Sunday, May 4, 2014

Race Report: BMO Vancouver Half Marathon

Another half marathon in the books, my 17th to be exact, at today's BMO Vancouver Marathon. I can't believe it's been a month since I last blogged (yikes), as I meant to write a pre-race post. But today's race is one I feel really good about. I achieved exactly what I set out to do, and I feel good. Really good.

My results in my last several half marathons have been quite frustrating, and it's taken some work to flip my attitude where it should be. I am driven and stubborn, and when I don't see progress and improvement, I tend to allow it to discourage me, but also to drive me to obsession - I have to get what I want. Perhaps that's why I have done so many half marathons, my undying goal to beat that 2 hour barrier. Something would always get in the way of getting there, whether it be injury, iron deficiency, bad luck, GI distress, or more recently, intolerable quad cramping. But instead of re-framing my goals, I would try something new to see if it would work, and then try again to hit the goal. 17 tries later, I still haven't gotten there. I got very close a few times, but something would always go wrong. Zahida doesn't give up.

I went into today's race with the conscious decision to not try for the time goal. Part of me wonders if I did try harder could I have gotten it as I felt well rested and charged today, and 100% free of soreness. That said, my fitness took a bit of a beating as I rested well in April to focus on getting healthy again, and on relaxing at the beach in Mexico, so the likelihood of being at my prime was not high. But even if I was physically ready to get the time, I didn't want to try. My quads exploded into cramps in 3 of the last 4 half marathons and I was terrified of it happening again. Those last 4 half marathons were terrible for my ego and what I needed more than anything was an ego boost and a race where I wouldn't be running in excruciating pain for miles on end. If I try again to go faster, it could happen again. I needed a stress-free and pain-free race. I needed a race where obsessing over time or pace would have no part. I needed to be free of the gremlins in my head who try to tell me I'm not worthy of time goal achievement in long distance races. I just wanted to finish strong, enjoy the race, and every km., and completion time would be irrelevant. So, I left the watch at home. 

I had no idea of my pace or time the entire way. I was running with a naked wrist and a freed mind and spirit. I was in a very happy place. A 2:08.09 finish is good considering I felt like I was doing an easy pace, able to hold conversation the whole way, not pushing myself for even a second. This was 100% intentional. I wanted this to be a solid training run, considering I have one more half marathon to run in a few weeks. The kms just flew by, probably because I wasn't tracking them or my pace. I was in disbelief when I crossed the 10km mat, and even more so when I reached the 18km marker and had none of the tell-tale signs on oncoming pain, but had a visual on the home stretch instead and a store of energy in my legs still unused. Without the stress of looking at or thinking of numbers I was free to simply run and run strong.

This was my first time running the half marathon at this race; I had run the marathon in 2012. So I was not familiar with the course, although it was mostly places I'd run before at some point. It was a pretty flat course, with only a couple of small-ish hills to keep you honest. The biggest challenge was the unrelenting rain, pouring down on us and soaking us to the bone even before we crossed the start line at Queen Elizabeth Park. This was easily the largest scale half marathon I've ever run, with about 10,000 participants. So there were crowds to run among the whole way, but a wide enough path that this wasn't really an issue of playing Frogger for long. The part that sucked was that I knew several people running the half marathon but somehow only bumped into 2 familiar faces as the crowd was simply too large. It's one of those races that you feel like you have to do because everyone you know is doing it, but in some ways, it's almost too big. 

The positive of a big race is a big race expo. I spent a good 2 hours on Thursday evening enjoying the expo and came back the next day even, trying samples, signing up for contests, and getting freebies galore. I signed up for two fall races at mega discounts. I don't think I've spent this kind of time at an expo before because every time I had an opportunity, I wanted to stay off my feet with a marathon around the corner, or I was there working a booth for my old job and had no time to look around. The expo was excellent, I had a lot of fun geeking out looking at gear and learning about products, and it was a great opportunity to catch up with friends.

Sigrid and I with our bibs next to the wall with all racers' names.

Had an early start this morning, getting up at 4:30 to gear up and breakfast, then I was off to the race. I had my usual bagel with PB, coffee, and coconut water, but on the advice of Logan, had 4 multi-vitamin tablets too (and 6 yesterday) as part of my "operation-stop-the-quad-cramp" experimentation. I parked downtown at work, leaving clean dry clothes in my car that I could dream about during the race. I hopped the train to King Edward and bumped into my friend Sydney. That was a nice treat, and we got to hang out and commiserate in the rain before the race and then ran much of the race together. I felt strong the whole way, and crossed the finish line with a smile and a feeling of accomplishment and confidence. One should never feel discouraged after finishing a half marathon - today was a good reminder of that. Completing that distance is an accomplishment. 

I wanted to wait in the finisher area for some of my friends who might be finishing behind me, but I was soaked by the rain, very chilled and had started to shiver so I opted to get warm and return afterwards. I walked back to work and hopped in the sauna a few minutes, then took a nice long hot shower. I headed back to the finish line to catch up with Nancy and Sean, Nancy having just completed the 8km. We watched the top marathon finisher cross at 2:21 or so (crazy fast), then grabbed a coffee to tide us over until our return back to the finish where I got to see my friends (another) Sean, Yuri, Tim, and Humphrey finish their marathons. That was awesome.

We finished before the Kenyan marathoners (but we didn't run nearly as far.....).
So what was my change in attitude? It's that cliche "attitude of gratitude", that's what. I've taken a step back and reminded myself that a 2:08 half marathon is "easy" for me. I am proud that I can do this. I used to be practically sedentary and now the 540km I've logged so far in 2014 is what I would consider "light training". I have come a long way. I really have no right to be so hard on myself. I should be bursting at the seams with pride in what I can do.

I've also identified an issue to "work on", rather than just simply "live through". I don't just want to survive the quad cramps, but figure out why they happen and make them stop ruining my races. There's no question I can complete a half marathon, so I don't need to keep running them at official races to prove it. I am going to keep training, but for achievement in short distance races, since that's where I'm seeing real gains, and I'm going to spend more time in the gym working on strengthening my legs so they can handle the work it takes to run faster. There's no question when I'm at my fittest I can will myself to run fast with energy to spare, but my legs are having a hard time keeping up. Most of me is ready to run a really fast long distance race, but my legs have some work to do.

So what's next? One more half marathon, then a series of shorter races. I'll still train higher distances for endurance, but race the short distances. Some races I've yet to choose/register for....but this is what I have in mind:

- Calgary half marathon (June 1)
- Ambleside Mile (June 7)
- Longest Day 5K (June 15)
- Summerfast 10K (July)
- Olympic Oval 10K (August)
- Eastside 10K (September)
- Victoria 8K (October)
- Rock N Roll 10K (October)

Until next time, keep on running, and thank you for your cheers of support! 
<3 Z