Marathon by the Sea: my 10K race report

It’s been a week since I took part in the 25th annual Marathon By the Sea, here in beautiful Saint John, NB. This is my “hometown race” (I’m a come-from-away) and I usually try to take part, although the past few years have included various stages of pregnancy and newborns! That being said, I always appreciate the opportunity to run and race, especially now that my children demand so much of my time. Running is my “me time,” which takes much of the pressure off!

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So this year, now that my twins are 11 months old, I wanted a reasonable goal. I haven’t had a ton of time to train, but I figured I could pull of a 10-kilometre run. I didn’t expect to make it a personal best by any stretch — especially on this “certified tough” course. But I knew it would provide some good motivation to train and keep active through the summer.

Well, training went OK. I barely got out for enough runs – maybe two or three per week. My longest run was 9-ish km. I don’t even know because the wristband on my trusty Garmin Forerunner broke off! And let’s not even talk about my nutrition this summer… after a few months of clean eating, I went hog wild all summer, especially on the ice cream!

So when race weekend arrived, let’s just say I wasn’t chomping at the bit. I almost forgot to make time to stop by the expo to pick up my race bib! And I made no elaborate plans for a new running outfit (which I have done in the past), nor did I force my husband and kids to pick a fun spot along the route to cheer me on with a “Go MOM WE LOVE YOU” sign. Wouldn’t that be nice! Instead, I was just lucky to have the chance to sneak away early in the morning and get a peaceful run in before 9:30 a.m. What a treat.

This was my first time trying out the 10-km distance at Marathon by the Sea (MBTS). In the past, they have offered a 5-mile, full and half course. I have done the 5-mile and half-marathons before, along with a 5 km night run a couple years ago. One of the things that appealed to me about this course was the chance to run across both the Reversing Falls and Harbour bridges. Coasting high above the Saint John Harbour is quite an experience by foot. It’s almost enough to take the sting out of the bridge’s cringe-worthy gradual incline.

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After a very hot summer, especially for temperate Saint John, race morning was generally good. It was a little cooler and overcast, yet muggy. By the time I was done running, I was dripping in sweat but at least the sun wasn’t beating down.

I felt as though I kept up a good pace. I wasn’t fast, but steady. I followed a middle-aged couple who were strong, steady runners, and tried to keep them in my sights. I only stopped to walk at the water stations, and even then only briefly.

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The toughest part is actually the first 5 km. It’s all uphill! Starting out at the cruise ship terminal along the harbour, we took Harbour Passage, up to Reversing Falls, still up around Simms Corner to Lancaster Avenue with the peak at Olsen’s. Then there was a nice downhill as we ran down Prince Street and Riverview Drive on the lower west side to the base of the Harbour Bridge. As mentioned the big Harbour Bridge included another significant climb levelling out, going down for a bit then up again on the highway exit back to the uptown. Whew! Lots of hills on this race!

For the final stretch, I tried to race the woman next to me but ran out of steam. She peeled ahead, but I’m glad I gave it a final push. My final time was 59:05… a personal worst, by far. I think my next slowest time is 55 minutes!

But hey, I now have THREE young children, two of those not yet one year old. I grew those babies in this amazing body of mine, and it can still take me on a 10-kilometre run. Now that is something to celebrate. It honestly fills my eyes with tears when I think about it.

Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers at Marathon by the Sea, for bringing such a great event to the city. It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of, and to see friends and visitors use the power of their bodies to take in the majestic views (and hills) this place has to offer. It’s so easy to take for granted.

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Into the Night 5K

Heading to the Into the Night 5K run on Friday, I was not feeling enthusiastic. It was more a case of doing the run because I had already forked over my registration fee.

I didn’t know anyone else doing the race, I was tired, it was Friday, blah, blah, blah. 

Into the Night kicks off Marathon by the Sea race weekend in Saint John. Since I’m not doing the half-marathon this year, I opted for the 5K night run.

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I arrived at the Diamond Jubilee Cruise Terminal in Saint John early for the run I thought started at 9 p.m. I picked up my race kit and was pleased to see two glow sticks made of foam — light sabres, which I knew Silas would love.

I was, however, a little disappointed to find out the race wasn’t timed. I was kind of looking forward to pushing myself in the 5K, which is a relatively unfamiliar distance for me. But with fireworks, glow sticks and a light-hearted feel, I knew I would enjoy myself.

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Turns out the race didn’t start till 9:30 p.m., when it was completely dark. It meant a little more waiting around, but luckily the weather was perfectly comfortable and I did a little jogging to warm up a bit.

Approaching the starting line, we heard a few inspirational words from Terry Thorne, this year’s Marathon by the Sea race marshall. Thorne has run 12 marathons and was in the process of attempting to qualify for Boston when she had a brain aneurism in 2007. She now lives in a nursing home after going through years of recovery. “Never, ever give up,” she said, standing with the help of a walker.

Thorne then sounded the race horn, and with her words on my mind, we were off, carrying the light sabres and dashing into the night. I pressed ahead and fell into a rhythm, running by Market Square as revellers took a break from enjoying live music to cheer for the runners. Then it was on to Harbour Passage, where darkness cast over the course and the colourful glow of the light sticks bounced ahead. I continued to pass people, one by one, until one woman sailed by me. That’s when I decided I wasn’t going to let her win.

I don’t know who she was, but I set my mind to staying with that woman, who set a challenging pace. I wasn’t comfortable, but I kept telling myself that 5K is not far at all. I kept on her tail for most of the race, but the final kilometre was a challenge and she got ahead.

I decided to hold back then dig deep for the final stretch, and it worked. I sailed by the final few metres… and was shocked to see the clock at 24:xx. I hadn’t been looking at my watch throughout the race, instead focused on running by feel. And it turned out to be a great strategy.

According to my Garmin, my time was 24:49 — more than a minute faster than my personal best of 26 minutes! However, I believe the course was short, as my watch said the run was only 4.9 km. Still, I totally smashed my PB, and I was over the moon! Not bad for a “fun run.”

I gladly accepted a chocolate milk, ate some orange slices from the well-stocked food tent and made my way home. As I pulled in my driveway, I heard the fireworks (and wondered why they wouldn’t have gone off near the start of the race, while runners could see them over the harbour).

The run turned out to be a great experience, sailing through the dark with a sea of fluorescent runners. It felt good to be out of the blazing sun and gave me hope that I have some speed left in this mother runner legs of mine.

 

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.

Training for Half Marathon No. 5

The last couple of months have been a bit of a blur. I returned to working full-time, my baby turned one and somewhere in there, I trained for my fifth half-marathon.

Today I ran a nice, slow and hot 10K, for my taper long run. I ran from the west side to uptown and back. It was beautiful along Harbour Passage. It was toasty but manageable. Next weekend it’s 21.1 km – my first half-marathon post-baby – at Marathon By the Sea in Saint John.

Although I’ve managed to consistently get my weekend long runs in, the rest of the week has been lacking. Not much cross training, and only a couple other short runs.

Since my husband and I work opposite shifts, we haven’t needed to put our little guy in daycare. However, this means when I’m home, I’m on my own, which makes it hard to get those runs in. Jogging stroller to the rescue. Even if those runs are ultra-slow, and during the hot late-afternoon hours, at least it’s something.

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As a new mom, I’ve realized that while running is still important to me, it’s certainly not my top priority. This has changed the way I’ve looked at training for this half-marathon.

While I started with the best intentions of following a training plan with speed work, tempo runs and the like, it just didn’t happen. I just ran short runs when I could, and long runs on the weekend. That’s it.

For previous half-marathons, I meticulously tracked my pace, my workouts, my diet and my outfits. My selfie ratios were off the charts. Now, my phone is filled with baby pics. Who wants to look at my sweaty face when there’s a much cuter one next to me?

After last weekend’s long run of 18.5 km, I came home utterly exhausted and slightly nauseated to find that my husband had been struggling getting our little guy down for a nap. And Silas had just fallen asleep when I walked in the door. That meant not only did I not see him all during the work week, but also during a two-hour training run, followed by a two-hour nap. And for what? To feel sore and cruddy for the rest of the day? Sometimes, it all feels like a #momfail.

All this to say that I don’t think I’ve fallen out of love with running. It’s still important to me. It’s a simple and efficient way to keep relatively fit. And I still crave the endorphins. And I love to race. But, like most things in my life, the priority has shifted. I’m still trying to figure it all out.

Next weekend, though, will be awesome. I’ve taken part in Marathon By the Sea every year since I started running in 2011 (except last year, when I had a newborn). This year’s half-marathon course is different, and, rumour has it, more challenging. I love running across bridges, and this one includes both the Reversing Falls Bridge and the Harbour Bridge.

I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Let those sea breezes blow.

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The Saint John Harbour Bridge

My third half

In the past week, I’ve had a lot of rest.

I went to a hot yoga class with an emphasis on the hips, which was exactly what I needed after running 21 kilometres two days prior.

Thursday, I went for an easy 6-km run in uptown Saint John, along Harbour Passage and the south end loop. The air was clear and the sun was shining. The tide was high and the water was so blue. The air was sweet with roses. Some days, you can forget all the industry in this town even exists.

This weekend, I’m planning a spin class, and probably a long run as I get back into half-marathon training. Yes, again. I’m going for three in 2013. I want three medals for New Brunswick’s Tri-Cities Run challenge!

Two down, one to go:

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Reflecting on the race itself, I am pretty satisfied with my result.

The day was near-perfect, weather wise. It was sunny and just over 20 C. It felt cool at the starting line, but it didn’t take long to warm up.

I started off the race alongside Jen, my running buddy. I could tell she was ready to torque up the speed, so it wasn’t long before we parted ways. I wanted to find a steady pace I could hold for the whole race. My goal pace was 5:55 min/km.

But before pace was on my mind, I just enjoyed the start of the race. Saint John’s marathon event is unlike any others I’ve done because of the way the runners cascade down Crown Street. The sound of feet pounding the pavement is like hearing a herd of horses. The runners take over all four lanes until we reach the bottom.

The first loop around the south end was pleasant and steady. I didn’t feel too tired at all. I grabbed water from strapping Saint John firefighters right away since the sun was already making me feel hot.

At one point near the 8-km mark, I felt so good and alive and reached my hands up above my head and fist-pumped to my music. With Reversing Falls hill just ahead, that feeling was not to last.

I didn’t stop, but boy did I slow down. I smiled at a little boy who was being pushed in a jogging stroller by his dad (holy!) and pressed on, up, up, up, to the top, continuing the jog over the bridge with the roaring rapids below. I told myself I could have a rest break once I got past Moosehead Breweries, about a kilometre ahead. In fact, I made it to the 10-km mark before I took my first rest break, on level ground of Manawagonish Road.

After that, I kept up a steady pace to the turnaround point, and it was on the way back – about 14 km – when my light mood and easy pace started to feel tough. From there, I just focused on getting to the next water station on Douglas Avenue. I had small amounts of my gel for energy, but it didn’t seem to do much for me.

Getting going after that water stop was a challenge. But as I looked around, I could see others were feeling it too. I focused on running at a slower, steady pace. I got a little frustrated as my Garmin showed my pace slow to 6:15 or so. That was when I started questioning if I had done enough training, and why do I run such long distances anyway? It hurt. My hip hurt. My feet too.

Before long though, it was time for the final stretch. I felt no shame in walking the final hill leading to Mount Pleasant Avenue (or, Mount Unpleasant, as I’ve nicknamed it). Then I picked it up and pushed to the finish. I passed one person, which always feels good, and my fatigue turned to pure joy as I let gravity take me down the final hill. I smiled and waved at my work colleagues, my friends, my in-laws, my cheering aunt and my best friend: my husband, Mark (who had run the 5-miler).

I had stopped checking the time on my Garmin so I was pleased to see my time: 2:09, which was a seven-minute improvement over the same course last year. It’s not a personal best (that would be 2:01 on a much flatter course in Fredericton this spring), but it was really the best I could hope for.

Finishing such a race, and this distance, leaves you with immense satisfaction. It’s challenging, tough on the mind and body, but it’s absolutely achievable. And when you cross that finish line, there’s no feeling like it.

Just ask Tim Harte, of Coatesville, Pa., who broke a new marathon record on Sunday.

“I love the solitary nature of it and the discipline it takes,” he told the Telegraph-Journal, moments after crossing the finish line at 2:52:10. “And when I run, everything else in my life seems to find some order.”

Now, I’m ready for number three: Legs for LIteracy in Moncton. I ran 10-km at this event last year and loved it. A little more than two months of training to go.

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Oh, what a feeling

Feet stinging, legs aching, mouth smiling, I crossed the finish line in 2:09:09 today for my third half-marathon at the Marathon by the Sea.

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But the best part wasn’t beating last year’s time by a solid seven minutes.

It was having my lovely Aunt Marylou at the finish line – along with my husband, and mother and father in law, and several great friends and fellow runners. Yeah, I’m a pretty lucky girl.

Reflecting on the day, my pride is overflowing: for my mother-in-law, who defies being a senior by running five-miles in 1:10, my husband, for sharing my love of races and running five miles in less than 45 minutes (again!), and Jen, my best Saint John running buddy/pace bunny for blasting away her two hour goal.

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April, Jen, Margaret and Mark, moments before the run.

Race re-cap to come… for now I’m just basking in this post-run glow.

Perceptions and preparations

It’s funny how my perception of a half-marathon has changed in the past year. A year ago, when I thought about running 21 km for the first time, my stomach did somersaults.

Now I’m on my third half, and it kind of seems like it will be just another activity during a busy weekend.

But it’s only more reason to try and prepare ahead of time so I’m not scrambling on race morning. There’s nothing worse than having that bad dream – where you sleep in and arrive but the race has already started. (A variation of the ‘I slept through my exam’ dream or ‘showed up in my underwear’). A little preparation goes a long way to settling race-day nerves, and for me, it also means a sounder sleep the night before.

Here is my to-do list in preparation for Sunday’s run:

– Refresh my running playlist and download some new tunes.

– Charge my iPod and Garmin

– Pick out race day clothes according to the weather forecast and make sure they are clean and ready to go.

– Trim toenails to avoid ouchies (a recurring problem for me on long runs)

– Sleep lots. At least eight hours a night.

– Drink lots of water. Avoid alcohol.

– Eat carbs. Whoopeee!

– Try not to get sick. (Already failed this one. Had to make a stop at the walk-in clinic today)

I think that about covers it. As for my goal, I mainly want to beat last year’s time on this hilly, at times hellish, course. That means beating 2:16, which should be totally doable. I hope to come in under 2:10, which means a pace of slightly over 6 min/km, which I know I can handle. I’m not trying to beat my Fredericton time of 2:01 because the Saint John course it just so much hillier and I haven’t been running particularly fast lately.

I’m really looking forward to running in Marathon by the Sea for the third year in the row. It’s such a great event with so much enthusiasm, and there’s nothing like running in your own city.

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This adopted Maritime girl is ready to run by the sea!