The actual Marathon des Deux Rives in Quebec City wasn’t that far off from what I had predicted. I had awoken before my alarm clock. I ate a good breakfast. Drank an adequate amount of coffee. I was dressed and on my way to the ferry as the sun was coming up. On the way down, I met a woman from Wellesley also running the marathon. Small world.
I arrived at the start in Lévis with plenty of time to stretch, eat some more, go the bathroom a few more times. I stashed my gear in the truck and ran around the parking lot to warm up a bit. The only drama was finding a last-minute piss spot. There were officials warning the runners away the more natural spots and into the long lines for the portos. There wasn’t going to be enough time for that, so I had to tramp through the tall grass to get to a spot that was hidden enough. Glad I did.
Then we were off. About 2,000 runners taking the start with 42.2 km (26.2 miles) ahead of us. I had been training in kilometers all summer which was good because the course was marked in kilometers — and only kilometers — so all the markers and timings made sense.
I eased into the first few kilometers. Checked my watch for pace and a heart rate. The pace was good — about 4:15/km (6:50/mile). The heart rate was garbage — sitting about 78. After a few minutes it caught up to the 140’s. I tried to find a group that was running close to my pace. But they all seemed to be going too fast or too slow relative to what I wanted to run. Not that I knew. This was my first marathon and I was unproven running at speed over this distance. After 3 km, I picked the pace up to 4:00/km. My heart rate held steady in the mid-150’s. The sun was up. It was still cool. There was a light breeze. This felt good. This felt sustainable.
The kilometers clicked by.
At 35 km to go, I told myself, “I’ve run this far before. I can handle it.” I kept the pace steady, between 3:55 (6:18) and 4:05/km. My heart rate held steady. I was taking drinks at every feed. I was eating every 30 minutes. I was fueling up and banking time. My legs felt good. None of the twinges in my calves, feet, hips or hamstrings that had plagued my summer distance runs.
Along the bike path by the river, I found myself running alone into the wind. It didn’t feel smart. So I eased up and let a group catch me, then tucked into the back of them. They were running a bit faster, closer to a 3:50/km pace, but it still felt doable.
Everything was going well. For the most part.
The only suspicious feelings were coming from my quads. Nothing alarming. The just felt a little tighter than everything else.
I hit the half-way mark at 1:26:50. I was well ahead of my 3 hour target, but still had the harder part of the race to go. It felt a little too fast, but after nearly an hour and a half of running, it was what I expected. My quads were feeling a little tighter…like they were losing their resilience.
With 19 km to go, the road kicked up on its way to the bridge and I was grateful to use my legs muscles a little differently. The pace was dropping, as expected. Heart rate was going up on the incline, but no danger. At the top of the hill on the approach to the bridge, I stopped to stretch my quads and my hamstrings immediately cramped. No, that wasn’t going to happen.
Crossing the Pont de Quebec, I regained my group. I looked off the side of the bridge. I could see the water scintilating below. I was starting to hurt. No surprises. It was the end-game. I pushed against the pain in my legs. If it was going to hurt, I might as well go faster and finisher sooner and suffer for a few minutes less.
But the descent from the bridge killed what little life was left in my quads. With 10km to go, I was running on bone. It could have been worse though. I wasn’t cramping. I wasn’t bonking. All the parts I expected to cause problems were fine. But not the quads. In all the long runs I had done in preparation, I never had any problems with them. I was waiting for my second wind. A runner’s high. But nothing. I was hanging on and pushing as had as I could. I could drive for a few hundred meters, but then I had to back off and go into survival mode. My pace dropped by a minute/km. But I had banked enough time. If I could keep this up, I would still be well within the qualifying time of 3:15 for the Boston Marathon.
But I wasn’t starting to wonder if I could keep it up.
Push a little too hard and I’d cramp. And that would be the end of it. The last kilometers felt like an eternity. I could hear voices of enouragement from friends. I was reliving the last few miles of all the long training runs. I was asking Romeo for help…then offering to carry him to the finish. I was in tears at one point, but got stronger mentally as the strength in my legs faded.
I rounded the corner with 500 meters to go. I could see the finish line. The cheers of the crowd were drowing out my pain. They were yelling, “Allez, Romeo!”
I saw my wife and son at the side of the road. I picked up the pace, was little I could muster, and pushed to the line.
And then I was done.
The pain didn’t stop with the finish line. It would be days before my legs felt okay. And I fear my toes will never be the same.
But the race was over. I had run 26.2 miles. It had taken a little longer than I had hoped but I had qualified for Boston.
Full results can be found here.