The Vancouver Marathon

So, yeah . . . I disappeared during my taper. Honestly, I just wasn’t excited for this race. After a frustrating training cycle and feeling like total crap for a lot of my runs, I wasn’t even sure I’d finish. I got the OK from my doc to run the race, with the caveat that I would stop if I needed to. Since I’ve done that once before, I knew I had it in me to assess the situation and make a smart decision if it came to that. Spoiler: it didn’t.

I had considered not running at all or switching to the half, but I thought I’d give the full a shot and see how it went. In any case, I’d get to see a lot of Vancouver, which was pretty stunning.

The view at the expo. It's ok, I guess :)

The view from the expo. It’s ok, I guess.

I had quite the crowd show up for me–my parents came from Michigan and my cousin and her husband from Seattle–so the weekend was going to be fun regardless of how the race went.

Cheer squad!

Cheer squad!

mom and dad


Everyone was asking me a lot of questions about the race–how many runners, what’s the course like, how are you getting to the start, etc.–things I can usually answer. This time? I hadn’t done much research at all. I figured I’d just show up and hope for the best. Well.

The race didn’t start until 8:30, so I had plenty of time in the morning to eat a bagel and lounge around in the world’s largest throwaway sweats.

Normal behavior.

Normal behavior.

I had checked out the elevation profile before the race and read a few course reviews, and it sounded like the course was pretty flat and fast. Still, I knew that from about the 5K to the 10K, there was going to be a bit of a climb. I started out at a comfortable pace–7:50 for the first mile–and then settled in for the next 4 miles around 7:15 pace. There were some good downhills, and while I probably took them a little too fast, I wanted to grab any speed I could early on since I figured I’d be a lot slower at the end. Not the best racing strategy, maybe, but I didn’t really care (best attitude EVER).

Then came mile 6 and the longest, evilest (totally a word) hill in the history of hills. About 3/4 mile of climbing, and while I knew a climb was coming, I did NOT expect that. There were TONS of spectators all along the hill, though, and that helped a lot. I also saw my family for the first time, which gave me a boost. Please note, my enthusiasm is for them, most certainly not for the hill or the race at this point. Mile 6 was over a minute slower at 8:20, which was A-ok with me.



After the hill, I tried to keep my momentum while recovering, and I was grateful for some flat road and shade. There were a few more hills in the next 2 miles, but nothing crazy, especially not by comparison. I took my first gu somewhere in there, not because I wanted one, but because it was time. Fueling during races is always kind of weird for me because I want water with my gu, but I never know exactly where the water stations will be. This course was along some winding roads, so sometimes you’d round a bend and the water station would be RIGHTTHERE. It worked out fine, and I was grateful for the MANY water and Ultima (Canadian Gatorade?) stations throughout. I took in water, Ultima, or both, at every station.

It was surprisingly warm and sunny–low 50s at the start–and as the race went on and the sun got higher in the sky, it got HOT. Well, maybe not hot for a normal person, but hot for a person who has been running for several hours. My legs felt mostly loose and not too tired, but I wasn’t necessarily enjoying myself.

It was around mile 9 or so that I thought, “Hey, this isn’t a PR race. I could just slow way down, relax, and not push it.” And then a girl ran by me with a tank that said, “Challenge by Choice” on the back, and dammit, it reminded me that I chose to train, chose to travel, and chose to race. I chose this challenge, and regardless of how I was feeling about it in the moment (stupid challenge!), I knew I was going to give it my best shot.

Thoughts of phoning it in faded to the background, and it showed in my pace! I had dropped down to 8ish minute miles after the big hill, but I did sub-8’s for the next 7 miles or so. Certainly no consistency to those paces (7:22-7:58, yeesh), but I did push myself. Forced down another gu around mile 12 or 13 as sort of an afterthought. I didn’t feel great, but I also didn’t feel awful, so I settled in and tried to enjoy it. The fact that the scenery was breathtaking didn’t hurt. vancouvermarathonWe were running along the water until about mile 15, and it was mountains and sea and forest and gorgeousness. But also: HOT.

For me, heat means trouble breathing. I had used my inhaler before the race, but it got harder to breathe as the race went on. Having fewer clothes on always makes it easier, so I took off my tank around mile 16 or so. This isn’t something I usually do in races, but I felt like breathing was more important than vanity, so that happened. Unfortunately, when the shirt came off, so did the cover to one of my earbuds. Not vital to the race, but annoying. I felt a little better, but I still couldn’t get enough air.

Then I grabbed some water at the next aid station, and almost immediately threw up. Pleasant bile churning. It was a super fun time.

Adding to the fun, my left foot started to give me some trouble. Every 1/4 mile or so, it felt broken when I stepped on it. Yep. It still feels a little numb when I press or step on that spot now, but the pain during the race was really impressive. Much cursing. Many swears. But if I could get through a race with a blister that would ultimately put me in the hospital for a week, I could certainly get through a possibly broken toe. I didn’t say I was smart.

I saw my family again around mile 18 or so, where I grabbed my inhaler. Using it helped. I also dumped off my tank with them, which was soaked in sweat, so I’m sure they appreciated that. But with my tank came my number and my tracker. I didn’t really think that one through. Oops.

The last 10K+ ran along the outside of Stanley Park right beside the water. Again, gorgeous. But at this point, I just wanted to be done. My knees were really sore, which I’ve run through before, but it wasn’t fun. I stopped for a few seconds to rub out my IT bands, which helped a little. My breathing had recovered a bit by then, so that was a relief, physically and mentally. I kept thinking of what my coach had tweeted to me the night before: stay strong, be confident.

My paces were hovering around 8:30 and dipped down to 8:45-9 for the last couple of miles. I knew I couldn’t push any harder, though, so I kept my focus on finishing in 3:35, staying strong, and being confident.

I had also realized that I would officially DNF if I didn’t get my shirt/tracker/number back from my family. For the last mile, I tried to spot them in the crowd. I finally did see them about 100 meters from the finish, but they had left my shirt in the car. Sad. And–totally understandable.

Officially: DNF. Rude.

Unofficially: 3:33:21, and I left it ALL out there.

family at the finish

Official or not, marathon #3 is in the books. I’ve spent the last few days turning it over in my head, and right now, all I want to do is rest and not think about running for a very long time. I’m sure I’ll want to run again at some point, but I’m going to wait until that happens and not force it. I’m already registered for Marine Corps Marathon this fall, but I can always defer or transfer my bib if I don’t feel up to training again in a few months.


That Time I Didn’t Run a Marathon

It seems like there have been several times in the last year that I could’ve written a post with this title.

After all, since January, I’ve signed up for—and not run—3 marathons. Yep, 3. First, it was my demon back injury that sidelined me from the Carmel Marathon last spring. Then, Hurricane Sandy stunned everyone, and in the most random, unexpected way, caused the NYC Marathon to be cancelled.

And finally, on Saturday, I attempted the Richmond Marathon. I have to say attempted because, unfortunately, I didn’t quite make it to the finish.

I could detail it for you mile by mile, but that seems unnecessarily harsh, mostly for me, because I’m not all that interested in reliving it. But here’s the less excruciating Reader’s Digest version:

I started the race feeling good. I stuck right with the 3:30 pace group for the first 6 miles. I felt loose, relaxed, and comfortable. Around the 10K mark, I felt a little twinge in my left knee. I tried to ignore it and just kept plugging away. When the twinge turned into a pang, and then my right knee joined the party around mile 7, I knew I needed to slow my pace if I was going to make it to the finish. I eased up a bit to around an 8:30 pace, but it wasn’t enough. No matter how I tried to talk myself out of it, my knees were in serious pain. I stopped at mile 8 to stretch, hoping that would help, then continued, slowing way down to around a 10 minute pace.

For the next 12 miles, I struggled, running a little, walking a lot, hoping that the pain would ease up, telling myself I would make it to mile 13, then 16, then 18. At each milestone, I figured I could regroup and make a decision as to whether or not I could keep going. By mile 18, I was walking more than I was running. Actually, walking is inaccurate; I was hobbling, unable to bend my right leg without pain. Still, I kept going—walking a lot, running a little, and hoping hoping hoping that somehow I would make it to the finish. But just before mile 20, I realized I was being really stupid. What was the point of trying to finish just for the sake of finishing? I didn’t want a 6 hour finish time just to say that I “ran” a marathon. That’s not what I trained for. It wasn’t the race I wanted to run.

And so I stopped. Yes, there were tears, as much as for the pain in my knees (that was now radiating up my quads and into my hips and back) as for the disappointment of training off and on for almost a year only to have to drop out because of an injury that literally hasn’t bothered me in 2 years. That’s right—the knee thing? This is an old injury. Ten years ago, I was told that I had worn all of the cartilage out of my knees and wouldn’t be able to run again. So I suppose the fact that I made it this far is a victory in and of itself. But I was surprised that my knees were the thing to get in the way of this race. I had nearly forgotten that they were even an issue until they came screaming at me on Saturday morning. It was kind of a shock, to tell you the truth.

Surprisingly, though, I feel ok. I’m not destroyed by this. I’m not even disappointed in myself. I know I gave it my very best shot, and there was nothing I could’ve done differently that would’ve prevented my knees from hurting on this particular day. Sometimes these things just happen.

I think the bigger lesson here is that I realize I’ve developed resilience. If this had happened a year ago, I would’ve been devastated—especially after the double whammy of NY being canceled and then having to drop out of this race. But, no. I actually feel at peace with the whole situation. For whatever reason, this just isn’t my year to run a marathon.

So now, I’ll take a break, rest up my body, and then decide what my next move is. If a marathon isn’t meant for me, then it isn’t. Honestly, I don’t believe that—in fact, I know that if NY had gone on as scheduled, I would have finished that race. But right now? I don’t feel anxious to get out there and try again.

I am a runner. I will always be a runner. And part of being a runner is that sometimes you have a bad race. Sometimes you’re injured. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense.

And sometimes it makes so much sense that you can’t fathom how anyone could not understand it.

I had a bad race, but it doesn’t mean I’m weak or that I didn’t work hard or that I didn’t deserve to make it. It simply means that I had a bad race. But as someone very wise once told me, you have to have the bad races because they make the good races so much more rewarding. And I know that there are more rewarding races in my future.