There is something amazing about training with a team. Even if none of your training runs are done together, being a part of a team gives you a strength you wouldn’t have on your own.
When I left the restaurant, after dinner with team #yyjrun, the conversation didn’t end. I walked to the skytrain with some teammates, and one of them gave me a ride to the place I was staying, so that I didn’t have to take transit late at night. Then, when I got ‘home’, the #yyjrun love fest continued late in to the night. Texts & tweets were flying so fast I could barely keep up. Words of encouragement from the more experienced to reassure the novices, and in return, the excitement of the first timers spread to those of us who have been through this before.
The next morning, I was awake before my alarm, and so was most of team #yyjrun. And the love fest continued. We tweeted and texted as we were each getting ready. We may have all been staying in separate locations, but we were together in spirit.
I had arranged a taxi to pick me up at 6:10am, to take me to the SkyTrain, and I was ready to go. Waiting outside, impatiently for it to arrive. It was 2 minutes late, which almost sent me in to a panic, but it arrived and we were off to the train.
The race organizers had sent out transit instruction in the pre-race email; take the SkyTrain to King Edward Station and follow the directions to the start. My train was pretty empty, but when we pulled in to the station, a train coming from the other direction had arrived, and the station was packed with runners and spectators making their way to the race. The streets were packed and I felt bad for anyone trying to drive near the startline.
After I saw the half marathon start, I headed off to my coral, checked my bag & made use of the porta potty. I ran in to a few run buddies at the start, but was mostly focused on finding James. We had been virtual training buddies, and had decided to run the race together, until one of us couldn’t keep up with the other, but our race numbers put us in separate corals, so I was hoping to find him to make a plan. Well, when I found him, he had a throw away hoodie on, covering his bib number, and he was buried deep in the middle of my coral. PERFECT! I had a race buddy!
We were in the second coral, so we started about 5 minutes after the elite / fast runners hits the streets. It was a gorgeous day, a little chilly in the start coral, but it wasn’t long before my hoodie was tossed aside and I was in nothing but my tanktop & shorts.
The first few kilometers were crowded and it was hard to find our groove. I’m pretty sure that James & I were telling each other to slow down for most of the first 5K. Other than that, I don’t really remember too much about the start of the race. It was on wide streets and it was crowded, but that’s about it.
My first clear memory comes at about the 9K mark. We made a sharp right turn, and in front of us was one heck of a hill. I’ve run this hill before, the street is called Camosun, and it’s on the edge of UBC’s Pacific Spirit Park. I remember thinking “oh f!ck” as soon as we turned that corner, but I dug deep, and with some friendly encouragement, James & I made it all the way to the top, no walking. I’m pretty sure we even passed a few people.
The next section of the course was pretty warm & sunny. It wasn’t too long after the hill where I saw my coach for the first time. He was on his bike, so I knew this wouldn’t be the only time I saw him., unfortunately, the TimBits he always had for us during training never materialized. Less than a minute after seeing Coach Chris, James & I had a walking break and this is when I told him about a strange ankle ‘something’ I had been feeling for the last few kilometers. It was a new ‘something’ that I had never felt before, but I wanted to tell him it was happening, so that if I had to stop suddenly, he would know what was happening. I guess I should have told him sooner, because once I told him, the ‘something’ went away and I never felt it again.
One of the things about the BMO Vancouver Marathon is that it always has great entertainment on the course. At the 15K mark, we passed this old blue pickup truck with a pair of vocalist performing live for the passing runners. It was really cool. Even though I always have my iPod in one ear, I always love the live entertainment on course, it really gives you an energy boost.
The next few kilometers were through UBC. A gorgeous area to run, and somewhere I’ve been quite a few times. It was on this section of the course I came across my friend Stephen. Now, Stephen is someone I’ve known for a long time. I met him in 2007 when I first took up running. He was one of those “crazy people” that were always out running for 3 & 4 hours at a time on a Sunday morning. One of those crazy people I never wanted to be like. Never say never. It was watching the finish line of the 2008 Victoria Marathon, while waiting for Stephen to qualify for Boston that inspired me to train for my first marathon, so to see him in the same part of the pack surprised me. Stephen is much faster than me, and a much more accomplished Athlete, (Can you say “IronMan”?”, so the only place I expected to see him was at the finish line, already sipping a cold beverage, as I came crawling in an hour behind him. Turns out that he was just out for a fun, easy 42.2km run that day, but whatever. To me, May 6th 2012 will forever be the day that I beat Stephen in a marathon!
Not long after seeing Stephen, somewhere around the 18K mark, we hit my favourite part of the course. The long downhill stretch towards Spanish Banks. This is where James & I just let our legs go and accepted the help from gravity on the way down the hill, which gained us a few minutes on the front half of the course. A few minutes I would be thankful for later!
I think this is where things started to unravel a little for me. I was losing motivation, and my poor friend Shannon, who was supposed to meet me with Gatorade refills couldn’t get to our meeting spot on time, thanks to bad information from a race volunteer and all the road closures. I ended up refilling my bottles at a water station instead.
The stretch of the course that ran through Kitsilano was familiar. We had run it on last years course, so I just kept plugging on, moving forward, on step at a time. It is this 20-30K part of the course that is always the hardest on me. You don’t have the fresh energy you have at the start of the race, and you don’t have the ‘second wind’ of energy that comes as you near the finish. You’re just there, in the middle, slogging it out, in the heat, with all the other runner, trying to keep moving forward.
At about the 28K mark, the course veered away from last years route, and there was more road side entertainment that caught my eye. Maybe it’s all my years as a highschool band geek, but I always appreciate musicians like this on the course. It can’t be comfortable out there all day, playing for 4 or more hours.
Right after we passed these guys, we made a sharp left and headed up & over the Burrard St Bridge. The F!cking Burrard St Bridge. Last year we had to cross this thing twice, once early in the race and once at the 40K mark. This year it was only once, and it was just before 30K, so it wasn’t as bad. James & I owned that bridge. We kept moving forward, passing countless other runners on our way. When we crested the bridge James said a few things that I can’t repeat here, but let’s just say we were both pretty impressed with ourselves for owning that bridge. Seriously, we owned it. If you don’t believe me, ask him, he’ll tell you!
As we came down the other side of the bridge, I was greeted by my lovely friend Becky, who again said things I can’t repeat here, but lets just say she was impressed with my time and my running form. She had fresh Gatorade for me, which was very welcome at this point. She ran a few meters with us, and then off we went on our way.
About 2km later, we started on the SeaWall. But first, I had to make a porta potty stop. I don’t know what it is about this race, but I’ve taken a potty break both times I’ve run it and I’ve never taken a potty break during any other race!
James kept going, which left me with the job of catching up. Once I was out of the potty, for the most part I could see James ahead of me, until he rounded a corner, then once I got to that corner I could see him again. I was refusing to let him out of my sight, so I just kept digging and pushing and digging and pushing.
The SeaWall was tough. It was flat, and went on forever. But I think the worst part about it was the fact that you could see the other runners way out in front of you, and it felt like you were never going to get ‘there’. Seriously, the SeaWall was tough. There were very few spectators, not much entertainment, and if I recall correctly, there was a headwind for parts of it.
James tells me we were at the 36K mark when I caught up to him, I don’t recall. What I do recall is that, by some miracle, I managed to maintain the pace I had been running to catch up, and I didn’t slow down when I caught up. I just kept going, and pushing and going and pushing. I wanted this freaking thing over.
I was watching my pace, and checking my splits whenever I could. I still wanted that time that started with a 3, but it really felt like it was slipping away from me. The monotony of the SeaWall had gotten to me, and I was starting to struggle. At this point, I was just running until my next walking break. I was running my race 10 minutes at a time. I couldn’t think about the 4K left to go. I couldn’t think about the corners and the hills and the other runners. I could only think about 3:59:59 and my next walking break.
When we came out of Stanley Park, I probably swore out loud when I saw the ‘hill’ we had to go up to get on to the last street. We ran on the sidewalk for a little bit here, which I found odd. Traffic was on the road, to my right, as if nothing special was going on. But soon we were back on the road, and soon the crowds got big and the cheering got louder and before you knew it, I was seeing familiar faces. My team #yyjrun crew were at the 26mile marker, and I was almost home.
The last 200 meters, the course is fenced off, and the fences are lined with spectators, and even if they don’t know you, they are calling your name and cheering you on. And out of nowhere you find your finish line “sprint”. You get this burst of energy and you round the final corner, and there it is, the finish line.
The clock said 4:05 something when I crossed under it, but I remembered to stop my Garmin so that I had an accurate time.
I caught my breath, got my medal, and started to relax in the finish shoot.
I remember clearly walking through the shoot and seeing Morgan, a FAST girl from my training clinic walking towards me. The first words out of her mouth were “Did you do it? Did you come in under 4 hours?”
I checked my Garmin and it said 3:59:39, but that’s not my official time. And sometimes the official time can vary up to a minute or more from my Garmin. It was too close to call. I probably did it, but I couldn’t say for sure.
I waited in the finish chute for James, and then headed out to meet with friends.
Waiting for me, right outside the finish chute was my friend Jenny. She had her iPhone, and my official results. She made me wait a little, and wouldn’t tell me right out how I did, but once it finally loaded on the screen, I saw it. I saw my official time.
I did it! I came in under 4 hours!