It took me a couple extra days to finally post this thing, but I’ve been pretty busy since Sunday. Sunday’s half marathon was part of the BMO Vancouver Marathon’s 40th anniversary running. For me, the day was just about perfect on all accounts and I got something right that I don’t often get right – pacing. The weather was absolutely perfect and my run was about as good as I could expect it to be, given all the possible scenarios that could have played themselves out. On less than four hours sleep, I cranked out a far better run than I thought I could.
The alarm went off at 4:45am, but I’d hardly say I jumped out of bed ready to tear up the course. I got to bed pretty early – for me at least – with the intention of a good night’s sleep, but for some reason the zees just wouldn’t come easily. As I finally drifted off somewhere around 1am, fewer than four hours of sleep hardly bade well for a good race. After I finally rolled out of bed around 5:10, I decided I’d fuel with a small serving of oatmeal and that proved to work pretty well. With the race starting at 7, somewhere between 2-300 calories of simple/complex carbs with a little protein a couple hours before race time is probably the ideal pre-race meal.
We got downtown around 6:20 and parked just east of Main in Chinatown, a mere five or six blocks from the start line under the Georgia Viaduct. Parking was actually pretty easy and, with the meters not in effect until 9am, we didn’t have to pay to park while we ran. I usually think my 2009 Boston Marathon shirt is a little too over-the-top audacious yellow, but it just seemed to be the ideal thickness for a brisk, clear 6 degree May morning. The porta-potty lineups were long enough that I was pretty sure I’d miss the start if I waited, so I took a quick warmup run to Mickey D’s by Science World and back and I was set. After all, since I won’t eat at McDonald’s they’ve got to be good for something, right?
Before Prospect Point
When I’m less than fully trained for a race I often convince myself that I have to head out fairly fast and get some early gains, then hang on like grim death, since I don’t have the wheels to hold the pace I want to through a full race. This is, of course, utter hogwash and goes against all well-worn and proven racing advice. On this day I did no such thing. Given my training circumstances I wanted to just do a hard run strong and vowed I would start slowly and build. Given that last year’s BMO half was a pretty slow 1:37 and the First Half in February was a 1:33 with a bit more hill and speed on my legs at the time, I expected this one to be somewhere between the two. While I don’t follow pace bunnies, I decided I would line up around the 1:30 bunnies and try to stay in their general vicinity as long as I could.
I headed out from the start line much slower than the 6:51 mile required for a 1:30 and, by three miles in, I was still sporting a 7:10 pace. This was an unusual and good thing for me, considering my normal approach. At this point I felt strong, with lots of reserves in the tank to tap. Knowing that I’d lose a little time on the Prospect Point hill in Stanley Park, I decided I’d try to get up to a little faster than a 6:51 per mile pace by the time I hit it, so that meant gaining a little over :20 per mile over the next five miles. At the water station closest to four miles I took the first of my two gels, figuring the lift would help me get my pace up to where I wanted by Prospect. I couldn’t quite get there, but was damned close, running a 6:52 mile overall when I got to the base of the hill.
After Prospect Point
As I headed west on the downward rolling section of Stanley Park Drive just after the Prospect Point crest, I was running a 7:00 mile overall. It was at the first water station after the crest I decided to time my second gel to give me a little kick to gain back some time going down toward the water and it seemed to work. The downhill begins around mile 9, meaning I’d lost about 1:10 overall on the hill. I wasn’t sure if I could gain back enough time or hold a strong pace, given how recent half marathons had gone. In particular, during the same race last year, I never got my pace nearly as high and had no recovery and kick after Prospect. This year was a different story. While I didn’t quite get back into 6:52 range for the race, I did slowly manage to gain back time.
By the time I was down on Beach Avenue, heading toward the Granville Bridge, I’d recovered to a 6:55 mile overall. I just didn’t have the push to get any faster at this point, but I felt strong and really didn’t notice any significant muscle fatigue or similar symptoms. Coming up under the bridge toward Pacific, things began to tighten ever so slightly, but I was remaining steady and solid and, given that this was around the 12 mile mark, I knew that I wasn’t going to let any significant pace slippage into my run.
Cruising along Pacific and across the finish line, I felt great. I could have pushed more earlier, but as in the past I’d have paid more later and either slowed down significantly, or run into other problems. All in all a solid run. My Garmin said 1:31:07 for the run, while my chip time was 1:31:09, both of which are significantly faster than I expected to run. It’s hard to explain how I shaved over two minutes off the First Half, but I’ll take it. This time was good for 113th overall in the half, 96th out of 2368 men and 8th of 277 in my age group – easily the best half I have run in years. While I’m not sure a sub 1:26 PB is in the cards again, I’m certain a sub 1:30 half is.
I’m hopeful that this is the start of some long overdue racing improvement. I’m taking this week off running and then putting in a solid 7-8 weeks of training for the Scotiabank half on June 26th. I’ve also got the 5 Peaks BC SFU run on June 11th. I’m hoping my knee will be able to tolerate a good weekly hill and speed session, but we’ll see how things go.