Sunday, June 26th, marked the 13th annual Scotiabank Vancouver Half-Marathon, and my first half marathon in 6 years!! Yup, that's right, 6 years. Has it felt like 6 years? Not at all; at least not until the race started...
16 weeks ago I decided that it was high time I ran another road race, so I began training for a half marathon. But you know how it is - things get in the way, life gets busy, blah, blah, blah, and those missed training runs here and there suddenly start to really add up. This was the case for me this spring. I manage to do most of the short distance training; I usually ran at least 2 days per week, but some of the runs were on the treadmill (which I find doesn't prep the body for the wear and tear of the road in the same way that actually running on the road does) and others were short and sweet. Not to mention, I've been spending so much time training on my bike, that my running time has suffered as a result. Lately, if asked if I'd rather run or ride, 9 times out of 10, I'll choose the bike in a heartbeat.
So when Friday's race package pickup day arrived, I figured I'd run anyway, even though I wasn't really as prepared as I should have been. I had already paid the race fee, right? And I am in pretty good shape, so I honestly thought, what the heck? I'll take it easy, aim to finish the race with no time goal in mind, and set a baseline to improve on for next time. Then I went for far too long of a bike ride on Saturday, when I probably should have been sitting at home resting my legs for the 21.2km run that was to take place bright and early Sunday morning. And still, Sunday morning I woke up at 5am excited to run.
I have always been a solo runner. Over the years, I've tried various clinics and running groups, always to return to my preferred style of running alone, but for this race, my sister-in-law and I decided to run it together. We had never run together before, but seemed to both be equally unprepared and thought we could keep each other motivated, or at least moving towards the finish line. We arrived at the start a full hour early, which gave us lots of time to use the washroom, stretch, and take in the atmosphere. When the gun sounded, we started off at a comfortable pace, armed with a plan to run for 4 minutes/ walk for 1 minute, and repeat the intervals for as long as we could.
When we passed the 5km sign, and my watch said 34:00+ minutes, I knew it was going to be a long run, but we both felt good, so we stuck to the plan. The kilometer markers slowly crept behind us as we made our way out of the University of British Columbia campus and down the hill to the ocean. 8km, 10km, 12km, 13km, each uneventfully went by while we plugged along. Just after the 13km marker there was a slight uphill from Jericho beach and my legs started to feel the lack of distance and road running in my training. By the top of the hill, my upper quads were so sore, I had to stop briefly to stretch. 14km marked the "goo" station, where we quickly refueled and started off again. 15km, 16km, 17km passed. My legs were definitely sore, and my feet were swelling with the heat and the distance, but by this point we had 4km left to go! Easy peasy, right? Think again.
For many inexperienced or first time half-marathon runners, 18km can bring the "wall" or the exhaustion phase. I wasn't quite there yet, but I was close, and we were about to tackle the toughest part of the run: the Burrard Street bridge. I can't count how many times I've run over this bridge in various races, but it's ALWAYS a struggle, even on a 10km race. Add that on this course it's near the end, when the legs simply don't have the energy left to go uphill anymore. A few supporters held up motivational signs as we neared the bridge, "Stop reading, keep running," "Your legs will forgive you," and my personal favorite, "Your feel hurt because you're kicking so much ass!" Hey, a little smile goes a long way when you're tired.
Earlier in the run, we had discussed walking the entire uphill portion of the bridge, then running the downhill section, but once we started the climb, we decided to run 2 minutes/walk 2 minutes. Before we knew it, the bridge was behind us, we were at the 19km mark, and the finish line was well within reach. The sidewalks were getting more crowded with supporters, some of which had run themselves and returned to the front lines to cheer on their fellow athletes, others there to support loved ones. It's amazing how a few words of encouragement, even from a complete stranger, can keep you going!
Finally Stanley Park, and the finish line, was within sight. We picked up our pace a little bit, even though my legs were screaming at me to stop. Then I heard one of the most encouraging things I had heard all morning, from a runner standing on the side of the road. "100 meters to go ladies!" he screamed, and all of my pain and exhaustion slipped away as I focused on the only thing that mattered: crossing the finish line.
All in all it was a successful race. My official "chip" time was 2:34:13, by far the slowest time I have ever had in a half marathon, and a full 40 minutes slower than my PB of 1:54:09 from 2004. But this race was different. For the first time ever, I hadn't gone in with any expectation or goal for time. I simply wanted to cross the finish line, and complete the race strong enough that I would want to run another one in the next 6 months.
So would I do it again? Definitely. But I think next time I'll train a lot more, rest the day before, and be ready to shave some serious minutes off that 2:34:13 chip time. Until then, I have other races to complete!