Note: This is a crazy-long race report! If you are only interested in entering to win 24 (!!) packets of GU energy gel, scroll to the bottom. Otherwise, buckle your seatbelt and hang on.
For Marathon Number 10 for me, I wanted something special. The Paris Marathon (ooh-la-la!) seemed too extravagant for our family finances, yet going international felt right. So I recruited my Portland bestie, Molly, to train and run the Vancouver Marathon: It allowed us to get out of the country, yet we could drive and remain in our own time zone. Perfecto! (That’s foreign-speak for, “perfect.”) Yet training got off to a rough start for me: a slight flare-up of plantar fasciitis had me sit out the first few weeks of training, then a sudden knee issue kept me sidelined for 10 days about a month later. I had serious doubts I’d ever be standing on the start line.
Yet that’s exactly where Molly and I were hustling toward on Sunday morning, under a dazzling sun unfiltered by any clouds. The sun had been up since 5 a.m. here in these northern climes, and it felt hot as the 8 a.m. start neared. If we had paid attention to metric conversion in grade school—or could access Google on our U.S. phones—we would have known the exact temperature. In our badass mother runner tanks and shorts (Molly) or capris (me, with the chafe-prone inner thighs), it already felt warm, around 60 degrees. Nearly half of my marathons have been under unrelenting sun, so I knew I had to adjust my pace. (I’d also heard Jeff Galloway tell the ladies at the Disney Princess half: Slow down by 30 seconds a mile for every 5 degrees above 60 degrees Farenheit.)
Truth be told: I was pleased to have an “excuse” to back off my pace. I’d trained to run 9:00-9:10 minute/miles (don’t ask me what that converts to in kilometers) but mentally I wasn’t up for the task—or the hurt. Keeping the hammer down for 26.2 miles takes courage/fortitude/determination/heart/stomach/balls, and a whole bunch of other qualities (or body parts) I hadn’t packed in my rolling dufflebag. On our 3-mile shake-out run along the waterfront on Saturday, my knee, calves, and foot had felt better than they had in months. The taper had worked its magic, and I felt well trained. I just lacked the fire in my belly. Here’s the God’s honest: I’m weary of feeling competitive and keeping an eye on the race clock. I just wanted to run at a challenging pace, learn a few new things about myself, groove to my playlist, and enjoy what promised to be an exquisitely beautiful, albeit too sunny, course.
There, I said it here. And as I fiddled with my iPod and Garmin in the starting corral, Molly intuited my mood. (Sorry: Italics for inside joke. “Intuitive” was my word of the weekend.) Molly wrapped an arm around my shoulders, saying how much she’d enjoyed our training runs and now we just needed to go out and have a fun race. I tried to let her mood rub off on me like her SPF 30 sunscreen had during the embrace, but I felt grumpy as we crossed the starting mat. I tried to swat away my mood with a few high-5s with race officials, but I felt glum for the first few miles.
Trying to stay with Molly as we dodged slower racers (we’d started too far back in the corrals) only added to my bum mood. We’d agreed to run separately eventually, but even sticking together for a kilometer or two seemed like work, especially since our badass tanks were the same royal blue as the race tees: Whenever I’d swivel my head to look for Molly, I thought I spied her 10 times before I actually picked her out of the crowd. She also set off at a faster-than-I’d-planned warm-up pace: I was aiming for 9:30-9:40, but she was closer to 9:10. I let her go, and turned inward to my tunes. The buoyant melody of “Telling the World” by Taio Cruz went a long way in putting me in a better mental space: It reminded me I was running in a different country. (World/country: It’s how my mind works when staring down a hefty challenge.)
As I continued paying perhaps more attention to my music than the homes, shopping center, flowers, and foliage we were passing in the early miles, I could feel my negative attitude start to dissipate. Then, while “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors played (thanks to whatever mother runner suggested that song—it ‘s now a new fave for me), I felt a distinct shift in my visual and mental focus. It was as if I had twisted the zoom on a camera lens, and my attention was beamed in front of me. It’s a zen state I have honed on long runs: I still feel and see things, but miles can go by without having to think about much. Hard to explain, but I’m both in the moment and out of it. I could sense that Molly was no longer near me in the crowd; it was time to run my own race. Florence + The Machines echoed this sentiment right about then on my playlist: “And I am done with my graceless heart/So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart.” I shook it out.
As the kilometres clicked by, I rarely looked down at my Garmin Forerunner 210. I pushed myself harder than in a training run, but not to the point I had when I was trying to qualify for Boston. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d put it at a 7. Molly and I had driven a good bit of the course, which gave me a comforting, if vague, sense of where I was. Like I knew to save my strength for the long climb from 9K to 10K. As all hills go, it wasn’t super-slanty, but as a hill on a marathon course, it was steep and long. It was the first of many spots along the lovely course that many racers around me slowed to a walk.
I paid careful attention to fueling—taking in a GU at least every four miles (while the course was marked in Ks, the water stations were every mile, ideal for this American)—and drank more than I normally would. But the heat and sun were taxing, making a slower pace feel as challenging as my usual race pace. Around Mile 10, I toyed with the idea of slowing to long-run pace (so like 10:30-ish), but dismissed that notion. While I wasn’t racing, per se, I still wanted to push myself. Sweeping vistas of the inlet and surrounding snow-capped mountains took my mind off the exertion.
As the kilometres racked up, I couldn’t shake a nagging disappointment that I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough. This feeling hit a crescendo when Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” started playing: My breath caught in my throat and tears stung my eyes; I immediately thought of mother runner Michelle San Antonio, who had just rocked 3:30 at Boston Marathon. (We shared our love of the song, both embracing it as our new running anthem.) As I continued faring forward, I examined my reaction, realizing how much I admire a runner like Michelle who can hold tight to her goal pace, no matter the pain. I had been that runner (albeit not as fast!), but not anymore.
Still, I found the words, “stay strong” circling my head on an endless loop. The course entered famed Stanley Park, with its paved trail hugging the shore and lush trees rising on the other side right about Mile 20. Despite the shade, the heat was taking its toll—many marathoners had slowed to a walk. My GU-fueled muscles propelled me past other participants: My pace was 10+ minute/mile by this point, but I appeared to be flying. My mantra shifted subconsciously to, “stay Boston strong.” Mental body scans revealed my legs didn’t hurt, but I didn’t feel the will—or the energy—to push any harder. This was as good as it was going get now that the temperature was over 70 degrees Farenheit.
I continued passing scores of runners (love my stat-geek hubby, Jack, who later informed me I made up as much as 10 minutes on runners in my age group in the second half of the marathon), and I whooped it up good as I rounded the final corner out of Stanley Park. Yet I felt disappointed when I saw my finish time of 4:22—I’d been aiming for at least 14 minutes faster. (Molly crossed the line in 4:37, almost 30 minutes slower than we'd predicted she'd run.)
But as I’ve let the race conditions sink into my psyche, and I’ve done some calculations, I’ve realized my 10:00 average pace is almost exactly in line with venerable Jeff Galloway’s advice: I slowed my pace by about 30 seconds in the first half, and a good minute in the second half. I’m left feeling my 10 marathons have taught me to be savvy, just not swift.
Your reward for sticking with this post? Three women will be able to run their next race well fueled courtesy of my gel of choice: GU. (Dimity and I love GU so much, we mention it by name in TLAM a bunch of times!) Three winners, chosen by random.org, will receive 24 packets of GU of various flavors, including succulent Mandarin Orange, sandwich-worthy Peanut Butter, rich Vanilla Bean, and wake-you-up Espresso Love. To enter to win, leave a comment below this post on our website (do not hit reply if you are reading this on a mobile device), telling us: What have you learned about yourself in a recent race or on a run? Could be as simple as you prefer a fruity-flavored GU over a sweeter one, or could be as revealing as you’re completely content to run at one speed, even in a race. No judgments. Just reveal something you’ve learned about yourself on a run or race.
[Some fine print for this fine prize.] This sweepstakes is open to those over 18 and residents of the United States and Canada. It begins on 5/8/13 and ends on 5/14/13; the winners will be announced on 5/18/13. One entry per person. The value of each prize is $34.80. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Void where prohibited by law.