September 22-23, 2018. It’s the Rock’n’Roll Marathon event in Montreal. And we. Were. There.
Of course, we were nowhere near as badass as that sentence made it sound. For the both of us, it was a weekend of firsts: It was Mariam’s first 5km race [Mariam: I can not BELIEVE I let Henry talk me into it!], and it was Henry’s first 21km race [Henry: “Race” being a very, very, very relative term here. By the time I got to the finish line, I’m reasonably sure baby turtles crawled faster than I could “run”. But I get ahead of myself]. Unless you’re a prodigy, the first time you do anything isn’t really likely going to be your best attempt at anything… Still though, it was quite the experience, and we’re both glad we did it.
First, some context: The Montreal Rock’n’Roll Marathon is an annual race in September. It covers the full range of usual races: 1km, 5km, 10km, 21.1km, and 42.2km. It is a HUGE event. Every year, on the Rock’n’Roll weekend, huge swaths of Montreal are closed down to form the paths that that literally tens of thousands of runners traverse for their respective races. For the non-runner, traffic on this weekend in affected parts of the city is difficult. For the runner, it’s a bit of heaven on earth :).
Henry: I’ve loved running for most of my life, and have been a casual jogger/sprinter for years. Never competed, because it was always felt more like a deeply personal experience. It wasn’t until a serious leg injury two years ago that galvanized me into running in races in any official capacity. During the winter of 2016 I got a GIANT tear in my calf muscle that made walking nigh impossible for months on end. After I recovered (mostly), I was dead set to never take running for granted again. And so I started training for races. I’ve done a couple of 10km races since then, and I was determined to run a half-marathon this year no matter what. I chose the Rock’n’Roll half-marathon because “go big or go home” is a guiding philosophy in my life 🙂 .
Mariam: …Aaaand I HATE running. I don’t understand the point or purpose of running for kilometers on end with no discernable endpoint or goal outside of just getting in better shape. Running because you need to catch the bus so that you don’t miss an important meeting makes sense. Or maybe you run for fun, like in soccer, to get the ball and score. Running just for running is just nonsensical to me. But, since Henry is incomprehensibly (incomprehensibly!) addicted to running, sooner or later, I knew he’d trick or cajole me into running [Henry: Hey! :p ]. Oooooh, he got me good… sigh.
So, since we were two people with two distinct running goals and who had two different training backgrounds, injury levels, and above all, interest levels, we had separate training programs for our races.
Mariam, never having done this before, selected a popular training method: Couch to 5k. The gist of it is that this program starts you off very gently, “running” no more than 2 minutes at a time, followed by walking for a couple minutes, and then repeating that cycle till you’re done 30 minutes of moving around. Apparently, this program was designed to take you from sedentary lifestyle to being able to run 5km or 30 minutes non-stop in eight weeks. And you know what? It worked for Mariam!
Mariam: My first day was super hard. Running two minutes felt like an eternity. Every walking interval was like an oasis in the desert. But sure enough, as time went on, I was able to go farther and run longer each passing week. Last week I was able to run 5km uninterrupted for the first time ever! That’s when I felt ready for Rock’n’Roll!
Henry has a different profile. He gets up at 6am on a regular basis to either go out for runs or to go to the gym [Mariam: Henry is CRAZY. There’s nothing better than sleep, except maybe more sleep!]. Following his injury two years ago, he’d managed to build his legs back up to the point where running 10km at a time is pretty trivial. However! A half-marathon is 21.1 km – more than double that distance. Definitely some work cut out for him.
Henry: I actually tried the Couch method for my training – it didn’t work. From what I can tell, the thing about that program is that it wasn’t intended to be used in conjunction with a heavy gym training schedule. Initially, I tried to do three Couch-style runs per week along with my three to four gym sessions per week. Um. Can you say “overtraining”? My legs definitely did!
In the end, I had to cut down both the running and the gym, to the point where I was doing just two gym sessions and two runs (one moderate one, at about 10km, and one long one, which progressively approached 21km). A week before the race, I was able to casually run about 16 km without feeling either tired or too thirsty. It would have been nice to have had another two weeks, but that wasn’t going to happen.
We were as ready as were going to get. How did the Rock’n’Roll weekend unfold?
Day 1: 5km Race
We left home around 7am the day of the first race [Mariam: I can not BELIEVE I let Henry talk me into this! Argh! It was so early on a Saturday morning that I’ve never seen our street so dead!]. We walked quietly toward the metro station.
As we approached it, that’s when we started noticing other people who were clearly on their way to the races (they were wearing their race bibs or just looked too sporty on an early Saturday morning to be anything else but athletes 😛 . [Mariam: A bunch of other crazy people! 😛 ]
We got off on St-Laurent metro station, where we met our friend Lindsay, who was doing her first 5km as well [Henry: Yay Lindsay! Whoop! Whoop!].
And that’s when we started seeing the crowds. There were a lot of folks congregating in downtown Montreal. There were refreshment stands and a lot of people milling about. Quite a few folks were limbering up, jumping up and down and doing all kinds of weird esoteric-looking kicks and stretches. The mood of the crowd was happy and energetic though!
[Mariam: Lindsay and I got into Corral 2 and waited for the starting gun. It was a few minutes of wait time, but it passed quickly. It felt like we were being herded, but I guess it was because we were. And then the countdown came. 7 (yes, the announcer started his countdown at 7)…6…5…4…3…2…1… And we were OFF.
And for the next 30 odd minutes, my feelings were… conflicted.
With every step I took, the following thoughts cycled through my head:
“I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
“WHY am I doing this? (I hate Henry)”
“I WILL finish this!”
And so it went. Oddly enough, I was running much faster than I did during the previous week’s breakthrough 5km run. I guess I was propelled by the momentum of the runners around me. I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t make it, because I was running so much more quickly than I’d gotten used to. But deep inside I knew I would finish somehow (even if it meant walking at some point). My body was not aching. The weather was perfect. And there were different bands playing along the way. Everything you need to succeed, basically. So I continued running.
On and on it went. Till, finally, I saw the finish line. There it was, that beautiful structure that tells you “It’s almost the end”. I put in a final burst of speed, and DONE!
Oddly enough, I was overcome with emotion when I crossed the finish line. I don’t know why then, and I still don’t know why now. I really didn’t like running, and I did this race because Henry loves running so much. Nothing more. And yet… Something about having finished it really got to me (in a good way).
Was I becoming…a runner?
HELL no! [Henry: Awww 😦 ] I’m just going to chalk it up to it being an accomplishment that I didn’t think I was going to attain. Maybe one day I’ll do a 10km [Henry: Yes!]. Maybe. [Henry: …Yes…?]
Day 2: Half-Marathon
[Henry: The night before the half-marathon, sleep did not come easy. Whether it was nerves or excitement, I don’t know. Probably a combination of the two. I knew I was worried that my old injuries would really flare up or get even worse. But no matter what, I was going to at least try.
And in that vein, I went and got the MP3s for theme song from Rocky (“Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti) and “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, and set those two songs to go on infinite loop on my phone (interestingly, one of my running buddies actually watched the training montages from Rocky at that very moment to get psyched up for the half-marathon too. Great minds think alike?) [Mariam: Maybe crazy people think alike? 😛 ]
I barely slept. I kept tossing and turning. So, when 6am came, I got up, ate a couple of bananas and got dressed. I met another running buddy to get to the metro. Apparently, he’d managed to sleep even less than me. And then we started seeing other like-minded folk. We got into the metro station and there were many, many runners already.
This pattern only got more pronounced with each train stop. When we arrived at the mall which served as the main staging ground for the logistics (i.e., bag check-ins, information, etc.) we were greeted with a crowd that came straight out of a biblical epic.
Did I mention that the crowd we ran into was the lineup to check bags?!
Yikes. I had nothing to check in, but my buddies did. To their credit, the volunteers did an admirable job of processing everyone. We were out of the line within 10 minutes. And then it was time to get out onto the open road.
The crowd was electric. I could feel the excitement and the thrill in the air, all amplified by the sounds of rock music and the odd bout of fireworks coursing into the bright morning sky.
We got to the corral, where we were packed as tightly as sardines. Moving was next to impossible, but we managed to get off one pic before the starting gun:
And then there was nothing else to do but wait for the start.
Which came much more quickly than we expected.
The start felt like a slow-moving wave, more osmotic than tidal. Which was a good thing, given the many thousands of runners in the crowd.
Oddly enough, we were actually going pretty fast. I looked down at my running watch and noticed that we were doing 5-minute kilometres almost right out the gate. I hadn’t realized it because I was just naturally following the crowd’s speed. I’d actually intended to start much slower and then speed up. Welp. That didn’t happen.
I lost my first friend within the first two minutes though – he was determined to do a personal best, and he was going to do it right from the start. He basically started sprinting as soon as he was able and kept that up the whole way through. The other one left me behind after 3km. It was to be expected; they were both faster runners than me, PLUS I was dealing with some new injuries (from overtraining, sigh) too.
At 3km I settled into a comfortable cruising speed, and kept at it for the next 12km. On the way, my jaw dropped when I saw the 4 race leaders lap me by running more than twice my speed (seriously – I saw them at their 15km mark when I was on my 8th!). It didn’t matter though – my goal was uniquely my own, after all.
So, 15km came and went, without incident. I just enjoyed seeing the beauty of my city as I ran from downtown Montreal, through Verdun (my home borough!) all the way into the LaSalle borough before turning back. It was great 😀 .
Aaaaand then, my injuries all flared up at once around kilometre 16.
My right foot started hurting. First a little, then a lot. And then a WHOLE lot. The pain got so bad that I could feel the pulse throbbing in my hands, so much so that even my fingers trembled.
I had to stop running constantly and take walking breaks.
And then I approached the 21km marker. I started “sprinting” (you’ll see in the video that I clearly had delusions of sprinting at that moment). I passed the marker thinking it was done. And my body started relaxing.
Except! It wasn’t done. There was still 100 meters to go!
I’d already spent what I thought to be my last burst of speed, so I had to somehow dig deeper to grab that last, last bit of reserve. It took everything I had to “dash” past the finish line. But, yeah, infants could crawl faster than me at that point (please pardon the shakey-cam):
And then it was done. All the work, all the prep, all the time just anticipating it – it all came to fruition. I posted a time well, well, well worse than what I wanted, but hey, them’s the breaks when you’re dealing with injury. I’m glad that I at least got no new ones.
That was our Rock’n’Roll race weekend. It was quite the experience for the both of us. For Henry, it was further recovery for his leg. For Mariam, it was a moment where she did something she never thought she’d do. In both cases, it was a moment we’re not going to forget :).
Run with us next time, won’t you all?