No doubt by now you have seen many strategies for completing your first marathon. However, as this will be my 3rd time running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, I thought I would share with you the way I have learned to compartmentalize key sections of the course to help you prepare for race day.
THE NERVE CENTRE
COURSE SECTION – PRE-RACE CORALS
The start of the race is a magical place that feels surreal as anticipation and excitement come to a head while you navigate an electrically charged sea of thousands of like-minded runners ready to go! Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran, this is where you will second guess your breakfast, wring your hands over lost sleep, feel too hot and cold at the same time, and worry that you might have to pee for the 5th time in the last 30 minutes before the start.
Take a deep breath, talk to runners around you, make some new friends, shake a hand or two with a friendly “have a good run” to help you calm down and before you know it, you’ll be off.
COURSE SECTION – 0-6K
Adrenaline is a powerful thing, heightened by months of anticipation for the race you just started running a few seconds ago! You are probably not a sprinter, but you may feel like one as you fly out of the chute in hot pursuit of those around you, passing runners and spectators along the streets of Toronto as they cheer you on. I will break this to you before your body does, but the marathon is not a sprint and you are not a sprinter.
If you feel like you are running with the bulls of Spain for the first 6k, check your pace, check your heart rate, and ask yourself “could I keep this up for 20k? For 42.2k?” If your answer is “no”, then slow way down and fall into your practiced race pace. This may feel very easy for you, and that’s great because you want to run strong from the start.
LIVE OLYMPIC-STYLE COVERAGE BLVD
COURSE SECTION – 7-12K
Did you realize you are running with some of the best Olympic-class runners at STWM? You are, and it’s amazing to see them pushing their limits as you push yours. Naturally, these runners are going to be way faster than you, so your best chance to see them is on the turnaround leg of the Lakeshore Blvd section in the first 12k of the race. I strongly suggest picking your favourites before the race and yelling their names and cheering them on as they pass you, Eastbound to your left, in all their elite glory!
THIS JUST GOT REAL, I’M RUNNING A MARATHON
COURSE SECTION – 13-21K
The adrenaline is burnt off by now. but you’re still flying high from seeing the elites fly by, and you have hopefully found your practiced pace and are settling in. This is a great point for a self-assessment to make sure you’re following your fuel plan, and to celebrate that you’re actually running a marathon! Wave to the spectators and soak it all in. Say good-bye to your 21.1k friends as they head off to the finish line, and gear up for the half-way point to your 42.2k.
COMMISSIONING YOUR PHOTO
COURSE SECTION – 22-25K
This part of the course can be a bit quiet, so why not have some fun!? You can find me on this section of the course making faces and practicing my finish line pose. You’ve practiced everything else for race day, but how much time did you spend trying to smile and run at the same time? I also use this time to praise the spectators and volunteers with a thanks or a wave. They are true saints for making it out to this part of the course and seeing them will instantly lift your spirits.
MEETING YOUR BEACH BODY
COURSE SECTION – 26-32K
At around 30k, you’ll hit the Beaches and you may start to feel a little tired. It may feel like you’re running on sand if you went out too hard in the beginning, so it’s time to fuel up physically and emotionally. Lucky for you, this section of the race is quite lively, with distractions of music and cheering spectators, and official and unofficial aid stations, including adorable children handing out bananas and oranges in exchange for a high five. What more could you ask for to fuel your body and lift your spirits as you push pass 30k?
EASTERN AVENUE SPECTATORS PROMISES
COURSE SECTION – 33-40K
Running along Eastern Avenue, you will come across well-meaning spectators yelling “Not that much further now”, even though 7k may seem like a long way from the finish line. That said, this section is where the grit comes in. You’re in the last tough leg of the race, but it’s far from over as you dig deep and push on. Luckily, this section has no shortage of spectators with great signs who will call out to you by name as you run by. This section has always given me renewed fire and strength each time I have run by it in the past.
FINISHING SPRINT HIGH FIVE CHALLENGE
COURSE SECTION – 40.2-42.2K
You are so close that you can taste it. The course markers are now counting down in meters, and you start to feel like a champion as you hear the names of finishers being called over the loud speaker, just up ahead. It is in this area that I like to have family and friends waiting for me along the sidelines, cheering for me as I press on to the finish. I highly recommend sweeping high fives as you pass by your loved ones, and then going all out for the last 200m, giving all you have left as you complete your marathon!
You have come this far, and you’re going to feel tired and beat up, but this is your moment, this is your push to the finish line, this is what all your training has been leading up to, so kick it into high gear. Trust me, you’ll feel like you’re flying and nothing beats spectators cheering or yelling out “Omg. ___ (insert your name here) is sprinting to the finish!” Then remember that pose you practiced down on Commissioners Road and smile for the camera.
DIRTY WALKERS PARADE OF TRIUMPH
COURSE SECTION – RACE FINISH/THE NEXT DAY
It’s over. Catharsis settles in as you feel the weight of your finishers medal around your neck and you proceed with the hallmark march of a marathon finisher. You move sweaty, smiling and triumphant with the gait of a zombie movie extra (aka dirty walking.)
For the rest of the day you will feel the accomplishment of your achievement and the camaraderie of your fellow runners congratulating each other. In the finish area you’ll shuffle along towards much-appreciated volunteers who will hand you silver and red running hero capes (space blankets) to keep you warm, and food from a buffet of all the goodies you probably gave up to train for this event.
This moment of pride, and the dirty walking, will live on after the race and well into the week ahead so I strongly suggest wearing your medal and/or race shirt to work on Monday to really let the achievement sink in. You know what they say, “How do you know someone ran a marathon? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”
Once you let the race day experience settle in, you’ll realize that the anticipation was half the fun, and while STWM is over and you’re still walking funny, you’ll already be dreaming about running it better and faster next year, and looking forward to that is the best feeling of all.
What’s YOUR favorite part of the STWM course? Let us know in the comments below.