Tuesday, May 8, 2012

BMO Vancouver Half-Marathon May 6, 2012

BMO Vancouver Half-Marathon 
May 6, 2012

Short story: Not my day for a good race, but an amazing weekend overall. 8)


Splits from my Garmin here: (The first kilometre was a little off as my watch didn’t lock into the signal right away).
Elevation profile from my Garmin: (The GPS gets a bit confused downtown; there was only about 40m elevation gain in the last 2K, not 100m. The rest is pretty accurate, though.)

Long story (why can't I write short reports?):

Back in October of last year, the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon committee announced two new courses for the full- and half-marathons. Everyone was excited about the prospect of net downhill courses that went through beautiful parts of the city. I was not sure what to expect with this new half-marathon course; the old course with Prospect Point hill was gone, but I OWNED that course and that hill. It was my first half-marathon back in 2004, and I raced it five more times after that, missing it only in 2006 when I did the full marathon and in 2009 when I was injured. I knew the course well, and nailed it last year for a PB time of 1:47:xx. Could I be in shape to better that time this year? 

On race day were blessed with gorgeous weather, and I woke up feeling great. I left my house just after 6:00 to walk/jog over to the start, just 2K away. The corrals were well-organized and not crowded, but many people seemed to be arriving late and trying to jump the fences. We were off just a bit later than 7:00, and I saw Rob cheering on the sideline—gave him a quick high-five and I was on my way.

My plan was to hold as close to a 5:00/km average pace as I could, figuring I could tack 6K onto the pace I did in Birch Bay 15K in March. I expected the first half to be a bit faster than the second with the downhill start. My race started well – the course started on a bit of an uphill but then quickly started downhill as we headed north on Cambie. This felt great; I was keeping a great pace but it did not feel tough at all- I was just taking what the downhill gave me. The first few kilometres were under 5:00/km, and by 5K I was at about 24 minutes. The course flattened out after that and actually had some rolling hills through the downtown area. I took it easy on the uphills, and then tried to get back the lost time on the downhills. The strategy seemed to be working well. 

At 10K I was just over 50 minutes. I knew I had lost a bit of the time I banked on the downhill, but I was still feeling very good. The next 5K had some rolling hills with an out-and-back along Stanley Park Drive before we head along the side of Lost Lagoon. I walked a bit on the uphills, trying to conserve energy and saving them for the downhills. At 15K at just over 1:16:xx (close to my Birch Bay time); so I had lost some more time but I still kept holding on. Yes, it felt tough, but I kept telling myself, “it’s ok, it is supposed to feel tough.” I thought if I could just get past 16K I could go into autopilot and take it home.

But around then is where I started feeling some twinges in my calves – similar to what I felt last year at Scotiabank Half in June. I thought it wasn’t too bad and just tried to relax into it. I thought if I could just hold on to as many kilometres near 5:00 I would still be able to finish well, but my time was slipping away as I needed to walk or relax to let the calves release. I stopped to stretch at one point, but that did not help. Sometimes when I started to walk I felt my lower legs start to go numb. Then I would get moving again, and the cramping continued into my feet and the sides of my legs. By 18K I was just holding on to finish, hoping I could make it without any serious damage to my calves.

The last uphill along Pender before we turned at Hastings would have been cruel in the marathon, but at the end of my race it was almost a relief. I was not moving very quickly at that point, but I knew I was almost done. I finished at just over 1:53 on my watch.

I was elated to finish and get my medal, a then a water bottle and a food bag. Even though my race did not go as I would have liked, I toughed out another finish and that made me very happy. I dug a banana out of the bag, the only thing I could stomach at that point. The long walk to the gear check area (seemed like about a kilometre) was brutal, although not as bad as it could have been because of the beautiful weather. About half-way to the gear check area I made the mistake of nonchalantly stepping down a curb and both calves seized on me. I was literally screaming in pain, and a couple people came over to me to see if I was ok; I choked out, “Yeah, I’ll be ok”, looked around for a medical tent but there was nothing around. So I sat there and waited for the cramps to relax. When they did, I tried to get up again—too soon! Both calves seized again and the pain was worse than before. I was trying to work it out, breathing into it and letting them relax (I had had this before and knew what to do), and eventually they did. But I was afraid to try to get up again. Luckily at that point I saw a couple friends who had finished shortly after me. They were my saviours- when I was ready to stand up, my calves might have seized again had they not been there to help me support my weight. We slowly walked to get our gear (another problem, but I won’t get into that here).  After relaxing, getting a coffee, some more food, we went back to the finish line to cheer in our marathoning friends.

Now that it is over, I am not sure what I think of this new course. I knew not to get too excited about the net downhill profile, and in the end my race was very similar to Scotiabank Half last year (also net downhill with one long 2K drop). Maybe the calf cramping can be avoided with a more moderately-paced start, and I just paced too aggressively for my fitness. I have been advised by a few people that the cramps can be avoided by addressing hydration and nutrition; I have my doubts since it only happens on courses with big downhill grades. But since now two of the big half-marathons in the city have this profile, I really want to figure this out. Overall I loved the new organization of the races and the scenic courses; the race committee does need to work out a few of the organizational kinks with transit, post-race support, and gear pickup, and I hope they fix these. 

Others have their own stories to tell, and there are many. For now will just say that it was great to share this weekend with so many wonderful people. The weeks and days of training and camaraderie leading up to the race, cheering for each each other during and after the race, and hashing out the good and the bad after -- the support and friendship of my running communities cannot be beat.  This to me is what running is all about.

Thanks for reading.

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