Montréal Marathon Update

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This morning was the 23rd Rock ‘n’ Roll Oasis Montreal Marathon, which started at 8:30 am at Jacques-Cartier Bridge for the half-marathon and full marathon races. I took part in the half-marathon (21 kilometres or 13 miles), and the event drew a record number of runners — 32,000 in total for all races, with 14,000 registered in the half-marathon, and 7,000 for the full-marathon. When we waited in our corrals on the bridge, the runners were getting excited and jumping up and down, and we could feel the bridge shake from the weight of participants! A tad scary, if you ask me. Like other races, the run had staggered starts so by the time our corral was brought to the starting line it was about 8:50 am. The morning called for a 40% chance of precipitation and it was spitting by the time we started the race, but it ended up raining heavily for the first seven kilometres. Rain doesn’t faze me so much as the huge puddles and overflowing streets, but most of the run ended up dry but very cloudy.

I started off great and felt good about the pace I was initially keeping, which was about three minutes slower than my 10K time. However, by the 14th kilometre I slowed down severely — at snail’s pace or about 10% of my previous running speed. I injured my right knee, a new injury, and though I don’t remember what exactly happened and how, I could no longer bend the knee anymore or put much weight on it. It felt sort of like a very old affliction I had in my teens when my right hip became slightly dislocated; my knee was making a similar popping sound as that hip injury, but the pain wasn’t too bad — it just made me slow. So I kept this awfully slow pace for the last 7 kilometres through a very awkward limp-run and by placing most of my weight on my left leg. While the race for me was definitely doable on a cardiovascular and leg work level, I couldn’t run at my limits due to this annoying grievance. At the end it was all about mental gymnastics as I had to talk myself into continuing on with the race and getting through the last third of the run on a limp. Disappointingly but as expected, my race time was actually slower than last year’s run by four minutes. Whatever, I have next year to look forward to!

After crossing the finish line, my friend and I grabbed our checked-in bag and walked home and we passed through the full marathon race continuing through the neighbourhood. When we came home we could actually hear the cheers from the spectators. Because we live in the Plateau we were lucky that we could stagger back home without a car which would have been a nightmare as many of the roads were closed around the city. We showered, replenished ourselves with food and fluids, and were surprised that we weren’t as wiped out as I was last year. I definitely trained better this time around and I’m used to the long distance runs and hill work, but I guess I’ll have to look into what caused my knee injury and probably do some strength work in that area once I give it time to heal.

I guess I made some mistakes with this second half-marathon that resulted in my injury, but I also made a lot of good choices in preparing for this race.

Here’s what I did right this time around:

1. I properly carb-loaded this year, unlike last year, where I very much felt the effects of not eating very much the night before during my run (we attended a wedding where I, as a quasi-vegetarian, didn’t have much food choices). This meant that for this year I made sure to consume about 7 grams (minimum) of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight. I like my carbs, and I’m very picky about freshly baked and quality breads, but other than that and hot cereal, I am not naturally a big eater of carbohydrate-rich foods. And — my fellow Asians may gasp in horror at this — but I actually don’t like rice! But this time around, I made a big pot of basmati rice and made a point to eat three full meals a day with at least two servings of carbs each meal for the three to four days before the race. And I feel like this definitely made a difference for this year’s race as I did not feel as exhausted during the run.

2. I experimented with energy gels. That is, those gross-looking squeezable single serving packets flavoured like chocolate, strawberry and others that some runner prefer to consume during the race. Because I have a weak stomach, I consumed one packet for “breakfast” before the race and packed another one in my shorts pocket to take at the 10K mark. They did hand out energy gels during the race at around the 11K mark so I actually took a third one at that point, and also made a point to drink some water at the next water stop. It takes time for your glycogen levels to replenish, so it’s best to take the packets during the middle, and not the end, of your race and I definitely felt rejuvenated a few minutes after consumption.

3. Because before I graduated to a half marathon I ran 10K races, I always refused the water and sports drinks offered during the race because during a 10K, it’s really not that necessary if you’ve probably hydrated before hand. However, I’ve learned since my first half-marathon race that it really does make a difference to drink the water and sports drinks offered during the duration of a 21K run, though I need to get better at drinking and running at the same time.

4. Blister-free socks work. We bought ours at Running Room (or Coin des Coureurs in Québec), and while they are expensive, they work like a charm. These socks are double layered and engineered to keep your feet cool, and while I can’t say whether my feet feel ventilated or not, I have not had any major blisters since buying these socks. A three-pack of Drymax Hyperthin Double Tab socks are currently priced at $29.99 CDN at the Running Room, but if you run long distances you are most likely prone to getting lots of blisters. So these socks are definitely worth your hard-earned dollars. It might sound ridiculous that something so trivial as blisters can ruin a run, but when you get them they are painful to run with and worse when infected, so keep blisters at bay by investing in blister-free socks.

5. Taking hydration/electrolyte beverages and tablets are useful. I do find Gatorade and Powerade great drinks if you are a serious runner, and taking it with hydration tablets even better. I made sure that for the past three days before the race I drank lots and lots of Gatorade (specifically Gatorade G2 because the regular formula has quite a bit of calories and sugar), as well as taking a hydration tablet and two bottles of Gatorade this morning before the race. While every body’s different, for someone *almost* 5’3″ like me, taking two bottles of Gatorade and a hydration tablet before a long (almost 20 kilometre) run is enough to keep me going, though, as noted in item #3 I also drink the sports drinks offered during the race.

6. Knowing the race route is helpful because you know what to expect and how to pace accordingly. Because I ran my first Montréal half-marathon last year, I knew what hills to expect — especially that big and long one on rue Berri during the last three kilometres of the race.

And here are some fun observations during this year’s race:

Montréal Marathon runners running the 5 or 10 kilometre run are mainly women, while the half-marathon and full marathon runners seem to be equally split between the genders.

Also: I was one of the few non-Caucasians I saw during this race. (I noticed the same thing on Friday when I went to the Health & Fitness Expo to pick up my registration packets.) Asians and Africans — there were a small few. And the brown or Middle Eastern population? I think I saw two in this group! I would say that, in my opinion, this partially reflects the demographics of the Montréal population as other than the French-speaking African, Haitian, or Persian immigrants, there are definitely less people of visible ethnicities compared to my hometown Toronto.

A lot of women like to wear jewellery and makeup during the race! I mean, I see this at the gym, and sometimes amongst my fellow runners during my neighbourhood runs, but I always had this thought in my head that so-called “serious” female runners would not care for that kind of thing especially during a (rainy) race event. (My bias since I never wear anything but sunscreen on my face when I work out because, let’s be honest, my face during a workout is nothing but a sweaty mess and no amount of makeup is going to fix that!) However, as I said to my friend, if that lady’s cat-eye eyeliner makeup survives the pouring rain and a run of at least 21 km, I want to know what she’s using!

Some people really love to wear interesting costumes for a race! We saw a guy in a tutu, another in a top hat and bow tie, and one guy totally bare-chested and flashing his nipple rings. In 11°C rain.

Speaking about nipples — the number of men suffering from bleeding nipples made me so glad that I don’t suffer from such an affliction.

Runners are generally a happy bunch. People clapped, waved at spectators, and this is after waking up early on a Sunday to get to the start line before 8:30 am to run at least 21 km in the cold rain.

So after running this race this morning, what am I doing for the rest of my day? Sitting at my desk to do work. Which is pretty much the programming for the rest of the week (and my life).

How was your Montréal Marathon experience?

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