The Year 4 Running Marathons

Mike and I have shared with you that we are big proponents of exercise, a great stress reliever and hopefully it is helping us push out our best before date. In 2018 I went back to my true love, running and well maybe I went a bit too far.I have been a runner most of my adult life, running my first marathon in 1997. I completed 25 marathons before I took a hiatus from marathon training. The reasons for my hiatus were varied family commitments, work requirements, and perhaps because I was just a little tired. Finally I was finishing the marathons  but my times were not improving. I have exercised virtually everyday mostly running, since my last marathon and I continued to run shorter races up to the half marathon. The main change in my running habit I no longer had to get that long 3 hour plus run in on the weekend. I could be a little more casual on diet or stay out a little bit later with friends not having to get up early for my runs. I could vary my exercise and do a little more cycling which I have also grown to love. Over the years my body has held up well even my knees and legs, which everyone kept telling me would start hurting, still feel good. Still giving my body a break was probably not a bad thing! Knock on wood, even today I still have not had any major health issues.

So why get back into marathoning, well it started in late 2017 when my sister said she was putting her name in the lottery for the Berlin Marathon, she asked if I wanted to add my name. I thought “why not”, not having thought much about it. The more I thought about it the more excited I got. I though it would be fun to spend time and run with my sister, and it was. So when we got accepted into the lottery I had to get my mind and body back into marathon mode. I started the process of creating a training base in January 2018. I usually stay in half marathon shape, as I mentioned I continued to run a lot since I retired but last year I cycled more than I ran so my running base was not quite in there, and training was harder than I expected. Over the next 20 weeks I followed a marathon program, I did the miles, I did the rest,  I cross trained, did yoga, worked on mental exercises, and improved by diet. As with all training programs some days were better than other, some of those long runs were tough, but I stuck to my schedule. I was a little proud of myself!

No matter how much you train until you run a marathon you forget what it feels like, the excitement, the mental stress, the challenge your bodyl feel. I decided I needed to run a marathon in the spring so I could get my “marathon chops” back. My first marathon in almost 10 years would be Ottawa in late May. Marathon training like most things in life is best done with a goal or a deadline. Training for the Berlin Marathon was some 9 months out, my formal training program really would not start until about 18 weeks before or mid May.  Most of the training before this time is building a training base also I knew for me that it would also be tough mentally to focus on the race that far away. A closer race date would also help me focus my training especially for those cold days and long weekend runs.

Visualization and positive thinking are important parts of training, the marathon as much as it is a physical challenge, it is also a mind game. Over the long hours of running a marathon your mind will constantly challenge you, “Your going to fast, your going to slow, I think your leg might be broken, did I lock the car, don’t throw up, etc.” Like most things in life when you hit rough patches, having the “mental tool kit” to deal with these challenges is a key to success. My physical training went pretty well but I was surprised with how my pace had slowed after my 10 year hiatus. Undaunted I stuck to my training plan, did speed work, hill work, track workouts, I did it all. I was ready.

The Ottawa Marathon is a highly rated marathon in a beautiful city. I spent a lot of time in Ottawa over my life, living in the suburbs as a child and it holds a special place in my heart. Over my 20+ years of serious running I had never run the race. The day of the race I felt good I had a plan. I walked from my hotel across the Ottawa river admiring the Parliament Buildings my body felt ready, the day was overcast a little humid, maybe a little warmer than ideal but ok. I got to the start area where I met 40,000 of my closest running friends. I was able to find a quiet spot away from the crowds to mentally prepare. The race started with the normal slow start as runners find their pace. I managed the first half of the race well. I hit the half way mark a little fast but I thought I could dial it back which I did, out to 30 ks and things were ok however my heart rate (HR) was in high, near my max level. This would become my undoing.

I continued on and saw an old friend from elementary school cheering people along the route, she was wearing her Boston Marathon jacket and I got a bit of a boost. Still the HR issues continued I tried to managed my effort and slowed to try and bring my HR in line, no luck. Despite my best efforts the rest of the race was a challenge. Unlike in the past where I got frustrated with my time, and was unable to enjoy what I was actually accomplishing,  I tried to enjoy the sights and sounds of the event, smiling the best I could at the spectators, and high fiving the little ones along the way.  Yes I finished with my slowest time ever, it was kind of a win but still a little disappointing. I was happy from the point of view that finishing a marathon is always an achievement. About 1% of the worlds population have completed a marathon. Still I felt a little empty, the reason I run is to challenge myself, I will never be on the podium, but part the joy of endurance sports for us “back of the backers” is competing against yourself. This can be both rewarding and at times frustrating. The nice thing in VLR we have the time to dust ourselves off and try, try, again.

In my next blog I will cover the rest of my 2018 marathon experiences. We will talk then.


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2 thoughts on “The Year 4 Running Marathons

  1. Ed von Euw Reply

    Gerry, thanks! Your story inspired me to register for the Vancouver Marathon to be run on May 5, just months before my planned victory lap retirement. It’s been over a decade since my last marathon (Boston), and although I have run a few 10km runs since then, I’ve been hesitant about longer runs as I approach 60. Your story changed that–I’m too young to think old!
    Thanks again, and I look forward to the rest of your marathon story.
    Cheers, Ed

    • Gerry O'Toole Post authorReply

      Thanks Ed and Good Luck in Vancouver. Your running journey sounds a lot like mine except you are a lot faster with a BQ “May the roads rise up to meet you.”

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