For Jacob

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This is a story of firsts.  My first marathon, and my first child.

If you’ve been following along with my story from the beginning, you may recall that in Why do I Run? I explained that you’d have to wait for the real meaning behind why I continue to run.  Well, the wait is over.

If you’re expecting a lighthearted tale about my first marathon, I’m afraid that this won’t be it.  I was more than a little hesitant to write about this subject matter, but I feel that it may be helpful to a number of people who will find themselves in the same situation that my wife and I did.  Having said that, if this resonates with you, or you feel it may help somebody else, please share it with them.  That is why I am writing, as I know when we went through or tough times, we searched for the stories of others.  With all of that being said, here we go.

After tackling the Around the Bay 30 k race, I had decided that a marathon in May was definitely not something I was ready for.  I completed another half-marathon in May instead, and shortly thereafter, I signed up for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon to be held the following October.

Around the same time, my wife and I had decided that we wanted to start our family.  I can recall that in June of 2014, on the night before the last day of the school year, my wife told me that she was pregnant.  Obviously, this was amazing news, and we were both really excited for the upcoming addition.  There were even a few tears of joy shed.  My wife was due in February of 2015.

I had established a good base fitness level from the 30 k and half-marathon training, and after a little break post half, I set my sights on training for the full marathon.

I used the Runner’s World Smart Coach training program (the free version), which I still use for my programs today.

That summer, we had some friends from Sweden visit us and showed them around Ontario.  We had shared our happy news with our families and a few close friends, and revealed our news to our visitors too, as we knew it would be difficult to hide it from them since they would be cohabitating with us for two weeks.

My training was moving along nicely, and I was beginning to feel more comfortable at the higher distance levels.  In addition, I had learned my lesson about nutrition at the 30 k, and had started to use some energy gels.

Things were moving along nicely with my wife’s pregnancy as well.  The time for the first ultrasound came, and we were super excited to get to hear our child’s heartbeat, as well as get our first glimpses of them.  I remember my wife coughed at one point and we saw our little one do a little flip.  Truly an incredible experience.

In September, we moved into our first house.  We had been living in an apartment following our time in Sweden, as we figured (correctly) that moving back to Canada, having our wedding, and buying a house, would have been too much.

We found a nice spot that was good for us, and settled in.  The nursery was set up, and our excitement was growing.

The marathon was also fast approaching, only about five weeks away at this point.

I had managed to get my long runs up to just over the 32 km mark.  When training for marathons, I like to add 200 m to my runs to simulate the final 200 m of the 42.2 km marathon distance.  Just a little quirk that I include in my program.

I felt fairly confident that I would be able to finish the marathon, but at this time, was not 100% sure.  I set the following goals for the big day:

  • Finish.  At the very least, regardless of time, I needed to finish it.
  • Beat Oprah’s time of 4:29:15 (I figured if she could do it, I could too, and 4.5 hours seemed pretty respectable as a finish time).
  • Finish in 4:12:00, I figured if I ran pretty well by my standards, this was the time I could get.
  • Finish under 4:00:00, if things were going really well, I was kind of hoping to break 4 hours, but not expecting it by any means.

Much more importantly, things were progressing with my wife’s pregnancy.  She was showing, and our baby was making their presence felt with kicks and pokes which my wife felt regularly, and I was fortunate enough to feel occasionally.  I also started getting into the habit of talking to our baby by speaking to my wife’s belly.

A couple of months after the first ultrasound, we went in for the second. We were even more excited for this one, as we knew we could find out the gender of our child.  We both wanted to find out the gender, as we felt we could not wait for the big day.

My wife went in for the ultrasound, and I was invited in some time later. Unfortunately, we were told that due to the position of the baby, they could not determine the gender.  It turns out, our baby was being shy.  I joked that I was OK with this, because it meant they were being classy and ladylike if they were a girl.

The baby was still moving around and the heartbeat sounded great. However, my wife left the ultrasound with a bad feeling about things, thinking that something was wrong.  The ultrasound technician had asked her if she had been sick or dehydrated lately, as the amniotic fluid was low.

I don’t recall the exact timeline here, but it was either later that day, or the following day, that my wife was contacted by our doctor and told that she was to do nothing but rest.  She was being referred to a specialist due to the amniotic fluid being low.  This was obviously tremendously concerning.

We were worried, but I can recall feeling positive about the situation, just feeling that everything would be OK.  After all, the baby was being really active, as my wife felt them regularly, and we saw the movement at the ultrasound.  In addition, the heartbeat sounded awesome.  What could be wrong?

The marathon was now a couple of weeks away, but obviously, my running took a backseat.  I ran less, as I of course wanted to be home to support my wife.  I do recall one night in particular, where with my wife’s encouragement, I went out for a 40 minute or so run.  As I came back up towards home, the sun was setting, and a song came on my iPod called Safe and Sound by Capital Cities.  It has a very positive feel to it, and at that moment, with the music in my ears, and the sunset in front of me, I just felt really confident that everything was going to be OK.  I told my wife about this after I got home, just trying to reassure her, as I had been doing over the course of our experience.  In my heart, it was also what I felt.

After what seemed like an eternity, the day had arrived to meet with a neonatal specialist at the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) Victoria Hospital.  We were of course nervous, and anxiously wanted to find out what was going on.  At this point, we knew nothing more than that there was low amniotic fluid.

We were scheduled for another ultrasound that morning, to be followed up by a meeting with the specialist.

My wife was called in first of course, and after waiting for about 45 minutes to an hour, I too was welcomed into the room.

I was really happy to see that the our baby was moving around a tonne, and their little heart was still beating away powerfully.  Unfortunately, once again, we were still unable to find out our baby’s gender.  Still being shy!  That was OK though, as we were just happy to see the movement, and hear the heartbeat.

The ultrasound technician left to get some printouts and my wife and I had a chance to talk.  She was really positive, and said that things seemed to go really well.  Part of her fear after leaving the last ultrasound, was due to the demeanour of the technician.  Conversely, at this appointment, the tech was much more outgoing and did not seem worried.

We left this appointment feeling really encouraged about things.  Of course, we knew that there was still some sort of complication, but things just seemed better now.  It can’t be a big deal if the baby is still being active and the heartbeat is so strong, right?

We went over to meet with the specialist, feeling really optimistic.  We waited patiently in the interior waiting room, and a doctor came in shortly thereafter.

The doctor introduced himself, and did not take long in getting to the diagnosis.  

There are some moments in your life, which you will always remember.  There are very few moments in my life when I can remember the exact words that somebody spoke to me, but this was one of those instances.

Sitting by my wife’s side, we were informed that “your baby has something called Bilateral Renal Agenesis, or Potter’s Syndrome.  This is what is termed, a lethal diagnosis.”

The doctor spent some time with us before leaving us on our own.  I can’t really even describe the feeling of hearing those words.  Shock, grief, sadness, disbelief?  None of them do justice to what we felt in those moments.

A short time later, the first doctor returned with the head specialist, who went over things with us in more detail.  Essentially, what this all meant was, that our baby was not developing kidneys or a bladder.  As such, they were incapable of producing enough amniotic fluid.  We were told that the cause of this condition is unknown, that we could have done nothing to prevent it, and that it is a 1 in 5000 type of occurrence.

The doctor explained that there was nothing that could be done for our baby.  Nothing.

This helplessness was especially hard to deal with.  As a parent, a huge part of your job is protecting your child.  I was powerless.

We were offered the opportunity to meet with a counselor which we did after taking a short walk and trying to wrap our heads around things. This of course, was impossible.

We met with the counselor which was part of a whirlwind of a day.  She would become very helpful in the lead up to the birth of our child, and in helping my wife after the birth.

She went over our options, as the doctor had.  I had decided in my head what I wanted to do, but in my mind, the final call would be up to my wife.  After all, she was the one who would have to go through things physically regardless of the course of action we took.

In the end, we both came to the same conclusion about what we wanted to do.  Neither of us could bear the thought of terminating the pregnancy.  We still wanted to have the opportunity to hold our child.

We would have the baby.

Our families were aware of the situation prior to us meeting with the specialist.  We ended up being at the hospital for quite some time that day. When we got home, we had the terrible task of informing our families that we were going to lose our baby.

Not that it mattered at the time, but the marathon was scheduled for the Sunday after we received this devastating news.

At this point, my wife and I tried to come to terms with things, which of course was pretty difficult.  There were many tears shed, and many moments of comforting one another.

We were of course both off of work at the time.  I recall one morning coming across a video online of The Foo Fighters performing their song Miracle on The Late Show with David Letterman.  When I clicked on the link, it began with Dave (Letterman, not Grohl) giving a heartfelt speech about the meaning of the song, and how it related to his relationship with his son, Harry.  I continued to watch the video, and the lyrics of the song really hit home with me given our situation.  This song remains close to my heart to this day.

As far as the marathon went, my wife and I decided that we would travel to Toronto, as the hotel was already booked, and we figured a night away may not be a bad thing.  I had decided that running the marathon itself would be a “game-time decision,” as I was not sure if I would be up for it mentally.

Prior to heading out for the weekend, my wife made a really poignant observation.  Again, one of those moments in time where you can remember exactly what was said.  She said to me, “everybody is talking about the baby like they’re already gone, and they’re not.”  As part of that conversation, she had the idea, that we should do things together as a family while our baby was still physically with us.

With this in mind, we went to some local parks and ponds, and took some really nice pictures.  We bought some books, and every night we read some to our baby.  Some of these were really tough to get through, but we managed.

I’m really thankful that my wife thought of this as something to do.  I hope that you never find yourself in our situation, but if you do, I recommend taking the time to build some memories, as difficult as it may be.

So, we headed off to Toronto, did the marathon packet pick up, and settled into the hotel.  We explored the view from the rooftop of the hotel, and just stayed in for a relaxing, quiet dinner, and night at the hotel.

Heading off to bed that night, we had decided that I would probably still run the marathon the following day and planned accordingly.

It’s one of the best decisions that I have ever made.

I woke up early and got myself organized for the run while my wife slept. Before taking the short walk from the hotel to the start area, I did a couple of pieces of writing.  On my left hand, I wrote my wife’s name, and the initials of our yet to be born child.  Since we did not know the gender of our baby, we had chosen names for both.  So, I had two sets of initials on my hand (J.C.M. and I.G.M.).  In addition to the names, I had written “42.2 4 u” (42.2 km is the distance of a marathon).  After writing a brief note for my wife to read when she woke up, I gave her a kiss, and said goodbye, before making the short walk to the start area.

The race got started, and physically I felt good.  I must have drank too much water before the run, as I had to stop and pee about 12 km in (this took 17 seconds; yes, I guess runners time everything).

As I was running, our situation with our child was of course on my mind. I can vividly recall running down Lakeshore Blvd. and thinking about things that we could do together as a family before the upcoming birth in order to create some more memories.  As I was contemplating these plans, a song by the Counting Crows came on my iPod, Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby, which, given our baby had been diagnosed with Potter’s Syndrome, struck a chord with me so to speak.  I remember thinking that it was kind of neat, that as I began to think of my child, this song came on.  Along with the aforementioned Foo Fighters song, and one other song that I will get to later, this song always reminds me of our firstborn child.

As far as the running itself goes, I was feeling good.  I recall having some knee pain at one point, which was unusual for me, but it passed.  As I got up into the mid 30s kilometre wise, I realized that I had a really good chance of making it under 4 hours, and I was actually able to pick up my pace towards the end of the race.

As I did this, I realized that I had managed to run some extra distance on the course, so, the cushion I thought I had to get under 4 hours was not as big as I first thought.  I pushed on, and passed a number of people towards the end.  I ended up finishing with a sprint as I knew I would be really close to that 4 hour mark.  The elites at the race started before the rest of the runners, so the timer at the finish line which was now in sight, was not an accurate representation of my time.

As I crossed the finish line, I stopped my watch and it read 4:00:01.  I figured that I may have gotten under 4 hours, as of course, pushing stop on my watch could have taken a second or two after crossing the line.  I would have to wait until the official results to know for sure.  My watch also showed that I had covered 42.82 km, more than required, which is easy to do in big runs with thousands of runners.

I collected my medal (as an aside, I was not a fan of the medal as it had a store on it, Honest Ed’s, not something I would really want to display). More important than my finishing time, or a medal, was being reunited with my family.  I met up with my wife at our prearranged meeting spot. She had come to the finish area and saw me finish.  I was pretty focused on the finish line, so unfortunately, I did not see her.

We took a few pictures, walked back to the hotel to get our car, and headed back to London.  Along the way, my wife checked the official results: 3:59:59.

Once we arrived back in London, we decided to go for a walk in Springbank Park.  I took some pictures of my wife and her beautiful baby bump with the picturesque fall leaves in the background.  We also took a picture together of the two of us, a picture that is still displayed in our home, and holds a lot of meaning for me.  The spot where we took the picture is always a special place when I go running by as I’m reminded of that time together with my wife and child.  It has also become the spot where we go to remember our child on their birthday each year.

We continued to deal with the nerves, heartbreak, expectations, and all of the other emotions associated with the situation we found ourselves in.  A short three days later, about a week after the diagnosis, we were in the hospital awaiting the arrival of our child. 

The whole process went from Wednesday, overnight into Thursday.  We had originally planned on going through this on our own, together as a couple.  But, we had then decided that we would like for our parents to be able to join us after the birth, and have the opportunity to meet their grandchild.

As part of our preparations for the birth, we had been told that the butterfly is the symbol of prenatal loss.  As such, on the room number sign for our room, a small butterfly was posted.  This lets the hospital staff know the situation, so that you are not constantly having to explain the scenario around the birth.

The nursing staff that we were fortunate enough to have, were absolutely first class, and made our stay under very difficult conditions, as pleasant as it could be.

We were still able to hear our baby’s heartbeat as my wife was monitored throughout the process.  We had planned on having the monitor’s audio going throughout the whole delivery, but my wife decided closer to the time, that she would like the sound turned off during active labour.  The expectation was that our baby would pass during labour, and this would have made continuing with the process really difficult if we could hear the heartbeat stop.

Some babies born with Potter’s do live for a very short time right after birth, but in most cases, they do not survive at all.  This is because, due to the lack of amniotic fluid, their lungs do not develop well enough for them to be able to breathe.

On the afternoon of October 23, 2014, our baby was born.  As expected, our baby was stillborn.  His gender was finally revealed, and we officially welcomed Jacob Carter McKay into our hands, our family, and of course, completely into our hearts.

This was of course extremely bittersweet.  It’s hard to describe the conflicting emotions that you go through during this time.  I was of course incredibly saddened that our baby had passed.  At the same time, I was incredibly proud of my wife, and incredibly proud of our beautiful baby boy, Jacob.

Jacob weighed exactly 1 pound, but the weight and impact that he has had on my life, is immeasurable.

My wife and myself spent some time alone with Jacob.  We were told that we could spend as much time at the hospital as we wanted to.

After some alone time as a family, I went out to the waiting room and collected our parents.  I explained to them that Jacob had some bruising on his face from the birthing process.  When babies are born premature, their skin is really sensitive, so this bruising is common.

Our parents came in and spent some time with us and Jacob.  We ended up being happy with our decision to allow our families to be a part of this day.

We took a number of pictures to help us hold onto the memories.  Pictures with us, as a family.  

In addition, we read a story by Nancy Tillman called The Night That You Were Born which we saved for this day.  We also had plaster casts made of Jacob’s feet.  And together, listened to Miracle with Jacob in my hands. Hands on a miracle.

Again, I can’t say enough about the care and compassion we received from the staff at the London Health Sciences Centre.

In reality, we probably could have stayed there forever.  How do you let your child go?  We ended up staying at the hospital with Jacob for about seven hours.

When it was time to say goodbye, we were given a couple of options.  One was that a nurse could take Jacob away.  The second option was for us to take him away to what is called the “quiet room” on our own, where he would then be cared for appropriately.  Accompanied by a nurse, we took Jacob to the quiet room and said goodbye.

I went and got the car while the nurse took my wife downstairs.  With us,  we took a memory box which had a number of items from the day, the measuring tape Jacob was measured with, some of the clothes he wore, and so on.

We made the drive home, still in a state of disbelief that this had happened to us.  Not only did it happen, but it had all transpired within a week or so.

As we arrived home and exited the car, it was after 11 pm.  I have a vivid memory of the sky that night.  It was really clear, and full of stars.  Those stars to me, were a sign of a connection between my son and I.

A day or two later, I heard Coldplay’s A Sky Full of Stars which would complete the hat trick of songs that remind me of Jacob. Every time I hear one of them, I am reminded of our beautiful baby boy.  In a sky full of stars, I think I see you.

We went to bed on the night that Jacob was born, and surprisingly, did manage to sleep.  Over the next days and weeks there was a lot of grief obviously, and trying to come to terms with the events which had just transpired.

I can remember waking up one morning, and there were tears in my eyes as if I had been crying in my sleep.  Until that point, I would have never thought this to be possible.

In the time after Jacob’s birth, we would continue to read a lot of other people’s stories.  As my wife remarked at the time, “it is amazing that any healthy babies are born, considering how much can go wrong.”

So, how do you get over the loss of a child?  The answer is, you don’t. In the weeks and months that followed, my wife and I had the support of our families and friends, and most importantly, one another.

We would spend time both together, and on our own, with Jacob’s memory box.  Going through some of the items that were a part of the day.  I liked to smell his clothes, as they smelled like him.

To this day, it is still a little hard to believe that we went through this experience.

I have a number of rituals and ways that I stay connected to my son. When I look up at the sky and see even just one star, I feel connected to Jacob. When I hear the songs I’ve mentioned, I feel connected to Jacob.  When a butterfly flutters by, I feel connected to Jacob.

But perhaps most of all, when I run, I feel connected to Jacob.

He was with me for my first marathon, and he’s been with me for all of them since.

So yes, I run because I enjoy it.  I run because it helps me stay fit, healthy, and happy.  But, I also run, because when I run, I run with Jacob.

I plan on returning to the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 2018.

This September, I will be running the That Dam Hill Ultramarathon in London, Ontario to raise money for the Children’s Health Foundation, in honour of my son Jacob, my daughter Hadley, and all of the children and families who use the services provided by the Foundation.

The Children’s Health Foundation supports the Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Health Research Institute, and the Thames Valley Children’s Centre.

I am attempting to “run” for 24 hours in order to raise $24 000 for the Children’s Health Foundation.  This event is the Canadian 24 Hour Championship.  I am asking that each person who reads this post donates $5 (of course, larger or smaller donations are also appreciated) and shares my goal with 5 other people.  In addition to personal contributions, I am hoping for corporate donations.

The ultramarathon will take place in Springbank Park, and as it is a loop, will pass by the spot that reminds me of my son Jacob, a number of times.

If you would like to donate, you can follow this link to my personal fundraising page administered by the Children’s Health Foundation.  All funds are donated directly to them.

Thanks for taking the time to read my story, I hope you can make a donation, and will share my story (you can do so by using the buttons below).

If you are looking to make a corporate donation, or can put me in touch with somebody from your organization, it is greatly appreciated.  You may email me at neilgordonmckay@gmail.com to make those arrangements.

Thanks everyone, and don’t forget to donate.

 

The Lament of the Injured Runner?

Well, that doesn’t feel good.  I’ll just push through and hope it corrects itself.  How many of us have made similar utterances?  I know I have.

I’m 39 years old.  On my 34th birthday I ran my first half-marathon in Stockholm.  Since that point, I’ve added seven more of those, a couple of 30 k races, four 10 ks, three 15 ks, four marathons, and a triathlon for good measure.  Up until 3 weeks ago, I was “healthy.”

Oh sure, there were aches and pains.  I missed a week or so once with a calf that didn’t feel right.  Blisters, some discomfort in my hips, and so on.  But, up until now, nothing that has put me on the sidelines for an extended period.

A few weeks back, I was about a kilometre and a half into a planned 12 k run when I felt a sharp pain below my kneecap.  “Hmm, that doesn’t feel right” I thought.  My first instinct was to perhaps call it a day, but that is not the runner’s way.  I have often had an ache or pain along the way during my runs, and usually, it subsides shortly thereafter.  However, this felt different.  Having said that, I carried on, the pain did not, and I finished my run that day without any problems or concerns.

The next day I went about my business as usual, but, the following two days, I found there was pain when going up and down stairs.

I decided this called for some ice and rest.  I did so, and it felt better.  A week after the initial pain, I set out for what I refer to as a “j.a.r,” or “just a run.”  This is a rare occurrence which is free of time or distance goals.  I don’t run these frequently, but thought it was wise to take it slow.

My original plan called for an 18 km run, but my revised plan, given my new reality, was for between 3 metres and 18 km, depending on how the knee responded.  If it hurt right away, I would stop, in the hopes of not causing any further damage.  In the event that it felt good, I would enjoy the day, and go for the desired distance.

I started my run, and shortly thereafter, a dull pain kicked in slightly before my knee quickly flipped me the bird and said “hey dummy, something’s not right here.”  A short two minutes after my run began, I was walking back towards my home.

I was not a happy man.

This was extremely disheartening, and to be quite honest, I was rather bummed out.

In the days afterward, there was no pain, even on the stairs.  I could be up and down on my knees, and playing with my amazing 1 year-old daughter Hadley, without any discomfort.  The disappointment could not hold on in the face of the happiness that is playing with my daughter.

I planned to visit the doctor that week after giving it a few more days rest, and one more attempt at a short run.

I headed out four or five days later and things started off better.  No pain was present at first, however, four minutes or so into my run, the pain began.  By the 5th minute, I was reduced to a reluctant hobble.

I headed to the doctor the next day and was referred to a physiotherapist.

It was frustrating to be missing out on many mild days and ice-free running conditions which are often not present in south-western Ontario during February.  However, my mood remained good.  Although I am registered for some smaller races, my goal race will not happen until September or October (still deciding on which one), so I was pretty confident that those would not be in jeopardy.

My fingers are crossed that I’ll be back in business by March, which would allow me to prepare sufficiently for a registered half at the end of April.

Well, the physio appointment occurred and went very well.  I was asked about my stretching routine, which went something like this:

Physio:  “So, do you stretch?”

Me: “I’m not really what you’d call a stretcher (This is an understatement.  I do not stretch before, during, or after runs….ever).”

Physio:  “You are now.”

She was also quite impressed that I had lasted this long without sustaining an injury.

As a (slightly) sub-four hour marathoner, I always liked to think that the first km or two were a good warm-up, and that stretching was not really necessary.  Besides, who has time for that stuff?  Let’s get out the door, get the run in, and get back to being a father and a husband (and maybe plan some lessons for that whole teaching thing).

Anyway, turns out I have some issues with the IT band and my patellar tendon in the right leg.  Encouragingly, it does not seem to be anything that will keep me out of action for too long.

I’ll be honest, it was tough on that first trial day.  It’s been tough watching the nice days roll by as I can’t get out for my runs every week.  And, I noticed in the first week or so that the stress of work and life definitely was building up without the release that is running.  This was a bit hard to reconcile, as I pride myself upon not feeling stress in general.

However, I’m still able to be pain free otherwise.  I can still run around and chase my daughter through our halls and up and down stairs.  In the end, if I could never run a race again, I could do far worse than being able to chase the love of my life around as she smiles and giggles away.

There may not be much better than being a runner, but being a father is certainly one of those things.

I’m pretty confident, that before long, I’ll be able to do both again.

In the meantime, I’ll do my rehabilitation exercises, hope the knee comes around, and enjoy the extra hours per week that I get to spend with my daughter.

Are you a runner who’s been injured?  How’d you cope?  Leave a comment below as I’d love to hear your thoughts on injuries.

Thanks runners!

 

The County Marathon

After my failure to achieve a personal best at the Mississauga Marathon in May of 2015, I felt like I still had unfinished business for the year.  With my wife and I expecting a daughter in October of 2015, timelines were tight.  The Scotiabank Toronto Marathon would have been cutting things too close, so I set my sights on The County Marathon in Picton, Ontario, which would be held a couple of weeks earlier, in the hopes that I could sneak it in before the birth.

I did not run any other races between Mississauga and The County Marathon.  So, it was just training run, after training run.  I signed up knowing that the training could all be for nothing, should my wife go into labour early.  But, that was a chance I was willing to take.  In addition to really wanting to achieve that personal best, I also figured that it might be the last marathon I would have time to train for for some time, given the new responsibilities I was about to take on with the upcoming addition to our family.

When it was finally time for race weekend,  we made plans to have a close friend of our’s on stand-by in case our daughter decided to put in an early appearance.  I told my child to stay in her mom’s belly at least until I made it home, and headed off for the weekend.  I spent the Friday night at my parents in order to cut down the drive on the Saturday preceding the race.

The packet pick-up was at the Crystal Palace in Picton, near where the race would finish.  As this is a smaller event, I was able to grab my packet with no fuss.  I also had the opportunity to speak with one of the volunteers who had some good knowledge of the course, and he told me to be prepared for some heavy winds in the back half of the race.  After that friendly chat, I made the drive back to nearby Belleville, where I would spend the night before the race.

As I said, this is a small race, but the organization was absolutely first-class.  Before registering for the race, I had emailed a question, and within a day, I had a response directly from the race director, which is just great communication.

On the morning of the race, I made the drive back to the finish area to catch the shuttle to the start-line.  The building was open, and you were able to wait inside, and had access to washrooms as well.  From there, it was on to the shuttle bus.

I ended up sitting in front of the defending champion who was having a conversation with another runner who asked if he was going to go after the course record or not.  The defending champ told him he would see if he felt like it or not.  Must be nice to be talented enough to decide on chasing course records on a whim!

At the start area, you have access to an arena where you can wait away from the elements.  There is a short track on the upper level of the arena for anybody who would like to warm-up (the only person I saw on it was the defending champ….maybe that’s his secret).  Also on the upper level, are some change rooms.  I chose to stay up there away from the crowds on the main floor of the arena lobby.

Once the start time was near, I made the short walk to the start area and checked my bag in with no fuss.  Soon, we were off.  The course is run along some country roads and through some nice small towns.  If you are not familiar with Prince Edward County, it is a really nice part of Ontario.

I enjoyed the course, but, I am quite content to run without thousands of spectators along the route.  If you are looking for a bunch of people cheering you on to push you to your finish, this is not the race for you.

I started out more conservatively than in Mississauga, and was doing a good job of keeping up a respectable pace, which would have me in line for a new pb (sub 3:59:59).  However, as promised, there were some winds to battle, and around the 31 k mark, things began to get tough.  The race is known for a hill around the 37 k mark and I am sorry to report that on this day, it did get the better of me.  While not as fierce as the vaunted hill at Around the Bay, the fact that it comes late in the race, makes it tough.

Like Mississauga, I struggled along my way to the finish.  I did some running, and some shuffling, and unfortunately at some points, slowed to a walk.

I did manage to pick up the pace a little bit towards the finish, but by that point, I was resigned to not reaching my goal of a pb.  I happily crossed the finish line.  At the finish there were some people recording what type of shoes people had on, I suppose they were doing a survey for some purpose.

I ended up crossing the line in a time of 4:05:49.  “Fast” enough to be my second best time, but well short of my goal of bettering 3:59:59.  Nonetheless, I was still pleased to have another marathon under my belt.  It was a tough day though, and I think the combination of the windy conditions, along with the fact that it was my 3rd marathon in under a year, may have caught up with me.  I can recall texting my wife after the race and describing myself as being “shattered.”

As promised, free beer was available after the race.  We were given a rather small sample, however, to my knowledge, you could have returned multiple times.  I had that small sample, some other beverages, and snacks, recovered for awhile, and made the drive home.

All in all, if you are looking for a really well-organized race, this is an excellent choice.  We received a nice long-sleeved race shirt, as well as a pair of technical socks with the race’s name on them.  I actually wore the socks in my most recent marathon, so they are a useful freebie.  Medals were also awarded to all finishers and the volunteers did a great job along the course.  I really can’t say enough about how efficiently this race is organized and carried out.  I have not returned yet as I have some other challenges I am trying to meet, but I would highly recommend this race to anyone.

To register for the next edition, or to find out more information about The County Marathon, check out the link.

Thankfully, my daugther did not make an appearance while I was out of town either.  We welcomed her into our lives 12 days later.  Much better than a personal best.

A couple of weeks later, I completed my first 15 km race to wrap up the season.  Since it was the only one I had done at that point, I had a new pb.

Have you run The County Marathon?  Join the conversation by leaving your comments below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mississauga Marathon

After completing my first marathon in October of 2014, I had decided that I definitely wanted to run another one, and set my sights on my hometown run, the Mississauga Marathon.

For details about such race features as the expo, shuttle buses, and the like, check out my post about the Mississauga Half-Marathon where I touched on all of those things.  The marathon and half are run on the same day, along the same course, with the obvious addition of some lengthier portions for the marathon.

I felt really strong in my training for the event, and I was feeling fairly confident that I had a shot at bettering my personal best.  My PB was established at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon the previous fall, with a time of 3:59:59.  Yes, a sub-four hour marathon!

I had ended that marathon feeling strong, and coupled with the confidence in my training, I felt like I had a good shot at setting the PB this time around.

I spent the night prior to the race at my parents’ house which was very comfortable and convenient.  My parents were actually away in Jamaica for a holiday, so I would be driving myself to the marathon the following day.

I woke up on race morning very excited for what was to come.  In fact, I found I had to calm myself down, as I sensed I was over-eager for the event.

I took the 15 minute drive down the highway and arrived with plenty of time to make the short walk to the start area.

When I had signed up for the event, I had beautifully cool perfect conditions in mind for the run, as that is what I had experienced the year before for the half (average temp of around 9 degrees Celsius).  However, as race day approached, and I was stalking the Weather Network website, much to my chagrin, the forecast was not for cooler temperatures.  To the contrary, it looked like temperatures would climb well above my breaking point, which I’ve discovered to be 16 degrees Celsius.  Once the temperatures hit that point, I’m pretty much guaranteed to be getting heat exhaustion.

I did all that I could to stay cool before the race, staying in the shade, drinking some water, and making some clothing choices which I hoped would help (a last minute purchase of a white hat to take the place of my black one).

Finally, race time was upon us, and we were off.  I cruised through the opening sections, down through the campus off the University of Toronto at Mississauga, and on by the pricey homes on Mississauga Road.  I was feeling really good.

After the point where the marathon splits from the half course, I was greeted by a runner to my left.  My Mississauga Running Nemesis.  If you’ve read my half-report, you’ll know the backstory.  I was running down a wide section of road through a residential area when all of a sudden he appeared on my left shoulder, very close to me.  I honestly don’t know what this guy’s deal is, but his running style is extremely inconsiderate and quite annoying.  I did manage to break away from him and felt much more comfortable once I did.

With that inconvenience out of the way, I could once again enjoy my run.  I can recall cruising down Southdown Road and thinking how great it was to be a marathoner, how I was really enjoying the run, and, about how I was on pace for a PB, despite the increasing temperatures.  My joy would not last much longer.

The next section of the race is through a somewhat industrial area, which is not something that bothers me.  At the 25 k mark you do a hairpin turnaround and head back along the portion that you have just run, before turning off towards the finish area.  It was just after this turnaround, that I noticed the dreaded goosebumps of heat exhaustion, and knew that my day was about to go downhill (and not in a good running way).

My kilometre split times began dropping.  I tried to push through, and started consuming Gatorade and more water in an effort to cool off.  I managed to get the split times back down briefly, but quickly, I had not only hit the wall, I was repeatedly running into it…head first.

The last 17 km of the marathon were a real struggle for me.  It was impossible for me to continue running without taking walking breaks, something that I had never experienced before in a race.

As I slowly approached the finish line, a charity walk passed over the marathon course.  I assumed that they were heading in the same direction as the course so I turned along with them, frustrated at their intrusion (remember, at this point my brain was functioning at far less than full capacity).  I soon realized that I had in fact veered off of the course, extending my run by about 150 m, not a large distance generally speaking, but given my condition, a major inconvenience.

I pushed on the best that I could, up a surprisingly long hill on Lakeshore Blvd. which was exposed to the sun.  The temperatures rose to over 25 degrees, far beyond my comfort zone.

Soon, I was back along the waterfront, walking, and running when I could manage.  You can imagine my dismay when my Mississauga Running Nemesis went running on past me.  I’d love to regale you with a story of how this stirred my competitive fires and I dug down deep to push beyond my physical limitations and crossed the finish line leaving him in the dust.  However, that’s not the case.  I had no physical response, nor the mental capacity to push myself any harder.

I struggled onward, and crossed the finish line in a disappointing time of 4:07:05.  A reasonable marathon time for a runner of my caliber, but disappointing, as I really feel with favourable weather conditions, I could have had my PB.  However, that’s the life of a marathon runner, you can only control your training and preparation, you can’t control the weather you’re given on the day of the big race.  Unfortunately, for me, I just don’t do well with the heat.  As such, as much as I’d like to get my revenge on this course, I’ve sworn off spring marathons.

Having said that, it is a great event.  And, I would still highly recommend it for any marathoners out there.  The organization is first rate, with well-stocked aid stations, excellent volunteer support, efficient shuttle service, and a mostly enjoyable course.

Although I was unhappy with my time, I was proud to have my second marathon finish in the books.  Had I reached my PB, that would have put an end to my marathon running for awhile.  However, I felt I had unfinished business, so I soon set my sights on the Prince Edward County Marathon in October.  I had a sense of urgency about getting that one in, as my wife was expected to give birth a couple of weeks after race day.  I figured that my time for running, was about to be, greatly reduced.

This would mean running three marathons in less than a year.  How would that turn out?  I’ll let you know in a future post.

Thanks for reading.  What was your toughest run?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

 

MEC London Race 5 2016

MEC London Race 5 was held on October 22nd, 2016 on a cool fall morning.  Going into the race I had established a couple of goals for myself.  Most importantly, I wanted to obtain a personal best, which would mean beating my current 10 k record of 50:24 set at a previous MEC Race.  That one saw me finish in 10th place.  I figured that if I was able to do that, that would give me a shot at another top 10, so that was my secondary goal.  

My plan going into the race was to run the first 5 k at a pb pace, and then, if I did not think it was in the cards, dial back the pace, and have a comfortable second half, as my marathon is fast approaching (Road2Hope, November 6th).

I was looking for my 3rd top 10 of the season (and “career”).  I did not end up writing a post about it, because life’s been busy, but I finished 2nd at MEC Race 4 in a 15 k race a little while back (you may hear rumours that there were only 8 other competitors, but I’m here to tell you that….well, they’re entirely true, but a podium is a podium!).

My race morning started off as per usual.  Got up early so I had enough time to let my breakfast settle, and headed out for the race.

Once I stepped out my door, things get a little bit more interesting.  The weather forecast was calling for cooler temperatures, so I was not caught off guard by that.  My race gear consisted of my favourite long-sleeved running shirt from Around the Bay a few years back, my new Sugoi shorts, and my New Balance Vazee Pace shoes.  I brought along a pair of gloves, just in case.

As I stepped out the door, I noticed that the windshield was frosted over. No big deal, turned on the car, and went looking for the scraper.  Which was nowhere to be found in the vehicle.  I checked our other car for one, no luck there.

I should probably mention that at this point, the vehicle I was planning on taking, a 2007 Toyota Yaris, was making a high pitched squeal.  A sound that it has emitted in the past, but we thought had been rectified by some prior repairs.  Apparently, we were mistaken.

While the high-pitched squeal was happening, the car alarm on the other car went off briefly, and then for a longer period of time.  In my haste to locate a scraper for the windshield in the second car, I had left the keys inside in reach of my one year old.

So, here I am in front of the house, with one car squealing and the alarm going off from the other one at 8 am on a Saturday morning.  Hi neighbours!  More than a little embarrassing.

Well, eventually, the alarm was shut off, the Yaris stopped squealing, and my wife found a scraper in the basement.  Just in time for me to get outside, and see that the defroster had already gotten rid of the ice on the windshield.  Or, perhaps that was just due to the temperature from my blood pressure rising.  Nevertheless, I was finally on my way.

I still managed to get to the start line at Gibbons Park with plenty of time to spare.  I stayed in the car to stay warm, and after a trip outside for a bit, did decide to go with the gloves.

Now, I’m not normally very critical of MEC Races, you can read one of my glowing reviews here.  I think this was my 6th race run by MEC, and as I’ve said before, there is no better value for your money.  However, to be fair, I did skewer the Forest City Road Races for starting late, and I have to do the same here.

The start of the race was delayed by about 7 or 8 minutes as there were still people registering for the race.  Now, I know that part of the reason for these races is to get people active, and I fully support promoting participation, however, there was plenty of time to register months, weeks, and days in advance, or even earlier in the morning.

Now, I’m by no means a serious competitor in my races.  Is a seven or eight minute delay going to impact upon my performance?  Nope.  But, having said that, when a race is scheduled to start at 9 am, that’s when it should start (unless of course there is a safety issue or something, e.g. lightning).

Many runners plan their mornings in order to be ready to roll at a specific time and I feel those times should be honoured, especially when we’re all standing around, ready to go, and rather cold.  In addition, I had told my wife when to get to the finish line, so the delay would mean that her and my daughter would be waiting around longer for my arrival.

There were some mutterings in the crowd at the start line from others as well who were not impressed.

Once we got started, I came out pretty quick as the starting area was crowded.  I was needing to run at better than 5:12 pace/km to achieve the pb and looked down to see a 3:33 staring back at me.  I knew I would not be able to, or want to maintain that, so once I was out of the crowd, I slowed down to a more intelligent pace.

The run is a nice course along the Thames River trail network and does include some pretty decent hills along the way as you make your way to Greenway Park.

At the 5k turnaround I figured I was in 11th place and was well on track for a pb as my splits were in the 4:50s/km.

I was not far off the runner who was in 10th and soon passed him.  A km or so down the path, I was overtaken by another runner, and found myself back in 11th place.

As we closed in on under 2 km to go, he was still visible and I tried to close the gap, but in the end, I knew it was likely not meant to be on this day, and staying healthy for the marathon took precedent.  As such, I resigned myself smartly to not go all out.

I still pushed on toward the end knowing that I was going to set a pb by a fair margin.  My wife was planning on seeing me finish along with our one year old daughter so I kept an eye out as the finish line approached.

Shortly thereafter, I saw them on the right hand side of the course, slowed enough to give my daughter a tap on the hand and crossed the line with a pb time of 48:28.7.  I was very pleased with this, as it was a big improvement over my previous record of 50:24 for the 10 km.

After the race, I grabbed a bagel, some water, and some other snacks from the snack table, spent some time with the family, and headed back to the car for some warmth.

Later on, when the results were posted, it turned out I had slightly miscalculated my position, and had actually finished in 12th.  Overall, I was pleased with that.

Overall, with the exception of the minor start delay, this was another great race put on by MEC, and I would still recommend these races as the best value for your money that’s out there.  You really can’t beat $15 for a race.

I was pleased to have reached a personal best, and at having finished the race feeling good.  The moment I got to share with my daughter, was of course the highlight.

Personal Best Streak: 1

Next Race: Hamilton Road2Hope Marathon

Goal: Personal best.  Which means bettering 3:59:59