Montreal, Quebec CANADA
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Marathon Celebration #50
39th place overall of 1825
6th Age Group M35-39
1st Half: 1:29:04
2nd Half: 1:38:19
Sunday, October 27, 1991.
I remember the day as if it were yesterday.
Early that morning I had nervously toed the line of my first marathon, the Cape Cod Marathon, wondering if I was strong enough to finish. I had trained for and ran the every step of the race with my sister in law. Through the miles that day I had kept waiting to hit the “wall,” something many runners feared most about the distance and something that had controlled my nerves. The “wall” never came – although I would go on to hit the “wall” many a time in years to come. That day we crossed the finish line in 3:19. And as soon as we did I had known something special was happening, where this was just the beginning. I had later joked as if I had been bitten by a bug, the Marathon Bug. But even so, never in my wildest dreams had I imagined the passion to flow into, 18 years later, me toeing the line of my 50th marathon.
But on Sunday, September 13, 2009 that is exactly what happened.
I ran my 50th marathon.
18 years. 50 marathons. I remember each as if the first. I do. I really do.
This is what 50 marathons look like:
Laughable about marathon #50 is that I had a brief moment at the starting line where I actually questioned my ability, something I hadn’t done in a very long time. More bizarre was that I questioned my ability not about beating a certain time but about even finishing! I have run 50 marathons. I have never ever, well, not finished. But what if #50 was my first DNF?!
It was a good laugh while it lasted. I knew not to be so foolish. I knew to turn it around: Why would I not finish?
And so it was early that Sunday morning, with me standing on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge as it swayed up and down with other runners nervously awaiting the start, I toed the line of the Montreal Marathon, my 50th go at the distance.
That I would finish was a slam dunk. But finish time was not.
My goals were simple: I wanted to test my marathon fitness, something that was not as good as it had been even a year earlier, but something that was definitely strong. I would attempt to race this event. I had dreams of going under 3 hours for my 50th, but I also knew my training for racing this distance was not there, with only a 17 mile long run and a handful of 15’s. Not PR material. Not by a long shot.
And so my plan was to go out well under 3-hour pace as long as it felt comfortable enough, whatever the pace would be, and hold on for as long as I could. If I held on, I would have a great finish time, maybe even a PR. But at the first sign of a crash and burn, I would try best to salvage a decent time, even if it meant crawling home through hurt.
And that’s exactly what I did.
Through the first 5K (20:51 – 6:42 min/mile pace), I was running very brisk, breathing hard, and enjoying the course as it meandered around Ile Ste-Helene (an island). I learned from another runner that the course would start flat for the first half and then tilt up for the second. “It’s a tough second half,” he warned me. It made sense. Because in spying results from year’s past I noticed that nearly every runner had a big positive split – not just a mere slowdown, a substantial slowdown. Now it made sense.
After cutting through an amusement park, the course hopped over to Ile Notre Dame, another island and site of the Montreal Formula 1 race course. I had been looking forward to this, as I knew the marathon course took in several Kilometers on the race course itself. And that meant fast and flat and a very cool experience not to mention flat and FAST… Vroom-vroom! My engine was revving.
Problem was that by 10K (41:59 – 6:45), I knew my engine was revving too hot. I was working hard although my breathing was still okay. I knew I should be running 6:52 pace – not 6:45 – for a Sub-3 marathon! But I didn’t want to slow down even though I knew I should for a good finish time. It would get ugly; that I knew. I just didn’t know when. And I was okay with it all, because this, in my mind, was a test and a celebration. In the meantime, I knew I had at least another hour before the crash.
The course next moved off the island by way of two bridges over the St. Lawrence River and made its way over to the main island and the city of Montreal (Montreal is on a big island). On the bridge a spectator cheered: “Go 550!” I returned a smile knowing just what the number hanging on my race belt meant.
A week prior to the event I came up with an idea. I would write a note to the race director asking if it was at all possible that I run with bib number 50. My note went unanswered. But my message came across. The day before Heather and I left Boston for Montreal, I received a confirmation e-mail from the race with registration information, including an assigned bib number: 550. It was the best they could do, since numbers 1-100 are reserved for elites.
Back on the main island, now cutting through the city streets of Montreal, the wind was kicking hard due west, and since the course, over the next 10K would have us work our way east, I knew I had work to do.
Still running hard and even through 15K, it was the next 5K, up through 20K (1:24:14 – 6:46), that would make me realize that there really was no way I would hold on at this pace. The wind took too much out of me. I had run too hard to that point, and the wind was cutting me down even though my pace was still good. I knew it was a matter of time, a ticking time bomb lurking somewhere on the course. And now that the hills of the city started up, I knew the bomb’s fuse would shorten with each rise.
Another rise came, then another… I held strong, maintained pace, but was putting out too much effort. By then I was running by myself, far enough up in the overall placement where only three runners were in sight as far as I could see ahead. I dared not look behind. It would take too much energy.
Half came in 1:29:04 (6:47 pace). This is also when the course changed too. The hills, long and graduals, were plentiful, but the scenery and landmarks and city streets, most in very good repair, helped the kilometers tick by even though I was starting to hurt.
As the course made its way north past Mont-Royal, a huge mountain lurking every so closely, splaying upon our course even tougher terrain, the city streets started coming alive with spectators and fans and even patrons at outdoor cafes getting into the supportive spirit.
Wearing my sturdy Team USA triathlon uniform, I to that point heard many cheers of “Go USA!” or “Go Team USA!” But here, deeper in the fabric of Montreal’s weave, was a cheer that brought me to far wider smiles.
Approaching an intersection, I saw a guy in the middle of it banging two inflatable cheer sticks. He looked me straight in the eye as I neared. His smile, ever so infectious, caused me a smile of my own. “Go USA” the man cheered as he banged his sticks together with more force. “USA. USA. USA!” The man then changed course. “USA?!” he exclaimed as if a question. “Go Obama. Go Obama. Go Obama.”
I would hear that cheer at least 20 times more over the rest of the course. Canadians, as I’ve learned, love American politics, and by and large they like Obama and are always quick to ask how I feel about him and American politics. The “Go Obama” cheers were a precursor of a long week vacation deeper into the country, where many conversations with the locals followed suit.
Somewhere shy of the 30K marker, the slowdown started, with holding a yet slowing pace getting incrementally tougher.
Although the wind, hills, and now heat were slowly taking me down, I did whatever I could to salvage a decent finish time. I stopped fighting the pace and instead fought by effort, whatever the pace would be. Long gone now was my goal at getting under 3 hours, but by then I knew that my little fitness test otherwise known as the Montreal Marathon had already dispensed its results, and that was that I was in no shape on a tough course to go substantially under 3 hours, a pace I had started out at.
But none of it matter. I was enjoying the course even through its difficulty and now very much looking forward to the grand finish at the Olympic Stadium.
To this point I was passed by a few others and nipped a few dying soldiers myself. But slowly, steadily, I was losing overall places.
But none of it mattered. The course, the people, stole my attention. This being my 50th marathon, I knew there would be more. Instead, I stayed in the moment, enjoyed the course and people (as best as I could through my pain) and watched the remaining Kilometers tick by.
Finally a spectacular finish, with a descent into the covered Olympic Stadium, with a final lap around the track before crossing the finish line. For this wide-eyed little boy on his 50th celebration jaunt, it was a sure highlight.
And that was just it. I learned that this run was a celebration. The time on the clock, the way I ran it… none of it mattered. 50 did. And honestly, serious kudos go out to the Montreal Marathon race director for a magnificent course – not an easy one, but it was a good one with varied scenery and a course that covered much of the city for which it is named. I could not have picked a better course to celebrate my 50th.
After crossing the finish line, I thought back to my first marathon on Cape Cod so many years ago. Then I thought about the marathon I just completed and how awesome a course it was. And then I wondered what the next 50 would bring.
1 – 4:10 – FAST start.
2 – 4:10
3 – 4:12 – Legs feeling strong, body good.
4 – 4:09
5 – 4:08 – Why not try to hold pace as long as I can?!
6 – 4:09 – A nice experiment.
7 – 4:10 – Either I crash and burn.
8 – 4:14 – Or I hold on for a glory.
9 – 4:19 – Because I was suppose to do 4:16 Kilometer splits for just Sub-3.
10 – 4:14 – But I’m running much faster than that!
11 – 4:17 – So let’s do it!
12 – 4:23
13 – 4:17
14 – 4:08
15 – 4:07 – Still running fast…
16 – 4:07 – But by now know that I will not be able to hold through the finish.
17 – 4:12
18 – 4:13
19 – 4:14 –
20 – 4:14 – Start guessing when meltdown will occur.
21 – 4:22 – Minor slowdown but still well under 3 hour pace.
22 – 4:18 – Toughest part of course starts
23 – 4:17 – Pace still good.
24 – 4:21 – Pace good on hills, but effort is far too high.
25 – 4:19 – It’s coming soon.
26 – 4:43 – There it is… Meltdown Begins
27 – 4:21 – Started fighting the pace.
28 – 4:35 – Decided to conserve rather than face a complete meltdown by fighting on.
29 – 4:37 – Would rather a preserve a respectable finish than crash to walk.
30 – 4:37 – Hills.
31 – 4:37 – Wind.
32 – 4:41 – Hills.
33 – 4:41 – Wind.
34 – 4:34 – Finally a flat section.
35 – 4:45 – Head down into the wind.
36 – 4:46
37 – 4:45
38 – 4:46 – Beginning of meanest, cruelest hill ever.
39 – 5:10 – Damn hill kept going.
40 – 5:12 – And going.
41 – 4:46
42.2: 5:29 (1.2K split) – Olympic Stadium finish!