On November 8, I completed my sixth marathon; the Blue Nose. I won’t recap the race route in too much detail (as I already wrote about it in Mary 2017). But rather; will focus on preparation, a few in-race moments, and afterwards.
One day after the Fredericton Marathon, I reached out to Erin Poirier of Love Training More. I asked her for two main reasons. First, she reached out to me last year to present on some Mi’kmaw education for her running group (so that trust was already established for me). Secondly, I’ve been directly/indirectly asking/inquiring to numerous folks about a running coach, and while many were suggested, almost all of them mentioned Erin, and had only great things to say. I was happy that she agreed to coach me.
While I was registered for both the Valley Harvest and Blue Nose as a full, one of her first directives was to do the former as a half and focus on the latter as my goal. She noted both recovery times from Fredericton and the Valley Harvest, and we only had about two months for this. Blue Nose is a challenging and tough marathon; it has many hills, both sharp and gradual, and I injured myself the last time I did it. But I wanted do a sub 3:00:00, and I placed my trust in Erin. So I made the switch, and albeit knowing the challenge, I was up for it.
So I shifted up a lot of things for my training. The first major change was leaving the FitBit world. I had mine since March 2015. I was a bit sad but I had new dreams to achieve. However, after earning my 100,000 Steps in a Day badge in May 2016, there really wasn’t much else to accomplish with it. So I swapped to a Garmin. I briefly explored an Apple Watch but was informed that a Garmin was better for runners. Garmin also has more badges to that I can earn. With that, I created a Strava account and left RunKeeper, which served me well since September 2016. But like parting ways with FitBit, I was working towards something else, and could no longer stick with old routines.
Speaking of old routines, probably the biggest transformation I underwent was ditching my old running schedule and style. Initially I thought I would just be modifying what I did in August for Fredericton. Instead, we had a weekly agenda for days dedicated for easy runs, BODYPUMP and or GRIT, intervals (which I never did), speed work, recovery and rest, thresholds runs, shake-outs, tapering, yoga, and or long distances (and none of them were 42.2 kilometres). While this was different than what I was doing (which I thought was great at the time), I trusted Erin, and would follow her coaching on this. Furthermore, for fueling and nutrition advice, she recommended a registered dietitian – Jennie Orr – who was also a marathoner herself.
The Valley Harvest as a half was the halfway point between the fulls for Fredericton and Blue Nose. To sum it up, albeit its hills, it was a new half marathon personal best at 1:27:28. It was the first time I realized the great advantage of using a Garmin. With a focus on a 4:15 pace, rather that waiting for my RunKeeper to update me on it (which also forced me to make educated guesses), I was able to simply look at my Garmin to see my pace. That’s it – anytime, and with no interruptions to my music. For the last three kilometres, at Erin’s pre-approval, I dashed for the finish.
With a week before Blue Nose, Erin said to do no BODYPUMP nor GRIT. It was my taper week and carb-loading. One of the biggest things that really took a mental adjusting to was not warm-up at all prior to the marathon. This took some extra explaining from both Erin and Jennie. I’ve always warmed-up before every marathon (in fact, before any race), and have seen others do it. But again, I trusted Erin (and Jennie) on this. Mainly, I needed to save all my energy for the 42.2K race. So I wouldn’t be doing a warm-up. The carb-loading was interesting and educational. Jennie explained quite a bit of it, the science and reasoning behind it, sodium and hydration, and how to eat days leading up to the full. With the emphasis on carbs, I invented Skittle Pizza (it’s just Skittles on a pizza).
Mi’kmaw Marathoner Patti Catalano Dillon gave me some extra advice (some of which crossed-over with what Erin and Jennie told me). One that stood out was to relax the evening before. My initial plan to was watch something with great action to “psyche me up” for Blue Nose. Instead, Patti suggested to watch something that would clam and relax me to ensure I get a good sleep that night. So I watched a few older “feel good” episodes of The Simpsons. With daylight savings, I got even a bit more sleep albeit still somewhat “wired” an hour ahead.
Sunday morning, I had oatmeal, natural peanut butter with a tad bit of salt added, orange juice, and Gatorade. As I was up early, well-rested, and had the extra hour, I took my time getting ready at the house. In what was a first and big decision, I decided to not wear my heart rate monitor (my MyZone) for a few reasons. The prime one being that it can become awfully distracting. I’ve had races where the chest strap can loosen at any time. I end up trying to adjust or tightening it, and this wastes some time as I need to slow down to get it right. Secondly, I know on average how many calories and MyZone Experience Points (MEPs) I earn on an average marathon. MEPs are fun to track and all, but my marathon time was the focus. Finally, sometimes the MyZone can cause chafing. While I do use Polysporin for this, I didn’t want to deal with any additional recover times.
Arriving decently early, I parked on Summer Street just a block away from the start line. Once ready, I made my way over and went to the restroom for one last time before things got underway. While I normally see a ton of friends before my race starts, for whatever reason, I barely saw anyone that I knew (a friend from law school, one from GoodLife, and one of Kerri’s dance friends). I was a bit worried that it would have been chilly (as it was November, and I did the Blue Nose in May when it was quite cold at the start), but the weather was perfect for running. Remembering what Erin said, I didn’t do any warming-up at all. The “warm-up” was pretty much just me walking over, and then doing one big crouch to pop my knees (not bad/dangerous at all despite how it sounds). Soon, the horn went off and the marathon began.
The first and immediate thing was reminding and telling myself to absolutely stay with a 4:15 pace. No matter who passes me, who I pass, or what I was feeling at any time, the target was 4:15. I had a few periods where I was going a little too fast and would pull back a bit, and other times, I was a little slower than my pace aim and picked things up only to ensure that I was back on 4:15. As well, Erin said do not attempt to “bank time,” as that never works (and I knew this from doing five other marathons). As well as with Jennie’s advice, I would take my energy gels every five kilometres. Because of COVID-19, rather than handing out cups, volunteers handed out bottled water and Gatorade. So to preserve what I had in my belt, I grabbed bottled Gatorade along the way on occasion.
The course had slight alterations from the last time I did it. The two main ones were running up Cornwallis Street (can’t wait till they change the name of it) and then running down onto Duke Street. Basically, I viewed this as my “give and take” re time. Going up was going to slow me down, and going down was going to speed things up. Without an actual calculation on this, I presumed that this would even out.
On my first lap going up Inglis Street and nearing the turn towards Young Avenue, I saw my coach, which was a great moral booster. She ran with me for a brief period, encouraging me to simply keep up the good work, which is all that I needed at the time. She would do the same again when I ran up Hollis Street later on the second lap.
Speaking of which, at the second lap, I noticed that my time was slower than my personal best from Valley Harvest but still under 1:30:00. I was mindful though that with Valley Harvest, I did dash for the finish. Obviously I wasn’t going to dash now. The focus was simply 4:15.
While overall things were going good/steady for me on the race, something did mess up. Just after 37 kilometres, I got out of Point Pleasant Park and turned left and down a short steep Point Pleasant Drive. As soon as I turned onto Francklyn Street, my left hamstring badly pulled on me. I stopped and had to make a fast decision; either limp and run slowly for next five kilometres, or give it a good stretch and then try and get back on pace. I opted for the latter, and did it for about 30 or so seconds. I didn’t want to do less than that because I worried it would’ve acted up again, with me repeating the process, and this would be more time wasted. It’s better to stop and repair the vehicle than to drive a damaged one that could further break down. Plain and simple; good stretch now, and then try to get back into the race. It worked, because I was able to resume things.
Running up Young Avenue and onto South Park Street was a gradual climb. I knew it was going to be tougher than the last time I did this with just having a pulled hamstring. Unlike Valley Harvest, there would be no dash for the finish (maybe another time). A bit more on South Park Street, Erin and I saw each other again. She paced me up, and like before, encouraging and motiving me along the way, and I badly needed it. I was feeling uneasy with my left hamstring, but at least I was stable. Her pacing was a great and necessary mental boost that helped me out so much. I wanted to inform her of my muscle pulling and that I had to briefly stop, but decided against it, opting instead to concentrate my energies on finishing the race. I would explain everything afterwards and during our weekly updates. Going past Spring Garden Road, we ran by Kerri, Holly, and Looloo, who cheered me on. Then headed onto Bell Road, Erin said she’d meet me at the finish.
The final kilometre towards the finish was tough but nothing too grueling. It wasn’t the route itself that bothered me; it was knowing that I had to keep a set pace till the finish – no dashing. If my hamstring pulled again, it would just be more time delayed. So stability was key, although I think having one last downhill run on Rainnie Drive, especially with the larger and louder supportive crowds, helped get my final kilometre pace under 4:15.
On Brunswick Street, Erin cheered me on towards the finish line. Crossing it, I immediately stopped my Garmin and took a concentrated slow walk. I was congratulated, and said thank you, but had to keep moving. A part of me kind of wondered if I was going to get sick (fortunately I didn’t). Erin met me on the other side of the guardrail, congratulated me, and I thanked her for everything. I was on an extreme emotional high, but also had an aching lower body, especially on both hamstrings and feet. Soon we came up to Kerri, Holly, and Looloo for more congrats. I headed towards the post-race site to grab some juice, all with a weakened walk. I was sore. In fact, I’d say that it was the most sore that I have ever been right after a marathon. But thankfully, I was not in pain. Unlike my 2017 Blue Nose Marathon, I was fortunate enough to have done this one without incurring an injury. I saw a few other runners and we all congratulated each other. It was a tough course. I got some congratulatory text messages from others who saw my results before I did. I went home to recovery, stretch, and shower. I struggled to simply get up the stairs. After some waiting, I viewed my official results; 3:02:14 – a new personal best, and a Boston Qualifier with more time than my last one.
One observation about Sunday that was a first was a good physical recovery. While I was severely aching right after the race, by the early evening, I was feeling much better. This is in especial contrast to the Nova Scotia Marathon back in July, where the most serious soreness stayed with me for the whole day and even into the next few. That night, I had my weekly check-in chat with Erin. I mentioned the hamstring pull. She thought that the downhills may have had something to do with it. I wondered if it was me taking an epsom salt bath on Thursday night and not stretching enough prior to the marathon were additional factors. I shared that I had some more future goals that I would like her to help me with. She agreed, and the next order was recovery; take the next two weeks off from running, and for the next week, just rest.
Days after the Blue Nose Marathon, there was another recovery that I was undergoing; an emotional one. While I was beyond grateful that I got to do two other marathons (along with two other races) in 2021 during the pandemic, I think the combination of being coached by an amazing woman for a new personal best on a very challenging course (one I didn’t think that I could do but she did), the race being right in Kjipuktuk, being greeted by Looloo at her first marathon, perfect fall running weather, the big crowd energy of Blue Nose, and just having the feeling of what racing and life was like before the pandemic, all left me with an emotional high. I’ve had a few moments in the last week were I would simply start crying thinking about how wonderful things were during the Blue Nose Marathon, and our gradual return towards this. With Fredericton, I went in with high expectations for myself and felt as if I fell short. Even with earning a Boston Qualifier, I wanted more out of my performance – more out of me – and I think this is why I had a hard time feeling good about how I did. With Blue Nose, albeit having a goal of sub 3:00:00, with 3:02:14 as my new personal best, I was happy/proud of this. I went into this marathon feeling like I had a rematch with a tough opponent that I held a grudge against (the last Blue Nose left me with an injury), but instead, walked away with a mutual admiration and respect, and a deeper appreciation. Sometimes a tough opponent brings out the [personal] best [time] in you, and this year’s Blue Nose did just that.