Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Quebec City Marathon


How to intentionally run a personal marathon worst?
1. Travel with two young kids to your marathon destination race
2. Have your eldest decide that sleeping in a hotel is over-rated, especially the night before the race
3. Explore a new city on foot the day before, especially one that is extra hilly, and cover at least 20k within the day. Good thing though is hubby pushed the stroller throughout the day.
4. Decide to over-ride the common sense indicator within the brain and dismiss the fact that it was going to be a very hot and humid run the next day
5. Take a camera with you and decide to take lots of pictures along the way
6. Leave your Garmin behind so you don't know how you are doing

Some of you knew that I was training for the Quebec City marathon that was held Sunday, August 29th. Unfortunately I came down with a bad case of bronchitis 4 weeks before the big day and wasn't able to run for 2.5 weeks. Moreover, I only completed one 30k long distance before getting sick. So for the two weeks remaining, I went back and forth in my mind debating on whether I could still continue with the full or whether I should drop down to the half. In the end I obviously decided on doing the full? Why? For a couple of reasons: (1) When would I get a chance to go to Quebec City and do this again? (2) I reasoned if I take it easy and go in with no expectations that I should be able to finish although I didn’t realize there is finishing and there is finishing. So my lack of common sense prevailed despite the acknowledged training deficits and the expected heat.

The cruel twist of life was that on Saturday, the day before, it was extremely cool, to the point where we had to cover ourselves with a blanket and jackets while we watched an amazing marching parade that we were in the area for. I am sure I was not the only person on those streets that were praying to the weather gods to be wrong about the following day but nope right from the marathon start at 8.30 am it was hot and humid. In the peak of my run it was 38+ degrees with the humidity.

So it all started with me taking a taxi at 6.00 am to catch a that would take me to the town of Levis, which is across from Quebec City, to then board a bus that would take us to the starting line. On my bus ride I chatted with two guys, Tim, who was from Picton and happens to be on the PEC race committee (another race I am doing in a months time). You can tell he was an avid runner and this event would be a cakewalk for him, heat or no heat. The other guy was from California, his name was Kenneth and he was running his 28th marathon THIS YEAR. He only took up marathon running two years ago and obviously took to it like fish in water. So needless to say speaking with these two right from the onset created a little crack in my confidence level that I should be doing this but I quickly pushed such notions to the side before they cemented in my psyche and did me in even before I got to the start line.

We arrived in the middle of nowhere, or so it seemed. There was a hotel attached to a conference centre by the looks of it. At this point we had an hour to kill before the race and like most people I had to use the washrooms a couple of times. I was in disbelief that every time I had to go there were was never a line up for the women’s washrooms but there was a constant long line up for the men’s washroom. Finally building designers got something right when it came to designing women’s washrooms.

There were two waves to this event, if it was going to take you longer than 5:30 hours, they encouraged you to start at 7.30 am and anyone faster would start at 8.30 am. To get around “faster” runners from taking advantage of this earlier start time they said they would assign anyone starting in this wave a minimum of 5:30 as their final finishing time. I am told that the reason they couldn’t start everyone sooner was due to the ferry limitations.

Since I did not have any time expectations, I purposely did not wear my Garmin, for I feared that if I had it I would be constantly looking at it and judging myself as to where I was at in the race, either too fast or too slow. I wanted to take frequent breaks though and decided that I would walk at every kilometre marker for 30-60 seconds. Again I had no watch so I often went by feel. Within the first km of starting I kept hearing this thump, thump, thump and couldn’t place the sound so I looked back and much to my disbelief I saw two guys bouncing a basketball each as they ran. It was incredible to watch them and yes they planned to bounce these balls the entire race. I was able to get a photo of one of them with their bib number so I could look up their time afterwards and he finished in 4:10. Unbelievable.

Then there was another group of men who thought it was a great idea to run a marathon in lieu of throwing a stag party, or maybe this was just the prelude to the fun that was to be had afterwards. The groom to be, had some form of a wedding dress on with a veil and cans behind him and a few of his mates had special shirts with a matching tie printed on the front and printed words on the back of their shirts signifying this guy was getting married (in French). For the first few kilometres they were very boisterous and mischievous in their running and I wondered how the heck are they going to finish while burning all this extra energy but then I noticed a couple of them were sporting an iron man tattoo so I am sure this event is just child's play in comparison.

The first few kilometres of the event were relatively uneventful as we wound our way through suburban highways so to speak but eventually we came down to a road/path system that weaved alongside the St. Lawrence Seaway. The route was more or less a U shape; you started on the Levis side of the St. Lawrence river and then went West towards a bridge that you crossed to bring you to the other side as you made your way along the river again into the heart of old Quebec City. I ended up taking 170 pictures during the marathon, at least 40 of them are of kilometre markers, and I posted most of them already on Facebook. I have to say that what kept me going throughout the run was how scenic the route was and also how wonderful the volunteers were, even though for the most part I have no idea what they might have been yelling to me given that they all spoke French and my French is limited to a few words.

One interesting note was that they did not have any timing devices along the route to let you know how well (or not) you were doing despite having timing mats. I didn’t want to ask anyone around me what time it was for I feared the answer either way - that I was going too fast or too slow.

At the halfway point I felt great and thought this is going to be easier than I thought it was going to be and then within a kilometre of thinking this there was a monster hill. Like everyone else around me, I walked it. I reasoned that I have been doing well up to this point and might as well conserve my energy. I encountered a couple more hills and walked all of them, other than this section though the course was relatively flat. As I was approaching the bridge which was at the 13k marker (13 to go) the heat and fatigue hit me like a tidal wave coming out of nowhere. Up to this point we were exposed to the terrible heat but there were intermittent patches of shade that we danced through and now there was no shade to speak of and we were fully exposed. I started to really walk at this point and that is when I wondered what the heck I am doing out here. It was also the point that a few people were off to the side with medics and most people around me were also doing a considerable amount of walking. For the next few kilometres I ran, I walked, I walked and I ran. I kept thinking that my husband is going to be worried about me for I knew I was well off my original estimated time. I must admit that the final 6 kilometres were a little bit of a blur, I walked most of the last 6 kilometres, surprisingly though it hurt less to run but every time I did I became over heated, so I figured at this point my goal should just be getting to the finish line without becoming delirious and needing assistance.

Once I made it to the final kilometre I was practically in tears knowing the end was near. By then many of the spectators had dispersed and the volunteers were becoming more liberal in their allowance of pedestrians to cross the race course. With 200 meters to go I rounded a corner and finally saw the Finish Line and yet every step was a challenge but yet at least I can say I was running but it probably looked more like a shuffle to others watching. Just before crossing the finish line I stopped and took one last photo to document the 5+ hour journey, one that I hope never to repeat under such hot conditions again. It seemed like another kilometre of hobbling before I made it to the meeting stop where Mike and the girls were patiently waiting for me. I was very relieved to see them and plopped down vowing to never run a marathon anytime soon. That vow though only lasted a couple of hours as I bathed in the knowledge that I have survived and have the strength to do it again… some day but not soon though.