Monday, May 3, 2010

Vancouver Half Marathon race report

Here are my two favorite parts of every race:

1. A few minutes before the start -- when I feel giddy and weepy (happy weepy, to be precise) and thrilled to be part of a big event.

2. A few moments before the finish -- when the finish line is in sight, and Wil and I grab hands "leave nothing in the tank" for our final push.

Which isn't to say that I don't enjoy most of the time in the middle. I also like when the crowds thin out a little, and I can relax into my pace (and not worry so much about tripping over someone or being clipped from behind). I like seeing new places -- I am sure I would never have seen quite so much of suburban Vancouver if I hadn't run this race. I like settling into a rhythm, and seeing the miles pass by. I like eavesdropping on other runners. I like water stops. I like wondering what flavor of gel they'll have at the gel stop. I like when people have funny things written on their shirts, or when they have sad things to honor fallen friends. And I love it when we pass by a traffic cop with a STOP/SLOW sign. Invariably the STOP side is facing cars, and the SLOW side is facing the runners. And I get to yell "Your sign should say FAST!". Ah, it never gets old. Well, except for Wil.

The race wasn't corralled, so the start was very bunchy and full of people who hadn't yet learned proper race etiquette. Groups of walkers, 4 abreast, starting at the front "because they were worried about getting swept". (I hasten to add that I have absolutely no issue with walkers -- the more the merrier, I say -- but please learn to walk in pairs!) We also had to execute a hairpin turn about 100 yards from the start -- crazy, and I saw a woman trip on the curb and nearly fall. Then another set of left turns until we looped around and got on a high ramp.

The ramp was also a little weird -- there wasn't any real guidance, so we ended up on a "sidewalk" that got narrower and narrower, eventually trapped behind some slow-moving people. Then, all of a sudden, it was clear that we had to climb over the barrier to get onto the street because the sidewalk was moving away. Whoops! But it was easy to cross and we were back on our way with the main crowd.

The course was more hilly than I expected -- we always seemed to be running up or down a hill, which is funny because I never thought Vancouver was hilly before. Not very much support out on the roads, but then again, it was early on a Sunday morning and the weather was getting worse.

It was cold at the start, and we had our "disposable" fleeces on. But after a couple of miles, we got too warm. Wil took his off first, and tied his around his waist. I kept mine on until mile 3, but then was sweating so I decided to take mine off completely. I was wearing capri-length tights and a long-sleeved Brooks thermal top, and figured that I would be warm enough.

This was a tactical error on my part.

Because the mist turned into a light drizzle which turned into a heavy drizzle and then into a proper rain. So we were pretty wet when we reached the outskirts of Stanley Park at mile 5. Just in time for the strong wind coming off the water. Oops. Weirdly enough we found ourselves caught behind a large "2:30" pace group just as the road narrowed (such was surprising because they started well ahead of us in the chute). But then we stopped for a potty break... along with a number of people who were Very Very Slow. 6 minutes later (the 2:30 bunny long since gone), we continued on.

We ran on the seawall for a short while before turning up onto a vehicle road that would eventually take us up into the park. It was green and lovely and rainforesty -- and cold. Just after mile 6 there was another gel stop, and I scarfed it down, which made me feel better. The road was climbing gradually, until we turned a corner and could see "the hill" -- the twisty road that lead up to Prospect Point. I remember someone -- a volunteer? a Team in Training coach? a crazy race fan? -- standing at a curve shouting "Once you get to where I'm standing, you'll be able to see the top. It gets steeper, but you can see the top."

So we slowly passed her, and leaned into the hill, and, crossing a bridge above the Lions Gate Bridge, approached the lookout. A cold, lonely man was blasting 50s and 60s tunes from a sound system. Wil ran in to use the bathroom, and I tried to stay warm by dancing to the music: "Don't Be Cruel", "Party Doll", "Surfin' Safari". And then we were off again.

The next couple of miles were mainly downhill -- pounding through the park on rain-slicked roads. I was weirdly hungry, and at the water station around mile 9.5 I ate a third gel. I have never eaten more then two gels in a race -- even during the marathons -- my coach Ben says my body was just churning through fuel to keep me both warm AND moving.

At some point, near the exit to the park, we saw our first full marathoners. Their course started at the same spot as ours, but they ran lots of extra miles, than ran some different paths through the park (skipping the Prospect Point hill...), met up near the exit (our mile 10ish, their mile 16), and then ran with us for a mile or so before turning off for several more miles before rejoining just before the finish. And did I mention they started 30 minutes after us?

Was thrilled to pass our hotel somewhere around mile 10.5 -- knowing it was really just a short little jaunt, relatively flat, to the finish. Was especially thrilled to turn "inland" and away from the freezing wind along English Bay.

The last couple of miles were pretty uneventul -- we did pass some supporters, but it really wasn't until we were in the finish chute before there were crowds. Oh, except for at the last water stop, which was staffed by Asian cheerleaders, who saw my name on the bib and started shrieking "Oh! Sunny! Go Sunny! Go Sunny!!!!" Love that. Adore that.

And then, as we neared the finish, we sped up as much as we could, and could hear the announcer keeping a running commentary on the finishers. We heard him say "And here's Sunny Delaney from Seattle, Washington" -- the first time, I think, that I got a shout out in a race.

I think we mistimed the finish -- we were sprinting toward the inflatable arch -- but perhaps the timing mat we ran across right before my name was called was the actual finish? Who knows. We were done. Not particularly fast, and not particularly pretty, but done in 2:36+.

Only once -- at the Disney World 1/2 this year -- have I been happier to receive the race blanket. We got our medals (lovely; nice that the ribbons are different for the full and the half) but decided to skip the post-race food and just get out of there. As we were making our way up the stairs in the direction of "home", we heard the announcer talking about the marathon leader approaching the home stretch. Mind you, this man started 30 minutes after us, ran twice as far as us, and only finished a few minutes after we did. Awesome. I did have a tiny twinge of sadness that we weren't just that much slower, actually, because it would have been freaking amazing to see him sprinting past us.

We got onto the main road towards the hotel, and prepared to walk the mile and a half.... but then we saw, like a beacon, a taxi. Just sitting there, all warm and golden. After ascertaining that it wasn't a mirage, we leapt in and were dropped off a block from our hotel about 10 minutes later. The best C$12 I have EVER spent.

We got gigantic hot drinks from the Starbucks and then walked along the course -- still wrapped in our blankets -- and cheered on the marathoners as we went. I like to think that cheering is better than silence, even if it comes from people snugly wrapped in bright blue "VANCOUVER MARATHON" blankets...

10 minutes later we were up in the room, having steaming hot showers and eating as if carbs were going out of style. The fine folks at the Sylvia had granted us an hour's grace, so we could check out at 1pm, but we were pretty much warm and dry and ready to move on before noon. We celebrated with a trip to Capilano to cross the suspension bridge -- whee! -- and then headed back south for home.

As usual, here's my archival link to the course map.

1 comment:

  1. Boo for rain but hooray for hot drinks! Oh, and extra boo for 6 minutes of portapotty line! And extra hooray for a warm cab! You two are amazing!