“It never rains on the First Half.” Those were the prophetic words of long-time Pacific Road Runners member, Susan Reynolds, as I picked up my race package on Friday afternoon. Thinking back from my first First Half half marathon in 2004, it was sometimes cold, occasionally windy, oftentimes a little damp underfoot, and one time significantly re-routed, but Susan was right. I could not recall actual rain falling for any of those races. There wasn’t even rain the day the race would have taken place last year had it not been cancelled to make room for the Olympics.
Chances of the rainless streak continuing after the one-year hiatus were looking pretty slim during Saturday’s monsoon, but sure enough there was even some sun bouncing off the buildings Sunday morning as I did my warm-up run across the Granville Street Bridge to the race start at the Roundhouse. There was some wind, but the streets were almost completely dry and it was cool enough (or warm enough, depending on your perspective) to make for ideal racing conditions.
I felt good going into the race but didn’t know what to expect. I’m two months into my official training for Western States and I’ve been logging much more mileage than ever (January was my first-ever 300+ mile month) and far less speedwork than I have for any of my previous half marathons (I got out for a couple of speedwork sessions the past two weeks and Brian basically mopped the floor with me.) I haven’t run a half marathon since the Scotiabank Half in 2009 and it’s been nearly three years since I ran my personal best of 1:19:02 at the 2008 Fools Run. Despite all that, I felt pretty good about my chances.
With all the people I knew who were running the First Half perhaps I had a naively romantic notion of how the race would play out: we’d run six-minute miles together as a group of a dozen or so, chatting away until about halfway and then it would be every man and woman for his or herself, hell-bent on running personal bests or at least making the race’s 1:20 competitive entry standard so we wouldn’t have to panic about missing out on registration next year. It would have been a blast, but it didn’t work out. Dario, John Atkinson and Sparky Wickstead took off on us almost from the start; Mike Palichuk and Sammy Lotfi-pour got stuck further back in porta-potty line-ups at the Roundhouse; Henry was banged up and not in 1:20 shape; and Donovan hung back about 20 metres choosing to keep us right where he wanted us until he was ready to take off. Yeah, it would have been fun to run as a group, but at least I had Brian.
I started alongside Ellie Greenwood and Kristina Rody and after hiding a couple of rows behind me at the start, Brian soon joined us. There were a couple of women ahead of us as well, including early leader and four-time winner Lisa Harvey from Calgary, but Ellie started conservatively and would drop back on the way to Stanley Park. Recent race experience told me she’d be back.
For nearly the entire race Brian and I ran together. Brian seemed particularly excited and chatty and kept me abreast of our actual mile splits since the course markings were at times ummm… approximate at best.
Shortly after entering Stanley Park, Brian and I were joined by Mark Bates, one of only eight people to ever run a sub-5-hour Knee Knacker. Brian briefly lost us with a little surge through traffic on a narrow stretch of Seawall after Brockton Point and got far enough ahead I could just barely hear him call out the 6-mile split to no one in particular. Mark faded a little after the halfway point and I found myself having to surge to close the gap on Brian or risk losing touch. Before long we’d reeled-in and dropped the remnants of our earlier groups and were catching people who’d gone out too hard.
As we approached Third Beach I could see lead woman Lisa Harvey and her bicycle escort in the distance. We hadn’t seen her since the start, so we were obviously gaining on her. Fast. We caught Lisa just before Second Beach Pool a mile later and as we slotted in between her and the bike escort I mentioned to the rider that she might be losing Lisa behind us, so she pulled out and let us pass. A couple of minutes later I could hear the crunching of bike tires on the gravel behind us as we rounded Lost Lagoon. Huh? It can’t be. Lisa’s a champ, but she looked pretty rough when we passed her. There’s no way she could have bounced back, could she? No, it must be one of the other women. But who? We surged a bit without looking back and the threat seemed to be gone until the far side of the lagoon when crowds started cheering loudly for the first woman.
I glanced back as we made the dog-leg turn after the underpass and saw Ellie behind the lead bike. Crap. I knew it! I yelled “Way to go Ellie!” and chuckled in disbelief, while quietly preparing for the inevitable pass. But not Brian. He bolted and that seemed to light a fire under me too. We ran like scared kids the rest of the way.
Seawall construction meant we had to climb a detour up that short, steep, complete-pain-in-the-ass hill at the inukshuk from the English Bay path to Beach Ave. Ellie was close enough that the lead cyclist was almost level with me trying to get momentum to get up the hill… and then suddenly disappeared after misjudging the grade and picking too high a gear.
Once we’d cleared that climb it seemed Brian and I either found another gear or Ellie tailed off a little. Either way, we had some room… or at least I had some room. Brian was making plenty of room of his own ahead of me. I also noticed we were closing in on Donovan who was always within view ahead but seemed to be getting a lot closer at this point and seemed to be battling it out with another runner.
With less than half a mile to go, we saw Tim cheering for runners on the final short climb under the Granville Bridge. He urged me to catch Brian so we could, “hold hands across the line.” Valentine’s Day or not, Brian was clearly having none of that and wasn’t conceding an inch. I did glance back one last time as we neared the final turn at Drake to ensure I wasn’t going to get Nick Chng’d by Ellie (or by Nick Chng himself whom we’d passed as we left Stanley Park) and saw nothing but daylight. I finished a few seconds behind Brian in 1:18:34.
Donovan had lost his last-mile duel (or duels: he had one with past-winner Norm Tinkham for the line; and one with his stomach for his breakfast) so the three of us finished 20th, 21st and 22nd overall, each of us with personal bests.
Until recently I thought my PB days were behind me, but that race gave me new hope that I still have another marathon personal best in me and now I’m actually looking forward to giving it a shot at the BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 1.
It was great seeing so many familiar faces. I had 18 people from my current marathon clinic out running and I think nearly all of them PBed, most by a LOT! Congratulations to them!
Barry Berg 1:28:30
Brittney Kwasney 1:32:26
Christina Osler 1:34:28
Mathew Hill 1:37:15
Andrea Malo 1:38:49
Heather Ingo 1:42:04
William Crosby 1:42:27
Kristine Chew 1:45:01
Greg Burnham 1:45:40
Wade Clinton 1:46:30
Candice Loh 1:48:33
Julie Roberts 1:57:50
Farzad Amedi 1:58:01
Mong Xuan Ha 1:57:21
Fariborz Sharif 2:01:35
Holly Lee 2:11:45
Noel Bissonnette 2:13:50
Alison Russell 2:20:28