42at40: 2019 BMO Vancouver Marathon Race Recap

It’s been just over a week since my race and so I figured it’s high time for me to post a race recap.

Me in front of the Run Vancouver sign at packet pickup

Pre-Race

We got into Vancouver on Friday morning. As luck would have it, I was in a middle seat on our flight and the seat configuration was such that I didn’t have proper legroom in front of me. Instead, I had a bar in front of my left leg, which is the one with the knee issues. This meant that I had to spend the entire flight with my legs awkwardly off to one side. When I got off the flight I could feel my legs and knee aching, but there wasn’t much I could do about that.

We had some time to spare before we could check in at our Airbnb, so we went for brunch at one of my favourite spots in Vancouver, The Wallflower. They do awesome vegan and gluten-free options and weren’t super busy so we could hang out there for a while.

Once we finally did check into our Airbnb, we spent the rest of the day getting groceries and ordered pizza for dinner from Panago (since they can do gluten-free, vegan options). We were super tired and didn’t feel like going out to a restaurant, truth be told!

Saturday I woke up and my knee felt pretty good. I was thankful for that! After some breakfast, we headed over to Canada Place so I could pick up my race kit. I also went to the ‘Nuun at Noon’ meetup at their booth, which was fun! For those who didn’t already know, I’m part of the Nuun Ambassadors team.

Me, pointing my name out on the 'Welcome Team Nuun' sign
Look, It’s me!

After that, I just tried to keep calm and keep off my feet as much as possible. Lunch was from the hot bar at Whole Foods. I cooked a simple dinner, hydrated with lots of Nuun, and tried to get to sleep at a decent time.

Race Day

The Vancouver Marathon route
Yep, that’s the route! Image from the Vancouver Marathon website.

Start time was 8:30 am and the start line was a 45-minute transit ride + walk from our Airbnb. So I got up at about 5:15 am to eat, hydrate, get dressed, prep my race nutrition, and try not to freak out.

To be honest, my stomach wasn’t 100% on race morning. I knew this was potentially going to be an issue from things I’d read in Stacy Sims’ book Roar and from past experience. Without getting into TMI territory here, when you are close to your menstrual period, your hormones are at their highest phase, which means GI issues are much more likely. Between nerves and that, I wasn’t doing well race morning. I ate about half my bowl of oatmeal (which has always been my safe race morning or long run morning breakfast) and couldn’t finish the rest. Instead, I drank a bit more Nuun – coffee had to be out with my sour stomach – and took several Tums.

We got to the start line at about 7:30 am – earlier than I had wanted, but because local transit was on a Sunday schedule, that was our best option. I took some photos, lined up for the portapotties a couple of times, and then entered my corral about 15 minutes to start time.

Me at the start line

Once in the corral I chatted with some other runners, then things started to get quiet as the first wave was sent out. It was at this point I started to get super emotional. I’d worked so hard for over a year to get to this race and the day was finally here. I cried a little. It was at this moment that I decided to forget about time, pace, and what ‘others might think of me’ if I posted a slow time on social media or Strava. I just wanted to run and finish. The rest didn’t matter.

Once I was finally out on the course, I discovered what some reviews had warned me about – in spite of some saying the course is ‘mostly flat except for a couple of big hills’, it really isn’t! It’s Vancouver. It’s hilly. You spend the first half going up and down hills. Most of them are short and not super steep, but there is one killer hill of 1.3km. That’s the infamous Camosun Hill, and you hit that around the 9k mark of the race.

Because of my knee issues and wanting to conserve energy for the back half of the race, I walked most of the big hill. But other than the hill and some quick walk breaks to hydrate or eat some gels or chews, I ran the entire first half. My knee gave me almost no trouble at all, thankfully. I crossed the 21.1 mat in 2 hours 40 minutes.

Now, remember what I said about my stomach? While it didn’t affect me so badly that I was taking lots of portapotty breaks, I did feel a bit off during the second half of the race. So much so that I couldn’t take full doses of my gel or chews – I’d take half a gel or two chews at a time, when I should have been doing double that. In spite of carrying Tums, and in spite of taking some just before the race, I was nervous to use them. I had no logical reason to be! I’d used them in training and they always helped. I just got overly nervous I think.

In addition to the stomach issues, it was much hotter on race day than I was used to. Remember, I trained in a Toronto winter, so in temperatures well below zero most weeks, with lots of blowing wind, snow, and ice. But for race day, and for the entire week we were in Vancouver, daily temperatures were 20C or higher by the afternoon. So while not scorching hot, I certainly noticed the heat and my body wasn’t having it. I did take frequent sips of Nuun (I had performance in my bottles and they had the regular electrolytes at water stations) but it might not have been enough.

Given all that, the second half of the race I started slowing down and my legs started cramping up. I’m sure this was partly due to not getting in enough nutrition and partly due to all the hills I’d just run over. I started taking way more walk breaks, which got longer and longer as I got closer to the finish.

Honestly though, I kept telling myself it didn’t matter at all. I was finishing this thing. If I had to crawl across the finish, I would. No one was taking that away from me.

Beautiful view of the mountains and beach in Point Grey, Vancouver.
Taken during a walk break. Stunning views on this course.

After we crossed the Burrard Bridge, I knew I had about 12k left to go. Rich met me somewhere along English Bay Beach and walked a short distance with me to cheer me on. I then kept going on my own. Walk a bit, run a bit, walk a bit. It seemed everyone around me was doing exactly the same thing. Sometimes my walking pace was just as fast as their running pace, so I kept that up for stretches at a time. It felt easier to ‘power walk’ than do the typical new marathoner ‘shuffle run’. In retrospect I’m pretty amused by that.

As we went around Stanley Park I knew we were getting close to the end. With about 5km to go, I was starting to get antsy, so I pulled out my headphones and put on some fun music to give myself a boost. It seemed to help. After a short time I saw the sign for 41k, then just ahead, the sign for 1km remaining as we turned back onto city streets. I was momentarily confused when we got out onto West Georgia because it wasn’t fully closed to cars, but a kind volunteer showed me the section that was blocked off that led to a wide sidewalk, so I ran down that looking for more signs that I was getting close to the finish.

After a brief walk break, I saw the sign for 500m to go. Once I saw that I started running as fast as I could and didn’t stop. My legs were absolutely screaming at me at this point but I somehow managed to pull off a 6:45/km pace. I kept going with Rich cheering me on from the side, and with the kind announcer saying my name, that I was from Toronto, and that I’d done several half marathons but this was my first full.

I did it! This image from Marathon Photos.

When I crossed the finish line I was so full of emotion and my brain pretty much wasn’t functioning. I got my medal from a young girl, bending down at the waist (I couldn’t squat at this point, let’s be honest!) for her to put it on me. I was offered water from another volunteer, and a Nuun tablet. Then I was stopped by a photographer and got my photo taken, but forgot my headphones were still on and my hands were full so it looks a bit funny! No matter, it’s an accurate depiction of me moments after finishing.

This image also from Marathon Photos.

Next, the food section. I grabbed bananas, chips, and skipped over the rest since it wasn’t vegan-friendly. I limped over to the exit to find Rich, who was waiting for me with a recovery drink and a hug.

For those wondering, my official time was 5:54:17. I haven’t talked about that much elsewhere, because I get too hung up on time and speed and that kind of achievement. But as I said at the beginning of this story, I had to let all that go to finish this race strong. And I did it. And I’m proud of that.

Would I recommend the BMO Vancouver Marathon?

Yes, absolutely! It’s a stunning course, and very supportive of first-timers. There were people cheering pretty much everywhere on course. The volunteers were awesome, and super encouraging of us ‘back of the pack’ people. And the entertainment was super fun! There were live bands in many sections, in several music styles. My favourite was an Elvis impersonator that happened somewhere along Stanley Park (I think maybe near 34km?). He was awesome, doing his routine in the middle of the path but with plenty of room for runners to go by on either side. I gave him a thumbs up as a ran by, and he gave me a gentle tap on the arm (I took it as encouragement).

All that said: this isn’t an easy course for beginners. It’s gorgeous! It’s fun! But it’s not easy – in as much as a marathon can ever be easy. Even winner (and 2018 Boston Marathon champ) Yuki Kawauchi commented on how it isn’t an easy course. So take that into consideration if having a flat, fast course is important to you. Vancouver’s isn’t designed for that.

As well, I did have one small issue that didn’t ruin my race by any means but is worth noting: Stanley Park was not blocked off to other users. This meant that there were cyclists (on the wrong path, I should point out, since bikes get a separate part to people on foot, but not everyone pays attention to this), pedestrians, and even a few non-race runners to dodge.

Now, this wasn’t a super big issue for 99% of the race, but I did have an incident at a water station where two people who clearly were not in the race stood in the middle of the path and there was nowhere for me to go around them. Between the water station and them, the entire path was blocked. I called out ‘excuse me!’ from a few meters back, then ‘please excuse me!’ from right behind them, but still they didn’t move. Finally, I tapped one of their shoulders and, feeling like I was out of options, I jumped onto the ledge of the seawall and went around them. I think I may have used the person’s shoulder as leverage to get onto the wall, unintentionally!

Anyhow, this clearly wasn’t a good situation. It might have been better if the volunteer at the water station who witnessed the whole thing had asked them to move out of the way, but no one got injured, so I guess it’s all ok.

close up of my finisher's medal

So… what’s next?

Well, my knee is still an issue and my legs could use some extra TLC, so I’m heading back into physio and have a massage booked now that I’m back home in Toronto. I’ve taken the last week off running, and while I’m getting some post-race blues, I know the best thing is to take at least another week off. I’ll hit the gym for strength training instead.

When I do get back to running, I’m signed up to do the Lululemon Toronto Waterfront 10k in mid-June, so I have that to look forward to. Strategy for that race will depend on how knee rehab goes.

After that? Well, I do want to chip away at my time from this race. I learned a lot from my first marathon, and I want to use that learning experience to get stronger and faster. But I won’t be signing up for another race just yet. Not until I see how my legs do over the next 4 to 6 weeks. Then I’ll make a final decision about a fall marathon. Stay tuned for that if you’re curious!

I’ll also do a follow-up post soon with lessons I learned from my first marathon. They might be helpful to others, or they might just be good for me to reflect more on as I train for the next one.

Overall, I’m super happy with how this all turned out, and I can officially say I’m a marathoner now.

On to the next one!