Sunday, May 13, 2012

Toronto Half Marathon 2012

I had run a few half marathons so far and though none of them were noteworthy performances, I kind of itched to do a run in a different country just for the experience. Perhaps this idea was party influenced by the company I kept, one who keeps running around the world and another who runs within the country but keeps running longer and faster. Ever heard of the saying "Tell me thy company, and I'll tell thee what thou art.", there is a good amount of truth and worldly wisdom in that, whoever said it. 

The marathon run takes places every year around the first week of May and is a well known event in Canada. This year there were about 15000 participants, roughly 2500 in taking part in the full marathon, 6000 in the half marathon and the rest in the 5km run and relay run. Two days prior to the run the marathon expo was open in the Direct Energy Centre Exhibition Place. A huge indoor location with stalls from all the major running, sport, food, apparel and accessory and energy drink vendors. Picked up my racing bib, complimentary t-shirt and bag a day before the run (Tip: Go there on the last day just before closing time, if there is extra stuff they are likely to give them out for free).

The carb loading dinner was at the Toronto Hilton on the night before the run. A participant could opt for it during registration by paying an extra $30. The variety of pasta and carb loaded food was good and much needed for long distance running. For someone like me who comes from India and is used to eating rice daily, the term card loading is of no practical sense, 'cos thats what we do everyday anyway :(. Well good food is good food, so had my share of it without guilt. During the dinner we had a couple of pre-eminent runners on the stage
- Kathrine Switzer - an iconic athlete and leader in women's sports movement. Author of the book Marathon Women and winner of NYC Marathon '74 and 2nd in Boston Marathon '75
- Roger Robinson (husband of Kathrine Switzer) - a competitive runner for over 54 years, racing at an elite level
- and two other hosts of equal or greater repute whom I can't seem to recollect (my apologies)
The focus of their talk and presentation was on the history of women in long distance running. It was enlightening to see up-hill battle women faced in a chauvinistic society and how far they have come. The presentation was moral boost for women everywhere and I'm sure so would the book "Marathon Women" by Kathrine Switzer. By the end of the dinner, packed with the t-shirt, the racing bib and a boat load of pasta I was all set. One good night sleep and I was ready.

Close to 3 months had passed since the last half marathon at Auroville. A week or two after the run in Auroville is when I had registered for the Toronto half marathon, with the anticipation of better time given an almost 3month period to train and improve my timing. But this was not to be so, work at office had gotten stressful and hectic that I hardly did any practice at all (we all have our excuses, don't we?). A week before this run I realised I had done no practice run and had done nothing to improve my timing, so I settled for finishing the run and no more, and that is exactly what I did.

At 7:30am on the morning of 6th May, a clear day with temperature around 12°-14°C (perfect for running, so I am told, but a bit cold for me coming where I am come from) and the promise of good weather throughout, the full marathon started, and at 8:30am the half marathon started. The run route was entirely on tarmac, it starts way north of the city and ends in down town close to the water front. Water and gatorade was available every 3km or so and volunteer's and people living close by came along to cheer and encourage. Though the run had city surroundings throughout it, a small stretch of the run (about 2-3km) when turning off Yonge St into Rosedale-Valley Rd gave rise to some awesome scenic green stretches. It was like running through a forest. I only wished I had my camera on me then :(. Soon again it as back to the city neighbourhood. One other great thing about the course was the gentle slope throughout, from the start to the end (apart from one or two uphills in the first 5km). All these factors helped to make for much quicker finish times than anticipated, and made me wish I practised a bit for a faster finish. About 3hrs and 3mins after the start (3 mins better than my last best half marathon time) is when I crossed the finish line.

Medals were offered right after the finish and a number of photographers waited to take victory snaps.  It felt a bit like paparazzi and the high of finishing the run put thoughts in my head "Aww darn it, not another photographer" and "Autographs later please". But instead of saying those hideous things I smiled just happy to be a finisher (Only later did I know that each one of those photographs would cost me $15 in case I wanted them. Screw that. I can do without it.). Free bagel, fruit and drink were offered to all those who participated. Huge areas of the parking lot in the finish area were fenced in to allow participants to relax and get medical attention and massages. A lot of cheering and congratulations all over. I sit down along with a lot of other finishers and have my bagel and chocolate milk. A few other runners were complaining of muscle pains and I wondered why, 'cos I was doing alright. Only after seeing their bib did I realize that they finished the full marathon is time less than I did my half. Respect. I calmly ate my bagel and sipped some more chocolate milk, a bit embarrassed of my thoughts. A while later I walk to the finish line to cheer for the other participants finishing their runs. An man who looks older than 60 finishes strong, a couple holding hands finishes their run smiling, a man lifts his hands parallel to the ground like an airplane and  crosses the finish line making curved airplane turns. Each one of them have their own story of what inspires them to run the gruelling 42.2km. I'm one of them who went halfway across the globe to participate in the run I haven't heard of 3 months before.

Official Toronto Marathon website here

Medals for half and full marathon finishers

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