Philip HarrisRunningLeave a Comment

I learned a valuable race-prep lesson on Friday. Take a taxi to the bus station when you’re travelling to Victoria with a heavy suitcase.

We didn’t.

Instead, we opted for the more ecologically sound choice of public transport. Unfotunately the transport in question was a small bus and as I was trying to drag the suitcase onboard, I strained my back. It was just a slight twinge and I didn’t think much of it at the time but once we got to Victoria, I could feel the ache in my back. Not something you want to happen two days before a marathon.

Friday was spent checking into the hotel, picking up our race package and wandering around the expo grabbing free samples. We also picked up a heat pack for my back and I spent the evening wondering whether it would be enough to solve the problem.

It wasn’t. Our Saturday morning pre-race jog was fine, but I could feel the tenseness in my back and that was after only 3km. It seemed overly optimistic that I’d be able to complete a full 42.2km marathon.

The Victoria Marathon has an excellent speaker programme on the Saturday and after a leisurely breakfast and a trip to Rexall to get a heat wrap for my back, we settled down for a relaxing few hours. The highlight was definitely Dick Beardsley. Neither of us knew who he was and as he was the last speaker of the day, we almost skipped him and went for lunch. Luckily, we weren’t particularly hungry thanks to that leisurely breakfast I mentioned earlier.

It turns out Beardsley is an amazing speaker with an amazing story. He’s famous within running circles for his 1982 showdown with Alberto Salazar at the Boston Marathon and he started off his talk by showing some clips from the race that got everyone fired up (even those who knew the end result).

With the mood suitably set, he left those of us who didn’t know his story hanging and described his unlikely transition from farm boy to marathon runner. Along the way he broke pretty much every rule in the running book, even going so far as to run a marathon with no training, brand new shoes and after five days of fasting. He came seventh and won a bowling trophy with the bowling ball broken off. Then he moved on to the fateful race against Salazar and put those of us who didn’t know the result out of our misery – he lost by 1.6 seconds.

That in itself was an entertaining story and if he’d stopped there we’d have left the room happy. But he didn’t. He went on to describe a series of literally bone shattering accidents that led to multiple surgeries, an addiction to painkillers, excruciating attempts at withdrawal and the battle against addiction that he fights, even now, after seventeen years of sobriety.

The standing ovation the room gave him was a fitting end to the afternoon.

Buoyed by Beardsley’s amazing story, I then went and tried to ruin everything by tripping on a step on our way to lunch. Somehow my hands came away unscathed but I bruised my knee and wrenched my ankle. Throw in a tender back and it was not looking good for the race. After we’d eaten, I decided to get a pre-race massage at the race expo in the hope that it would help ease my back. The masseur adjusted my spine slightly, then gave me a surprisingly aggressive massage. I felt better afterwards but couldn’t help but wonder whether my now-bruised muscles would rebel once I was running the marathon.

Then it was time to head back to our hotel for a quiet evening of reading (and to be honest, napping). On my part there was also a significant amount of wondering whether my injuries would affect the race and when I woke up in the morning, the soreness in my lower back did not bode well. But, after some judicious use of a heat wrap and A535 rub, we headed out to the start line.

Sunrise on Marathon Day

Sunrise on Marathon Day

The weather was perfect, clear skies and cool, despite the 8:45 start. While we were doing a few warm-up runs and waiting for washrooms, we met a friend of mine from my day job who was there running his first marathon. He’s a lot quicker than me so he started nearly the front of the pack but it was good to see him and wish him luck.

Around 8:30 we headed out to the start line and took up our position halfway between the 4 hour and 4 hour 30 markers. We were aiming for a 4 hour 15 time, but with the state of my back so uncertain I would be happy with any improvement over my previous best of 4:37:54.

And then we were off. It was a fairly slow start, we were in the middle of a pretty big pack, which feels frustrating but is probably a very good thing. It stops you going out too fast and acts as a warm-up. The pack soon spread out though, the early stages of the race take place on wide streets so there’s plenty of room.

We were trying a different pacing strategy this year. We split the race into three – a 10km phase at training pace, a 22km phase at a faster pace and then the final 10km at whatever we could manage. For the first 3-4 kilometers, I could feel my back, nothing serious, just a dull ache to remind me it was there. But as the race wore on it eased up (or other aches and pains took over). My ankle made itself felt a few times during those early kilometers as well but it too eased off and by the time we hit the 10km mark I was feeling pretty good. We were also right on pace, completing that first 10km in 59 minutes 18 seconds.

Our plan had us completing the first half of the race in 2:03 which seemed optimistic given that my best time for a half marathon is just over 2 hours and the last half marathon I ran was a 2:02. But, we hit the halfway point at 2:02:46 and I was still feeling good, certainly a lot better than when I ran the Scotiabank Half Marathon in June.

A few kilometers beyond the 21.1km mark we saw my friend from work heading in the other direction. He was looking strong, and very distinctive in his steampunk running shirt.

The next milestone for us was the 32km mark where we’d be able to ease off the pace. It couldn’t come soon enough. Although I was feeling a lot stronger than previous years, it’s all relative. My legs were beginning to tighten and every hill we hit seemed steeper and tougher than I remembered. That said, I was doing much better with my nutrition. That’s always been my achilles heal and despite dropping half of my supply of “gummies” I was doing a pretty good job of taking in water and carbs.

When we finally hit the 32km marker we were a couple of minutes behind our goal pace but still well within our time from last year and our personal best. As always, that final 10km was a constant battle of wills between the lumps of concrete that had somehow wrapped themselves around my legs and my desire to finish the race as quickly as possible.

But the training had done its job and I was able to push myself harder than I have ever done before. In the past, the limiting factor has been my breathing and trying not to throw up, this year the challenge was the pain in my legs. Somehow that’s more manageable. We take one minute walk breaks every ten minutes or so (extending them out to two or three minutes towards the end of the race) and it’s the first few seconds after those rests when your legs are seizing up that are the hardest. If you can push through that, the rest really does help. Still, when my watch beeped for the last time, with less than 3km to go, I made the executive decision to push on.

When you hit the final few hundred meters of the race, the crowd and the sound of the announcer calling out statistics creates a burst of energy that carries you last last stretch and leaves you wondering why you couldn’t have done that earlier in the race. Sure enough, with 200 meters to go it all suddenly seemed really easy and I crossed the line feeling very happy.

My wife is a faster runner than I am but for some reason insists on running with me so despite my halfhearted attempts at shaking her off, we both crossed the finish line at the same time – 4 hours 18 minutes and 25 seconds after we started. Then, tired but elated, we began the slow journey to collect our medals, chocolate milk and snacks before heading (also slowly) back to the hotel for a hot bath and a sleep. We did manage to drag ourselves out for a walk in the sunshine and a meal but then it was back to the hotel for more sleep.

I’m writing this on the ferry back to Vancouver on the Monday after the race and I’m feeling good. Sure, my legs are sore, my arms ache and I walk in a strange waddling gait for the first few steps after I stand up but we knocked 23 minutes off last year’s time and 19 off our personal best and that’s a great result – definitely a good indication that the Hansons Marathon Method is working for us.

Now we get to spend a couple of weeks recovering and then it’s back to the training for the Fall Classic Half Marathon in November.

[4:18:25 by Philip Harris first appeared on Solitary Mindset on 17th October 2013]

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