October 11, 2011

It took only 3 years...

... six marathons; Vancouver in 3:07 and 3:10, Rotterdam 3:11, Olympic Peninsula 3:10, Bellingham 3:09, of course Sunday's in Victoria, and, arguably, two ultras; STORMY 50-mile in 10:15 and Haney to Harrison 100km in 10:29, but I finally improved my marathon record to 3:06:06.

The time earned me not only eighth woman overall and first in the F40-44 age group, but the women's Top Master title (see press release). The Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon also hosted this year's Provincial Marathon Championship.

Kathrine Switzer & Angelique Dietz
Importantly, Tim ran his third-fastest marathon in a superb 3:16, while my sister Angelique finished her first marathon with a big smile and a hug from the legendary Kathrine Switzer.

(I am particularly inspired by Switzer's accomplishment of a 2:51 marathon PR in the 1975 Boston Marathon, following years of disciplined training and a debut of 4:20-ish in that famous 1967 Boston race.)

Conditions couldn't have been better for the Victoria Marathon: a cool morning with a hint of sun, and no wind to speak of.

We had set our alarms for 6:30am, but I was wide awake shortly before 6am and ate my first energy bar as quietly as possible in an effort not to wake Tim.

I had slept reasonably well, and didn't even have my usual pre-race nightmare of missing the start. Angelique, getting ready to run her first marathon, told me a few minutes later she had dreamt exactly that.

Our accommodation, the superb Parkside Victoria Resort & Spa, was close to the race start, so Tim, Angelique and I left at 8:10am, jogging the five minutes or so to the start on Menzies at Kingston. After hugging and wishing each other well, we each found our own spots in the field.

Jennifer, a friend from Squamish who was also running the marathon (and did an awesome 3:49), came by for a pre-race hug and we wished each other well. We were in good company as women made up 61 per cent of this year's marathon field.

I couldn't wait for the gun to go and when it did at 8:45am, the start went smooth. As usual, people began fast. Having just run the Bellingham Bay Marathon two weeks earlier in 3:09, I made sure to avoid getting caught up in the initial sprint. While we passed the Inner Harbour and the Empress Hotel, I didn't notice these beautiful landmarks as I was focused on the task at hand.

Likewise, I don't remember much of the course other than what was underfoot and anyone who ran near me. I'll often try to enjoy some of the scenery a marathon course has to offer but I did not do so today. It wasn't a conscious decision, but simply the way it worked out. I hit the 1km mark perfectly in 4:22 (aimed at a 3:04 finish).

It was a great feeling to have found my pace immediately. A woman near me seemed to be running a similar pace. She was focused and relaxed, and I enjoyed the fact we were moving at the same clip.

While the first kilometre was flat, the Victoria course is a mildly undulating one, so I made sure to focus on maintaining my effort (rather than pace) on both the uphills and the downhills. As a result, kilometre splits reflect a slight easing of pace on the ups and using the advantage of gravity on the downs.

My Polar watch happened to show only the splits, rather than the overall time, and I decided that was a good thing and didn't change it until in the latter stages of the race. (In Bellingham I hadn't bothered with pressing the lap function after each mile since the 7:02 target pace allowed for easy math). I took 4:26 for the 2nd km, 4:25 for the 3rd, 4:04 for the 4th and 4:29 for the 5th for a total of 21:45 for the first 5km, or an average pace of 4:21/km.

I was still running side by side with the same woman. Neither of us had spoken. It was in Beacon Hill Park, after about 7km, that I heard a spectator cheer her on. It sounded like she called her Mindy, so I immediately checked with my running buddy.

When she confirmed, I told her my name, and we both laughed. We hadn't met before but had been in touch via email and she had written a guest post for this blog. (Mindy ended up running a stellar 3:11 PR and it looks like our paths may cross again in the 2012 BMO Vancouver Marathon.)

We shared another few kilometres in focused and relaxed silence, it was great. I felt good. The kilometres ticked by in 4:28, 4:25, 4:09, 4:19, and 4:10 for a 10km time of 43:16, or average pace of 4:20/km.

I had missed a water from the second aid station, just before 9km, and was a little annoyed with myself, though knew the next one was only a kilometre or so away. I made sure to grab a water there, and also had my first gel.

The results show I had at least 18 women ahead of me, and three others hitting the 10km mark in about the same time.

By now the course took us along the Juan de Fuca Strait, at Ross Bay, followed by Gonzales Bay, where we left the water for about 5km. Again, I didn't take in the views of the Olympic and Cascade mountains. The next 5km went by in 4:21, 4:24, 4:22, 4:14 and 4:20 for 1:04:58 at 15km, or an average pace of 4:20/km. I was feeling even better and had decided to push it; I wanted a PB.

Next was 4:13, 4:23, 4:28, 4:14 and 4:20 (remember my strategy for undulations) for 20km in 86:37, or an average of 4:20/km. We were at Oak Bay. Almost halfway.

Since I only saw my kilometre splits, I didn't know my 21.1km time until afterward. It was 91:23, possibly the fastest I have run the first half of a marathon. For the next 5km I ran 4:20, then 8:32 for 2km, followed by 4:17 and 4:22 for 1:48:09 by 25km, or 4:19.5/km.

Since the course loops back on itself shortly before 24km, I saw Tim not long after I passed it. We smiled at each other. Now, I could keep an eye out for Angelique and Jennifer. I saw the latter first and we encouraged each other. Angelique and I spotted each other from more than a mile away, as we each came down a hill, waving and smiling.

When we finally met, we highfived so hard I thought my arm would fall off. I was stoked to see how well she was doing, and vice versa.

The past few kilometres a guy had been running with me. Many of the spectators were cheering me on, saying I was in the top 10. My fellow runner jokingly complained about the lack of interest in his performance. "You're doing awesome girl," a spectator would cheer, for my buddy to yell back, "What about me? Aren't I doing great?"

It was nice to having someone running with me. He was either beside or behind me, which allowed me to set my own pace, and at the same time feel pushed along. I was focused on maintaining the good feeling I had mentally and physically. "This is my day," I repeated silently to myself many times.

I ran 4:22, 4:16, 4:20, 4:31 and 4:24 to reach 30km at McNeill Bay in 2:10:03, according to my watch (official results timed me at 2:10:01), or an average pace of 4:20/km.

As always, this was the point where the race started. The next 5km, through the residential areas of Oak Bay and Fairfield, felt brutal; I ran 4:27, 4:34, 4:35, 4:42 and 4:43. My buddy ran away from me, I believe, just after 31km (though he would meet the hammer a couple of kilometres later, too). I reached 35km in a dark place mentally in 2:33:03, or an average pace of 4:22/km.

I tried to maintain my pace as best I could. One foot in front of the other, and repeat. I forced myself to take another gel, though couldn't bring myself to eat all of the sachet's sweet sticky gooey contents. Spectators still cheered, and I passed the odd male runner feeling comforted by the fact that I wasn't the only one battling marathon's demons.

Then I ran 4:34, 4:47, 4:59 to reach 38km by 2:47:22, or an average of 4:24/km. I couldn't see my overall average pace, all I saw were splits that were slowing with each kilometre. With 4.2km to go, I decided to stop taking kilometre times and switched instead to the overall time.

I tried to do the math as simply as I could: 4km at 5:00 equalled 20 minutes. I still had a chance for a PB, if I kept myself together.

The final undulations in those last kilometres felt larger than life. I felt better seeing the sign marking 39km, but worse seeing 40km, since there were still 2.2km to go. I passed a guy, who shortly after began sprinting with a mile to go. Too soon, I thought, and it wasn't long before I ran beside him again as he'd lost the burst of energy.

I spotted a woman ahead. Could I catch her? No, too far. I kept pushing myself. She did come a little closer. I tried to speed up a little, encouraged by the guy next to me, who said something like, You can catch her. A sign marking 800 metres to go still had me too far back to be convinced I would be able to dig deep enough to reach her in time.

I reminded myself of the spectators telling me I was top 10, so moving up another place was worth it. More importantly, while I no longer had the energy to look at my watch, I knew a personal record was at stake too. I would regret it if I didn't try just that little bit harder.

My stomach didn't agree as I sped up further with 500 metres to go. I was closing in on the female runner ahead, but was I close enough? It was now time for the final sprint, all or nothing. At the sign marking 200 metres left, I caught her and kept steaming towards the finish, oblivious of cheering spectators. I noticed a 3:06 on the main clock above the finish, and knew that elusive PB was mine too.

The last 4.195km had taken me 18:47, or an average 4:28/km. My 3:06:06 is an overall average pace of 4:24.6/km.

As I bent over completely spent at the finish line, Lucy Ryan (Ultraman, Ironman and ultrarunner) was there to hug, and support, me. It was exactly what I needed and it was so nice to see her. She congratulated me and next gave me unofficial results, saying I was 8th woman and had won my age group.

I got my medal from one of the lovely volunteers and tried hard to avoid throwing up. I made my way to a garbage can, just in case. My legs were screaming, too. Another volunteer asked me if I was OK. "Yes, just a little nauseous," I told her before she encouraged me to stop by the medical tent.

There, I lay down on a stretcher as one of the medical staff took my details, and my pulse. She gave me a couple of electrolyte drinks which I gulped down. I was relatively OK, and told her I didn't want to needlessly occupy a stretcher. She encouraged me to stay. Then Tim showed up, as Lucy had caught him at his superb 3:16 finish, his 3rd-fastest, and told him where he could find me.

(Tim later said he was happy with his time, "though of course I had planned to run faster. I can't ever think of finishing a race and not having thought I was going to go faster. It's important to be confident."

"Victoria was my third-fastest marathon and the fastest I have run in four years, when I set my current PB of 3:10 at the Gold Coast in Australia. To be fair, I haven't done much specific marathon training in the last four years but I'm fit and I always believe that I should be able to leverage my triathlon training into success across the sporting spectrum," says Tim, who is now leaning toward signing up for his first ultrarun, the Whistler 50 (miles, that is) on November 5.)

With Tim there, the nurse let me go. Race director Rob Reid congratulated me on my way out of the medical tent. Tim and I were both incredibly sore and moved to a spot where we could lie down with our legs in the air, which helped a lot. Next we got our pictures taken and picked up some food and drinks. Sore and getting cold quickly, we decided to walk back to the hotel to change quickly into dry clothes, and bring some for Angelique too.

Ecstatic athlete & coach at finish
Angelique was completely focused in her home stretch, though she later said she did hear and see us screaming and waving about 300 metres before the finish: she had simply needed all her energy for reaching the finish line where she was first caught by Kathrine Switzer.

When Angelique told us after a big round of hugs and congratulations on her superb accomplishment, I encouraged her to go back for a picture. Kathrine was only too happy to oblige, and suggested we should celebrate Angelique's first marathon finish with champagne.

I'll write a separate post on Angelique's marathon journey soon but I loved this: On the day before the race, the three of us had done a very easy 10-minute jog before we stopped at a 7/11 to get milk. Angelique and I were both wearing the beautiful bright red race shirt we had received an hour earlier. A guy, in his early 20s, behind us in line asked, "Are you guys running the marathon tomorrow?"

When we turned around and confirmed that was indeed the case, he said, "Oh wow, I could never do that. I can only run 3km." Without missing a beat, Angelique said, "That's what I thought three years ago too but tomorrow I am running a marathon."

While sore and exhausted, marathoner Angelique felt good overall. Better, too, after lying down with her legs in the air, as we encouraged her to do. After another photo, we walked back to the hotel where we all had quick showers and changed before heading over to the awards.

Congrats from Switzer & Yasso, how cool!
There I was thrilled to meet Kathrine again, who handed out the awards, and another running legend, Bart Yasso. Official pictures were taken so I hope to post some once they are available.

A quick chat about books

 Awesome awards ...


Anonymous said...

Congrats Margreet (and to Tim and Angelique as well) - a super effort and very inspiring!

Margreet Dietz said...

Thanks so much Mal!