The first goal for marathon runners is finishing the race in one piece. The second is to get a new personal best time. Most people will also have a goal time (the one they talk about) and their dream time that they don’t mention but secretly hope they’ll hit.
In the case of last weekend’s Vancouver Marathon we hit the first two but didn’t make our goal time of sub 4:30 or our targeted pace of 4:15. I wasn’t too disappointed though, it was the hottest Vancouver Marathon in the 42 years it’s been held.
I was woefully under trained for last year’s race (our time was just under 5:30) and I knew I’d done a better job this year but I still wasn’t convinced I’d been as disciplined as I should have (which reminds me I need to put together some graphs of my overall training distance so that I can get a feel for that). On paper, given our 10km and half marathon race pace and the various aerobic and lactate threshold tests I’ve done, I should be capable of a sub four hour marathon. In reality, that seems like a pretty tall order but I was confident I would be able to beat my Victoria Marathon time and we decided to aim for a 4:15 pace and see how it went.
As the race approached, the weather got better and better and it became very clear that we would get to run in beautiful but warm weather. The Vancouver Marathon starts relatively late, 8am, which means that (in our case at least), we’re finishing the last few kilometers in the midday sun. The key to running in the heat is to train in the heat so that your body can learn to cool you more efficiently. Unfortunately, like a lot of the world, the weather in Vancouver has been fairly cool so far this year so apart from a handful of warm runs a few weeks ago I wasn’t used to running in the heat.
Victoria had been a warmer race than I’d expected and I’d done a terrible job with my fueling during the race so I was determined not to make the same mistake again. On the Saturday, I was very careful to drink plenty of water and added a bottle of Gatorade to my normal pre-race fueling strategy. The Vancouver Marathon has a generous number of aid stations with water every mile so we decided to structure the race around those stations rather than our normal run for ten minutes, walk for one, approach. A lot of the aid stations also have Gatorade and, although the concentration can be a bit hit and miss, I was able to use that to get some carbs during the race, and eat less of the Honey Stingers (basically gummy candy) which can be a bit tough to stomach during a race, particularly a hot one. That strategy worked well, we still carried water with us which was useful during the latter stages of the race where the placement of the aid stations isn’t quite as convenient but generally the aid stations were all we needed.
As for the race itself, it went reasonably well. We hit the halfway mark at 2:09 and were close to our 4:15 pace up until until somewhere around 25km but at that point the heat started to have an impact. Kilometers 25-29 run through Kitsilano and although it’s a really nice part of the city and we regularly run that far during training, it’s my least favourite part of both the marathon and the Scotiabank Half Marathon. No idea why – the last 10km hurts much more so it’s not just that.
Our pace gradually dropped off from that point on, although nowhere near as much as it did last year. We wear pace bands which give us our goal times for each kilometer and I could see the 4:15 time slipping away with 4:30 pace close behind.
As usual the last 10km or so is the hardest. The marathon route runs around the Stanley Park seawall. It’s a great part of the city and we run it quite a lot as an ‘easy’ run because it’s flat and the views are fantastic. Put it at the end of a marathon though and it’s torture. That last 10km feels more like 20km. We ran past the 5km marker and then ran for what felt like half an hour before hitting the 4km point. I swear, I’m going to email the organisers and get them to check their measurements.
I hit “the wall” at about 38km and it was a real struggle to keep going at anything approaching a reasonable speed. I kept checking our pace to make sure we would set a new personal best but even that was looking difficult. As we passed the last medical station I gazed longingly at the runner sitting in the chair getting his leg massaged and caught the faint whiff of menthol – maybe I could stop, just for a few seconds.
The one highlight was the point we started catching a supply cart carrying boxes of Lay’s potato chips. We followed along behind it for a kilometer or so, gradually getting closer and closer until it pulled off the route. It wasn’t the potato chips that were so tempting though, there was some space on the back of the cart – just enough for us sit down for a while.
The final stages of the route were different this year. In 2012, the finish was around a couple of corners, sort of a u-turn, which meant that as you couldn’t see the finish line until literally the last few seconds of the race. That finish line is a big motivator for tired runners so this year they changed the route slightly and you could see the finish line for the last kilometer or so. It’s an uphill finish which some might see as cruel and unusual punishment but still, at least you know how much longer you’ve got to suffer.
Sure enough, despite struggling for the last half hour of the race, when we hit the final stretch and could see the finish and hear the crowds the pain melted away and I was able to push up the last 800 meters or so to the finish where Running Room founder, John Stanton, gave me my medal. Now all I need to do is find a way to get that momentum to start 10km earlier.
Despite the heat, I was in reasonable shape after the race. Tired and sore, but not in danger of passing out, despite the heat.
After a ten or fifteen minute rest we picked up our bags and then caught a taxi home to spend the rest of the day lying on the bed reading – me, Stephen King’s Under the Dome, Ann, a book on marathon training.
My original plan was to go back into work on Monday but by then I was feeling pretty ill. Apparently I hadn’t drunk enough water post race and was pretty dehydrated. Thankfully, a couple of days lying on the sofa, reading and catching up on Hannibal, Defiance and Utopia was enough to get me back on my feet..
Now we’re spending a couple of weeks recovering before we pick the training back up for the Scotiabank Half Marathon in June. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve gone mad.
[The article 4:37:54 by Philip Harris originally appeared on Solitary Mindset on May 12th, 2013]