Race Report: Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon – 27 June 2010

Race day dawned bright and early on Sunday 27 June.

After dropping M off at his aunt and uncle’s for a sleepover (thank you!) Colin and I went home with every intention of going to bed early after we packed up our race gear. Totally didn’t happen. There was always just one more thing to do: hunt and gather laundry for post-race, tie on chip timer, re-tie chip timer two or three more times to get it just right, add music to iPod/figure out playlist, etc… It must have been force of habit, along with having a kid-free house that kept us up until 11pm. So when the alarm went off at 4:30am the best we could do was roll ourselves out of bed and blearily get dressed and fed.

We met up with our carpool (the wonderful Herb, who drove us even though he was injured and no longer running, Allison and Laurie) at our local running store at 5:30am. It was about a 45 minute drive out to the race course and we had our fingers crossed that the rain shower we passed through would turn back to drizzle. We got a fairly close parking spot on the street and got our stuff together. We all look cheerful, but that was more race-day anticipation than anything… it was cold. As we were heading to the starting area we met up with James and his wife and commiserated about the weather – and, yes, James, I did say that my legs looked like plucked chickens (I had a severe case of goose-bumps)!

Colin, Laurie, Allison, and Me getting ready.

Now you can see us all!

Once we were on the race site we decided that it would be best to check out the porta-potties. Thankfully there were lots, but, as is usually the case, the lines were ridiculous. They were set up in a triangle so all of the lines were getting crossed. We didn’t have to wait long, but there wasn’t much order.

A nice group shot after our bathroom break… see how much happier we are!

Colin and I decided to go for a bit of a warm-up jog and stretch at this point. We didn’t go very far, but it was nice to get moving and calm my nerves a little. At about 10 minutes prior to start they announced that the corrals were “self-seeding”. I was a little confused since I had been assigned a start group – it said so on my bib. Essentially it meant that you could start where ever you pleased. I stuck to the middle of the pack since I’m neither fast nor slow, but I’m sure there were people in totally the wrong spots. Colin and I shuffled around a bit trying to get our GPS units to “find satellites” and then the race started.

And that’s when I noticed that my HRM didn’t display the right screen! Aarrgghh!!! It had been fidgety on my last run and I didn’t think that it had carried over, but it had and that meant that I only had my heart rate and time. NO PACE! Thankfully it was programmed to beep at 1km intervals, but I’d have to base my pace on that. Since I couldn’t stop to fiddle with it I kissed Colin goodbye, wished him well and sent him on his way.

I tried not to get caught up in the quickness of the pack. I have a pace that I know I keep relatively well (6:18/km) so I made sure I was going a little faster than was usually comfortable. The first kilometre and a half were good and then I started to feel my left sock. I don’t know if it was because these socks are getting old or what, but it had slipped down on the inside of my heel. It was totally bothering me and I didn’t want it to actually come off so I had to make my way over to the side, stop and pull it up – frustrating! Getting back into the race was fine (lots of shoulder-checking involved) and it was nice to see Herb at the 3km marker. I saw him first so I yelled out to him and he took this awesome picture:

See how relaxed I am early on…

The next couple of kilometres were pretty average. A bit of a downhill then a straight out and back (on the other side of the median). I saw Colin when I was at about 4-1/2km – he was on the other side heading back already – so I yelled at him and generally made a spectacle of myself. Since I knew that I wouldn’t see him again until the finish I felt it was my wifely duty!

I was keeping pretty good pace and making sure that I was fueling/hydrating well. Even though I didn’t use the water stations (I had my pack) they looked like they were well manned – there were lots of volunteers. At about 9km I got to the main downhill (+/- 75 metre elevation drop) and tried not to put on the brakes too much. I didn’t go all out, but felt like I made up a little bit of time. I hit 10 km (by my watch) in almost exactly 1 hour. After the hill it was a nice run alongside the beaches – I ran with Darren, my half clinic instructor, for awhile. Normally he’d have been long-gone, but he ran the BMO Vancouver Marathon in May and was taking it a little easier for this race. At about kilometre 13 he went on ahead and I slowed down for the uphill.

This is when my race started getting a little sucky. Murphy’s Law states that “if anything can go wrong, it will”. And it did. Suffice it to say that GI issues hit with a vengeance (any other mention is TMI). I thought that I was in luck – I was sure that porta-potties were just around the corner at kilometre 14. After all, that’s what the website had said. I had faith that it was true… and all I found was a water station. Crap. I kept my hopes up as I passed into a residential neighbourhood. Kilometre 15 – no luck. I passed some lovely volunteers who actually took the time to read my name and cheer just for me. I tried really hard to appreciate their effort! Kilometre 16 came and went with nary a little grey box in sight. I passed a little park with lovely water views and *gasp* A TOILET! Hooray! Or not. It was locked (I assume since it was city, not race, supplied). I was having no luck. At the 17km water station I finally found the bathroom. And promptly wasted 3 valuable minutes. But all was good with the world afterwards and I ran along happily until I came upon the Burrard Bridge.
I have driven over this bridge probably thousands of times in my lifetime. I even walked over it a couple of times during the Olympics. However, I have to say that to run over it – on the roadway – is daunting. It doesn’t look that steep. I learned that looks can be deceiving. After running 3/4 of the race on mostly flats or downhills it was a bit of a shock to the system to have to go up again, especially since it was only kilometre 18. I started playing games with myself to get up and over it. I told myself that it was just one hill and I’d done hill repeats so that meant it was nothing. I played “pass the runner” and picked people off just so I could feel good about myself. I let myself get distracted by the cheering spectators (as I should have). Soon I found myself on the home stretch with only 3.1 km left to go.

Once I was on Pacific Boulevard I started to get a little excited. I knew that I still had a ways to go so I couldn’t push too fast. My watch told me that I was on pace to beat 2:10. My original time goal was a realistic 2:15 (only 1:58 faster than my first half in February) so when I saw that I could potentially come in 5 minutes faster I really started to focus. At about 20 km I saw my friend Christine and said hi, but didn’t slow down for long. I could see the 21 km marker and needed to go.

Just as I shouldn’t have believed the website about the porta-potties I also shouldn’t have taken the elevation graph as totally accurate either. It shows a nice decline into the finish after the bridge. However, at about 20-1/2 km the road starts to go up again! Aahh! My legs were burning already and I kept checking my watch for time and I had a small hill thrown at me – not good. I really had to dig down deep to keep my pace. I passed the 21 km flag (silly me, I thought I was done since I forgot the .1 km) and then just booked it. See picture below:

Sprinting to the finish!

Colin told me when he found me after I finished that he called my name and cheered for me, but I was in such a zone that I didn’t hear anything. I have a feeling that my official finish line photo is going to be either really awesome or really scary – I’m voting scary. All I wanted to do was finish. My watch was telling me that I finished in 2:08:49, while clock (official) time was 2:13:07. Chip time turned out to be 2:11:38. Take which ever result that you want: they were all PRs!!! I knocked almost 5-1/2 minutes off of my time in February so I’m super proud of myself. I’m also really proud of Colin. He dropped his time by 12 minutes (1:55:07 in February and 1:43:08 this weekend).

I crossed the finish line, received my medal, found Colin and we met up with Herb again. I went to get some food – banana and a cookie – and then found everyone else.

James, Laurie, Allison, Colin and Me.

After a couple of pictures we made our way to the van and Herb surprised us with champagne for a celebratory toast (which we then turned into mimosas – healthy juice and all that). Allison, Colin and I all PR’d at this race! It was great to be able to share the experience with Colin as well as new friends – they are all from my marathon clinic.

Laurie, Colin, Allison and Me.

Herb, Colin, Allison and Me.

It was pretty much the perfect day (minus the issues listed above). The weather was just right, the course was beautiful, I had fun with friends and I got a PR. As we drove away from Stanley Park to find breakfast Herb put on Queen’s “We are the Champions”… it can’t get much better than that!

One Thursday Down, 17 More To Go

Today was my first marathon clinic night. I was anxious, jittery, and basically felt like I was going to throw up. I showed up 15 minutes early just to make sure that I wasn’t the last one there. When I got there I got my name tag, sat down and waited. A few more people arrived up and then we started with the introductions.

I’m very thankful that I was one of the first ones to say hi. My goal – to finish The Marathon, time TBD – seemed a little sad after hearing everybody else. Now I know that I can’t compare myself to men and women that have run longer races. It’s just very hard to sit there and think you have an attainable goal when 4 out of 12 in the group have BQ’d.* It’s also hard to hear that some of them have run 10+ marathons. I can’t help but feeling extremely intimidated, even if the more experienced runners are the pace leaders and they are there to help the rest of us out. Now it’s not that I don’t think I can do it. I do. Everyone is really nice and I know that they’ll be supportive too. But really. How can I not feel a tiny bit discouraged if I’m one of the only ones running their first marathon? It seems pretty far away still. (And, Mum, even though I say this I won’t drop out…)

The good thing about the night though was that I’ve slotted myself in with a pace group. We did a 6.7km (4ish mile) steady run and I totally kept up – about 46min total. As long as everything goes well during training my goal at the moment is 4hr 15min. So I’m happy with how things went and am looking forward to doing my training runs. Everything starts off nice and slow for the first few weeks – but since I’m training for a 1/2 I kind of miss those runs – and then we get into uncharted (for me) territory. It’s not too long until I start long runs that are past the half marathon distance. I’m still a little out of my element right now, but after meeting everybody and going out tonight I’m a lot calmer and, dare I say, a little more enthusiastic.

*For those of you who aren’t up on the lingo (and I wasn’t a month ago) that means they have qualified for and have run or are preparing to run the Boston Marathon, the Holy Grail of Running. I’m just looking for a PR (personal record, also known as PB or personal best) which I will have even if I have to crawl across the finish line.

It’s Been A Year…

I have wanted to write about my “running journey” for a while, but since it seemed long and involved I hadn’t yet gotten around to it. It seems appropriate that I kept putting it off because when I finally sat down to write I discovered that I have been running for a whole year. It seems crazy that this time last year I was having pre-clinic jitters about even going out to run (which, to call it what it was, was more of a shuffle). So here is the real beginning of my journey to The Marathon…

I started running in May 2009. I had gotten to thinking around my birthday, in March, that I needed to do something for me. I’d had a brief encounter with running in my early twenties, but it didn’t stick. However, it was something that I had enjoyed; obviously enough to try again. The main reason for signing up for a learn-to-run clinic was to have some time away from M, who was 18 months old at that time. That and I was thinking ahead to my “I’m turning 30 midlife crisis” the next year and decided that I would work up to being able to run a marathon by the time I was that age.

When I signed up in March I was asked if I wanted to start that night, but I just couldn’t bring myself to commit since it had taken me so long to even voice the long term goal. I had a month and a half to stew over it and in May 2009 I started running. Well, walk/running – with the emphasis on walk. Looking back I remember feeling really self-conscious about it (and being there by myself too, introvert that I am). But everyone was there for the same reason. We worked our way up to 10 + 1s (run 10 min/walk 1 min) and at the end of the clinic we were prepared to run a 5km race. Instead of paying for an entry fee, I got ambitious and put the money toward a 10km clinic).

My next class started in September. I had anxiety at the start again, especially when I found out most of the class was coming up from the 5km clinic. I discovered very early on that I was slow compared to everyone else. Looking back on my training log there are a lot of clinic-night entries that say “at back of group”. I definitely went through a phase of feeling like I wasn’t good enough and doubting myself because I couldn’t keep up with the faster runners. Of course, I hadn’t quite gotten that it wasn’t a race with anyone but me. This class introduced me to steady runs and hill repeats – I’ll let you figure out which one I liked better. I never got much faster, but the class really helped me get my base up. At the end, my last long run was 16km. It took my 2 hours and 15 minutes which I was thrilled with then, but I’ve gotten so much better.

In keeping with my plan of eventually training for The Marathon I actually began my half marathon program 3 weeks before the 10km class was over. It was really nice to get away 2 nights a week for that time! As with the other classes I was a fairly entrenched “back-of-the-pack”-er. I had all of the same feelings as before and was actually pretty intimidated. A lot of the other people had run halfs or fulls before and I was a little lost. My first run was at tempo pace and even though my log says “felt really good” I know that I had no idea what I was doing. At that point all I understood was that tempo = go fast.

Everything was moving along well until a month in when I had to have my wisdom teeth extracted. I didn’t run for 2 weeks and that first run back really stunk. It was a 10km run that took me almost an hour and a half. My brain wasn’t getting that I had taken time off to recover – all I could concentrate on was that I was the last one back. It was incredibly demoralizing to find out that everyone else had gone home and just the store staff were there. Hindsight tells me that this made me stronger emotionally as a runner (perseverance, what doesn’t kill me…, etc), but that day was probably the worst one I’ve ever had running. After that, though, things started to get better. Quite a few of my entries say how proud I am of myself.

At Christmas I got my heart rate monitor – a perk of my staff discount was that I could get one that had all the bells and whistles that I wanted – and it changed my running. Before I was pretty much all over the place and it helped me get more consistent. I was introduced to more training techniques: hills (more repeats, so thanks Mum and Dad for babysitting), fartleks and a little speed work, which I gave up after one week so I wouldn’t hurt myself.

After floating around in the group and mainly running on my own I finally decided to see if I could keep pace with the 2:15 pace group 2 weeks before my race. Surprisingly I was able to do it. It was a big confidence booster and I really wish I had gotten up the guts to join them earlier. At the end of the clinic I ran my first race – The Historic Half Marathon in Langley, BC. It was a hilly course (my practice run notes call one hill “evil and long”), but I felt really well prepared. It was a warm February day and a great day for a run. I lost C right at the start (on purpose as he’s faster; Mr. 1:55:07) and I just ran for myself. I had my ups and downs, but never really felt like I was out of it – however, I never should have taken my last walk break… I almost didn’t start running again. I’m not sure where I found a burst of energy on the home stretch – most likely it had something to do with picking off a woman that was older than me who I’d been pacing for half the race – but I crossed the line in 2:16:58. Since I was aiming to complete, and I thought 2-1/2 hours would be nice if I tried really hard, getting a decent first PR was awesome.

I’m training on my own now for my second half marathon, but I know I’ve been blessed with good, supportive instructors. Big huge “Thank You”s to Diane, Jenn and Darren!

My next clinic starts 10 June and then I’m on the final road to my ultimate goal. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s not as difficult as I had expected. Thanks so much for your support – please keep sending kind words my way… I’m sure I’ll need them!