Following my second marathon on June 1, I barely ran at all. I wasn’t trying to avoid running, it’s just that there was no time or urgency. I had moved; I was wrapping up a very difficult year of teaching; I was enjoying my summer holidays. I was content not running. However by mid-August, I was ready to jump back into the habit of running. I signed up for the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Marathon and bought my plane ticket. I had 8 weeks to train, but was already mostly conditioned, so I dove into the last 8 weeks of a 14 week regime.
My friend Marc is poised to run the marathon too. It is his first, so he is nervous. I am stoked. My running pace has improved so much in the last 8 weeks over my spring running that it is a real possibility that I will achieve my sub-4 hour goal.
Waking up early Marc and I force feed ourselves energy bars, bananas, water, and a bagel. Nipple band-aids are applied. We walk down to the legislature building from our hostel with another runner who is running her third marathon too. We drop our bag with sweater/extra gear at the bag check and get into our pace groups. I’m with the 4-hr gang, but bow to retie my shoes at the last minute and fall behind a little as the start gun sounds.
The mass start isn’t nearly as bad as in Calgary and I catch my group and then the 3:45 pace sign and I pass him and maintain a lead on the this group until km 25. Our first 10 kms take us through the upper city on Johnson St and then downhill through loops in Beacon Hill Park. As I leave the park, I hear a man cheer from his balcony, “Go Hulk Hogan!” I chuckle. Then realize he is talking about me because of my yellow bandana. Then I laugh.
I run past the first gel table and exclaim when I realize I’ve missed it. A fellow runner gives me one of his. He had grabbed 2.
Victoria is a small city, so the groups cheering are small and spread out through the course. It is still encouraging to see the familiar signs of encouragement. The route takes us along the coast and back again with little intervals into residential streets and the beautiful Oak Bay. I spot the marathon winner who finishes 90 minutes before I do as he runs by going in the opposite direction. He’s flying. The turn around point is at 23 km and I keep my eyes peeled for Marc who is a couple kms behind me. We high five.
I am carrying my phone with Runkeeper on. While training, the app makes announcements every 5 minutes like:
“Time: 55 minutes. Distance: 10.34 km. Average Pace: 5 minutes 19 seconds per km.”
This is really handy during training to help with keeping pace, but I do not want to annoy my fellow runners and I am interested in running on instinct, so I have the sound turned off. I can enjoy the resulting data after the race though. My paces end up looking like this:
0-10 km: 5:15 min/km
10-21.1 km: 5:23 min/km
21.1-30 km: 5:31 min/km
30-42.2 km: 5:51 min/km
The last 17 km take us runners back along the shore road intermittently. The cheering throngs are thinner now and running is more laboured. Cheering at this stage of the game is far less gratifying as the runners are not very responsive. I am surprised at a number of conversations that are happening in the 30s. I run alone ping ponging between about 40 runners. At one point I have 3 women running directly behind me. I quip “this reminds me a lot of high school.” “Because the girls were chasing you?” “Yes.”
I take my fourth energy gel at km 37. I pick up water and gatorade at each table and dump out half on the ground so I don’t dump it all over myself. I gulp it all down – unlike the sipping I do in training. I note at km 39 that I never have to do this again. I have a feeling that I will get my sub-4 hour time, but I can’t be too sure. I feel like I’m slowing down. I’m not completely discouraged, but I can’t really feel the joy. I run past a walking firefighter in full gear who is doing the marathon in the name of someone.
By km 40, I am a different person. I feel the joy now. In fact, I’m sort of emotional the last 2.2 kms I strip my head of the bandana, headband and sunglasses. There are a couple little climbs and descents, but they are irrelevant. I’m floating. The crowds are starting to fill up now. There is energy everywhere, like static between the runners. We’ve made it. I can hear the announcer ahead. There are placards on the ground stating 800m left, 600 m left. They seem to accelerate.
Then the final corner and I can see the finish line and the timer ahead. I’m floored that the clock is reading 3:53. I’m way faster than my expected time. I sprint the final 300 m and I discover that I have so much strength. I let my head fall backwards and allow my legs to do everything.
The line is behind me. I respond that I’m fine after a medic asks when I stumble a bit when I slow to a walk. I bow and accept the medallion. A light fabric jacket is given to the runners so they don’t freeze once our bodies cool. I enjoy orange slices and juice. I lay on the legislature lawn near the finish line. I check my chip time on my phone: 1:52:22. I cheer in runners until Marc crosses the line and we limp back to our hostel for showers and then food.