I ended up taking some time off from blogging leading up to this race because I just didn’t know what to say. I really didn’t know how I was feeling after a somewhat injury-riddled training cycle and a full-blown cold that hit in the last week before race day.
My body actually felt good all things considered and my runs surprisingly strong but after a trip down the stairs, a pretty serious plantar fasciitis scare, then a suspected stress fracture, 2nd degree burns on my hand and all kinds of road rash and injuries from falling off my niece’s scooter I had plenty of reasons that I shouldn’t be ready for this marathon.
I felt a bit melancholy through my taper but knew I had to just trust my training and do the best I could. All my long runs suggested that I was totally capable of having a rad race.
I had a pretty busy weekend but loads of fun working at the expo on both Friday and Saturday for the Vancouver Marathon Society, 5 Peaks Trail Running and CEP Compression. I love that Vancouver Marathon weekend has become such a highlight in my running life, so many good friends and people from my running community all coming together. It’s great.
I got home a bit later than I would have liked on Saturday afternoon but headed straight into bed for some quality Netflix time and to rest my feet before Sunday’s race. As usual, I had a bit of trouble falling asleep but thankfully I had a good sleep the night before anyway.
Sunday morning my alarm was set for bright and early and as usual, I jumped out of bed excited and ready to go. Everything was packed so I jumped in the car and headed out to meet up with friends and drive into town. The sun was just coming up and it was seriously such a beautiful morning to run a marathon.
When we got downtown, it was hard not to feel the excitement as we walked from the SkyTrain station the few blocks over to the start line at Queen Elizabeth Park. I just love race morning and this year was no different.
My goal for this marathon was to finish in 4 hours but I was admittedly nervous about whether I could do it. My good friend Candice was the 4:00 pace bunny but my coach wanted me to start ahead of her and see how I could do pacing myself, no walk breaks, which is how I’d done most of my training this time. It was scary but I agreed and seeded myself farther up in the corral from them and gave it a shot.
I started my music early and tried to just enjoy the moments as our corral inched forward and got ready to start. My plan was to watch my average pace and keep it up as long as I could. If Candice and the pace group caught up to me I planned to stick with them for the remainder of the race.
The first 5 km flew by in what seemed like a heartbeat. I was getting warmed up, running strong and just trying to weed through the crowds and find my little space on the road to run. I didn’t glance down at my watch until past the 5km mark and realized I was going pretty fast. I knew I needed to slow down, so I did and tried to find my rhythm and just settle in.
I really love the first 10km of this course because it’s through residential Kerrisdale and reminds me of when I lived in Vancouver during University. The terrain was very slightly uphill at the start but mostly flat from about 2-10km. Perfect for warming up and finding your groove.
Around 10km is when the big hill of the course comes up. Camosun Street. It’s 1km and not terribly steep but compared to the rest of the course, it feels like a bit of a killer. In years past it has been a super challenging moment for me but this year I was able to get into hill climbing mode and just chug my way to the top. I was very proud to not have walked any of it and I feel like I recovered quickly once I got to the top.
The other portion that really killed me in the past are the little hills after Camosun that take us up to 16th Avenue and over to UBC. After being winded on Camosun this stretch always seemed like such a challenge but I sailed up it this year and even spotted my friend Jacki waiting in the relay staging area which was a nice boost.
I was feeling amazing at this point. I had just run through what had always been a super challenging few km in the past and was still feeling strong. I found a good song and put it on repeat for awhile and powered my way through the next few km around UBC. My favourite part of the course is the long downhill stretch on NW Marine Drive and I sailed down it this year with a huge grin on my face. By the time we hit Jericho Beach at the bottom, it was the halfway mark and I was still feeling great and on pace.
Kilometres 21-30 are usually kind of tough. You’re getting to the 3/4 mark of the race and even though this section is mostly flat, I always find it a bit tiring. I hadn’t taken a walk break in awhile so I walked a bit up the little hill into Kitsilano and tried to just stay focused and in a rhythm. Whenever things get tough, finding a song with a good beat to zone out to usually helps and I clung to my music on this stretch to keep my feet moving.
I was definitely getting tired but was still easily on target for a 4 hr finish. I couldn’t believe it. I just had the tough Burrard Street Bridge to get over and then Stanley Park and I’d be done. Admittedly, I was getting tired though. I’d been running at a pace I’d barely thought possible and hardly taking any walk breaks to boot. Finishing the race on target was just a matter of hanging on.
Around 31km I found Solana cheering on the side of the road and she jumped in with me. I was struggling a bit and complained that my calves were getting really tight. It was so awesome to have her run along with me for awhile because she just chatted away and gave me suggestions on how to battle the calves and keep moving. When she left me I knew I had a tough slog ahead and hoped I’d be able to settle my calves down and finish okay.
The Stanley Park seawall is a bit of a beast in disguise. It’s about 10km of totally flat, beautifully paved, amazingly scenic pathway. But it accounts for the last 10k of a marathon and therefore is super challenging. It’s totally a mental game getting around the park because you know you’re so close yet it feels so very far away. When I hit the seawall my pace was right on the cusp of a 4hr finish.
My calves were giving me major troubles. They were so tight and twitching with every step. A few times, I could feel my left one start to cramp up and I had to be careful not to let it happen. They were threatening to seize and I was getting scared that they actually would. I took a few more walk breaks than I wanted to and my pace slowed considerably. They hurt really badly and it was such a struggle to keep them moving.
It was somewhere along the seawall that Candice and her pace group finally caught up to me. I was relieved to see her but it kind of felt like my sweep crew coming to collect me. My pace had slowed more and I found it was tough to even keep up with her but I did my best to tuck in with the group and just hang on. My calves were screaming though and I had to just keep up the best pace I could and keep moving.
I rounded the lighthouse and knew I had only a few km left yet that finish line felt like a lifetime away. I was scared my calves were going to blow up and I knew my 4hr finish had probably slipped away. In my mind I was prepared to be really happy with any finish sub 4:10 and I thought that was still well within reach. I just had to keep my feet moving which was getting harder and harder with each step.
I made my way off the seawall, up the short little hill and onto the final stretch. I was so relieved but I knew that the barely perceptible but still-present incline in the finish chute was going to feel like climbing a mountain. And it did. I managed to keep my feet moving down the chute but there was no sprint and I felt so slow I wouldn’t be surprised if I was moving backwards! I saw quite a few friends along the fences but I’m sure they got a look of pain on my face as I hobbled by.
As I crossed the finish line, I glanced at the clock and really wasn’t sure if I’d even broken 4:10. Once I caught my breath I glanced down at my Polar and sure enough, I saw a total time of 4:11. So very close.
Just ahead of me was John Stanton, founder of the Running Room and I was super happy to receive my medal from him again this year. It was his programs that got me up and running and through so many distance events over the years. I’d dropped my beloved 10:1 intervals for the first time in this marathon but I still credit the very fact I can run at all to John’s methods.
As I stumbled down the finish chute, my mind was already busy trying to process what had just happened. I didn’t hit my goal. In fact, I missed it by 11 mins! That’s a pretty big miss but how many people can say they missed their goal by a significant amount and yet still earned a pretty decent PR? I had no right to be upset because despite my crazy calves, I’d beaten last year’s time by over 6 mins and that’s huge.
And not only that, there were lots of other really great, non-finish-time victories for me at this event:
- I ran the marathon without scheduled walk-breaks for the first time. Whoa.
- I powered up Camosun hill and the short hill to UBC without feeling like I was going to die like usual.
- I crossed the halfway mark at 1:57-ish and I haven’t done a sub-2 half yet
- I kept up a 4hr marathon pace for the majority of the event and that is just crazy to me