The Return to the Marathon
As mentioned in my previous post, it had been 3 whopping years since I had ran a full marathon. This is most unlike me, since I starting running these in 2008. But, mostly due to injuries, while I had even paid for some in the last few years, I had to scratch them due to sneaky injuries which would creep up. Well, despite a long winter, and an emotionally-draining one, I had kicked up training again in January and things were progressing fairly well up til April, when my training hit a snag. My on-again off-again stomach issue was on-again in February, March, and still hanging on a bit in April. That sidelined me for more than a few run days, and then I got a bad cold for a week in mid-April, which kept me from running for almost a full week. That is not ideal for the build up to a marathon, FYI. So, I just did what I could to train while trying not to exasperate my body. I knew I was only about 75% trained to do this going into it. But still I knew I could do it, and really this year is all about distance training for me, as my first multi-day Ultra will be in August. So, any chance to run distance, is not only a good thing but is also directly on target for 2015’s plans.
I asked my buddy, and former roommate, Alex, if he’d like to join me on the trip and run the half, which he has done before. And to my surprise, actually, he said a quick yes. That was good for me because it’s always nicer to travel with a friend and I got to cut my expenses in half. Bonus. This photo above was taken the day before the marathon, when we arrived in the city to hit the Expo and pick up the race bibs and eat lunch. He wanted to try Steamworks brewery, which was close to the Expo, and I was starving. “Wherever, Alex, just pick a place!”
And like every night before a race, I got to the hotel after dinner (Italian!), and laid out my race gear for the morning. BTWs, if you haven’t tried Trattoria in Vancouver yet, it’s good stuff. Italian and a glass of wine are kind of a pre-full marathon staple for me. Good carbs, but I don’t overstuff like I used to. Live and learn, my running friends. Adequate carbs is good enough. Too much will likely hamper your performance instead of help it. One change I made during this race, based on multiple running nutrition articles I’ve read recently from professionals, is that I’m not fueling enough during the race. So I planned on taking in 4 servings of either gels or Honey Stingers this time IN ADDITION to water and electrolyte drink on the course. Yes, that seems like a lot, maybe. But, the first one is consumed directly before the start. Then there’s only 3, technically.
Ok, let’s get to the good stuff…
5:45am. Marathon morning. Alex had to be at the start line for the Half Marathon before 7am because the runner start is at 7am. And despite me taking a shower, us both eating and running around the hotel room, we still left the hotel a little late. The game plan was me drive him to the start area at Queen Elizabeth Park in the car, bring the car back to the hotel, and take a taxi to the park myself for the Marathon start at 8:30am. It’s cold in the AM, and who wants to be at the start area 90 minutes early for the marathon? Heh. While we continued to inquire about taxi prices from Burnaby to the park, they kept getting more expensive, and I thought, heck no do I want to pay that much for a taxi. Heh. So, as I dropped Alex off at the starting area about 10 minutes before 7am, I drove back to the hotel and decided to take a series of Sky Trains around town to get back over to the park area. I got back to the room, grabbed a few things, had to pre-game, and then ran out of the hotel a little late, again, of when I would have ideally left. Fortunately, Sky Train access was directly next to our hotel in Burnaby and I hopped aboard. Making timing calculations in my head, I thought it didn’t make sense to ride this one ALL the way into downtown, just to sprint 6-8 blocks to catch another one going south toward the park again. I saw a map on the train that showed distinctly a bus route that runs west about half the distance on the Sky Train as it goes toward downtown. So, I made a snap judgment, “that’s gonna save me a lot of time,” and asked some locals on the bus which stop I wanted to catch the 99 bus. After being a little anxious about the time – it was probably 8:10 at this point – I jolted off the train at the stop, ran down the stairs to the street and ran to the bus stop. Q: “When’s the next bus?” Answer: “10 minutes.”
I didn’t have a choice. I had to wait. While I had a free voucher for the Sky Train, and had used it, I had also made sure to get a few $5CAN bills for transit purposes. The last minute bus idea, for example. I had my cash out, and after 10 LOOOONG minutes the bus came. We piled on and I looked so perplexed at a “bus card or coin deposit only payment machine” at the front of the bus. Thankfully, the driver, though already stressed, was compassionate, saw my race bib on my chest, the only one in the whole bus BTWs, and waved me onboard. 8:20. The bus continued west and my heart was racing. Get there, get there, get there, I was thinking so loud in my head I’m surprised it didn’t pop out and flood the bus with runner blood. Then he made an announcement, “Due to road closures, we’re going to be taking a detour around to the north.” Uhhhh….uh, oh. Panic, panic, panic, panic, panic, panic. When that bus kept rolling and wasn’t hitting stops anymore, and then actually turned north and I could see us going towards downtown (which BTW is the exact opposite of the starting area for this race), I started to really panic.
You see, Alex and I had decided not to pay for the Int’l fees for using our phone or GPS in Canada, so we had been kicking this whole weekend old school, or ya know, with the limits of the world before smartphones. At this point, I had a very general idea of the direction I needed to go, and it was almost 8:30, and I was losing it BIGTIME.
I quickly told the bus driver that I needed to get off at the next stop. And he said the next stop was Cambie. Well, Cambie Street I knew. Ironically enough, Cambie is the street that Queen Elizabeth Park was on, I thought, but Cambie is a really long street and I had no idea now, how much I had to hoof it to make it there, so that this whole training cycle, my registration fee, and this whole weekend wasn’t a bust.
The bus turned west again and then south and then west and then stopped at Cambie. I was looking around for the Sky Train which they said would be “right there,” and I couldn’t see it. Again, I was the only one in the area with a race bib on. Police directing traffic at the intersection didn’t pay me any mind. “Please somebody, pay me some mind,” I kept thinking. “Where the heck is this?!” Then I found a local, and asked him. He pointed across the street and told me the Sky Train is underground in this area. I RAN over there and RAN down to the access and RAN into the train. One stop to go. When I got on the train it was already 8:30. The first wave, which I had registered to be in, was gone.
One light in the tunnel was that on the one car of that train I just happened to get on, I met Judy. You see, Judy, also had a bib on. She was late. She had come from downtown, where she was staying with her husband. And I guess she was confused about logistics or was just plain late as well. We both shared in the fact that it was nice to see a friendly face. We both disembarked at the next stop, ran up to the street, and then looked around. “I thought this would put us out right at the park,” I said. “I think it’s a few blocks away,” she said. “Where, where, where…” I kept looking around. Finally, we spotted a small blue arrow pointing east. Blue meant Vancouver Marathon, I knew that much. “Judy, we gotta run to the start.” She agreed. We headed east, and then east, and then east. Time was ticking away and the markers were subtle on the street. I had no idea we were about 14 blocks away once we got off the Sky Train. I knew it was a wave start and there were five waves. My only mission was to make it there before the start of the last wave. If I missed that, you can’t just “hop in” and run it. The start shuts down after the last wave leaves, and it’s over. Judy was lagging behind me a bit and I had my drop bag to hand off to one of the volunteers with a spare shirt, shorts, towel, $10CAN, and a few other things of no value. I was so relieved, and stressed, and anxious, that we actually made it in the start corral JUST before the last wave. No joke, we’re talking 30 seconds of a window. I frantically looked around for a volunteer to hand off my drop bag (which they take and hand back to you at the finish), and none of the volunteers said they could take it. 15 second judgment call, which only took about 5 seconds to make: leave the bag. I grabbed my gels/chews out of it, and tossed it near the starting area, walked over into the starting corral and they counted down “10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1…[loud horn]!”
Be it now that I was actually IN the race, maybe ironically, I could relax a little bit. I hadn’t done my pre-run warmup routine – I guess I had done a lot more than the routine. I relaxed my shoulders and started thinking about what my goals were for this race. Going back a month or so, I knew, with everything that had happened in life this last two seasons, and with how training had been progressing, though good, today would not be a PR. And I was okay with that fact. But, I had also thought about what I wanted out of the race, and I landed on a few things: 1) to simply return to the marathon without injury and to enjoy it, 2) to have a respectable finishing time, and 3) to run a very consistent race overall, including holding back on the first 3 miles, which I tend to do, in my mind, too fast. Part of #3 was also that by running a steady pace I could avoid hitting the wall between miles 21-23, which had normally always happened for me in the marathon.
The first few kilometers out of the park and through Cambie were easy, simple. I was out on the course (not racing to the course anymore), and though at the back of the pack, there was a comfort that this wasn’t going to be a planned PR day for me anyways, therefore, run a good race, and enjoy it. That’s the mentality I had, and the sun was out with temps after the start near 58F. It was comfortable. We turned west and ran kilometers 3-7 through the neighborhood of Kerrisdale and while I was passing a number of people (ie. I was registered to start in the first wave, and was running in the last wave), everyone out there looked steady and were running well. Of course, it was the start of the race. Running in Vancouver (ie. a metric city/country) it’s always a little interesting because you see every single kilometer sign and occasionally see mile signs too. So, if you’re figuring your pace, sometimes, you’ll see a kilometer sign and starting figuring your pace in metrics and by the time you get that figured out, then see a mile post and quickly revert to American standard and then it just gets confusing. Luckily, I had my Garmin 310XT on and it was clicking away fine. Thanks metrics, I’ll stick with miles.
The turn north at Kilometer 9 is a slow 200 foot plus hill climb, and it was here that I actually ducked in to what I determined would be an available portable toilet to hit #1. I was considering it since the start, but since I didn’t have time at the start, I kept running til I found a set that were basically vacant. I hopped in quickly and timed myself while in there (I always do that), and 25 sec later the tank was drained and I started attacking that hill. About half were walking up it, and I was not going to permit myself to do any walking. Steady up the hill and out of the Dunbar neighborhood, alongside Pacific Spirit Park. The scenery here is pleasant, and I passed by the first set of runners waiting on the side of the road. I should explain. Vancouver has also been offering a marathon relay for a few years, which means, if 26.2 isn’t your distance, oh, *cough* *cough*, 42.2, I mean, you can get 3 friends and each run a little over 10k as a relay for the full distance. My guess is probably 100 relay teams or more. I gave them a quick shout hello and kept on.
There’s a short stretch near Kilometer 13 where the course doubles back on itself, and runners are on both sides of the same street. It’s a very unique change, where you get to see runners who are kicking your butt as you start on one side, then you get to see all the runners whose butt you’re kicking on the reverse. Unique. People alongside me recognized other runners they knew on the opposing side and would yell at them or give them a high five. That’s one thing I really appreciate about this solo sport of running, is the community. And whether you run 5:00 pace or 10:00 pace, there’s a lot of camaraderie and encouragement that we’re all out there getting it done, regardless of the skill level. And let me tell you, even at 10:00 pace, or what have you, finishing a 42.2 kilometer race at one shot is a big achievement.
Past this point, we swept around the University area and into the neighborhood of Point Grey. It was just past halfway at this point and I was feeling decent. My legs had started talking to me a little bit around 15 kilometers, but I was trying to stay focused on my fueling, water intake, and staying steady. And luckily, was achieving the steady pace I set out to do. The sunlight was more overhead at this point and everything felt a little warmer, or should I say, dehydration would start to work quicker. Or what I thought was quicker. Anyways, for a hot weather guy like myself, this felt good, even though I could feel the beginnings of dehydration arriving. Speaking of that, one addition I added to this race was trying out Succeed Supplement tablets. I took two during the race. One at this point, halfway, and another one about 3/4 the way into the course to keep my electrolyte levels balanced. I do believe they assisted in the race performance.
From that point, there’s a gentle downhill that moves down to just above the beach in north Kitsilano and then it’s up again to the Burrard bridge. There were a handful of times in the stretch approaching the bridge, on the incline of the bridge, and after the bridge into downtown, when I wanted to walk for a minute. I kept telling myself I wanted to, and then I kept denying myself the opportunity to do it. Keep fueling, keep running, keep going. My one phrase I adopted after I started the race was “keep going.” Kilometer 30 was downtown and then we turned north again to approach Stanley Park and what had been for me in the past, the dreaded sea wall. “Keep going.” It’s funny, I can remember people say things like marathons are 10% physical and really 90% mental. Or, things like marathons are 50% one and 50% the other. In fact, I think somewhere along the course at this point of the race I heard a conversation about it too giving a lot of credence to how it’s all mental.
Let me say this. Marathons are not easy. They are extremely physical. And I do believe the mind plays a part in bringing along the performance of the body. But I am not going to say that they’re only 10% physical and 90% mental. There’s no way. They are extremely physical.
It was here, in the last 1/4 of the race course that I would continue to repeat my phrase in my mind, keep my head up, my shoulders back, and run. Fueling, drinking, and running. I had set my Garmin to shadow an 8:30/mi pace for the race, and had been approximately 3:30min ahead of that pace since probably Mile 5. I noticed that I had stayed consistently 3:30min ahead for that long, and therefore had maintained a steady pace – and approaching the sea wall, thought, I want to maintain that pace til the finish. The sea wall is a funny beast. It has been where I hit the elusive wall each time before (which normally happens a lot in Mile 20+ of marathons), meaning the muscles become depleted of glycogen or electrolytes get severely imbalanced, or carb stores completely tap out, or a combination of the above. The sea wall is also really narrow and winding compared to the rest of the course, which is ran on city streets. The sea wall is maybe 6-8 feet wide in most parts and stretches 9 kilometers late in the course. Sure, there are views of the water and the harbor, but nobody’s really looking at those. Instead, they’re hurting and I’m hurting. And I want to stop, but I tell myself, “keep going.” Some people slow to walk, or slow their pace as I pass them by. I wanted to stay steady in this area, which had been difficult in years past, and I wanted not only to be steady, but to gain slowly. And I did. It was also on the sea wall that I tried to not look at my watch every mile anymore and run by feel.
You’d think I’d be sick of gels and chews at this point, and, well, you’d be right. I ate more of those during this race by a little bit and my body sent me signals, like, “What the heck, bro?” “Yeah, exactly body, I hear you. But I gotta, or you ain’t gonna like it.” Well, my body didn’t really like either option, but finishing off the chews gave me a little more energy approaching the last few kilometers and I can never tell someone enough just how good it feels to pass 41k and run back into downtown. Finally, this is the one area of the course where there are people lining both sides of the street, and you can see the finish line. The mean part of this, is that, while you can see the finish line down the road, it’s a deceptively long street before the finish and it’s actually uphill. I started putting the pedal down progressively in the last kilometer just before the turn onto this last street. And the dehydration, the tired legs, the argumentative knees, the sugared-out stomach, and the feeling of faintness were all mashing together and then I put the engine into overdrive. I remember having a very steady and fluid form here, with both relaxed and rhythmic turnover. I felt fatigued to the core, but also that I was going to finish this race the way I finish every distance race – with everything I’ve got left. And I did.
And to be honest, I really felt like puking right after the finish line. But there’s hundreds of spectators, a few dozen volunteers, cameras, and how anti-climactic would that be?! Still I felt like it and still I thought I would. But somehow I didn’t. I walked, smiled at the volunteer lady who put the medal over my neck, walked over to an empty crate which once held refreshments and sat down with my head between my knees for a few minutes. I took a bottle of water from a volunteer, which I really didn’t want to drink, but knew I needed to and sipped on it intermittently. Alex had coincidentally arrived at the finish area a few minutes early to watch me run in and was shouting my name. That was cool. I was just so happy to be done.
The sick feeling stayed for another 30 minutes before I left the finish area, then walking to the car also felt sick, him driving me back to the hotel also felt sick, and hitting the ice bath also felt sick. But, after the ice bath, I started to feel better. And within an hour was back to normal! Thank you, Jesus! Alex had gone out to get some food and real food tasted so good. Steak, rice, beans. More hydration and recovery was underway!
Marathons are definitely a love/hate, but love/hate in a good way. Challenging. Arduous. What’s not to desire?!
Since I was feeling better on Sunday afternoon after the ice bath, we got coffee at Matchstick, drove up to Cypress Bowl Road to catch some views of the city (after detours away from Grouse Mt. and Capilano Bridge b/c they’re seriously overpriced), explored, and came back into the city to hit up a dinner spot we had hit two years ago, Alibi Room. I feel like I achieved the three goals I had for this race, and got a good start to the distance training for 2015, which will include a lot more distance.
All in all, another great trip to Vancouver. One thing is for darn sure, logistics to the start will be absolutely different next time.