Holy hills: Marathon by the Sea Race Re-cap

The course was stunning. The hills were horrific.

This year’s half-marathon at Marathon By the Sea was challenging. At times, I hated it. At times, I was enthralled by Saint John’s beauty. At times, I questioned my sanity.

But I did it, and I’m glad I did.

It was my first half-marathon since having my son 13.5 months ago, and I’m pretty proud of that fact. My body has been around the bend and back since then, and I finished in 2:09:57, within a minute of my MBTS half-marathon in 2013 – when I was in the best shape of my life, and when the course was notably easier (but still hilly and hard!).

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The weather was ideal, starting in the high teens with clouds and a light breeze. After creeping away from my quiet house (Silas slept through the night – bonus!!!), I met up with my friends Jen and Vanessa, and we walked to the starting line together. We all agreed, the new start/finish on the waterfront was both convenient, spacious and pretty.

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At about 8 a.m., the gun went off, and we started out jogging together toward Harbour Passage. It wasn’t long before I parted ways from the other girls. We were pacing around 5:40 mins/km and I wanted to slow it up a bit and conserve energy for the many hills I knew lay ahead.

First big hill: Reversing Falls to the bridge. This is a classic, and since it was near the beginning, it was easy to tackle. The terrain continues upward until you reach Manawagonish Road, which is close to my house. Since I know and run this route often, I felt comfortable and actually started picking up my pace again. As runners near the front of the pack started passing by on the out-and-back portion, I felt motivated and cheered for people I knew. I glanced at my watch and was surprised at my pace.

After looping back to Lancaster Avenue, the route hit a prolonged, gradual downhill stretch. I let gravity do the work and rode the hill as easily as I could. I enjoyed this part, running along Riverview Avenue and its colourful wood shingled-homes, some a little worse for wear.

At the end of the street, we continued down an old, paved path that loops under an overpass and links to the Harbour Bridge. The path provided a unique view of the harbour and the port.

At this point, we were about 10 km into the run, and as I hit the Fundy Fog Chasers water station, I ate half of a gel. I didn’t want to chance eating the whole thing at once, but in hindsight I wish I did. I tossed the rest and started the second half of the course — which was nearly all uphill.

I was pumped to cross the Harbour Bridge. Part of the highway system, the bridge is not typically open to pedestrians, so this was a unique opportunity. My pace slowed significantly as I began the ascent. Once I crested the hump of the bridge, I threw my arms in the air in triumph. But there was so much more work ahead.

The next challenge was getting through the Chesley Drive exit, which includes another steep incline before dropping down to Chesley Drive, then another steep part until Main Street. This was tough, but I kept at it without walking.

I always hate the next part, past Lansdowne Plaza and up toward Mount Pleasant Avenue. I’m not sure why. It smells like dumpsters or something, likely from the mall and string of fast food joints. But to my delight, I passed a water station manned by members of Saint John city council – people I interview multiple times a week. This provided a motivational jolt – just what I needed.

The next tough part was climbing Parks Street followed by Mount Pleasant Avenue. More gradual hills. But it’s lovely along these tree-lined street filled with beautiful old homes. I walked a bit on Mount Pleasant, and my feet were feeling it by this point. But there were about 7 km to go, and I could feel the end was near.

All I had to tackle was Rockwood Park. It’s only another series of hills, some on uneven trails. Hah!

This was my low point. I walked a lot. My legs were throbbing. My feet too. My face twisted in exertion. I could feel sweat and salt sticking to my skin. Where was the next water station? Why was I doing this again? I told myself I just had to get back out of the park, then I would hit the big downhill of Crown Street, and the finish line would be around the corner.

Hah!

Crown Street, and its wicked steep descent, ruined me. My knees hurt. My child-bearing hips hurt. At the bottom, I felt as though my feet were done. Just done. I had 2 km to go. At this point, I was close to 2:00. I told myself, if you have to walk to the finish, it’s OK. But I kept on.

More hills. Three more. They were hard. Still ran. Ran slow.

I wanted to cry, but I took out and earbud and I could hear the crowd. I started scanning the sidewalks for my husband and Silas, as well as some friends who had come to cheer me on. Knowing the would be there kept me in tact.

Then I saw them, and as they cheered for me, I picked up the pace, I ran as hard as I could. I saw Silas, and waved, and recognition registered on his precious face. He gave me that glowing, toothy smile, and I pressed across the finish line, arms overhead.

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When I saw 2:11:04 on the clock, I felt a little disappointed at first. Far from my personal best of 1:59, and slower than my last Marathon By the Sea time of 2:09:09. But when I put it in perspective, and remembered to check my chip time, which was a minute or two faster, I accepted my victory.

Hills and all.

Marathon By the Sea half-marathon 2015: 2:09:57. 6:12 mins/km. 29/51 in my age category (F 30-39). 205/335 overall.

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April C

Writer, editor and mom in Saint John, NB.

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