The sun was shining for my fifth BMO Vancouver Marathon and whether I was ready for it or not, I went for broke.
I ran my personal best 2:44:55 on this course in 2009, and a month of so before race day, Brian and I figured we had a shot at running 2:43 or even 2:42. Despite some recent hiccups in our training, we stuck to the plan to go out hard and hang on as long as we could. In my eighteen marathons I’ve seen a lot of people employ this strategy first-hand — usually some time after mile 16 when I start reeling them in — but as satisfying as it is to pass runners late in a marathon, it had become a little boring. You see, I have always aimed to run a steady race, but even- or negative-splits lack the excitement of throwing caution to the wind and running with abandon the way I’ve seen so many runners do in the past. Someone said that if you shoot for the moon and miss you still end up in the stars, and part of me believed that even if I did crash and burn, that I was strong enough to hold on and salvage a personal best out of the race. Then again, what if we went out hard and didn’t slow down? We’d never know unless we tried.
With all of that in mind, Brian and I settled into a small pack and breezed through the early part of the course uncomfortably on pace. It was manageable, but just. Hammering along Hastings toward Stanley Park we still held our 2:43 pace but it seemed tenuous and I spent a lot of time wondering how long I could keep it up.
Into Stanley Park, the games began. First there was the obstacle course of walkers who had set out at 6:00am, clogging the narrow Seawall path and later, Stanley Park Drive, walking two-, three- and sometimes four-abreast. We got strung out a little in the crowds and soon Brian pulled away leaving me hanging onto the back end of our small pack.
Brian was a few seconds ahead when we hit halfway in under 1:20:00. Holy crap! Only it wasn’t halfway. Well, not halfway in the marathon at least. That’s right, I haven’t even seen the 21k sign yet… There it is. We hit the inflatable archway that marked the halfway point of the marathon and to my surprise, there was no mat. A marathon with no halfway split? WTF?!? They’d put the timing mat at the halfway point of the half marathon. Anyway, the watch said 1:21:38, so we were right on pace.
Being on target pace at the half normally would have been cause for celebration, but I was already fried and Brian was pulling further away.
The Pipeline Road climb was tougher than it should have been, but I was able to regroup on the downhill past the Rose Garden and along Lagoon Drive.
More chaos greeted us as we merged with the half marathoners in Ceperley Park at Second Beach.
Luckily, race organizers set up water stations on both sides of the street so there was a clear line to water and Gu Brew on the left side of the always-congested English Bay station at Denman. Nice! Only the first volunteer pulled the cup away from me just as I was about to grab it. WTF!?! My apologies to the other volunteers further down the line, past whom I left a trail of f-bombs, but seriously dude, what the hell was that?
Within half a kilometre we shed the half marathoners and climbed to the sweeping turn onto Burrard Bridge, which I had to remind myself is normally my favourite part of the course. The usual, enthusiastic crowd, including Tim and Maureen Wiens, greeted us at the turn off Pacific onto the bridge. Brian probably had 20 seconds on me at that point and soon I could see he also had Dario escorting him over to Kits.
I like the Kits out-and-back, but it always hurts, and this time it hurt a little more than usual. I continued to trail Brian by about the same gap, but I started to realize that we were both slowing a few seconds per kilometre.
I finally caught up to Brian on 4th Avenue as we began the slight rise to the turnaround, which I believe was actually further away than usual. (No really. I think it was.)
I pulled alongside Brian and a fan said what I thought was “Go Burl!” initially presuming that she had misread the name on Brian’s bib. Then it dawned on me that the always modest Brian had deliberately waited until Friday to register just so he wouldn’t have his name printed on his bib. Huh? At that moment, the second place woman, Allison Macsas, blew past us. Ahhhh… Go Girl! I get it. Sometimes running makes me stupid.
After the turn, Brian glanced at his watch and conceded that the original goal was gone and the only hope he had left was to run a PB. Crap. Brian’s PB was 2:49:47. C’mon, we can still do a lot better than that. I then saw Sammy and a lot of the other guys I thought we’d long since left for dead very close behind us on their way to the turnaround. How long before all those other guys go flying by? I wondered.
Brian and I turned onto Highbury — the Street of Broken Dreams — and almost immediately I felt a twinge in my left hamstring. Then another. Oh crap. With the pace we’d been setting, I’d been expecting something like this for a while, but I guess it’s still surprising when it hits. As we battled up the slight rise, I did some of my precautionary can-can dancer kicks to stretch it out, but could still feel it throbbing, and prepared for the inevitable spasm of a cramp to stop me in my tracks.
We rounded the turn onto Point Grey Road and I made a slight surge to avoid being boxed out from the water station immediately to our left. I pounded back some Gu Brew and then realized I was alone. Even the hamstring twinges were gone.
Soon after, I found myself running alongside Masazumi Fujioka who would keep me company all the way back to Kits Point before he gradually pulled away.
The tunnel vision was setting in at this point and I missed out on the beautiful view of the West End and Stanley Park from Ogden Road by the Maritime Museum.
My friend Paul Felton was waiting on First Avenue and ran alongside me around the corner to the bridge, where I was stunned to see how large a gap Masazumi had ahead of me. It was deflating, but then I heard my name. It was Hozumi Nakai cheering from the sidewalk. He started running up the bridge and I had no choice but to snap out of it and get going. If Hozumi is going to come down to Western States in June to keep an eye on me for 38 miles, then I sure as hell had better put a little effort into getting over this piddly little bridge. My legs responded and I started closing the gap on Masazumi, confident that I had a good shot at catching him if I could just get over the hump of Burrard and get gravity on my side.
I love this stretch. The Burrard Bridge is a giant slingshot which fires you toward the finish a mile away. After the main downhill off the bridge, Pacific Boulevard continues downhill for another half kilometre to Drake before flattening out for the final winding kilometre.
Hozumi’s kick in the ass was just what I needed. I had new life. I also had company. Coming off the bridge onto Pacific, Dario joined me to push me the rest of the way.
I passed Masazumi and didn’t look back, finishing in 2:45:38 and 19th overall. It wasn’t the 2:43 I’d aimed for, and it wasn’t even a PB, but it was a close second by about 43 seconds. It was also a 2:45 to check off my marathon list (I am now missing only a 2:51 marathon between 2:44 and 2:53).
Brian did hold on for a 2:49:17 PB so it wasn’t too bad a day for both of us. Click here to see the results from members of my third marathon clinic, the latest edition of The Greatest Marathon Clinic Ever.