The short story:
So 11 years after running my very first marathon in Mississauga, today I returned to the scene of the crime, older, wiser, and 12 minutes faster. 3:24:13 with a 1:41:52 half...tantalizingly close to an even split.
The long story:
For the first time ever, I actually slept past the alarm and it was a bit of a mad scramble to get there on time. But Tim not only delivered me to the start line, he also scoped out the shortest port-a-potty line (very important logistical consideration). He then surprised me, after leaving me at the entry to the start line, ostensibly to drive back home, by going out to the first turn onto the main road, and waving at me as I went by in the crowd.
The course takes a loop right into the University of Toronto campus where, for a decade of my life, I'd learned and then taught, and it's virtually unrecognizable now. So much bigger, with new buildings everywhere.
I started out with the 1:50 half-marathon pace bunny, aiming generally for a 3:40 finish. He had far too many hangers-on, so I left him behind and saw another bunny up ahead but couldn't read the time on his ears (these experienced runners do pacing on a completely voluntary basis, helping people keep a steady pace toward their goal, and they wear baseball caps with paper 'ears' indicating the time goal). At one point, someone on the sidelines shouted out: that's the 3:25 pace bunny up ahead...go catch him! That actually caused me to slow down a bit because I hadn't been aiming for that kind of pace.
At 16 k, the half and full marathons split, and we 'lucky' full marathoners got to do the extra 20k in a direction that took us away from the finish line for a bit, while the half-marathoners veered toward the finish line. My naturopath, who belongs to a running club in Huntsville, had made the trip down to cheer and support some of those runners, and she saw me and jogged along with me for a bit, asking how things were going and offering to take any excess clothes I wanted to drop. Such a sweet and welcome gesture. She said she'd see me again later along the course, and that was something to look forward to.
From 13k to 17k I was running beside a girl whom I hoped was a relay racer, because she was going strong, but the 16k relay exchange came and went and she stayed on the course. I let her go, and my mission became to keep the 3:25 bunny in my sight for as long as I could.
Around the halfway point, a ''chatty cathy'' called Blair fell in with me. He was 48 and it was his first marathon, and he needed and wanted 3:25 to qualify for Boston. Given that the 3:25 bunny was some few hundred metres ahead, and we crossed the halfway point at 1:42, I remarked that the 3:25 bunny was actually ahead of himself.
I lost Blair for a bit, but I was carrying a small water bottle and stopped at a water station to refill it, and there was Blair again. I ditched him after a kilometre and was largely on my own for the last 15 kilometres. I kept looking down at my watch each time it buzzed to signal a kilometre, and I expected to see my pace slow down, but it didn't.
As promised, Katherine the naturopath was at the 30k mark, which was on an incline, and that gave me a burst of encouragement.
The final 10k dipsy-doodles between Lake Ontario's waterfront trail, with lovely views of the lake and of Toronto, and Lakeshore road, crossing rather wealthy, tree-lined neighbourhoods, so it was nice to have the scenery as a distraction.
At the beginning of the final kilometre, I came up on another woman who was flagging a bit, and she politely said ''nice running''as I drew even and began to pass...and for whatever reason I called out ''come on, let's do this''. We were going across a wooden bridge at the time and I heard her pace pick up. We ran the last 1200 metres side by side, and good thing as well, because that stretch was really tough, and it felt like the finish line would never appear.
I finished 18 out of 330 women, and 119 out of 830 overall. I'm quite proud to say that there were 33 5x8km relay teams doing the marathon, and I beat all but two of them.
Skipping Boston doesn't sting so much now.