May 04, 2011

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

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