Finding The Best In The Worst

PW. Personal Worst. I got one on Sunday. And I’m happy about it.

This marathon was unlike either of the preceding two. I had no expectations. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Things were unplanned. Things went wrong. And, while I care, I don’t care. It was seriously one of the best races I’ve ever done.

Let me explain.

Background:

I originally signed up for the BMO Vancouver marathon in the fall (to take advantage of cheap rates, of course). I signed up for my local clinic. I had lofty goals of breaking five hours, maybe even coming in somewhere between 4:45 and 4:30. And then I went and got my heart rate tested. If you’ve been reading for a while you’ll know that I was devastated. I pretty much dropped out of my clinic because I could no longer keep up. I rented myself a treadmill and focused mainly on learning to run more efficiently.

In the last two months all of my runs have been inside. I have done long runs up to 4:45, but at a pace that would constitute walking for most of you. My tempo paced runs have been few and far between. My hill training non-existent. I came to the realization that this marathon would not be any sort of goal race. Essentially I showed up on race day because I paid for it and, darn it, I was going to get that medal!

Race Day:

Colin and I got up at the ridiculous time of 5am on Sunday morning. Spud was at my parents’ house for a sleepover. Even so I think we only got about 6-1/2 hours of sleep. We had set out our things the night before because we knew we had to be out the door by ten to 6 at the latest. I ate my old race day standard (plain oatmeal) and made sure things were moving in the right direction, if you catch my drift…

Surprisingly for the family that’s always late we made it into the car on time. We had a 20 minute drive to the Skytrain and then about half an hour and two transfers on transit. Once we finally got to our destination it was about a five minute walk up to the corrals. We were there just in time to see the start of the half marathon. Those guys and girls were looking speedy only a couple of minutes in and they had a 5km downhill to start!

Prior to the race we saw a few friends who were running, both from run club and from work. It was nice to be able to share our race day jitters. Mostly Colin and I were concerned with getting our bags checked (it was point to point so they had to get on the UPS trucks) and generally sorted out. It was a good thing I had Colin put my phone in my pack because he discovered that I hadn’t put on my chest strap or GPS yet – oops! After a quick trip into the rec centre (where I swore to the ladies in line that I wasn’t budging) we were set. Colin and I said goodbye and good luck at this point since he was in a different corral. I chatted with some friends for a bit and then we were off.

The Race:

While the half marathon got to go downhill at the start of the race the full marathon got to go up.  It wasn’t huge – just steady.  Of course, I went out too fast.  Even though I had no pace/plan I knew it was too fast.  But it was such a perfect day for a race.  Taking my own advice I stopped at the very first aid station (they were every mile) for a pit stop.  Nothing dire, just too much water pre-race!  It was at the top of the hill so I knew I could “make up” time by booking it for a few blocks.  The route headed west and the rolling hills started.  Really it was average Vancouver terrain, but if you were from out of town it might have seemed like more.  There were timing mats at two major intersections where traffic had to be let through.  I got stopped for about a minute at the first one (thankfully not the second).  It wasn’t a big deal as I knew they were deducting that from my chip time.  The crowd support through this section was surprisingly good.  The neighbourhoods are more affluent than a lot of Vancouver so I wasn’t sure if people would be excited to have the race close down a major street or if they’d be all NIMBY about it.  Since I was just rolling along – and still going too fast – I made sure that I went a bit out of my way to high-five the little kids.  Really, what’s a couple of steps out of my way to make them smile?  I especially liked the Dad who was shaking one of his little girl’s toys (that we have too) since it had bells on it.

Eventually I came to the hill.  It wasn’t steep (for here), but it was long.  My feet were feeling off – 2nd toe on left foot was hurting – so I was smart and just walked the whole thing.  That’s the good thing about not having time goals – there was no pressure to haul butt up the hill!  At the top of the hill I had to stop and fiddle with my shoes.  My toe was just not shutting up.  And my quads were pretty mad too that I’d not paced myself at the start.  Fun times!  I started running again and it was a lovely shaded back street through a park.  I even saw a raccoon!  Once we came off that street we headed out to the University of British Columbia.  I was taking walk breaks often and was generally mad at my foot for hurting in a place that’s never bothered me before.  I made it to 16km/10mi before I sat down and finally dealt with my shoes.  You see, I had a feeling something might go wrong.  My shoes had a fair amount of mileage on them so I thought that the heels might go like they did at HTC.  I randomly put a pair of Dr. Scholl’s cheapy inserts in my backpack before leaving the house just in case.  Turns out it was the best decision I could have possibly made.  I took the time to put the insoles in under the ones in my shoe.  I made sure to loosen the laces so my toes had wiggle room (still re-blacked the same toe on my right foot though…).  It didn’t completely stop the pain in my toe, but helped enough to get me back on the road.  If I hadn’t had the insoles I probably would have called it a day before the half-way mark and DNF’d.

It was at this point that I picked up a running partner.  I was running alongside a girl who had just found $5 in the gutter (someone probably wondered where their bus fare went later) and we got to chatting.  I asked if she wanted to run together for a while.  It was her first marathon and she seemed up to having company at that point.  We ran together down the hill out of UBC and eventually came to the 21km mark.  This part was a little weird.  We were shifted off the road into a large parking lot, taken past an aid station, turned back to run over the timing mats, and then out the entrance we just came in.  I know they probably had to add distance to the course at some point and that it’s an odd area to put an aid station on the road (not very wide), but it was awkward.  And kind of demoralizing since forward progress was detoured…  I said goodbye to the girl I was running with at that point since my legs were so tired and I didn’t want to hold her back.  I hope she had a good second half!

I can’t say too much about the next few kilometres of the race.  It’s the same route that a summer half marathon runs along so I’d done it before.  I knew what to expect in terms of hills, etc.  I walked a lot of it.  There were a few runners I kept leap-frogging along here and a few that looked like they might want to give up soon.  I had a nice conversation with a guy on a bike.  Crowd support was sporadic, but the people that were out were still awesome and supportive.  I came to the Burrard bridge (slight incline, nothing like the hill at UBC) and walked.  I knew there would be a photographer at the end of the bridge so I made the effort to at least look like I was moving at more than a walking pace.  I ran to the next aid station out of pure vanity.  My legs hurt with every step, but only one lane was closed so there was oncoming traffic.  Someone cheered for me by name, which freaked me out a bit because I wondered if I knew them duh, name on bib remember?.  Finally I was at the turn down onto the seawall and I knew that I only had about 10km left.

The last 10km was flat and winding on the seawall around Stanley Park.  The problem was that there was always just one more corner…  It’s beautiful, though, which at points was it’s only saving grace.  I was again leap-frogging the same runners.  I chatted with a few; I asked if others were okay.  I knew that I would have no problem getting my medal since there was an 8 hour time limit.  I tried to do a jump for a photographer at one point, but only one leg lifted off the ground – my brain obviously kept the other one firmly on the ground out of self-preservation!  Even though I was moving so slowly I was thrilled when I came to the final stretch (not so thrilled that it was slightly up hill).  I knew that I was close to 6 hours (chip) and I really didn’t want to go over.  A woman came up behind me and said she’d been trying to catch me for a while.  She passed me by a few steps and then I decided that I couldn’t let her beat me.  I’m sure I looked ridiculous trying to hobble-sprint, but I did beat her as there was a very tiny downhill to the finish line.  Apparently Colin cheered for me at that point, but I didn’t hear him.  I cheered for myself with my hands up because I finished my 3rd marathon!

Once I was over the line I got my medal, had a couple of pictures taken, and grabbed my bag lunch (so NOT hungry).  The bike guy from earlier stopped by to say congratulations.  I met up with Colin and asked how he did.  While I may have ended the day with a PW I’m proud to say he finished in 3:42:11 – a 10:42 PR!!  We celebrated by going out for appies and drinks.  We recapped our races for each other and bemoaned the fact that the restaurant’s bathrooms were upstairs…

Lessons:

  • Winging a race is a stupid idea.  Had I lined up with the 5 hour pace bunny I might have been able to keep up.  If I’d fallen behind, though, I would have become very discouraged.  So it worked out well for me in the end because there was no pressure.  However, I can’t recommend it and I don’t think I’ll ever do it again (for a full – see you in 6 weeks RnR Seattle 1/2!)
  • My form has changed substantially and my Asics don’t work for me anymore.  It’s the end of an era!  I think that running in my Vibrams so much really made me more of a midfoot runner.  I think my toe problem on race day was due to me blowing out any padding the Asics had left in the forefoot.  I’m getting a pretty pair of Saucony Mirage’s tonight.
  • I’m not ready for a fall marathon.  Colin and I had a constructive grown up conversation about it and I realize that I can’t focus on heart rate based training and marathon training at the same time.  Right now it’s more important for me to get better running in zone 1 than it is to pay for and only finish another marathon.
  • I ran this race because it was paid for, it’s a gorgeous route, and I knew that I’d be able to finish regardless of time.  Simple as that.  I want the next one to blow my 5:07:18 PR out of the water.

Sometimes the race gods look down and give you a perfect race.  On Sunday they gave me the perfect worst race.

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9 responses

  1. Your positive attitude is exactly what got you through that race…way to go! Hopefully we get to meet before Ragnar at RnR! 🙂

    May 9, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    • Thanks! If you’re doing RnR Seattle I know Mel (Tall Mom) is trying to organize a blogger meetup at the expo. Email her if you want to be notified. 🙂

      May 10, 2012 at 6:12 pm

  2. Well congrats for finishing your best worst race! No matter how you did time-wise, you are amazing for finishing a full marathon period. See you in Seattle for the RnR – I have your kona cola! :o)

    May 9, 2012 at 4:57 pm

  3. I like your first lesson learned about never wanting to “wing” a marathon again. I think that everyone (including myself) have done this once, but never will again. I winged Boston 2010 and wanted to shoot myself in the foot. Marathons really are something you have to put some effort towards training. Had you already signed up for a fall marathon? It is good that you realize that maybe your body needs some rest time. Maybe run a 1/2 marathon instead this fall?

    May 10, 2012 at 6:05 am

    • Thankfully not out any money! I was still trying to decide which one to run so my waffling paid off… Can’t decide on a half now! 🙂 I’ll probably just do base building until September and then figure out some sort of schedule so I can do the Fat Ass 50k again on New Year’s Day.

      May 10, 2012 at 6:11 pm

      • Glad you aren’t out any money. Luckily there are usually lots of good 1/2s to choose from in the fall. 🙂

        May 10, 2012 at 8:54 pm

  4. katherine

    YAY! An accomplishment anyway…hope you enjoyed it….as much as anyone can enjoy a marathon!

    May 10, 2012 at 9:29 pm

  5. You FINISHED!! And that’s still something to brag about. You finished a MARATHON!! And way to go Colin!

    May 12, 2012 at 7:53 am

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