Monday, October 19, 2009

2009 PEI Marathon Race Report

A photo of Mike and yours truly during my toughest part of the race, through the middle of Charlottetown. This photo is courtesy of j.norman-bain, of Alex Bain fame.

It is now one day after the marathon, and I suppose I am feeling the way one is supposed to feel. The legs are a bit stiff, especially the quads and calves, but the feet surprisingly do not feel so bad.

Our marathon weekend started with the kids "spud run", with Cameron taking it in on a day that was cool with showers. With over 300 other kids and some parents, he ran the loop of the track normally reservered for horse races, finishing in 6 minutes, 40 seconds - apparently he is a "mudder".

We had a pasta meal that night, and I met Mike at a local coffee shop (taking in hot chocolate), chatting about the race to come, and some of Mike's past experiences. I was feeling anxious for the time to come.

The next morning, I got ready pretty early, and we headed to breakfast in the hotel. Faith Ann and I chatted with Judson Cassidy, from Grande Digue. His son Ryan had won the provincial cross-country 5k race the day before, and in his first marathon, Judson was trying to BQ. I felt so bad for him when I checked the results, and saw that he finished in 3:31:01. He missed qualifying by two seconds!

Just as we were getting ready to head on the bus to the marathon start, Faith Ann checked my shoes, making sure my chip was laced on. It's a good thing she checked! The lace went through a couple of loose ends of the chip, leaving it almost completely unsecured. I'm guessing the chip would have come off within the first ten minutes of walking around, if she hadn't checked it. That would have been great, running almost 4 hours without an official result. However, that was only my second bonehead move in my marathon preparation.

My first bonehead move came when I replied "No" to Faith Ann the night before, when she asked if I needed my Garmin charged. I foolishy assumed it was fine. Of course, as soon as I turned it on at the marathon start point, I saw the "Low Batteries" signal appear. Luckily, I had my own personal pacer with his own Garmin 405! During the course of the marathon, I must have asked Mike 50+ times what our pace was or what the overall time was. I think the only thing that must have annoyed him more during the day was when relay marathoners passed us on the course!

During our chat marathon eve, I mentioned to Mike that I was thinking of running the Mount Desert Island marathon next fall. Mike said it's a "marathon for marathoners", largely because there is only a marathon race, and no smaller races. I mentioned to Mike that it now has entries for three-person relay teams. I don't recall Mike's exact quote, but I think he would prefer to be passed by a woman 8-months pregnant over a relay runner. Here were a few of his reactions to some of these relayers passing us during the race:

  • "We'll see him again soon" - after being passed by a "heavier guy" wearing his best Walmart sweatpants. We caught up to him and passed him about 5 minutes later
  • "Runners don't dress like that" - when another relayer passed us (perhaps another Walmart shopper)
  • "Where did she come from !?!" - when we blew by a "much heavier gal" on the trail
  • no quote here .... just imagine Mike doing a faux sprint to catch a relayer, just after he passed us
Anyway ... on to the race ...

Here's a picture of Mike and I before the race ...

and here's a short video of the runners before the marathon start. Faith Ann is in the beginning of the video, and it ends when I find Mike, giving me the eager "thumbs up" sign.

When I started my marathon training in the spring, my goal was to break four hours. As I went through August and into September, I was feeling better about my running, and I thought I should set a higher goal. However, with my foot problems over the last few weeks causing my training to drop off considerably, I went back to being happy if I could break four hours. Mike was shooting for an overall pace of close to 5:30 per kilometer, which would have us finish around 3:51. I told him I would be thrilled with that, but I didn't know how realistic it was.

Mike let me know that we were going to start out pretty slowly, and speed up just a touch after a few kilometers, with the goal of maintaining a steady, manageable pace through the race, perhaps with a finishing kick over the last few kilometers. I was completely fine with that strategy, and I'm not sure I would have had the self-control to do it if Mike had not been there. Mike stuck to the plan (except I didn't come through with that finishing kick - spoiler alert!), and many times through the race he let me know when to dial it back a bit. For the most part, the plan worked out quite well. He drew an analogy to ultra marathon competitors who use ropes tied to each other, with one competitor towing the other. In our race, he was carrying the imaginary tow rope, and would give it a tug when I would get a bit too quick, too early.

The race took place in good running weather. It was cool, but not too cool, with a slight wind. There was cool rain or showers the days following and preceding the race, but luckily it missed us on race day.

We lined up for the start by the four hour pacer. We didn't stay back with him for any of the race, and (thankfully!) we didn't see him for the rest of the day. I did enjoy one quote he passed on to the masses just before the gun: "If you're feeling good at the half way point, don't worry: the feeling will pass."

We started out just as planned, dressed nice and warmly, sticking to a nice pace slightly slower than the planned overall pace. The start of the marathon route is very nice, running along the coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with beaches, bridges, lighthouse, cottages, and other things they print over here on the tourism brochures. The start is also very flat, virtually no hills for the first 11 or 12 kilometers. Once we left the beach road, I took a gel at the water station, and we met Mike's wife and daughter, who were there with camera and video camera. We passed off our warmer layer of clothes to them ("Nice to meet you ... here's my sweaty jacket and gloves!"). They would meet us a couple more times on the course, cheering us on.

The end of the beach road also brought an end to the flatness, but the hills at this point were nothing too serious. With the nice pace, and the adrenaline still flowing, all was well. I think it was also at this point that Mike told me about his first Boston Marathon, and his adventure at mile 20. Great stuff, although I won't get into it here!

The half way point had us leave the road, and onto the packed trails. Another gel, a few cars with music blaring (Mike says "try not to speed up here"), and away we go. Still feeling good ... maybe too good. This is where Mike really kept me under control. After one of the kilometers, when I asked him for the zillionth time what our pace was, he just chuckled a little and said that the last kilometer was "Bad". I asked is "bad" fast, or is "bad" slow? He said "Right now, bad is fast".

Not too long into the second half, the legs started feeling a little heavy, but still not too bad. We hit 30k, Mike asks if I want to know the time, and I say sure. 2:45. That was my time for my 30k race - that I treated as a training run - that I ran in August. I felt much better in this race than I did at the end of that 30k, which made me feel good. One hour and fifteen minutes until 4 hours, and only 12k left. Mike had mentioned earlier in the race that once we hit 30k, he wouldn't pull on the "tow rope" anymore. However, while I wasn't feeling bad, I also didn't feel that I had the energy to really push it at that point.

We left the trail and hit the streets of Charlottetown with about 8k to go. This is where we hit the hills of the course. Mike had me run ahead of him, letting me set the pace at this point. Looking back at the splits on Mike's upload on runningahead, I'm surprised our pace wasn't really too bad on the first couple of hills. It was really the last four kilometers that I really died, with the pace over those averaging about 6 minutes per kilometer. However, there were a couple of larger downhill stretches in there too, but I obviously was too spent to take advantage of them.

I really have to give Mike credit for a few big things over those last few tough miles. For one, he let me hold his lucky beercap! Number two, he told me how he helped a woman once in a marathon who was having a hard time, by telling her to count. I told Mike that if I had to think about counting at that point, I might just throw up. Mike's strategy on the tough stretches (like the hills we were on at the time) was to count during exhales. Mike did this on the bigger hills, and it really did help. It not only distracted me a bit, but it also acted as a metronome for a piano player, helping me "keep my rhythm" on the route.

He tried to stress to me to mix up my stride a bit during the run, shortening it at times, to work some muscles and give others a break. I wasn't very good at this, although I did try it a few times. I kept going back to my "natural stride".

The last thing he told me, was to run through the last few water stops. Earlier in the race, we really didn't stop long at all on any of the stops, but we would occasionally slow down for a few seconds to drink. Taking Mike's advice, I still took water at the last 2-3 stops, but did so while on the run. After finishing the race, I can see why this was important. The minute I slowed down after we were done, my legs were like jelly. I don't know how I would have started up again over the last few miles if I had stopped, or even slowed too much.

Approaching the finish, I asked Mike a few times how much time we had left to four hours. A couple of times I considered stopping, but we pressed on. I'm not sure if I was running on my own if I would have continued without stopping.

The finish area was a real relief, but I didn't have the energy to spring to the end. We met up with Mike's wife and daughter, who took our picture. Cameron was also there with my mother-in-law, but unfortunately I didn't notice them until almost 45 minutes later, just in time for all of us to see Faith Ann finishing her run. She was the only one in the marathon to stick with the "to finish" pacer. She did great, especially considering she experienced some pain prior to the half way point that she put up with for the remainder of the run. Her first comment after she was done was "Never again". Then again, that's what Grete Waitz said after her first marathon!

That's probably way too much for now, although I expect I'll put out even more in a future post. This was one of the great moments of my life.

The picture below is of Faith Ann (again from j.norman-bain), at the finish. Her pacer is trying to decide if she should finish, or go back on the route and cheer others on. She decided to turn around and help out others. So ... there were lots of great pacers in this run!


  1. I like the pic of Debby and I at the end of the race... except it looks like we're not moving! I know I'm slow... but not *that* slow!

    Faith Ann

  2. Great report Trevor! I love all the detail in your blow by blow but am glad you didn't spill the beans on my Boston story! You showed great determination in those last tough miles and I'm proud to have been along for the ride. Happy recovery and congrats to Faith-Ann!

  3. Congratulations on your first marathon. Sounds like you had a good time, and don't worry, the last few miles are always tough. That's where the satisfaction comes from.

  4. Great job Trevor! Awesome race report!

  5. Great reading reports from "away" and glad you enjoyed your Marathon experience here. One little correction - that wasn't the Northumberland Strait, up on the north shore you were looking at the wide open Atlantic Ocean. Hope we see you back here next October....

    -jypsy (aka j. norman-bain) the one behind the camera...

  6. Yeah ... I fixed the Northumberland Strait comment just this morning ... I should have known better! Thanks. Congatulations to Alex too. I saw him about 45 minutes after he was done, and he looked to be in far better shape than me.