It seems appropriate to start this post from where I concluded my last, after my disappointing 2019 Boston Marathon, in which I said, “I’m looking forward to strolling along the streets of Boston tomorrow in search of some New England clam chowder and sweet treats before heading back home to pack school lunches and taxi kids to swimming and hockey. I have no race plans in place. I’ll chat with Coach Dave-Scott Thomas when I’m ready. For now, it’s all about grace and gratitude.”
I’ve never raced a marathon with a back-up marathon plan. I don’t think it’s a good idea. It wasn’t until the day after Boston, when driving home from the airport in the evening, that the thought occurred to me, “Ottawa. I’ll race the Ottawa Marathon!”. Because I had adjusted my pace to suit the conditions I wasn’t prepared for in Boston, I still felt physically and mentally fresh. It did not feel like my season was over. I would have six weeks between marathons, which would allow me to recover from what I called my Boston long run, and complete a short mini-build before tapering for Ottawa. And I already had the Ottawa Race Weekend in my calendar with the 10 km race and the marathon broadcast. Coach Dave and I concluded that I would take a week off, contact elite coordinator Manny Rodrigues, and take it one week at a time.
Looking back, I had only raced a second marathon a few times:
In 2009 I raced Toronto in September, and Hamilton in November where I set a four minutes personal best to 2:46.
In 2013 I raced Worlds in August (my one and only DNF), and Toronto in October where I set another 4 minute personal best to 2:28.
And in 2016 I raced the Olympics in August, and Toronto in October where I was 1.5 minutes faster and national champion.
Each first marathon had heat/humidity with each second chance resulting in a better performance. I should note that Rio was a good performance but because I still felt fresh after not racing for over a year, and I recovered well, I was able to do another. There certainly are marathons where you must accept that your season is over, regardless of the outcome. When I raced poorly in London 2017 due to stomach problems, after spending a month in Kenya to train at altitude, I knew my season was over. There was no second chance.
Once we decided to give Ottawa a go, I eased into training with Dave providing my plan after receiving feedback from the previous week. I didn’t need the high mileage, rather just enough quality to maintain fitness for Ottawa. My carb loading pre race plan remained the same with two days of 8-10 g carbs/kg/day as did my race fuel plan with eload hydration and eload fly mixed with water in my bottles, and my eight Endurance Tap gels. But I did do a few things differently:
- After complaining about the conditions in Boston (~90% humidity at the start at 22C at the finish), I was not going to go unprepared to Ottawa where conditions are often similar, even warmer. So, I wore winter layers of clothing on my easy runs, ran in the “heat chamber” on a treadmill with space heaters and a kettle and again extra layers of clothing, and spent some time in the sauna. Not only did it definitely provide a physiological benefit, but also a mental boost. I knew that if Ottawa was hot and humid, I would be prepared. And it was, with 96% humidity and high teens at the finish.
- I kept quiet. After finishing 3rd in Boston last year and returning again this year, I had my share of interviews and media requests. It was plenty. I only told a handful of family and friends, and I did not post one thing on social media. No tweet, story, picture, nothing. And I limited my pre-race events to 2 hours Friday at the expo with Saucony and iRun, 1 hour Saturday at the Running Room Friendship Run, and a 1 hour podcast interview. The break was refreshing. Thank you, Manny, Saucony, and everyone else who has supported me or knew I was racing, for letting me keep it on the down-low this time.
- I travelled by train. The hectic drive to the busy airport, luggage check, security, seat belt sign, crowded seats, and stuffy air was replaced with a 10 minute drive to the local VIA station, comfortable seats, easy access to aisles and bigger washrooms, and a big glass window with amazing country-side views.
Today’s race reminded me a lot of my experience at the Olympics where I had prepared for the likely conditions of the day. I braided my hair the same way, wore the same white visor and Smith sunglasses, consumed every bottle and gel, and dumped cups of water on my head at every opportunity. It was even the same with Natasha Wodak, running around to cheer for us on various spots on the course, just after completing her own 10 km race! Thank you, Natasha. I did have to stop at a porta-potty once today, which was likely due to the humidity. It was also likely due to my womanly cycle that arrived the day before, which I had decided was not going to bother me because the same thing happened in Boston 2018.
I had not looked closely at the international field but knew that with the new qualifying system, a good placing at a gold label marathon could help my chances of earning a potential spot on the 2020 Olympic team. A fifth place finish was as good as a 2:29:30 or a 10th at a world major, for the standard so I was thrilled to learn I had placed seventh overall. In terms of Canadian competition I knew Dayna and Rachel had great builds and were beyond my fitness level. A goal of placing top three was appropriate with the reality that if I placed higher, it would mainly be because I may have been a bit more prepared for today’s conditions. I kept focus, repeated to myself that I wanted it, focused on fuelling every 2.5 km, and aimed to run by effort, finishing somewhere in the mid-high 2:30’s. Lastly, I thought of my daughter’s words after she won her first 800 m race just a few days before where she said, “Mom I kept telling myself, ‘I trained for this’ ” (don’t worry, nothing serious…I had only taken her to the track a few times, which was always fun). I was very happy to place second Canadian with my 2:38:45. I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a negative split but am pleased with only adding an extra 2.5 minutes with the increasing temperatures in the second half.
So what’s next, after two marathons in six weeks? Obviously a break. Last fall when I met with Coach Dave Scott-Thomas, I told him that after the spring of 2019 I looked forward to him picking my races so I really don’t know. With the very different qualifying system, people’s selection of fall races will be very interesting. But I do know this – I’m still in this game.