BMO Vancouver Marathon: PR, baby!

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Pretty nice, huh? I ran this last Sunday, and I thought I would share with you how it went. Because I’m going to break it down by area, I thought you’d like to follow along. But first the highlights that aren’t on the map, for those that don’t want the long play-by-play:

  • It was hot out. I had been watching the weather report all week, and just watched the high creep up higher every day. By Friday, the forecast was for a high of 23 degrees Celsius with sunshine all day. I admit, this was the most worrying part of the race for me. You see, the weather I trained in was far less warm and sunny. It even hailed for half of one of my long runs. To say I was not really prepared for the race weather was an understatement. Anyone who’s raced knows that you usually start off a bit cool. I even brought arm warmers to wear for the first bit. But even at 8 am, it was warm enough that I was comfortable in my running shorts and tank, without arm warmers. Not the best sign.
  • Despite the heat, I still managed to get a 20 minute PR. I was right on track to get a 4:30:00 (my “A” goal) for the first 2/3 of the race. Then I think the heat got to me a bit. My pace slowed from 6:30/km to closer to 7:00/km. BUT I kept running; this is the first marathon in which I ran the entire race, with only one stop (to meet John) and no walk breaks. Regardless of time, I’m super-proud of this. And, I completely made my “B” goal, which was a sub 4:45:00.

All right, now we can get into the nitty-gritty, and I’ll take you through the race, area by area. This is a good time to grab a coffee or a snack. Ready? Here goes.

Cambie, Kerrisdale, Dunbar (Start to 9k)

The start for this race was a bit weird for me. Usually I’m excited and a bit nervous, but I was actually dreading this race a bit. I fully blame the weather. I’m usually a bit cold waiting to start, but I wasn’t this time. Paradoxically, I also think I was less nervous because this was the first marathon I felt well and truly trained for. There was no question that I was going to finish, and I didn’t even really doubt that I would set a new PR. I just had to get through the race first.

I always seem to forget something and this time it was my sunglasses. I was annoyed, but knew I would have to just suck it up. I texted John and asked him to bring them when I met him near the 30k mark. I also forgot to BodyGlide the inside of my thighs (probably because the weather was too sucky to wear shorts while I was training) so I improvised with lip balm. Pro tip: lip balm is a poor substitute for Body Glide.

I was in the second-last corral, and we didn’t even leave the start line until 8:07 am. Because I knew I was faster than this, I put myself at the head of the corral, instead of in the middle, like I usually do. And we were off! I focused on not starting too fast, and the fact that the first bit is slightly uphill helped. Then right around the 1k mark, my headphones started acting up. Turns out the extension cord was failing, so I took it off and stuck it in one of my pockets.

The rest of this stretch wasn’t very exciting. It was pretty flat until the 5k mark, and along one street. I actually worried that I would get bored, so I decided to make it a bit like my training runs. After 40 minutes, I picked up the pace for 5 minutes, then went back to race pace for 10  minutes. I figured this would give me smaller goals, and would help pass the time. I gave myself a goal of doing 6 sets, or whenever I felt like stopping. And you know what? It totally worked! I didn’t even need to pick up the pace that much, but the change helped break the next 2 hours up into more manageable chunks.

Not long after the 5k mark was a sweet downhill. I had to really try not to fly down it, especially since I had one of my “intervals”. I did let myself go a bit, but kept in control.

Camosun Hill (9k to 10k)

Ah, the dreaded Camosun Hill. Having not run this course before, but hearing about it from my running buddies, this was one of two areas I was dreading the most. But honestly it wasn’t that bad. One of the local radio stations put up signs calling it the “Highway to Hell”, complete with AC/DC music blaring. There were signs each 1/4 of the way up, and it was full of spectators shouting encouragement. There was even a kid with a sprinkler hose about 1/2 way up (you bet I ran through it!). I was actually just at the start of one of my 5 minute “intervals” for the first bit, which helped me to not slow down too much. But otherwise I took it really easy and it was fine.

Pacific Spirit Park (10k to 15k)

This part had some good parts, and a couple of sucky parts. Right after the Camosun Hill, we ran through part of the park. The road was a bit sketchy, but it was nice and shady, since it was basically through woodland. Then there was a bit of a slog from the 12k mark to the 14k mark. Mostly I was trying to wait as long as possible to take a gel, because I didn’t have enough if I started sooner than my schedule (I was due to take my first gel at the 1:30:00 mark). By 1:15:00, I was afraid if I waited I would start to slow down; I was already feeling a bit hungry. So I took my first gel, hoped I could pick one up along the way as a backup, and moved all  my planned nutrition times up by 15 minutes.

One awesome part was seeing my run buddy Jennifer right around the 12k mark. It definitely perked me up to see a familiar face! She gave me some great encouragement and then went to look for another of her run buddies.

After that was the out-and-back stretch. It definitely felt out-of-place from the rest of the race, but it was okay. This was also the 1/3 point of the race and I was perfectly on track for a 4:30:00 still.

UBC (15k to 22k)

This was honestly the longest stretch of the race for me, even accounting for the Seawall (more on that later). Even with the other really nice downhill at the end, it seemed to take forever to get through. In fact, if you look at the map, this whole stretch is basically downhill. But it started getting pretty warm already, and there wasn’t a lot of shade. I remembered James had commented that this part was really nice, but I just found it long.

One highlight of this area was that there was a man near Wreck Beach wearing a sandwich board (and nothing else) for their Bare Buns run in July. I remember thinking that just sounded uncomfortable. I’m not a guy (obviously) but wouldn’t it be painful to run with your junk bouncing everywhere? Anyway, I digress.

Finally, we got to the other side of UBC and the halfway point. I was still right on mark for a sub 4:30:00 and my feet were the only part that was sore so far. I was still feeling strong and was concentrating on not letting the heat get to me. I even managed to snag an extra gel, although it was in the dreaded Vanilla flavour, which is far too sweet for me.

Point Grey, Kitsilano (22k to 29k)

Right after the halfway point, there was this hill. It’s a little blip on the map, but it was so much worse in person. In fact, I would say it was worse than Camosun. Luckily, I saw Jenn again right before it for some much-needed encouragement. I think the worst part of this hill is that, unless you’ve done the race before, you don’t see it coming. It’s short, but really steep and goes around a corner so you can’t see the top right away. My brother mentioned it earlier, but I didn’t really pay attention.

The rest of this stretch was a bit of a blur, except it was hot and uncomfortable. I had some memories of running this area two years ago, when it was the final stretch of the old course. I was basically just trying to get through this part until I got to the Burrard Bridge, when John would be waiting for me with my sunglasses and fresh bottles of eLoad (electrolyte drink).

At this point I had taken to running through the water stations and just dumping the water on my face. It was like a slap in the face every time, but it was refreshing and kept me cool. Also, right around the 26-27k mark was another spectator with his sprinkler hose going. It was awesome.

Burrard St. Bridge, West End (29k to 32k)

The one nice thing about this trip to the bridge is that we didn’t have to run under it and around, which was all uphill and horrible. So I had some hope that it wouldn’t suck as much as it did 2 years ago. Hope dashed. It was hot, it was uphill and it suuuucked. The only good part was knowing John was on the other side. I had pretty much decided to only take one of the two fuel bottles, so I wouldn’t be weighed down. But I ended up taking both, figuring I might need the extra liquid.

When I met John, he had my sunglasses. Unfortunately, I wasn’t specific enough in my text, so he brought the prescription ones in the case in my purse, instead of the non-prescription ones just loose in my purse. I *may* have flipped out about it a bit (although I totally apologized later!). But I switched out the bottles, and kept going. I think this was the point where my pace started to slow down, and I never even considered that the extra weight of the bottles may have contributed until now. In any case, my main thought now was getting to the Seawall, because I knew that was the final 10k.

Seawall (32k to 41k)

I knew this was going to be the toughest, longest part of the race for me. Partly because my running buddies said it was for them last year, and partly because in every other marathon I’ve done, everything falls apart around the 32k mark. But this time I was ready. I was tired, but I said to myself, “Let’s do this!” and, because the remaining km’s left were in the single digits, I just focused on getting to the next marker, and counting them down. I could tell I was running slower than before, and I knew at this point that a sub 4:30:00 was very unlikely. But I also knew that if I didn’t fall apart that I could definitely get a sub 4:45:00, and maybe even a sub 4:40:00.

Looking at the map, it looks like you can see a lot of the Seawall ahead of you, and I was afraid that would be discouraging, but in actuality, there are quite a few twists and turns along the route. This helped make it seem less endless, which was good because once I hit 36k, every marker seemed to take longer to get to. But I just kept running, and by the 39k mark I was passing A LOT of people, even though my pace dropped to right around 7:00/km. At this point I was just running to get it finished, and I knew it would take less time to run than to walk. Everything was sore, but I could still run. So I did.

Coal Harbour (41k to finish)

FINALLY, I was at the last km of the race. The last bit of the Seawall was hard because every time I turned a corner I hoped we were done from the wall, and we never were. But eventually we got out of Stanley Park and were on the final stretch. The finish was different than last year because it followed this footpath off the Seawall and then up to Pender, instead of right onto Pender. It was still almost all uphill, but I wanted to finish strong. So, I mustered what strength I had left and picked up the pace. In the last stretch, I glanced at my Garmin; it was at 4:39:48. Probably not a sub 4:40:00, but it would be close. I gathered up everything I had left, and laid it down. Official time: 4:40:05. A 20 minute PR, and I finished well. I was happy to have done so well, but it was muted by fatigue. This was the first time I finished a marathon and didn’t cry; I was just satisfied with my time and happy to be done.

Now What?

As my coach so aptly put it, I had unfinished business with the marathon after my disastrous run in Victoria last fall. I really feel like I redeemed myself with this race, and had the race I should have had then. Despite not making my “A” goal, I still ran strong, ran the whole race, and destroyed my previous PR. So now what?

I think I can safely put away the marathon racing for a while. I have two 1/2 marathons in my sight, the Sea Wheeze in August and the Victoria in October. The Sea Wheeze is largely for fun; a couple of my Twitter friends are coming out, and it’ll be a fun weekend. I’m really planning on racing that one. However, the Victoria is likely to be my next goal race. If I can, I want to really work on my speed over the summer and go for a sub 2:00:00.

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