You would have thought it would be hilly.
As I looked around, I saw the rough and tumble terrain of the Laurentians; a plethora of ski hills, and; lakes, rapids and winding roads. Not the terrain of a fast marathon.
From our hotel in Val-David, the scenery was breath taking. Leaves turning, cottages set against the sunset, and election sights of all colours reminding me that this was, of course, still reality.
The next morning, I was preparing to set out on a 42.2 kilometre journey – from the small town of Val-David to the finish line in the industrial city of Saint Jerome.
The P’tit Train du Nord is a recreation area / bike path / cross-country ski destination for all types of athletes and outdoors people. For one time per year however, the multipurpose gravel path is reserved for runners, exclusively.
The P’tit Train du Nord Marathon begins in Val-David, a small hamlet town that is usually quiet and laid back, except on marathon morning. The course then winds through the Laurentians on a former rail line past scenic rapids, rolling hills and little cottages never decreasing or increasing in elevation more than five percent gradient.
After months of training under coach Dylan Wykes and Mile2Marathon, I got to the start line on the crisp morning. Frost covered the ground and I was shuffled into the coral 20 minutes before the race began. Keeping warm during this period was a challenge, as the sun had not quite eclipsed the trees and mu support team had already headed down the road.
When the East African competitors were shuffled into the corals, the race began and many took off like rockets. Knowing my goal, I kept a fierce eye on my watch, not wanting to risk going too hard too early – it is after all, the Marathon.
Before I knew it, I had hit four kilometres and my dad handed me my first bottle. After quickly getting the fueling process started with my Endurance Tap Gel, I was able to take in the scenery while trying to find a group to run with.
At the beginning of the race, there was much flocculation – groups formed and dissolved, sped up and sped down, or simply vanished. At about seven kilometres, and before the biggest elevation drop in the course, I was forced to make a decision. I looked behind and saw that no one was in sight, and only 50 metres ahead, a group formed. I made an effort to close the gap, knowing that although I would be running a bit faster than planned, being in a group is better than being alone.
When I caught the group at about 9 or 10 kilometres into the race, we began the fast descent together. I was warry that the significant drop over such a long period would destroy the quads, but I was helped by the shoes and the fact that many of the guys around me seemed to be marathon veterans. My main objective during this period was to turn off my brain and just settle into the pace. What didn’t help were that the kilometre markers were counting up (official race markers) and down (official trail markers) so it felt like such a long way to go.
I got my next bottle and gel at 16K and still felt good – at this point the course had flattened out and the legs seemed to not have felt the negative impacts of the downhill. I still battled to focus, tune the distance out, and run.
For me, the marathon is about not recognizing that you are working at all until 30K but by half way, I felt that I needed to keep focus on running the required pace. My group split half way at 1:26:59, which was about 30 seconds faster than I intended, but splitting a bit faster is not the worst thing in the world. That time is also my half marathon personal best. From here, I told myself that to run my goal time; I could afford to slow down by a minute, but ventured on at the same pace.
When I got the my final bottle at 29K, I knew I was on a good race, but still was worried about blowing up. As soon as I got the nutrition down, I turned around to see my group was gone. One guy had surged ahead, but the remainder of them were simply gone – over 100 metres back. From now, it was time to push along alone. Although I caught a couple of others, running the last 13 kilometres would be a lonely venture and take real mental toughness.
From about 10K to go, things began to get easier mentally. I continued telling myself that I had “40 minutes to run” or that this is the distance of a short/easy run to make the distance feel more manageable. I continued to pick guys off one at a time, but the path was long and straight, a factor which didn’t help.
The worst feeling was my flat feet being supported by the shoes, the toes I could feel blistering, and the nails I could feel turning black – but that is, once again, the marathon.
When I hit 40K I knew I was going to break my goal time, but I did not want to hold back. Knowing I was tired I waited until about 800 metres to go before I tried to increase my cadence knowing that the marathon could still come back to bite me. I powered to the finish fist pumping, gesturing to the crowd, and yes, hot-dogging. It was great.
I also crossed the line with a time of 2:54:22. A 16-minute personal best. Oh, and a Boston Qualifier!
Reflecting on the race – I am content, ecstatic, and elated. It took a couple days to sink in to the fact that I am going to Boston. But I am not satisfied. I know I can go far faster over the marathon and intend to do so the next time I toe the line.
I told some people the other day that I am “only 43 minutes off the Olympic standard.” (it was mostly tongue and cheek)
Until Boston 2021 however, I do not plan on running another marathon. What I need to work on is my speed, so I plan on running an indoor track season and running five and ten kilometre races over the summer. Next fall, I hope to run some cross country (my favourite surface), and then in 2021 I will go faster.
Now, for some much needed rest.
Thanks for reading.