Note: Before you read this post, I may have to call bulls**t on myself. I received two running books in the mail today after scheduling this post: “Relentless Forward Progress: a guide to running ultramarathons” and “Born to Run.” So I’ll see you on the trails this summer …
May 1, 2011: a perfect day for a marathon in Vancouver.
Weeks ago in the midst of training I sent my boyfriend Chris a message that said “No matter what happens on May 1, this will be my last marathon for a while.”
It was absolutely gorgeous weather. We had a clear view of the north shore mountains and it wasn’t too hot.
I started out with a 6:10 first kilometre but knew it was a little fast and tried to slow it down. The 4:30 pace bunnies caught up to me within 3 k. I fell into step with them. I met someone from New York City and someone from Utah. We chatted as we ran. For someone used to running with a group, it was nice. I felt strong, I felt good. I felt like my goal time of 4:30 was well within reach.
I was momentarily clock-blocked by a homeless guy crossing the street somewhere in the downtown east side. I was rounding a corner and he was blithely crossing the street as if nothing unusual was going on that day. I just laughed and carried on running.
I was grateful for my fuel belt in Stanley Park because they ran out of cups for the water stations. I just refilled my water bottle. The other people around me were gulping straight from the jugs, and picking up used cups. Tsk tsk race organizers! Stanley Park is often the place where something goes wonky during the race, because it’s so hard for the organizers to get in there and replenish supplies after the race has started.
Coming out of Stanley Park my pace was faltering a bit but I really wanted to stay with the 4:30 pace bunny. Just before the Burrard Street Bridge Chris was there with his camera, fresh water bottles, encouraging words and a kiss. But as I turned to resume running I couldn’t spot the pace bunny group. I never did catch up.
The bridge wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Or rather – it was harder than I imagined? I couldn’t keep up my pace over the long elevation gain. I put on my music, but by the time I crossed I knew I was going to have a hard time achieving 4:30.
At 30k (the point that marked my longest training run) the hurt set in. Unlike my first marathon, there was no stabbing pain of muscles seizing up – it was just fatigue. I could feel my SI joint, my quads and calf muscles tightening. I felt like I was trying to run on wooden legs.
I had hit The Wall.
I took my last gel and kept going. A lot of the time I was grunting with effort. My pace dropped to about 7 minutes/kilometre and it seemed there was nothing I could do to step it up. I knew I had to run over the bridge again, but I knew it wasn’t as steep as I had imagined, so I would be OK.
I concentrated on my form and kept pushing, trying not to stop and walk. I imagined my legs being pulled up at each step, and that propelled me up to the bridge, which is at the 39 k mark. On my way down, I knew I was so close, that the pain would be over soon, that I was about to finish another marathon.
I started to cry.
That last 3k seemed really long, but suddenly there was the finish line and I heard my name being called. I cried even harder and tried to raise my arms in victory for the finish line camera. Sobbing, I walked through a line of volunteers handing out finisher medals and spotted a little girl.
“Can I have my finisher’s medal?” I asked. I think she was a bit scared because I was crying, but she handed it to me.
“Thanks sweetie!” I said, smiling as I put it around my own neck.
Then I went to find Chris, who was carrying the flask of Irish whiskey. It was the best finish ever.
I’m serious about the no more marathons pledge. The training takes up so much of my time and pretty much kills my social life. Plus, it’s HARD to run 42.2 k at a time. As in – painful, gruelling, grinding. It’s a long, long way to run.
Half marathons, on the other hand, are perfect. It only takes me about 2 hours to run 21.1 k – a nice morning’s run, and just hard enough to accomplish. The training is fun and it doesn’t kill my social life (which does include non-runners!). I still get a medal when I finish.
Last Sunday’s Vancouver Marathon was a great race to end this leg of my marathon journey.
Photo by Christopher Mackay