I improved my marathon personal best from 2:28:12 to 2:24:39 in Toronto last weekend after failing to survive training for a fall marathon the last three years. I’ve been wanting to run the Toronto Waterfront Marathon for a while because it attracts such a strong field of competitive runners, many of whom are vying for the annual Canadian Marathon Championship title. This year didn’t disappoint even with the absence of our two best marathoners of recent years–Reid Coolsaet and Eric Gillis. In fact, I think it made it a little more interesting as the next group of distance runners got to contend for the national title. It featured Trevor Hofbauer’s much-anticipated debut, Sami Jibril’s second attempt at the distance, and shots at redemption for Kevin Coffey, Rob Winslow, John Mason, and several others after the unusually warm and humid conditions of last year’s race. As a fan of road running, I was almost as excited to see how everyone else did as I was to race it myself!
What does that 2:24:39 mean to me? That’s what I’m trying to decipher now that the race is over. If you look at my splits for the race (1:11:30 first half, 1:13:09 second half), you can tell that 2:24:39 wasn’t the time I was shooting for so there’s some disappointment there. In fact, if you look at the two previous marathons I ran (splitting Ottawa 2016 in 1:12:29 and Ottawa 2015 in 1:12:11), this 2:24:39 is slower than what I thought I’d be able to run 2 years ago. Yikes. And days before the race, I was thinking of going out at 1:11:00 flat and considering that a ‘conservative’ target so that I’d be able to speed up the second half, dipping into the 2:21s… Didn’t exactly go to plan.
I felt reasonably confident after proving myself over the half marathon distance twice this year at Chilly (1:07:47) and Springbank (1:07:38) after recovering from a stress fracture in May. That 1:07:47 was a breakthrough performance for me and it felt like everything went perfectly – weather was cool, I had people to run with and race, the course is straight and pretty flat – and I achieved my A goal of 1:07:xx. I expected a faster time at Springbank but it is a much more challenging course with more twists and turns and it came at a point in my STWM training cycle where I had been at peak mileage for 4 weeks (no taper). I didn’t hit my time goal at Springbank, but I did run a small PB that at least confirmed my performance at Chilly wasn’t a fluke. As an extra vote of confidence, Josh Bolton, who has a similar half marathon PB was going to be running STWM and had similar goals to me which made me feel like it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility to expect a 2:21-22.
Punch those 1:07-high half marathon times into an equivalency calculator and you’ll get something like 2:21:30-2:22 in the marathon. That’s really what I wanted to achieve at STWM this year – a time equivalent to my half marathon PB.
That’s been a real challenge for me in the six marathons I’ve now run. The closest I’ve gotten was running 2:41 in Waterloo after a 1:16 half (roughly equivalent to 2:40). The 2:31 I ran in Ottawa 2015 came after a 1:11:15 in Springbank (~2:29) and a 1:09:30 in Burlington (~2:26). The 2:28 I ran in Ottawa 2016 still didn’t equalize my year-old (at that point) 1:09:30 half PB. The 2:24:39 I ran this year is just a bit better than that half marathon time I ran 2.5 years ago and obviously lagging behind the 1:07:38 (~2:21:30) half I ran this year. I’m not sure why that is… The marathon sure is hard to predict and I don’t feel like I’ve cracked it yet. I am envious of guys like Eric Bang who have had success converting their shorter races into equivalent marathon performances. I might have to do some deeper review of Eric’s training – he’s freakishly consistent!
One thing I am very happy to takeaway from Toronto is a more evenly-paced race than my last two outings. I thought I was being conservative with a 1:11 half goal (2:22) but I decided to slow my plan a bit more when I learned that the pace group for the lead women was targeting 1:11:30 (2:23). It seemed to make sense to go with them but when the race started, they seemed to be way ahead of target so I stuck to the plan of 1:11:30 and split just a couple seconds slower than that after the women went through half around 1:11 flat. Although it would’ve been nice to have some company out there (I ran the race solo from ~18 km after Josh started to fall off pace), it helped to have people in front to chase. I was able to chase that pack down and overtake the lead woman just after the 30 km mark.
I did slow a bit over the second half (by a minute and thirty-six seconds) but that pales in comparison to my last two marathons in Ottawa where I slowed by 3:15 last year and 7:23 the previous year. More than the even-ness of my race, I’m happier still with my performance relative to the rest of the elite field. Excluding pacers who would later drop out, at 10K I was 29th. By halfway, I was passed by one person, I caught two people, and one person had dropped out leaving me in 27th. By 30K, three more had dropped out and I had passed seven people (including the guy who passed me before halfway), leaving me in 17th position. Over the final 12.2K, one more person ahead of me dropped out and I caught three more people for a final placing of 13th overall.
My 1:13:06 second half was the 11th fastest in the race and my final 12.2K split was the 10th fastest in the field so even though I would’ve preferred a faster time and a more even split, I think all things considered I made out pretty good in the later stages of the race. I am happy not only with my patience, trusting that people would come back to me, but also with the effort I somehow pulled out of myself over the final few kilometres. At the final switchback turn around the 32 km mark, I had counted three Canadians ahead of me – Trevor Hofbauer, Sami Jibril, and John Mason – and I could see John up the road from me. At halfway, John was 2:30 ahead of me and he increased that lead to 2:50 by 25K. That’s where the momentum started shifting my way and I made up a minute on him by 35K. I gained another 1:22 by 40K and then finally caught him at 41K, putting 1:30 into him over the final 1.2K. I was telling myself that if I wanted that third Canadian spot, it could be mine but I had to hammer those last 5K.
Jeff Costen who finished 4th Canadian ran a very consistent race too, equaling or bettering a bunch of my splits. I was a little nervous seeing him looking strong and only 40 seconds behind me at 35K and 40K. He came within 3 seconds of catching John, too, making up two-and-a-half minutes over the final 7.2K! Matt Suda also ran well over the final 10K, splitting the 35-40K segment faster than me and then running the final 2.2K faster than Sami, John, and Jeff. John looked pretty rough when he crossed the line so I was happy to hear he was alright… definitely don’t like seeing people suffer through dehydration or things like that at the end of a marathon. It was toasty out there when we were crossing the finish line.
With two of the top Canadian contenders out of the race (Rob and Kevin) and catching John with a kilometre to go, I walked away with the third Canadian spot at our national championship race. That was a nice bonus and something I was definitely not expecting, knowing things would have to go poorly for not just one guy but a handful of them if I were to get one of those medal positions.
Funny story: After I crossed the line and congratulated a few guys, I made my way to the bag check area to get changed and head to BeerBistro for a celebratory beverage. After navigating the maze of people in the finish area and painfully staggering 2 km to the bar, I got an email from Reid Coolsaet letting me know they were looking for me to show up at the awards ceremony which started in 4 minutes. There was no way I could possibly get back in time so I missed what could have been a pretty cool moment. Priorities though, am I right? Celebrations were in order after months of dedicated training. Maybe next year STWM will have a beer tent in the finish area… (or maybe they’ll try to communicate with people they want to stick around…)
I had a lot of fun following the training of all those guys – Trevor, John, Rob, Kevin, and Jeff – on Strava heading into STWM. They are all a huge source of inspiration and motivation for me.
A special thanks to Eric Bang for finding me a place to stay on short notice after I had planned to stay in Kitchener and drive into Toronto the morning of the race but then was notified the week before the race that I had to be in Toronto on Saturday for the technical meeting… It was great having a chance to chat with Eric the night before the race after his killer 2:23:54 in Chicago and then have his support out on the race course. Thanks Eric!
Thanks also to my wife and parents for enduring Toronto’s traffic (arrgghh) and crowds to cheer me on. I literally wouldn’t be able to do the training required without their help and support every single day leading up to this race (and every race before it). I try my best to minimize the impact my training has on other aspects of our lives but sometimes long runs need to happen at the same time that children need tending to and so I appreciate being able to slip out for an hour and a half each day to run.
While on the topic of marathon running, do yourself a favour and check out these other post-race blogs (although, truthfully, if you made it through all that boring ‘running talk’, you’ve probably already read these blogs or you’re my wife and I’ve already talked your ear off about them 😜😘):
- Trevor Hofbauer on winning the Canadian national title in his debut marathon
- Eric Bang on his breakthrough 2:23 performance in Chicago
What’s up next? Three weeks off is the plan (I can hear you laughing, Lindsay)… After that, I’m going to take advantage of the fact that there are no big races on the horizon and try a long, slow build towards a spring marathon. It’s been a few years of battling injuries and always having to cram a training cycle into a condensed period of time. I’ve made it through marathon training healthy this time and it affords me more flexibility than I’m used to. After the stress fracture at the beginning of May, I had 8 weeks of no running and lots of cross-training, followed by three short weeks of easy running before getting into 13 weeks of training for STWM. Things came together well considering but this time I’ve got almost 26 weeks to work with so there’s lots of time to build some base mileage before I get into the specific marathon training. That’s the plan anyway… we’ll see how it actually plays out in the coming months.
Thanks for following along!