The 2014 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon (STWM) was my first attempt at the Half Marathon distance. At the time, I didn’t know many runners (I probably knew 2-3 tops), I never knew there were running crews in Toronto (I never even knew what a running crew was!), and I didn’t know much about the Canada Running Series, although I did run the Yonge Street 10K and Oasis Zoo Run 10K earlier the same year.
I remember four things very well from my first half marathon. First, I wore cotton knee-high socks that kept falling down and frustrated me the entire race. Second, I ran a tight tangent at the turnaround point and a woman yelled at me for cutting her off. Third, I lost the 1:45 pacer early on in the race and was overjoyed when I passed him at the 17km mark. Fourth, the race from registration to the finish line was such an awesome experience and the volunteers were flat out amazing.
There’s a reason the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon is an International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Gold Label Road Race. Everyone from Race Director Alan Brooks to the young lady who congratulated me while placing the medal around my neck yesterday makes this race a world class event.
Last year I completed the full marathon at STWM and while the marathon was on my agenda earlier in the year, having completed the Erie Marathon four weeks earlier and NYC three weeks away, I decided to run the half marathon and instead of racing it, run it at marathon pace to determine how fit I was to race the TCS New York City Marathon. My half marathon PB pace is 4:18/km and the marathon pace I was using this year is 4:30/km.
I was approaching this race as a long run at marathon pace, which means it’s actually part of my TCS New York City marathon plan. Leading up to this race, I’ve been running five days a week and ranging from 53-68 kilometers per week. My long run the week prior was 32 kilometers! Not exactly what you would expect if you were tapering for a half marathon! As I mention above, this race was all about fitness and determining how my legs feel after a long year with one final, albeit HUGE race in three weeks.
On Saturday, my wife, son, and I headed down to Liberty Village so she can meet up with a friend and my son and I could walk over to the Enercare Centre where the Running, Health, & Fitness Expo was located. I grabbed my bib and race shirt before heading over to the exhibitors area. The first booth I came across was The Runner’s Academy. If you follow my blog, you’ll realize I probably mention these amazing people in nearly every blog post I write! Kris Sheppard, who runs The Runner’s Academy with his wife Janie was there, as was Brittany Moran, and someone whom I never met before. We were chatting for a bit when Kris introduced me to the woman in the booth. Turns out it was Andrea Seccafien! Andrea made her Olympic debut at Rio 2016 where she was the top-ranked Canadian woman in the 5000m. It was really awesome seeing Kris and Brittany and meeting Andrea! Before leaving, I gave everyone a big hug for being so supportive of me. How many people can say they hugged an Olympian?!?!
The next stop was the Mango Peeler pop-up booth. Mango designed the stunning STWM race shirts and was offering custom printing on the back of the shirt. Mango is an icon in the running community and when he’s not running sub-3:00 marathons, he’s cheering people on at races. When I was running out of gas at the 2016 Around the Bay Race, Mango was shouting at me near the finish. He really powered me through the final 3km of that race!
The expo was full of well-known people from the Toronto running community and it was really great to see so many of them in one place. I’m very fortunate to be part of a running community full of so many inspiring people!
I could have spent hours at the expo speaking with people I knew, but we had to go. We had dinner in Liberty Village and without thinking, I ordered a curry dish. Halfway through dinner I was hoping I didn’t make a huge mistake, but thankfully it didn’t affect me on race day! Whew!
The race started at 8:45am which is on the later side of starts for races. The later start meant I didn’t have to wake-up super early! I drove down to the start and found a cheap parking garage a block away! McDonalds was setup near the starting line and handing out free coffee! I met-up with my friends from RunToBeer for a pre-race photo, then met-up with the Night Terrors Run Crew (NTRC) crew for another pre-race photo! Joining us in the NTRC photo was Daniel Janetos who yesterday attempted and now officially holds the Guinness World Record for fastest marathon dressed as a chef and carrying a pot! At 8:30 I made my way over to the starting corral where I saw my friends Andrew and Lisa. Before you knew it, the horn sounded and we were off!
First 5Km splits: 4:42, 4:54, 4:26, 4:34, 4:24
Again, my plan was to hold a 4:30 pace for the entire race. The first 2.5 kilometers is a tiny climb up University Avenue towards Bloor Street. The marathon and half marathon runners start together, so it was fairly crowded for the first few kilometers. I didn’t mind as that helped me reign in my pace a bit and not go out too fast. I was feeling really good about the start! I did notice my Garmin was sounding off my splits about 10 meters before I was reaching the kilometre markers which was strange! We made a left turn on Bloor and then a left onto Bathurst Avenue. We were now running slightly downhill at this point.
The forecast for the start of the race was rain with possible thunderstorms around 11am. It wouldn’t impact me, but there would be plenty of marathoners and some half marathon runners on the course at that time. There was a slight drizzle that picked up a bit within the first few kilometers of the race and it was really refreshing!
Second 5Km splits: 4:16, 4:21, 4:31, 4:34, 4:37
I was going a tad quick on the downhill and was really trying to slow down at this point. I think part of what was propelling me forward was the awesome crowd of spectators and the fact I ran past Tej from RunToBeer, the fine folks of BlackToe Running, and a few friends from Parkdale Road runners and NTRC before we made the right turn towards Lakeshore Blvd. I was full of adrenaline at this part of the race.
By this point of the race, the humidity was really picking up; however, it wasn’t raining. There were a few times I looked up and almost pleaded with mother nature to let it rain a bit just to get a little relief!
Third 5Km splits: 4:32, 4:37, 4:27, 4:25, 4:32
Around the 10-11km mark, I noticed Andrew McKay was right in front of me. I’ve been following Andrew’s journey I’ve been following on Strava and Instagram for quite some time and I pulled up next to him so we could chat. We ran together for the next 5km or so at which point we split up. It was great to finally meet Andrew in person! I was struggling a bit to keep my pace and was finding that I was running a tad a faster than I wanted to. I hit the turnaround point (the same spot I got yelled at two years ago!) without cutting anyone off and feeling good!
16Km to 21.1km splits: 4:28, 4:22, 4:29, 4:28, 4:12, ?, ?, ?
The last 6.1 kilometers is by far my favorite part of the race for several reasons. After the turnaround, you get a good view of the runners who were started later in the race. This is where you get to shift your focus from your racing to your friends. I shouted at friends and had them shout at me and it’s really great to have those moments when you can just let your mind relax so your legs can do what they need to do.
Around the 15km mark, my right knee started to get sore. This was the same issue I had in Erie a month ago and it was now starting to really worry me.
My knee was really barking at 19 kilometers, but I powered through the famous Parkdale Road Runners cheer station and made the left turn on to Bay Street. At 20 kilometers, I had to stretch my knee. I pulled to the right and stretched for about 20 seconds. when I got up, I realized I accidentally paused my Garmin. I quickly started it again and ran the final 1,100 meters to the finish. I somehow missed the beer handoff from RunToBeer I was really exited about, but came in strong.
When I stopped my watch, the display said I ran 22.04 kilometers which made no sense. The final 2.4 kilometers also showed I ran about 2:26/km which is absolutely impossible.
According to Sportstats.ca, I finished with a time of 1:36:26 which is 60 seconds slower than my goal time. Overall I’m pleased with the results, but I have some work to do in the next three weeks to ensure I am healthy enough to finish NYC strong!
Once I stopped running, I no longer felt any pain in my knee. I received my medal, thanked all every volunteer I passed on the way out, and walked towards the waiting area. For a moment I contemplated walking towards the location where my friends from RunToBeer were handing out beers, then decided not to push it and grabbed my post race fuel, said hello to a few friends I bumped into, then left. For the rest of the day I felt completely fine. No aches and pains and my knee wasn’t bothering me at all.
I have one more race to go this year and I’m definitely closing 2016 out with a bang! The 2016 TCS New York City Marathon is going to be the biggest event I ever participated in and I’m equal parts anxious and excited to participate in probably the biggest road race in the world. For the next three weeks, I’m going to take it easy and focus on strengthening my knee. I won’t push my next long run or do any real speed work; instead, I’ll maintain a reasonable amount of kilometers each week to give myself the best opportunity to run a respectable race.
As for running STWM next year, I have my heart set on participating in the 40th Anniversary of the 2017 Chicago Marathon. I’ve heard some amazing things about that race and my 3:13:42 from the 2016 Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon ensures I’ll have guaranteed entry to that race and if I run it, my plan is to volunteer at STWM next year. It’s about time I give back to the organization that has provided so many great memories the past two years!
To those who ran STWM this year, whether it be the 5K, Half Marathon, or Marathon, I’d love to hear how your races went! I hope you all had a great day!