SO CLOSE: Scotiabank Vancouver Half-Marathon 2008 recap

If everything seems to tumble out, please take it as reflective of how emotional the half quarter day turned out to be.

* Training aside, the half-marathon preparations begins on the Friday before: package pick-up and a good night’s sleep. I slept 9 hours Friday-Saturday and felt accomplished. Oh, but it made sleeping only 4-5 hours Saturday-Sunday more bearable!

* My Sunday breakfast of champions – I really am a creature of habit: Just Right cereal + All-Bran, Activia yogurt, some Fruit & Co. Green Tea & Blackcurrent
* This year, I was very prepared after last year’s rain-dump: double-bagged my change of clothes, water-proofed my phone and new camera in separate zip-lock baggies.
* I made my own paceband. At first it was on the brim of my hat – some people are known to paste affirmations or photographs there – but my focal point turns out to be beyond my hat brim. So I slapped it on my arm and learned that brownish packing tape is a suitable descriptor for my skin colour!
* Standing on a grassy slope I watching runners enter the chute as 7 a.m. neared, feeling that there were more people than last year… or we’re more scrunched up at our new start line.
* That’s where Chui saw me and we could vent those last-minute jitters before the gun goes off – or we’re herded forward – and after that it’s all about running!

* The first kilometer is uphill and I did it in 5:25. That was too damn fast, as usual. I was breathing audibly.
* The part I grumble about is the ~4K out-and-back portion along SW Marine because either the out or the back (the back) portion is uphill. It was bearable afterall because when you’re going out and see those faster than you, you are bombing down the hill and when you’re heading back up, you can scope out those slower than you are. :D
* One of my main goals today was to be true to my official walking breaks: 10 minutes walking followed by 1 minute of walking and repeat. I was successful at it last year and I needed to continue the tradition.
* Once, I took a walking break courteously off to the side at the bottom of the hill and did a willowy woman with frizzy hair have to remark that I was wasting the potential energy we had on the downhill? What if I had knee problems?
* I goofed on my paceband – or did I? – by writing down the time I should hit mile markers when the course only had kilometer markers. I also took down my desired 5K, 10K, 15K, and 20K times.
* My 5K was slower than my desired time of 28:12 by ~10 seconds. Negligible?
* The legs weren’t really working with me in the first two 10-minute intervals. Usually they wake up in that time if it was important, like a race. So, while I might normally take a gel – yummy berry-flavour Gu – at 45 minutes, I took it 10 minutes earlier. It’s senseless to stick to some timetable when I felt so crummy. Then give it 15 minutes for the gel to kick in.
* After the out-and-back stretch, we were in the boring UBC flat-ish stretch and I wanted some music. I sang the chorus for Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” (English version) in my mind and abandoned it after the chorus – I don’t know the verse.
* A blister popped up on my arch at 45 minutes. I shrunk away from the thought of looking at it afterwards – it was worse than I imagined – and delighted how the summer of training will toughen up my delicate feet.
* Observed that in UBC, it was mostly flat followed by slightly downhills. Then it was the big downhill on NW Marine between 8-10K. I took it faster than I did last year. It was then when TJ, TLT, and CM overtook me. I’m guessing they started later than my section of the herd.
* My 10K time was under my desired of 57:02 by less than a minute. Good except I’m a notorious positive-splitter (where my second half is slower than my first half).
* During last year’s race, to keep myself going, I convinced myself that everything after the start of the massive downhill had a downhill grade, except the bridge, of course. This year, I realized that it was just mostly flat. And boring. Murray was surprised that I would attached “boring” to running but that’s the best word I can think of. I want to zone out and go on auto-pilot – that happened just once for about 10 seconds – but I’m keenly aware of pounding along at a decent and painful pace and we’re on this unforgivingly straight and dull stretch.
* I had written on my paceband “What’s bloggable?” because I’ve regretted at past races succumbing to boredom when I could have thought about what I would blog more. Like that there was a woman named Femina (pretty but kind of redundant), fake-smiling at the official photographers until I’ve passed behind them, noting that I saw J.Lowe hiding behind a personal camera and thanking him for coming out and calling out to me, noting how congested I was and my nose bubbled while nose-breathing while taking a gel (yeah, ew), reveling in the difference in weather from 2007 to this year’s race
* I was “lucky” that my walking breaks fell near the crest of some of the harder hills – hey, so long as I was honest about my breaks, I can waste my potential energy for all I cared. I just had to complete 10-minute intervals. SVHM is the race where I don’t crack mentally, darnit.
* I’ve been re-reading Zen Miracles: Finding Peace in an Insane World. And I’ve had recent comments that I overthink (I do) and forget the simplest and worthwhile things in life. I didn’t feel very zen battling with myself and bargaining but it was kind of primal drama instead of silly external drama. It was zen to enjoy the sound of paper cups being dropped to asphalt with a soft clack sound – the sounds of running.
* At 15K, I knew I was a minute off from my desired 1:25:15 and was disheartened. But it’s not like I could slow down and blow 2 hours by even more. Maybe I could make up the time. It’s all downhill after the bridge, right?
* Oh. The bridge. With my convenient memory, I “remember” Burrard Bridge at 18K as “not bad”. We often run across it during our training sessions – it’s our beloved antiquated, short, pedestrian- and bike-friendly bridge. But today I would observe how long it took to get officially onto the bridge and it was a longer climb than I liked to remember. To not swing my arms sideways, I cycled them – not a recommendation, by the way. And I carefully observed my steps to make it to the top at an even pace, not backing off from the pace either. It was an accomplishment to make it!
* I passed the 19K marker at 1-hour-50. I knew I hadn’t made up the time and I could not possibly run 2.1K in 10 minutes. Maybe not even 11 minutes.
* At some points in the race, my mind wandered from the constant exertion to even more de-motivating panicking that I would keel over from undue stress on my heart. Races are always so painful and I always feel like I could train more and harder. That’s when I saw the man who was lying down on the grass with medics around him and a racer offering his services as a cardiologist. I hope the racer is recoveringly nicely now!
* 2.1K is a long way for me to race. I only really perk up and get that last kick of adrenaline when I see the finish line. My watch signaled that it was time for a break and I knew that was the break at 2 hours and I missed one of my goals. Last year, not knowing how close I was to the finish, I took the break at the same point and saw Chui who urged me to start up again. This year, I ran through the break and the finish line never seemed to come. It’s at those times you just want it to pop up as you round a corner.
* I chugged and chugged along, unprettily I’m sure, and my last race picture is sure to be quite maniacal-looking as I was far from smiling and my eyes were fixed on the digital clock that counted every passing second since the gun went off.
* After crossing the timing mats, I bent over – head still above the heart – to catch my breath and probably wobbled a little and a catcher (volunteer who provides physical support at the finish line) slipped my arm around her shoulders and stayed with me until my knees were more stable.

* My watch read 1:30 into my next run interval and I forgot to account for the 1-minute walking I did not do. To wit, wishful thinking had me convinced that I had achieved a personal best (PB) by 45 seconds and broken out of my 2-hour-2-minute slump into the 2-hour-1-minute times. But I would be wrong and my final time was 2:02:27. It’s still 7 seconds slower than my best half-marathon time four years ago (when I was solidly in my 20s!!) and a negligible 10 seconds faster than last year.
* It’s bittersweet. =(
* My next race is very soon: it’s in 9 days and it’s quite different in that it’s a small 10K run. So we’ll just have to psych out about that one now….

My race stats —
Gun time 2:03:24 / Chip time 2:02:27
1,610/3,578 overall
652/2,062 women
111/370 women 30-34

On this day..


  1. Augusta B. says:

    Congrats on an awesome time and thanks for another great recap! (This is Heidi, by the way…I have a new running blog and pseudonym.) I did a 2:07, beating my first half-marathon time by four minutes. I was trying to get closer to 2:00, but I’ll take it.

    Yes, Burrard was AWFUL and endless, despite the fact I run it all the time in training. My legs were too fatigued. I was bored to tears at many points as well (the out and back, the residential Highbury stretch, the poorly paved roadways at Spanish Banks).

    I think I would characterize this as a “humbling” run. I expected it to be fairly easy, with the net downhill, the fact I’ve done a half before, and am used to 26K LSD runs regularly now. But no, it was still hard, and a reminder that I will need to train more diligently (i.e., more than 2-3 times a week for RVM).

    Overall, I this race is really well organized, also, aside from the fact it starts so early no buses run and I had to take a cab (with a $25 fare, ouch).

  2. wyn says:

    Hi Heidi,
    Congrats on your SVHM. 4 minutes improvement is wonderful on your part! I seem to be stuck just out of reach of sub-2 and it bodes badly for me doing any better on my marathons than I have been so far, etc. :S

    Is RVM going to be your first marathon? I’ve learned the hard way (over and over again) that come race day you need to have faith in your training and put those deposits in the bank however hard it seems at the time, seemingly so far away from the marathon. I need to train 4-5 times a week this year – 3 won’t leave me with much faith come October.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Wynne,

    As a friend I congratulate you for this time (2:03) …

    As a fellow scientist, my I offer some two insights? And plz, do take everything as a grain of salt:

    1) Your breakfast
    a) food high in fibre is generally avoided before race morning – Forget the All-Bran
    b) yogurt is generally avoided due to its lactose content – lactose is harder on the digestive system

    2) The official walking breaks aren’t really 10:1
    The RunningRoom (namely the owner John Stanton) borrowed (spelt bastardized, excuse my language) this run/walk concept from Jeff Galloway, an olympic runner
    The more accurate Galloway formula is 4:1 @ a 9min/mile pace …
    Furthermore, the walk concept wasn’t really intended for half-marathons, but rather the full 26.2mi

    Nonetheless as a friend, congratz. As a fellow scientist, “treat every race as an experiment, fail or succeed”

    Fortitudine Vincimus

  4. Augusta B. says:

    Yes, RVM will be my first! I’m going to aim for 4 times a week, with some cross-training. I always say that, but end up writing the 4th off as a “junk”/easy run that I don’t really *need* to do. But I did an easy 5 km today and I think I could manage that. I bought a new sports bra, as the thought of having to do more laundry was one of the things that prevented me from running more often :)

  5. wyn says:

    Indeed, after all these half-marathons, I learn something new. But, hey, I’m a changing (and aging) person. :S Things are definitely from from the wide-eyed haphazard races of 2004. Gosh, it’s only been 4 years since my first race. Feels like a lifetime ago.

    So, yes, I wouldn’t recommend what I eat because that is a science with a dash of your personal preference. I haven’t specified that I’ve had a carton of yogurt. Far from it. What I eat comes from a love of routine and learning from experience when to eat what I eat. For example, I eat 90 minutes before my training runs and it does well for me. I couldn’t run very soon after my breakfast.

    Hi Heidi, it’s great that you’re training for your first marathon! I manage to complete 3 hard runs thanks to group efforts and don’t underestimate the value of an easy run after a couple of days of hard training. You’ll feel better after that run than if you had excused yourself for having sore muscles. If you want company on the super-long runs, we set out at 8:30 a.m. Sundays from the Broadway Running Room. I’m one of the pace leaders!

  6. buzz bishop says:

    Hey Wynne .. I’m new to your blog .. hello.

    Glad to see you’re a runner, I am too .. you, uh, wouldnt want to come run a half marathon with NetChick and I in DisneyWorld in January would you???

    It’ll be a BLAST!

    Here’s the deets:

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