So, it’s been a day since I completed my first marathon. WHAT?!
Warning: this post is going to be VERY LONG.
Pre-race: With my race starting at 8am and Jill and Kendal’s starting at 8:45, we all got up at 5:30. Coffee, bread from the farmer’s market courtesy of Kendal, almond butter and bananas were on the pre-race menu. Delicious! My mom drove us to the start (which was surprisingly easy — no traffic and quick parking) and became the go-to person to hold all our stuff. Yay mom! We then found our dad and headed over to the starting line. There, Jill, Dad and Kendal acquired CBC clappers (which I will treasure forever). It was chilly, and I was grateful to have mom there to grab my sweater right before the gun — no standing around freezing for me!
After a moment of silence for Boston, the gun went off and there it was. I was running a marathon.
Kilometres 1-6: This part of the race took use around Citadel Hill, down over MacDonald Bridge (SO COLD AND WINDY!) and up through to Shubie Park. Once we got into Dartmouth, it was mostly rolling hills through a residential neighbourhood, that was generally more uphill than downhill. I had a pace bracelet on with the 4:30 kilometre breakdowns. Here, I ran strong and was excited about things. I was running a MARATHON. Because of the route, I didn’t see a kilometre marker until 4km in. That’s when I realized I was 5 minutes ahead of 4:30 goal pace, which gave me a decent cushion. My new plan became to stay out in front of 4:30 as long as I could and use my banked time for major hills and the final slog to the end.
Kilometres 7-12: This was Shubie Park and it was gorgeous. I loved this part of the race. The trails were narrow, but the race had thinned out quite a bit. There were lots of volunteers and marshalls in the park, so I didn’t get lost or confused over where I was supposed to go. But there were no km markers in the park, so I had so sense of pace. About halfway through the park, another runner snuck up behind me and I decided to run with her until we exited. I didn’t want her to pass me!! (She eventually did when I walked at some point. I modified my 10 and 1s for this race to avoid walking down hills. It worked pretty well — I’d walk anywhere between every 9 and 15 minutes.)
Kilometres 13-18: This took us through downtown Dartmouth and back over the bridge. The race was thin and the roads were open, meaning all the runners were running single file along a bike path. Downtown Dartmouth is pretty. I still felt good and was still about 5 minutes ahead of 4:30. All was well. Until kilometre 16. Giv’er hill. This was the worst hill in the race, a dead straight uphill climb. Boooo. I slowed down quite a bit here, but refused to walk — there were people watching!! After the hill, we moved to the highway, where it was downhill until the bridge, where we merged with the 10k runners.
Kilometres 19-24: Merging with the 10k runners sucked. It was confusing, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be running the same route or not. It was also frustrating, as I ended up being behind runners who were probably aiming for 1:20-1:30 10k finishes, meaning I had to dodge and pass runners to maintain my pace. Then, when we rounded towards the finish line, a volunteer yelled at me “full marathoners turn right!” and I thought we meant back up the hill (I think maaaaybe 3k of this course was actually flat). But all was good. As the 10k runners finished, I went through a separate chute and pretended all the cheers for the finish line were for me. My dad was right there and I got a high-five (hooray!) and then rounded Citadel for the second time to head north. My split was 2:10:28 (faster than all my half marathons and still on track to break 4:30). By the time I was past the Citadel, I was totally and completely alone. The roads were open (booo!) and this is where I started to slow down a bit. I settled into a solid pace and focused on breathing and running my own race and not letting the solitude get to me.
Kilometres 25-30: Heading out was a gradual uphill, followed by some zig zagging through a pretty neighbourhood, then a gradual downhill through the Halifax dockyards (and under the bridge I just ran over twice!) and into downtown. This is where I started to fade. I was still ahead of the 4:30 pace, but only by a minute or two. I was losing my cushion. Because it was a bit straighter heading back into the city, I saw the occasional runner (including an old guy who passed me who told me if he slowed down, he’d fall over), but the crowds were non-existent on the way back. Sad! I was also getting low on water, so I started to try and time my walking breaks through the stations and started to get a little generous with my stop and start times. (But just a little, I swear!)
Kilometres 31-36: This took us through downtown Halifax and into Point Pleasant Park. It was one of the prettier sections of the race. Ocean and boats and trees! I got a bit of energy back when I realized we were headed downhill into the park (yay!), but lost it all when I realized we were taking a steep, upward climb out of it (boo!). A wonderful volunteer came down to the bottom of the hill and ran me up it. This was the second worst hill of the day, but felt so much tougher than the one in Dartmouth, for obvious reasons (that is, 20 entire kilometres happened). I gave the volunteer epic bitch face the entire time, but knowing she probably did that 30 other times means a lot, so thank you, volunteer!! By the time I left the park, I was about 2 minutes behind the 4:30 pace. Oooops. But I didn’t care anymore. I focused on breathing and getting ‘er done. However, it was a gorgeous day and there were people — and dogs — out enjoying the park. While I normally wouldn’t mind this, I wanted to kick every dog I saw. I blame marathon fatigue.
Kilometres 37-42: Okay, this part of the race is a joke. Once you come out of the park, you loop downhill through a residential area, then it’s a gradual uphill climb to the Citadel. It’s not steep, but it’s not fun. This was also the scariest part of the run, in terms of cars, as it crossed a few busy streets. I lost time over this stretch, 6 or 7 minutes, as I slowed down. My pace was easily a minute slower than it was in the first half. Just as I hit the Citadel, I realized sub-4:30 was out, sub-4:35 required a miracle, but sub-4:40 would happen if I did not slow down. I chose to focus on that. 4:3X was the original goal way back when. Once you round the Citadel, there’s a downhill (yay!!), then you turn. The last .2 is uphill to the finish. (BOOOOOOO.) Just before this turn, I saw my friend Natalie (hi Natalie!). Then, along the uphill, Jill and Kendal were there, going crazy. They ran alongside me on the sidewalk, cheering and hollering. I wanted to punch them (and had no idea how they had this much energy after running speedy half marathons earlier that day!) but it did give me the extra push to pass two runners on my way to the end. (One of which we’d run into at brunch, and whose wife would show me the video of me passing him!) The finish took forever to arrive, it looked like a mirage. An evil, taunting mirage. Then, like that, it was over. I had run a marathon. My mom was right there (thanks mom!) so I managed to get my sweater and take off my running shoes right away. She wanted to take my picture, but I couldn’t stand straight and still long enough enough. Boo, mom!
So it is done. Overall, I’m super happy with the experience and was so glad to have a great crew with me for the weekend. However, not everything was perfect, so I’m going to break it out for you, pro and con style.
1. The course, despite being hard, was diverse and beautiful. We had rolling hills in residential areas, multiple bridges, two major loops through park trails, downtown Dartmouth and downtown Halifax.
2. The weather was 10 degrees and sunny. Other than being blasted by freezing air while running across MacDonald Bridge the first time, it was perfect running weather.
3. The cheer stations, volunteers and cops (especially the cops with cowbells) were all amazing. Even though I was at the tail end of a long day for them, every water station gave me lots and lots of support as I ran through it. There were many water stations, all well supplied and well run and evenly spaced out. And the volunteer who ran me up the monster hill in Point Pleasant Park at kilometre 36 — well, you can’t top service like that.
4. Spectation was super easy and lots of fun (or so I’m told). Citadel Hill meant you could see everything without too much trouble and having plenty of Halifax landmarks meant meeting up with the parents wasn’t as hard as it would be at other races. I enjoyed this aspect of the race and the vibe of the city as I ran through here at the halfway point.
4. I got approximately 4,000 race photos (another bonus of solo running) in my inbox less than 24 hours after the race. While I look like crap in all of them (obviously), this is speed impresses me.
5. I heart Halifax so much. Running through this city brought me so much joy.
6. Coming with Jill and Kendal and having mom and dad there made the day feel like a big deal and a celebration. Running buddies are the best.
1. No pace bunnies for marathoners slower than 4:15. I know it’s a small race, but I think the rest of my issues with the race wouldn’t have been as big deals if I had a guide kicking around.
2. The course got lonely after the first half. I’d often go for 10-15 minutes without seeing another runner. This wasn’t all bad (all the cheer stations would cheer only for me!) but it became hard to stay in race mode without anyone else around and with traffic allowed to flow around me. The cops and volunteers were super amazing and supportive, but I was still occasionally terrified I was going to be hit by a car (on the street) or bit by a dog (in the park).
3. The course was a tad confusing and often I wasn’t sure which way to turn. I can’t process signs after running for 3 hours. (THANK GOODNESS for volunteers frantically waving their arms.)
What I’d do differently:
1. I wouldn’t run the Blue Nose full alone. Running with Jill during Around the Bay pushed me and kept me on track and I think I would have benefited from having a partner in this. I didn’t mind it as much as I thought I would, but I believe my overall race would have been stronger with a buddy.
2. I’d bring gloves to throw away because it was cold for the first 10k. I’m glad I didn’t wear a full-sleeve shirt like many runners, but my arms and hands felt like ice for the first 30 minutes.
3. I’d foam roll more during training. My left hip got buggy throughout the race. Nothing serious, but enough to remind me that my foam roller is my best friend. (However, my knee and achilles stayed pain-free! Hooray for that!)
4. I’d do more strength training. Because it always helps.
5. I’d be less scared about going hard, especially late in the race. While immediately after the race I felt I gave it my all, upon reflection I realized I didn’t need to slow down as much as I did in the second half. It happened because I wasn’t sure how long I could hold on and the pace I settled into was one I knew I could sustain in the end. I didn’t want to push too hard only to fall apart at kilometre 39. While I don’t regret this at all, it’s good to know for future races. Experience makes you a better — and smarter — runner.
And that’s that. Would I recommend this race to other marathoners? DEFINITELY. It’s such an interesting and challenging course with lots of love and support coming from the city. The shirt is great too, one of my favourite ones yet. I’d just recommend other runners be prepared for the physical difficulties (ie hills) and emotional difficulties (ie being alone). In the end, neither of these things negatively affected my experience. They are footnotes on what was a great trip home and a great race.
Major thanks to my mom and dad who made the trip from Digby to see me and Jill run. And to Jill and Kendal who came on this adventure with me. It was a good one.