Monday, May 31, 2010

I did it! 21.1 km in 2:24:11.6

I still have tears whenever I think of yesterday. It was a roller coaster of emotions and truly one of the best days of my life.

I didn't sleep very well the night before and had dreams that I took the wrong path at the starting line and got lost. When the alarm rang bright and early at 5:40 a.m. though, I was pumped. I literally jumped out of bed, put my running clothes on, and headed downstairs to prepare breakfast for everyone. We got the kids up around 6 a.m. and they were quite sleepy! After a good breakfast, we got out of the house at 6:45 a.m. and headed downtown.

The adrenaline was going crazy in my body and I was so excited that race morning had finally come.

As soon as we arrived, we found the kids' teacher Mr Blois in the crowd and got Austin and Jaime to the starting line of their kids marathon. Jaime seemed a little freaked out by the crowd, but she found another friend from school who's reassuring presence seemed to relax her. After big hugs and words of encouragement, we left the kids to make it to the spectators' area so we could watch them as they sprinted to the finish line.

3 mn 47 seconds or so later, the first kid ran past us leading with a huge margin to win the kids marathon. A sea of purple-coloured t-shirts later, I spotted Austin who was running hard and so close to the finish line. His time was 5:57.9, a very impressive finish, faster than Mom and Dad's average kilometer pace. I continued looking at the racers encouraging them to keep pushing hard and congratulating them. It was so incredible to see all these kids, healthy and active, giving their very best during this race. Finally, my friend Heather said : "I see Jaime!" It took me a while to spot my girl, but there she was, ponytail wagging from side to side as she ran past us. Jaime finished with a great 7:37.8 chip time!

I was so proud of my two little runners. We left the spectators area and went to the athletes' recovery area where I went to get Austin and Jaime. They had gotten their medals and were so thrilled with their results. We gave them big congratulatory hugs, posed for pictures and then Granny took the kids home while Tyler and I headed to the starting line of the half-marathon.

We found the green corral where we waited for the start. When we first got there, there weren't a lot of runners yet, but the corral quickly filled in with anxious runners waiting to go. It always amazes me to see the differences between runners: old and young, fit and less fit, tall and shorter. Every body type is represented, every age is proudly present, male and female side by side, proud to be a runner. While waiting, I tried to spot my friend Leslie but to no avail. I also had my friend Tracey in my thoughts: Tracey had started her run two hours prior to ours in her quest to complete her very first full marathon.

The half-marathon was full this year with 10,000 runners registered. For this reason, there were two starts to the half-marathon. The first wave started at 9:00 a.m. and the second wave at 9:15 a.m. We were in the second wave and when the gun blased at 9:00 a.m. we all erupted in cheers and applause as we saw the first group of runners go. From where we stood on the hill of Elgin street, we could see  the sea of runners from the first group running to the top of the street and turning left towards Parliament. It was exciting and exhilarating. I remember telling Tyler how much I loved the athmosphere during races and that I couldn't wait to register for my next one.

One thing that really made me happy was the weather conditions yesterday morning. The Ottawa skyline was completely overcast with a cool wind and dropplets of rain. These were perfect conditions for our run. Considering the sweltering heat we had had the previous week, it was a relief for all runners to see that the weather would not prove an added challenge to the run. As it happened, the weather ended up being a great help, allowing me to run to my full potential.

At 9:15 a.m., the horn blasted and our group finally started. Crossing the starting line mat was an incredible feeling and a success for me. I had made it and now my journey was coming to completion. We started our run cheered by people along the sideline which felt fabulous. I quickly was overcome by tears as I realized what I had accomplished in just getting to this point. I tried to swallow my tears. I just couldn't affort to  break down at the beginning of the race! After all, I still had 21.1 km to go!

As we continued to run our first kilometer, I realized that we had started way faster that we ever had. That is one of the challenges of races: starting at a slow pace without trying to keep up with the other runners. We did not do that! We started fast and I had to tell myself to be careful not to overdo it too much too soon. It was hard not to want to push, especially since behind us was the 2:30 pace bunny. In the back of my head from the beginning of my training, I was aiming tofinish the race around the 2hr30mn mark. I wasn't sure I could do it because I hadn't run that fast in training, so I tried to keep a realistic approach while aiming for that 2:30 mark. Having the 2:30 pace bunny behind us was a way to see if I could achieve that goal.

The half-marathon course is beautiful and stunning. It was amazing to run past Parliament, across the bridge to Gatineau, past several other landmarks that symbolize our beautiful country. Seeing all of this, while also catching a glimpse of runners in front and in the back of us is just beyond words.

Around kilometer 3, I was once again overcome by tears that I wasn't able to suppress this time. I thought of my Mom and all she had to go through in her battle with breast cancer and I wasn't able to keep my emotions at bay. I just let the tears come and thinking of my Mom gave me the drive the keep pushing. I knew at this point, that by maintaining this pace, the race would be hard and painful. I knew I would have to dig really deep to finish it at that pace, but I also knew that I wasn't going to back down. My Mom, and all the people who are fighting Cancer or some other life-altering disease, don't get a chance to back down, so why would I?

Along the way, Tyler and I chatted with other runners which was a lot of fun, and we also fueled and refueled with our energy drinks and gels. There were Gatorade and water stations every 3 kilometers and entertainment stations as well: musicians playing for us and singing motivating songs to keep us moving.

When we crossed back to the Ottawa side and passed the National Art Gallery, we ran past the 10 km point. Crowds had gathered along the Chateau Laurier and Colonel By drive to cheer us on and that was definitely a boost of energy. At that point, my time was around 1:06:00 and I knew if I kept on going, then I could run the half in under 2:30. But it's at that point that my body started to show signs of fatigue. I started feeling a running stitch under my right rib, my right knee started throbbing and it was harder for me to keep my breath. I asked Tyler to pace back a few times because I needed it, but a few seconds later I pushed forward again. I just wanted my goal so badly that I couldn't stand to slow down. I didn't like being passed by many people either: my competitive side kicked in. Through most of the run, I tried to follow this one woman who seemed to be just a little over my pace but a good measure of my goal. She was my carrot and by trying to keep pace with her, I was tracking my progress. Most times she was way ahead, but others she was within touching distance. I even saw her stop and walk a few times. We never stopped. It's actually very interesting that a lot of people combine running and walking the marathon. The runners that did it around us still managed to out finish us. I have heard of the run/walk being a very good way to actually recover and run faster and I might try it eventually.

By kilometer 14, I was dying. Tyler kept checking on me and I wasn't doing great. I had to use my head to push my body to keep going. "One more step" "One kilometer" "Almost there" were mantras repeated over and over in my mind from that point on until I finished. The crowd was incredible in keeping me going. Because your name is printed on your bib, people would call out: "Go, Go, Go, Emmanuelle! You can do it! You're amazing!" and that was enough to fuel me on a little further.

Pouring water on my head at the water stations helped a lot too (except when I forgot to remove my glasses and ran with foggy glasses for a while :) and drinking Gatorade.

At 18 kilometers, the stitch on my right side was very painful and I tried to massage it while breathing slow and deep. I remember swearing and saying to myself: "It can't get any more painful, just keep going" and I did.

We finally crossed Pretoria Bridge and I could almost see the finish line. More people had  gathered and cheered from the side. Tyler wanted to push faster but I just couldn't at that point. I kept checking my timer and knew that if I didn't push a little, I might not make the 2:30 mark. I had worked way too hard not to make it happen. So I kept on and tried pushing a little more. At the 750 meter banner, I tried to push some more, and then I saw the 500 meters banner. It was so hard at that point and exhilarating at the same time. I was almost there. With the Finish line in sight, and a little over 100 meters I found the strength to sprint and went full blast across the line. At that point, the emotions and the efforts overcame me and I was once again overcome by tears. Poor Tyler didn't quite know how to react! I sobbed and cried, stopped and sobbed and cried again. I was proud, sore, just happy that I had achieved what I thought was impossible 4 months ago. And more that anything, I had crossed the finish line with a time that had been impossible in my mind even a few hours before. When I got my medal and placed it around my neck, I felt triumphant. Here was the proof of my hard work. Here was the proof that nothing is impossible and I had just proved that to myself in more ways than one.

After stretching and walking around the athletes' recovery area and around the race village, we made our way home. I was a little sad that it was all over and I was also looking forward to sharing hugs with my kids. At the end of the race, I told Tyler that I would never, ever, run a half-marathon race again. Today, I can't wait to train harder and see what my body can do next time. Maybe there will even be a marathon in my future. The question is: Where and when will my next race be?


  1. Congrats on your run yesterday Emmanuelle, I thought a lot about the runners this week. Good work!! I can't believe you didn't have one comment and how you talked yourself through it like a doula!!

  2. You're right Mary! The parallels between birthing and running the half-marathon came up in my head many times, but I never realized I was actually doulaing myself through the finish line. So true! Thanks for your kind words :)

  3. Encore bravo !! Lors la douleur physique, le mental fait 90% du travail, bravo pour cet emouvant temoignage. Tu verras le deuxième se passera mieux ... ;o)