I sit here just a few days away from Toronto Waterfront Marathon with mixed feelings about the race. Feelings of excitement but also feelings of disappointment. Excited to run a marathon in a city I love, disappointed that I’m not going to be able to run the race I originally wanted.
This was going to be my swan song, my final road race. I was going to go out in glittering style with a ginormous, shimmery, shiny PB. I was giving this race my absolute EVERYTHING. Throwing every ounce of strength I had behind it, pushing myself to the maximum to see what I could do. I was prepared to neglect my beloved trails for three months & hit the roads hard. I set myself an ambitious target & I put it out there.
A PB wasn’t enough.
London GFA wasn’t enough.
I wanted sub-3:40.
Some might call it cocky, that’s 14 minutes faster than my current fastest, but I truly do believe that my race times don’t reflect what I am capable of running wise, partly because I don’t think I’ve ever given training for a race my everything & in the past I’ve not had the confidence in myself to really go for it. Happy, stronger, fitter & more confident as a runner than I’ve ever been, I felt that this was one final opportunity to prove to myself, and no one else, that I can do it.
I had the training plan, I worked out all my goal paces. Marathon Pace, tempo pace, what time I needed to run 800’s in on the track. I put away my trail shoes, bought new road shoes. I was set & ready to go.
So why was this all or nothing?
Simply, I don’t enjoy road running & I enjoy road races even less. I am now all about the trails. Whilst I’m as quick as the next person to bask in the afterglow of achieving a PB or adding to the bling collection, I don’t enjoy the process of getting there & realised it just wasn’t important to me anymore. I had begun to question why am I doing this if I’m not enjoying it? After all, isn’t running meant to be fun? Road races had lost their fun-ness & I decided I didn’t want to do them anymore.
There was one exception though, one road race that I would end my retirement for, the Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
Somewhat inevitably, a week after I had made this decision last spring following the Big Half in London, an email dropped into my inbox with an absolutely irresistible travel offer for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. The package was such a good deal I couldn’t say no (so good I even booked the non-running husband on it even though there is absolutely NO chance of him running the marathon…!). And so, if I was doing this, I was going to do it properly. I was going to get that marathon time that I always thought I was capable of but never had to guts to go for.
But what is it about this race?
Well it’s not just a race.
My brother is a Torontonian (is that even a thing?). In September 2010 I went to visit him & meet my brand new niece, I ran along the waterfront of Lake Ontario & accidentally got caught up in the marathon. At that time I hadn’t run half-marathon distance, let alone marathon, but I decided there & then that one day I would come back to Toronto for that race.
Four years later in May 2014 I met my second niece for the first time & ran the Toronto City Marathon, my fifth marathon, same city, difference race, my first sub-4. It was Toronto, but it wasn’t the Waterfront Marathon.
Eight years later with 11 marathons, five ultras & many thousands of miles in my feet since that moment in 2010, here I am about to run that dream race with my brother, sister-in-law & nieces on the sidelines to cheer me on.
It’s almost the perfect end to the story.
Only life has a habit of happening & the story doesn’t always follow the script.
Week one of my super duper PB chasing marathon training plan flew by, I did my runs, hit my targets, realised I was going to have to work b****y hard. Game on. Week two & I run the club 5 mile cross-country handicap. I have a strong race & based on my current level of fitness I’m pleased with my result. Only my foot hurts. It still hurts the next day as I hobble through shooting a wedding. And the next.
It still hurt five weeks later. There is no reason, no cause, I didn’t fall, trip (surprisingly) or drop anything on it. There is no swelling, no inflammation, it’s not bone related, it just hurts. My therapist is at a loss. I am at a loss. By this point I’ve missed over a third of my training schedule.
A week later I slowly ease back into training, literally taking it a mile at a time. I admit, I’m frustrated, disappointed & upset. I have five weeks until race day. I’ve let go of the PB dreams, the goal is now simply being able to run the race.
The words I use all have negative connotations; frustrated, disappointed, upset, and whilst in some senses it was a fairly negative six weeks I actually feel as if something positive came from that time away from running.
I’d had an absolutely blinding first six months of the year with XNRG Amersham Ultra, SDW50 (I’m forgetting all about NDW50) & the Serpent Trail but I was in danger of getting so caught up in chasing times, pace & mile splits & comparing my runs to others (why are they faster than me, it’s not fair…) that I was forgetting the reason why I ran.
When you can’t run, it gives you time to reflect. You think about the reasons why you run & what you miss about not running.
It makes you thankful for every step you are able to take.
- I run to explore the world around me, not just the streets around my home. (In my head I am an intrepid explorer, in reality it is anywhere I can get to by train in a couple of hours!)
- I run to discover new places, not to run up & down the same paths & through the same parks time & time again.
- I run to push & challenge myself, not to stay in my comfort zone.
- I run for me. To relax, to unwind & de-stress. To think, to dream, to plan. Some of my best ideas have come when I’ve been running, free from the distractions of the world around me.
- I run for my mind. I am a much happier, less grumpy, less stressed, nicer person to be around when I run. It calms my mind & eases my soul in a way that little else does. Running is an integral part of my mental wellbeing.
- I run to socialise, to make friends & to share a love for the sport. Whilst I revel in my miles of solitude, I also thrive in the company of others.
- I run to keep fit, to be active & to eat cake (keeping it real here).
- I run to see the views & take in the vista’s. My Dad says to me before a race, “run well, run swiftly but don’t forget to take in the view”.
- I run to see sunrise & sunset, and will often time my runs to do so. There is something very magical about watching colour & life come into the world as the sun rises.
I didn’t miss the early Monday morning trot around the park, I didn’t miss the Tuesday evening speed session, or even the Wednesday night club run. I didn’t miss Friday’s tempo miles or Saturday’s parkrun.
What I missed was grabbing my bag, a handful of snacks, a flask of water. Popping my head phones in my ears & jumping on a train to somewhere & then running to somewhere else. I missed exploring new places, the joy of my feet discovering new paths & trails. The challenge of navigating, the frustration of getting lost & the exhilaration when I found myself again. Of not paying a single bit of attention to how far or how fast I was running. I missed climbing a hill & seeing the view from the top & throwing myself down the other side in reckless abandonment, arms out to the side, wind in my hair, a smile on my face, complete & utter freedom.
In those six weeks I realised I simply didn’t want to run laps of a track. I didn’t want to run marathon paced miles because that’s what my training plan said. I didn’t want to pound the pavements hour after hour without getting anywhere.
I craved & longed for the sense of freedom that I got from hours on the trails.
I realised I actually didn’t want that marathon PB, because that’s not what made me happy. I was quite prepared to swap that 3:40 time for 19 miles on the sunny South Downs running up & down the Seven Sisters, taking a photo at every cliff top as I marvelled at the view. Stopping for a selfie with the ocean as my backdrop & pausing for coffee & cake at the cafe in Birling Gap before flying down the final hill to Eastbourne seafront & a paddle in the sea.
So I did.
This is why I run.
So you see, the goal posts have changed quite significantly since I signed up to run Toronto Waterfront Marathon last spring. Injury is never a nice thing to experience but rather than consuming me, not running for five weeks gave me the space I needed to reflect.
I started by saying I was excited & disappointed. And yes, I will be honest, there is a hint of disappointment that I won’t be getting that 3:40 time, it’s not easy letting go of a dream. Was I cocky putting it out there & saying that I was shooting for the stars? No, I don’t think I was because I do still think I am capable of it. The thing is, I realised just don’t want it enough.
What do I want on Sunday?
I want to enjoy the race. I want to run a strong race.
I want to go out feeling as if I gave it my all on the day. I’ve reevaluated my goal based on the training I have done & my current fitness levels but if on Sunday it’s not happening then I am quite happy to let that goal go. I may just pose for selfies in front of the CN Tower, hi-five my nieces on route, sing along to the AWESOME playlist I have just created & FINISH WITH A SMILE.
Toronto Waterfront Marathon, I’d like to say I’ve trained my hardest for you but in truth I haven’t because I’ve realised that’s not where it’s at. But I am more than ready for you.
Bring it on.
For anyone who is interested I am bib number 3938, the race starts at 8:45 local time, thats 2:45pm GMT.