Friday, May 10, 2024

BMO Vancouver Half Marathon 2024

Well, my first international race is in the bag! And generally, it was a pretty good one, especially considering the way I struggled with leg pain throughout training. I'm feeling two ways about this race: happy with the outcome, and unhappy with my performance. And, at the end of the day, it left me more uncertain than ever about future race plans.

Friday & Saturday

Matt and I dropped Zoe off with her best buddy Marlowe and hit the road. The trip to Vancouver is only 2.5 hours, and even with traffic we made good time. I had gotten some recommendations from colleagues for gluten free restaurants to try and booked dinner reservations at Gyu-Kaku for Friday. The Japanese barbecue menu is almost entirely gluten free and absolutely delicious. Gotta love that exchange-rate-discount, too.

Matt is VERY excited for what's about to happen.
Our Vrbo wasn't the best, but it was fine. By the time we were looking for accommodations, most places were booked up or close to $400/night. So, a bedroom in a shared space was our only option. It was very close to the Skyrail station, though, which was important because that's how we planned to get to the race.

Saturday morning, we stopped at Lemonade Gluten Free Bakery, another recommendation from a colleague. We picked up a variety of pastries, then went to brunch at OEB, where I experienced eggs benedict for the first time. I now totally understand the hype.

I had mine with crab instead of ham. Worth it.
Almond croissant, cinnamon croissant, chocolate croissant, passionfruit tart, and pear frangipane tart.
Finally, we headed to the expo. It's been a long time since I've been to a big race expo, and I found it more overwhelming than exciting. We did enjoy fifteen minutes of free Hyperice compression boots, though.
After the expo, we grabbed probably the best smoothies I've ever had in my life and then spent a little time at the Bloedel Conservatory. I was starting to have pre-period symptoms and spotting, which was incredibly frustrating because it wasn't due and an unplanned period during a half marathon is pretty much a worst-case-scenario.
His first half marathon bib!
We were quite surprised to find our names weren't next to each other on the name wall!
After the conservatory, we relaxed at the Vrbo for a bit before our final errand: Walmart. Because we planned on taking the train to the start, we'd have a ten-minute walk in chilly weather to the train, then a fifteen-minute walk to the race venue. The race wouldn't have gear check at the start, so I wanted to get cheap sweatshirts we could wear during the commute. So, we swung by Walmart where I got myself a $12 children's sweatshirt and Matt got a super cool Avenger's sweatshirt that was on clearance for some unthinkable reason.

Finally, we had my favorite pre-race dinner: sushi. Vancouver has a ton of sushi places and we randomly chose Sushi Wow, and we were not disappointed. It was fantastic.

I hate to admit it, but Vancouver has better sushi than Seattle.
Sunday - Race Day

After a night of disrupted sleep thanks to our snoring housemate, 5:30am came much too soon. My first thought was truly that early mornings are the main reason I hate races. I briefly considered going back to sleep. I got lucky on two counts: my period was nowhere to be found and the weather was perfect. I had a rice cake with peanut butter for breakfast and we got out the door a little after 6am for our walk to the train station.

Flat-Ali ready to go!
Waiting for our ride to the start.
Once we were on the train, my anxiety went away. We saw other runners and I knew we were on time. The walk to the start was longer than I had anticipated, but it gave us a good chance to warm up. The temperature was in the low 50s and cloudy but dry. Honestly, it couldn't have been better!
This walk wasn't ideal, but it did warm us up for the start!
We arrived at the venue with plenty of time to stretch, use the bathrooms, and get into the corral. The national anthem began to play while we were in line for the toilets, and that was a jolting reminder that we weren't in the US!

Matt's goal was a sub-2 race, mine was to finish under 2:25, so I told him in the corral to feel free to leave me behind and go do his thing. 

Ready as we'll ever be!

We were in the third wave. What a crowd!
The first 5k was all downhill. I tried to temper my speed and not take it too fast, but it felt really good and gave me a false sense of security, for sure. In the first mile, I got overwhelmed with happiness and choked up a bit; after tabling my February half, it was gratifying to be running one and feeling good.
Just out for a casual run with 20,000 of my closest friends.
At the 5k mark, I began to see runners coming down the opposite direction and kept an eye out for Matt. Miraculously—given the sheer number of participants out there—I caught sight of him and we waved at each other. That was the last time I saw him 'til the finish.

I continued to feel really good as we headed into Chinatown. We passed people playing music and performing a Dragon dance with a giant dragon costume. Then we ran under the Chinatown Millennium Gate, which was so cool. I truly wish I'd stopped to get video or pictures because shortly after this, we hit our first hill, and I decided it was a good time to walk and eat something. I had one caffeinated Blok, no water, between mile 4.8 and 5, and then picked up running again.

I continued to feel pretty good into mile 7, when we passed some really spectacular drag queens. (Again, I am so sorry for the lack of pictures!) I ate two more Bloks around this time. Still no water.

I felt great for the first half of the race.
From there, we entered Stanley Park, and I quickly began to flag. I had a little run-in with a pylon (I was fine, but when it sprang back up like a weeble-wobble, I'm pretty sure it caught the guy behind me riiiight in the groin) but kept myself going through mile 8 thanks to the Brooks cheer section. The moment I was out of there, the wheels fell off. 

I began to walk the rolling hills. When a friend warned me about the hills in Stanley Park, I was thinking of the sea wall, not the interior roads, so I imagined small hills. I was not ready for the long climbs that started around mile 8.

At first, I planned to start walking once per mile; soon, I was walking every uphill. I drank some water at mile 9 and moved my phone from my bra pocket (where it was starting to hurt my shoulder-blades) to my thigh pocket. Around that time, the 2:15 pacer passed me, and I knew I was in danger of missing my goal. I was aiming for sub-2:25 but really wanted a 2:20.

For some reason I didn't pay attention to the elevation map during training and I absolutely should have.
I tried to keep the 2:15 pacer in sight, but as the hills continued to wear on me, he drifted farther and farther ahead of me. My watch was clocking miles but the signs on the route were in km, which really played tricks on me. I couldn't understand how we were only at 14km more than 3/4 into the race! (Mathing-while-racing is really hard.)

Luckily at mile 10, the sign actually said "mile 10".

At mile 12 I drank some Nuun and I'm not sure if it was that or the fact I only had a mile left, but I finally started to feel a little better. I teared up again at mile 12.5, where huge crowds started to form to bring us into the finish. People called out my name. I imagine they took one look at me and thought, that girl needs the motivation!


The same friend who told me about the rolling hills in Stanley warned me about the last 1k. It's uphill, but the sort of uphill you don't really notice unless you're exhausted from running 13 miles. She didn't warn me that that entire 1k is in the finishing chute, surrounded by hundreds of spectators. It's the last place you want to slow down!

Matt managed to get video of me so you can thank him for the existence of these blurry screen captures where you can absolutely see how much pain I'm in.
At first, I couldn't figure out why I was pushing so hard but my legs weren't going faster; then I realize I was on a sneaky hill and would be until I reached the finish line, which looked so, so far away.

Matt had finished ahead of me; I heard him call my name and managed to find him and wave as I struggled through the end. I really felt like I wanted to puke or pass out, not that my pace at that point warranted either.

The least-enthusiastic wave ever.
Somehow, I didn't walk. But it was definitely my ugliest finish ever. No raised victory arms...just hobbling to a stop. Usually I can finish a race on a high, which paints the earlier miles with a lovely rosy glow. Not so this time. I finished feeling absolutely wrung out and defeated.
Medal side one.
That feeling stayed with me. My watch told me I'd exceeded my goal, but I couldn't find pride in it. I felt disappointment instead. Why hadn't I pushed on those hills? How had this half taken me eight minutes longer than last year's? How had I backslid so far from my recent PR?
After navigating the finishers' compound and getting snacks, I found Matt near the results tent. He had finished in 1:54! We gathered my checked gear—I was so glad I'd packed a sweatshirt!—and dodged our way through an intense crowd to the train station, where we began our journey back to our Vrbo.

A few days have passed. Now that my DOMS has faded, I can look at this race with a kinder eye. I've run 2:17 half marathons before; they've been flat, and often in good conditions. Managing that time on a hilly course after battling leg pain through training? Yeah, I can be satisfied with that outcome.

Medal side two.
I've been saying for months that my decision on Loch Ness hinges on this race. I've got some thinking to do, and this post is long enough without delving into all that, but know this: a decision is coming, and I'll have to make it soon!


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