It’s been 5 months since I last popped on here to blog about my running. Frankly it’s because I’ve felt there isn’t much to talk about. Basically, I stopped getting faster and started posting times in races that looked more like PW’s (personal worsts) than PB’s (personal bests). And why in the world would anyone want to read about how RunFasterSarah is getting slower?!! Seriously.
I began dreading my runs because I found I was embarrassed by my own paces. I didn’t want to race because I didn’t know how I was going to explain my ‘slower’ times. I was constantly tired with no good reason and felt behind in everything including my training. I was struggling to figure out what was going on – and until I had some answers I couldn’t find words to accurately describe what I was going through.
I’ll say more about how I turned this around later. But for now know this. My BMO Vancouver Marathon on Sunday was one of the BEST marathon experiences I’ve ever had. I’m still in awe over how great that marathon was for me, how much fun I had and how much I honestly enjoyed every minute of it! Let me explain…
As I wake to my 5am alarm Sunday morning, I realize I’m the most relaxed I’ve ever been on a race morning. I immediately know this is because I’ve already let go of any race day goals I don’t have control over. My training over the past few months clearly displayed that I’ll be lucky to break four hours – so I will expect nothing.
Well, that’s not quite true. I am expecting something of myself today. Something I do have control over. I have sworn to myself that no matter what, I’ll smile the entire marathon and I’ll enjoy every second.
So when it gets uncomfortable (as running for a long time does), I’ll smile and imagine running farther than the marathon distance. I’m only going to be out there for about 4 hours, give or take. If I was doing an ultra, I’d be out there longer than that. Just sayin’.
When it gets tough out there (as marathons inevitably get), I’ll smile and remember how it was my choice to do this and clearly I know what I’m getting myself into as this will be my 19th marathon. With the memory of how dramatically disastrous my last marathon was, I have committed to an entirely different experience. If I fail, I swear I’ll never bother with racing again.
And when I get to the point where I think I simply can’t keep running, I’ll do it anyways, with a smile on my face – because the reality of it is that I can. The brain is funny that way – giving us imaginary limitations.
So in a really calm manner I prepare oatmeal for hubby and I, with matcha tea for me and tazo chai tea for him, and we eat at 5:30am – exactly 3 hours pre-race which is our typical practice. I don my race outfit (picked out the night before) and throw my hair up. I don’t know why by I’m ready so much faster than any race I’ve ever gotten ready for before (I’m TERRIBLE at taking FOREVER to get ready – true story), but I like the new me.
So I join hubby on a walk around the block with our girls. By the way, Sparkle is doing amazing. It’s been 5 months since her seizures and I swear she is more full of life than she was before her near death experience. She is my little angel, a gift to me from the heavens and I continue to treasure each day with her. I am reminded of the multitude of reasons I have to smile while racing today.
It’s cool at the moment but it’s supposed to warm up a lot so I hydrate more with Skratch exercise hydration and water. That’s what I sipped on yesterday too. Nothing too much, nothing crazy – my pet peeve as a sports nutritionist is coming across advice on how we should make sure to load up and drink ALL the fluids the day before, morning of, as well as during. Studies tell us to drink to thirst and that over-hydrating can cause hyponatremia. But this is besides the point. Entirely. Ignore that.
Hubby and I leave the house to make our way up to Queen Elizabeth Park where the start line is. We immediately encounter a rather large problem. The buses are not running down our street due to road closures (duh, I totally should have thought of that yesterday). Nor are they running down Broadway, which is where we end up when we realize there’s no buses on 4th Ave.
A taxi swings around and the driver rolls down his window. “You need a ride?”, he says. “How’d you know?” we say, and hop in. He tells us he was driving around looking for runners like us, standing clueless at bus stops. We tell him he saved the day. He says he knows (lol). We get deposited within a half kilometre of the start line, much earlier than we’d anticipated getting there.
As we begin walking towards the start line – we can see it clearly – hubby says, “Well Mike (our friend) should be around here somewhere”.
Literally as he says this, we practically bump right into Mike. What are the odds?! Mike informs us that sitting in the cool shade is a good way to prepare for running in the heat.
We sit in the shade in with him. And shiver. Finally we all decide that shivering is probably expending more energy than what’s good for us so we move to the sun.
Before we know it, it’s time to get into our corral. It’s time to race. Kisses for hubby and good luck wishes to Mike… And then the gun sounds. Go time.
The first few metres, maybe even the first kilometre, is a slight incline and I take it very conservatively. I’ve run this course 3 times previously, I know what to expect. I feel good.
When the downhill starts, I pick up my pace. I’ve always been strong on the downhills, so while I won’t go crazy I do want to take full advantage of them. I actually think I’m going faster than I am because when I glance down at my watch, I’m surprised to see 5:05 kms (8:10 miles). Definitely thought I was going sub 5 / sub 8. No matter. I smile.
In the 4th kilometre there’s some uphill. I always forget about this. In my head it’s all down. Oh well, all good. I smile some more – and even bigger when I see a photographer!
Then it’s pretty much all downhill for the next 4km, again hitting 5:05kms / 8:10mis average. Honestly, it’s quite lovely – but then again, this point in the race typically always has been for me. Did I mention how much I love running downhill?!
All good things must come to an end and the blissful downhill rudely comes to a grinding halt and in front of me looms Camosun Hill. I slow dramatically – maybe to about a 6:10/km pace (10:00 min mile) and begin to climb, in a most determined sort of way. It goes forever (in reality, about a kilometre). People cheer me on, they call my name out. I smile. I see people I know! I smile some more.
Once I hit the top, I’m happy to be there – and not dying as with previous years. I continue on, the next few kilometres are decidedly rolling – some in the shade, much in sun. I’m managing about 5:15/km pace (8:25 mile).
I pass a girl I think I know. I need my glasses. Then I pass a guy I think I know. He passes me. I pass him. We do that for the next 10km or so. But I’m not for certain it is, and although I’m smiling, I don’t feel as though I have extra energy to talk. Eventually I don’t see him anymore. I don’t remember who was the last to pass who.
I choose to take my first gel, a honey stinger strawberry kiwi with caffeine, around mile 10 as I see a water station coming up. It goes down with ease (it’s like it just melts in my mouth and down my throat) and I grab 2 cups of water to wash it down. I think to myself 10 miles is only one tenth of a 100 mile ultra. I think to myself that I’m crazy to let that though pass through my head because my legs are already tired.
I know this next stretch around UBC well. It’s hot but I’m managing – and remembering to smile. I see a guy I know and I call out to him but I don’t think he recognizes me. I continue on. When I hit the top of UBC hill about 1km later, about to go down, I realize my legs are now really feeling tired. I’m a bit disappointed to be feeling this fatigued in what’s relatively early on in the race, now at about the 20km (12 mile) mark.
But the downhill energizes me and I clock some of my fastest paces averaging a 5:00min/km (8:05min/mi) down the hill. And then I cross the halfway mat. Yay! And oh man. I know it’s hot because my hair is dripping sweat – and so I walk for a few seconds as I flip my ponytail up and around into a bun on the back of my head. Good to go.
I spend the next 3km looking for someone who mentioned he might be around the half way point. At the very least it distracts me from my tired legs which are growing increasingly uncomfortable, and the heat which is growing increasingly annoying.
Eventually I reach the end of the flat road by the oceanside and must climb Discovery Road, a rather steep hill up onto 4th Avenue. I feel like I’m practically walking, but in fact my pace is still about a 5:55/km (9:30/mi) – surprising but I’ll take it! I’m incredibly relieved to reach the top of that hill though and now begin to fly down 4th Ave. Love these downhills.
As I hit the bottom of my hill, I can see my home in the distance. I will run right by it. I briefly entertain the thought of running inside to see Sparkle. Grabbing a drink. Hey, maybe changing my shirt! Haha. I resist.
My legs. I’m tired. It hurts.
I turn off of 4th Ave and begin running up Alma. I see a guy I know – Jamie! He cheers me on, asks me how I am, and do I need any water? I smile and thank him so much but I’m good, no water required. And for some reason in that moment I recommit to my goals of having a great time out here today. No matter what.
I run down Point Grey Road as my tired legs fade into the background. I smile. Someone set up their sprinkler and I run under it – THE BEST!! Runners around me are starting to fade. To struggle. It feels like there are less people around me now. As I turn the corner off Point Grey and head towards the ocean I reach for my second gel. So good. And easy down. Two cups of water. Keep running.
Finally I see it – Burrard Street bridge – the last real hill I was worried about. I dig deep, smile of course, and begin to climb. My body wonders why I’m doing this but in my head I’m all good. I’m slower than I was on Camosun Hill, but at the top I see a girl I know cheering and reach her to yell hey and she screams with excitement when she sees me. The crowd support is uplifting for sure.
I see more photographers as I ‘fly’ down the other side of Burrard bridge, and I so I smile even more. Even bigger. My smiling muscles are getting sore. No joke. Maybe as sore as my legs. No, just kidding. My legs are more tired, yes, decidedly so.
Can you believe I see bananas? Yes, there on Pacific Street, volunteers are handing out little pieces of bananas. I grab one, the peel is sliced so I easily toss it off and pop the 1/4 banana in my mouth. Awesomeness. And then grab water. What a lovely surprise!
I’m now approaching Stanley Park. This is really like the home stretch. There’s only about 10km left to go. It’s basically a countdown from here on in. As I hit the 20 mile mark, I see the sign. As with the 10 mile marker, I think oh, this is like only one fifth of a 100 mile ultra. Call me crazy.
And I’m into Stanley Park. It’s shaded and lovely. For some odd reason my pace slows. The girl I thought I knew whom I passed 20km ago passes me. That’s just enough to motivate me to give it ALL I GOT and so I pass her back. Apologies. Nothing personal. In fact I’m totally rooting for her. However in this moment she’s given me the motivation I need to push… Thank you!
I decide, with about 6km to go, to take my last honey stinger gel. Once again, it slides down my throat no problem. Amazingly I’ve been able to take all my gels really quickly, less than 60 seconds to swallow the entire gel. I think to myself, that’s odd for me. And honestly, I’ve been terrible at following my advice to practice taking gels in training. I only took gels once in training… Or maybe twice? I prefer to train on empty… Long story for another day.
I’m so incredibly close now that I pick up my pace a little. Well not really, but it feels like I am. Every muscle in my body would like me to stop (or hey, at least slow down) and my darn left toenail clearly has decided to leave me again (I’ve known that for that last 20km or so, sadly) but I continue moving forward, one foot in front of the other, smiling the whole way. It may come across as a grimace now but I promise you it is a smile!
Finally I exit Stanley Park. There is only 1km left to go! I round my way up onto Pender Street, preparing for the uphill finish. And there is the same group of people I’ve seen twice already today, here in a 3rd cheering spot, cheering me on. I smile! I run.
The crowd support for the final 500m or so fuels me forward. I’m practically there. It hurts but I’m so happy. So many people line both sides of the finishing chute. I see hands out looking for hi-fives and so I deliver, running along, smiling and hi-fiving every hand I see!
As I approach the finish line my hands go over my head in celebration and yes, I smile. 3:56:57. It may be 26 minutes slower than my PB, but I’m still smiling.
I walk straight to the bag pickup and grab my stuff. Then I see hubby on the other side of the fence! So I run down and out of the finishers area to him. Yes, I said run. That is when I know I’m fully crazy and now the thought of running longer than the marathon distance won’t leave my head. I’m so happy. It’s like I’m on drugs but obviously I’m not (I swear). Whatever it is, I can tell you that it’s a great way to race.
So I sit here 3 days later, having run 12km yesterday and 14km today already. I’m nearly fully recovered and clearly ready to take on my next training cycle. Which is the Jack and Jill Downhill Marathon on July 31st in Washington. I’m so freaking excited for this race I can’t even tell you. And hey, beyond that… Who knows? 😉