Tuesday, September 30, 2008

September 29, 2008 - 2 days, 2 countries, 2 marathons!

Well, I really felt that I needed a break from the hard challenging reality of my turbulent life. This year has been the toughest by far and I have found myself feeling upset and frustrated on a regular basis. Running was the only escape I really had all year, but over the summer, I found even running was leading me into further feelings of frustration as I found my strength, speed, and endurance declining as I got further into the hormone treatments. After a disappointing run on Sept 14 at the Newfoundland Marathon, I considered quitting the sport until after my transition to female was complete, but part of me did not want to go out a negative note.

So I decided to refocus on a tough but achievable goal: 2 marathons in 2 days in 2 countries. Time was the one thing I couldn’t control, but I knew that I had built up incredible fitness and was able to handle consecutive long runs.

It was also going to be a chance to visit family back home who I hadn’t seen in a few months. As my transition progresses, it is critical for the people closest to me to see me on a regular basis so they can get used to seeing the changes.

Thursday night found me frantically organizing and packing things as this was literally a last-minute trip. I finally got to bed at 1 am and managed to get 3 hours of sleep before having to get up to go to the airport. The flight to Toronto was smooth and I picked up a rental car and drive down to the Toronto expo to get my kit. This was my 6th trip back to Toronto, my home for 24 years, since moving to Nfld in June 2007. It feels really strange to be a tourist in what I considered to be my home town.

Anyway, back into the car and into the mad Toronto traffic and down the highway for the 6 hour drive to Ohio. The drive was smooth and I arrived at the Akron expo at 7 pm. (it felt really strange picking up 2 separate race kits in one day!). Finally found my hotel and settled in for a well deserved sleep.

I woke up at 4 am, as I usually do on marathon days, and tried to get myself fired up for the run. This was going to be the first time I ran an official marathon where I was not going to go all out. I knew that I wanted to run 2 marathons in 2 days and post the best possible times for both runs, so it really had to be a balancing act.

I was still feeling the affects of the long travel day before and I felt very tired and sluggish before the run even started. Just 7 days removed from a challenging 42k run to the beach with a 17 pound backpack, my knees were still in rough shape.

But I wanted to see for real what I really had in the tank. Part of me really hoped that this would be the greatest day in my running life and that I would somehow find the strength, speed, and energy to run a 3.15 and get that elusive BQ. So I started out at 3.15 pace just to see how I would feel.

After 3k, I realized that there was no chance I could keep that pace up, so I slowed down to about a 3.35 pace and maintained it for the first half. The sun came out and the heat started to get to me. I felt exhausted throughout the run this far but managed to keep a pace that I felt I could handle for the duration of the day, and still not overexert the knees so that I would be able to go again tomorrow.

At the 19k mark, I started feeling some dizzy spells, something that happens on occasion due to the hormones.. And that slowed me down to a near walk for a few minutes. But I got over it and managed to soldier on. I crossed the half way mark at 1.49.00; the worst first half marathon I had run all year. But I had this smile on my face, as I knew deep down, it really didn’t matter. I knew that I was in rough shape and that I would have to slow it down further in the second half, but I also knew that I had what it took to finish.

As I hit the 30k mark, I began to remember the run 2 weeks ago and how I totally hit the wall and really had to struggle thru the last quarter. So I slowed things down a little more and allowed the 3.40 pace bunny group to overtake me (there were about 50 of them!)

By the time I hit 35k, I settled into a comfortable pace and found myself in cruise control. I knew that I was going to finish the run and I knew I would be way ahead of 4 hours. (I honestly thought that I would have to run these at about 4.15 a piece in order to finish them both, so breaking 4 hours became a really nice bonus).

The finish was actually into a baseball stadium full of fans, so I thought that was quite exciting. As I hit 40k, I realized that I was on pace to break 3.50, and according to my watch, I did! These folks used a different type of chip system and I am not convinced that it worked. I crossed with a gun time of 3.50.08, and I was a good 12-15 seconds behind the start when the gun went off, so I quite certain that I had broken it. My watch showed 3.49.56. But the official chip time ended up being 3.50.05. Oh well, I suppose it really doesn’t matter.

I felt exhausted and sore for about 2 minutes, but after a brief rest at the finish line, I started walking towards the food tent, and right there I knew that I would definitely be able to go tomorrow (my biggest fear was that I would somehow get myself too hurt and not be able to recover for the next one).

My approximate quarter splits minute times were as follows: 51, 58, 57, 64. Overall, I was very pleased with my day. To break 4 hours on a day after an excruciating travel day, and after 2 weeks of the worst possible marathon prep, and to finish with the feeling that I would be able to recover, was a great feeling. Also worthy of note, this was only the second marathon of the year that I was able to complete it without needing a bathroom break. This was also the most consistent race of the year, having run a back half only 12 minutes slower than the front.

Akron was an interesting place to run. The course was fairly flat with a couple of small hills towards the end. Part of the course was run on a trail thru a park, which was very nice.

The expo was great, and the kit was awesome. Really nice race shirt, and a free pair of shoes to all finishers! And the medal was really nice too.

Anyway, I wasn’t done for the day. I actually ran back to my car and quickly changed in the parking lot and proceeded to drive back to Canada. I arrived in the Toronto area around 7 pm and munched down a pizza and then crashed almost right away in a hotel in Mississauga.

I had a much better sleep than in Akron and woke up as usual around 4 am. I munched down a little breakfast and got myself downtown.

One of the real challenges during the 19 hour intermission was to try to refuel, and rehydrate. It was also not fun being stuck in a car for 6 hours right after a run. It would have been nice to walk around more and stretch and stay loose. Oh well, I had a little warm up jog down town and got myself into the chute for the start in Toronto. I was physically and emotionally exhausted but actually felt better than I did in Akron. The left knee was noticeable more sore than yesterday though.

3.50 was a nice time to start with and I knew that it would be considered a great feat if I could better that time on day two, so I immediately went into the run with that being my #1 goal. But as always, part of me wanted to test myself to see if there was any chance that I could make this the greatest run of my life. So I ran the first k at 3.15 pace just to see how it would feel, and it felt awful.. Lol I slowed down to 3.40 pace and refocused on trying to run a 3.49.

At 5k, I had to pull a Paula Radcliffe and found a nice little hiding spot and started to do my business. Then another runner had the same idea and joined me behind the same pole.. Lol that was quite interesting..

Anyway, that little break was just what I needed and after a very sluggish start, was able to pick the pace up again. From 5k - 10k, I ran consistently about 500m behind the 3.30 pace team, with the goal of keeping them in site. Amazingly, I started feeling stronger as the race went on. I ran a very consistent race from 10-21k and continued to keep the 3.30 pacers in site.

I crossed the half way mark at 1.47, 2 minutes faster than yesterday. But the big difference was that I felt great! I immediately thought about how great it would be to run a negative split, or an even split. So I carried on at exactly the same pace and continued to do well.

As many other runners faded, I carried on. By 28k, I was still moving nicely along at about a 3.34 pace. Then my stomach and bowels were starting to grumble and I realized I needed to find a porta pottie! There was one at the 30k mark, so off I went for another bathroom break, this one lasting a total of 3 minutes. It was frustrating, but it was necessary, and when I got back out on the road, I was able to shake it off and carry on as if nothing had happened.

I crossed the 31.5k mark and realized that without the bathroom break, the third quarter only took 1.5 minutes longer than the first and second half did (I ran almost perfect equal splits in the first half).

As I hit the 34k mark I was consistently flying past most other runners who had slowed down. At one point, a gentleman recognized me from last year’s Toronto marathon and we chatted a bit. one of the camera guys was out there on the course so we made a funny pose. It’s always nice when others recognize me and wish me luck. He seemed really blown away when I told him I had run Akron the previous day.

Anyway, on I went. I was really feeling good. I was starting to realize that I had a chance to break 3.40, which would have been awesome. To run 10 minutes faster a day after a marathon would have really been huge for me. Heck, back at 5k, I was convinced that I would need 5 hours to finish today!

I kept playing it safe assuming that the wall was going to hit. I could hardly believe that after 1.75 marathons, I was still feeling better than I had all weekend. The wall never really came, although I did slow down a little bit as I hit the 39k mark. It was at this point when I realized that I was probably not going to break 3.40, so I just focused on staying injury free and cruising along..

As I hit 40.5k, the 3.40 pace team over took me.. And interestingly enough, this really aggravated me! Motivation comes from strange things, and this was enough to give me a second wind, and I fired it up and picked up the pace drastically and caught back up to them and over took them. I really shouldn’t have cared about what other runners were doing, but I guess part of me felt really embarrassed that to this point in my life, I have never been able to run a marathon with even splits, and here these folks were looking great, running very casual as if they were just starting.

As I hit 41.5k, I realized 3.40 was not going to happen, but I wanted to at least finish ahead of the pace team.. Lol and I did! Overall, I scored a 3.42.26, almost 8 minutes faster than Akron.

my quarter splits were as follows: 53.5, 53.5, 58 (incl 3 min break), 58. a very consistent race.

For the second day in a row, I crossed the finish line with a big smile and with a huge feeling and sense of accomplishment. 2 countries, 2 days, 2 marathons. I did it, and with a much better overall time than I had thought.

As I walked back to my car, I couldn’t help but ask myself whether or not I thought I could run a third one the next day, and I concluded that yes, I probably could. The knees were sore as hell, but no worse than they were in august when I did 10 training marathons in 17 days.

I went back to my hotel and ordered another pizza and kicked back and watched some of the football game before heading out to visit family. The next two days featured some great visits with family and with my Toronto-based psychologist.

I usually don’t care too much about finishers medals, but these two seemed extra special to me. This weekend was about so much more than running. It was about rediscovering my love of the sport, and rediscovering my ability to find short-term happiness in a life that has generally been very miserable and challenging as of late. It was about revisiting and rediscovering the things that matter most in life. It was also a much needed self-lesson in patience and self-discipline. It really helped me to learn to appreciate the positive things in life, rather than dwell on the negatives.

So maybe I will never be able to better my PB of 3.16.59, and maybe I will never get to Boston as long as I am a biological male, but I am able to let that go and focus on other attainable goals that are equally, if not even more, impressive.

Although part of me still doesn’t really want to run ever again as a male, part of me wants to carry on and pick up where I left off with other goals: running the best possible marathon with even splits seems to be a new goal that came out of this. After all running as given me, I’d love to get out there and be a pacer one of these days and help others achieve their goals.

And of course, part of me is already thinking about bettering this result next year, either by running the Tahoe Triple, or redoing the Akron/Toronto double in better and more consistent times.

Well, Monday was a rest day and today only saw me running 1k to get to work on time for a meeting. My flight got in at 4 am so I have felt even more out of it than I did all weekend, but the legs and knees have recovered substantially and I suspect I will be back out there tomorrow doing some sort of long run and/or swim.

Amazingly enough, I managed to gain another 3 pounds over the weekend! Guess I didn’t really need that second pizza.. Lol

Well, that’s 12 official marathons in the books, 62 overall including training runs, but these 2 were probably the most 2 enjoyable ones, and that’s what I will remember most.

Until next time!


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