Ottawa Race Weekend: My First Marathon!

It was May 1st when I finally accepted the fact that it was time for me to transfer from the 10k race I was originally registered for if I was going to attempt running the full marathon on Race Weekend.

May 28th was the big day, with our race starting at 7am. So I decided that I would take the car in favour of getting a bit more sleep. Normally I would have taken the bus, just to avoid the anxiety I get driving downtown, and with unpredictable road closures. So this was a big step for me! Turns out that this was the best decision, too! I hopped onto the empty highway, and straight into the City Hall underground parking lot! All of which couldn’t have taken me more than 15 minutes, and a mere $2 for parking. And then all I had to do is basically roll out of my car and onto the race course, because I was basically parked right at the starting line! Sweet.

With plenty of time to spare, I walked over to the Eagle statue at Confederation Park, where our Running Room group traditionally meets up for a photo together before the race.

This is where I found my 4:45 training group, and we decided to start the race off together. Many of us, myself included, intended to think of this race as another Sunday long run to enjoy, no pressure.

The first 10km started out brilliantly. We were jamming to the pop-up music spots they had on the sidelines, chatting, cheering, flirting with random men in uniform, and taking selfies. 😉

I also had the RTRT.ME app on me, which was so cool because it allowed me to track where all my running friends were located along the course as we were running the marathon!

It was once we hit the double digit kilometres that our group started to whittle down as some people fell back/were smart and pacing themselves for the first half. It was still early but already the day was starting to warm up quickly!

It was at the half-marathon point that it hit me. I started to get really lightheaded and nauseated and couldn’t even begin to imagine how I was going to complete that entire distance all over again. So I forced myself to take a walking break and eat some of the salty pretzels that I had thought to bring with me. (My stomach had angrily protested me consuming any more energy gels after the second one.) I also decided that I would stop at every water station and be sure to take multiple cups of water (in addition to the 2.5L of nuun on my back). The orange slices in particular were a welcome treat! I could’ve set up camp and eaten my own weight in those!!

I had a feeling it was the heat doing me in. After training in sub-zero weather for months, this was our first really hot day. And I had never done long runs in this type of weather before. So I was a bit out of my element. By 25km the migraine started kicking in, but I was determined that if I just ate enough pretzels and oranges and kept drinking all the liquids I would be fine! I was still keeping up a good pace. (Except for that moment when I stopped to look over the bridge, because I’m a sucker for anything to do with water, haha!)

Towards the end, around Rockliffe Park, a girl came up to me while I was taking a walk break and said that she needed some support. Turns out she was a 2x Boston Marathon runner who had a baby 9 months ago, might possibly be pregnant again, and was definitely feeling it. We tried running a few times, as my technique was to run and take walking breaks, but she didn’t have anything left in her. It was at this point that she said I could go ahead and continue my run, and that she would probably just leave the race. In the end I decided that we would finish the marathon together. And, let me tell you, walking for me turned out to be a lot more painful than running!! At some points I had to jog slowly beside her just to take the edge off. While I was really disappointed to see my sub 5-hour goal go by, I’m happy that I was able to make a new friend and help her through a difficult time. We chatted and got to know one another, we cursed the heat and our aching legs – making the people around us laugh.

And she was truly impressed by all the Orleans Running Room support that we continually encountered along the course – “I don’t know where Orleans is, but it sounds great!”

We made it across the finish line together in the end! And, really, it’s the experience that matters most on race day. I couldn’t have asked for a more memorable first marathon.

Here’s a quick video highlighting my first marathon; little clips recorded at certain mile markers. Upon looking back on the footage I was pretty amazed to discover that the two of us actually started out running the race together too and we didn’t even know it!! Amazing.

Possibly because of all the walking, and just taking the last half of my marathon so easy, I didn’t really have a recovery period afterwards. It really was just like a Sunday long run! I wasn’t stiff or sore the next day, and was ready to continue my training within a few days. So that was nice!

Still trying to figure out what my second marathon will be. I’m looking forward to hitting my sub-5 hour goal next time!!

Above is a photo taken right after the race when I got my medal, and below is me at the Running Room Marathon Clinic party afterwards, where we celebrated graduating from marathon training! I’m standing with my wonderfully amazing group leader, Leslie. I couldn’t have done it without her!!


Running Threshold VO2 Max Test Results

My original post where I describe the testing process is located here:

The results are now in, and I’ve had a chance to sit and look through the paperwork to try and make sense of it all. Not too surprisingly, my lactate values indicate that I still have work to do on building up my aerobic base. While I’m amazed by how fast I have become capable of running, I do feel it when I am out there on my longer runs. Anything over 10km and you will see a steady decrease in speed as I struggle to keep going with the same intensity. Clearly I have to focus on longer runs and building up my endurance to be out there longer, so that I can achieve my goal of running marathons!

The next set of results show my “pace zones” as following:

Zone 1 (race pace for events lasting 3+ hours):
10min/km – 7:30min/km

Zone 2 (events lasting from 40mins – 3 hours):
7:30min/km – 5:52min/km

Zone 3 (events lasting from 20-40mins):
5:52min/km – 5:33min/km

Zone 4 (between anaerobic/lactate threshold & VO2 Max):
5:33min/km – 5:00min/km

Zone 5 (VO2 Max pace for events lasting 2-6mins):
5:00min/km +

For Sunday long runs we are supposed to be in our Zone 1 in order to build up our aerobic base/endurance. I had been running a little on the fast side, so it looks like I can bring down the pace even more to reap the benefits of my distance training. For my long runs I think I should be out there for a good 4 hours at least to get my legs used to working for that long.

So now I’m wondering how long it will take me to build up a good base from this point on, and whether I should delay my next marathon race from October until perhaps April/May of next year, when I’ll probably be a bit stronger and notice more of a difference.

The test results also showed that I am an efficient runner, which probably explains how I managed to get so fast despite my fitness level, lol!! My VO2 Max came out at 38.8ml/kg/min.

The last little bit was information on nutrition, and proper fueling during training. That is, how many grams of carbohydrates and even proteins I should be consuming during a run to help maintain and even enhance my performance. Because I have a pretty strong stomach, I’m actually thinking of bringing a little protein bar with me for my long runs now, to incorporate along with my gels and electrolyte drink! I’m definitely curious to see how that goes.

Refining my Training as a Runner

On August 8th I went in for an assessment with the Peak Centre for Human Performance in Kanata. Our Summer Marathon Clinic group had a talk from them a couple of weeks back about finding the right pace-zones to get the most out of your training – a good slow pace for your long runs, a challenging fast pace for tempo. We were all really motivated by what we had heard, and so approximately 40 of us ended up signing up to get tested (at a pretty sweet discount!).

It was really easy to book the appointment online, and I was quick to receive a confirmation email which said that I was scheduled for my preferred day and time. Woohoo!

When I arrived I was given some basic paperwork to fill out, and a waiver for what they called the VO2 Max testing. Then they brought me into the room and got me set up. First I put the heart rate monitor around my chest – just like the one I have at home – only they use a conductive gel on the pads to ensure a good reading. We discussed a good pace for me to start at, which would be recovery/Sunday long run speed. For me that was about 7:30min/km on their chart. I warmed up for a few minutes on their treadmill and the person testing me agreed that this would be a good starting pace. It was time to begin!

I neglected to bring any water, so I popped my head into their sink like the graceful creature that I am. Then the contraption of doom I had heard so much about from so many before me was placed upon my face: The Mask. It was a tiny rubbery thing that went over my nose and mouth. Even though I was fully aware that it would make me feel incredibly claustrophobic, I still felt momentarily startled, like “I can’t run with this on my face!” as it feels like you can’t quite get enough air in. I managed to wiggle it around to a point where I felt I could fully open my mouth and nose (which did feel a bit pinched initially), and then I calmed and was ready.

Back onto the treadmill I went. They attached some tubes that went into and out of my mask so that they could monitor my breathing. I glared at the tubes and silently hoped that they would be able to keep up with my air demands.

I started off on the treadmill at my Sunday long run slow-and-steady pace and held that for 3 minutes before they would increase the speed by 1km/h (if I’m recalling that correctly). All of which would be at a 2% incline. Before increasing speed, however, they would take a quick blood sample from my finger. I would place my hand on the side armrest of the treadmill, and they would quickly lance my finger and squeeze out a bit of blood.

Of course, by no surprise to me, I have cold hands with no circulation, and so I pretty much needed to be pricked a fresh hole for every cycle. I didn’t mind as it wasn’t painful. My history with blood tests at this point leads me believe that one would have better luck extracting blood from a stone than from my body!

My goal was to keep running for as long as possible to ensure we were able to collect enough data for my results. I was doing alright with my breathing, even though I did have to straighten out the tube to my mask a few times as it would get caught on the treadmill screen. I kept my mind occupied by watching the computer screen before me, which showed the elapsed time (I wanted to keep going for at least 20 minutes), my heart rate (the heart rate monitor beeping insessantly below me, reminding me that I was pushing myself, in case I wasn’t aware..), and my VO2 readings (which were constantly fluctuating and, if indicative of my VO2 Max, not very impressive).

At one point during what I deemed to be my last run cycle (I was just barely maintaining that speed!), I glanced down at my Garmin and saw that my pace was reading 3 minutes per km! I nearly flew off the treadmill in shock – I have never run that fast before!! Suffice it to say, I broke my records for fastest kilometre and mile run that day! I was positively giddy.

So for me it was definitely the legs that gave out first. Most people reported back that it was their lungs – feeling claustrophobic, not getting enough air in through the mask. I feel a bit disappointed that I couldn’t keep it up for one more 3 minute cycle, and that if I hadn’t seen my pace then maybe I could have. But then I remember I was just barely keeping it together long enough for him to take that last blood sample. When I was able to slow down a bit and catch my breath it was easy to say “let’s keep going!”, but that’s not how the test works.

All in all, it was definitely an interesting experience and I’m looking forward to seeing my results, which will help guide my training!