The Road to Boston – Part 4

Hello Friends!

Happy Easter to you all, I hope that you are enjoying the holiday Friday as much as Matt and I are! We both slept in this morning (for the first time in a LONG time), and then I went to a 90 minute BodyFlow class which was absolutely beautiful. I really need to make more of an effort to attend BodyFlow, it’s the perfect mix of Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates, and I always feel so much more centred and balanced when I leave.

Today, with the Boston Marathon only 3 weeks away, I wanted to continue along The Road to Boston. If you missed Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3, you can catch up with them below!

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

We last left off with Matt completing his 2nd Boston qualifying attempt at the Manitoba Marathon in 2005. In the process he shaved 40 minutes off his personal best. What lay ahead was a major eye opening when it comes to training and racing. Matt was entering into his first year of university at Lakehead; he was majoring in Physics. After a long summer of working 2 jobs at the Ministry of Natural Resources and the local KFC/Pizza Hut Express there hadn’t been a lot of time to train. In fact after his June marathon, he only did one run the rest of the summer.

During Matt’s first day of classes he got bored during a break, and went onto a computer to start looking up running stats. He realized that his university had a cross country team. He decided to email the coach, but to be honest that he hadn’t trained all summer and that the last time he had raced it was a marathon.

The coach replied before the day was done and told him that the team trained 6 days a week, starting at 4:30pm Monday to Thursday and 10am Saturday and Sunday. Monday and Wednesday were recovery days which made for 3 hard working days and a Sunday long run. Matt believes to this day, that the coach told him all of that to scare him off. Matt simple reply was: “When can I tryout?”. Matt’s first day with the team was an easy recovery 10km run, he survived and was happy to perhaps become a part of the team.

The next day was a fartlek workout, something Matt had never done. The coach said “Ok, the workout is 10x3min with 1min recovery, at 85 and 60”. If this makes absolutely no sense to you, don’t worry, Matt was confused as ever. His plan was to hide in the back of the pack, do what the rest of the runners were doing and just try to keep up.

Side Note: The coaches instructions meant: run 3mins at 85% effort, 10 times. With 1 min recovery at 60% effort between each.

As the workout got going, Matt felt for the first time that he was very “slow”. He had no watch, and after the first 3mins he got left by the group and was all alone. He had to guess the 3 minutes and 1 minute recovery intervals. After the run was finished, he talked to the coach about what he had to do to improve.

Matt believes the coach was hard on him to force him off the team, as his speed and fitness was light years behind the rest of the team. Slowly as time went on the coach realized Matt’s complete and utter willingness to suffer and hurt. Matt believes that this made the coach believe he had potential and he began to work one on one with him directly.

Matt’s previous racing strategy was to go out hard and try to hold on to the finish line. The problem with this is that in a distance race, your second half is typically slower then your first. If you can conserve and have energy to finish your race faster then you started, your times will increase, even with the same level of fitness. The coach had Matt race every second Tuesday in a small local trail series. The coach would give him a pace then somewhere near half he would wait and when Matt saw him it was time to pick up his speed, empty the tank and chase people down. After weeks of practice of this strategy, Matt started to get the hang of it.

With all this time on his feet, his entire body started to get sore. Matt being in residence found a girl in nursing that had a freezer full of ice packs. He would borrow one or two ice packs from her freezer and exchange them for another one or two the next day or even later that night. It was during this stretch that Matt learned the difference between “sore” and “injured”. The first major pain that he experienced was in his feet, then his knees, and then his hips. Matt had always avoided telling the coaches when he was hurting in every sport he had ever played. If he could just find a way to get to a rest day then it would all be ok. He did his best to get to the end of each workout and then get as much ice as he could find.

As a varsity athlete, Matt had access to ice baths and medical staff, however he believed that if he took advantage of any of that stuff then his coach would know that he was hurting and complaining. Something that his Dad told him rang true (and is still true to this day): “You need to rest as hard as you train” That meant that if he wasn’t running he was laying down on a couch doing school work or sleeping. He told himself to rest at all cost, and slowly the pains would go away.

During this whole time Matt also learned what a “hard day” was. He felt that if at the end of a Tuesday or Saturday workout he didn’t feel the need to vomit then he could have worked harder. Slowly, with a lot of hard work, he started catching the slower guys on the team. He wasn’t finishing the workouts alone anymore. By the indoor track season he had made it into the bottom quarter of the team. He had thought that the cross country workouts were tough, but then he met the track. The first track session the coach placed Matt running with the top girls, which meant that he was still too far behind the other guys. Matt would have none of that, he worked his ass off on every set and finished way ahead of the girls every time. He wanted to run with the rest of the team; he felt that this was another test. He must have passed the test because the coach was happy and the next week at the track session he placed Matt back with the guys.

Another big lesson learned was that even though it was called the “indoor track season”, only one workout a week was actually inside. Thunder Bay is a cold place in the winter with most of the winter being -20 or colder without wind chill. Learning how to dress to stay warm and cool at the same time was tough. Wearing too much will make you sweat until you are totally soaked, which then freezes in the ice cold air. The opposite is obvious, if you don’t wear enough you would freeze as well. It’s kind of the Goldilocks thing: you have to find that happy medium.

By the end of the indoor track season Matt had made some major improvements, he was getting to be near the middle of the pack. As the season ended so did the school year. That meant going home to work in the summer and no structure for his running. In his end of season meeting with the coach, everything was very positive. The coach’s biggest complement was that he loved Matt’s willingness to suffer and hurt, that he doesn’t give up, and gives 110% every workout.

The next thing that his coach said, Matt believes was one of the biggest errors made in his entire running career. He told Matt that he didn’t want him to run the Manitoba Marathon that summer. He said it would put his summer training behind due to the recovery needed after the marathon. Matt believes to this day that he might have been able to run a 2:50 Marathon that summer with all of the training he had been doing 6 days a week. We will never know.

After a month of training on his own, Matt stopped running. He was working at the mine in town and was doing 12 hour shifts rotating between days and nights. He got tired, had no race to look forward to and lost interest. To this day Matt regrets this decision but it is these journeys and lessons learned that make running so much more then just a sport.

At the start of the next season Matt talked to the coach, told him the truth and tried to pick up where he left off. After a month back on the team, Matt was invited to play up on a tier 2 Junior A hockey team. Matt had worked toward that goal since he was 15, and he jumped at the chance. Suddenly, running didn’t matter anymore. He told the coach that he was going to stop and thanked him for all his time. He apologized for not being able to pan out for the coach.

After one more year at school, Matt decided that college was a better option for him. Life took him down a completely different path, and one year later, he applied to join the Army. The best decision that he felt he had made to that point in his life.

I am so excited to bring you the next part in this series. Matt and I started dating about a year into his contract with the army, so I entered the picture during Part 5. I can’t wait to give you my perspective on this incredible journey.

Happy Easter Everyone!!!


Around the Bay Race Recap – Part 2

At some point in between 15 and 20km, I latched onto two girls that were running together. One girl was wearing a Lululemon jacket with green and black stripes (that I had admired in the store only a few weeks earlier) and the other girl was wearing a neon pink running top with writing on her back that said ‘Train Like A Beast To Look Like A Beauty’. They both were wearing neon pink hair extensions in their ponytails as well, and I would sometimes catch myself staring at the pink as it swished from side to side like some kind of hypnosis. I knew that I was running “faster” then them, because whenever I was running, I would pass them, but whenever we came to a water station and I would walk for a minute, they would pass me again. It went on like this for several kilometers, back and forth, back and forth. Every time I passed them I kind of grinned to myself and thought “Ha! Gotcha!” Every time they passed me, I grit my teeth and vowed I would catch them again soon.

Who knew I was so freakin’ competitive??? I guess the race atmosphere kind of brings that out of even the most docile personalities; I’m sure if you put Mother Theresa out on a race course, she’d be gritting her teeth and vowing to take down the guy ahead of her. Or maybe not. But you get the idea.

As I passed the 21km mark, I realized kind of numbly that I had just completed a half marathon. I was pleased to notice that I didn’t feel like I normally feel as I cross the finish line of half marathons (you know, like I’m going to just melt into a puddle on the floor like the Wicked Witch of the West when the scarecrow throws that bucket of water on her in the Wizard of Oz). I just kind of felt weary, kind of numb, foggy……

Wicked Witch

I saw Matt at the 22km mark. Normally when I see my friends or family members as spectators, no matter how much I’m hurting, I’ll smile, give them a thumbs up, pretend that I’m feeling way better then I actually am. But I just didn’t have it in me at that point. For the first time ever, I actually spoke to someone when I was on the course, and said to him “I don’t know how I’m going to do this”. To which Matt replied “Hey! I’ll see YOU at the finish line!” We had a good laugh about that later on, but at the time, I had my music on so loud that I couldn’t even hear what he said to me. He took this picture – and my face kind of says it all. I am really hurting here.


The Around the Bay course is flat for the first 20km, and rolling hills for the last 10km. My guess is whoever laid out the course didn’t actually have to RUN the damn thing. The hills killed me in that last 10km; just killed me. It was these last 10km where I started to clutch onto my water bottle like it was my life preserver in the middle of the ocean, and it really truly was. I filled up my bottle 7 times in total over the course of the race. I was gulping water from it like a fish; I took Gatorade and water at every water station. I could not get enough liquids in me. I remembered foggily at that point in the race that I had seriously debated whether or not I should even carry a water bottle with me or just rely on the water stations every 5km. I know now with absolute certainty that I would not have finished the race if I hadn’t had water with me. It turned out to be the most important decision I had made all weekend.

I can really thank those two neon pink girls for getting me through a couple of kilometers in that last 10km stretch. At one point when I was really struggling, they passed me and I couldn’t catch up to them when I started running again. I was really bummed that I had lost my competitors and kind of felt like a total loser because I had lost the entire “group” that I had been running with for the first 20km of the race. After kind of giving up on the hunt, I put my head down and just kept running….and of course, as irony would have it, that’s when I saw them. Actually, the first thing that I saw was a swish of the pink hair extensions that they were wearing in their hair, way up ahead in another crowd of people. Although my brain told me to not be stupid and conserve my energy for the last 6km, I knew as soon as I saw them that I just had to chase them down and catch them. It became my sole focus for the next 2km.

Just before we hit the 26km mark, I finally caught them. As I passed them, I promised myself that this was the last time I would pass them, they wouldn’t pass me again. Of course just as I turned the corner after passing them, I came across the biggest mother of all hills. If you recall from my recap of the Eggnog Jog race back in December, I described a nasty beast of a hill at the 5km mark. This hill was just as big and just as nasty, except it was positioned at kilometer 26 instead of kilometer 5. To say it sucked would be a gross understatement. It nearly killed me. At that point it wasn’t just my legs on fire, it was my back, my neck, my shoulders, even my abs. Everything just hurt. For not the first time, I wondered if I was even going to be able to walk to the finish line. I walked up the hill. I was disappointed to not be able to run, but I just couldn’t find it in me. Towards the top of the hill, I turned to an older man beside me and said “This is a nice spot for a hill eh?” to which he wearily replied “Yep…I think they want to take whatever we have left”. That about summed it up.

After the hill, we had about 3km to go. I could tell we were getting close because there were more and more spectators on the course. We were running down this long stretch of highway, and I recognized it as the road that my mom and I had driven down on Saturday to get to Copps Coliseum. We passed by a big and really old cemetery, where someone had dressed up like the Grim Reaper and was holding a sign saying “DEAD RUNNERS THIS WAY” with an arrow into the cemetery. That made me laugh (which hurt – so I stopped laughing quickly).

After about 5 minutes, when I lifted my head, I could see the stadium, probably about 1.5km away straight ahead. I noticed that the girl in green and black stripes and neon pink girl had not passed me yet. I took one look over my shoulder, didn’t see them behind me, and knew that I had left them for good back on the hill. I said a mental thank you to them at that point for carrying me through those tough 3 or 4 kilometers when I so desperately needed to focus on something other than the aching in my back and my feet.

If there is any small chance that they would ever read this: Thank you green and black striped girl and neon pink girl. I couldn’t have done it without you.

That last kilometer felt really long and strangely short at the same time. For the first time all race I let myself picture the finish line. I knew I was going to make it. At that point, I was so eager to get to the finish line, that looking back I wish I had taken a better look around, slowed down a bit to appreciate how far I had come, and not just in terms of physical kilometers travelled.

2013 is fast becoming the year of “I Can”. I’m starting to believe that I really can do anything I set my mind to. I said to Matt that no matter what happens with the Half Ironman in September, I’m so glad that I set the goal. I feel like already, setting the goal has switched on something in me that says “I’m scared as hell but I’m going to do it anyways”. I kind of love it. My ultimate goal for this year was to become a person that finishes what they start. Although it’s only March and I still have a long way to go, I’m starting to feel the paradigm shift already.

As we passed the 29km mark, I got overwhelmed by this big flood of emotion and started to tear up. I had been so remarkably calm leading up to the race, so much so that it was weird. It was like my brain hadn’t really registered what I was up against, or what I was about to do. It wasn’t until that 29km mark that I realized how deep down I had buried the panic and the tension and the desire to complete the thing.

As I ran the last kilometer, I felt like I could have run for miles. It’s funny how that works isn’t it? We came up on Copps Coliseum, ran past it and down around to the loading docks where the Zambonis go in and out, down an enormously steep slope into the arena, and there we were in the place that it had all started. Matt had draped his body over the railings and was front and centre when I came into the arena; he took several pictures of me coming in.


Finsih Sara


I crossed the line with tears of joy, relief and maybe a little bit of pain in my eyes. A paramedic came up to me immediately and asked if I was okay. I can’t even remember if I answered him, but I must have said yes because he left me alone. We made our way around the chute, and around to receive our medals and food bags, and then up an escalator to meet up with our spectators.

The rest of the day to be honest is a bit of a blur. I remember Matt ordering pizza, and me being over joyed that he had ordered a lot of “chicken bites” from Pizza Pizza because I love those….I remember falling asleep on the couch watching Dennis Quaid in “The Rookie”….I remember limping into my parents’ house for dinner that night and eating turkey burgers……and that’s about it.

Now, 4 days later, I am mostly all healed up from the run. My right foot is a bit sore still, I’m still dealing with some pain in my right heel, but aside from that, I’m feeling just about back to normal. It all seems like it was a dream, I can’t believe that it has come and gone.

I’m thrilled to cross this BHAG off the list. It’s been on my back for a long time. Around the Bay kind of wraps up my running for a little bit, or at least my “exclusive running”. Now it’s time to get on the bike and back into the pool.

It never really ends does it? 🙂

Maybe that’s yet another thing that we love about this stuff; that it never really does end. There’s always something else you can do, a new challenge, a new opportunity to find out what you’re made of, a new goal to work towards.

That being said – I’m stopping for this week to smell the roses. I may have a long way to go…but where I’m at right now is a pretty fan-freakin’-tastic place as well.

Have a fabulous long weekend!!

Around The Bay Race Recap – The Year of “I Can”

It’s been a crazy weekend full of ups and downs and a big tossed salad of all different emotions. As I sit here right now looking back, it all seems like a big blur already, which is why it’s so important for me to get down all of the details that I can possibly remember now before it all just fades away into a big blur of sweat and tears!

 Few people actually know this (even Matt didn’t know until yesterday afternoon), but 2 years in a row now I have actually signed up to do the Around the Bay 30K road race in Hamilton. I paid my registration fee; got the confirmation email, got the “CONGRATULATIONS” email after the race was done….and I never actually did the race. I’m not sure where the fascination with this particular race came from, but it’s been a goal of mine for 3 years now. When I shared my race plans for 2013, I said that “this was the year”, and I was finally coming back to cross it off the list once and for all.


After finishing the Chilly Half Marathon 3 weeks ago, in which I totally struggled for the last 5km of the race, and was really stiff and sore for a couple of days afterwards, all I could think was, “There is no way in hell that I could have done another 9km”.

The next 3 weeks was a total roller coaster. On the first day that I was feeling totally recovered from the half marathon, I pulled a muscle in my right hamstring that set me back about a week and a half in recovery and training for Around the Bay. More than a couple of times I thought to myself that it just wasn’t going to happen (yet again) this year.

Somehow, someway, I made it to race weekend pretty much unscathed, and actually feeling really good! I tried to get a sub for my BodyAttack class on Saturday morning, but wasn’t able to, so I did end up teaching my class the day before the race. It actually turned out to be a really good thing for me to teach that morning, I was feeling really anxious and nervous on Saturday, and it really helped to spend some time with my amazing participants, who always seem to have this unwavering faith that I can do absolutely anything. I think it was also a good thing to get my legs moving a bit after a day off on Friday.

After class, my mom and I went out to Copps Coliseum in Hamilton to pick up my race kit and check out the New Balance Health & Fitness Expo. (In case you were wondering, Matt was out running his own 35km training run up the escarpment – so he was a little tied up!).

It’s pretty obvious that Around the Bay is a very mature race (it’s older than the Boston Marathon – this is the 119th Anniversary!). Everything was run so smoothly, there was lots of parking available, easy to get to the expo, lots of space inside, very well organized package pick up…it all just seemed to work like clockwork.

My mom and I spent some time walking around all of the booths that they had set up around the top of Copps Coliseum (they had purposely positioned the package pick up stations at the exact opposite end of where you came up the escalator so that you had to walk past all of the booths to get your race kit!!). It was a great expo, they had a little bit of everything, the typical Running Room booth, a big New Balance display, but they also had several different clothing booths, lots of running accessories, jewelry…you name it! I ended up buying a pair of “Yurbud” earphones that are “guaranteed to never fall out” because they use this “twist lock” technology that kind of locks the ear bud into your ear. I was really aggravated with my earbuds in the Chilly Half because they just would not stay in, so this sounded like a pretty lofty promise to me. The Yurbuds were expensive, but I had heard good reviews, and decided to take a chance on them. Stay tuned for the review of their performance during the race!

Pink Yurbuds

One other thing that totally caught my eye in the expo was this beautiful necklace stand that was selling running necklaces with runners, shoes, even necklaces with just “30K” or “42.2K” in sterling silver. I thought they were beautiful, and very reasonably priced at $30 each, but it just felt like it was tempting fate to buy something like that before I had actually completed the race. We ended up leaving with our wallets (mostly) intact. A big achievement for me, a self confessed shop-a-holic!!

Saturday night we had a big pasta dinner, and watched the Leafs beat Boston (moment to appreciate THAT please – if that isn’t a good omen, I don’t know what is!!). I wasn’t even feeling all that nervous by that point, it was very odd. I felt the same way before the Chilly Half; the upcoming race just seemed kind of foggy and far away. I picked out my race clothes, laid everything out and went to bed sometime before 11pm.


We got to Hamilton just before 8am on race day morning, with the race scheduled to start at 9:30. It was a bit crazy, there were about 7,000 runners doing the 30K, and hundreds of relay teams that had split up the 30K into chunks, so needless to say there was a small tsunami worth of spandex clad people!! Copps Coliseum was a great holding facility for all of us, there were lots of washrooms and places to sit down and wait for the start. Some of Matt’s running buddies from his running group were there to do the race as well, so we met up with them for a few minutes beforehand. They had some pretty crazy goals (sub 2 hour for the 30K?!). One of the guys asked me what I was shooting for in the race, and I think I replied something like *nervous laugh* “Oh I’m just hoping to make it out alive”.

Now there’s the confidence that we’re looking for right????? 😉

I realized before the race started that I had already drank almost half of my water bottle that I was planning on carrying with me during the race before I even got outside!! The water stations were set out about 5km apart on the course, and I just had this bad feeling that I was going to need water more often than every 5km. The decision to carry water with me turned out to be the absolute most important decision that I made all weekend. Matt set out on a quest to find somewhere to fill up the water bottle for me, but by that point they had called out on the announcing system that they wanted us to start making our way down to the start line, and poor Matt was battling the wrong way against a sea of about 10,000 people trying to head out of the stadium!! We had to abandon the water quest because we were just running out of time, so we turned around and started going with the sea of people heading outside and down towards the starting line.

It turned out that the starting line was actually a couple of blocks away from where we were inside, so it took us a couple of minutes to get over to the corrals. I was glad that there wasn’t much time to wait around, my head was still in a bit of a fog and hadn’t quite processed what I was about to do. Thankfully, I wasn’t in the corral for more than about 2 minutes before we started moving. Here goes nothing.


Pre Race

It took me about 4 minutes to cross the line, there were lots of people. When I first started to run, it kind of hit me that this wasn’t another half marathon; that this was something more than that. I told myself no matter what that I wasn’t to focus ahead on the finish line, that I would take each kilometer as it came, take it in small chunks and that no matter what happened out there, I wasn’t going to give up.

The first kilometer there were lots of spectators cheering and it whizzed by in a huge blur. I remember looking at my watch and realizing that it had already been 1 kilometer. I thought to myself at that point “The race is 1/30th of the way done!”

I realized within the first 8km that I was dressed far too warmly for the cool 0 degree temperature. I had worn a tank top, a long sleeve top and my mom’s really warm Lululemon jacket, and I had also worn gloves and a headband around my ears. I froze my tail off doing a 15km training run out in Brussels the previous weekend, and I guess I had the fear of God in me for the race because I was way over-dressed!! I could feel that my face was soaked in sweat by the 5km mark, and when I was tugging down my long sleeve top underneath my jacket, I could feel it was soaked already as well. I wasn’t quite sure what to do at that point because my bib was on the front of my jacket, and my iPod was in the jacket pocket.

At about the 8km mark, I got an unexpected surprise; Matt! We actually almost missed each other; it wasn’t until I was just past him that I turned my head and caught sight of him. I don’t even think I said a word to him; I just instinctively whipped off the headband around my ears and tossed it to him. Seeing him made me smile, and gave me the encouragement that I needed to keep going. Believe it or not, I was feeling a bit sluggish at 8km already. It was everything I could do to avoid thinking of how far I had yet to go.

For the entire first half of the race, I set a goal for myself to forget the finish line, and just make it to the 15km mark. It made the race seem less daunting to focus on just getting to that 15km mark. I felt really great between 10km and 15km, and when I saw Matt again at the 15km mark, I felt fantastic (as you can see in this picture – what the heck is wrong with my face?!).

Sara - 15K

I was feeling so fantastic that I actually picked up my pace between 15 and 20; it was my fastest 5km of the entire race! I later learned that Matt’s mom Dianne was at home on the computer tracking my progress and texting Matt the updates of where I was on the course.

After the 15km mark, I started to think in 5km chunks. The next goal was 20. But by the time I made it to 20, the energy burst that I had gotten from achieving the 15km goal was sucked right out of me. I was tired. My legs hurt. A nagging pain in my right foot was really starting to bug me, and I was just ready for the race to be over. It was at that point that I really realized the magnitude of the 30km race, and that I still had a long, long way to go.

Stay tuned for the last 10km of the race coming up tomorrow. I learned more about myself in that last 10km then I have in any race I’ve completed to date.

Have a great evening!!

The Road to Boston – Part 3

Hello Everyone – Happy Sunday to you!

Where I am we had two of the most beautiful days we’ve had in a long time. It was warm enough to walk around without a big bulky jacket, the sun was shining and life was just looking and feeling pretty great! You can just tell that everyone is so thrilled the weather is turning nice, I saw more runners outside this weekend then I have in so long, people walking their dogs, taking their kids to the park, biking…spring is definitely in the air!!

I’ve tweaked a muscle in my hamstring during my post-half marathon recovery this week, so I’m kind of nursing that, but I did get in a 5.3km run outside today just to keep my legs moving. My plan is to do a big 25km training run next weekend in preparation for Around the Bay the following week. But I’m trying to forget about that for now.

Today I want to revisit our determined, young Matt, who sporting his mohawk, a new found respect for the 42.2km beast that we call a marathon, and the work ethic of a champion (inspired by Lance Armstrong) was gearing up for his second “real” Boston Marathon qualifying attempt at the Manitoba Marathon in June of 2005.

In case you missed them, you can catch the rest of the Road to Boston series here:

Part 1

Part 2

In his last marathon, Matt had flirted with the dehydration demon, and the main focus of his training plan for his third full marathon was to embody the principle of “hydrate or die”. Before every medium and long run that he went out on, he would first drive out and place water and Gatorade at spaced distances to replicate the water stations he would come across at a race. Feeling that the actual running training he had done before Toronto was enough, he mirrored that training log. As long as everything went as planned, he felt that the Boston Marathon qualifying time was well within his grasp.

The Manitoba Marathon is an early summer race, always held on Father’s day. The timing of the race is kind of funny in that it’s hard to predict exactly what the weather will be like. There is always the risk that it could be the first heat wave of the year. Matt watched the forecast carefully, and the weather network was calling for very warm weather all weekend. His attitude was fairly easy breezy, he wouldn’t worry about it until race day, there was no need to waste energy being concerned with a ‘maybe’. Plus the weatherman is always wrong, right? 😉

At the race expo the University of Manitoba approached Matt and asked him if he would be willing to participate in a test study that they were doing to better understand the effect of marathons on different people’s bodies. Basically, before the race Matt would have to be weighed, have blood taken, and breathe into a tube to take all of his vitals down. He would have to repeat this process after the race and then one hour after that to look at the variance in his vitals, and assess what the marathon had done to his body. Matt agreed right away, and thought that it was a pretty cool opportunity to take a look inside of his body during the most intense physical challenge he had ever encountered.

As race morning dawned, Matt was up early to style his hair into his awesome mohawk. The whole time he was getting ready, he was listening to the song “Its my Life” by Bon Jovi at max volume and getting pumped up for the race. He had made a bet with his dad, who was running his first full marathon. Matt bet $50 that he would beat his dad by at least 30 minutes. His dad (thinking that he would teach this kid a lesson) was eager to take that bet.

With his mohawk in place, it was time to hurry to the starting corrals where the University Study would take place. He finished his pre-race tests with just enough time to get to the start and make his way near the start. With all the excitement he didn’t realize it was over 30 degrees, and he was starting to sweat before the gun went off. Before he could get too worried about the heat, BANG, the gun went off and the runners were off. It was time only to worry about pace, breathing and ‘hydrate or die’.

Matt’s uncle had flown in to see the marathon, as his brother (Matt’s dad) was doing his first marathon. At 10km Matt was on pace and saw his uncle for the first time. Having the support of your friends and family members at a race is like free energy. I know from my own personal experience that when you see somebody you know and they’re cheering for you and smiling and waving, it just gives you that little boost that you so desperately need to keep on going when everything hurts and sitting down on the curb seems like the best idea you’ve heard in a long time. Not long after he had seen his uncle, he saw his mother and little brothers. More free energy. Before he knew it, he was at the half way point of the marathon and still on pace to qualify for Boston.

By this time the 30+ degree heat was starting to get to Matt. As he went through water stops, he remembered all of his training. He would get 2 water cups and one Gatorade cup. The first water cup, he dumped on his head. The second he drank from and then dumped the rest on his legs. He then drank the full cup of Gatorade. It was so hot that as he dumped the water on his head it was uncomfortably hot from his body temperature by the time it reached his shoulders.

Some point after halfway point, he saw his uncle again who reassured him that he was close to pace and to pick it up and keep going. Unfortunately, by this point Matt was starting to slow and people were starting to pass him. After a couple of people passed him, a mean, awful voice in his head reminded him of his previous “failure” in Toronto and that stopping or even walking for that matter was not an option. The next runner that passed Matt, he grabbed onto mentally. He promised himself that under no circumstances was he going to fall more than 5ft behind that guy. Matt never let him go, staying in his shadow for more then 10 kilometres to the finish line. He knew at this point that the qualifying goal time had slipped by, and so he stopped looking at his watch. The new goal was to stay with this guy all the way to the finish line and finish strong.

As they got closer and closer to the finish he could hear the crowd inside the stadium at the University of Manitoba. The roar of the stadium filled Matt up with energy. He was no longer trailing behind his new found friend, he was side by side.

When they hit the track for the final lap of the race, Matt took off. He flew by his friend and raced to the finish to see the clock show 3:20. He finished, never walked and shaved about 40 minutes off of his personal best. The one regret from the day…..was that it turns out that Matt’s father Roy is actually a pretty awesome marathon runner as well, and finished with a time of just over 3:30. Matt lost his bet 😛 When I asked him, he said that he can’t remember if he ever did square up that $50 with his dad. But he said not to post that part, in case his dad ever does read this. Sorry Matt. 😛

After Matt collected himself he searched out the guy that brought him to the finish. He shook his hand and thanked him from the bottom of his heart. Matt’s line was “couldn’t have done it without you, you’re my hero”. He then had to race off to do the post -race study tests.

Matt learned that he had lost 10 pounds over the course of the race, which for him is a large portion of his body weight. Although most of the weight was water, he was totally shocked. To lose 10 pounds over the course of 3 hours was completely unheard of. (Anybody else out there thinking of signing up to run a marathon to drop 10 pounds in 3 hours??????) An hour later, while still drinking water the entire time, Matt had lost even MORE weight. This really just goes to show hot it was that day, and how incredibly critical proper hydration is during a marathon.

In case you’re “sciency”, Matt was actually able to dig up the official pre/post race results for his vital signs at the Manitoba Marathon in 2005. If you take a look at the vitals below, the first number on each line is the “pre” race score, the second is the “post” race score, and the last number is a “normal” score. Some pretty massive variances, it’s quite unbelievable how much his body went through over the span of 3 hours.

Manitoba Marathon Study Results – Matthew Sidders

At this point in Matt’s journey, he was gearing up to go off to University at Lakehead in Thunder Bay. The Boston qualifying dream would have to wait for a the immediate term. He emailed the Lakehead Thunderwolves Track coach and asked if he could run with the track team to keep working towards his goal. Little did he know the impact that his university track days would have on his goal to qualify for Boston, and everything he would learn over the course of the next 2 years. There are more exciting twists and turns still yet to come in the Road to Boston Part 4…..

Have a great week everyone!!

Chilly Half Marathon Race Recap

People that have no interest in ever completing a distance race must look at us like we just escaped from the looney bin.

“Let me get this straight…… want to pay hundreds of dollars…..spend ¾ of your free time pounding the crap out of your body, icing sore joints and muscles and fretting that you aren’t training hard enough or long enough…..all for the privilege of freezing your tails off outside for 3+ hours in the dead of winter while you battle ragged feet, aching muscles and joints and frozen lungs, and walk like you just got off a horse for 3 days afterwards?”

You bet we do. And all of that stuff you just described is so immeasurably worth it for this moment right here.

Finish Line

The Chilly Half Marathon was this past Sunday, and I came away from it feeling an ENORMOUS weight lifted off of my shoulders. This really was the race that almost wasn’t for me. Back when I injured my knee about a month ago, I really thought that there was no way on earth that I would be able to run for 5km let alone complete a half marathon. I can remember sitting on my chiropractors treatment table with my knee hooked up to all of these electric therapy machines and asking him what he thought the likelihood of me being able to run a half marathon in 3 weeks was. As he fiddled with the dials on the machine I was hooked up to, I remember him shaking his head, smiling and saying “We’ll have to see Sara; we’ll just have to see.” And see we did!

Neil and Jess came into town on Friday afternoon for the race weekend, and we had a pretty low key night in. My goal was to be in bed by 10pm on Friday night and Saturday night. I missed it by 35 minutes on Friday but was still so unbelievably happy to hit the sheets after an incredibly long week. It’s sad how happy sleep makes me sometimes, honestly.

On Saturday, I pretty much did everything exactly opposite of what I should have done leading up to a Sunday race day. Goodlife was hosting a big fundraiser event called “Spin4Kids” on Saturday morning in support of the Goodlife Kids Foundation. The GLKF is Goodlife’s national charity aimed at providing grants and financial support for kid’s activity programs and fitness programs to get kids active and combat childhood obesity. It’s a cause very near and dear to my heart, and there was no way that I was going to miss out on the fun just because I had a silly half marathon to run the next day. So I was up at 7:30am and out the door to go and ride my hour leg of the 4 hour spinathon at the club! Bonus: I got in an hour bike ride that I totally wouldn’t have done otherwise.

After the fundraiser, I had to go and teach my regular Saturday morning BodyAttack class, so off I went, beat up on my poor legs a little more, and then came back to the house to do as Tyler Hamilton says and get off my feet at all costs, and avoid stairs like the plague.

We took a quick trip over to the grocery store to get supplies for a “build your own pasta” bar which I had been dreaming about all week. I’m cursing myself for not taking a picture of it all laid out, such a rookie blogger mistake!! You can imagine it looking something like this if you like…..

Pasta Bar

Anyways, once we are all sufficiently “carbed up”, we started gathering all of our race stuff together, pinning on our bibs and getting ready for the next morning. Everything was still kind of feeling surreal at this point for me, even as I was lying in bed with all of my race stuff laid out for the next day, it still didn’t feel like it was really going to happen.

Matt wanted to get to the race at least an hour early in the morning to do a warm up jog with some of his running buddies, which worked out in our favour anyways because we got a free parking spot downtown pretty much right next to the start line! I love it when a plan comes together!

It was cold outside, about -6 degrees and just enough wind to bite. All four of us had kind of learned our lesson from our last race (the Eggnog Jog) where it was below -10 and we all FROZE our tails off waiting for the race to start. We dressed warmly this time, which meant way more cargo for poor Jess to cart around. Honestly, there should be a medal for spectators and race crew.


Matt managed to hook up with some more guys from his running group, I managed to take a few (very rushed) pictures, and before we knew it we were herded into the starting chute like cattle ready to go!

Stagg Chili


Finish Line

Sara and Matt

Full Group

Neil and Jess


I always find those couple of minutes that they leave you standing in the chute to be so super stressful. I usually put in my iPod and turn it up loudly so that I can’t hear the people around me (who are inevitably talking about all of the training they’ve done, or how they’re just using this race as a warm up for a bigger one, or a recovery run from a full marathon or something like that), but this time one of my participants from the gym was actually running the race as well and somehow ended up right beside me in the chute! So we just talked about group exercise for a few minutes, which did a fabulous job of killing the time, and we were off before I knew it.

The course was a bit funny, we started by going out on a 5km loop that brought us right back to pretty much where we started. We then had to run right PAST the start/finish line as we went out on another 16km loop out and back around to the finish line.

Chilly Course Map

As Matt put it so eloquently, “it’s a good course for chasing mothers down”. Meaning that because the course was set up as a 2 way loop, you could see the people that were ahead of you (or behind you) and approximately how far they were ahead of/behind you. Oh how different the race is at the front of the pack then it is at the back!! We’re just trying to survive back there man!!

On the first 3km stretch, I saw an older gentleman take a nasty tumble about 5 people in front of me. The terrain was a little uneven on that first 5km loop, and I think he stepped in a rut in the road and he came right down, it was awful, and not a good way to start the race. 2 or 3 people stopped to help him get up, but he walked off the course and was hobbling around with a medic by the time I had come back around the loop. 😦

I saw Matt on his way back while I was still heading out on the 5km loop out and gave him a high five, but for the life of me I couldn’t find Neil!!

The first 5km seemed to disappear quite quickly. I can’t say it wasn’t tough to run past the finish line knowing that we still had 16+ km to go, but thankfully there were a lot of fans and spectators around that part of the race so that helped a lot. After about 8km, my head started playing tricks on me. And I don’t just mean the inside of my head.

When I moved into our new house about a month ago, I had forgotten a couple of key things that I didn’t realize until the night before race day. Like my running hat, headband, neck warmer and gloves. All of minor importance during a winter half marathon. I started out the race wearing one of Matt’s old hockey touques, but changed my mind and gave it back to Jess just before the start because it didn’t really fit over my ears and was bugging me before we even started moving. That left my poor head uncovered however, and within the first 3km I knew I was going to need to cover my head with something, so I put up the hood on my running jacket. This worked well for the first couple of km, but after a little while the flopping of the hood was starting to really bug me too, and the hood was sitting too low over my forehead so that it was kind of getting in my eyes as well. It was time for the hood to go. I think it was at the 13km mark that I ditched it for the rest of the race.

That's me in the hood!!
That’s me in the hood!!

The problem was that since I had had the hood up for about 9km by this point, my head had gotten sweaty. And when I took off the hood, it froze. And I mean, froze like an icicle!!! I first realized it when I felt an icicle hitting the side of my face as strands of hair escaped from my ponytail!!

Lesson learned – invest in a good running touque.

I struggled on and off from about 9km all the way to the end. I would get a really good 2km in and feel great, and then hit a brick wall with the next kilometer and start doubting that I was even going to make it to the finish line at all. I knew that I was running way ahead of my pace, because I had passed the 2:15 pace bunny a long time ago, and I caught sight of her when I had turned around to start making my way back towards the finish. I figured she was at least 10 minutes behind me which would have put me at a 2:05 pace all else equal. While I knew there was no way I could hold a 2:05 pace, I made it my mission at that point to beat that bunny to the finish line.

I had seen both Matt and Neil go by on their way back while I was still on my way out, and both were looking really good! Both told me later on after the race that they were wondering what the hell I was doing so far ahead of the 2:15 pace bunny when my PB was 2:15. That made me laugh because I really had no idea what I was doing pace wise, I was just running. What can I say! I had also seen my good friend Shivonne (who was running her very first half marathon!) out on the course; she passed me just before the 13km turn around and was looking fantastic as well!

If my (already failing) memory serves me correctly, I felt great between kilometer 13 and 15, and then REALLY struggled between kilometers 15 and 19. It’s all a bit of a blur now, but I just remember my breathing getting really uncomfortable, everything hurting a lot, and these volunteers from a church dressed in church robes in the dead of winter handing out oranges.

I remember as I ran past the orange benefactors thinking to myself how kind it was of them to be out here handing out oranges, and how I’d really like to say thank you to them for their generosity. I remember opening my mouth like I was going to say something to them as I passed by, but nothing came out. I guess it was just too much energy to expend at that point in the game.

Once I hit 19km, I knew that it was almost over, and I had better give ‘er if I wanted to beat 2:15. I started looking over my shoulder for the pace bunny, which I know is a major faux-pas in races, but I couldn’t help myself. I knew I had given some time back moving slowly through water stations, and I could just feel it. She was getting hot on my tail.

I picked up my pace big time for kilometer 19, and by the time I made it to 20, I was nearly in an all-out sprint. I was getting closer, and closer, the spectators were cheering, I could see the turn to run up to the finish line…..and then suddenly….there she was, with her pink ears cheerfully bobbing on by. The bunny had caught me with literally about 300 metres to the finish line.

As she ran by though, she actually stopped running?! There was a group of runners around her, and she yelled out “Whatever you have left guys; go now, just go!!”, and she peeled off to the side of the course?! I was totally baffled by that, but by that point, I was basically one of her runners, and so I did what she said and gave ‘er. I started all out sprinting for the finish line, passed a bunch of people, and finished with the clock saying 2:16 and some seconds. I later learned that my official chip-time was 2:15:33, or 8 seconds slower than my personal best in Manitoba last year. The difference was definitely in the water stations, I had taken too long at some of the later stations and it cost me a PB! I was a bit disappointed at first, until I gave my head a shake and remembered how lucky I was just to be out there that day, and to have finished injury-free and happy. I was absolutely THRILLED with the time, and the whole race, even the parts that I struggled through.

I hooked up with Matt, Neil and Jess just after I got out of the chute (I somehow acquired a Power Bar and 2 bottles of water on my way out which I seriously don’t even remember anyone handing me), and we slowly made our way back over to the Performing Arts Centre where we had parked. Victory.

Finish Line

Matt had some pretty funny race stories about partnering up with some of the faster guys that he was running with and chasing runners down together. The way he told it sounded like a pack of wolves where they would see someone up ahead and say “let’s get him” Or in one case, “let’s get HER”. He he he. He finished in an all-out, “balls to the wall” sprint with another guy and ended up beating him by a tenth of a second. They both collapsed on their backs at the finish line and high-fived each other for a good run. What I wouldn’t have given to have been at the finish line watching all this unfold!!!

Matt absolutely crushed his personal best and finished with a blistering time of 1:21 (I know right, are you wondering if he’s part antelope?). Neil was also cruising right along and finished with a super fast time of 1:51! I can’t even imagine running a sub-2 hour half marathon, these guys make it look so easy!

Well – I could go on for days, but this is getting to be a marathon (or half marathon??) post already, so I’ll leave it with all four of us recovering on the couch, eating pizza basking in the after-race glow that never seems to really go away, even days, weeks and months later. Maybe it’s that after-race glow that keeps us coming back for more and training even when it’s not convenient, and everything hurts and we’d rather just sit on the couch and eat pizza. Maybe it’s the post-race stories and the laughter as we remember everything that happened out on the course that day. Maybe it’s the sense of pride and accomplishment that we actually did it, even with all the odds stacked against us. Or, maybe they’re right, and we really did escape from the looney bin.

Whatever it is – I can’t wait for the next race already 🙂 🙂

Have a fabulous week!!!