Friday, October 18, 2013

Race Report: GoodLife Fitness Victoria Half Marathon - October 13, 2013

I completed another one, my third medal earned this past Thanksgiving weekend at the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon.

2011 half marathon, 2012 marathon, 2013 half marathon
As I mentioned previously, I was really excited about the race, my 'runniversary', and a half marathon course I know very well. I knew that my training was shorter term due to setbacks, but I sure worked hard enough to have me prepared to run the race well. I was cautious to plan the days leading up to the race to be restful ones. Tuesday was my last big workout, and all I had between then and race day was a little 5km run - which was less than I'd planned even. I should have felt well-rested.

And after last year working both Friday and Saturday at the expo and having tired legs on race day, I was careful again this time to have less time on my feet, and recruited enough volunteer help to make the event manageable. But for some reason, Saturday, I was absolutely exhausted. I was terrified I was going to get sick. Got that itchy feeling in the back of my throat, my nose was runny, and I feared I'd be as sick going into the race this year as I was last year. I stayed in as much as I could, lay down, drank water with electrolyte tabs, and tried to shake the feeling. It simply wasn't going away.

Somehow I woke up feeling refreshed on Sunday morning, ready to take on the race. My legs were still a bit sluggish, but mentally, I was pumped and excited to go. I remembered what coach John told me, what pace to aim to go at, and not a second faster. My plan was to start slower than that until the crowds eased up a bit, find a groove, then go a bit faster. I wanted to keep a good pace the first third but on a conservative side, push a bit harder the middle third, and then once we hit Dallas Road and the course would be flat or downhill (mostly), along the coastline all the way to the finish, kick it that extra notch. Everything was going according to plan. I felt strong physically and I was really in check with my body and my strategy the whole way.  

Then the unexpected happened, my quad muscles in both my legs (more so the left) cramped and bad. I was in complete disbelief as this has never happened to be in a half marathon before - it's happened in all 3 marathons so far, although less so with every one I do. When I've had cramping in my calves, I can almost withstand it, run through it (albeit slower), or deal with it a bit easier. Those I've deduced have been about electrolyte balance, and since the first time it happened in a race, I've figured out my strategy for avoiding those and they've not come back. But the quad cramps, I know it can't possibly be simply a matter of nutrition, but a result of muscle fatigue - afterall, the only other times it's happened was late into my marathons. Somehow whatever it was I was fighting on Saturday that made it hard for me to move my legs, it sucked the life out of them. I could only fool them into running this race about 17km before they quit on me. Quad cramps are almost impossible to run with - absolutely debilitating and painful as heck.

The moment the cramping kicked in, I knew the personal best time I was chasing was a goner. I would have had it if I could have maintained my pace another 4km. I had the energy and the will the do it - I could visualize and taste that fast finish. But my quad muscles had another plan. Somehow, I stayed positive, told myself that with only 4km to go, I can simply deal with the pain, do what I need to do, and still finish strong within a respectable time, even if not a best time. I kept the smile on my face, enjoyed my surroundings, and kept this positive outlook. Getting mad would not improve the situation, so I had no choice but to make lemonade.

I found a nearby tree and made my way over to it to lean on as I stretched my quads out for a couple minutes. Yes, 2 good minutes added onto my finish time right here. The next 2kms, all my quads could muster was a slow jog, a good 1min/km slower pace than what I had been averaging over the previous 17km. So here, another couple minutes to add onto my finish time. Finishing under 2 hours was now officially doomed. I had a couple kms left and I was ready to push a tiny bit harder after another good stretch walking through the last aid station. I ran hard, despite the pain in my legs, knowing it wasn't too much further to go. Next thing I knew,  the "400m to go" sign was within sight. I flicked the speed switch into the 'on' position and picked off the a few runners ahead of before hitting the finish line at full tilt. My legs screamed at me the moment I crossed the finish and had to come to a stop, but I was pleased that even with all that pain in the final kms, I was able to cross the line in a strong time of 2:03:43.

Flying to the finish
So I had said I wouldn't beat myself up if I didn't achieve my goal. I know full well that had I felt better physically going into the race, I would have done so much better. I don't know what I was fighting off, but it was nasty and messed me up good. Yes, I am frustrated that I was so close to achieving my goal, and I didn't....again. Yes, I am frustrated that something went wrong on race day......again. But I don't expect perfection. I will just try again. I am only starting to be 'back' again, so the results I'm looking for WILL come. It's just a matter of time. With every race, whatever the outcome, there's learning involved, more wisdom and experience to store in my toolkit. And regardless, every race I do is an achievement, especially when I consider where I started. This was only a 2 year runniversary - I'm relatively new to this sport.
I really had fun with the race too. This is a race I'll come back to annually for the foreseeable future, for certain. Part of it is that it's in Victoria, Cam's hometown, so we have an added excuse to be in town, visit with family, and spend Thanksgiving with them. The other part of it is the beautiful medals (see photo at the start of this post) and beautifully designed race finisher garments - all of the ones I've earned I wear with pride. But really, this is an extremely well-organized race that is so positive and when you're out there, you feel like the whole community is out there backing you. There's cheering everywhere, not a corner where you feel alone, music, witty signage, families out to cheer on loved ones, positive volunteers, and so many reasons to smile along the way. I'll definitely be back again in 2014 - just need to decide on the half or full marathon!

I came over on Friday to set up the TNT booth at the expo and Cam arrived the following day to join me. Friends running this race also all arrived on Saturday. This included Joe who'd never been to Victoria before, and had never celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving. So we got to cheer him into finish his race after I finished mine, and then bring him over for turkey dinner with the family.

Finisher medals as an appetizer?
And my dear friends, Nancy and Sean, were out on the course doing the full marathon. The timing of the marathon is a later start than the half so that I could finish my half, go back to the hotel to freshen up, pack, eat, check out, and then head back to the finish to watch them come in. I was so excited to see these smiling faces. Congratulations!!!

Marathon Maniacs?
I admit though, being at the finish line of the marathon brought on some unexpected feelings. I saw some people get emotional as they finished, and while they were strangers, I almost cried watching them. It brought back that emotional feeling I got every time I crossed the finish line of my marathons. That overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. Perhaps I never quite got over the fact that I couldn't do the marathon this year in Victoria. But perhaps it's more that I realize I need to do another one - I owe it to myself!  So here we go, I'm now signed up for my next marathon, given there was a race I had my eye on and there was a 20% off coupon in the Victoria Marathon virtual race bag. On June 1st, 2014, I'll be running the Calgary Marathon - the oldest marathon in Canada, celebrating its 50th anniversary. It should be a great event. Plans for Victoria in 2014 are to be determined - will likely want another go at the marathon, but it all depends on what happens in Calgary. And besides, this race has proven to have an awesome half marathon, and I have a goal to hit on that course too.

Next up - James Cunningham Seawall Race on October 27th.


  1. Z! This is such a beautiful and heartfelt race report. I really enjoy reading along with your races, your journey through running. I personally have not managed to master the consistency you have with your running-- but I'd like to think that I too am getting there and am not a quitter. Looking forward to future blog posts & of course, your next race report too. Much love xx

    1. Thanks Monica! You are so kind with your words. Thank you, seriously :) You are doing amazing with your own running and I'd never think of you as a quitter. Consistency comes with practice (maybe a bit of obsession...). I appreciate all your support and encouragement. Look forward to being at a race with you again. xoxo