So. Freaking. Amazing.

High-fiving Dr. Mark as I pass by – about 300 metres or so from the finish line. Photo courtesy of Dr. Julie.

Yesterday was the big day – the Toronto Goodlife Marathon. For those of you who follow me on the Twitter or Facebook, you’ll already know the results. For those of you that don’t, let me just put it this way:

Can’t stop smiling.

Honestly, that run went better than I had assumed it would. Far from better. If we were to put a stake in the ground and call that point better, my race results would have been about eleventy-billion light-years away. For me, it was just that awesome1.

Let me put this into a bit of context. My very first marathon was last year – the Ottawa Marathon. That run started out well, but by 36km I was in a bit of trouble. I messed up my IT band and that pretty much slowed me down for the remainder of the run. Don’t get me wrong, I was still ecstatic with my results. While I had hoped to run that marathon in under 4 hours, the IT band issue ended that dream. Regardless, I was more than thrilled to finish the race – proving to myself that I could run a marathon. My time: 4:08. Not too shabby for a first time marathon.

Flash forward to yesterday. In the weeks leading up to the marathon I have been training a lot. Putting in my time, trying to get appropriate rest, and attempting to stay focused on the prize: a sub 4 hour marathon. But despite all the training, anything can happen on the day of a race.

To say that I was nervous yesterday morning is an understatement2. Mostly, however, I spent yesterday morning – prior to the gun signalling the start of the race – feeling terribly excited. Almost throw-uppy excited.

Thankfully, having learned the mistake of under-fuelling during the Around the Bay 30k, I made sure to have half a bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter and honey prior to the start of the race. I topped that off with half a coffee – just enough caffeine to get things going, but not enough to cause gastrointestinal upset, or dehydration.

Pre-race photo. Inside I’m a big bowl of nerves and excitement.

Anyway, before I knew it, we were off and running. The sound of several thousand people running at once through the relative quiet of Toronto at 7:30am is like no other. It’s almost hypnotic – with the repetitive clomp of left-foot, right-foot hitting the pavement, the breathing in and out, the shuffling of running wear. Running down Yonge street is also quite the experience. I enjoy taking my time to check out the stores that I’m passing – always in search of interesting places to eat. That’s right folks, I’m window shopping for food as I run. Slightly masochistic? Perhaps.

At the first kilometre checkpoint, RunKeeper dutifully informed me that my pace was about 5:55. Not unexpected given the congestion that occurs at the beginning of the race. But the pace dropped quickly. Before I knew it, I was running with the 3:45 Pacer-Bunny3. This was not intended, and at first I thought Whoa, slow down Gillis, don’t get too excited. You see, I was worried that I was running too quickly for the marathon. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to sustain the pace.

After some internal dialogue, I opted to see if I could keep up with the 3:45 Pacer-Bunny. I reasoned that my body felt great, my breathing was calm, nothing was achy or sore, I was hydrated and fuelled properly, and worst case scenario – I could slow down later.

Just prior to the gun going off. Eep!

Before I knew it, I’d covered 21.1 kilometres without any sign of slowing. I still felt strong. I continued running with the 3:45 Pacer-Bunny knowing full well that I lost all energy at the 26k checkpoint during the Around the Bay. Again, I reasoned that if I could make it to that point without issue, I might as well continue running the pace that I had set.

The kilometres kept dropping.

25 kilometres – no problems.

30 kilometres – no problems.

35 kilometres – no problems.

Holy shitballs, I thought, I’m going to crush 4 hours.

I was ecstatic, but also cautious. I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. There were 7.2 kilometres still to go, and I could tell that my pace had slowed – not enough to damage the potential crushing of the 4 hour goal, but enough to know that I probably shouldn’t push too hard near the end for fear of screwing up my run completely. Also, it was around the 36km point in the previous marathon when things went downhill – thank you very much IT band.

I kept running.


Can I really do this? I kept running.

My new favourite bib. Clearly the palindrome-y nature of the bib provided me extra running strength and stamina. Numbers – is there anything they can’t do?


Still running. I can totally do this. Strangers were yelling my name, cheering me on.


Still running. Smiling more. I could taste the end of the race. I’m totally doing this.


I could hear the sound of the crowd at the end of the race.

Only 3.2 kilometres to go. That’s 15 or so minutes. I can do this. Holy shit I’m going to do this. I can’t freaking believe how good I feel. I can’t freaking believe that I’m about to crush the 4 hour goal.

The smile on my face had to stretch from ear to ear. Pure exhilaration.

And so I kept running.


The cheers grew louder. My smile grew with them.


That’s when I saw Carolyn. She had just finished the half and was waiting near the finish line. She screamed my name and I managed to run over for the most awesome high-five a man who’d just run 41+km could have asked for.

I kept running.

And then I heard Dr. Mark and Dr. Julie screaming my name. Mark extending his hand for another just as epic and just as energy-boosting high-five.

I kept running. Beaming. Stoked. Exhilarated.

Biggest smile to go with the biggest medal.

And there it was. The finish line. Forty two point two kilometres away from where I had started on the other side of Toronto. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling, or how good it felt to see the gun time. I can’t explain how amazing it felt to find out that my chip time was 3:48 – a full 20 minutes faster than my first marathon time. And then to see Jasper and Liz on the other side of the finish line screaming my name and cheering me on.

So. Freaking. Amazing.

Also incredible – all of the awesome tweets and text messages that everyone sent to me during and after the race. Honestly, they kept me smiling the entire time. They kept me focused on the task the entire time. And they reminded me how damn lucky I am to have so many amazing people in my life. The support was overwhelming. I may or may not have gotten a little verklempt after crossing the finish line and wandering the athlete’s recovery area.

Thank you to everyone that offered your support. Thank you for all of your words of encouragement. Thank you for coming to see me run a ridiculously long distance. Thank you for watching the race via RunKeeper. Thank you for making yesterday so amazing.

Truly, yesterday was a day that I won’t soon forget.

1 Having been a chunky-butt kid, teenager, and adult, completing a marathon is on par of an experience – for me – as finishing my Ph.D.

2 I may or may not have had to run to the bathroom 4 times prior to the start of the race. Too much information? I’ll repeat what I’ve said and written before about running – oh so glamourous. Ha!

3 A Pacer-Bunny is someone who wears pink bunny ears (seriously) that indicate how long they are going to take to run the marathon. Their purpose – to guide other runners to the finish line in the same time.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. Rick says:

    Incredible Dr. Gills. Just incredible :). Congrats on an amazing run yesterday!

  2. Carolyn says:

    I was just grinning ear to ear reading this. So awesome!!!!!!!!! I’m not sure I’d be any happier if I’d run it myself. Well…maybe not. I imagine a 3:48 feels pretty freaking good.

  3. Beth says:

    You Sir, are a rock star. Rock. Star. Congrats! I hope you’ve been basking in your glory all day!!

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