Cut your teeth, lose your meat, and, man, it’s just a matter of time
I used to say I’d prefer the marathon to be earlier in the Olympic schedule so I could go and watch other events and take in more of the Olympic experience. Truth be told I needed every week I could get my hands on to get ready for the marathon. Be careful what you wish for.
After the World Half Marathon championships on March 26th I didn’t do a single running workout again until May 17th. There was a 3 week period where I only ran three times, and they didn’t go well, at all. Throughout that time I was praying that I’d be ready for Rio and simultaneously mapping out a fall marathon in the event I wasn’t going to be ready.
The Ottawa 10km (May 28), which I was barely ready for, jump-started my build-up for Rio. For the following six weeks I ramped up my mileage and did almost all of the workouts but I never felt great. On July 4th I had a 70 minute marathon-effort run where I had to stop and stretch after 54 minutes before calling it quits at 66 minutes. I wasn’t concerned at all about cutting my workout 4 minutes short. I was however worried about my ability to complete a marathon without stopping to stretch.
Leading up to the race I felt healthy for 6 weeks. That gave me five solid weeks of training and one taper week. During that time workouts started to click and my confidence grew. I knew I was going to be capable of a performance that would warrant my participation in Rio.
All told I was not in the same shape as I was for London 2012 but I felt better acclimated to the heat than I did four years earlier. Running around 3:09/km felt as comfortable as it normally does but once the pace got below 3:03/km I suffered more than usual. Knowing that it was going to be hot (above 17C) in Rio I figured I could still target a top 20 finish because that would probably take a 2:14 effort.
Eric and I travelled to Rio on Monday August 15th and arrived the morning of August 16th. The travel went smooth and my back didn’t suffer on the 10 hour flight. That evening we did a 10km run around the village. That run and the run the next day were both incredibly slow. It felt as though we sat on a plane for 10 hours…go figure?…
Once we got over our travel legs we started to feel good and got in a little session of 4 x 3 minutes with Cooray (Sri Lankan friend I train with in Kenya) on the Thursday. That session felt good and we felt great on Friday and Saturday leading into the race.
The night before the race we stayed in a hotel close to the start/finish area. It was good to get out of the village at that point because a lot of people were done competing and letting loose. That feeling hit me when I took an elevator ride with a couple other athletes with beers in their hands. Most importantly it saved us a 90 minute drive the morning of the race.
Race morning was rainy and humid. I was happy the sun wasn’t out and wasn’t too concerned with the temperature and humidity as I was prepared for it after training in Southern Ontario this summer. It didn’t seem too humid but after two minutes of jogging around the warmup area it was obviously going to be hot for the race.
The warmup area was barely bigger than an indoor track and most of the athletes stayed in that area and did handfuls of loops to warm-up. The area was used for archery earlier in the games.
I knew it was going to be fast from the gun so I didn’t bother fighting for a spot close to the front. With 155 guys on the line even the ones in the back will cross the start line within two seconds of the gun. When I saw Meb back there too it reassured my strategy.
Sure enough it was pretty quick and after the first kilometre I was definitely outside the top 100 but because I was running around 3:05/km I knew I would eventually start to catch guys. After a few kilometres I caught Gillis and then found a pack with guys I knew (Koen, Callum, Cooray).
At 5km I was in 76th position and 14 seconds back of the leaders. I knew if the leaders kept at this pace I would catch up but I figured someone was going to pick up the pace and break up the pack. By 10km I was 11 seconds off the pack and working well with a small group of guys including Gillis.
Once we got within 5-6 seconds of the lead pack I made a concentrated effort to get up with them. I reached them before 15km and felt great. I contemplated getting right up into the lead to get a little adrenaline but figured it wasn’t worth the effort this early into the race. My strategy was to sit in the back of the main pack and protect myself from the wind and take the tangents.
I noticed many guys were taking water and sponges between the personal bottle stations and I wasn’t doing that early on as I wasn’t uncomfortable. I finally went to grab a sponge around 12km but couldn’t quite get over because of other guys to my right. My friend Guor from South Sudan noticed and handed me a sponge. I squeezed it on the back of my neck and man did it feel good! It cooled me off a lot and from then on I don’t think I missed a single water station.
I lost the lead pack after one of the hairpin turns but clawed my way back without expending too much energy. I was getting excited that I was in a good position to finish top 20, or perhaps even top 15 if I felt really strong in the last 10km.
At one point I was a little off the pack of Koen, Gillis, Moen and some other guys when I noticed Meb bent over with his hands on his knees. I said “let’s go Meb” as I passed but it looked like his day was done. A minute later he came up beside me and we started to work together. It was cool working my way up with Meb and right as we hitched on to the guys he was gone, he stopped again. Turned out he stopped about seven times to puke before finishing 32nd.
At 25km I was 12 seconds adrift from the leaders, running side by side with Gillis in 39th place. My energy levels felt good and my breathing was fine. And then my hips got really tight and I started to trail Eric. By 28km I was hurting and I decided to relax a bit, regroup and make a push from 32km to the end. By 30km I was one minute behind the leaders and struggling.
At 32km I encountered a stiff headwind and I started to force things to keep a decent pace. Although I was slowing down I was still catching guys and had a positive outlook. By 35km I was getting tired, par for the course in a marathon I guess. I drank my whole bottle around 35km and got a good boost of energy. At that point I was in 26th place with hopes of a top 20 still alive.
The last 6 km had a lot of turns and I passed a bunch of slow moving guys but also got passed by 2 guys. There was one point where you could see guys up ahead for a good stretch as we ran out on a pier (Museum of Tomorrow). I couldn’t see Eric up ahead so I knew he was having a good one and was likely in the top 15.
Dave shouted to me that I was in 23rd with about 1200m to go. At that point I could tell I was not going to finish in the top 20 and that no one behind me was going to pass me. I started to push a little to try and catch Koen but he stayed on the gas and kept me at bay. During the last 400m I tried to savour the moment a little and take it all in and try to enjoy the finish.
When I finished the race five seconds behind Koen we had a little laugh as we were only seconds apart the last time we raced a marathon in September. And then I found out Eric finished 10th and that was a great surprise. I knew he was having a good one but I didn’t know he ran all the way into the top 10! He ended up running a very strong second half (almost even paced) and rolling through tons of guys towards the end.
Click for my CBC post-race interview
Thoughts on the race
In London when I faded to finish 27th I wasn’t overly frustrated because I figured I would come back in four years and run the race I am capable of. After having my best year ever in 2015 everything was pointing towards a top performance in Rio. Now when I think about 2020 I’m not as confident I can find my best form at the age of 41. These are the thoughts that make me frustrated beyond words. There’s even a sickening feeling in my stomach when I think of what could have been.
In order to not feel overwhelmed by disappointment I think of where I was in April, back to when I was wondering if I’d even make it to Rio. I have to be grateful that things came around in the 6 weeks before Rio. They came around enough where I almost finished top 20 (I would have been considerably happier with 19th!) and I didn’t have serious injury failure in the race. Had I had to limp like I did at World Half back in March it would have been a terribly ugly marathon, if I finished at all.
I can’t say that I’m happy with the race but I am happy with the way in which I raced. I was patient off the start and methodically worked my way up the front pack. At 25km into the race I was right where I wanted to be. I put myself in a position to achieve my goals.
And then there is the big picture. The Olympics was a great experience and I am happy to have raced in a second Olympic marathon. I did improve on my finish from 2012, (and even from my 25th place from Worlds in 2009). Last year after Berlin my “A” goal was top 10. This summer I realistically amended my “A” goal to top 15 and if I placed in the top 20 then I would have satisfied my “B” goal. I was ranked 23rd going into the race so I put that down as my “C” goal and bettering my London finish was my “D” goal. Ended up with a “C,” so not a disaster.
There are always two sides to a coin so whenever my thoughts start to veer towards the ideal opportunity to have had three or four more weeks of solid training I have to remind myself with three less weeks I would have been completely screwed. In fact, just by having the marathon at the end of the Olympic schedule probably helped me a lot.
With recent good form and a quick recovery I hope to transition my fitness into some races this fall. I have a couple of marathons plotted out for 2017 that I’d like to hit up and then just see where things go from there.
Rio de Janiero
Travelling to Rio was my first time in South America and I’d love to go back one day and really travel around. I met up with my parents, brother and sister afterwards for some sight seeing. We checked out the popular sights of Rio and had an amazing dinner at Aprazivel (turned out Chuck PT was there the same night but we missed each other).
I didn’t see a single mosquito in Rio and felt safe walking around the tourist areas. There were armed military all over the place and police officers everywhere too. There is definitely a lot of poverty in Rio, like many big cities and the people seemed really nice. There is not as much spoken english as I thought there would be which made for some interesting Uber rides.