You know that feeling of going out for a run, feeling strong, smooth and speedy? The wind is in your hair, you’re in a rhythm that makes your stride almost effortless, and the flow of endorphins makes you want to run all day? It’s pure bliss.
Unfortunately, that was not what my Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon felt like yesterday. Well, at least not all of those things. The wind was definitely in my hair and the first couple of miles felt pretty strong, but nothing about those 13.1 felt effortless! In the words of Coldplay, let’s take it back to the start… of the weekend.
Saturday was quite possibly one of the most lovely lazy Saturdays I’ve had in a long time. It was the first one in I-don’t-know-how-long that I’ve had no reason to set an alarm, and I must have been subconsciously processing this fact as I woke up because I recall smiling as my eyes opened. I did one of those great big take-up-the-whole-bed stretches and just sort of lay there for a few minutes, tangled up in sheets, thinking “wow, this feels amazing!” And then I cackled out loud to myself like a crazy lady.
After breakfast I headed out to do some errands, one of which was stopping by the race expo at the Vancouver Convention Center for race packet pickup. I got there about half an hour after it opened and things were suuuuuper quiet, but it made for a quick in-and-out trip. At the same time I scoped out some of the latest Asics gear that was displayed. (Asics was the title sponsor for the race, and being an Ambassador/total Asics junkie, putting me in front of a display of running shoes is like putting a kid in candy store.) ?
The rest of the day was pretty restful. I ate well, got all my gear ready and went to bed early so that I’d wake up feeling ready to run. My alarm was set for 4:30am (race start was 7:30) which allowed me plenty of time to eat my usual pre-race breakfast mix of Love Grown Foods Mighty Flakes and Power O’s, then digest as I got ready.
One of my goals for this month was to make this race my best half marathon yet. That didn’t necessarily mean a PR (although it would have obviously be nice), but it was more about positive thoughts, high quality training, rest and nutrition, following my fuelling strategy during the race, and staying positive when things started to hurt. I mentioned a little while ago that I suspected my iron was low again, and a recent blood test confirmed that my ferritin has indeed fallen a bit. As I drove out to the start at UBC, I worked to mentally get this out of my head, thinking more about how I wanted to feel throughout the race as opposed to what might hold me back. I’m not sure I actually believed the things I was telling myself, but it was a good enough distraction from any negative thoughts that could have come creeping in.
The race organizers recommended arriving by 6:30 in order to park, get through the lines to the bathrooms, stop at bag check and get into the starting corrals. I downed a double shot of Vega Sugar-Free Energizer, made my way through the port-a-potty line, and still had a bit of time to spare. The weather was nice and sunny which felt really nice at the time, but I knew it was going to be a hot race. One of the reasons I registered for this particular event was because the course is known for being net downhill, covering a nice winding descent near the UBC campus. Training-wise I knew I wasn’t in PR shape, but was still determined to give it a solid try knowing that it was supposed to be a fast course.
I queued up in the corral, taking a spot that was further forward than last race. Being too far back was one of my regrets at the BMO half marathon because I felt a lot of my energy was wasted in dodging around people. This was definitely a good choice and things went pretty smoothly after the gun went off.
The first couple of miles felt good – not too fast and not too slow. Between miles 3 and 4 (or KM 4 and 7 as shown on the map below) there was a gradual uphill section as we approached the big downhill bit. This was where I started to feel physically weak – yes, already. My heart rate felt too high and my stride didn’t feel powerful – or at least as powerful as it should have been that early on. Luckily the descent wasn’t far ahead, so I just focused on getting there, and anticipating how much better I’d feel as I made my way down. I knew if I let my head go into negative places, the race would be done. Watching the amazing athletes in wheelchairs move amongst everyone else on the course made me think that if they can do it with only the power of their arms, I can surely do it with my legs.
By 10K we were at the bottom of the hill and crossing time mats. I looked at my Polar V800 a grand total of ONCE during the entire race, and that was on these mats. I’d made it there in just over 42 minutes. Not as speedy as I hoped given the descent, but not bad.
The course was mostly flat for the next couple of miles, although things were getting toasty. We’ve had a lot of rainy weekends here in Vancouver lately, and I definitely didn’t feel acclimated to suddenly training in the heat again. My body seemed to go from being shivery to absolutely roasting and then back again, and I could feel a dull headache right on my forehead. I decided at that point that I wasn’t going to try to be a hero in this race, and for a while, pretended I was out training on my own. I grabbed water at 2 more aid stations than I normally would, taking a sip and dumping the rest on my head.
As I ran along, I thought about some of my female athlete role models – especially my buddy Steph Corker, who is totally dominating in everything she does this year and is destined for the Ironman World Championships in Kona once again this fall. I tried to think “what would Steph be thinking right now?” and decided that the answer would probably be something along the lines of feeling super grateful for such a beautiful day, being proud of my body’s strength, and focusing on starting every mile fresh, making each one just a little better than the last. It sounds doable in retrospect, but it turns out it’s not so easy when your heart feels like it might jump out of your chest!
By this point it was getting to be around that time in the race where I usually think about taking a gel, and I certainly felt in need of one. Based on the route map, I anticipated a water station at the 14KM/8.6mi mark, so I took my Vega Endurance Gel out of my SpiBelt and ripped off the top. Just having a bit in my mouth seemed to perk me up, and I squeezed a bunch more in as I approached the 14KM water station.
Unfortunately my drinking logistics were a bit off (not helped by the fact that the cups were plastic and therefore not foldable like paper ones – it’s all about making the V-shape!) and barely any water made it in after that gel. Luckily my stomach didn’t seem to rebel much. It was just the heat of the direct sun that seemed to be getting to me and making things hurt – a lot.
The climb over the Burrard Bridge hit at the 18KM/11ish mile mark, and this was where I knew I needed to stay positive. The race was almost done, so I did what I do in all races when the tough bits come – look at the ground a few feet in front of me and keep counting to 11 over and over again until it flattens out. (For some crazy reason, it works.) Miraculously, this point came faster than I thought and before I knew it, I was coming down the other side of the bridge. Yay!
With only about 2KM/1.25mi left to the finish, I tried to muster up whatever was left in the tank to get to the finish line as strong as possible. I didn’t look at my watch because I figured doing so would only invite negative thoughts, and instead just focused on looking ahead until the finish line was in sight.
1:34:01 (gah – one second!!!) was my official chip time, which was just under 30s faster than my BMO half marathon result last month. (In my opinion, the BMO course actually felt easier than this one!) I finished feeling pretty neutral about my time, very tired and relieved, but most importantly, proud of myself for seeing it through till the end.
Hills – even moderate ones – are still a weakness of mine. If there’s one thing that would make me a better runner, practicing more of them would probably be it. But given where I’m at fitness and health-wise, I’m ok with my result. I’m quite confident that my anemia is partially what’s preventing me from getting faster, but also know that health is about so much more than half marathon times – and fitness, for that matter. I run a lot more intuitively now than in the first half of my 20s, and I’m pretty sure I’ll appreciate that choice in the long term – even if it means not being as fast as I used to be.
Eventually I found the bag pick-up area, shuttled back to UBC on a bus and picked up my car. My friends and I had plans to celebrate post-race, so I had a super quick shower and met them for a patio brunch by the beach.
After some food and some laughs, I went home for a glorious nap. With this race done, I’m looking forward to a week of rest, then scaling back a bit on long runs and enjoying a whole bunch of hiking and other outdoor adventuring. Next up: The Lululemon Sea Wheeze (round 5!) on August 13th! Who’s coming!?!?!