Last weekend I traveled to Vancouver to run the First Half(-marathon) 21K. I had a good time, though everything was a bit rushed and compressed on a 3 day trip instead of the usual week or so I take for the marathon in May (which I’m still doing this year).
Still, as messy as last May’s trip was with corona restrictions and testing, plus my sleep problems and DNF mishap at mile 19… this trip flipped the script. It went as smoothly as I could have hoped.
I knew I wasn’t in racing shape for the half, so I just ran it out as a long supported workout. I felt good about the run, though I haven’t been that sore after a race since the Chicago Marathon. I was waddling for the rest of the day, and fortunately felt better enough to haul my bags to the airport just fine the next morning.
I tried a few things during my recent trip. This might have had a bit to do with why I was so sore afterward for reasons I’ll get into. But I took this trip in large part as a test run for May’s marathon trip, right down to staying at the same hotel and flying in on the same day/time of the week.
Rather than get to Vancouver a few days earlier like prior marathons, I decided to get there closer to the Sunday race and fly in on Friday. I think part of my prior issues stemmed from having too much time in Vancouver before the race, and the distraction of the upcoming race made it harder to enjoy my time there, not to mention milling around Vancouver didn’t allow for a lot of rest before the race.
However, I also decided that instead of trying harder to take it easy and conserve energy, this time I’d not worry so much about rest. In fact, a shakeout run I had planned for the Friday after flying in got pushed back to Saturday early morning the day before the race. So after weeks of buffering my long runs with off days, I got to see how I handled running 3 miles the morning before a long race.
Could that have been why I was so sore? In part, possibly, but the half is also a demanding distance in itself. And another factor mentioned later might have contributed as well. But more so, I actually felt fresher and more relaxed on race day than prior instances. I wonder if the higher activity also helped me sleep better overall.
I do like the decision to fly in right before, even if it made this whole short trip feel a bit abrupt. We’ll see about the timing in May, but coming in closer to the race didn’t seem so bad.
I packed as light as possible. I always want to avoid checking bags. Knowing the Canadian airlines can be strict about carry-on sizing, I even went out last week and bought a smaller travel backpack for the trip. I had replaced my backpack a couple months before, but at 17 inches long it’s slightly too long for personal item status, and its sturdy foam construction makes squishing it down to compliance unworkable. The bag I bought was specially measured at 16 inches, the max length for personal items. My carry-on duffel of course is soft sided and light, and I only packed clothes and my running shoes for the race, so that was no problem.
I want to also note that, before this trip, I applied/interviewed for and got Global Entry, which comes with TSA Precheck. Along with having a clean background, the $100 fee for me was trivial in return for 5 years of being able to bypass long security lines, even if you still have to wait in some (much shorter) lines.
When interviewing with TSA for Global Entry, they did note that even though you get a pass, you’re also scrutinized a lot more closely whenever you are scanned or searched, that many more little things can get you flagged than in the normal lines, especially if you’re ever searched in customs. With the latter, mis-declaring or not declaring relevant items in your possession at customs can get you in hot water with Global Entry and Precheck.
Given this, as a trial run I didn’t bring toiletries or any vitamins with me on this trip. On domestic trips I’d often bring a baggie of enough days worth of daily vitamins. But CBSA in Canada specifies any vitamins brought over the border along with being declared has to be in its original packaging. Wanting to pack light, I didn’t want to risk having to check a bag because I packed a carry on with multiple jars (plus I avoid carrying jars when traveling in general because the lids like to randomly pop open and spill everything in transit).
The toiletries wasn’t so much an experiment: The hotels in Canada are great about supplying ample amounts of shampoo and soap in the room, so bringing my own isn’t necessary. All you usually need to figure out is toothpaste.
(Incidentally, my dad while driving me to the airport told me that when he travels for work he never brings toiletries. He and his coworkers always buy theirs when they get to the work city, then toss out what they don’t use. Though a bit wasteful, it’s much easier.)
The supplements though was a bigger step. As I recently discussed, I take a fairly loaded stack. I didn’t expect crazy withdrawal symptoms, but I was curious to see how my body responded during the weekend without them, especially during and after the race. I wanted to see how I slept, and with Cronometer tracking see what kind of nutrient profile I had without any supplementation. Plus, once I got back home, I wanted to see the effect once I resumed the supplements.
I found I still woke up overnight, and yes some of that’s confounded by sleeping in a different environment (though there wasn’t much noise). However, I didn’t have trouble getting to or staying asleep during the trip. I woke up for the half marathon probably better rested than I’ve been for the previous marathons. A key reason I supplement is to help me sleep better, so it’s interesting that I was able to sleep fine without them. Maybe I couldn’t long ago, but evidently I was able to now. Again, there could be other confounding reasons: All the walking and running possibly helped me sleep, the food in Vancouver (though on past trips eating the same food I struggled a lot to sleep), staying in a different hotel.
Speaking of that last one, I changed hotels for the first time in a while. I still like my old hotel, but the location was simply too far away from the places I usually needed to go. I stayed in the West End, much closer to my usual spots. Only having to walk a few blocks instead of a full mile each way probably made a huge difference, even though I was still walking quite a bit.
I always buy distilled water in Canada when I arrive. During my longer visits, I just buy a couple 4L (~1 gallon) bottles and then play by ear if/when I need to buy more. But visiting only 3 days this time, I knew one bottle would not be enough but wasn’t sure if I could get through two before flying out. I’d rather not pour several liters down the drain. I also didn’t bring a water bottle, again wanting to pack light.
So back at the hotel I made sure to drink water in 10 ounce doses however often I reasonably thought to do so. If I woke up at night and felt at all dry, I got up and slammed some water. I had to brew coffee on race morning and the morning I flew back to Vegas, which helped me use some as well.
I ended up drinking about 7 liters of the distilled water, only having about 1/5 of the 2nd bottle left when it was time to go (and pouring this down the drain wasn’t all that troubling). While I noticed I had better energy in general, some of that’s confounded by being on vacation in a place I like, and being at sea level in cool conditions with better oxygen. However, it’s possible the extra effort to drink enough water is a key reason I slept better. A lot of the food in Vancouver I like is high-sodium, and the water becomes more important when you eat like that.
I also made sure to eat roughly the same afternoon and evening meals. Sure, I always have ramen and sushi when I’m in Vancouver. But previously I’d flip the order at random. This time, each day I had ramen in the afternoon, and sushi in the evening closer to bed. I only had a breakfast on Saturday morning, the only totally free day I had during the short trip. The other days I had a protein bar or similar due to time constraints (including race day).
I also avoided buying a plethora of snack foods. What I did buy was just a safety valve in case I woke up overnight starving or similar. I got a couple packages of beef jerky (well, actually bison jerky), and a bag of avocado oil kettle chips. I only needed to eat something overnight the first night I was there, and otherwise I had to pound the rest of the snacks after the race and on my return day. They worked fine when needed, and thankfully weren’t really needed. I had eaten well during my meals otherwise.
Even though I had brought my Topo Hydroventure wet-weather shoes, and it was raining a bit on race day, I rolled the dice on wearing my regular Topo ST-4’s during the race. They didn’t get terribly wet during 2.5 hours running in the recurring drizzle, and while hopefully I won’t need to do it again this year I see that they can probably handle running in the rain.
Incidentally, the half marathon itself was of the least concern, though I decided after mostly easy long runs in recent training to try and maintain a more moderate effort for the entire race. This effort actually turned out to be much easier for me aerobically, as sea level air is oxygen rich, the rainy weather was quite cool, and the course was mostly flat. It was the cumulative fatigue in my bones/joints/muscles that eventually compelled me to slow down a bit around halfway and just run it out.
The only fuel I took in during the race was an Xact Nutrition sugar cube around mile 8. My energy levels were pretty even throughout, so perhaps minimal food before the race and waiting about 90 minutes into the race to take any fuel wasn’t a bad idea this time around. However, right after the race I was eager to pound whatever processed snacks they had at the finish line, so for the marathon I’ll probably still fuel earlier and more often than I did here.
I eased back into supplements and my normal diet once I returned to Vegas. I haven’t noticed a huge difference other than I’m sleeping somewhat better in familiar territory. My soreness is about 75-80% gone, and what remains is a bit noticeable when I walk or run at length. My Garmin told me after the race to rest 3.5 days, and given how I felt afterward I decided to respect that (which would require resting until tonight). My plan from this week is to strength train tomorrow and then run a normal workout Friday, with an abbreviated long run Sunday, before going back to normal volume.
I probably could say more on this, but overall the things I tried went fine and this trip went far better than prior trips in terms of logistics and how I felt.