I made it, guys. A long, brutal slog with a fast finish ended in 5:21:40, and the Vancouver Marathon Revenge Tour is complete.
Any amount of heat above 60 degrees makes running a challenge. Even at an otherwise mild 64 degrees, the temperature, extra humidity (it had been cloudy the previous week) and abundant sunshine made 42.3km (the Vancouver course is a hair longer than the required 42.195k distance) a brutal struggle.
I was not by any means racing for speed in this marathon. After the setbacks of the previous couple of marathons, I had two goals for this race….
1) Finish the race. The Revenge Tour was not about getting a little closer to finishing than I did before. I came back here to finish what I didn’t in 2018.
2) Run every inch of the distance. No walking. Stopping for quick potty breaks and other maintenance was OK, so long as I did not walk any length of the course. Again, after having my previous marathon efforts derailed, it was important to me that (however slowly I needed to) I run the entire course wire to wire.
2 for 2, mission accomplished. The only blip was that I stopped for a restroom break at 28.5k, but immediately began running again right where I had stepped off course to access the port-a-john. I ran every inch of the course, some parts obviously faster than others.
With my longest peak-period training run not even hitting 18 miles, I knew the later miles would be brutal, and given my trained fitness I could not run this marathon at marathon-race pace. I had to go easy, and right out of the chute I ran by feel and kept it manageably easy… especially with my 2 liter hydration pack and other supplies adding a few extra pounds (and seconds per mile).
Still, I peeled off the first 5K in 34:08. The 2nd 5K (despite having to climb Camosun Street in that 5K) and 10-15K were both in the 34:50s. Parts of the 3rd 5K stretch even felt quick and fairly easy. This suggested a sub-5 marathon despite pretty much easy-running the marathon.
But I knew the other shoe would drop as the abundant sun, lack of cover, training gap for the final miles, and marathon fatigue all took their toll. I also was throwing water on me at every aid station (sipping a bit of it beforehand) to cool me off, and with that sinking into my clothes and hair I imagine it added a bit of weight over time.
The top of UBC around km’s 16-19 were indeed where I began to flag. My stomach’s digestion of my Gatorade began to slow. If not for the coconut Larabar I brought for exactly this occasion, I might have bonked hard before Stanley Park. I knew solid food would aid digestion in the middle kilos and help extend my glycogen reserves. I ate half of it in UBC, and parts of the remaining bar during the Kitsilano stretch.
I don’t murder my quads on downhills like the steep descent out of UBC because I train to rely on my glutes for power and shock absorption in all my running, not to mention extended downhills like this. My quads felt just fine at the bottom of the course’s last big downhill. Even now as I write this, they’re just a little stiff.
Once I got to the bottom and began the middle-race slog through Point Grey and Kitsilano, that’s when the heat and fatigue really began to hit. Again, I know what bonking feels like and I certainly didn’t bonk. But the combination of the effort on the hills with the abundant sun and seaside humidity (plus a timely lack of a breeze) began to wear me out. With a stomach more and more reluctant to digest liquid there was only so much Gatorade and water I could take in.
On this race I had three modes, or more specifically levels of effort. Cruise. Surge. Grind.
– Cruise is what you usually do on a regular easy run. This is the one mode where no conscious effort is required.
– Surge of course is an added effort, whether to move past somebody or to give yourself a little extra gas in a tough spot where needed.
– Grind is where you hit a tough stretch and you just give a steady deliberate effort to work through it.
The first 8-9 km were all cruise. Camosun Hill of course required all grind. Surges occasionally came in here and there.
But once I tired coming down from UBC at 19K-21K, everything from there until the Burrard Bridge at 29K was pretty much all grind. Keeping myself going at any speed was the only focus.
Shortly after my port-a-john break and the subsequent turns, the Burrard Bridge caught me by pleasant surprise. Even with its lengthy incline, this is where I knew the race turned from meandering grind to the more colorful end-game around Stanley Park. I knew we entered Stanley Park almost exactly at mile 20, and the race was approaching its end. (Plus the aid station that served bananas was shortly after the bridge)
As other runners slowed to an exhausted walk at the sight of the incline, turning that corner woke me up and (while still tired and slow) I found another wind and began sliding past runner after runner. I believe I peeled off the next several kilos at under 7:00, far faster than the pace on my previous exhausted Point Grey to Kitsilano grind. This wasn’t a surge, but my cruise was definitely quicker than it was before.
Eventually the gas gave way to fumes as we got into Stanley Park and my body reminded me that I’d been running for over 20 miles. The entire lengthy circuit through the park was more of a grind than I would have liked, but I semi-expected it at this stage of the race.
Meanwhile, most of the other runners around me had either slowed to a tired walk, or would run for a bit before giving way to a tired walk. I was slowly passing runner after runner, as well as a few annoying ones who would run past shortly thereafter, only for me to pass them again after they slowed to a walk, and then repeat after they resumed running.
These kilometers felt long, and on occasion I took in what (now warm) Gatorade I could, though by this point my stomach was done digesting anything until I came to a stop.
I knew as we passed under the lighthouse and caught sight of Coal Harbour that the end was still deceptively far, another 3K away. You see the mainland and think you’re almost there, not realizing it requires a good deal more traveling to get to the final turns at Denman.
But the turns eventually came, with a sign denoting the final kilometer. The finish line is such a distance from the veer onto Pender’s subtle uphill finish that you don’t really catch sight of the line for a few moments. But there it evetually was, and once I knew I was close enough to finish such a thing I gave it my usual final sprint to the finish.
I’m a bit sheepish about my 5:21:40, despite having run the entire way, being so close to the 5:25 or so in my hiccup-derailed Chicago Marathon, where I had to stop and/or walk so much due to the breathing problems. But I also made no effort to fully race this marathon, whereas at Chicago I was running at 4:10 pace and attempting to race it before the hiccups struck. This was an easy distance run all the way, even if the final half of it wasn’t at all easy.
Mostly, I’m thrilled that after derailed marathons in 2018 I finished this one without a hitch, especially after my peak training period got somewhat derailed due to an unexpected strain of the flu. I was ready to run Sunday no matter what, and I did a good job making sure to stay within my means instead of trying to run a race I wasn’t prepared to run.
I am sore, though not terribly weary, thanks to sleeping and eating a lot after the race. I’m going to enjoy Vancouver for the next couple days, and then head back to Chicago for another week or two of rest before a four week semi-recovery cycle of training. After that… I’m running the Chicago Marathon again this October.