The plan leading into the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon was to set off at 3:04/km with a pacemaker, get to halfway in 64:40 and keep on givin ‘er in hopes of breaking Jerome Drayton’s long standing Canadian record of 2:10:09.
In the days leading up to the race weather forecasts were calling for winds around 40 km/h. In those kind of conditions it would make sense to go with a pack of runners to block the wind instead of just one pacemaker. There were two packs to choose from, the leaders and the Canadians. Initially I thought the leaders wanted 64 minutes flat at the halfway mark and the Canadians (Eric Gillis, Dylan Wykes and Kip Kangogo) wanted 65:15.
Two days before the race the leaders decided they were going to aim for 63:45 at the halfway mark and the Canadians for 65:00. Now my original plan (64:40) was much closer to the Canadians whereas the leaders were planning to be about 1 minute faster through halfway, a big stretch. Logically it was an easy decision to run with the Canadian pack (and the 3-4 pacers) and then pick up the pace a little after 13km when the course starts running East (with the wind). The course turns back into the wind at 34km but you can’t really plan for any specific help that late into the race.
At 10 PM the night before the race I was thinking about different race scenarios and anytime I thought about going with the leaders it just felt like the right thing to do even though logic was telling me otherwise. I decided to talk to Dave so he could convince me to stick with the safe plan so I could stop my mind from thinking too much. We started talking and I told him all the reasons why I wanted to run with the leaders and we decided it wasn’t “that big” of a risk. Sure it was a risk and we knew that but I was ready to pull back with my pacemaker if the pace seemed too rich. It was on. I was excited and was able to go back to my room and fall asleep confident I made the right decision.
Sure enough on race morning the winds were as blustery as predicted and I told my pacemaker (Stephen Chelimo of Kenya) my new plan, he was game.
Off the start I quickly established myself in the lead pack conveniently behind the tallest Kenyan, who was probably 6’3″, no joke. The pack was lead by three pacemakers and there were about 10 of us in total. The first 5km was run in 15:02 and although it was quick I was comfortable enough. Thankfully the next two 5km splits were 15:11 and 15:09, much more to my liking. At the 13km turn-around I felt I could ease off a bit and run my own race because I now had a tailwind. I fell off the pack a bit but decided I might as well stay with them and caught back up as they weren’t running much faster than myself.
We got to the halfway mark in 63:53 (although it says 63:58 in the results?) and I felt fine even though a gap was forming. The gap quickly opened up and I was a few seconds in arrear pretty quickly. At that point I thought I was falling off pace and told myself to keep it together as best as possible. Even though I got dropped from the pack between 21 and 22km I ran that km in 3:01 and realized I was still moving well, even faster than planned and it was the leaders who surged after the lead pacer dropped out at halfway. The pace settled down and I caught back up to the leaders by 24km however, something else was not going according to plan, I had to take a #2.
I had toilet paper in my shorts pocket in anticipation of a pre-race port-o-potty stop (they often run out of shit tickets before races) that I never made. I pulled out the t.p. and started looking for some sort of cover off the side of the course and found an electrical box to hide from any cameras. I dashed over, took care of business and ran back onto the course where I exited from. Now I was 15 seconds back of the lead pack, which included my pacer. Because Cherry street is an out and back no one saw me stop (I thought) and I figured the coaches were going to think I fell right off pace in the last km and would be worried about my form. I ran by Dave and Moulton and yelled, “I had to shit!” in which they responded “we know.” Apparently it was evident from the live coverage and they got a text from Cal Staples who was watching it from home. Cal has been on the bike crew since marathon numero uno in Ottawa but ran into a car, hard, the day before and wasn’t in any condition to be back out on a bike.
My pacer eventually dropped back and helped me claw my way back up to the lead group by 28km. The 5km split with the pit stop took me 15:35 and then the next 5km was back down to 15:23. By 30km (1:31:38) guys were dropping from the front pack, both pacers and competitors. Then it was just 5 of us and I knew my pacer wasn’t going to be around for much longer so I made a solid effort to make sure I was with the leaders at the 34km turn-around when we would start heading back into the wind.
And then there were three, myself, Kenneth Mungara and Shami Dawit. I took the lead around 35km and feeling good, thinking that the record was still within reach. We switched up leads a bit and I was once again in front around 36km thinking I could actually win this race. A short while later I was not in any form to take any leading duties and trying hard to hold on and knew it was going to be really tough to get the record. By 37km there was a sizeable gap and without the leaders the wind was beating me down both mentally and physically. When I got to 41km my last 5km had been 16:30 and I thought “there goes any chance at a PB.” Even though I tracked my splits I had screwed the watch up earlier so my total time was off by 1km.
With the leaders well ahead by this point and no one in sight behind me I thought I was going to run 2:12 and was thrilled to be in 3rd place. I kept pushing an honest effort but I lost that extra motivation that comes when you’re excited to run a PB. I turned the corner on Bay street and the crowd was really loud and I acknowledged their support with a couple of waves and looked up at the finish clock, 2:10!!! WTF!!! Get to the line!
I could not believe I ran a PB and I was congratulated by Peter Butler who I tied for 2nd Canadian all-time at 2:10:55. Because I had been thinking I was going to run 2:12 it didn’t occur to me that Gillis still had a shot at the Olympic standard (2:11:29) until I heard the crowd erupt and saw him driving for home. At that point I looked at the clock and realized it was gonna be extremely close. I was yelling at Gillis to bring it right through the line and I figured 2:11:28 when he crossed the finish. Check out the finish in this CBC clip
The question I keep getting is if I think my pit stop costed me the record seeing as I missed it by 46 seconds. The simple answer is no but it’s very hard to quantify what happened when I picked up the pace for 3km to catch back up to the leaders. How much better would I have felt had I just been able to run a constant pace? Who knows. Missing the record by 15 seconds would have been a different story.
Once again I’d like to thank my whole support crew, training partners, coaches, family, friends, sponsors, competitors, fans and anyone who made noise out there on Sunday morning. Dave Scott-Thomas once again convinced us we were going to run fast even though we were freaking about the wind forecasts. I’m going to thank my pacer with a present when I see him in Eldoret, Kenya this Winter. Things didn’t go as planned for Rob Watson but it’s awesome having him there for workouts and his hard work is going to pay off. Fun times in the past three months with the Carter/Cooks AM crew, John Mason, Cleve Thorson, Courtney Laurie, Eric, Rob, Moulton and Dave with the occasional Maloney, Staples, Vollmer and, Wild Bill.
CBC had absolutely amazing coverage of the race and a dozen of us watched it in the hotel room afterwards with some pizzas. In fact if you want to watch the whole thing, check out this link
Thanks for tuning in. Now it’s time to put the feet up for 10 days and reload.