Review: The 2011 BMO Vancouver Marathon
If anyone says marathons are easy, they deserve a punch in the balls (or groinal region). They’re not. No matter how you spin it. Despite having trained long and hard for this, my third full marathon, it was by no means a walk (or run) in the park for me. In fact, it may have been my most difficult race yet both physically and mentally.
TRAINING FOR THE RACE
I started training for this race in early January after I ran a few decent half marathons in the fall of 2010. My last marathon in 2009 left me battered and never wanting to run again, so even doing those half marathons was difficult for me. But something clicked inside me during that fall that not only kept me running, but also planted the seed for this site. I knew that I wouldn’t give up on running again. I signed up for another full marathon, the 2011 BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 1st.
Come January, post-holiday cookie weight in tow, I began my full marathon training. I felt confident early on because I already had a decent base to build upon from the 3 half marathons months earlier. I was going to approach this training a little differently than before. My first marathon – 9 years ago – was all about finishing. I didn’t care how fast or slow, I just wanted to see if I could do it. My second marathon was almost the same seeing as I had a 7 year break in between the two. “Could I still do it?”, I thought. I did, but BARELY. The BMO Vancouver marathon was going to be my redemption marathon. I was committed to making it my best at all costs. Unfortunately with all races, you really have no idea how your body is going to perform until you are already racing.
I started my training by running 4-5 days a week with my long runs on Saturdays. After a few months, I was tired of my plan and didn’t think it would make me aggressive or fast enough. My mileage was steadily increasing, but I wasn’t really challenging myself like a marathon does. I changed it up to a 6 day running schedule with Tuesdays being tempo days, Wednesdays being hill & trail days, Thursdays being easy/medium pace days, Fridays being fartlek days, Saturdays being another easy/medium pace day, and finally my LSD (long slow distance) on Sundays to coincide with race day (also on a Sunday). This proved difficult the first few weeks as my body wasn’t quite used to all the running. I let my body adapt slowly until it became difficult for me NOT to be running. It felt great.
I definitely had bad days and good days training. Bad days can be horribly disappointing, especially if it’s a speed day and you’re trying to achieve a certain pace. But when the good days would come, they made all the bad ones disappear. Almost.
Two of my worst training days came on my two most IMPORTANT training runs: my 20 mile LSD runs. The first 20 mile attempt happened to fall on an extremely hot Sunday morning. I filled up my bottle with plenty of Heed, Gels, and electrolyte tablets. I was ready to go. The run started out good enough until I hit mile 14 and started to bonk pretty heavily. I’m still not sure what contributed to it, but I was having a hell of a time finishing the mileage. Mentally, I was a mess. This was one of the most important aspects of my marathon training and despite having killer training days up to this point, I was failing myself. I finished far below my expected pace and felt lucky to even get home.
My second attempt at 20 miles was even worse. The weather was hotter than the first so I started earlier in the morning. Regardless I could tell by mile 8 that I wasn’t fueling properly. I was tired, sore, and dehydrated. But no matter how much liquid I took in, I couldn’t get my liquid levels back up. I managed to get to mile 17 before I had to stop dead in my tracks – about 2 miles from my home. So not only was I done physically, but I still had to walk the 2 miles home in 90 degree temps. I spent the afternoon fighting nausea, passing out, and headaches. I was stupid.
Both these runs destroyed a lot of my race confidence. I knew that I didn’t have any more weekends to spare to add another LSD. This was it. I was either trained or I wasn’t and I felt like I wasn’t. (cue my post about turning fear into fuel). By the time I got to my taper week, I had lost a lot of faith in my abilities to accomplish what I had set out to do. But there was no way I was going to back out at this point, I was far too curious to see the results of all this time, energy, and money spent on training.
Days before the race, It seemed even more things were going awry. I was prepping my suitcase for my flight to Seattle Thursday evening, when I went to check in online. “Hmm, that’s weird…I don’t see my flight info for tonight anywhere”, I thought. That’s because while I had been planning on flying out to Seattle Thursday evening and driving up to Vancouver Friday morning, I idiotically booked the flight out for Friday evening. You have to be FUCKING KIDDING ME. How could I be so STUPID? I had planned on meeting my Seattle friends, Justin and Destiny (who were running their first half-marathon ever), Thursday night and travelling to Vancouver early the following morning. Obviously that plan was shot to hell. I had to pay a small fee and change my flight from Friday night to early Friday morning. In the end, the mistake cost me $25 (same-day flight change), lots of sleep, and hours of travel to Vancouver. Fuckin idiot, Ginger.
Regardless, I got to Vancouver in one piece. Eventually. At that point, Justin, Kim, and I went to the race expo in hopes of beating the weekend crowds. Kim (MileLongLegs) and I agree on this: expos suck. I have yet to go to a race expo and not feel like I’m being bombarded by salesmen trying to sell me on their “revolutionary product” or service. I really do want to know why people like the expos. I understand the necessity to let your sponsors showcase their goods, but it’s not like they’re selling anything for a HUGE discount over online/local run store prices. Maybe it’s to get us into the “race spirit”? If that’s the case, give me free booze.
With bibs, chips, blue BMO race-gloves, and good spirits in tow, it was now time to spend a couple of days with my favorite people on this planet in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We ate sushi, watched movies, walked the waterfronts, tried to avoid alcohol (*tried*), carbo loaded and hydrated like motha-fuckers. I couldn’t have asked for better company during such a stressful few days. The four of us were ready to attack the BMO Vancouver race course. Justin, Destiny, and Kim were doing the half-marathon. I was going for the full-on, 26.2 mile goliath.
So, needless to say, the weekend of the 2011 BMO Vancouver Marathon was a delight. I got to share in the excitement of the BMO Vancouver Half-Marathon being Justin and Destiny’s first half-marathons ever. The longest race they had either done up to this point was the Seattle St. Patrick’s Day Dash (5k).
Now, A factor I was concerned about leading up to this weekend was the weather. The Northwest is a fickle bitch in that she can dump rain or snow at a moments notice at any point during the year. You might have sunshine and high temps in the morning only to go to sleep with a foot of snow on the ground. Trust me, it’s happened. Lucky for us, the outlook was fantastic for this weekend with sunny skies and moderate temps.
The day before the race, the four of us focused on taking it easy by relaxing, hydrating, eating, and planning out the following day’s activities. We got in a 2 mile walk along the Quay and made a deliciously healthy protein/carb-centric meal. I was excited for my own race the following morning, but even more-so for my friends. If I didn’t have a good race, there was at least a great shot that one of them would have a stellar time to make up for it. We tried to minimize our anxiety enough to grab some shut-eye, but as it is before all big races, the sleeps had a way of toying with us. Finally, after tossing and turning for an hour, I found sexy sexy dreamland.
Waking up for raceday has never been a real problem for me. I end up sleeping so lightly the night before that I’m usually up before my alarm goes off as it is. Jumping out of bed at 4:15am to start the coffee maker was easy. I hopped into the shower (still not quite sure I know why I need to shower before a big race, but I do it) and began dawning the race gear (including my brand new, custom “TRAIN. RACE. BEER.” singlet!). Once we were all ready, we scarfed down our bagels, peanut butter, bananas, and water and started our trek downtown. We lucked out with a fantastically close FREE parking spot in front of the train station.
We walked to the start line with plenty of time to stretch, converse, “relieve” ourselves (aka shit like there’s no tomorrow), and find a place in the hord of people. Since the full marathon started 30 minutes after the half, I relaxed and stretched some more in the crisp cold sunshine. Before I knew it, the half marathoners were OFF and into their rhythm. I sent good vibes to my friends in hopes of speedy, safe finishes for all of them! As I made my way into the starting corral, I heard my name called out from a distance. I looked up just in time to see Destiny making her way along the elevated parkway about 1 or 2k into the race! That easily put a smile on my face.
Looking around the starting line, I made out quite a few runners also wearing Newtons (my shoe of choice). This made me happy. It’s nice to see a brand that has the runner in mind getting more and more customer awareness. A few people commented on mine as well as my singlet. We shared some smiles, laughs and few words. We all were about to get down to business so the mood, while light, stunk of anxiety. I positioned myself near the 3:40:00 pace bunnies, not necessarily knowing if my pace would be good or bad today. These bunnies would be my medium and I would use them as a speed-gauge throughout the race. Ok, time to breathe and focus. It’s all come down to this.
“15 seconds!”, cried the announcer. And without a 5 second count down, the airhorns blasted signaling the start of the 2011 BMO Vancouver Marathon. It took about 2 minutes for me to get up to and cross over the start line. I activated my Garmin Forerunner 110 and hoped it helped me keep accurate pacing. The race was underway and there was no turning back at this point.
We made our way through the first few kilometers relatively easily. The corners are pretty tight, and with the crowd size, the turns proved pretty dangerous. Many people got elbowed, complained, and through fits at other runners. No one wanted to give up their line. Knowing this kind of shit happens in all races, I kept my cool and tried to stay outside of most of the tight turns. There would be plenty of time to make up a few seconds here and there due to taking an early corner too wide.
With the sun and blue sky in full effect, I was taken aback by some of the early sites. Running under the chintown gate was awesome. Running up and over some of the parkways was stunning. Before I knew it, we were about 7 miles into the race. I was maintaining a pretty even, slow pace (low 8s) in hopes that I could really push through my fuel in the last 10 miles. I ate a gel, drank some fluid and kept on pushing. It was also at about this point that I started to get a stomach cramp. I wasn’t quite sure what it was or what it meant seeing as I RARELY get stomach cramps. Was I not hydrated? Was I OVER hydrated? Was I hungry? Was I too full?
Panic set in.
Something wasn’t right and it was still pretty early in the race so my attention was focused squarley on the light cramping, seeing if it continued to get worse or better depending on what I drank or ate. Until it got any worse, I kept up my pace. I wasn’t letting this distraction get to me. Until mile 10. It was at that point, I had a wave of nausea come over me. My entire body tingled, I felt light headed, and I knew something wasn’t right. I quickly slowed to a walk. By this point, the race took us through probably the worst burrough of Vancouver. Literally as I stopped to regain my balance and not throw up all my nutrition, I stepped right over a drug needle. “Nice, Ethan. You picked the WORST mile in this entire marathon to feel sick and start walking”. It didn’t matter where I was, I had to walk it out. I had to push my panic down and away. If I threw up, I threw up. Nothing I could do about it. Just had to focus on each step, not worry about losing time, and do what my body needed it to do.
I walked for about half a mile before I started to run again. I still felt like my body was on edge and at any moment I could yak over some homeless dude playing banjo and smoking weed. Maybe they’d get a kick out of it. I wasn’t gonna give them the satisfaction. I snapped out of my rut when I heard crazy homeless man #34 yell, “Hey, how many laps are you guys doing?” to which a polite female runner replied, “we’re running a marathon. 26.2 miles”. The crazy homeless man took a beat then yelled back, “So how many laps is that?”. That was all I needed. I wasn’t letting this nausea dictate my race. I ran on. Thanks crazy homeless man for making me smile! GO DRUGS!
Looking over my race splits, the next mile turned out to be one of my fastest. It was straight through the downtown corridor en route to Stanley Park at the northwestern end of downtown Vancouver. I don’t know how I did it, but by the time I got to Stanley Park, I started feeling really nauseas again. I pounded a gel in hopes that it’d quell the sick. I pushed on. By this point, more and more fans were making there way to the sidelines to watch the race. Finally I was getting some recognition for my custom singlet! But the recognition would always happen about 10 seconds after I’d pass someone. I’d run by along the sidelines, and I’d hear, “Train….Race…..Beer……OH, BEER! That’s AWESOME! Go, dude, go!” well after I had already passed them. But anytime I got a shout out, I’d shout some witty comment back as a thank you. It kept me going. They kept me going. No WAY I was gonna hork my breakfast in front of 100 people cheering for me!
Passing under the half marathon gate along the sea-wall in gorgeous Stanley Park surrounded by crystal clear views of the mountains around me was all I needed. After one final wave of nausea, something happened. My stomach grumbled. It was small and subtle, but it cured the entire worry and anxiety that my cramps and nausea had been causing. I realized that I was starving. My breakfast hadn’t satiated me and my nerves before the race kept me from eating any more food. By this point, my body was CRAVING something to eat. I quickly ate through my last Hammer Gel 10 miles too early knowing there would be more handed out eventually.
As I started to feel better mentally, my body came back alive. But in the process it brought with it the realization that a lot of the damage done by pushing so hard on so little fuel was already done. My legs felt like giant stone pillars, my feet killed me with each step, and my form was fighting to stay accurate. Muscles were cramping all over the place, but I knew I just had to keep plowing through. By this point, the full-marathon course had detoured away from the half-marathon course. We were running through forest lined streets heading towards the notorious Burrard Street bridge – a long hill climb you cross over just before mile 18. I had done this part of the course before on a training run so I knew what to expect, but my body was in much different condition that day.
Once over the bridge and into Kitsilano, I was treading on unfamiliar territory. I wasn’t really sure what to expect on this side of the water having never run here before. The only thing I really knew about Kitsilano was that I’d eaten at The Eatery many times (delicious sushi and awesome atmosphere). I passed an awesome group of all blue (read: SPANDEX) cheerleaders and hundreds of more spectators along the streets on my out to the last out-and-back. I knew once I got to that turn, and started heading back into town, I was nearly finished. Just had to get there in one piece.
By this point, my body was failing me miserably. Everything hurt, especially my lil feetsies. But my spirit, still pumped with the excitement that all my problems were hunger related, battled on. I grabbed a couple of GUs supplied at one of the nutrition stations and hunkered down at a moderate pace for the final few miles. I kept glancing at my watch to gauge my mile pace, but had completely forgotten to look at my watch for the OVERALL time. I hadn’t seen any pace bunnies for awhile now so I really had no concept of what my finish time would be.
When I finally made it to the turn around, I decided to do the math. As the bright sun heated the pavement and brought ambient temps up considerably, I looked at my watch. I remember seeing the total time elapsed was 3:10:00. I was right around mile 22.5. That meant I had less than 4 miles to go, and over 50 minutes to do it in in order to beat my old PR. As long as I could hold it together, I could REALLY beat my old PR. I started crying.
Yup, I’m a pussy. What sort of pansy-ass momma’s boy would cry during a marathon? This one, bitch. Trust me, you push your body hard enough and work towards a goal for months on end, the second you realize you were within grasp of it, you’d shed a lil tear too. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. I still had a long ways to go until I crossed that line and a lot could happen in that time.
As I made my way back towards the bridge, I could see it looming on the horizon. When you’re down along the waterfront and you gaze up at the 200 foot high structure, it’s daunting to say the least. The worst part was that the course takes you back directly towards the bridge, then under the towering bohemoth, then around the backside of it, until finally the course dumps you square into the bridge’s sights. All I had to do was get up and over.
The adrenaline kicked in. I was still a mile or two from the finish, but that was all I needed. All those extra days of training on the hills around my house payed off. I stormed up the backside of the bridge like nobody’s business. As I passed other runners, I shouted words of encouragement. We were ALL almost done. We ALL had a little bit more gas in our tanks. We just had to find it. And just like that, I crested the climb, and started the downhill sprint to the finish.
By this point I was emotionally and physically trained. By muscles were going into spasms and I wanted nothing more than to be done. Fans were screaming for us as we left the bridge and started along the last stretch of road to the finish. “IT’S ALMOST TIME FOR BEER!”, “BEER IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER!”, “GO, GINGER, GO!”. I have to say, the fans were really great on this course. I doubt many of them realize just how much influence they have on getting us to the finish.
Before I knew it, I could see the finish line. Not only that, I could see the pace bunnies for 3:40:00. Not only that, but I passed Justin and Destiny cheering their asses off for me near the finish. Not only THAT, but Kim and her whole family were screaming for me as well! Bam. HUGE Adrenaline burst. Everyone finished. Everyone looked excited. I was the last one to be cheered in. I wasn’t about to disappoint them.
I made my way down the last 200 yards screaming at the crowd to cheer louder. I’m still not quite sure why, but I’m pretty sure it was my ego wanting to be recognized by thousands of strangers on my new full marathon PR. That and I hoped it would excite the other runners. I dislike spectators who only care about their one runner. Show some support for everyone! And they did. Loudly.
I crossed the finish line in 3:43:58. 16 minutes 49 seconds faster than my previous best. While I realize it isn’t a spectacular time (Boston requires a 3:05:00 finish), I’m very proud of it. It’s hopefully a strong start to a long race season. By next fall I hope to cross a finish line within grasp of a BQ. But enough about that, it was time for beers, booze, and celebration with my best friends. I soon found out that Justin and Destiny broke all expectations and finished well below their goal-times; and Kim PR’d on her half-marathon race! A truly spectacular finish for all of us.
So if you’ve made it this far in the blog, you’re about due for some hot review action! So let’s go over some things I liked and didn’t like about the BMO Vancouver marathon.
First of all, I loved the course – with caveats. Not having been from Vancouver, but fairly familiar with the city from subsequent visits, it was nice to see parts of the city that I hadn’t seen before and parts that I love. The starting line was located near the giant Omnimax sphere on the waterfront which was a nice start. I also liked being able to travel through gastown, downtown, through the always gorgeous Stanley Park, and over near the Spanish Banks in Kitsilano. I always felt like there was something to see or a breathtaking view to admire. I also hear the course is changing next year, let’s hope they have less out-and-backs. One of my least favorite aspects of larger races is the use of the out-and-back to waste mileage. They’re boring and an obvious cost effective way of shutting down fewer roads.
I thought the race support was pretty darn good. The volunteers were always peppy and ready with cheers of support. I never had a problem at any of the water stations mainly because I’ve learned from experience to bring my own water bottle with me. There have been countless reviews from this race that talk about water stations running out of cups, which is obviously unacceptable (especially after 40 years of putting this race on). But my comment back to those runners is to NEVER depend on a race to provide you with ANYTHING – no matter how sponsored or big it is. You are running a marathon where you are putting your health at risk. Better safe than sorry; bring your own shit. The opposite side to the argument is that you like to run light and don’t want to hassle with extra gear. I understand the argument, but unless you are an elite or front-of-the-pack runner who can depend on early race support before the masses take over, take care of yourself. Think about how much faster it is to have your own water and nutrition and be able to run right through a water stop. I’ve learned the hard way, as most people will.
As for dislikes, the first problem I have is with the shirts. But I also have a legit reason. BMO hosted a race shirt design contest of which I was one of the top 3 final designs chosen. First place got their design printed on all the race shirts, $1000 in gear, the race fee waived, and a 2 day, 2 night stay in downtown Vancouver for the weekend! The public voted and the winning design was put on the shirts. Unfortunately, my design did not win. It was a design, now having seen the shirt, no one seems to understand. It looks like a giant red “W” shape or some weird looking boxer on top of a clip-art city. I will never be wearing the shirt. (And frankly, I’m kinda bummed BMO didn’t give the 2 runner-up designs at LEAST a free race entry!)
Also the finishers medals have a meticulous problem. I know I’m being nit-picky with this one, but the ribbon that goes around your neck is twisted 1/2 turn too much. The medal will never sit flat or comfortably around anyone’s neck. A major oversight in the design department.
Other than that the 2011 BMO Vancouver Marathon was a great race at a great price with great support, a great course, great weather, and amazing friends. I will definitely consider racing it again in the future!
- Cheap Race Entry ($75)
- Beautiful course
- Great support/volunteers
- Easy parking/public transpo
- Personalized bibs (every race needs this)
- Social networking by race committee (twitter/facebook)
- Mile markers not clearly marked like K markers
- Out & backs
- Race shirts
- Medal strap problem
- Disorganized finish line
- Course sanctioned photographers hard to spot (I’m vain!)
RACE SUPPORT: 8/10
RACE ORGANIZATION: 8/10
BONUS: 6/10 (spectacular views, weather)
TIME: 3:43:58 (New Marathon PR)
PLACE OVERALL: 692/3225
PLACE IN SEX: 560/1827
PLACE IN DIVISION: 98/246
YE OL’ ADS
10k (TRAIL): 00:58:10
11k (TRAIL): 01:08:51
15k (TRAIL): 01:24:01
21k (TRAIL): 02:29:27
HALF MARATHON: 1:47:42
FULL MARATHON: 3:43:58
50k (TRAIL): 05:47:54