Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My First Marathon

On Friday night, after showing my daughter my big puffed up and swollen toe, I went to bed all choked up and cried. My summer training was difficult with most of my long runs ending up in disaster due to fueling problems. I wanted to have a race without any drama or mishap.  I tried to get some sleep as I was supposed to catch the early train to Toronto the next morning.

There was a buzz on Twitter about a documentary titled “Transcend” and the first tweet I came across was from Noel Pain suggesting to someone to watch the movie for inspiration. I watched the trailer and decided I wanted to watch the movie. I was overwhelmed with my emotions, thinking, “How could I possibly run with my injured toe?” and decided to watch the movie that night. But the digital copy I purchased got to my inbox kind of late and I watched a bit of it and decided to leave it for my train ride. The train was smooth and I was able to watch ¾ of it. But I already was left with a lot to think about. On the film’s website was this explanation: “Transcend is the story of the elusive spiritual energy that is somehow forged in the intense rigor of long-distance running.” I tried to remember the spiritual energy. I had experiences of running in the woods feeling light and super fast as if I was floating in space and had the best feeling of calm and satisfaction during some of my runs. I had worked mentally on myself to visualize my race and reminded myself that during times of stress to channel back to those places and times and find the strength to keep moving forward.
I started walking from Union Station to the Sheraton and was still thinking about the movie. I have stayed a few times there before but this morning it was full of buzz and I could see many runners coming in and some heading out to catch shuttle buses to the Expo. I checked in my luggage and headed to the expo as well. I texted my friend Darren saying I’m here and we were trying to find each other. I picked up my bib and headed towards the main stage and met Darren and his partner Rob. 

All of a sudden there were lots of hugs, laughs, selfies, and many of my digital champs around us. These people were some of those who have been supporting and inspiring me along my journey. I was so delighted to see them and have a chance to embrace our friendship. I told them I’m going to see a few of the vendors and I’ll be back.

I got to see my running hero, Lanni Marchant at the Asics tent and she graciously accepted to pose with me. I had my running journal with me, on which I had plastered her record breaking picture of the previous year’s marathon. She signed it for me and wrote “make those legs go fast”. I was thrilled!

I visited Michael from Black Toe Running who I befriended back in April before my first 10K race in Toronto. I purchased a singlet which I really like a lot. My phone, which is broken, died again on me and Michael graciously let me charge my phone despite it being super busy. I was so grateful for his help.

I headed to Sketchers next and bought myself a nice pair of running shoes. I purchase running gear around the time of major races to keep the motivation going afterwards. I knew I needed a new pair of running shoes after my marathon. It was great chatting with the sales person and posing with giant Meb’s poster.

I visited Pace and Mind and chatted with Rejean Chiasson who is super cool, kind, and generous. I told him that I’d be using his services in the future and told him about my fueling problems and how through my research I had decided to use eLoad! I told him I already had a lot of bad experiences with fueling so trying something on the day of the race which I have not tried before won’t really hurt me as I have already suffered from many fueling mishaps. We shared some laughter and took a couple of pics which turned out blurry, but regardless I had a great time meeting him.

I headed back to the main stage and met Andrew, Emily, Petja, Cory, Karyn, Bridget, …Jenna from the Canadian Running Series invited me to join in for a group photo with all the digital champs. It was really nice to see everyone and embrace the friendship.

It was getting late and I headed back to my hotel. I did not have much breakfast on the train as when they got to me they had run out of eggs and bacon! The other stuff was loaded with sugar and I just could not bring myself to eat any of it. I had munched on a lot of Pretzels. I headed to the restaurant in the hotel at around 2 pm and when I saw the menu I asked the waitress if the chef could make a pasta dish with chicken and spinach with no creamy sauce and bit of olive oil. She said sure. That’s what I had.  It was plain but filling. I also made reservations for that night as my daughter was joining me later on. I had dinner around 7 pm and was not very hungry. My daughter and I shared a salad, pasta, and fruit desert. Late at night I was feeling hungry around 11:30 and I had my favourite peanut butter Cliff Bar.

I did not get any sleep. First of all, I have insomnia. Second, I don’t sleep well in hotels with their big pillows and industrial annoying noises. This room was booked 6 month in advance with a specific request for the quietest room! YEP. No, there is no such a thing as perfect still quietness in a downtown hotel in Toronto! I also had my painful big toe that was throbbing despite taking an Advil. I had told everyone that regardless of what this toe does to me, I am running my race! I was at the point where I was having a conversation my toe. I told it to $%#@ right off as I am running with or without it! 

I got up around 5. I may have had some naps here and there throughout the night. When I got out of the bed the first thing I noticed was as I walked to the bathroom there was no pain in my big toe. I was surprised but then I thought it’s taking its sweet time and will be back with vengeance. I had packed my favourite cereal which I take with almond milk. Then, I did my dynamic stretches and still no pain in the toe. I drank a glass of eLoad electrolyte and slowly got ready. My running gear for that day was the same old gear I had worn throughout my summer training months. 

Nothing was new except for my eLoad gels. I also took my energybits before leaving.I was going to wear my belt with all four bottles. I kept one as plain water and the other three had one eLoad gel in them. I had 4 eLoad gels, salt tablets to help prevent cramping, Honey Stingers, and eLoad discs. I know you might say that’s too much but bear with me.

I went to bathroom many times, but as soon as I headed to the lobby I had a strong urge to go empty my bladder again. I ended up in the line up of the hotel lobby as I did not carry my hotel key to get back to the room and did not want to wake up my daughter. I had told her to be close to the finish line around 12:30 as my goal was to finish my race under 4 hours. I’m glad I did go to the bathroom one last time. 

Walking to the Blue zone, I texted Christa as we were supposed to start together. We had chatted a few times about our goals and fueling and had wished each other good luck for that day. Christa said she was close to the blue zone sign but I could not locate her and I needed to focus. I texted her saying I can’t find her and good luck and that we’ll see each other later.

I moved to the front where I could see the pace bunny holding 3:45. I loved the techno upbeat music that was being played. I started jumping up and down to the rhythm and really enjoying the music while keeping warm. It was pretty cold that morning. I had a sweater to keep me warm but my bare legs were really cold. The sweater of course was tossed away at 3K! Then the line started moving slowly to the front and we started the race.

Going to the race I knew my own shortcomings and obstacles I was facing:

·       Low Iron
·       Severe fatigue due to fuel inefficiencies around 23K.
·       Running to the bathroom not being able to handle gels.
·       Toe injury: I was stupid enough to go for a trail run the Saturday before    the race and hit my big toe into a rock and had damaged it.
·       Calf cramps – Which had happened severely two times around 21 K.
·       Hamstring injury that tends to flare up from time to time when I speed up.
·       Dizziness at 30K and severe vertigo.
    Pain in the Left shoulder after 23K.
    Being sensitive to cold temperature.
    Not being able to run and fuel at the same with efficiency.

I kept my eyes on our pace bunny. I had made a promise to stick to my fuel plan to reduce and prevent any mishaps. I had told myself I will start fueling early on at 5K but could only take a ¼ of it and throw the rest out as I did not have time to tuck it back into my belt neatly without sticky stuff getting everywhere. I did not stop at any fueling station for water or Gatorade as I had my own supply. The first 10K was pretty fast and I knew I set a PR. Up to that point I was very focused on the bunny and tried not to be troubled by the huge number of people running so closely together. I had never run in a race like that before. It was too crowded and I felt I had no space. At some point there was a couple of aggressive female runners who elbowed me to get ahead. At one point when I tried to maneuver my way away from a slower runner she practically pushed me with one hand and angrily said GO! I also was trying to avoid colliding with a person on a wheelchair and misjudged my step and made another runner almost go down but she balanced herself back up and I started apologizing profusely. She was nice about it and moved on.

The most unforgettable memory of my marathon was seeing the elite runners heading back. We were running on the same road in opposite directions. Seeing them created an amazing feeling in all of us and we started cheering and clapping for them. I will remember that for the rest of my life!

At 12K I wanted to drink water and had to walk slowly as I have not yet developed the skills needed to drink and run without choking and coughing. That’s when the bunny got away. I could see him ahead of me but I was not longer with the front pack. 

For a split second I had the feeling of defeat. At that point I realized I had two choices: to run like I always have run my races with intensity and serious focus to fight through or just let it go. Just enjoy the journey regardless of the outcome. I chose the latter. All of a sudden there was a transformation in me. A strange feeling of calm swept through me and I began to relax and take it all in. 

I paid attention to the people running alongside me. I paid attention to people cheering us on. I saw a drone above and two teenagers encouraging people to wave their hands and smile and I joined in and I was surprised at my own action. This was all new. They noticed me and held their hands out for a high five and I did with a big smile. I wasn’t running with any specific person or pack. I was on my own but did not feel lonely. A few kilometers ahead I saw the same two teenagers running and saying, “There she is, there she is”…I started laughing when I saw them making their way to high five me again and I did. That was a totally awesome experience. 

I kept drinking my diluted gels and taking Honey Stinger chews. I was having a great time without experiencing any issues. I still checked with my toe once in a while but there was nothing there. I believe I had mentally cut my toe off of my body. I believe that day something bigger than myself had taken over my body and mind. 

As we approached the fork that split the ½ marathon people from the full marathon for a split second I thought what if I was to run ½? Of course I continued on my path and was grateful for a bit more space and freedom of movement. As I saw my time on the clock I knew I had set my second PR that day for my ½ marathon. But I also knew that I start having problems after 21K. I started paying attention to my body. I took a couple of salt pills. I tried to force down a gel. I drank at every water station and Gatorade. I was willing to do anything to prevent cramps and fatigue. But every stop meant adding minutes to my time, as my biggest weakness is not being skillful and fast to fuel and keep running.

Exactly at 23K I started feeling tension in my left leg running all the way from my glute to my calf. Just like a rigid line. I realized when I eased up on my pace that the pain would subside and as I pushed to keep the 5:30 to 5:40 pace the tension would come back. I decided I didn’t want to risk it. The funny thing is I don’t have a habit of checking my Garmin and calculating pace. I listen to my body to set my pace. What I tell you about numbers is after the fact when I looked at the numbers which confirmed what I knew all along. 

I had lost the 3:45 pace bunny a long time ago. I kept seeing 3:55 for a while but I lost that one too. But they did not upset me. I just had accepted the fact that I wouldn’t be under 4 hours but I would finish the race. I saw many people on the side of the road pulling out and holding their calfs or hamstring. I saw a few people asking runners if they needed help. I did not want to be in that position. I decided to slow down and finish the race. 

I started to enjoy the experience more fully. I waved at two women who were playing Lady Gaga from their balcony and cheering us. I told them LOVE THE MUSIC! And they cheered a bit louder. I had a gentlemen passing me by saying you’re doing awesome lady! I smiled saying thank you! And he was gone. I spotted Mike Thornton and waved at him with a big smile and he was able to nod at me. I could see a bit of stress on his face and thought to myself he’s such a strong and fast runner and he’s almost home heading back and here I am just starting to head down. How would I look like when I’m coming back? Read his story here. I saw Ravi yelling and waving at him saying almost done.

My mantra is “Almost Home”. People called out my name saying “Looking strong Mahnaz”. I guess mentally I had pushed away all doubts, fears, and obstacles that day and I was coming out as a strong runner. Although my pace may not show it but my face and body was telling other runners and spectators I was enjoying myself and looked strong. Afterwards, some of the runners who had spotted me told me I looked very strong. The spectators were phenomenal. One Iranian volunteer who saw my name started running on the sidewalk yelling in Farsi and English giving me words of encouragement and was so happy see me that was beyond belief. At this point, I was with a group of 4 or 5 male hard core runners who were quietly running side by side but upon seeing that volunteers enthusiasm could not help themselves and break out a loud laughter turning to me saying that must be nice! AND it was. Thank you to those random strangers who were handing out bananas! It hit the spot! 

I gave words of encouragement when I saw someone was clearly struggling. Everyone struggles at some point. The only difference is the intensity and the level of the struggle. Any kind of encouragement is welcomed. I kept saying “We’re almost there” “You’ve got this”. 

I also remembered the advice from my friend Myron and high fived every kid that was holding their hands out. A few times I even maneuvered through the crowd to get to those kids. I loved their smiles and enthusiasm and I was filled with love and motivation to keep moving forward.

I thanked all the volunteers at the hydration stations. I kept chewing eLoad disks as I feared dehydration and cramps onset based my long runs’ experience.

The last 5k became challenging for me. I felt I could not lift my legs up. According to my podiatrist I shuffled my way through! I have small, quick steps to begin with. I’m not your typical running poster girl with tall, lean legs, perfect running posture smiling through finish line. I have scoliosis which somewhat makes me hunch over a bit around my shoulder. I have to continuously remind myself shoulders back, open up chest, and breathe. Well, at least I try to stick with it for a while. My two big toes have bunions which according to my doctor makes my running less efficient due to loss of flexibility of ligaments around the toes and how everything from the toe to the back of my neck are connected and makes me a shuffler.

I was shuffling the last 5K and the mantra from “Almost home” had become “I am going to finish this”. I had managed to take a gel at 21K and one at 30K. I had finished my water and two of my gel diluted bottles. I had finished my hydration discs. I had finished my chews. I had finished my salts. The last 400m seemed too long. At each turn I expected the run to finish. 

As I saw the finish line a smile came on my face. I remembered why I wanted to run a marathon. To challenge myself, to test my own ability and strength, to symbolize my freedom from barriers and those who had tried push me down or pull me back for whatever reason, and to run for those who had become prisoners around the world for expressing their thoughts and beliefs. I was running for all of us. How lucky was I to run freely and be cheered on by random strangers? How lucky was I to be alive and free!

I crossed the finish line with a sense of calm and started walking without getting emotional. I was at peace. I was quiet. On the day of my marathon I acted so unlike me. Who was this person who just ran a marathon and is not jumping up and down with smile and expressive emotions hugging every random person in her path. I was totally a different person on the day of my marathon. When a volunteered offered a bottle of water I looked her in the eye with a quiet voice and said could you please take the cap off? She did and I took the bottle and continued on. I saw a runner sitting in the corner throwing up. I saw people hugging, laughing, crying….I kept walking. I got my medal and told the volunteer I would give him a hug but I was way too sweaty and wet. 

I made my way to where you could meet your family members. I texted my daughter to let her know I was there. She came and we embraced and hugged. She had my warm clothes which I put on very quickly and felt how cold I was. I told her all day I did not feel cold. She said it’s been very cold and she has been shivering. I left my running shoes behind for someone to take home. When I asked the volunteers where I could leave my shoes they didn’t know. I just left them at the square! I wore my comfy Sketchers GoWalks. Then I realized how my big toe was hurting! The pain was back with a vengeance. We headed back to the hotel. I hardly could walk. The muscle cramping on the left side and the cold weather were working together to paralyze me. In my foggy, hazy mode I did not take any photos post marathon showcasing me with my medal or posing where all the banners were. As soon as we got back to the hotel, I took a shower, Advil, salt tablets, and energy bits. 

I headed downstairs in my sweat pants, head towel, and bathrobe. The guy in the elevator in suit gave me a quick look and looked down at his feet. I made him a bit less apprehensive by saying I just ran a marathon and I think earned the right to go for my massage in my head towel and sweat pants ;-) He chuckled looking at me saying you are absolutely right! The Chinese lady at the Senses Spa gave me the best massage ever! She also gave my legs some pretty good stretches which was much needed. 

We headed to Earl’s Restaurant after where I had a huge chicken salad with avocado and was still wearing my medal. There was a huge table in the middle full of Spanish speaking people, two of whom also were wearing their medals. We raised our medals, smiled and nodded knowing what we had just accomplished. 

Heading back home, I tried to find my results online but I couldn’t and asked Tweeps if anyone knew what my time was. At the same time that Paul tweeted my results I saw it. It was 4:13:57. I led out a big omg! and put my hands on my face. You see when I crossed the finish line I saw 4:25 something and I wasn’t sure what my time was as my Garmin decided to die only .29 to the finish line. 

I was so happy to see my time. I watched the movie Transcend again and this time my perspective was somewhat altered. I was watching it as a marathoner.

~ Facts ~

*On race day I was 47 years old.
*I started running more frequently as of summer of 2013.
* I started training for my first ½ marathon in Sept 2013 and ran a 2:08 in        November 2013
*I started running regularly as of Dec 2013.
*I had to stop running for a while due to being severely anemic. (April to the end of May 2014)
*Trained for my 1st marathon on my own through studying and researching materials and info online. I ran some of my long runs with the Running Room. I ran some shorter runs with London Pacers and MEC.
* I did not have as many as speed training I had hoped for. There were some but not enough.
*I did not have a lot of tempo runs. I was weak, out of breath with severe heart palpitations.
*I managed to run my long runs either on a Friday, Sat, Sunday or Monday. Regardless, I managed to run it. I ran when I felt happy and I knew I could run it.
*I got my first two black toes from running on treadmill when Polar Vortex had hit lows of -33 in February of 2014
* I got black toe on my big toes and the nail growth has been ridiculously slow despite good nutrition.
*I got a new black toe right after my marathon.
*I have lost a toenail!
*I had severe ligament injury around the big toe and after my marathon it became worse and it is only now that it has begun to feel better.

What Do I need to Work on?

·       Fueling
·       Speed work

To me, my first marathon could have been much better. I could have made Boston qualifying time with proper speed work and fueling. I would like to consider my first marathon as a test drive. I have goals and I am determined to do better.

I work odd hours and as a single mom have some restrictions around what I can do. But I think I need help to figure out how I can achieve my goals despite all the issues facing me. Where there is a will there is a way. I just have to find the way.

What worked?

* Mental Strength and decisiveness
*eLoad – I did not have any adverse reaction to eLoad. FYI – During the entire race I did not have to stop at any bathroom station. That was a huge success.
*Honey Stinger
*Cliff Bar
*My belt
*I did not experience any problems during my marathon run that I usually had experienced during my long runs. 

Thank you!

*CanadianRunning Series: For providing me an opportunity to run my first marathon and have one of my greatest life experiences through their venue. Thank you for your support on Twitter and Instagram through comments, retweets, and including my training photos on your blog. Thank you Alan Brooks for your support.
*JasonFitzgerald: I learned a lot from his blogs and emails. He is very generous to share his knowledge and his materials are accessible. I really like his pre and post run stretches and core workouts.
*CoachRejean Chiasson: We had a quick chat on Twitter after I learned one of the digital champs, Christa Davidson was training with him. He is the founder of Pace and Mind and immediately followed me on Twitter and Instagram. A short blog he had before our marathon taught me how to incorporate sports drinks into my diet a few days before the race.  I started paying attention to my hydration and diet two weeks prior to my race. But reading this article helped a lot as well.
*Pulse-SpinStudio: Shayne and Monica are one of the nicest and giving couple in the business. I trained at their studio with a break this past summer due to being low in iron. But I’ll be back at their studio again.
*Both MokshaYoga and YogaShack for giving me a nice hot room to practice those much need moves to strengthen my core and back.
*RunningRoom in London Ontario: Thank you to all staff and instructors who supported me. I had some really good times with my running buddies. For my marathon training, I was able to join the running room for some of my long runs and I would not have been able to finish those long runs had it not been for the group help. A special thank you goes out to Barry for encouraging me to hang in there during one of my toughest long runs 32K this past summer. Last but not least a huge thank you goes out to Angie at the running room for being a good listener, supporter, and running friend. Looking forward to more runs with you.
* Thank you London Pacers and MEC for your support and friendship. You are the greatest bunch to run trails with!  I consider running trails as a form of cross training which prepared for my marathon. Trail running is also where I find peace and I can meditate.
*Thank you all of my digital champions from Canadian Running Series for inspiring me and keep the motivation going. There are many of you  out there, if we chatted on Twitter or Instagram you know this heartfelt thank you is for you.

*Thank you for Running Room, Runners’ Choice, New Balance London, and MEC for all your services. As you can see I shop everywhere and I run with all sorts of groups.

* Thank you to all of those who donated to Amnesty , the charity I had chosen in support of freeing prisoners of conscience around the world.

*Thank you to all of those who follow me on Twitter and Instagram and provided support throughout my journey. Your words of support meant a lot to me.

* A very special thank you to my daughter who planted the seed of running seriously in my heart. When she registered for her first ½ marathon and I waited for her to arrive I visualized myself crossing the finish line. First was a  marathon, then the goal became marathon, and now I have registered for my first ultra marathon 50K. Thank you for inspiring your mama bear.

* Last but not least. A very special thank you to my little ninja who acted as my coach and photographer at times and providing words of encouragement saying “I’m proud of you”! He loves math and one way to spend time together was for him to record my times during my speed training. I cherish the moments I shared with my son.

"The medal is displayed in my ninja's room."

*Freedom* Moving Forward*Focus*Determined*

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