“I’m going to kill Victoria.”
Those words came out of my mouth as I was talking to Andrea as we discussed our upcoming races the marathon clinic’s pre-race get together. It surprised me.
I’ve never been a “confident” guy. In my house, confidence and hubris were considered the same thing. You are never as good as you think you are, so don’t think it. Even if you think it, never ever say it. It just isn’t done.
[And yes, I’m busily saving up for the mid-life crisis and the subsequently therapy bill that will inevitably come.]
It was also after hearing myself saying those words that I knew I was ready to run Victoria.
I ended up running Victoria in 3:08:16. Not exactly killing Victoria, but I think I bloodied it up a little.
I’m on a boat (It was a ferry, but that’s a type of a boat right?)
In a weird sort of way, I’ve always enjoyed work trips. You get away from the everyday distractions, and you get to concentrate on one thing. You can put all your energy into this one thing. Plus, the per diem was usually pretty good.
That’s how I felt about heading over to Victoria. Pre-race for Vancouver in May, I pretended to deal with mundane details of the everyday, mostly unsuccessfully. In contrast for Victoria, When I got on the ferry on Saturday morning, life got a whole lot simpler.
And road trips are only as good as the people you are on the trip with. For this trip, I hit the jackpot with by sharing a ride with Carolyn, Evelyn, and Jason. The ride gave me a chance to get to know each of them a little better over peanut butter and cracker. I’ve been missing out not running with the 3:40 folks apparently. Running the marathon made the weekend rewarding, but they made it fun. The trip also gave Carolyn an chance to vent her much repressed frustrations of having her name misprounouced for 10 months by an insensitive soul who never got his copy of “Hook on Phonetics” underneath the Christmas Tree. If I ever get my hands on that guy…
The pre-race meal with the fellow clinic marathon clinic members on Saturday night also helped me in the right mindset on marathon’s eve. If I was a hippie (ooh, halloween costume idea!), I would say being in presence of so much positive energy galvanized my resolve and confidence. But since I believe “Peace, Love, and Granola” works best as a slogan on T-shirts rather than a life mantra, I’ll just say that breaking bread with a bunch of cool people who likes running makes me happy and relax. Or to put it in laments terms:
(Cool People + Running) x Pasta
⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯ = Good pre-race mojo
And on the Seventh Day…
As far as I know, this was the first year that Victoria Marathon employed the 9am start time. Damn fine decision if I do say so myself. On a selfish level, it let me sleep in a little and not feel rush in getting all that I need to get done prior to the race. From a purely logistics level, having the half start at 7:30 and the full start at 9am not only minimize the stresses on bag check and bathroom lines, but the lead runners from the half was coming in about 15 minutes before the start the marathon. Seeing those elite athletes racing toward the finish and sensing the energy from the crowd right before the gun was a pretty damn good motivator.
Speaking of the organization of the race, the organization for the race was absolutely fantastic. (Feeling especially bad writing about it after hearing some of the stories from Portland and Kelowna.) I got to the starting area at 8:15am expecting to be in line for the bag check and bathroom lines for much of the 45 minutes I had left. Both those things ended up taking 5 minutes, combined. **cough…crib off of Victoria next year BMO Vancouver..cough*. This gave me ample time to loosen up with a light jog and some pre-race striders.
For the actual race itself, I had two real time goals in mind. The first was obviously 3h10m to get this damn BQ monkey off my back. It is funny how an arbitrary number and concept can get into your head and just stick there. But there it was. The second, more ambitious goal was 3h5m. This meant a 4:23/km pace throughout the race. From the last couple of training runs, I thought I had a legitmate shot at it. I also had a 3:00 in my head, but honestly that was just there in case I was having one of those “tail wind the entire way” days.
They say that for the marathon breaks down to to three stages: the first 10 miles, the second 10 miles, and then the last 10 km. Looking back, the race at Victoria did break down into 3 stages, except it was at 25km, 32km, and 37km.
The start of race was actually a lot less chaotic than I had expected. Right off the bat, there were 2 quick left turns on narrow-ish streets before the long straight-away on Government street. But other than being held up slightly and having to go wide on the first turn, the first bit went off without a hitch.
After the first kilometre, I was able to get into a rhythm at 4:24/km pace, and pretty much keep it for the first 25 km without much effort. The course in Victoria doesn’t have any major climbs but does have lots of rolling hills. In fact, I don’t remember any significant stretches that was actually flat. It was also full of quick turns, especially during the sections in the residential areas. Combined this with the cool but windy conditions on the day meant that there were 2 main things on my mind while I still had my mind: tangents and drafting.
I was feeling pretty comfortable with the first half of the race, which meant I could focus on the course and my surroundings, which made running the tangents a lot easier. And because 3:10 is such a popular goal, there were plenty of people to draft off of, especially during the first half. So I would spend a majority of the first part of the race imagining that I was in the middle of a video game, pick out a target, tuck in behind him and just watch his feet and settle in for a couple of minutes. After a few minutes I’d feel rested, so I’d tuck back out and pick up the pace a little bit until the next suitable target was found and repeat the process all over again. I’m not sure some of my pacers appreciated me nipping at their heels, as I think I got a couple of dirty looks. If they only had numbers on their backs, I’d find them and buy them a beer later. Oh well…
The bit of hill right before the turn-around point also gave me a bit of confidence boost as I passed a wack load of people during the climb. Seeing some friendly faces from the marathon clinic such as Brian, Carolyn, Evelyn and Jason also brought a bit of spring in my step. By the time Cattle Point (~25km) came and went, I had pretty much ran past the crowd that had surrounded me during the first half of the race.
Then 2 things happened. The first was that the wind really started to kick up and the next 5km along Beach Avenue was along the water and exposed. The thinning pack meant the whole drafting strategy was pretty much out the window. The second and more concerning thing was that my left quad started to act up.
The left leg and hip has always been the first to go during the long runs, and it usually shows after 21 km or so. It would start out as a twinge deep in quadricep muscle. As the miles increase, so the twinge turns into a combination of tightness and dull pain that radiates throughout the muscle. I had hope the tapering and rest would have delayed the onset of this until maybe the 30-32 km, but it was not too be. The actual marathon was about to start.
Up until then, my 4:22/km pace was done pretty effortlessly without thought. Breathing was relaxed, turnover was consistent, and the strides were smooth. But now, the twinge in the left leg and the distance were beginning to show its effect. I was still able to keep the current pace, but now I had to try. Instead of just enjoying the run, or calculating the most efficient line through a turn, or chuckling at the songs and dances of the children volunteers along the course, I had to keep focus on form, turn-over, and pace, or the speed would begin to drop. The wind howling in my ear was also a constant reminder things were not going to get any easier.
I was ecstatic to see the right turn off of Beach Avenue as the course snakes its way back into the residential neighbourhoods of Oak Bay. Not only did it mean that there were only 12km to go, but the surrounding houses and trees would provide just a bit of respite from the wind.
If only it was that simple. Shortly after the turn I realized I had merely traded the wind for a long gradual climb. The hill wasn’t steep, but by that time the left hip was also starting to voice it’s displeasure at running a marathon. (Although to be fair to the hip, my altered stride from my left quad probably had a fair bit to do with this.) My breathing was also beginning to labour, and it was a real effort to keep at the pace that I’ve been sustaining. By my calculations, I was still slightly ahead of 3h05m pace. I know pretty soon I am going to have to decide whether I wanted to let the pace drop a little to make sure I hit 3h10m, or to try to maintain the 3h05 pace for as long as I can.
After mile 20 and an unexpected but welcomed sighting of my massage therapist Jamie from Rebound To Health, I had decided to drop the pace back to 4:30/km for the next 2 or 3 km or so. This would bring me back to Dallas Road and the water, and possibly the wind. I would lose about half a minute by doing this, but I was hoping this “break” would give me a bit of energy once I hit the expose coast line terrain at km 35. Hell, maybe I can even speed up a little.
Yeah, that plan didn’t quite work out. By the time I hit the water again, my right quad has joined in on the mutany. The wind was still hollowing and I still had the a steady 2km climb at 37km. The original 3h05m goal was pretty much out the window now, but I quick glance at my watch told me that 3h10m was there with a bit of room to spare if I did 5:00/km. 5:00/km is usually jogging speed for me. But when I’m jogging, I can usually feel my hands and feet. By this point, my hands and feet started to go numb.
The hands going numb bit I’ve experienced before, during a couple of the long runs and during Vancouver in May. But the feet going numb bit was brand new to me. I am not sure if it was because I was wearing a pair of racing flats instead of more supportive trainers, or if it was an indication I was slapping the ground too hard with my feet. I was however pretty sure that this wasn’t a good thing.
Just after I started the climb at km 37, the sun came out. I was already feeling a bit dehydrated already. I didn’t need to see the sun now. Plus the damn thing was right in my face so I was squinting to not go blind. At least it gave me something else to swear at instead of the hill and the wind. The last time I was on Vancouver Island was for my West Coast Trail trip in August. On the way back, my friend put on a Russell Peters CD. As I approached the climb at km 37, the punchline from one of his joke came into my head: “Somebody’s going to get hurt real bad”. I laughed, just not out loud. He’s funny, just not laugh out funny after two and a half hours of running.
I don’t really remember much after that. I remember I closed my eyes for most of the last 5km of the race. I could blame the sun, but somehow in my head that just seem easier than keeping them open. I remember taking off and throwing away my gloves in an attempt to try to shake the numbness out of my fingers. I remember thinking the climb wasn’t as bad as I thought. I remember the decent after the climb, with my numb feet and seizing quads was way way way worse than I thought. But I mainly remember that by the time I hit the 40km mark, my watch read 2:57:37 exactly. I pretty much had to do the last 2km at 6min/km pace.
After what seems to be 18 @#$%$% turns during the last 800m, and confusing the timing strip 100m before the finish line for the actual finish line, oh, and out sprint a dude to the finish, I crossed the line with 3:08:42 on the clock. Looking back at the Garmin, I ran the last 3km at 4:35/km pace.
I took exactly 2 steps after crossing the finish. That was probably a mistake. Apparently if you can’t feel your feet, you have more in common with a bicycle than a biped. Standing up straight while not moving can be a problem. My impression of a bobble head didn’t quite impress Dave or the volunteer from the medical tent so the each grabbed an arm. I told them I was alright, just can’t feel my feet. That seemed to satisfy them and they let me go. For my second act, I chose to imitate a drunken sailer, and they took my arms again. They didn’t trust a word I said after that.
After 15 minutes in the medical tent, 2 gatorade, 3 juices and a couple of blood pressure checks later, they finally let me go. Once I got the feeling back in my legs, I felt surpising good in comparison to how I felt after Vancouver. In May, everything hurt pretty much as soon as I stopped. This time around, nothing really hurt, but everything was just tired.
I was ecstatic to hear about some of the fantastic finishes of clinic members in Victoria. PB’s all around for Carolyn, Evelyn and Jason, as well as Andrea in Kelowna and Michael in Portland. Everybody must have hang around the finish line for a good two hours just talking about the race. Just looking back on it and … sorry, I have got something in my eye.
It’s been 2 weeks since the race, and I honestly don’t quite know how I feel about it. I know I’m happy with qualifying for Boston. I know looking back that I came into the day much more prepared than I was in Vancouver. I know I’m happy that I didn’t slow down as much as I did in Vancouver when the race really began at 35km.
Yet I can’t help but feel I left the 3h05m on the table. It was there for so long during the race, and then it slipped away. I can blame the wind, and I will blame the wind, but at the end of the day there is only you and the clock. Everything else is just background noise.
I was tempted to sign up the the California Internation Marathon in early December. I was on their website two times a day until the registration filled up a couple of days ago. But I just couldn’t bring myself to register. I could say that trying to PB at the CIM on a downhill course is cheating, and I do. I could say that I need to use this time to do other stuff that I’ve put to the back burners, like finding a new place, and I do.
But I’m just tired. A little bit physically, but mostly mentally. I need a break from running with a watch strapped to my wrist. I need to run while enjoying the company of good friends. I need to run as fast or as slow as I feel that day.
“We run to undo the damage we’ve done to body and spirit. We run to find some part of ourselves yet undiscovered.” —John “The Penguin” Bingham
I need to run for fun.
At least for the next few weeks or so.