The Long Road into Dawson

On one of the longest days of the year, I headed up to Dawson City to attempt my second ever marathon — the Dempster to Dawson City Marathon. This quirky race drops you off two kilometers past the Dempster Highway turnoff and follows the North Klondike Highway all the way into the heart of Dawson City. I was over the moon when I completed this race last year because it was my first ever marathon and I had placed first for females (though there might have been only two of us.. shh!). I had pulled off a time of 4:49:08, which is not speedy, but decent for a first try.

2018 D2DC Map

A number of things were different leading up to the race this year — both exciting and enough to make me nervous. The biggest excitement was that I would not be alone during the race. My mum was visiting from Ontario and would be there to support me the whole way. She has been with me for many of my races before, but never a marathon, so I was pretty excited about that. I was also pleased because I felt I had a good handle on my race nutrition. I had found a combination of gels and snacks that worked beautifully for me during practice runs so I was feeling emotionally confident about this race. But there were a couple things on my mind that were making me nervous too.

The big thing plaguing me was my recent ankle injury. Back in February I had a running-related ankle injury that put me out of commission for the Arctic Ultra (marathon portion), and from running in general for nearly a month. It took a couple months of physiotherapy and strength exercises to be able to run without pain again, and get back into some longer distance runs. Road races can be notoriously hard on ankles, so I was nervous about pushing myself to a distance I had only run once before (42km). I was worried this additional stress I would be putting on my ankle might lead to another injury. Another thing bothering me was that leading up to the race (a week before) I had a very bad distance training run. I had wanted to run 32km, both as a test to see if I was ready for a marathon, and because I heard somewhere that in a race, yo

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u can usually push yourself 10km further than you think you can run because of the excitement and drive that races seem to evoke in people (who knows if this is actually true..). Around the 30km mark, I had an intense pain shoot up my right leg. So intense that I immediately had to stop, and could only run about 20 metres at a time before having to stop again. The last two km were the worse I have ever felt, but I had to finish them as I was still 2km from home. This was devastating for me and nearly crushed my hopes for the upcoming marathon. But I still knew I wanted to do the race, feeling like I would likely be able to push on for the final few km if that happened again.

My mum and I drove up to Dawson City on the Friday, arriving about half an hour before the 10pm cut off to pick up the race package. Settling into our airbnb, I knew it would be an early start the next day (shuttle picks runners up at 6am), but I just could not sleep. Maybe it was the excitement, the midnight sun, or being in a new place, the zzz’s were just not happening.

6am race day and the shuttle took us 7 marathoners to the start line (two individuals had already started running as they were going to take longer, making it 9 marathon racers in total). That drive always seems to take forever. There is nothing quite like sitting on a bus for half an hour driving down the long road you know you about to run down. Shortly after we arrived at the start line it started pouring with rain. Rain that would not ease up until I was about 10km from the finish. The Canadian Rangers showed up and at 6am they shot off a rifle, signaling the start of the race.

D2DMarathon - Credit Melissa Naef-8

But things went downhill, and fast. For the first few km I was leading the pack of women and having a wonderful time and enjoying the fresh morning northern scenery, but by the 7km mark, that same pain in my right leg (seems to be the knee), shot back even worse than before. I anticipated that pain might make a presence again, but didn’t think it would happen this soon in the race. It lead me to question whether I should stop and prevent possible injury. At the next check stops my mum gave me a cream to rub on my legs, and magically it felt wonderful. It allowed me to push on to the next aid station, though I was worried it was only masking the pain, and still furthering an injury. But that became the routine for the majority of the race. Push through slowly and apply cream, keep running. I felt I was handling my nutrition fairly well, and stopped at every aid/water station for additional Gatorade.

D2DMarathon - Credit Melissa Naef-11

Around the half way point, I was getting slower and slower and really struggling to maintain any form of positive thought. I was angry with my body and angry at how hard of a time I was having. I had spent months trying to change the way I was training, gradually increasing my weekly km in a way that would likely prevent an injury, I didn’t consume alcohol for ten days leading up to my race so that I would have more energy, but still I was struggling. The entire second half of the marathon was a continual battle where I was ready to quit. I was in so much pain, my socks, shoes, and everything were soaked, and mentally I was done. It was around this point where my mum’s visits became more frequent. She could obviously tell how emotionally low I was, and was there to cheer me on and give me encouragement. At one point she showed up with a map of the course and showed me how far I had already come and how little there was left to complete. This really helped. I was able to push on, VERY slowly, until I reached the finish line with a time of 5:13:26 (3rd place for women!).

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I wish I could say how wonderful of race I had, but it was a pure frustrating struggle for me, and that was only the beginning. After the race finished, everything in my body went wrong. I had a terrible headache, had incredibly bad aches in all my joints, and I could not eat. Then the barfing and really bad diarrhea began. Seeing or thinking about any of the nutrition that I had used during the race pushed me into instant barf mode, which reminded me of having a bad hangover. I was scared and wondered what was going on. About 8 hours later, I was finally able to eat a salad, but that was all my body would tolerate. Slowly things improved over the next few days, but now I am left wondering how this happened and never want to experience that after a race again. I don’t think it was dehydration — I consumed a lot of water and Gatorade during the race. Was it sleep deprivation? The wrong nutrition during the race? Stress? Whatever it is is not comforting and I want to avoid this in the future. I am sure the long drive the night before did not help either for the aches in my legs.

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Even though it was a truly miserable experience for me, I know there are things I can celebrate. I did it. I ran a marathon (and ran the whole way too without walking, despite the pain I was in)! Some people dream of being able to accomplish this, and I am proud of myself that I can do it. I also need to celebrate my ankle. Despite the injury in February, and everything in my body yelling at me during and after the race, my ankle stayed strong and never bothered me once. I also want to celebrate my body. It obviously knows what it wants and tells me when I am not doing things right. I need to listen to it more and treat it with the respect it deserves. Running means so much to my emotional health that I want to be able to run for years to come.

This marathon, more than ever, I am also very appreciative of all of the race organizers, volunteers and support. All of the volunteers at the water/aid stations put their heart into cheering me on (I think maybe mum had told them I was coming soon and was seriously struggling), but regardless, I am really appreciative of everything they did. I am also incredibly grateful to my mum (who is really not a morning person) for being there the whole time, and encouraging me to not give up. I also want to congratulate all of the other races in each of the distance categories. I heard so many stories from them about it being some of their first km distance — some doing a 10km for the first time, others, like at least two others in my category, doing their first ever marathon. You are all superstars and should be proud! Even though it was a miserable experience, I feel like I needed that. It has put my brain on serious planning mode, and it a good wake up call. But don’t worry, next year Dawson to Dawson City Marathon, I will be back.

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The best support ever — mum!

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