Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The week that was Pan Ams #PanAmazing

Wow, where to begin. I have just returned home from one of the most incredible weeks and I am still relishing the experience. What a crazy ride life is and I am certainly enjoying it.

About 4 weeks ago, or 3 weeks before the Pan Am games marathon I received a call from Athletics Canada offering me a spot on the Pan Am marathon team. I had pretty much put aside my dream of competing for Canada at the Pan Am games after my Eugene marathon, so this call came as a complete surprise. It turned out that a spot had opened up after another athlete decided to compete in a different event. I immediately said YES! The next question from Athletics Canada inquired as to my fitness. Well I was fit but not necessarily marathon fit. Post Eugene I had taken a break and some down time in training so I had only been doing workouts for a couple of weeks and was still at relatively low milage. A call to my amazing coach Richard Lee was made and he said that YES we could be ready in 3 weeks and that instead of a taper we would build to the marathon.  Now that the decision was made the work began.

Three weeks to a marathon is not ideal but I was determined to get there and to be able to compete. Instead of a typical taper my 3 weeks pre marathon consisted of long progression runs, long interval workouts and an increase in milage. My body seemed to remember and I was running quite well. I was also getting extremely nervous. I had thoughts that I was out of my league, that I wouldn't represent Canada well, that I wasn't ready. My coach, friends and family all reminded me that the training I had completed earlier this year when training for Houston and Eugene would still be in my legs and that I was just as capable as anyone else out there. A week out from Pan Ams I did a 20 mile progression run and the legs felt great.

Just over a week out from Pan Ams I started to have some GI issues while training. I'm not sure whether it was the heat and humidity, nerves, or a virus, or possibly a combo of all the above but my confidence was a bit shaken. I am extremely thankful to Dr. Jim Bovard and Dr. Trent Stellingwerff who worked with me to  minimize the issues I was having.

I arrived in Toronto the Tuesday before the race. I wasn't able to access the athlete village until the Thursday prior to the Saturday race, but had decided to fly in a bit earlier to get time adjusted and climate adjusted. The weather in Toronto for the marathon was anticipated to be hot and humid. Thursday I moved in to the Pan Am village. The village is amazing. Each country has it's own building or block in a building and then we all share the cafeteria, and gym areas. I was in a room for 6.  My roommates were great and love chocolate as much as me, always a bonus! We had access to IST support and I was able to get a flush out massage from the incredible Danielle and a physio tune up with Ron O'Hare and I felt great.

The Friday prior to the race involved a tech meeting, course briefing and outfitting for Team Canada gear and race kit gear. It also involved me eating lots of rice, yams and some chicken. It is tough to be in a food court filled with so many options and have to stick to plain food, but it was necessary with my upcoming race. My first view of the course was on an elevation chart and it didn't look easy. The course consisted of a 2.195k loop to start then a 10k loop we were to complete 4 times. The loop headed along Lakeshore Drive then headed into High Park where we climbed a steep long hill. It is a 9% grade at parts. There was also a hill on our return up Lakeshore which luckily wasn't as steep or long but was still noticeable. Rachel Hannah (my team mate also running the marathon ) and I realized that this was going to be a tough course with 8 climbs and 4 of them being long and steep. To add to the difficulty the forecast for the marathon was for the hottest day so far this year in Toronto with an extremely high humidex. I was told that when we started running the humidity was over 90% and the temperature over 20 degrees and that while we were running the temperature was over 30 degrees celcius.

The morning of the race I woke up at 3:30 am to go have breakfast. My awesome room mates had left a fun note on the door to get me going :) (thx Jess & Sasha) Rachel and I both opted for oatmeal that we had brought with us. It was already hot at that time in the morning so we knew it was going to be rough. We took a bus to the start with the other athletes and our Team Canada support team just after 5am. I did a short warm up with drills and strides. Thankfully Team Canada was prepared and after running my warm up I was given an ice vest to wear while doing my drills and strides. The ice vest keeps your body core temperature down so that when you start the race you are not already overheated. It wasn't long after that they called us to the start. It was funny I had been quite nervous leading into the race but once we were corralled to be introduced and led to the start line, a feeling of calm came over me and I just became excited to run. When both Rachel and I were introduced the crowd went crazy and it was such an amazing experience. My dad, husband and kids were in the stands and I was able to see them before I started running. My coach Rich was also out on the course on his bike, so I was well supported.

The gun went off and we started the first 2k loop which went out and back in front of the stands. It was hot and I reminded myself to be conservative as I wanted to finish strong. My goal going into the race was to finish strong and to hopefully place in the top 10. There were 17 women listed on the start list and one didn't show so it was a 16 woman race. I hung on the back of  the pack with another woman from Paraguay and Sarah Cummings of the USA. Sarah had a similar lead up to me and hadn't had  a lot of notice coming into the race. After about 5k the race started to pick up with an increase in pace. I elected to remain at the pace I was at, knowing it would be smarter for me in the long run. It was hard to watch the pack move ahead but I had to trust that given the course and conditions people would come back to me. Both my coach and Trent had told me prior to the race that this would be a race of attrition, and it was.

Around 7k we hit the High Park climb for the first time and it was steep and long. It was also an incredible part of the course, as all the way up and down the hill were Canadians cheering on the runners. They had written chalk messages to Rachel and I on the road up the hill and they were cheering so loudly for us. It was surreal and amazing and their support meant everything as I was able to focus on them and it kept me smiling even when the going got tough. The crowd support was beyond anything I have experienced before and I truly appreciated it.

The first two loops I felt pretty good and focused on staying relaxed and in control of my pace. I was taking bottles of Eload every 5k and was also pouring water on my head whenever possible to keep cooler. Team Canada was manning our aid station and Trent would update me on my splits and how others were doing in the race. At 20k I took a gel (my plan was to take one at 20 and 30k). The gel did not sit well in my stomach and I spent the next 5k cramping. I hit the bottom of the hill climb again at 25k and recognized a pit stop was in order. Not what I had wanted to happen but thankfully there were lots of bathrooms. After the stop I felt much better, although I lost a couple of minutes I was able to get back on pace after. Trent had also let me know that competitors were dropping out due to the course and heat and that I was getting close to top 10.

The last loop was a mental battle. It was so hot and to climb that hill again was daunting but I was determined. I could see a woman ahead of me and she looked like she was slowing. I passed her just before the climb. About 2k from the finish I could see another woman ahead who was also slowing. This was a great motivator for me and I pushed as much as I could. I passed her about 500m from the finish. Running down the final stretch with my family cheering me on in the stands was incredible and a moment I will cherish. I finished in 9th and was so happy. Rachel Hannah finished in an amazing 4th place. Tough as nails!

Running the marathon for Team Canada on home soil was definitely a highlight in my life. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity and so proud that I was able to run a decent race on limited preparation.

The night after the marathon I was able to celebrate with my family. Then for the rest of the week I was able to enjoy cheering on my friends and team mates at the track. I saw some unbelievable races live at the track with some outstanding Canadian performances. I watched friends get medals, some while they were running with one shoe only half on (Sasha). I also got to experience Canada House and the village and a fantastic dance party on the last night.

I made lots of new friends and got to spend tons of time with some of my best friends. It truly was a #PanAmazing week. I am still enjoying this amazing journey


I want to thank my coach Richard Lee, who prepared me so well for this race in a limited time frame.

My family who flew out to watch and support me and who stood by me when I had to miss our family vacation the week before Pan Ams.

My friends who sent me so many words of encouragement, who showed up to cheer me on and who support me in so many ways.

Athletics Canada for believing I could do this and for supporting me on the team. Also for handing out bottles, providing us with treatment pre-post race, for the ice vests and for the support.

The running groups and people who showed up and cheered us on during a really hot day and who made the experience one I will never forget. You guys seriously kept me going!!

Alan Brooks and the CRS Staff who manned the course, who have supported me on my journey to Pan Ams and who were there at the finish. These guys love running!!

The amazing volunteers! Thank you for cheering for helping us athletes and for making this such an incredible experience.

My incredible sponsor OISELLE. The Oiselle manifesto is how I choose to live my life and their love of sport is admirable. They have taught me to challenge myself and recognize that although situations are scary it is better to give it my best shot than to run away.
 photo cred; Cathy Vandergeest
at the entrance to High Park, my name in chalk and an amazing cheer crew from Pace & Mind running club

 photo cred : Cathy Vandergeest

  An amazing crew of talented, fun and strong women before the closing ceremonies

The BC Endurance Project crew on the last night of Pan Ams
 photo cred. Cathy Vandergeest
being cheered on the hill, amazing crowd support
 Worlds biggest smore made by the Pan Am cafeteria chefs. It was delicious :) 

Enjoying life in the village

Our last run at Pan Ams 

On our way to the closing ceremonies on the bus. 


  1. Congrats on a great race - I can't imagine running in that heat!!

  2. thx Rebecca, yes the heat was tough but it was manageable :)

  3. congrats Catherine! It was so much fun cheering on you and other runners at the High Park gates! Saw a HUGE smile on your face every time you ran by - Nice to know we helped you reach your goal! Well done!