I rolled my left ankle at the end of the Burrard Bridge at 19 miles, and though I could run on it I turned the corner and decided to drop out of the Vancouver Marathon there.
It had already been a struggle. I did not sleep well at all that night, woke up at 1:30 after maybe 4 hours sleep and simply could not return to sleep before having to get up. I dressed for the race tired, (ironically) wanting to go back to bed, with various aches and pains around my body.
This was similar to 2018, where a lot of bad shit was happening with work (I left the job shortly after returning) and dealing with the fallout followed me to Vancouver. This time though, I had no such issue, and just have been struggling in general with sleep. I hadn’t slept particularly well the previous night, or any night since getting to Vancouver. The first two nights were okay, but the last three nights hadn’t been great (less than 6 hours each).
I enjoyed the trip to that point. The lack of heavy sleep hadn’t really bothered me, but not getting enough sleep prevented me from shedding the little aches and other issues that taper-rest should have eliminated. Going on my annual 7 mile exploratory run around Stanley Park on Thursday after I arrived probably didn’t help with recovery either.
I decided to make a point not to complain about it, that it could go better than expected, and many people have to deal with far worse. I was in a better place than 2018, and better equipped to handle it than I was then.
I would grind it out as far as I could. I wasn’t totally confident I could finish the marathon in my condition, but after everything to get to this point I felt I at least had to make the good faith effort to run it. At the very least, I wanted to get as far as Kitsilano, if for no other reason than I at least didn’t face a long walk back to base (like I did in 2018 when I pulled out at 5K and had to walk several miles through neighborhoods).
I also decided to bring my hydration pack, sans hydration. The bag could hold my Xact bars, a couple protein bars I decided to include, a shirt to change into. It allowed me to not forget anything without cramming or weighting down my fanny pack or pockets.
We had a lengthy delay to the start due to police activity on the route, and the marathon started about 9:15am (45 minutes late). That at least gave a good buffer of time to power nap a bit, use the port-a-potty without pressure, drink some extra fluid at the start line. I felt back and forth between being amped for the run, and exhausted wondering how the hell I was going to do this.
Once we were going, I was calm and steady. After a brief inexplicable heart rate spike into zone 5, my HR settled back into 147 bpm, and to my pleasant surprise stayed right there most of the way, through more than 3 hours of running. I did a really good job of adjusting and moderating my effort to the situation, even up the dreaded Camosun Hill and the long descent down the Marine Drive hill out of UBC.
I only stopped to walk at aid stations, and I took fluid at every one along the way. Turned out that after the 3rd aid station or so none of them were sering Nuun electrolyte fluid, only water. Whether they ran out, or mixing it was too much of a problem (I noticed the stations that did offer it were struggling badly to keep up with Nuun cups), they stopped offering it from the 3rd or 4th station all the way up. This created a big problem for a lot of runners, whether they knew it or not.
While fortunately the cloudy overcast had returned for the often sun-baked portion in Point Grey and Kitsilano, I was now struggling badly, and that 147bpm heart rate began climbing to 150. My stomach was also struggling to take on any more fuel (I had brought several Xact bars and took some offered on-course, having put down about 6 of them at this point plus one of the protein bars), the electrolyte deficiency from the course’s lack of Nuun making it harder to tolerate any more glucose. I got around this in 2019 by having 2 liters of electrolyte-rich Gatorade on my back, but no such luck here.
Sure enough, my energy levels collapsed hard around 25K, on top of the cumulative fatigue of grinding out a slow marathon effort on extended short sleep. It didn’t help that, to everyone’s surprise, the sun came out early in the race (at least for a while), which heated things up a bit more than expected and emptied everyone’s tanks a bit more quickly.
To my pleasant surprise I found open port-a-potties at 26K, earlier than expected (in 2019 I did not hit an open one until 28K in Kitsilano, right before the Burrard Bridge). I used it quickly and popped out with very little spring in my step. My Stryd readings showed throughout the race that I was holding 180’s, 190’s, low but easy, but now I was struggling to get out of the 160’s.
I had come-and-go nagging pains that had followed me for months showing up throughout the race. At one point my left hamstring felt like it was going to pull, but that went quickly away and didn’t recur. My right hamstring, that proximal tendon (opposite of the one that derailed me last year), both achilles tendons, parts of the soles of both my feet, were randomly squawking here and there throughout the run, and in some ways it felt like I was holding everything together by a few carefully managed threads.
This whole marathon I soldiered with the sense that it would be something to go in with all this working against me and still someone find it in me to finish. But even the motivation of that had faded like the earlier sunshine well before the Bridge.
Onlookers here in Vancouver are great about cheering you on, and you get the sense of not wanting to let them down. That was probably the biggest reason I never slowed to a walk before 28K (even then it was to sit down and get a rock out of one of my shoes).
I decided I would get across the Burrard Bridge and head towards Stanley Park before re-assessing on finishing. The Bridge made the decision for me.
I decided to charge up the bridge at speed, passing dozens of bonked runners walking up the bridge. I actually did a solid job with effort and pace. The effort however could not undo how tapped I was feeling. The potty stop did bring my heart rate back down, but the fatigue was a growing monster I had already been carrying for a couple hours.
I crossed the 30K timing mat, wondering exactly how much I had left for the final 7 miles and whether I had enough to finish, when I stepped on what’s called a Botts’ Dot.
Those dots on lane markers in the road are called Botts’ Dots. Canadian roads don’t have many of them (it snows in Canada a lot, and plowing over them is impractical), but on the Burrard Bridge a few reflective dots are interspersed on lane markings along the road. I stepped on one near the north end of the southbound lanes and rolled my left ankle (supinated).
I quickly recovered and kept running. It felt weird for a couple steps, but I was able to keep going with no other distress and turn the corner onto Pacific. However, everything else I mentioned above, multiple doubts about being able to make it, now were combined with knowing I had just rolled my ankle and though I could run on it adrenaline may be masking any issue with it. I said enough.
I found an empty space on the south sidewalk of Pacific, stepped off the roadway and stopped my watch just a bit over 19 miles. I sat down and pulled off my bag and singlet. It was not a hard decision. Maybe the ankle felt okay now, maybe I could hold up as it was. But for another 7.3 miles? In my condition? And if I had to drop out in Stanley Park, there was no way out of there other than the miles of seawall in either direction? It didn’t seem worth the risk, and again by this point finishing the race felt more like an afterthought than a goal.
So there you go. The Burrard Bridge delivered the knockout punch at mile 19. I felt good about going 19 miles in the condition I was in. A lot of runners wouldn’t have even started in the shape I was in. I didn’t just run out 19 but stayed consistent in effort throughout, even as fatigue hit me hard coming out of UBC and going through Point Grey. To get that far was in itself an accomplishment, even if the record will show a DNF after 30K.
The ankle didn’t feel bad at all, but I took it slow walking under the bridge and back up Burrard Street to my hotel, which was fortunately only a few blocks away. I didn’t have to do much to stay slow and easy: Everything hurt. I was tapped out. What had been passing pain in my achilles now became clear, stiff soreness in both tendons. My right hamstring ached. Other things probably hurt too, but it was hard to notice. If anything, my ankle ironically was one of the things that didn’t seem to hurt much at all. But even after 19 miles, I was as totally beaten as if I had run the whole thing. I may recover a bit more quickly than if I had run it all, but I still need some downtime.
Overall, it wasn’t the best training cycle. Turned out there was a lot I hadn’t done as well as I should have, challenges came up that made it hard to stay on track, the run-up to the race in itself had a variety of issues (I didn’t even get into the complications with the Canadian COVID travel restrictions and what I did or didn’t need to do to enter the country, never minding the airport test), and then back-end insomnia screwed up my fitness for the race itself. In-race complications didn’t help, but I was already battling leading into the race itself.
So, in a way, this was just the cherry on top of a weird cake that fell apart. I think about how it would have gone had I stuck to the original Higdon-style training plan, but my complications with the long runs as it warmed up probably would have derailed those more than they did with the training I had done. And I wouldn’t have had as much volume, plus the scheduling might have overtrained or burned me out before race-day. I probably salvaged quite a bit changing things the way i did, even though the end result was still far from perfect.
That said, the classic post-marathon “never again” feeling only lasted about 18 hours. I feel like Vancouver Revenge Tour in 2023 is necessary, to even the series at 2 wins apiece. Vancouver beat me in 2018. I beat Vancouver in 2019, and Vancouver beat me again this year. I now have improved training knowledge (which came far too late this time around), which should make a 2023 effort go far better.
Still, I wonder if there’s a tug of war on these Vancouver visits between the marathon itself, and actually enjoying a vacation in Vancouver. I did try to take it easy in the days before, but the city and where I’m staying just requires so much walking everywhere. I couldn’t log less than 5-6 miles walking a day without spending too much on taxi rides or being a hermit in general (plus I had to go to the Expo to get my bib, of course). In Vegas, even with work break and lunch walks, I only log about 2-4 miles walking on weekdays. I had forgotten how much more walking I did in Chicago. While walking in Vancouver was normal compared to life in Chicago, it was a lot more stressful on my body than everyday life in Vegas, where people drive everywhere.
As much as I like staying at The Burrard, turns out it’s a bit out of the way from places I’ve visited more often in Vancouver. I’m often walking a mile each way or more. Again, living in Chicago the long walks weren’t so different from the usual, but now it actually kind of added to the stress (and yes, it’s probably part of why I couldn’t recover before race day). It’s not like I’m getting a discount staying at The Burrard either (plus while the hotel itself is nice, the surrounding area admittedly is a bit sketchy). So maybe next time I need to bite the bullet and get a room at a nice Downtown hotel closer to where I’m going.
Though I had considered running another marathon this fall, I think I have enough other things I want to improve fitness-wise that I’ll shove that idea aside. And of course, I’m in no hurry to go through the training and the pain of running a marathon again this year, in a potentially warmer and less vacation friendly environment. I’d also have to burn off the rest of my work vacation time, which could create a problem if something came up where I’d want/need to use it.
I want to get back to strength training, and rebuild my base run fitness from scratch, which is real hard to work on when marathon training. I also need to clean up my diet, and not having to pound calories to fuel training will help a lot with slimming down. I also have Vegas races in the fall I like running too, so not coming off a marathon training cycle will help those go a lot better.
So, I’ve got a couple more days in Vancouver before heading back to the Vegas oven. I have enjoyed the cooler, cloudy and sometimes rainy weather. Summer’s not really fun no matter where I am, so can’t exactly rue the imminent arrival of another summer in Vegas when it’s probably also uncomfortably hot elsewhere. I’ve got some errands and similar to attend to when I get back, not to mention needing to rest and heal up overall. So we’ll see after that what’s driving me next.