What an experience. My husband and I started our training more than 18 weeks ago. On Sunday, May 5th, we finally got to put our training to the test in Vancouver. I’ll give you two versions of the story. My brief summary for those who just want the highlights… and then the longer version for those who want details.
And now… the LONG version!
My husband, Jim, and I arrived in Vancouver on Saturday and visited the expo where we picked up our race packets. It is always exciting seeing your race bib! Our bibs were customized with our names and interestingly enough the corrals were labeled by color, I was in the “brown corral”. The bibs for the race had your first name and then underneath in smaller type they had the corral color. So, just by coincidence my bib said “Kristine Brown” (Which is really my name without the Svehla-.) The race crew also handed out yellow ribbons for us to wear in honor of Boston. Every runner gladly put one on. It was a sweet gesture.
My husband and I went for a walk around the waterfront and the convention center. Previously in one of my blogs, I mentioned that my husband worked on the design of the convention center for over 4 years. It is such a joy for him to see this building in action. There is a bustling life of restaurants and shops on the lower level along the waterfront. Not to mention the building itself is magnificent in its scale and design and the way the green roof folds into the landscape of the city. (Brilliant!)
We went and enjoyed a late lunch, checked into our hotel room and then enjoyed an early dinner so we could get organized and get to bed early. Over the weeks and weeks of training I had decided what to wear on race day. Compression is your friend! So, I was wearing compression tights, my running skirt, compression socks, a sleeveless top and my personal favorite… my super secret underwear with the built in pad. (Shhhh…..)
On race morning we woke up early to grab a coffee and catch the train to the starting line. The walk from the train station to the park where the race started was about 15 minutes. I was actually happy for the walk so my calf could really have time to loosen up before the race. Up until the day of the race, I felt like my right calf and Achilles could “go” at any moment. Happily, they held up!
I was so happy to see my fellow Seattle Triathlon Team LUNA Chix teammate, Jenny! (Of course I saw her while waiting in line for the port-o-potties.) Then when my husband and I parted to go to our respective corals, I also saw my friend, Marci. Great way to start a race seeing friends!
The race started and I jogged along. I was wearing my new Garmin (an early birthday present from my husband), so I was having fun looking down to see its display and whether I was “on pace” or not. For the first hour or so, I’ve become accustomed to running without music. I like to take in the sights and sounds around me. You hear people’s conversations. You wonder, “why is that guy running in a Barney costume… is he serious?” You wonder, “how is that woman going to make it 26.2 miles in long black pants, a jacket and a backpack? What is she thinking? I’m hot already!”
And it was hot. We spent 18 weeks training through rain, cold and wind and were blessed this day with blue skies and warm temperatures. It was a blessing and a bit of a curse. A blessing to be able to roll out in the morning with minimal clothing to worry about… but the curse being later in the day when we were running in full sun on the asphalt and no shade to be found…. it felt hot.
I came up to the “Highway to Hell“. This was a pretty brutal hill with a steep incline in a fairly short distance. A local radio station was positioned at the bottom of the hill blaring the actual song “Highway to Hell” over a loudspeaker. I’ve learned living in the Pacific Northwest that hills are the norm, not the exception. On a bike or running… you just have to gut it out. There were some great Vancouverites lining the course from the neighborhood cheering us on. “You got this!”, a woman said to me as I grimaced back at her. I decided this was a good time to start listening to my own music which included a specially curated collection of Coldplay, Eminem, The Beastie Boys, Pink, and David Guetta, just to name a few.
Throughout the race I mostly was consuming water and my Shot Bloks. I had planned to do a Gu/Clif Shot every 5 miles. Because of the heat, I felt like I could use the energy sooner… so I did my first Gu a little before 5 miles (then a bit before 10, then 15).
The water stations were plenty. I would fill up the bottles I was carrying on my race belt rather than just rely on the stations. This way I could sip on water in-between stations. I was pretty aware of the heat and really concentrating on staying hydrated so I could make it all the way through the race. When there was Gatorade available I drank some of that too… but I’m pretty sensitive to drinking Gatorade and doing Gu or Shot Bloks at the same time (too much sugar causes an upset stomach). So I tried to time my nutrition carefully.
Running my first marathon in Vancouver was a good choice. Although I’ve visited Vancouver many times, I’ve never seen as much of it as I did during the race. And I got to see it on foot! Looking at all the places we ran and the vistas with mountains, water, evergreen trees and the downtown skyline… I can’t imagine a more picturesque place to run a marathon.
I made it through the first half of the marathon at a good pace. Again, I could feel a huge difference between my energy level when I was in the shade versus when I was in the sun. I was waiting to get over the crest of the hill and nearer to the water so I could feel the marine air. It did come. My time for the half was 2:47:47 which BEAT my best PR for a half marathon! My previous best was 2:49:52 from the Seattle Half-Marathon back in 2009.
The second half of the marathon clicked away. Being we were in Canada, most of the markers were in kilometers. (There were a handful of signs in miles, too.) I was relying on my watch for keeping track of my distance. Then, at about mile 22, my watch ran out of battery! (Ugh!) A little frustrating, but I couldn’t let it bother me. And it probably was my fault for not having it fully charged the night before. I’m joking now that I can’t run another marathon because my watch battery doesn’t last that long!
In Stanley Park, I seemed to be leap frogging with the same group of runners as we navigated our way around. By this time in the day, the park was actually busy with Vancouverites just enjoying the beautiful day. (Many of them unaware that some of us slower marathon runners were still coming through.) There is access to the water at a beach on Stanley Park. I just wanted to go over and submerge my whole body! I had poured water over my head and down my back for the whole second half of the race. In fact I remember a volunteer who saw me pouring water over my head… she said, “do you want another?” I said, “actually, yes…” She said, “I wouldn’t begrudge you at all… it’s hot.” which I found to be a delightfully Canadian thing to say.
To that I’ll interject and say… VOLUNTEER to be on a race crew sometime. People really appreciate what you’re doing. Whether they can verbalize it in that moment they are in pain from the event… they appreciate you. I appreciated every volunteer I came in contact with. Thank you for the support, the cheers, the well wishes, the water, the Gatorade and the Power Gel! Thank you to the medical crew who were on bikes monitoring the course! And the one paramedic I saw on the course in full uniform and sparkly pom-poms. FANTASTIC.
There were parts in the last 4-5 miles where I wanted so badly to keep running so I could finish FASTER. But I felt I needed to walk. Then, when I wanted to start running again THAT was painful, too. “Just keep moving forward.” That’s what I would say to myself. Every muscle in my lower body was on fire. My back on the left side also seemed to be seizing up. My mind was seriously wanting relief. ARE WE DONE YET?!
To be honest, in every race, long cycling ride or triathlon, there is a moment of “I should NOT be doing this.” Your body is in pain and it is your job to convince your mind that you can gut it out. Trust your training. This is the time where you say, “I really think I want to quit…” But then you refuse. I refuse because there are people expecting me to finish. I refuse because I WANT this accomplishment. I refuse because my husband is patiently waiting for me at the finish line… let’s do this. Let’s finish.
There were some blue signs with inspirational quotes on them in the last 2-3 miles. This is when I needed them most. I can’t remember what they said now, but at the time I remember shaking my head…. saying, “yes!” and being inspired by them to keep going.
And also to the lovely, lovely gentleman (I’ll say he was in his 80’s) who grabbed my hand about 3/4 of a mile from the finish line. He said, “be proud, you’ve done it…. you’re a marathoner.” What an angel. I don’t know who you were sir, but if I weren’t so grimy and gross…. I would have kissed you on your cheek!
I ran the long approach to the finish line. By this time the crowds were gone. They said my name… “Kristine Svehla-Brown from Seattle, Washington”. I crossed the last two timing mats and there was my husband, Jim, with smile and a kiss for me. I’m sure he was as spent as I was, but he waited over an hour for me to finish.
After the marathon we walked slowly back to our hotel. I filled the hotel bath with extremely cold water and sat in it for about 15 minutes. There are muscles that are sore on my body that are NEVER sore when I run. I ran, walked and shuffled 26.2 miles. I did my absolute best.
I know what some people would like to know. Did I lose weight during my training? The answers is…. not really – I’m still an Athena Triathlete. I’m sure I exchanged fat for muscle and weakness for strength, however, the number on the scale remains the same, as well as, the size of my thighs thanks to my Czech and German heritage.
Overall, I think running such a long distance will help me with my “short game”. Running 5K, 10K or a half-marathon will have a new perspective from now on. I hope to improve my speed this summer.
I can’t say that there is another full marathon in my future. Not for now. There is a huge time commitment to training and being a slow runner, they’re always folding up the tables by the time I cross the finish line. The “excitement” of the event looses steam when you cross the finish line in 6:03. That’s just the facts.
So what did I gain in this whole journey? Why even do it? Well, I ran nearly 400 miles in training and racing over 4 months. I have lower than normal blood pressure and a great resting heart rate. When I exert myself physically, I’m much faster to recover from it and I’m more likely to want to go out and exercise again.
But more than just the time I finished in… there were the connections I made with people far and near through the whole process leading up to this marathon; there was the volunteer who let me dump water over my head; there was that woman on the hill who said, “You got this!” with an affirming smile; there was that lovely gentleman who cheered me on so passionately at the finish; and, of course, my husband waiting to see me cross the finish line.
I enjoy and respect running now more than I did in before and hey, I ran a MARATHON!