Sunday, April 6, 2014

Race Report: BMO Sunshine Coast April Fool's Run

A beautiful day today on the Sunshine Coast, and another half marathon complete at the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fool's Run. This was my 3rd year in a row lining up for this race, and as expected, I had a really enjoyable time. Everything about this race is great - the seamless organization, the fantastic volunteers, the beautiful course, the souvenir garments....I really could go on and on. I guess there's a reason why I have run this 3 times now and will very likely be running it again in 2015.

Photo credit: Leo Lam

I was very excited about this race knowing it was my 3rd chance to run this baby, and last time I took this course on, I finished with a personal best time that still holds today. No, I didn't break my own record today, and I admit I am a little more than just a bit bummed about this. But I know this is a course I am capable of running well. In addition to just feeling competitive with my own self, I was also selected as an official blog ambassador for this race, so in thinking that perhaps a lot of people will be reading my race report, I had hoped I could finish this race strong and fast, with a story of success to report. I guess this is where I have to raise an important question and challenge myself - "Zahida, how do you define success?"

So much about the day was perfect. I got up bright and early to get myself ready and met up with fellow run blogger Yuri. We had only met briefly a couple times before, but as we all know, the running community is full of really great people. When he mentioned he wasn't sure how he would get to the race, I messaged him to sort out some sort of travel plan. Yuri got dropped off at mine and Cam's place in North Van, then Cam drove us to Horseshoe Bay so we could walk on the ferry. There we bumped into Brian, fellow blog ambassador for the Fools Run and enjoyed the ferry ride together. Bloggers stick together apparently! We arrived in Gibsons to mild temperatures and the promise of perfect race day conditions, our shuttle buses to the start line were waiting for us with helpful volunteers guiding us on board. Soon after arrival, I found my other good friend Bryan. There was also a bit of silliness in front of Keith Dunn's camera as we geared up and got ready to race. We dropped off our bags in the free gear check, and lined up at the start.

Bryan had mentioned before the First Half in February that he'd be happy to pace me to a sub-2 half marathon. At that time I was still not feeling in top racing condition because of my hip so I turned down the offer. But leading up today I felt like I could do it, and the company of a friend could help the kms go by easier, so I contacted him and asked if the offer was still good. That indeed was the case, and Bryan and I ran well and at the right pace to finish this thing where we should have. With company, the kms were flying by and I felt smooth and strong. But somehow that last uphill stretch was all I could take before cramps set in. It was a bit different than usual, starting with my feet, moving into my calves, then moving entirely out of that area, and straight into my quads where they hurt the most. Those awful quad cramps that ruined my marathons and now have worked their way into a few recent halfs (3 of my last 4), they came back. I stretched a bit and Bryan very sweetly stood by me not really allowing me to apologize. When it was clear my race was ruined, I didn't want to ruin Bryan's so I told him to go ahead and finish on his own. He told me he'd come back for me after he finishes. What a lovely gesture of friendship - thank you!

The last 4km were painful, but somehow a positive journey. I was so frustrated at this point, seeing a strong race turn sour yet again, seeing the impossibility of my goal time being reached yet again, and knowing there was still a respectable amount of distance to cover in the amount of pain I was in and it was not going to be pretty. I took some deep cleansing breaths and jogged slowly, trying desperately to keep good form. I stopped to do a PNF quad stretch to try to calm them down. It did help, albeit temporarily, but enough to get me through a bit farther. When I finally saw the 20km sign, I knew I was in the home stretch, running what felt like the longest km of the century. I turned the sharp corner toward the finish line, and my quads screamed at me - I screamed right back and burst into tears of pain. Bryan was standing there saying, "it's ok, you are allowed to walk it in".  I walked/hobbled a few metres and the crowd along the sidelines started to cheer loudly for me, seeing the discomfort I was in and the perseverance on my face. I was overwhelmed with a jolt of adrenaline caused by such community, I couldn't help but get revved up to run again, and I took the last 30m (or whatever it was) as hard as I could. Thank you running community - you seriously rock!

I crossed the finish line in pain, I caught a glimpse of the clock showing I barely squeaked in under 2:10 (official chip time was 2:09:16), and I could see Keith with the camera rolling to capture my finish, and Yuri with arms stretched wide to offer me a needed hug. I was so overcome with emotion and pain, the waterworks came, tears streaming down my face.

With Yuri at the finish line

But despite the pain, the tough finish, and the completion time, I did say the last stretch was positive. I find that when a tough moment happens, you have two options: either you roll over and succumb to it, or you just do whatever it takes to get it done. As long as getting it done doesn't hurt you in the long run, i.e., run smart and don't get injured, at least you can say you really did give it your best and you worked hard despite adversity. And when you don't hit a goal, again, you have two options: you either give up on the goal entirely and assume you'll never get there, or you assess things honestly, figure out what you did right, decide what you have to work on, and then simply try again. Don't get me wrong - I am frustrated as heck that I've run as many half marathons as I have (16 of them to be exact) and I can't hit my goal. But I refuse to let it stop me from trying. Dealing with situations with toughness and perseverance is something I am proud of. I am lucky to be able to run, and although I'm not hitting my goals, I'm at least running, working hard, being active, and being the healthiest version of me. Most people would say that someone who regularly runs half marathons and at the speed I can is something awesome. It's easy to lose sight of that when it's you, and you're in the circle of runners, all doing the same kind of thing. I don't want to lose sight of it. Goals achieved or not, I am proud of how far I've come, and proud of what I can do.

After a good stretch, I grabbed some food, claimed my bag from the bag check, and caught up with a few more of my friends at the finish line. This is one of the things I love most about the running community - I know so many people in it, and they're all awesome. Any given race I sign up for, chances are I'll know a good crowd running it, and have plenty of company there. Today I got to know some great people better, and due to generosity, found a ride most of the way home (thank you Richard and Chelsea).

At the finish I also had a very encouraging chat with coach John Hill. Somehow he always knows the right thing to say. He reminded me that I am indeed capable of a much faster finish and when I finally get under 2 hours, I'll be comfortably well under 2 hours at around 1:55. He also reminded me that I did not line up today with perfect training under my belt. So while I felt relatively good going in, I've not been 100% for any of 2014. While I go to my Tuesday night intervals religiously, my times aren't as fast as they were in the fall. And overall my mileage is much lower than where I'd like it - I've only clocked 434km to date in 2014. If I continue to feel good and healthy, I can see where my upcoming halfs take me. He encouraged me to rest and enjoy my upcoming vacation to Mexico, not to worry too much about running there, but just about getting home rested and healthy, and ready to try again. That's indeed my plan.
With coach John at the finish line

So what's next? A couple half marathons and then likely short distance races for the rest of the year (well, maybe another half if I desire another try). No, no marathons this year. I recently made the hard but right choice not to run a marathon in 2014. My body just needs a break, and my mind has to recover from associating long runs with pain. I'm fine tuning my goals, working on speed, working on getting stronger and healthier, working on making injury a thing of the past, and I will know when or if I am ready to run another marathon. I'm in no rush. The BMO Vancouver Marathon's half marathon race is the next one I'm registered for. Time to try again.

I earned this one today!!!
Check out Keith Dunn's highlight video featuring me before the race and shortly after I crossed the finish.