Sunday, May 6, 2012

Race Report: BMO Vancouver Marathon - Sunday, May 6th, 2012


I did it! I completed my first marathon, the BMO Vancouver Marathon. It was not at all easy. Not that I was expecting it to be easy. But I wasn't expecting it to be as hard as it was.

I can find all kinds of ways to explain what went wrong. But after hearing from others who experienced some of their own hurdles today, I've decided that it was the full moon, that crazy big "super moon" we had last night.

I started out feeling strong and running effortlessly. I wonder if I started out too fast, but it felt effortless and I kind of forgot that I was running. I was enjoying the sights of the beautiful new course, showcasing some of Vancouver's finest areas, on a gorgeous sunny and warm Sunday morning. I was also enjoying the fun atmosphere - all the runners having fun; friends, family, and community members out cheering; lots of musical entertainment including a guy who sounded exactly like Michael Buble, and so on. I felt good.

I finished my first half of the marathon in what felt like an effortless 2:12:11. Being the second fastest I've ever run a half marathon distance, and being that it felt so effortless, it gave me huge confidence for a strong finish to today's marathon. It also got my hopes high for the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon I am running in June to finish there with a personal best. Stay tuned! It's going to happen!

But shortly into the second half of the marathon race today, things changed. Somewhere around the 23K mark, both of my thighs seized up into massive cramps. I was in absolute excruciating pain. I knew there and then that it was unlikely I'd finish within the time I thought I could. There was no way I could maintain the pace I was at. I had almost 20K still to run and could barely walk, let alone run. I was moaning in pain. Kind runners around me asked if I needed help as they passed me by. I said no, thanked them, and did my best to move forward, one foot in front of the other. 

Again, I can't explain why this happened. I trained smart. I followed a fueling strategy that worked like a charm in my training. But bad did happen and I had to suck it up and keep going. Giving up and getting a DNF was not an option. I had no idea how to stretch out my legs. I did try, a few times but nothing seemed to help except for walking. I just had to keep going. Believe me, I was tempted to seek help, but too stubborn in my faith in myself to go down that road.

Cam with a sign created by my sister.
I had such lovely support from my sister and my other half, Cam. They followed me along the course to cheer me on and offer me much needed hugs, kisses, and words to lift me up at points where discouragement and pain were both increasing exponentially. I can't thank them enough for being there for me. It was huge in helping me through the ordeal. The last thing I wanted was to make them wait for ages at the finish line for me. I had to get there. I wanted them to be proud of the way I finished.

As my race continued on, I had to say goodbye to several possible finish times. I had to be ok with several people passing me on the course. This was definitely a race where I realized that everything that people say about a marathon being equal parts a physical accomplishment as a mental accomplishment is indeed true. If whether or not I finished that race was based on the physical alone, I had every reason to give up. But because of who I am, and what this race meant to me, my mind would not take no for an answer. I'm not saying I didn't cry. But it was mostly pain that did that. Not discouragement.

I endured the pain, walked as best I could, and kept telling myself a few key things:
  • No matter how I finished the race today, I had loads to be proud of. I was going to finish a marathon. Not just any race, but a MARATHON. And it's not just the race finish itself that I have to be proud, but the entire journey I took to get where I am today. All the hard work to get me here today, as the healthiest, fittest, happiest, most confident version of me I have ever known. Who would have thought that the girl we once knew as overweight and inactive would one day be a marathoner!
  • If I finish in 5 hours or more, that's not to say that that is all I'm capable of. I had a bad running day today. It was not a reflection on my fitness. Just a bad day with no explanation for me to name at the moment. In my training for this race, I had several runs over 23K (and up to 32K), and never experienced the pain I did today. Next time, I'll finish faster. No question about it. I'm capable of better already. Today was just hard. Simply put. And there will indeed be a next time to prove that.
  • Finishing the race after having to overcome adversity like this would be a huge accomplishment. Whatever time it took would be respectable given the current circumstances. I just had to make the best of a bad situation and find a way to finish strong, running, with a smile on my face.
I tried walk / run intervals but this didn't work too well at first. At times I could run for a few minutes at a time before the cramps would get unbearable that I had to walk again. Other times it was a mere few seconds. To say I was discouraged would be an understatement. It made no sense why I was in so much pain. I started to shiver with cold as the sweat on my shirt and skin started to evaporate as I was running near the breezy shores of the Stanley Park seawall. I needed a sweater badly, but put on my BMO gloves that were in my pocket. They helped warm me up again.

With all the positive self talk, I willed myself to breathe deep, cleansing, yoga-style belly breaths. I imagined the breath working its way down to my legs, relaxing my tense muscles and making the pain dissipate, even if only slightly. I straightened my posture, and managed to get myself up to an 8:00min/km brisk walk.  It felt so good! It took a while to get to that pace, but I managed. At the 36K mark, I began to run longer again, a very slow 7:00min/km pace. But I was running! All the while, I was maintaining the deep, slow, cleansing belly breaths and in my mind I managed to lift my own spirits. The finish line was within reach, and I could easily get there if I stayed positive, stayed strong, and maintained this positive breathing pattern. 

And I did! When I got to the 40K mark, I kicked it up a notch. The pain wasn't noticeable to me anymore. I blocked it out. All I knew was that I was 2.2K away from finishing my first marathon race. Nothing else mattered.

As it was late in the race, traffic was starting to get through, cheering spectators had thinned out, and it was very much like I was just running on my own, passing a few people to remind me that I was still in a race. As I approached the finish I could hear the announcers and the crowds, and kicked it up yet another notch. I crossed the finish line as strong as I possibly could have, arms raised in the air, a big loud cheer of excitement. I conquered the pain, I conquered the circumstances thrown at me, and became a marathoner!
I got a huge congratulations from Running Room founder, John Stanton, received my medal, and then noticed my family on the sidelines. My brother and his wife popped by the finish line to join my sister and Cam and surprise me with witnessing my finish. The moment I saw everyone there, smiling proudly and cheering me on, I burst into tears of joy and pride. I wished I could hug them, but they were on the other side of a fence, me caged into a runner's only finisher's compound. They continued to cheer, and took a few pictures. I was on top of the world. 

The second half of the race took me only 45 min longer than I wanted it to, despite all those hurdles. The second 21.1K took me a respectable 3:03:28

 I finished my first marathon race in 5:15:38

And I have the bling to prove it!


  1. Congratulations! and the way your marathon treated you, it was harder than many others in the event had it. I have been there too, walking in the last miles, knowing that I had enough spirit and drive to move on but you can't fight certain leg cramps. Sometimes you're the bug, sometimes you're the windshield, but run any marathon, and eventually you're bound to go 'splat!'. And yes, if you ran the second fastest 'half', you probably did go out too fast, but every event is an experiment, and the finish line is just a new beginning. (my first marathon was also around 5 hours) Bravo!

  2. SUCH AN AMAZING RUN! It's one thing to stick to get through training - a sometimes grueling and tough thing to do anyway - but another thing entirely to be able to train yourself to be as strong mentally. You pushed the pain and the running demons away and finished strong! When's the next marathon for you!? You'll have a PB to shatter!

    Also - happy recovery. I'm sure your muscles are really feelin' it today. I have been unable to go up or down stairs without pain since yesterday, and am a bit worried because I've never had an injury or experienced actual pain as a result of running before. I'm hoping it's just some bruising or muscle fatigue (21km on pavement is pretty tough on the ol' joints!), but is this normal?

  3. Thank you both of you!!!

    I am definitely sore this morning, but it's so nice to remember WHY that is. I appreciate all the kind words. At one point I actually thought I wouldn't be proud of finishing as is. But believe me, I am.

    Jess, soreness is normal. Especially when you kicked ass on your first ever half marathon! It depends on the intensity of the pain if you should be worried...The best antidote for pain as soon as you can after a hard run is RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation). Keep doing that today. Nothing too crazy, ok?

  4. Congrats on completing a marathon! I am in complete and total awe! You are so inspiring & I think your determination and drive is really incredible. I can't wait to see where your journey takes you next & look forward to meeting you at the Scotiabank Run!

  5. Thanks Monnie! I saw Jess the other day and we talked about Scotiabank. You're going to do awesome! Can't wait to see you at the finish. We'll need a photo :)