Well that was forgettable.
The First Half half marathon is always a highlight on the Vancouver race calendar. It’s like Groundhog Day for Lower Mainland road runners: the first big test after a winter break from racing which gives us a good idea whether we’re on pace for a good year or need to go back to sleep for six more weeks. If I didn’t have Western States to train for, after today’s race I’d be heading straight for bed.
I optimistically went in aiming for a sub-1:20, although in hindsight nothing about my training indicated that was realistic. A year ago I surprised myself with a big PB of 1:18:36 and while I figured another PB was out of the question this year, I did think I could go under 1:20 again. A 1:20 at the First Half earns male runners ‘Competitive Entry‘ status which allows us to register for the race any time from the opening of registration until mid-January, regardless of how fast it sells out (the Competitve Entry qualifying time for women is 1:30.) If a PB wasn’t possible, the fall-back goal was certainly to re-qualify — or re-Q — for Competitive Entry.
As usual I started off with Brian, surrounded by the usual crowd of familiar faces. We hit the first mile a few seconds over pace and everyone around us seemed convinced the marker was in the wrong spot. I was relieved to hear that at the time but it turned out that my split at mile 1 was almost exactly my average pace over the rest of the race. We continued to run together just above goal pace until Ceperley Park when I struck up a conversation with Sammy Lotfi-pour about training and injuries and getting older. Next thing I knew, we hit Lost Lagoon and Brian was about a hundred metres ahead. Behind us Mikey Ross commented that the pace couldn’t be too fast if we were able to talk so much. “More work, less talk,” I said to Sammy. Pretty soon he was gone too.
I watched Brian work his way up to a large pack which included a very fit John Atkinson in his now-familiar red toque. John was gunning for his first sub-1:20 and all reports out of the VFAC camp this year indicated he would have little trouble. With that in mind, as long as I could maintain contact with the group, I figured I might be able to ride some second half momentum back into re-Q contention.
Rounding Brockton Point, I could see Brian, John’s toque and the flowing silver mane of Jo Astoria well ahead, and using the 10k marker as a reference point I clocked the gap at about 16 seconds. I hit 10k in 38:38 and realized math was against my chances of a re-Q. I wondered if anyone ahead was panicking about how tight it might be to hit 1:20 and sure enough, after passing the halfway point as a tight-knit group, the pack exploded with Brian, then John, then Jo pulling away from the rest of the group. So much for me maintaining contact.
I hit the half in 40:46 and didn’t like my chances to claw back that much time over the second half since I hadn’t hit a single mile on pace let alone under pace. A year ago, Brian and I were on auto-pilot, breezing along the backside of the Seawall just under 6-minute mile pace and picking off runner after runner. This year, I was alone and struggling to hold a 6:15 pace. Soon after passing under the Lions Gate Bridge, Mikey Ross pulled alongside me and lamented not having a group to run with like the guys we were chasing. He seemed set on catching the stragglers falling off the back of that pack, and while I hadn’t completely conceded the race, Mikey’s suggestion did wake me up enough to keep pace with him.
I saw less and less of Brian and John as we wound our way around the bends of the west Seawall and it underscored the conclusion that I just didn’t have it today. I had some aches, but nothing was really sore; my legs weren’t completely dead, but they didn’t have much spring left in them either. I felt sloppy and out-of-sync as I went through the motions just trying to maintain the small gap behind Mikey and I felt as though I wasn’t breathing deeply enough to stoke the fire that should have had me two minutes or more ahead of where I was.
I eventually caught a couple of runners as we rounded Lost Lagoon, but I wasn’t sure what I’d have left toward the end if I found myself duking it out with Mikey. I did notice on the slight climb from Ceperley Park that I closed the gap behind Mikey very quickly… only to have him open it up once the path flattened out again next to Park Drive. I tucked that away for later and resumed the death march which had slowed about five seconds a mile through the Lagoon stretch.
I caught Mikey briefly as we both passed another runner on the rise through the Aquatic Centre parking lot but Mikey pulled ahead again on Beach. The final block-long climb under the Granville Bridge would be my last chance to use a hill to my advantage and by the time we reached it, there were a handful of other runners to pass and one-by-one I did, pulling clear of all of them by the time I turned onto Pacific for the downhill stretch to the finish. From there I put the hammer down — albeit a small, delicate hammer — and held on for dear life. I heard footsteps early on but they faded. I made the turn onto Drake in the clear and finished just as the clocked ticked 1:22. Yikes. At least it was done.
John had a huge final few miles to finish in 1:19:09 and Brian was the last guy to re-Q with a 1:19:51. Jo ran a 1:20:45 and Sammy 1:20:53.
I don’t know what to take from this year’s race. The was my first race as part of the Kintec Race Team so I’d hoped for a better result. My 1:21:58 is my slowest half since the 2008 First Half, and that’s not saying much since I was injured for that one. Even the first half of my Vancouver Marathon last year was faster and I certainly didn’t feel I had another half in me when I crossed the line today. I suppose I’m not peaking too early. At least I hope I’m not. Maybe streaking ain’t such a great idea. I went into the race tired and may have underestimated the effect that running at least two miles a day since January 3 can have on an old bod’ like mine. And although I told myself it was a taper week, dropping from 115k to 90k might not have done much to aid my recovery, especially after running the course at about race pace a week ago and doing a 50k a week before that.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a race bad enough to rattle me like this so I’ll consider it a good thing and use the experience to help me refocus. Once I stop feeling sorry for myself.