What follows is an account of how I’d like to run my first marathon. There is a technique in sports psychology called ‘visualization’ where you imagine the event in an effort to prepare yourself mentally and to improve your performance. I’ve never been very successful at visualization, usually prefering to wait until the last minute to reckon what I’m about to get myself into. In years past, in the bike racing years, the visualizations always went off track and ended up involving miraculous feats of strength and, utlimately, girls. In short order, I will write the true account of my Quebec City Marathon.
The drive up to Quebec was uneventful, through New Hampshire and Vermont, across the border and all the way across Canada. I had done this drive in the winter to go to our annual ski camp at Mont-Sainte-Anne. And would be doing so again in a few months. The snow-free roads, leafy trees and extra daylight were preferable to the cold, wintry conditions.
On Saturday, I ran a few easy miles, scoped out the finish, picked up my race packet. Ate more carbs. Rested. I was finally feeling recovered after that 22-miler training run but it had taken nearly two weeks and on the eve of the race, I was still concerned about how successfully I had recovered. I pinned my number to singlet.
On race day, I woke up earlier than my alarm. I ate half a peanut butter and honey sandwich. I drank some coffee, de rigeur. I lubed up my feet and other body parts that would otherwise get rubbed raw or blistered. I stretched out. I rolled my legs and hips. I listened to music and relaxed. I wrote “Romeo” on my arm in black Sharpie. Then I headed out of the hotel, down to the ferry, then to the bus and eventually to the start.
It was a beautiful day. Clear. Sunny. Still cool in the early morning, with predicted highs in the mid-70’s. I ran a brief warm up. Ate another energy gel. Drank a bit more, then settled into a 6:30 pace group. My goal was to run the distance in under three hours.
On the start line, I was anxious to get underway. I thought through all the things that had brought me here. The bucket list. Romeo. The pure competition. Doing something that I had never believed possible. The help and patience of friend and family. I thought through all the miles spent running, the gradual build-up over the summer, the hours spent on the road, the small miracle of remaining injury-free. I felt ready. I felt prepared. I felt strong.
Then we were off and running. I worked my way through the start line congestion. I stayed calm. The first few miles ticked by. My legs felt rough, raw. I felt like I should be running harder. But I settled into a rhythm and it all started to click.
I stuck with my pace group. I group ate something every 30 or 40 minutes. Drank every chance I got. I had to stay fueled and hydrated. That was the key. There were times where I felt I could go faster. There were a few times where I felt like I was cracking. After 10 miles, I was fully immersed in the effort. I felt like I was working to keep the pace, but in no danger.
At half-way, I took an extra-long feed. I was running slightly ahead of target and reminded myself that the real race was in the last six miles. We were running along the St. Lawrence River. The sun glinted off the water. There was a slight breeze. We crossed the Pont de Quebec and the pace started to pick up.
But I was able to cover it.
I was starting to run on andrenalin. As I hit 6 miles to go, I was feeling the fatigue. My lower back hurt. My neck was stiff. The muscles on the outside of my legs were getting tight. I had hit this point so many times on training runs. I wished I felt fresher. But I knew I could push through it. Just like I had on those training runs. I was prepared. I went deep. I went into the hurt zone.
There were people cheering along the route. They were shouting encouragement. Yelling, “Allez, Romeo!” because that’s what was printed across my chest. And I went, bouyed by their cries.
I could taste the finish line. I saw the miles disappearing. I was feeling brilliant. I was beyond the fatigue. I went deeper and deeper, pushed faster and harder, and my body responded. There were moments of euphoria. There were moments when I nearly doubled over in tears. And then I saw the finish line. I made the final push. It felt like an eternity getting there. Then, all of sudden, it was over and it didn’t seem so bad.
I had done it.
And in just under 3 hours.