Eighteen weeks of training all comes down to one day. For the last two years I have run the Vancouver half marathon with a variety of friends and family. It has always been a fantastic experience. This year however was a little different. Somehow I let a young woman in my tri club, Heather Cole, inspire me into registering for the full marathon. You can read more about Heathers journey toward Ironman in September here on her blog.
If you have ever run a long distance race before you know there is a substantial difference between running 21.1 KM and running the full 42.2 KM. This was a serious commitment for me and one I did not take lightly. My first full marathon was back in 2003, 12 full years previously, where I ran the Edmonton marathon in a time of 4 hours and 19 minutes. I felt like crap finishing that race. My goal at that time was to try and hit the 4 hour mark but after hitting the halfway point at about 2 hours it all went downhill from there. I bonked hard and was crossed the finish line feeling like absolute hell. This year I decided that being so much older and wiser I could certainly set my sights on a sub four hour run. That goal held true until I was invited to go to Las Vegas with some friends the weekend before the race. While Vegas was appealing I seriously weighed the importance of a personal best in Vancouver with the potential entertainment of a trip to Sin City. In the end I decided that there would always be another marathon and that none of you would care whether I finished in 4 hours or 5! Lookout Vegas here we come! Needless to say I did not make any of my training runs that weekend but hey, it’s taper week right?
The following Friday I hopped on a plane to Vancouver fighting what felt like what might be a cold coming on. I was definitely nervous. I had trained hard but also knew I had let my body get a bit run down the week leading up to the race. Positive mental thoughts, Oil of Oregano and Cold FX do your thing! After a sushi dinner with my friend and long time trainer Jaime I headed back to the hotel to get some rest. The first night out of town for me is often a restless sleep and Friday night in Vancouver was no different. I tossed and turned and did not have a great sleep that night at all.
Saturday morning I still felt a little off but not terrible. It was race package pickup and race expo day. It was also when I would have a chance to connect with my sister and the rest of our tri club who had made the trek to Vancouver. Heather would be running the full marathon with me and the rest, Judi, Jaime, Kara and Joanna were doing the half. After a great morning perusing the expo and buying some new gear, including a Garmin GPS so I could track my pace during race day (do I really want to watch my pace??) we went and had some lunch at the Cactus Club. Still feeling a little under the weather I decided to head back to the hotel and have a nap. We decided on dinner at Carderos and had a very nice early meal out on the patio. I kept it light opting for salmon and veggies then heading back to the hotel for an early night. Friday night had taught me that a downtown Vancouver hotel on Pender street required the use of ear plugs for a good night sleep so I made sure to pick some up at the drug store next door. 10:30pm and I slept like a baby!!
Here it is, the moment I have been training for. The half marathon started at 7:00am and the full not until 8:30am. Breakfast was not open until 6:30 but I woke refreshed and feeling great at about 6am. I sent a quick good luck text to my sister and the all of the Exist Tri Club knowing that they were well on their way to the start line. Heather and I had agreed to meet to catch the train to the start line at 7:15am. I had a good breakfast consisting of a coffee, 2 bananas and a bagel with peanut butter. The train station was a 5 minute walk from the hotel so easily accessible. I had a small panic attack when we arrived at the station that I thought we were to load the train at only to find it was closed. Fortunately the sign on the gate directed us to another entrance around the corner at Waterfront Station and we were all set. Following a throng of other racers we made our way on to the train. Still somewhat unsure as to which stop we were to get off at we followed the other racers and eventually ended up at the starting corrals. If you have run a race before you likely know that almost always pre-race there is that nervous “I have to pee” sensation even when you know you don’t. Long lineups at the bathroom caused me to ignore the sensation and trust my head. At about 8am Heather and I made our way to the “Red” corral where we were supposed to start. A couple of high fives and some nervous banter including some chit chat with other racers we watched the clock tick down and the corral fill up. A couple of runners I was standing and chatting with spotted the 4 hour pace bunny in the corral ahead of us and decided to move up. I turned to Heather and gave her a final good luck and headed off with them. About 15 minutes until race start. I’m starting to get a little nervous now. Feeling very thirsty and wishing I had a water bottle to quench my thirst. Oh well, only 2 km to the first water station. 10 minutes to start time. I would have to wait. I had decided to bring my phone with me in my “fuel belt” this year which was a first for me. I took it out, snapped a few pics and made a couple of last minute posts. 5 minutes to start time and they start singing “Oh Canada”. Gulp! This shit is about to get real! They start counting down the waves from 10, 9, 8, 7…. I was now in the third wave to go. And we’re off! I sidled up to the four hour pace bunny and stayed close. Pietr from Holland was our bunny and would be pacing out a four hour marathon. All I had to do was stay with Pietr. We started out a little fast I thought but I managed to stay with him for the first hour. I had decided to do walk breaks at about 10 mins running and 1 minute walking. This would allow me to hydrate well and get my nutrition in without dumping water all down my front. I also decided at abut 30 minutes in that I would try and take a short video clip to send home. How fun would that be to document the race?!?
At about the hour mark I felt fantastic and decided to skip my walk break and pulled away from Pietr and his group of followers as we hit the first long, steep hill. I felt incredibly strong on the hill and pulled well away from the four hour group. Holy cow I may actually crack this thing! This is where I started thinking about nutrition. After all, I felt fantastic so far and really did not want to “hit the wall” some 20km later. I had carried a number of gels on my fuel belt and took my first one out at this point. I tried to make a mental note of the time so I could space my gels about 30 minutes apart to ensure enough energy to carry me through.
One of the things I love on race day is watching all the fans that come to cheer on friends and loved ones. Some of the signs that they produce are quite creative. Some of my favourites from Vancouver include:
I thought they said “Rum”
All toenails go to heaven
The guy at the very start whose sign said “You’re not even close!”
“Sweat is just fat crying”
At the halfway mark, a distance I have done a ton of times, I felt absolutely fabulous! I shot another quick video to send home. I felt so good I wanted to have some fun with this race. I made sure I took in all the sights and sounds of a beautiful Vancouver day on a gorgeous course. Sometimes in a race it is easy to just put your head down and power through not actually enjoying the course. I wanted to ensure that did not happen on this run.
My nutrition plan was going well. I took in water and/or electrolytes at every aid station. I kept my gel intake to about one every half hour. It’s funny how the strangest things pop into your mind on these long runs. At about 26KM I started thinking about the video snippet I would create to mark the 32KM milestone. 32KM is often where the ‘Wall’ shows up so I wanted to have something to focus on other than the fact that the last 10KM is more than I have ever done in any of my training runs. For whatever reason the rumble scene in the movie Anchorman is what popped into my head for an opening to my video snippet. Hopefully you will understand as you watch my 7 seconds at 32KM’s.
At this point I kept looking at my Garmin thinking “I’m running too fast” and worrying about keeping up the pace. Fortunately I felt awesome so just kept moving. I was passing people all over the place and as I look at the final results I can see I passed over 300 people in the last 12KM of the race! Wow! The last 10KM always require some mental gymnastics to get through so I always look for mantras and other self talk. This time I started with the mantra “Run my run and do it freaking strong!”. I then started telling myself that the rest of the race was to be run 10 minutes at a time. When I hit the 37KM marker I called out to those around me that “We can do 5km in our sleep! Remember when 5km was an easy run?”. Not everyone around found it amusing ;0)
As I rattled down the last few kilometers and finally hit the 1KM to go mark, I prepared myself mentally for the slight uphill finish that was to come. The crowd started to thicken as I got closer, ever seeking the elusive finish line on the horizon. As I turned the final corner where the crowd was pretty thick I yelled out “I can’t hear you!!” Which caused the crowd to erupt in cheers. What a feeling! 500 meters to go… I started waving my arms encouraging the spectators to make some noise… They did! Then I saw the rest of the tri group and my sister on the sidelines cheering me down the home stretch. I ran over for a high five whooping and calling out for more noise. The crowd responded. I looked up at the race clock as I entered the finishers chute. Clock time was about 3:55. Awesome!! I had crushed my four hour goal and knew my chip time would be closer to 3:50. Talk about pumped!!
I crossed the line, picked up my medal and immediately pulled out my phone to record my last video and capture the feeling as best I could. There is something to be said for setting a goal, training hard for it and then actually achieving it. Who would have thought that I could have completed a sub four hour marathon. Another great reminder that anything is possible if you set your mind to it and have the persistence, dedication and commitment to make it happen!