May 31, 2011

A week of running in Boulder, Colorado

Boulder has been among the places I've been keen to visit for a long time. Home to legends such as six-time Ironman World Champion Dave Scott, this town at 5,500 feet has a legendary status among triathletes and other endurance athletes. For some reason Tim and I just hadn't gotten around to going.

But when top age group triathlete friends Teresa Rider and Scott Jones, and owners of IMJ Coaching, mentioned a training camp from their Boulder home, Triathlete Tim was keen to go. And so was I.

We have known Teresa for a long time, meeting when Tim and I joined the triathlon squad in Sydney, Australia she was training with. We spent countless hours training together. That was in late 2000/early 2001. When I met Teresa I was yet to run my second marathon, and had only just finished four triathlons (including two half Ironmans).

Teresa is a world champion age grouper at the Ironman and Olympic distances, and an absolute inspiration. Husband Scott is a phenomenal athlete too, and the current Ironman Canada champion in the 45-49 division. Most importantly, they are a super-nice couple and a lot of fun to hang out with.    

Tim joined the camp while I did a running version of it. It was perfect timing, coming three weeks after the Vancouver Marathon—since then I'd run about once a week (though had done plenty of walking) and I was ready to kickstart my marathon training again after this great break.

Tim and I (and Luka) arrived on Sunday night after driving the 2,400 km from Squamish to Boulder in two days. (A stunning drive I'll write about in a separate post.) It was great to see Teresa and Scott again and meet their sweet dog, Sassy. We met IMJ coach Ben, and the other campers—Stacy, Kathryn and Ross. 

They had kept a wonderful dinner (the food last week was nothing short of amazing, and I'll definitely write another post on that too) for us with a good glass of red. It was a superb way to start what would be an awesome week.  

As the other seven headed out for bike rides and swims, I relaxed, read and played guitar at Scott and Teresa's beautiful home. I joined them for their runs and did my own with Luka on the days the others only swam and/or rode.

On Monday I joined them for an afternoon run of about 75 minutes. The altitude and heat were impressive, and ensured that this pacey run felt like a good challenge. We followed some of the many trails in and near the Gunbarrel neighbourhood, which has lots of rolling terrain among homes and farmlands.

On Tuesday I did a 45-minute run with Luka, this time at an easy pace on the rolling terrain among the farmlands. I was mindful of the coyotes, as Luka and I had encountered one on our Monday morning walk there. Thankfully, I noticed him before Luka did, in fact Luka strangely didn't appear to have noticed him at all even though he was nearby in the tall grass, and leashed him quickly.

With the triathletes doing at least two workouts on most days, I was keen to run every day and asked Coach Scott for advice so he wrote out a schedule for my week based on my recent training of four runs a week, totalling about 50-60km.

The next day all eight of us plus pro triathlete Billy "The Kid" Edwards (and cyclist extraordinaire—who'd just done a 600km bike ride in 29 hours to qualify for the 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris race) piled into two cars and drove up (and I mean UP) to run Magnolia Road, a dirt road at about 8000 feet that attracts elite runners from around the world.

Running Times' Brian Metzler says of this run, made famous by Chris Lear's Running With Buffaloes:

It's a dusty, rustic and typically lonely road bordered by mountain ranches and thick forestland, with no curbs, no sidewalks and no distractions. There are a few steep sections, but its rolling high altitude profile is more relentless over the long haul than it is acutely severe in any one stretch. It's an inherently difficult road to run at any speed, but all the more so if you're willing to match the intensity of the environment.

It was absolutely awesome to run it. And tiring because of the altitude and the terrain. Billy had warned us that our mile splits would be a little slower than normal—and indeed on the way out, Tim, Ross and I were running about 10:20 miles as we ran out for an hour, before turning around and including a 30-minute tempo run on the way back to the car.

On Thursday I began the day with a 30-minute easy run with Luka, followed by a 20-minute pacey run with the triathletes in the afternoon.

On Friday I sagged much of the 100-mile bike ride the triathletes did up to the Peak to Peak Highway, and then to Carter Lake, before heading out for an afternoon run. I did an easy 20 minutes, followed by a 30-minute tempo run and a 5-minute cooldown.

My total for the week was about 5 hours and 40 minutes of awesome running at altitude (above 5000 feet).

Coach Scott gave me several recommendations including that I should run more, both in terms of volume and in terms of frequency. Doing so had been on my mind already and it was fantastic to get that confirmation from him. He also had advice on strengthening exercises, which I also plan to implement in my training for the Bellingham Bay and Victoria marathons in the next few months.

If you're looking to do a camp, check out these awesome IMJ Coaching options. I'll be writing a few more posts on this fantastic week.

May 24, 2011

Marathon registration galore

Marathons offer great discounts if you register early. When you are certain you want, and can, do the race, it's a great way to save some money and spend it elsewhere, perhaps on a good massage. And this time I took advantage of them for three races.

First up is the Bellingham Bay Marathon, as mentioned before on this blog, on September 25. This race offered a 15% discount at the Vancouver Marathon expo this year during the four days immediately after that race. So by registering early, the total cost was only US$70.

Next I registered for the Victoria Marathon, which offered an $85 early bird fee until May 15. With a $3 BC Athletics membership discount, my total came to $82.

Since my Vancouver Marathon this year was such a great experience (Top masters woman, 5th woman overal and 3rd Canadian woman), I looked into the early registration schedule of that as well. And this race offers until June 1 a 20% discount on the marathon.

Committing to a race a year ahead of time is perhaps a little hard to do. But given that I've done this race three times in the past four years, I think it's a safe bet that I'll feel like racing there again. It's a `home town' marathon for me, coming from Squamish, and that discount was attractive. So I registered for that marathon, too. With the 20% and BC Athletics $3 discounts, the grand total came to $77.95.

It's the first time I've been registered for three marathons and I'm excited about it. Running Victoria a mere three weeks after Bellingham is going to be an experiment. The closest I've raced two marathons was five weeks apart (the Vancouver Marathon followed by the North Olympic Discovery Marathon in May and June 2009 respectively); I ran both in 3:10 which earned me second in my age group in Vancouver and an overal win (plus the course record) at the Olympic Peninsula.

This year I had planned another experiment. As you may have read, I had registered for a 50-mile trail race between Squamish and Whistler that was held two weeks after the Vancouver Marathon. But this race was moved because of excessive snow on the course to June 18.

I believe, with the benefit of hindsight, that might have been a good thing as it probably would not have been a positive for my body, given how I felt after the Vancouver Marathon. It allowed me to take a big mental and physical break, with only three runs in as many weeks since. I recovered with daily walks, a big day of yoga (4 two-hours sessions at the Whistler Yoga Conference) and lotsa sleep.

It also allowed me to realize that my quest for the sub-3 marathon is alive and well. Last year's detour into ultramarathons has helped me understand myself better as an athlete and combined with a few other developments have given me the confidence to take the jump into becoming a self-coached athlete as I chip away at those 7 minutes and 11 seconds that I need to find before crossing a marathon finish line in less than 3 hours.

May 17, 2011

My first (attempt at a) novel

My first novel
I'm a strong believer in continuous education, learning new skills by challenging yourself to try something you haven't done before without concern about judgement.

Often it's fear about what other people might think that keeps us from pursuing new goals. If you worry about this, there's a Dutch saying "De beste stuurlui staan aan wal" which loosely translates as "The best captains remain on shore".

As the author of four non-fiction books, and a longtime professional journalist (I reported for Bloomberg News from Brussels, Toronto and Sydney on business and finance), writing fiction is something I have little experience with.

But I'm keen to learn. That's why in November last year I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month, a writing challenge open to anyone.

The goal is to write a 50,000-word draft of a novel in one month. No more, no less. Victory is determined only by whether you succeed in producing this amount of words, which works out to 1,667 words a day.

There are no referees, no one checking that you do your daily writing. It's up to you to make that happen. The great thing about it is that you have an online account where you can track your progress by updating the word count every time you write.

This simple tool was crucial to me, as it's a straightforward measure that allows you to see whether you're on track to succeed in producing 50,000 words in a month. At the end of the month, you submit your manuscript online which is then checked for word count - if you made the goal, you're officially a NaNoWriMo Winner.

It doesn't mean you will have a bestseller, it only means that you will likely have written more, a lot more, than you otherwise would have during that month and that you have a first draft of a story that you can improve upon. Writing is rewriting, it's a process.

NaNoWriMo 2010 was the perfect motivation to try and, no doubt, make tons of mistakes. That's why I decided to take advantage of one of the NaNoWriMo Winner's Goodies, creating and ordering a free paperback proof copy of this manuscript.

I cleaned up my first draft of From My Mother a little (visually mostly) and designed a cover. This will a. give me a record of my first attempt at writing a fiction book and b. perhaps motivate me to make the (many) revisions needed to improve this very rough first draft but mostly c. inspire me to try again, applying the lessons I learned by simply trying.

It's no coincidence that the novel is about an ultrarunner's 100km race, as I tried running this distance for the first time during that same month of the NaNoWriMo challenge, as I also describe in my latest book A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km.

We need to start somewhere, and work at getting better at it, if that's our goal. I'm not sure if From My Mother ever will see the light of day, other than in my personal proof copy. But, just like my quest for the sub-3-hour marathon, I have absolutely no doubt that one day I will write and publish a decent novel. You just have to work at it, and enjoy the process.

I can't wait to hold the paperback of my first attempt at a novel and plan to keep it on my desk as a reminder to take the plunge into fiction.

May 12, 2011

Love your running

In my preparations for the Bellingham Bay Marathon in late September, the philosophy of Matt Fitzgerald's Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel will play a huge part in how I will approach my training.

As I read this book, it explains much of what I've been feeling about my training in the past year or two, culminating in my decision to try a couple of ultras and cut out all structured and interval training for a period of four months last year.

That intuitive process led to, and was fuelled by, my writing of A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km.

I've reconnected with the sheer joy of running, which has improved my performance too, as evidenced in my Masters title and 5th overall placing at the BMO Vancouver Marathon this month.

As Fitzgerald says in his superb book, "Do more of what you enjoy most and less of what you enjoy least in training. The feeling of enjoyment is your body's way of telling you that your training is working."

That's exactly what I will do for the Bellingham Bay Marathon.

May 10, 2011

Are you feeling your training?

In the eight days since I ran the Vancouver marathon on May 1, I've used daily walks, plenty of sleep, and a full day of yoga to kickstart my recovery. A couple of hot baths with Epsom salts helped, too.

And I've done plenty of thinking about my next goal and how I will prepare for it. In the past year, I've not used a coach to guide my daily training, though certainly used the lessons previous coaches have taught me. Most importantly, I used what I felt like doing as my main guideline in training.

Marathons have been my focus since 2006. That year I ran a 3:13, a PB by 11 minutes, and improved that in my next mararathon in 2007 to 3:08. In October 2008 I lowered my best time to 3:07:10 (after running a 3:15 and 3:12 in between), which I haven't bettered since. I ran two 3:10s in 2009, one of which was good enough to secure my first marathon victory and set the course record at the North Olympic Discovery Marathon, and did a 3:11 at the 2010 Rotterdam marathon.    

While I was happy with those times, they also begged the question if 3:07 was simply the fastest I could run? I was still training, and training consistently, following a superb program from the great coach I'd been working with for five years. Perhaps I just needed to be more patient.

But I also felt that something wasn't right.

Perhaps I just needed a break, not so much from running, but possibly from the routine (as varied as it was) I'd been following for fiive years. I still loved my runs, I just struggled with aspects of my training, especially the timed intervals which stressed me out. I decided not to immediately ask for a new program from my coach and to just play it by ear for a while.

Not long after was when I decided to prepare for my first 50-miler because it was something completely different - an ultra on trails - that allowed me try something new without too many expectations. And after enjoying that race, I signed up for a 100km on the road and used it as an reason to drop all my speed work.

I was enjoying the long and 'easy' runs, most of all I was enjoying the freedom of training and the change of pace. In the end, I didn't do any structured interval training for four months. I did plenty of running, and training on the trails included hill work but it was done as I saw fit on the day.

By December 2010 I was excited again about training for another marathon. And by January I tried  the local Tuesday Runs, weekly sessions focusing on intervals and time trials, of the Squamish Titans.
Those Tuesday Runs were a great way to ease back into speed work. The group atmosphere made it mentally so much easier, and I soon relied on those sessions as my key (read: only) interval training.

My other key workout were of course the long runs - in the past five years or so, I've absolutely falling in love with long runs and rarely have a problem motivating myself to do them. Hency my joy in preparing for and running those ultras as a break from the quest for a faster marathon.

By mid-December my long runs were 2hr 10mins, and they increased slowly from there to 3 hours, of which I did five before the Vancouver marathon. I did wonder if one structured interval session (compared with the two weekly ones I used to do) would be enough to improve my speed? In my preparation for the Vancouver marathon, I did only four sessions a week (instead of the five I used to do in previous years).

Even so, I also knew that my key sessions, Tuesdays and Sundays, were not only going superb, I also loved doing them.

In the meantime I was working on the manuscript for my fifth book, A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km, which made me think of all the reasons I run any distance. Importantly, some of the research bolstered my confidence in the approach I was taking to my training. One book in particular opened my eyes to the benefits of following your intuition in your running, the superb Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel by Matt Fitzgerald.

So when I ran 3:07:41 nine days ago (only 31 seconds short of a PB and my second-fastest marathon time), it did a few things: it confirmed that the training that felt right was right and it confirmed my belief that I can run faster. It also made me realize that the past year, or even two years, have been a journey, a transitional phase as I've been feeling my way around using the experience I've gained in my 15 years of running to help get the best out of myself, to become a self-coached athlete.

The knowledge that my previous coaches instilled in me has been and still is very important, in particular my former triathlon coach Australia's John Hill and my former running coach Australia's Pat Carroll have been essential. I'll keep applying the lessons I learned under their guidance, the lessons that work for me and feel right.

In the past week, I've been developing my own training program for the Bellingham Bay Marathon. As advocated by Fitzgerald in Run, I will be using my intuition to decide what training best builds my confidence (mental and therefore physical confidece). I'm convinced I can better my 3:07:10 marathon PB, and I'll use the training that feels right to achieve it.

Attending the Whistler Yoga Conference this past weekend confirmed for me that I need to work on my strength and flexibility to find that extra gear in my running, so I'm planning to incorporate a form of yoga in my quest for the sub-3 marathon.

All this said, I feel ready for my first run since the Vancouver marathon so I'll be attending the Tuesday Runs session tonight.

May 09, 2011

Whistler Yoga Conference

My sister Angelique has recently begun practising yoga. A jazz ballet dancer throughout her teens with a new yoga-focused employer, she suggested I join her at the last weekend's Whistler Yoga Conference. I was a little reluctant at first, not sure if I'd be able to do those classes, let alone a whole day of them.

I'd tried the odd yoga class but didn't enjoy it, until Tim and I did an introduction to Bikram Yoga while we stayed in Victoria in 2005 (at the time we lived in Australia). I loved Bikram but was still training and racing as a triathlete and found it too hard to uncover an extra 3 hours a week (a Bikram class is 90 minutes) on top of all the Ironman training and a fulltime job.

Angelique was keen on the Whistler weekend and I thought it good to have an open mind so I said I'd join her for the Saturday. I knew I could use a good stretch, exactly six days after the BMO Vancouver Marathon and hoped my energy levels would have recovered enough.

Angelique chose our classes and did a great job of it.

At 8am Tina James taught our first class. It was a Chakra Balancing Master Class - Jivamukti. It was fantastic, though naturally quite challenging for me. Tina is well-known for her expressive and inspirational nature coupled with her ability to effectively integrate the powerful mystical aspects of yoga, dynamic vinyasa flow sequences, ever-unfolding visualization tools, powerful intention and precision alignment, according to the Whistler Yoga Conference website.

We'd met Tina on our way to the conference as we nearly got lost between a parking lot, and the hotel. She saved us, and had a good laugh about being able to "stop us from heading off into the wilderness". It was nice to make a connection with our first teacher for the day.

During the class Tina said at one point: "You're the one you've been waiting for - there's no one else coming." It's a quote that stayed with me. So often we wait for other people in the hope that they will making things happen for us. Instead, we should look to ourselves and trust in our own ability.

Our second class was with Anodea Judith, Chakra Based Sun Salutations. Held in the gorgeous Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, it was another superb class. Anodea began her study of yoga in 1975 through Satchidanandas school of Integral Yoga, has studied Anusara for the last ten years, and has traveled through many disciplines in the last 35 years, including a masters and doctorate in Psychology and Human Health, with additional trainings in numerous somatic therapies, yoga trainings, and spiritual disciplines , according to the Whistler Yoga Conference website.

I recognized several postures from the Bikram Yoga introduction, which was nice. It both confirmed how much I'd enjoyed Bikram and made me think more about incorporating a yoga routine into my training

After a short lunch break, we headed into our third class, taught by Dashama and called Sailing the Winds of Love - Journey into the Heart. Dashama handed out a pack of Osho Zen Tarot cards for each person to blindly choose one, giving us the opportunity to read the meaning at the end of the class if we wanted or ask her for an explanation. 

The one I happened to draw was the Adventure card, explained as follows in the book: Zen says truth has nothing to do with authority, truth has nothing to do with tradition, truth has nothing to do with the past - truth is a radical, personal realization. You have to come to it.

Knowledge is certain; the search for personal knowing is very, very hazardous. Nobody can guarantee it. If you ask me if I can guarantee anything, I say I cannot guarantee you anything. I can only guarantee danger, that much is certain. I can only guarantee you a long adventure with every possibility of going astray and never reaching the goal. But one thing is certain: the very search will help you to grow.

I can guarantee only growth. Danger will be there, sacrifice will be there; you will be moving every day into the unknown, into the uncharted, and there will be no map to follow, no guide to follow. Yes, there are millions of dangers and you can go astray and you can get lost, but that is the only way one grows.

Insecurity is the only way to grow, to face danger is the only way to grow, to accept the challenge of the unknown is the only way to grow.

When we are truly in a spirit of adventure, we are moving just like this child. Full of trust, out of the darkness of the forest into the rainbow of the light, we go step by step, drawn by our sense of wonder into the unknown.

Adventure really has nothing to do with plans and maps and programs and organization. The Page of Rainbows represents a quality that can come to us anywhere - at home or in the office, in the wilderness or in the city, in a creative project or in our relationships with others. Whenever we move into the new and unknown with the trusting spirit of a child, innocent and open and vulnerable, even the smallest things of life can become the greatest adventures.

Food for thought.

It was another inspiring two-hour class, and we had a short break before starting our fourth and final one of the day. To be honest, I was quite tired at this point, feeling the effects of last week's marathon as well as being a yoga novice trying to keep up. Then there all the conscious and subconscious emotions that are stirred up and whirling around your mind.

Again the fourth class was fantastic, and I am so glad we went. The Sacred Dance and Yoga session, taught by Hemalayaa, was laugh-out-loud fun. In Sacred Dance and Yoga, we’ll seamlessly fuse four spiritually restorative elements: creative yoga, sacred dance, grounding meditations, and rejuvenating pranayama. Playful, flowing, inspiring and powerfully transformative, this session is designed to help you transcend beyond the physical and into the sacred flow of your own inner Goddess, according to the Whistler Yoga Conference website. 

It was the perfect class to end an amazing day. I'm so glad my sister, who stayed on for a second day while I went home, convinced me to go. It was the mental and physical stretch I needed a week after the Vancouver Marathon. (If the timing of the 2012 conference is the same, I'd highly recommend all Vancouver marathoners to attend one day - it's awesome recovery.)

Among other things, attending the conference has strengthened my belief that I will need to begin practising a form of yoga to increase my strength and flexibility if I want to succeed in my goal of running a sub-3-hour marathon.

May 04, 2011

Post-marathon recovery strategy

I love the laziness of the taper, followed by more laziness in the post-marathon recovery. After 13 marathons, 5 Ironmans and 4 ultras, among others, I've found that my body and mind appreciate at least a week completely off running.

Luka at the 41km mark
That doesn't mean I do nothing. Walks are superb for post-marathon recovery. With a two-year-old energetic dog, I have a good reason for daily outings on the local trails.

After Sunday's Vancouver Marathon I simply had a shower and walked back and forth to the finish area from Yaletown. On Monday my legs were very tight, especially my calves. I felt OK otherwise, just tired. Even too tired to bother making a hot bath. I did, however, take a hot bath with Epsom salts on Tuesday, and then wrapped my calves in a layer of Voltaren and Gladwrap for the day.

Today my legs are much better. I also had enough energy to sign up for the next race - the Bellingham Bay Marathon on Sept 25. Planning your next goal race can be a great part of your recovery strategy, I am already excited about returning to training, though I'll take it easy in the next few weeks.

BMO Vancouver Marathon race report

It was a spectacular morning. I was fortunate to stay at my sister's place in Yaletown, only a short warm-up jog from the marathon start. My sister only moved to Vancouver, or Canada for that matter, only a few weeks ago. She was so generous to let me sleep in her bed, instead of on the sofa bed in the living room.

I slept pretty good and woke from my alarm at 5:25am. In the dark I reached over to the bedside table where I kept two vanilla Powerbars and ate the first one while still half asleep. At 5:45am it was time for a hot shower, though I first tip-toed to the kitchen to turn on the kettle.

After the shower, I went through what has become a pre-marathon ritual of applying a good layer of vaseline on the soles of my feet and a heating cream on my calves and glutes, before putting on knee-length compression socks.

With the forecast for a sunny day in the low to mid 10s, I decided to wear only shorts and a race top (though had an old sweater I could ditch a few minutes before the start). I stuffed four gels in the two backpockets of my race top, and put the other four in a zip-lock bag I'd carry in my hand.

Next I went back to the kitchen to make a strong morning coffee before lying down on the bed again, quietly since Angelique and Tim were still asleep, as were the dogs and the cat.

Sipping coffee with a dash of milk, I listened to my favourite AC/DC songs on the iPod to add energy. It was 6:20am. I planned to leave a little after 7am to head over to the 7:30am start. It was a big mental treat to stay in a location so close to the race start.

At 6:40am I ate my second Powerbar, while still working my way through my coffee. I also had a big glass of water. Then it was time to head out. I grabbed a visor and sunnies, since the sun looked bright. After a round of hugs, I left the apartment and started jogging - it felt great to be in motion.

While I love the pre-race excitement, come the evening before a marathon (or any major race) I am impatient and don't feel like sleeping another night until I can start. I jogged for about five minutes and then did four strides, which got me to the startline by 7:15am. I easily made my way toward the front.

I felt relaxed, though nervous too - in a good way, and looked around to see any of the other Squamish marathoners. Meanwhile, someone next to me asked if anyone planned to run 3:10. When I said about 3:05, he introduced himself and asked if he could run with me since he'd forgotten his watch.

Sure, no problem. He told me he was from Seattle, and had run a marathon at home, as well as in Portland. This was his third and he was looking to qualify for Boston.

Volker arrived, tired after helping a relative move as well as from his training geared toward his key goal Ironman Canada, where he hopes to secure a spot for Kona. We had a chat and wished each other well.

By then it was almost time to start. I said goodbye to my sweater. The anthem was played and speeches were made, but I cannot remember much - my mind was focused on the race ahead. I was determined to have a good race. I looked around for Tim and Angelique but couldn't see them.

Then we were given a few seconds countdown, and the gun went off. I immediately tried to settle into a good pace, focusing on easing into my day by resisting the strong temptation to head out too fast. Ryan from Seattle was beside me.

My goal was to run a 4:25 pace, erring on the slow side in the first 5km or so. I hit the first one in 4:17, so I eased slightly and reached the second in 4:37. My pace felt good and comfortable. I felt in tune with my body, and used my watch to make sure I wasn't going too fast. The next one was 4:11, then 4:34 and 4:30 for a 5km time of 22:10. That's an average pace of 4:26/km.

My rhythm felt good, and I knew I was putting in a steady effort, even as my splits seemed less even. I trusted my body. Ryan was still running beside me. It was nice, he is a smooth quiet runner and I like the sense of a joint effort. I'd given him a couple of splits which he thanked me for.

We doublebacked and I suddenly heard a woman scream, Go Margreet! I looked over and yelled back, Go Leah! Ryan laughed, Wow fans. Training partner, I said. Leah is also a fantastic Active Release Technique therapist in Squamish. It was her first marathon, always very special.

The kilometres flew by: 4:17, 4:27, 4:36, 4:02 and 4:23 for a 10km time of 43:56. An overall pace of 4:24/km so far.

I noticed Angelique, Tim and the two dogs. Tim was taking pictures and cheering, while Angelique was getting Luka to do highfives. It was great to see them.

Not longer after I heard another loud cheer, it was neighbour Julie supporting her twin sister in her first marathon. I smiled and waved again, how fantastic.

After catching a glimpse of the start (and finish) area again, we headed into downtown Vancouver. The beautiful weather had brought out plenty of spectators and everyone seemed to be in an enthusiastic mood.

About 16km
Ryan and I ran 4:22, 9:03 (for 2km), 4:24 and 4:22 to reach 15km at 66:13, an overall average pace of 4:25/km. On a nice downhill stretch I noticed to my surprise Tim and Angelique again, which was great.

Shortly after, at about 18km just as I thought about asking Ryan how he was feeling, he beat me to it. I told him I was fine and said I'd been about to ask him the same question. We both laughed.

We were now heading into Stanley Park. Ryan said it was such a great day and way to see a city he'd not been to before. He was clearly having a good time, and so was I.

I think it was somewhere around here where I took another gel from the zip-lock bag I was carrying (I'd taken my first gel an hour into the race) and clumsily dropped one. I didn't want to stop and turn back to pick it up, deciding that 7 gels would have to do. At 38km, however, I wished I'd had that 8th one.

With the sunny weather, all the spectators and fantastic views, running a marathon doesn't get much better! Well, perhaps only on a slightly faster course. The course profile looks relatively flat on paper, and it is but for some reason this course has a lot more speedbumps in reality. Nonetheless, all was great, even up the hills in Stanley Park.

We did 8:47 (2km), 4:21, 4:26 and 4:25 to reach 20km in 88:12, an overall pace of 4:25/km. Perfect.

Then I noticed the halfway sign and checked my watch. It said 91:30. "Holy crap," I said to Ryan, as I quickly did the math to a 3:03 finish. That's fantastic, way too fast, and doesn't make sense, were all the thoughts that went through my head. But then I spotted a 21km marker further down the road, before seeing a huge halfway banner across the road which we reached in a shade under 94 minutes.

Pfew, that made me feel a lot better. Ryan and I ran 8:59 (2km), 4:32, 4:22 and 4:21 to hit 25km (still in Stanley Park) in 1:50:27 for an average pace of 4:25/km.

As we rolled along the more minor undulations of the park I repeated in my mind, as I'd done earlier in the race, Work with the course. I noticed a woman ahead of me. So far I'd passed one after about 12km or so, and one had passed me though I could still see her ahead of me. Now I noticed another, she seemed to be slowing her pace and we caught her before we left the park.

Here two spectators on bikes had noticed their preferred runner and one of them, a woman, started screaming so enthusiastically while racing ahead that everyone in the race had a good laugh. Her excitement was contagious, and underpinned the positive mood of the day overall.

There were also several bands along the course, each one providing a great lift as we passed them. It's great to catch the rhythm of a song, and use it to remind your legs to dance your way through the marathon, too.

In other live entertainment, Ryan and I had been playing tag with a few male runners, one of which would pass me at the 30km mark while saying, You don't get rid of me that easily.  

At about the 26km aid station we caught a woman who'd passed me earlier. As I ran past, I cheered her on and told her to stick with us, which she did until at least the other side of the Burrard Bridge at about 29km, as she's in Tim's photos. It was great running together, even as we didn't exchange words.

First we needed to get over the bridge, and I reminded myself of easing up the hill, focusing on maintaining effort rather than speed. Once at the top, I let gravity help pull me down - I love using the "free speed" of the downhills on the road (and hope to one day acquire the skills to do so on trails as well).

Tim and Angelique, with the two dogs, were at the awesome Lululemon cheer station and I got such a lift from seeing them again before heading into the mentally challenging Kitsilano part of the course. Waving and smiling, I prepared my mind for the remaining 13km.

We'd done 4:34, and 17:44 (4km) to reach 30km in 2:12:46, for an overall pace of 4:26.

Sometime around this point, Ryan sped up though I'm not sure where as I needed all my focus on maintaining my pace. He went on to smash his PB by 9 minutes for 3:04. After the race he said that in his three marathons so far he's always found an extra gear in the final third of the course. I think it won't be long before his finish times start with a 2!

As I made my way into Kitsilano, I saw the lead woman and cheered her on. She smiled, and looked so strong: Keddi-Anne Sherbino went on to win in 2:43:40.

Up the hill that follows the 32km mark, I spotted another woman ahead. At this stage in the race, you need to use anything to keep your mental energy focused on getting the best out of your body, as the fatigue makes slowing down, even ever so slightly, very tempting.

I caught her just before the 34km mark, and we exchanged a few words, prompting a spectator to yell, Oh my, look, they're even chatting! Hardly, it was a short chat as I simply didn't have the oxygen to spare. We wished each other well and kept running.

I hit 35km in 2:35:16, after a 4:30, 4:32, 9:08 (2km) and 4:19 for a pace of 4:26. 

After another kilometre I could see the Burrard Bridge ahead of me - but the course first does an extra loop of about 3km before you hit the final uphill, of about 100 feet, at 39km. This 3km is always a quiet section with only a few spectators - it takes a lot of concentration to keep moving ahead when the fatigue and soreness try to push themselves to the forefront of your mind.

I was determined to maintain my pace as best I could and tried not to think of the gel I'd lost in the first half of the race. Almost there, one more hill. The good news about hitting the first part of the incline that takes you to bridge is that you know once you've conquered it that it's downhill and flat to the finish.

The bad news, in my case, was that I felt the start of a cramp in the sole of my right foot and tried to adjust my stride as best as I could to avoid it. The bridge had cheering spectators. I eased up the bridge, gathering my energy for making the most of the free speed on the other side.

A PB still seemed possible. I hit 40km in 2:58:20, after a 4:25, 4:30, 4:31, 4:42 and 4:55 for an overall pace of 4:28 (4:27.5)/km. The final 2.2km are flat. I tried to keep the momentum I had from running down the bridge. Where was that 41km mark?

Tim was there. While he still had the camera, he wasn't taking pictures - he was screaming: "Hard, hard, go hard, as hard as you can!" I tried to pick up my pace even more, and immediately felt that twinge of a cramp under the sole of my foot. I adjusted my stride again, a fullblown cramp would mean having to stop, and tried to run as hard as I could.

When I could see the finish line, I noticed 3:07 and realized a PB was not in the cards today but I could still try to stay under 3:08 - which I did. At 3:07:41 (4:27/km), I was stoked with my 2 1/2-minute improvement on this course. It's also my second-fastest marathon and my fastest since setting my 3:07:10 PB in the 2008 Victoria marathon.

Volker & I both happy
At the finish I was completely spent and sore. I'd left it all on the course. Volker had run a superb 3:02 and, as mentioned, Ryan did a swift 3:04. Another guy who'd started near us had run Boston two weeks earlier in 2:58 and finished Vancouver in 3:06, amazing.

Tim, who had made his way to finish with Luka, said he thought I was fifth overall woman. I assume Steve King announced my name but I didn't hear it, nor did I see Angelique among the crowd near the finish line. She was OK with that, as she had experienced her own final-step focus just three weeks ago when she was gunning for her first sub-60 10km time and didn't hear my screams there.

5th overall woman, 1st age group
As it turned out, I did finish fifth woman overall and first in the 40-44 age group. Most exciting though, I crossed the line as the top masters woman which means my name and finish time will be added to a stunning trophy kept in the Vancouver International Marathon office - very special.

I received my prizes from Running Room founder John Stanton and VIM board member Magnus Verbrugge.

masters champ
A special thanks to Squamish Titans coach Roger Shirt, who organized and led the 16-week Tuesday Runs program since January. Those fantastic weekly interval workouts were my speed sessions in the lead up to this marathon. It's such a great group of people, from beginning to experienced runners (many are triathletes too), and everyone is motivating each other in those challenging workouts. 

Other Squamish Titans members and training partners who ran the marathon are Derek Gagne, who's also training for Ironman Canada and ran a strong 3:54 PB. Leah Stadelmann did fantastic in her first marathon, finishing in a swift 4:09.

Jason Ross and Heather Sidsworth, two other Tuesday Runs training partners, did fantastic in the half marathon. Jason ran a fast 1:38, while Heather (60-64) improved her best time to 2:12 in only her second half marathon. A great day all around!     

With my IronTim after the race
Sis spoiling me

May 02, 2011

BMO Vancouver Marathon in pictures

Yesterday was such an awesome day for the Vancouver Marathon. I'll write a race report but for now here are the images taken by Tim and Angelique who were the best supporters I could have had.

Incidentally, the whole course was lined with enthusiastic spectators which was fantastic.

I met some great runners on the course. Last but not least, thanks to the amazing volunteers who gave their time to make this race so special! This was my third Vancouver Marathon, and best one yet.  

At about 16km in the Vancouver Marathon