Lucky #4: Vancouver Marathon 2009 Recap

Wayyyyy back in December 15, 2008, faced with an earlier-than-usual early bird deadline, I decided to “get Vancouver Marathon out of the way”. With three marathons down in three consecutive years, I didn’t have to think that I would do one in ’09 and doing one in Vancouver made a host of decisions trivial or no-brainer.

I was challenging myself in several arenas that I had previously hidden myself from. I would have to train in the dead of winter (but fortunately after that December-snowing thing laid off). And “with my schedule” (read: working far away with a grubby commute), I could not commit to the built-in support group from a Running Room clinic. Granted, last year, I was a pace leader but I only made it out to one run of the three weekly, the only one where I was needed provide a pace – and I felt wretched for not being around the other two days to grow and bond with my fellow clinic members, etc.

It was a challenge to make it through training alone for once. And I had the experience to not completely blow it… or did I?

Very soon, I figured out which of my friends were training as if they were going to do the Vancouver Marathon. Most had not, of course, registered as insanely early as some of us did. Some friends were around on Sundays in addition to the clinic if I wanted training at a higher level differently. But I settled into a great Saturday long run routine for the most part. Some friends were doing 16K for maintenance and Murnie and I would concoct wild running plans that included pre-runs and fantasized post-runs.

I was never really alone and I’m so grateful for that.

Murnie moved last year to my area and we finally capitalized on that especially after I no longer had a grubby long commute and could run in the mornings. TJ introduced us to Judy so we could have Gossip on the Run. Not often though.

As usual – do I not try hard enough? – my training was relatively pain-free. Blisters and a throbbing bunion post-run. Achy knees, slightly tight hip flexor (the right one) and calves but I bounced back if noticeably slower than in previous years. It’s age isn’t it?? I really can’t get away without stretching….

And, surprisingly, this year was monumentally fraught with accidents to training buddies. I had “sympathy anemia” because a friend has severe anemia. And after a horrible teeth-meets-pavement and sprained ankle by two training buddies, we were really, really paranoid careful. I twisted my ankle once, suffered from a bout of food poisoning, and fell down my stairs, twisting both ankles and spraining my fingers frantically grabbing at the banister. :D

Bringing us to race day or the days leading up to it.

Murnie and I made it to the expo on a muggy Saturday morning. It was a great pre-race distance and we were pleased to see a whole bunch of eager runners lined up waiting for the expo to open as if it was the event of the season… McDonald’s sponsors the kids’ run so they were around giving out free hot and iced coffee. Inside, I was reasonably pleased with the amount of free samples. I also learned about new races and got persuaded by the 2009 re-branding.

I ate properly but was slightly horrified to find that I was heavier on race day than any past marathon – a few pounds more than last October’s race but it weighed down on me literally and on my conscience. It was difficult to convince myself to get out of my own comfortable bed at 5:30… so I didn’t until 6 a.m. I thought it was great how I could walk to the start line (about 3 km) while it may not have been a great idea, adding 3 km to my journey of (tens of) thousands steps. :S I’m not particularly accustomed to a warm-up before I run.

So as to not end up writing a novel about just 5 hours of my life, I’ll split off into the list part of my recap for the events just before, during, and after the marathon….
* From the starting area, I looked up to see the half-marathoners running in force on the viaduct above. Their start time was 30 minutes before ours. That perspective was really neat.
* It was very nice to mill around in the open air when in previous years I would be hiding out in BC Place until the last possible moment and the corridors through which you exit are like a dehumanizing concrete maze. On the the other hand, if it had been a rainy morning, all of us huddling in the tents set on a parking lot would have been misrable.
* While milling around outside, it was nice to be photographed by official race photographers. I wonder if my shamrock green hat was literally attractive. However, they are using the same marathon photographer as they’ve used before who provide exceptionally poor-quality photo previews. :(
* With about 3,000 full-marathoners, it felt like a big race. (I’ve been to two that were smaller!) And somehow I saw Bev anyhow and we started out together; however, I was doing 10-minute running intervals while she had a different plan and we split up after ten minutes.
* That’s when I started my music and found out one of my earphones was dead. Besides the volume drop in podcasts, the music was consequently very loud and only piped into one ear.
* Edit: I saw two dead birds within the first twenty minutes. None of my most recent long runs have been complete without seeing bird corpse.
* There was a 4:15 pace bunny that I kept in my sights but I generally thought he was going a touch fast. I had my own 4:15 paceband to go by anyhow.
* We ran through an area known as False Creek South which I consider my neighbourhood. It’s not overly pretty because you can’t actually see the water and I characterize it as dusty-feeling exacerbated by the Cambie Street construction and Olympic Village construction. Yech. But at least this tiresome loop was in the beginning of the race.
* At 5K, I was on track.
* Just a quarter of the way into the full loop, a person near me encouragingly tells her friend that we turn around “just up there” but I did not need to study the route map to know what street (by name) we turn at and it’s “just up there” – the beauty of running in your own city on the old stomping grounds.
* It was at this early point when we see the lead men and women and wheelchair and then not again for the rest of the race.
* After we turned around on this first loop, we started to see the 8K runners who had a loop race course. The fast 8Kers were weaving through the leisurely-looking 4-hour finishers and I don’t know if any of the 8Kers were annoyed by the human traffic and who was actually on the wrong side of the pylon barriers.
* I hit 8K at 49:03. Just a minute off track.
* 10K and still just a minute off track.
* By 10K, I was aggravated by my right glut and thigh which were really, really hurting me. That never happens. I felt like I had a cramp in the entire region and I think I compensated and ended up with a slightly cramped left thigh. The pain came and went in waves and for the next 15K my walk intervals were no joy because it actually hurt more to walk than run. But I couldn’t change things up and plow through the race without stopping. I had not trained that way.
* After the dreadful loop, we made it to east Vancouver. Oh why do we have to experience the seedy side of town that is slightly eerie in the morning? This year, the police had to restrain a transient woman from joining us. And we ran through a cloud of pot smoke.
* At 19K, I was 3 minutes behind.
* Very soon after, I saw the “Half Way” sign and rejoiced that the 19K sign was wrong because I was only 1 minute behind. Then I realized, I had read the half-marathon’s half-way sign (blue on white instead of white on blue) and I was still 3 minutes behind.
* My split time was 2:10, three minutes behind on a 4:15 finish.
* Generally, I don’t relish running in Stanley Park unless it is a swelteringly hot or generally uncomfortable day. Inside the park with some tree cover, the air seems more moist and fresh and with an impressive number of people running ahead (and behind), it was a random beautiful moment.
* As we ran towards heritage Burrard Bridge, I was dreading sooooo much running a long loop through Kitsilano and Point Grey.
* If we did not turn onto the bridge and lopped off the loop, it would most definitely not be a marathon effort nevermind not the marathon distance. So onward to Kitsilano to make it a marathon. It was de-motivating to see people coming back across the bridge in the opposite direction – some calculation told me that they were going to finish the marathon in under 3 hours and so necessarily about 10K ahead!
* I know why there is a long loop – Kits people are runner-friendly and you can shore up moderately impressive crowds if you design an out-and-back course to have lots of runner treading the same street.
* The fanfare going onto the bridge was the best on the race course, I think. Second to that is the whole Kitsilano and Point Grey stretch.
* Edit: Our first names (or whatever you chose) is printed on our race bibs so people can personally cheer for you. I feel as if I heard less personalized cheers than someone named “Susan”. One guy hesitated and then resolutely cheered, “Way to go… Wine!” Ugh! But thanks. :D
* At 29K, I was 7 minutes behind. Bye-bye 4:15 finish. Bye-bye 4:20 finish!
* From the Running Room I train out of, we run the Point Grey stretch of the loop very often and I’m tired of it. I can name all of the streets backwards and forwards and tell you how many more wide east-west streets until we reached Highbury, the turnaround point.
* Along the longest loop in history, I hugged the center line for selfish and “friendly” reasons. It maximized the ability for people to see me who were ahead of me and coming back in the opposite direction. Likewise, if I saw someone before they saw me, I would be able to shout out words of encouragement!
* The last part of the longest loop was particularly demoralizing: we leave the main loop for 4th Avenue and when you look ahead, there’s this static-looking sea of people that you see clearly ahead because it’s just steady incline to the turnaround point.
* So when I did finally reach the loop turnaround, I barely feel as if having turned around was really worth it.
* Edit: During the 19th interval, I had my Big Bad Stitch for the race that routinely comes with exertion that my body is denying. But I chugged through that interval. Skipped taking a 5th gel – I was taking them every 4 intervals – for the 20th interval and maybe that was a really big mistake. I would be running for another 45 minutes to an hour. In fact, I had run out of my own Gu gels and picked up 2 Power Gels at Power Gel stations but feared that I would be sidelined by vomiting foreign(-to-me) gel. Decisions, decisions!
* I was mildly happier to be back in Kits with more fanfare. A nice first aid person near Kits Beach stepped onto the road because my face was distorted in pain and asked me required questions. Since I wasn’t imminently going to fall over (as long as nothing drastically changed, like someone accidentally bumped into me), I told him I would be able to finish. No need to get all dramatic and require ambulance service to take me off the course.
* I’ve had a cramp before (in Okanagan) but I never had such dull leg pain during a marathon. It just became all about small victories, getting to the next milestone. From Kits, get to the bridge. At the bridge, get over it no matter how slowly. At the end of the bridge, it’s truly, finally the home stretch.
* Fortunately, the last part of the route is quite downhill and flat and who knew that with a kilometer to go, I could finally kick out of feeling sorry for myself in some kind of slow race form.
* Also, with just a few kilometers to go, I could finally estimate my finish time and I was dangerously close to 4:30!
* I crossed the finish line looking deceptively strong. Pain was screwing up my face but unlike Portland, I didn’t wobble and require the aid of a “catcher”.

I set a bunch of goals in my head – I can’t help it. To start off, I knew there was no way in heck I was breaking last year’s 4:11-something. Last year’s training wasn’t flawless by far but something felt even more off about this year.
*“A” Goal – Make 4:15 – requires a lot of push
*“B” Goal – Not worse then 4:25, my worse so far
*“C” Goal – Not worse than 4:30, after which the next “interval” is a 5:00 finish!
*“D” Goal – Complete all my intervals – I did this one!!

And then here are all the stats (….
Overall Rank 1993 / 3031
4:32:42 gun time / 4:31:06 chip time
741/1306 Females
129/209 Females 30-34
1:00:50 10K
2:10:29 first half
2:20:38 second half – huge positive split
3:23:31 20-mile mark
1:07:36 last 10K

Final Recap Notes
* I did three marathons in the Pacific Northwest before I got around to doing my local marathon. I dreaded the idea of training in snow and treacherous ice in January – it wasn’t so bad – and I dreaded running through the city that I train in. I’m glad to have the experience and was quite confirmed that I don’t enjoy running where I’ve trained. If they change the route drastically I would consider the Vancouver Marathon again; however, I can guess at why they changed the route to loop and loop around the densely populated, yuppy areas from the old route through less savoury and more staid North Vancouver the east-side.
* I’m so happy to have “gotten the marathon out of the way”. This will be my first in 3 summers that I have “off” from marathon training. It will be interesting to see how much running I end up doing just for the fun of it (or for maintenance) and what I do with the spare time….
* Now I’ve been on the “wrong side of 4:15” at three out of 4 marathons. It makes me think…. From 2006 to 2008, I averaged 6 races per year including the one marathon a year – that is in accordance with conventional wisdom that shorter races are practice for the race. I chattered and joked about training myself into No Man’s Land in the past two training cycles and while I was miraculously faster last year, I was a self-fulfilling prophecy this year. I can rectify this next time around for Marathon 2010.
* In Marathon 1, TJ and Murnie dragged me along to the 10K and 21K marks, respectively. In Marathons 2 and 3, TLT stuck around until 25K and 16, respectively before zooming off. Apparently I need even more fortitude to run alone… or make a pact next time with someone!
* Edit: MY, the little sister, really thinks that listening to podcasts, while entertaining, was distracting and slowed me down, oh, about three minutes! I’m inclined to agree there was some effect in straining to listen to audio that was low-pitched and only through one earphone!

On this day..


  1. Ben says:

    Good job, Wyn.
    I enjoyed reading this article.
    One day … one day … I will do a marathon!

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