Toronto Marathon Race Report – October 17, 2010



I promised myself that I wouldn’t start too fast. But I did. Thankfully I had a running partner who paced me. For the first half of the race I felt like a  bouncy ball. I just wanted to move. I took in everything around me. All the sights, the smells, and the people. I looked around and talked and we were approached by other runners. They would chat with us for a while and then separate. At 21k I still felt amazing. Still wanted to speed up.

At around two hours I started passing a handful of half marathoners who had started an hour ahead of us. Sure, they were mostly old people walking and one of them had a cane. But I passed them damn it. It felt good.

When we reached the lake, I felt great. It was my old neighbourhood. The water looked amazing. The weather was perfect. And we started seeing some of the first marathoners coming back.

At around 25k I started feeling tired. But I still felt in control. It only got harder from there.

At 30k my life really started to suck. Everyone looked ugly. The band was pissing me off. And it crossed my mind that I might actually be willing to kill someone for a banana. Nothing hurt but my muscles, and yet that was everything. My hamstrings felt like they were about to explode. But at the same time my pride kicked in. I didn’t want my running partner to see me fail. I was going to finish strong, and I would run the entire way without stopping.

After this point I started blocking everything out. My entire world consisted of one step in front of the other. And that was my existence. I focused my eyes on a set point in front of me and glared at it. One pace. Nothing else mattered. At that point I completely forgot every mantra I had ever learned, and I wasn’t lucid enough to form more than simple sentences. So I came up with two short phrases:

I will do this. I am strong.

I repeated that over and over in my head. With every step, until I knew nothing else. Until I was left with no other choice but to believe it.

I knew weeks ago that I would have to run this marathon with my mind. I tried to engrave it into my head that I would be picking a pace and I would not be stopping. I tried to envision myself at every mile. I mentally defied all my walls. I told myself that the real race would begin in the last 10k when all the other runners would start dropping like flies and I would just keep my pace. Where the winners would be sifted from the losers.

I now remembered all that. With every person I passed, it was a victory. Every time I saw someone stopping to walk, I felt stronger. I was better. I was ready.

With 3k left, I was falling apart. I couldn’t see the finish line and I was starting to think that maybe there was none. I would just keep running forever. This was my new life. I would never see my friends or family again. I would run until I passed out on the side of the road and eventually I would get smushed by a car like roadkill. The squirrels would pick out my insides and hide them in trees. No trace of my body would ever be found and in a few years someone would remember, “Hey, what happened to Vanessa? Didn’t she go run that marathon…” But it would be too late. So late.

Only 2k left. My breathing shifted and I felt like I might start hyperventilating. Slight twitch of panic. So I focused only on breathing and calming my mind. Just breathe. And that was my existence.

Then I saw it. The finish. And I picked up the pace.


Reaching the finish line was pain. Intense pain. Simply put, it was the most physical pain I have experienced in my life. And had I known what was waiting for me at the finish line, I would have preferred to keep running, roadkill or not.

I can only describe it as 4.5 hours worth of torture sweeping over my body all at once. All my muscles kept contracting at a running pace as if they were mechanically powered. I no longer had any control over them.

My running partner refused to let me collapse, as was my immediate impulse. Instead, he made me walk in agony for what felt like an eternity. When he finally did allow me to sit, I was reduced to writhing on the floor. I couldn’t find a comfortable position. Everything hurt. Everywhere. It was like I was suddenly conscious of every inch of my body. Life was a bitch.

It was so bad that for a minute I thought I might cry. Then I started feeling mad. Nothing had any meaning to me. Not the medal around my neck. Not my finishing time. Not the food I allowed to fall on the ground. I was rolling on the ground bitching to my running partner, but he just shrugged and told me the first time was always the worst. It wouldn’t feel so bad on my next race. Then he sat next to me and promptly ate four bananas in under one minute.

Twenty minutes later I was on my feet and thinking about my next marathon. I had just run 42.2k non-stop. I couldn’t believe it.


My pacer was a godsend. He saved my ass at least a dozen times in the first half by forcing me to slow down, and a couple of times in the second half. He knew exactly when to talk to me and when to shut the hell up because I was feeling bitchy.

When he got tired he didn’t show it. When he got sore he didn’t flinch. I felt like I could trust him so that if I didn’t want to think, I didn’t have to. He made me put away my ipod and then he made me not miss it. There’s no way in hell I would have finished this well without him.

Oh, and he ran the whole thing wearing sandals and a kilt. I believe that officially qualifies him as a hero.


I guess I always knew, once I started running, that I was meant to marathon. My strength is endurance. I won’t go fast, but I just might go forever. I worried in the back of my mind that I would run this marathon and then immediately decide to give up running. Instead, I feel validated now. Like something has clicked into place and I fit in somewhere. I got a medal nearly the size of my head, and the best part is that I feel like I truly earned one that big.

I felt energetic for the rest of Sunday evening, and on Monday morning I was woken up at 5am by an intense urge to run another marathon. Immediately. On the negative side, I’ve caught myself slipping into marathon snob mode. The kind of runner that thinks a half marathon is a training run and 5k races are for fat people.

I’ve already started planning another year of training. I’m going for a 4hr finish time with more emphasis on interval and hill training and long group runs.

I feel like my perspective on running has shifted, and I can see both sides now. I know why people criticize marathoners. Why they say that we’re killing our bodies and we will die younger and we’re out of our minds. I guess they’re partly right. I can also see the other perspective. Why people actually do this to themselves. It’s not really to lose weight or to get healthy. It’s simply because we’ve found our pace and we can’t stop. I don’t think there’s really anything we can say to justify it in the minds of others. Nor should we have to. This is just our thing.

Sunday was easily one of the best days of my life. I will do this. I am strong.

10 responses

  1. Congratulations marathoner!
    You really impressed me out there Vanessa. I had no idea that you were in the kind of pain you described above. Way to hang tough through it all.
    It was a pleasure to share this experience with you and to bring back a ridiculous sized medal home for myself as well.

  2. 5k’s are not just for fat people. Some runners are meant to run long, and some runners are meant to run fast. Long runs are easy days for me, when compared to the speedwork I do for 5k training. Congrats, Vanessa. I have been following you for months. Please remain humble.

  3. Congrats! Marathons are tough and you did it! (Wish I’d heard that first marathons are the worst. Mine was over an hour faster than my last one. I must be doing something wrong ;) Seriously, they are all unique, beautiful experiences. Each will hold a special memory for you and be something you will draw strength from.

    Again congratulations. And thank you so much for a well-written blog capturing your journey.

  4. Nice one! 4.5 hours is very good for the first one, I think. Good description as well – felt like as if I had participated and felt the pain myself.. I am looking forward to my first marathon even more now – it must really be a great experience!

  5. Excellent diary of a maiden marathon attempt. I can completely relate to it, i did a 50K straight after a couple of half marathons, and that in the golden jubilee celebration of my college and in front of juniors (girls at that). I ran the full 50K in one trot except stopping for drinks breaks.

    That race then made me feel bored with half marathons and like. I am trying to find new challenges, training to run 100K next month. Your diary makes very interesting reading.

    Happy running and better timings.

  6. Congratulations. You have a mind of a long distance runner. You ran through pain and discomfort and you finished in a great time.
    Thanks for a wonderful report.

  7. hi,
    i think your blog is spot on, i can really relate to what you write.
    – especially your last comments about now that you are a marathoner!, I relate to halfs as nice training runs (unless they are local ones wher I know other people, in which case I try a bit harder!)
    well done, and what a great medal!!, your american ones are so much better than the european ones!

  8. I really like “The Running Partner” section. That guy sounds pretty darn awesome!
    And post some more pictures already!

  9. You’re a great writer as well as a marathoner. Your description mirrored my last marathon… I was angry as hell at some old lady when she told me there were only 3 blocks left and there were about 6… oooh that ticked me off! I was so miserable at the end I wanted to go back and drag her across the finish line with me and show her the difference between 3 and 6 blocks. ok, there’s not much difference, but after 26 miles I just wanted it to be over, and when I say ‘it’ I mean ‘my life’.
    Can’t wait to hear how the speed and hill training runs go. Do you do core training as well? I’ve been thinking I should add that to my routine.

    Way to go Vanessa Runs!

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