Race Report: 2014 Victoria Marathon

In lobby of lovely hotel where Jack and I stayed with starting area (lighted Parliament building) across water behind me. What you can't see in photo: I'd been nervously gagging on oatmeal a minute earlier.
In lobby of lovely Delta Victoria where Jack and I stayed with starting area (lighted Parliament building) across harbour behind me. What you can't see in photo: I'd been nervously gagging on oatmeal a minute earlier.

"You look sttttt-rrrrrrreeeesssed!" exclaims Lane, the ย 18-year-old daughter ofย my running partner, Molly, as she opens up the door to her family's hotel room. Ah, the astute--and blunt--observational skills of a teenager.

Lane, like me, is about to run the Victoria Marathon in the capital city of British Columbia; unlike me, she seems as lighthearted and relaxed as a teen headed to a Katy Perry concert. I've been fighting the urge to puke all morning, and had woken up hours before my alarm, sweating and fretting in the hotel bed next to my slumbering husband, Jack. It is almost go-time, yet I only want to run and hide. I know I am, best-case scenario, staring down slightly less than four hours of extreme effort; worst-case situation, 4+ hours of pain and disappointment.

But I'd worked very hard for nearly five months to arrive at this day, and now the task is at hand. After walking a block to the start, I duck under a bowed, ornamental tree for a final pee (at Lane's urging, I might add!). Lane and I say our good-byes before stepping into the delightfully uncrowded starting area, where I fidget with my Soleus GPS Mini and iPod Shuffle. After a very orderly countdown--"2 minutes," "90 seconds," "1 minute"--the race begins.

If adrenaline courses through my veins, it is a low-octane version. My coach's race plan has me sticking to 9:00 miles for the first half of the race, and for the first time at the start of a race, I'm not having to curb my excitement and slow my roll. Going at the 9:00 pace doesn't seem hard, yet the first miles of the race aren't a cakewalk, either. It feels like effort, neither hard nor easy. A 5 on a 1-to-10 scale of perceived exertion. I'm not in pain, I'm just not pumped. The gray marine cover and mid-50s temperature matches my mood: somber and all business.

Starting to hit my stride on gradual downhill in park near 5K mark.
Starting to hit my stride on gradual downhill in park near 5K mark.

I start wishing the more upbeat, faster-paced songs on my "Victory in Victoria" playlist would kick in. Finally, the 13th song on the playlist, "All Summer Long" by Kid Rock brings a smile to my face, as it reminds me of my high school bestie. (Long story.) Or maybe it is the gradual downhill in the second half of a figure-8 loop through bucolic Beacon Hill Park. Or possibly it is continuing to nail the 9:00 pace, even after walking to take a blueberry-pomegranate Roctane near the 8K mark. Coach Bri had told me to speed up slightly before GU breaks, resulting in less time lost while ingesting as well as helping my legs re-fire when I resume running.

Some songs by Girl Talk, Fitz & the Tantrums, and Macklemore keep my pace rolling along, although with my next GU break, near Mile 8, I lose nearly half a minute. Overall, I know I'm cutting it close running a sub-4:00 marathon to re-qualify for Boston, so 30 seconds add an unwanted burden to my load. Still, after running several flat-to-rolling miles past gorgeous early 20th-century, waterfront homes, I hit the halfway point at 1:59:01.

Pass guy in orange: check.
Pass guy in orange: check. (Note: bulges in fabulous Saucony Bullet Capris are GUs and Chomps in nifty thigh pockets. Best.marathon.pants.ever.)

In our race-prep call a few days earlier, Bri had told I could either speed up slightly--just 5 to 10 seconds--at Mile 13, or I could wait until Mile 16. She told to determine when to make, "a smart but calculated pace drop." In the moment, all I can calculate: If I keep running this same pace, the margin of success might not be enough to get me back to Boston.

Yet my body doesn't like the idea of going faster. Miles 13 through 15 are the toughest: My body--and mind--long for easing up just a bit on the gas pedal, but my rationale side knows this would ruin my sub-4:00 chances. So I do what any "sssstttttrrrrreeeeesssed" mother runner would do: I increase my effort, but stop looking at my Soleus GPS. This racheted-up effort will prove either sufficient--or not. For now, I'm giving it my best. Time literally will tell if it's enough.

The inland miles from 15 to 19 aren't easy by any means, but I feel a steely resolution start to worm into my veins. Mile 18 attempts to sidetrack me with 9:25-due-to-GU'ing, but instead it fuels my fire. From this point on, I never look at my GPS again. Coach Bri had told me to spot racers to pick off, so I start doing that. Woman in striped tank and ruffled skirt: check. Guy in orange tee: done. Cluster of women in brightly colored tees and compression socks: now in my rearview mirror.

Time to "man up."
Time to "man up."

When Josh Gad from "The Book of Mormon" soundtrack tells me to "Man Up," I say the words out loud, both laughing and drawing strength from the audacious lyrics. When Macklemore and Ryan Lewis sing they "Can't Hold Us," it feels they are talking about my power. I keep repeating my newfound mantra (cribbed off a jewelry display I'd spied just the day before): "courage without fear."

While I'd love to pause on a course-side bench to take in the spectacular seaside view, I don't waver from my intention to push hard toward my sub-4-hour finish. From mile 20 on, I feel like a video game avatar, picking off runner after runner after runner. When I see Jack for the fourth time on the side of the course, he once again yells at me to catch the 4:00-pace group. I've known since the first 500 meters of the marathon that the pacer took them out too fast, so I haven't worried about them. But I speed up to ease Jack's concerns.

I start to delight at how quickly the kilometers seem to be clicking by; I realize this is the first time a marathon hasn't, in the midst of running it, seemed like a ridiculously stupid long way to run. I start taking serious advantage of every downhill, knocking out mile 20 to 21 in 8:44. Some short ascents in mile 23 slow me to 9:14, but I hammer out mile 24: It's my fastest mile of the race, in 8:39. Yet I know none of this at the time, as it's been miles since I've checked my pace. Courage without fear is fueling me.

My best running friend, Molly (who had opted for the half-marathon due to a knee problem), awaits me at mile 25. I decline the bottle of Nuun she offers me; instead I hand her the waterlogged, sweat-stained hotel washcloth I've been carrying the entire race. "Thanks," I yell, "I'm running this mile for you, Molly. Love you."

1K remaining: time to go a little bigger--and tame down the smile.
1K remaining: time to go a little bigger--and tame down the smile.

As I smile and prance a bit for race-course photographers, it occurs to me maybe I've left too much in my tank. "Stop clowning, and run faster, Sarah!" Signs declaring, "500 meters to finish," then "300 meters to finish" keep me pressing on the gas. I feel strong and elated as I cross the line in 3:56:54--my first negative split in a 26.2-mile race and my second fastest marathon out of the 11 I've run.

I've been sporting a mantle of hard-fought pride ever since.

My second-half cheerleader, Jack.
My second-half cheerleader, Jack.

57 responses to “Race Report: 2014 Victoria Marathon

  1. Awesome all around! I kind of didn’t want to read it because I’m looking forward to the podcast, but couldn’t resist. Congratulations on the BQ, and with a good margin too!

  2. Awesome race report-loved the mid race, first time I didn’t think this was a ridiculously long way to run part. You really captured all of mid race stuff that goes on in your head. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  3. I was giddy and happy reading this but then I welled up with tears when you saw Molly and told her that you were running that mile for her. BRFs are the best (my BRF is named Molly, too, and I would totally run the last mile of a marathon for her <3)

  4. Well Done, SBS!! Congratulations! Thank you for sharing your blow by blow of the race. Frankly, I’m impressed you can remember that much detail! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. I’m so impressed. I have my first marathon coming up in Richmond and I’ll definitely use the courage without fear mantra and may be even Man up!! Great race, you earned it.

  6. What a great race report! I love how strong and powerful and happy you sound from 20 miles on. I got teary when you talked to Molly before your last mile. What an awesome finish! It DOES feel like you took us along for the race. Great job, SBS! Proud to cheer for such an inspiring, dedicated mother runner! Go BAMR!

  7. I’ve been waiting to read this! Congratulations on a fantastic race, the BQ and race photos that are definite keepers! I need to take a lesson from your approach to racing. You are a rock star!

  8. I’m so impressed with you Sarah. Your focus and dedication to training and the courage it took to “leave it all out there” on this race are a marvelous. You inspire me to push my own limits, not only as a runner but as a person.

  9. Congratulations Sarah! Great race report. So happy for you. You have worked so hard for this. Enjoy and be proud of your accomplishment.

  10. Congrats, Sarah! I waited to congratulate you until I read your report and it has totally gotten me fired up for NY. I, too, need a sub 4 to re-qualify and now I’m sure I can do it too. Smart race!

  11. Congrats! I loved your statement that this was the first marathon that you felt wasn’t a ridiculously stupid distance to run…that is EXACTLY how I felt on Sunday when I ran Chicago and PR’d by over an hour. 4:17:55. I had a few potty stops but I couldn’t be happier with my time.

  12. Way to go, SBS! You’re an inspiration. Thanks for the detailed race report. Felt like we were right there with you. What an impressive race.

  13. So excited for you!!! My BQ race is on Sunday and I’ll take some of your post race glow and run with it. I’ll either line up with you in Hopkington in 2016 or be cheering you on from the sidelines.

    2 questions: Did you ever catch the 4:00 pace group? No fuel belt?

    LOVED the race report!!

    1. The poor 4-hour pacer: He literally started to crumple, and his group took off w/o him. I passed the entire group with about 5 miles left in the race.

      No belt–a first for me, I believe. Honestly, part of it was vanity: I don’t need ANYTHING else accentuating my gut. Plus I had Jack to hand me some bottles of Nuun. I carried my own bottle of Nuun until Mile 8, then pitched it (It was a disposable bottle, and I trust someone recycled it). Got two more from Jack during the race. Took fluid at every aid station.

  14. I’ve been DYING waiting for this race report!!! Way to go SBS!!! You worked so hard for this race and you just flat out rocked it!! I love when you said, ” I realize this is the first time a marathon hasnโ€™t, in the midst of running it, seemed like a ridiculously stupid long way to run.”! Bask in the glow of your victory and I’ll see you from the sidelines in Boston!!

  15. Way to go, SBS! I’m so happy for you. All those months of hard work paid dividends. You’re an inspiration to badass mother runners everywhere. ๐Ÿ™‚

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