the clocks back! I had my usual breakfast of 2 pieces of toast with almond butter and honey, a glass of Pom juice, a glass of water, and I doubled up on the chia seeds like I always do race morning gulping down 2 tablespoons. I grabbed a bottle of water to sip on the ride to Hamilton and Mark was there to pick me up. The morning of a triathlon I spend time thinking about the day ahead of me, keys to the race, and going over goals for each sport. I didn’t do that for Hamilton. I knew ahead of time how I wanted to approach the race (4:20 pace for the first 21k, 4:08 pace for the 5k downhill, then sub 4:30 pace to the finish), and the only intangible was whether my body could hold up to the punishment. We got to the race about an hour prior to the start so I could pick up my bib. 15 minutes before the race I had a Stinger Waffle, a bit of water and I was ready to go.
I lined up at the start about 4 or 5 people deep towards the left hand side (there was a puddle on the right 50m ahead). This was likely further forward than I should have been, but I had no problem with people running past me, and I was hoping to fall into no-mans-land instead of running with a group of people all around the same pace. The most important part of my strategy was the first 21k, and I figured running on my own gave me the best shot at doing this.
The gun went and we were off. As I expected my first kilometer was a bit hot, at about 4:05 pace. I was fine with this, and I used the next km to settle into my pace. I wasn’t too concerned about hitting 4:20 on the nose ever kilometer, instead I wanted to make sure no kilometer was over 4:20. The first 16k of the race is a rectangle with some gentle rolling hills. I felt really good, especially through the first 12k. I had felt like I had barely given it an effort and only had 30k to go. My plan was to take a gel every 40mins, a sip of HoneyMaxx (the on course drink) at every aid station, and I had salt tabs if I needed them (but didn’t end up using any). Where I was the field was pretty thin so it was no problem getting a cup at any aid station. At about 14k was the first time my legs registered that they were doing work. Nothing to be alarmed at, I had felt light and easy on my feet up until that point, and I just needed to focus on keeping good form and a short, quick stride. At about 16k we passed by the start and there were a number of people cheering, which gave me a little shot of adrenalin. My watch was a little out of sync with the km markers, but I figured I was about 50sec below 4:20 pace (aka about 4:17 pace) to that point. This extra bit of time would prove to be very useful.
Past the start it was a relatively boring, uneventful run to the all important 21k marker. I knew that nothing mattered until I got to 21k, I needed to be there in less than 1:31:00. I spent most of the next 5k running next to a guy in a green tshirt. We didn’t say a word, or even acknowledge, each other, we just ran. We were both running just under 4:20 and had a near identical cadence. I allowed myself to zone out a bit over this stretch, only glancing at my watch every 400m or so. I ended up being late taking my second gel, no big deal, I just took it when I realized my mistake. I hit the 21k marker at just over 1:30! I was beginning to feel fatigued and I was looking forward to 5k of downhill.
The 21k marker was just before the on ramp to the Red Hill Valley Parkway. As I ran down the on ramp I noticed the wind had really picked up. I was glad I choose not to discard my arm-warmers. It was a cold wind coming at us off the lake and I wiggled my fingers a bit as I ran to make sure they didn’t get so cold that it would be hard to grab a cup at an aid station. As I continued running I was a little disappointed by the grade, or lack-there-of, on the downhill. I wasn’t running 4:08′s like my strategy called for, I was closer to a 4:13 average, but I decided not to push it because I had already banked almost a minute over the first 21k. As I neared the bottom of the hill I noticed my vision beginning to get blurry. I immediately did a mental body scan and for the most part felt good (all things considered as I was 26k into a marathon!). I then tried to blink and noticed my face felt frozen. My eyelids moved in slow motion, kind of like when you hand is really cold and you try to close it quickly, but your fingers move much slower. Luckily I was off Red Valley Parkway, and away from the cold headwind, so my face was able to warm up and I didn’t have another problem with the cold for the rest of the race.
Not long after Red Valley there was a trail section with a bit of a sketchy downhill. They had put down some sort of brick on the trail, I’d presume to improve grip, but I imagined someone rolling an ankle on it. I didn’t have anyone around me so I was able to move around taking the best way down, but if it was congested I could see this being really tricky. As I continued to the waterfront I saw Ross. It was awesome to see a familiar face, and he really encouraged me to keep pushing. I continued to the waterfront trail, and it was the first time all day the road was congested for me. There were many half marathoners who were on their way to the finish line and we shared the same path. I saw Sarah as she was running toward the finish in the half looking strong.
At the 32k mark the route moves off the path and onto Beach Blvd. By this time my legs were really heavy, my hamstrings and calves were planning their revolt, and the hurt was on. I knew the final 10k wouldn’t be easy, and this race wouldn’t disappoint. Something I was really hoping I’d be able to avoid was GI issues, but as I began to run along Beach Blvd I could begin to feel my stomach churning. I was focused on continuing to move forward at a good pace but my stomach made sure I knew it could revolt at any second too. It become such an issue that by the aid station around 34k I tried to go into a Porta-Jon but it was occupied. Amazingly, my GI distress disappeared for a couple km right after that.
I turned off beach road and back onto the waterfront trail towards the turnaround and I saw Mindy running towards me. I gave her a high-five as we passed each other and kept moving forward. I love making the turn at a turnaround, mentally I knew I’ve just got to run ‘home’ now. There was about 6.5k from the turnaround to the finish. My pace had fallen off from the 4:20′s I was running in the first half, but I was still doing well. My calves and hamstrings were on fire, and I knew it was a pain that wouldn’t go away until well after the race, but I was determined. I wasn’t ready to proclaim that I’d BQ, A LOT can happen in the final 6k of a marathon, but I was really happy with the position I was in. About a km after the turnaround I saw Ross again, cheering. By this point I had my iPod on and wasn’t willing to break my rhythm to pause it (sorry Ross, but just seeing you there really helped). At the 4km mark my stomach make it’s final stand, flaring up and becoming really uncomfortable, but I was able to manage it, and kept on running (there would be no stopping at this point). The path is relatively straight and I noticed that I was gaining ground on Mindy. She is a tremendous runner, but you could see it wasn’t her day, she was favouring her right leg. I gave her a pat on the back as I went by, but knew neither of us wanted to talk until after we got to the finish line.
Anytime you set a goal for yourself and you know you’re going to reach it it’s a pretty special feeling. As I crossed the 40k mark I looked down at my watch and realized I could do a little over 5:00/km and come in under 3:05. I wasn’t going to take my foot off the pedal (every second counts when it comes to getting into Boston, just asked the people who only BQ’ed by 1:37 last year), but for the first time all day I thought to myself that I was really going to do this. The path wasn’t lined, but there were a number of spectators over the final 1.5k. I turned off my iPod and let the cheers and bells push me to the finish line. I almost ran right by Mark before he realized it was me, he was almost as surprised as I was to see me. I rounded the final corner and saw 3:02:XX on the clock. As I ran down the finish chute I heard “Here comes Daniel Clarke from Toronto doing the full marathon”, and I crossed the line just as the clock turned to 3:03:00. My official gun time was 3:03:00, and my official chip time was 3:02:56. I had run 42.2k at a 4:20 pace and qualified for the Boston Marathon!
(HERE is a link to my Garmin file, like usual I was a little late on stopping my watch)
I wasn’t 10m past the finish when I was bent over in pain. My legs were thrashed. There’s a saying that all it takes is all you’ve got, well I really didn’t have any more left to give. I had BQ’ed by 2:04, and I later found out that I won my age group (though winning my AG really didn’t mean all that much to me, I really was only racing the clock). This doesn’t guarantee me a spot in Boston, they take the fastest runners relative to their qualifying times, but I’m very proud of the time I was able to post.
Additionally, there were all sorts of great performances on the day, and it was great to see so many people putting down great times. Lots of people setting PB’s, it was a great day all around. Now it’s time for some R&R before we move onto the next goal.