Further Reflection and Thoughts About the Markers

on Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 9:05 PM

I've had some time to reflect on the race two weekends ago and I suppose I'm okay with the time. If I had asked my pre-race self would I be happy to be within 5 seconds of my goal time, but have a calf issue similar to what I had in new york for more than half the race in one leg, a blister on the foot of the other leg, and my HR spiking for the entire race starting from the 8 minute mark, I probably would have said great job.

I'm fairly certain most of the course was mismarked.  Starting with the infamous 2km marker which had me (according to it) doing sub 4 min/km pace from the start.  Thanks to this Youtube video, I grabbed a screen cap of the location of the 2km sign.

"2km" marker on marathon course

What's interesting to note is that normally, they have a spray painted line on the road which indicates the location of where the marker should be.  Notice that there's no paint line underneath the sign?  The reason for this is that this is nowhere near the actual 2 km point of the race.  In fact, if you start to walk down the street, you eventually come across this innocuous spray painting in the middle of an intersection that is the actual location of the 2km mark.

Actual Location of the where 2k sign should have been.

This is almost 300 m after the actual placement of the 2km marker according to google maps.

So my 2km split time of 7:55 was actually a 1.71 km split time which would have given me an average pace of 4:38 min/km from the start which isn't too far off from the 4:35 I was initially aiming for.  Unfortunately, this 300m error for the placement of the markers carried on for most of the race. 

For example, at the 21km half sign, I manually hit the lap button on my GPS which reported my position as being here on King St.
21km Sign location
 We then head south and then turn west onto Eastern Ave. I didn't push the lap button when I crossed the half, but my chip time at the half was 1:36:32 and according to my GPS my position when I was at 1:36:30 was in the following location. 

Approximate position of the half marathon timing mat.
In theory, the 21 km marker and the half marker should only be separated by 100m. But in fact, the two points were separated by 430m according to google maps.

It took me 1:58 to pass from the 21 km marker to the half mark which if we assume is 430m averages out to 4:34min/km pace which again is not far off from the 4:35 pace I was aiming for.  So again, the marker sign was earlier by at least 300m.  As far as I can tell from my splits, the actual distance between the signs was about right, they were just positioned at least 300m earlier then they should have been.  I guess the timing mat guys were responsible for setting up the half marker and actually looked for the line painting that indicated the half mark whereas the rest of the markers were setup by someone who didn't bother looking for the line painting on the ground.

The other issue is the difference at the turnaround point between last year and this year which added what I guess was about 200m.  As far as I can tell, the start line and finish line were the same as last year and the route looks to be the same so either this year the course was long by 200m or last year the course was short by 200m. 

After doing a bit more sleuthing around, I think I figured out what happened. I started to wonder how it would be possible for someone to precisely place the markers in the wrong place by exactly the same amount. The answer to this is because they had a list of places or possibly GPS locations to put the marker signs, but the list was actually not for this years route, but for the route in 2013.  In 2013, the course ran a bit further north (about 300m) from the start line then this year and so the markers would have been positioned earlier by about 300m compared to this year. The turnaround position in 2013 was much different and presumably 300m shorter to make up for it. As a result, this year, the markers were positioned 300m earlier then they should have been.  This is a major FU if you ask me. 

This got me thinking as to whether I would have actually run the race differently if the markers had been correctly placed. As for the first half, going in, I thought with the net downhill, I would have banked at least a minute by the half mark and in actuality I had only banked about 21seconds.  Remembering that my calf was giving me issues and my HR was elevated, I probably would have backed off on the effort level a bit and probably ended up running the first half pretty much the same.  I ran most of the the first half thinking that I had 90 second banked which allowed me to run with very little sense of urgency or pressure which I suppose is good.

As for the second half, I think I started to drift off from goal pace starting at 29/30km as this was when I pulled off 4 km at slower than 4:35 min/km pace.  At the time, I was sitting on what I thought was 90 seconds of banked time so the odd slow km didn't phase me. If the markers were correctly placed, I would have realized I had dropped behind my goal time much sooner than the 37 km marker which would have allowed me to adjust accordingly.

How much faster I would have run?  At the very least, if I had run km 28-32 on pace, I wouldn't have given back the 26 second I lost during these 4 km so i so suppose 26 second or about 21 seconds faster than my goal time or about 96 seconds under my BQ time would have been possible, but again  this is all in theory.  Lots of stuff could have still gone wrong.

Anyhow, I've spent some time looking at whether my 70 seconds under my BQ time would be sufficient to get me in for 2016.  In 2013, it was 98 which I thought it would be the maximum since that was the year right after the bombings. With this years, being 62, I thought the number would just get smaller. What I hadn't factored in was that in 2013, Boston actually expanded the field quite significantly and even then the cutoff was still 98 seconds.  When they returned to the normal size field this year, it was 62 seconds, but this doesn't consider that 2013 Boston was a warm day and the percentage of re-qualifiers from Boston was down.  This year, Boston was relatively cool and the percentage of re-qualifiers was much higher which means the pool of BQ's for next year will be higher than it was this year so more competition.

Someone in the Runner's World forum is trying to predict the BQ magic number based on qualifiers from marathons so far in the year and as of now, they are predicting a cutoff of 84 seconds which puts my qualification out of reach and this doesn't consider any of the early fall marathons that still have to come. There are some flaws in the methodology being used, but I suppose it won't be too far off.  I've been toying with the idea of trying to run one of these early fall marathons myself to try and go for a faster time, but I would basically have to start the heavy marathon training again right away which I don't really want to do. Plus my left calf is still giving me some issues and it feels similar to what it was leading up to NY and don't want to make it worse so that I have to take months off like last time. So Boston 2016 is looking less likely and I suppose I will just have to come to terms with that.

Goodlife Toronto Marathon Race Report 2015

on Wednesday, May 6, 2015 at 7:42 PM

"Pain is temporary. Internet race results are forever"

This was an interesting statement that I saw on a video promoting the Backs in motion race that I did a few weekends ago. As it would turn out, this would be my mantra for this race.

The short story is that I ran 3:13:50 which is 70 seconds under my 3:15 Boston Qualifying time.  Whether or not that is sufficient to get me into Boston in 2016 is a question up in the air.  Since they went to the new qualifying system, just running your BQ time isn't sufficient anymore.  You now have to run x seconds under, where x is determined only after everyone applies.  This year, the magic number was 62 seconds, in 2014 (the year after the bombings), it was 98 seconds.

My goal time going into this was 3:13:45 which was a nice even 4:35 min/km split time.  In truth, this goal time was my worst case scenario as I considered the 75 seconds under 3:15 to be the minimum I would need for a qualifier.   I've always used pace bands as a guide to give me an idea how far ahead or behind I would be at any point of time.  With km markers, there were 42 potential places where I could do a time check. This has worked well for me in the past and I've always finished under my goal time (when I haven't blown up), so I prepared the nice pace band with 41 splits that would be my safety blanket during the race.

3:13:45 Pace Band
Going into the race, I prepared for it like I've been doing recently which is to say I gluttoned out on all things carbs (pasta and pretzels) and drank lots of water and ate salt pills. I was popping the salt pills three at a time, 2 to 3 times a day. Evening before the race, I weighed myself and was 149 pounds which was much heavier than the 141/142 that I've been recently. I knew however that a bunch of that would be lost the following morning.  My goal was just to get the carbs in me.

Race morning had me waking up at 5am for a 7:30am start. Breakfast of a bagel with peanut butter and strawberry jam. Took some sips of water, just to wash things down.  I would normally drink a whole bottle of gatorade during breakfast, but I usually just end up having to pee later. I was still feeling bloated anyway from the previous evening. Left home at about 6:30 and arrived at the start at about 6:50.  40 minutes to do my prerace prep. In hindsight, this probably wasn't enough time.  Dropped off bag check and lined up for the portapotties. The line-up wasn't too bad but it could have been quicker.  Lot of half-marathoners in line even though they weren't starting for another hour.

Warm up consisted of some slight jogging. I downed a gel and about half a bottle of water about 15 minutes before start. Was trying to get the HR to spike but it didn't while doing the light jogging. I then stopped to stretch a bit and then could feel it take off. I then proceeded to try and get it to calm down, but I only had about 5 minutes to race start which wasn't a lot of time.  Walked into the starting coral and tried to do the crouch and breath out hard thing to get it to calm down. Someone caught me doing it on youtube.

Crouching just before race start

I guess it looked like I was praying or something. I was just breathing out hard, staring at my watch hoping the HR would come down.  This is with about 45 seconds to go I gather before the race start which was cutting it close. The HR did eventually come down with only seconds to spare and so I was able to start the race with no HR issues. I did however decide that I was going to start out slowly and if the HR spiked, I was just going to run through it and see how far I could get with it spiking. So the horn blows and the race start.

I didn't start as close to the start as I would have liked, but I wanted to start off slow and controlled and make sure I didn't go out too fast.  I missed the first km marker (if there even was one) and I also missed the first mile marker (again if there even was one). Wasn't soo sure, because there were a lot of people spectating and they could easily have been blocking the view.

First km split I hit was the 2nd km which lapped at

2km: 7:55.

I had made a conscious decision that I was not going to worry about HR and secondly that I wasn't going to look at my split times until after the Hoggs Hollow Hill which is at about the 5km mark. In hindsight, this was a mistake because if I had looked at the 2km split mark I would have known that something was off.  There was no way that I had covered the first 2km at faster than 4:00 min/km.   I should also mention that my HR did spike just after the 1 mile mark (based on GPS), but that I would just run with it. As it would turn out, I would end up running the whole race with the HR spiking.

4km: 8:54 (4:27 avg)
5km: 4:30
6km: 4:53

So after the 2 km, there's a nice gradual descent as you approach the "hill" which is the only real significant hill in the race. It's  a significant grade, but relatively short.  I hit the 6km marker and do a time check. According to my watch, i was more than a minute ahead of where I should be. Nice, or so I thought. I couldn't actually believe it, but hey the numbers don't lie (or do they?).

10km:9:09  (4:35 avg)

So km 7 through 10 are basically right at the 4:35 pace I was averaging. All the while, my time checks are telling me that I really am quite a bit ahead of where I wanted to be.  I passed the 10km mark at 44:36 which should have been 45:55.  This means I had almost 80 seconds banked at this point.

11km: 4:41
13km: 4:40
14km: 4:38
16km: 8:41 (4:20 avg)

As we continue down Yonge St. I seem to have found my pacing groove and found a bunch of people who are doing my pace and who don't seem to be too labored. Around 13km, something got really tight in my left calf and it started to hurt.  It felt similar to the injury I had prior to the New York marathon a few years ago. It felt tight and was getting sore.  I spent the next few km contemplating whether I wanted to stop to stretch it out or just continue on. As I had over a minute banked, I could stop for a quick stretch and wouldn't lose too much time. But I ended up deciding to just continue on as stretching it could have made it worse.  I missed the 15km marker and together with the 16th km involves the big downhill near Casa Loma so that's why that split is fast. 

17km: 4:17
18km: 4:32
19km: 4:44
20km: 4:43

17km also involves the descent down Rosedale Valley Rd. which is the reason for that fast km.   With the big descent of the course now over, time checks said that I had almost 2 minutes banked.  I couldn't believe my good fortune. Km 19 and 20 were a bit on the slow side and involve running south on Bayview Ave. I think this is where I could feel the makings of a blister in my right foot.   Great.

21km: 4:28

So this is the part of the race when I first starting wondering about the placement of the markers.  You see, passing by the 21 km mark, my watch had me at 1:34:40 which would have put me at a bank of a minute and 45 seconds. I was ecstatic with this, because it meant that I would pass the half mark at 1:35:xx. After crossing the 21 km marker I was eagerly looking for the location of the half timing mat so that I could trigger it and report my results to those monitoring at home. After all, a half marathon is 21.1 km so the mat should only be about 100 meters after the 21 km marker.  The thing is I run 100m and no timing mat. I ran a bit more and still no timing mat. So I start thinking that maybe they don't have a timing mat for the half. A bit unusual, but not unheard of.  We then make the turn onto Eastern Ave. and that's when I then see a timing mat in the distance.  Uh-oh. That can't be the half timing mat because it's no where close to the 21 km marker.  Anyhow as I pass the timing mat, I ask the official waiting there and he confirms that this is the half timing mat.  So my official half chip time is

21.1 km: 1:36:32 (official time)

So this had me thinking. There was no way it took me 1:58 to run 100m so it was either the half timing mat was in the wrong position or ALL the km markers in the first half were mismarked.  I found it hard to believe the incompetency that would be required to misplace every single marker in the wrong place, but there were the numbers staring me in the face.  I didn't actually try and figure out how far ahead I was at the half but if I did I would have seen that I was only 21 seconds ahead of my 3:13:45 goal time.

22km: 4:34
23km: 4:32
25km: 9:18 (4:39 avg)

Km 22 to 25 run west through the downtown core and there's a bit of a head wind. Not bad enough to slow you down a lot, but just enough of a cooling breeze. I continue to hit the lap button at the various markers because I don't really have much else to go on for pacing feedback. The GPS wasn't too great in the downtown core. It seemed the distance between markers was accurate, its just that all the markers were several hundred metres earlier then they should have been. After the downtown core, the gps would get better and I had my watch set to autolap on miles which thankfully keeps track of autolaps seperatly from the manual laps so I was able to get some additional feedback on pace for the rest of the race.

27km: 10:31 (5:16 avg, but not correct since it involves corrected marker)

So the 27 km marker was an interesting marker since this was a 2 km split and had me at 2:03:37 which is only 21 seconds ahead of where I should have been at (like at the half). So it appears that this may have been the first time a marker was actually correctly placed in the race. I had high hopes that maybe this would mean that the remaining markers would be accurate which would mean that I would have a good 15 km to work with to make sure I was under my goal time.At this point, we past by the finish line and head west on the out and back portion on the Martin Goodman Trail.

28km: 3:00

Unfortunately,  the accurate markers didn't last long as the 28th km was short and quite significantly so. At this point we are now on the Martin Goodman trail and having done this route many times, I sometime noticed spray painted lines on the side of the trail marking where various races intend to put the markers.  Sure enough, a few hundred metres later, I see a 28km marking on the side of the trail.  Whoever was responsible for placing the markers had clearly messed up. I still had in the back of my mind some hopes that the half timing mat and the 27 km marker had been misplaced, but I started wondering if I should increase the pace just to make sure.

With all the drama over the markers, my left calf still continued to hurt and the blister in my right foot, under the big toe was starting to irritate me a bit more.  The calf issue was painful, but it wasn't as bad as when I did NY, so I continue through it, as they say pain is temporary. The blister on my right big toe, just off the side of the toe was a new sensation for me, as I've never had a blister there.  It hurt, and I had to change my gait a bit to compensate. I was actually more worried that it was going to start bleeding profusely and my white shoes would turn red, kinda like when you see nipple bleeders. Pain I could deal with to a point, and I had not reached that threshold yet. I was hoping that I wouldn't for the rest of the race.

30km: 9:26 (4:43 avg)
31km: 4:40
32km: 4:40
34km: 9:07 (4:34 avg)

I'm not sure why km 30-32 were slowing me down a bit. This part of the course I've run so many times. It wasn't wind.  While the forecast was predicting wind, there was none to be felt heading west. Maybe I lost focus a bit or maybe the markers were just misplaced a bit and they were trying to get back some distance.  There was one part where they were doing some construction on the trail and so we had to make a wide birth to go around so that could have added a few seconds.  Anyhow, the 34 km marker still had me 94 seconds ahead of where I wanted to be. I was hoping that there would be more people to run with, but I was basically running the west bound part of the race alone. I  would pass the occasional person, but most, if not all the people I had encountered were slowing down.

35km: 2:41:03 (official time). 

The 35 km involves a little loop in Humber Bay Park East. They had a timing mat at the 35 km mark. It wasn't marked as the 35 km mark, I only found out after.  Anyhow, I noticed that they used a slightly different route than they had used last year.  After reading online about possible marshal issues in previous years, I made sure to scout out the GPS routes from runners that did the race last year so I would know where to go.  It seems that they made us run a bit longer this year.

Turnaround in 2014

Turnaround in 2015

Great. According to the official time, at the 35 km mark, I was now officially behind where I needed to be by about 21 seconds. I didn't know this at the time and was running in blissful ignorance to my predicament.

37 km: 15:48. (can't calculate average because it was sometime during these 15 minutes that the markers "corrected" themselves.)

As it would turn out, it seemed that only from 35 km mark on, were the markers now correctly placed. The fact that there was no 36 km marker either didn't help.  This first sign that I realized that I might be in trouble was at the 37 km maker when I hit the lap and saw that I was behind.  I didn't  do the math to see how far behind I was, I just knew that I was behind. With only 5 km left to go and about 22-23 minutes left of running, I needed to make up the time. It didn't help that heading east back towards the finish line, there was a headwind.  I think the wind ended up coming from the south and you do sort of running in a southeasternly direction so maybe that's where the wind was coming from. I had put too much faith in the markers and I was now going to have pay for it. I tried to increase the pace ever so slightly thinking that if I could make up a few second per km that would work out okay.  My calf was still hurting and my toe was also blistering. Look down and no blood on the shoes. Ok gut check time. Mind over matter, I kept saying to myself.

38 km:4:28
39 km:4:36
40 km:4:43

From 37 km on I was trying to run the tangents. 2 lanes were closed to traffic, and most runners were just hugging the curb. Knowing that I couldn't give back any time, I was weaving back and forth across the two lanes. A made up some time in the 38th km, but I was staring to worry as I knew the hill in front of the Canadian Legion building was upcoming. It wasn't a big hill and I had charged up that hill on many occasion during long runs, but at this point of the marathon, knowing the time I needed to make up, that hill was going to feel like a mountain. The 39 km was not as quick as I would have liked it, maybe I was subconsciously reserving some energy for the hill.  I charged up the hill as best I could, putting my head down and panting all the way up.  Crested the hill and headed the 2.2 km home.

41km: 4:27
42.2km 5:18 (4:25 avg)

I continued to try and up the effort level as I approach the finish line. I had not bothered to look at my watch for these last few km though I would continue to push the lap button for post race analysis.  I was downright sprinting as hard as I could at the end and when i crossed the finish line, the watch said 3:13:53. I was happy that I had gotten under 3:14 and happy to have beaten the 62 second magic number for Boston this year, but I was not happy that I did not beat my goal of 3:13:45.  My actual chip time turned out to be 3:13:50 which put me at a 70 second magic number and only 5 seconds over my goal time.  Yes, that doesn't seem like a lot, but if you think about it, this is only 8 seconds under the magic time that I would have needed to get into Boston this year. I think this is borderline. I had hoped to actually be a few seconds under 3:13:45 to give me a bit more of a cushion and am pretty sure I could have raced this a bit more effectively, if the markers were even remotely accurate at some point prior to the 35 km mark.

Timing stats are as follows:

 If you didn't know better, it would look like a nice evenly run race. A 46 second positive split between the first half and second half is the closest I've ever come to a negative split while racing. Even better when you consider the first half involves over 100m of elevation drop.

Polar stats show that my HR spiked just after 8 minutes where I went from mid 160s to high 180's.  It would remain in the mid 180's for the rest of the race.  As soon as I stopped running at the finish line, it calmed right back down.  It's funny how it works that way. At least I know that I can run almost an entire marathon with it racing and not hit the wall.

I started the race with a bottle of gatorade which I ended up finishing at the 31 km mark. I carried 4 gels at the start, but only ended up consuming 2.5 of them. I had switched to Vanilla Cliff Shots from Gu and power Gels.  I just seem to like the taste of them better and I've found that even if I don't wash them down I can run with them in my mouth without feeling the need to gag from the sickly sweet taste.  I didn't suffer any quad cramps and didn't really hit the wall at all. My left calf ached from the 13k on and the blister was annoying, but bearable.  My right calf twitched a few times but nothing really of concern.

For those interested in the raw numbers.

Km Marker Split Actual Time Banked Time Relative to
2 0:07:55 0:07:55 -01:16
4 0:08:54 0:16:50 -01:32
5 0:04:30 0:21:20 -01:37
6 0:04:53 0:26:14 -01:19
7 0:04:34 0:30:48 -01:20
8 0:04:38 0:35:27 -01:17
10 0:09:09 0:44:36 -01:19
11 0:04:41 0:49:17 -01:13
12 0:04:36 0:53:53 -01:13
13 0:04:40 0:58:34 -01:07
14 0:04:38 1:03:13 -01:04
16 0:08:41 1:11:54 -01:34
17 0:04:17 1:16:12 -01:51
18 0:04:32 1:20:44 -01:55
19 0:04:44 1:25:28 -01:46
20 0:04:43 1:30:11 -01:38
21 0:04:28 1:34:40 -01:45
21.1 official 1:36:32 -00:21
22 0:04:34 1:39:14 -01:46
23 0:04:32 1:43:47 -01:49
25 0:09:18 1:53:05 -01:42
27 0:10:31 2:03:37 -00:21
28 0:03:00 2:06:37 -01:56
30 0:09:26 2:16:04 -01:40
31 0:04:40 2:20:44 -01:36
32 0:04:40 2:25:25 -01:30
34 0:09:07 2:34:32 -01:34
35 official 2:41:03 00:21
37 0:15:48 2:50:20 00:27
38 0:04:28 2:54:48 00:20
39 0:04:36 2:59:24 00:21
40 0:04:43 3:04:08 00:29
41 0:04:27 3:08:35 00:21
42.2 0:05:18 3:13:50 00:05

As you can see, for most of the race, I thought I had over a minute banked. It seems that only the half marker, the 27 km marker and the 35 km marker and on, were correctly placed.  This in my opinion, is unacceptable.  I wonder how many people ended up missing they goal time on this course because the markers indicated that they were ahead of where they wanted to be?  When the course finally corrected itself, you only had 5 km to make-up lost time.  Hard to due at the late stage of the race.

Thinking back I'm not very impressed with the organization of the race.  It started with the fact that they don't give you a bag for the bib and t-shirt you get at the expo.  You have to sign up for a Goodlife "contest" before they give you one which is just an excuse so they can call you up and get you to come in for a free trial gym membership.  They make you sign up for colored corals but there's no corals at the start. So why bother with colored corals in the first place?  The markers, you've heard me discuss enough. At the finish line, they have gatorade, but they didn't hand out bottled water.  Instead, they served you Brita filtered water in these little cups. I wouldn't even call them Dixie cups, they're more like a shot glass worth of water.  I ended up having to get one refilled 4 times to make even a cup worth of water. On the plus side, the medal is huge.

I do think they had close to the 20 aid stations that they advertised. The race website says they had one at the turnaround spot at 35 km, though they didn't.  Generally found them well manned and no issues with getting multiple cups if needed.

Someone asked me at work that I must have been happy with the time, and I really didn't know if I was.  Yes, it's my second fastest marathon, the fastest marathon I've run in the past 7 years and the closest I've come to a negative split.  The misplaced markers have just left with a bad taste in my mouth as I feel I could have gone faster if I had known earlier that I needed to go faster. I think the bottom line is if the time is fast enough to get me into Boston, then I'll be happy with the performance. If not, then I won't be. Of course, I won't know the answer to this until September.

Whatever the outcome in my quest to Boston, I do feel that I'm unlikely to ever do this race again.