I woke at 6 AM to the easy strains of my cellphone’s alarm and the cool darkness of an early east coast autumn.
Rufus and Simon – my mum’s two ragdoll cats – skittered into my room, eager to investigate my pre-dawn activities. Simon jumped on the bed and looked at me, his amber eyes still. Rufus mewled, rubbing his head against my leg.
I had laid out my race gear the night before – shirt, shorts, socks, bra, all stacked neatly on the chair in my bedroom. As I crept downstairs, I was careful to avoid the creakiest stair. I made it to the spare bathroom on tiptoe, where I brushed my teeth and washed my face. The last thing I wanted to do was wake my mum as I prepared for the day.
I am particular about my pre-race routine.
Clothing, face, hair, coffee, food, water.
It doesn’t matter how far or important the race – I find great comfort in this ritual.
Together with my cousin David – who was also running the race – I ate a bagel with peanut butter and watched as the rising sun softly kissed our backyard trees, leaving their leaves aglow in a golden green.
When mum woke she joined us, and we sat and joked about all-natural nut butters.
Before we left, she took this great photo of Dave and I:
As we drove out to the Musquodoboit Trailway, we listened to the CBC and shared with each other our favourite programs and hosts. We’re both big fans of As It Happens, This Is That, The Current and Day Six.
When we arrived, we picked up Dave’s race bib at the registration desk. Although the start line was splashed with sunshine, a tricky wind immediately cut through any lingering warmth we had carried with us from Dave’s truck.
For half an hour we joked and laughed and sipped water and used the porta-potties for the last time.
When the starting gun sounded, my feet were halfway numb.
I am always afraid of going out to fast. Time and again my need for speed has proven to be my Achilles’ heel, but today I decided to go for it.
And I’m glad that I did.
I ran a personal best of 41:03. I was the first woman and sixth overall.
I love running.
I love running purely and truly, and have written at length about this love.
But I also love to see others learn to love to run.
I love to see someone cross the finish line for the first time. See them marvel at their strength. Their resilience.
Revel in the depth of their heart.
In a brief moment, they are unrivaled amazement and awe.
Today was Dave’s first race, and he was extraordinary. When he first signed up he made a goal of finishing in less than one hour. He smashed that, completing the course in 58:18.
He told me prior to the start that he didn’t intend on doing any more races. This was pure bucket-list.
Less than one hour later?
I believe his words were something along the lines of, “I cannot wait to do that again.”
Before heading home to Halifax, we stopped at Martinique Beach.
Today, this stretch of the eastern shore seemed to burn extra bright.
A horizon of the sweetest blue, speckled with fat clouds. The brilliant sun.
White sand. Dunes that danced.
A fall air that burned our lungs and stung our cheeks.
And in that moment, I forgot everything: I forgot uncertainty and fear. I forgot that life can be unfairly underpinned by sickness and a suffocating sense of helplessness.
I had originally signed-up for the marathon, but I quickly realized that giving myself two and a half months to train for 42.2 kilometers just wasn’t nearly enough time. I knew that if I was to attempt the full race, I would probably end up in a wheelchair for (at the very least) the first week post-event, what with my inability to not give it my all once the gun goes off.
So I emailed the race organizers and asked them if it was okay if I could switch.
And lucky for me, it was!
There’s something to be said for knowing your limits.
I had my last training run on Friday morning – just a simple, quick five kilometer pre-work zip about New Westminster’s boardwalk.
I have been having some difficulty with my right knee and left hip – gifts left over from a completely overzealous Thanksgiving weekend, where I ran forty kilometers over three days because everything in my brain was screaming at me that I was unstoppable – and this was giving me some trepidation.
Not to mention, that following this insane running weekend, I went to a concert where I danced my heart out in giant four inch heels.
While unbeknownst to me at the time, this one hundred per cent ensured that my legs were very, very overdone.
Luckily, I have a pretty good physiotherapist who, on Friday, stretched me out, and taped up my knee, so – whether psychosomatic or not – I didn’t have any problems on that front this morning.
On the hip front however – phew. That was a different story.
Everything was feeling so good, until approximately kilometer fifteen, and then I really started to feel the tightness.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind to the beginning, and I will fill you in on all things hip-wise once we get to that point of the story.
Last night I had the best pre-race sleep of my life. I had a pretty full day, driving out to Tsawassen to pick up my race package, buying birthday gifts, and being bowled over with surprise presents from my ridiculous, handsome, brilliant and too-generous husband, so I was knackered by the time nine thirty rolled around.
After setting the coffee, and laying out my race gear, I crawled into bed and was asleep by ten.
I woke to my alarm at six, and did all my superstitious morning-of puttering.
Washing my face.
Putting in my earrings.
Drinking my coffee.
Eating my banana.
It was all comforting and good.
I even had a chance to burn a CD for Marc and I to listen to as we drove out to Boundary Bay.
My weather app had told me that the morning would be overcast and rainy, but the droplets were not to be found as we pulled into the provincial park’s parking lot.
The wind on the other hand – there was A LOT of that to be found.
I would soon learn, that the howling winds of the start line concourse were but a fraction of what we would encounter on the course.
While waiting in line at the port-o-potties, Marc ran into a work colleague, and we chatted a bit about racing and the day.
Then it was time to snap a few silly photos (including one with the Hamburglar and Grimace!) and take part in the group warm up. This is when all of the runners gather about and participate in aerobic exercises lead by exquisitely enthusiastic and warm volunteers.
Before I knew it, I was taking one last photo with Marc’s dad and then lining up with all the other racers.
When the gun went off, I kept repeating to myself, “take it easy.”
I have a tendency to go out too fast, and I really didn’t want to burn myself out in the first ten kilometers.
Boundary Bay is a hauntingly beautiful stretch of beach and marshland. It is also an internationally recognized “Important Bird Area” as it is a critical rest stop for thousands of birds – including the Red Throated Loon and the Sooty Shearwater – using the Pacific Flyway migration route.
I saw three or four hard-core birders out today along the route, not to mention many, many groups of migrating birds and water fowl.
For the first ten kilometers I ran in the shadow of two older men, and one woman – all three of whom were running the full-marathon.
My legs were feeling so strong, that at kilometer nine I slowly started to make my move to overtake them.
When I got to the turn-around (all courses today were out and back) I was buoyed by all of the volunteers cheering me on, and shouting things like, “Yeah! First woman!”
I could immediately feel my strides lengthening and quickening.
Although I (mistakenly) thought this momentum would carry-on until the end of the race, it did last for at least the next six kilometers, seeing as though I ran past so many other runners who took a moment to cheer me on.
I even ran by my brilliant friend Katie who shouted, “VANESSA!?” which just left me with the biggest smile on my face.
The only thing tempering my joy was the brutal head winds we had to face all the way back to the finish line.
Being smack dab on the edge of the ocean leaves one incredibly vulnerable to the elements, and there were times that I felt as though I was running against a brick wall – especially as we climbed into the higher kilometers.
By eighteen clicks, I was feeling pretty tired and both of my hips were tight and sore.
All I kept telling myself was, “you love to do this. You love to do this.”
Because I do! I really, really love running. And as I repeated this mantra, my muscles would slightly unclench, and my legs would loosen.
As I rounded the last corner, with approximately five hundred meters left, I encountered my amazing parent’s in-law (my consummate cheerleaders!)
Eric eagerly let me know that I was the first woman, and Cheryl was just cheering her heart out.
As much as I wanted to show them how much their presence meant to me, I had no energy left to do anything but propel myself to the finish line.
I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t break 1:30 but for a tremendously windy and cold course, I’ll take it. I mean, the first man finished in 1:18, which really speaks to the ferocity of the elements.
Plus I came first.
How crazy is that?
For my efforts, I received a gold medal, a hug from Grimace, and a free pair of Sketchers.
Well, the Scotiabank Half-marathon went down yesterday, and overall?
I finished with a 1:33 and placed 7th in my age group. Now while this is slower than I had initially hoped for, I think for the amount of time I actually put into my training, it is more than respectable.
Because, folks, that sub-1:30 time may have been a bit of a pipe dream.
Do you any of you other runner-peeps do stuff like that? Just assume that you should just be able to do something, without really thinking about what actually goes into achieving it?
I mean, thinking back to the Sunshine Coast half in April, I trained my butt off for that run, and it paid off – I ran a PB of 1:31.
And somehow, the outcome of that achievement was the (erroneous) expectation that come the next race I would just, well, run faster. Without putting in the proper work.
How silly can a gal be?
What it has made me come to realize is that while I can proclaim that “next time gadget, it WILL be mine!”
I just need to make sure I go for, you know, more than six or so runs to ensure it happens.
Anyways, I don’t mean to be making excuses for myself, it’s just something that I was really thinking about during and after my run, and speaking of which – IT’S RECAP TIME!
Sunday morning broke beautiful. I woke to the sunny, blue sky, freckled with the odd cloud. At 5:15am I was feeling well rested and excited.
I put the coffee maker on, and then washed my face, put my hair up, and slathered on a good layer of sunscreen.
I read a bit while I ate my breakfast – banana with peanut butter, piece of plain toast, cup of coffee, and two large glasses of water – before going upstairs at 6:00 to wake up Marc.
I cannot seem to say it enough, but seriously, he is SUCH a good husband. For all of my runs, he’s up with me, driving me to the start gate, and meeting me at the finish line. I know he’s super happy to come out and cheer me on, but he told me today that my speediness on the courses definitely helps. This cracked me up.
I LOVE HIM, TRULY.
He dropped me off at the start line at UBC around 7:00. My immediate thought was to find a bathroom, for one last pee break. My one note for the organizers is that there were not NEARLY enough port-a-potties. The line-ups for the facilities were monstrous, even with a little subterfuge on my part, I barely made it out before the firing of the start gun.
Anxiety – it’ll get you going!
Because of the long bathroom waits, I didn’t get to start as close to the start line as I would have liked, which meant that for the first 2 – 2.5 km I was bobbing and weaving in and out of people like Cassius Clay. At kilometer three, my attention briefly switched from finding my spot amongst all the runners to the AMAZING tuba band playing at the side of the course.
They were playing My Sharona.
ON THE TUBA.
I cannot really begin to describe just how epically amazing this was.
All in all, over the first 5k I was feeling pretty good – my strides were long, and my breathing quiet.
Up until I reached the six kilometer mark, and encountered five young men, each holding up signs with Forrest Gump quotes. Normally when I am running, I don’t respond much to supporters on the sidelines. I mean, they really pump me up, but I try not to channel my energy away from concentrating on the mechanics of my run.
However, if you know me, you know that I love this movie, and can pretty much quote the entire film at length.
I couldn’t help myself. As I ran past a guy with a sign that said, “RUN FORREST RUN!” I turned and yelled at him, “I GOTTA FIND BUBBAAAAA!”
He burst out laughing, and yelled right back, “JENNNNNNNNAAAAYYYY!”
I was past him by then, but I raised my hand and gave him the peace sign.
NOW. While this was all well and good (and hilarious, and I loved it) yelling out that quote really winded me, and it look me probably 1.5 km to get my stuff – breathing, stride, etc. – back in order.
“No more funny stuff Vanessa,” I told myself.
Running down the hill to Jericho beach I felt like I was flying. My mood was boosted even further when to my surprise, we ran past a bagpipe band at one of the parking lots, just up the road from Spanish Banks.
My “no funny stuff” plan was going absolutely great until about kilometer 10, when, down at the beach, I ran past two course photographers and without really thinking, I just catapulted myself into the air, and made the craziest, happiest face I could possibly muster.
The two of them laughed and thanked me for a great shot.
Great shot maybe, but that second burst of energy only served to zap me all over again.
Then I saw the split times at 10.5 km.
41 minutes!? Holy Dinah, I was moving, and most definitely too quick at that.
I told myself not to think about it, and just concentrate on moving as it felt comfortable. As soon as the pace started to hurt, I made sure to adjust accordingly.
Around kilometer thirteen, I zoned in on a few women who were running ahead of me, and made a point of trying to keep them in my sights.
I cannot lie, it was over the next three km that things really began to hurt. I could feel blisters forming on both of my feet, and overall, I just felt tired.
I tried to keep my strides as short and quick as I could, especially with every uphill (no matter how minor) I encountered.
At kilometre fifteen a young woman spectator yelled out, “I love Big Sisters too!” in response to my shirt. This definitely served to lift my spirits and put a bit of a spring back in my step.
Unfortunately, this pep was relatively short lived, and even just trying to grab water at the seventeen km station was difficult.
I felt like my arm was moving in molasses and I had to really slow down to make sure I even managed to grab the cup.
From there, all I could think about was getting over the bridge and getting to the finish line.
It’s strange. I love running. I LOVE it. But there are times, I tell you, when I cannot understand what the heck it was that compelled me to take part in this absolutely bonkers pastime, and everything in my being is shouting at me to just STOP.
Walk. Go lie down in that cool looking grass. Make this madness end.
But somehow, I just keep trucking.
I just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Amazingly, once I got to kilometre nineteen, things started to actually fall back into place. Nineteen to twenty flashed by, and that very last kilometer, although painful, was over before I knew it.
I wasn’t surprised when I saw the timer as I pulled into the finish line.
There was no way I was going to pull off a sub-1:30 with the pace I had held for the second half of the race.
But in the end, it didn’t matter.
Marc was there, cheering me on.
I received a lovely medal, and all the water, bananas, cookies, and yogurt that I could get my hands on.
And I raised $1,165.00 for Big Sisters, an organization that is near, and dear to my heart.
So while I chase the ever-elusive personal best, today I will sit on the couch, drink some chocolate soy milk, and enjoy.
With only two weeks to go until the Scotiabank half-marathon, this was my second to last long training run before race day itself.
I haven’t been sleeping super well of later – not necessarily badly, just not very long – so I was out the door just a little before eight.
Normally I eat light before any run over 10k, but I my stomach wasn’t feel too great from the day before so I went out after drinking just two cups of water, and one cup of coffee.
(I definitely made sure to go to the bathroom before leaving, lest I be tortured throughout my route by the need to relieve myself; be it a phantom need, or otherwise – I find it’s never best to really challenge those boundaries when the feeling does arise.)
For some reason I always forget how much I love running in the earlier parts of the day. There are fewer people out and about, be it on the road, in the parks, in the woods, on the paths.
Most individuals who are up are with their dogs, out for a stroll to pick up bagels for breakfast, or grab the Sunday paper.
Yesterday morning was cooler, but not cool.
My t-shirt and shorts were a perfect pair against the slightly overcast sky. For most of the route my overgrown bangs were toyed by an inconsistent, but gentle wind – a wind that didn’t seem to so much blow and it did bristle.
As if it too couldn’t believe that it had to be up that early on a Sunday morning.
And that it had been so long since I had cut my hair.
Look at this silly girl, running about when she could be in bed. Let’s give her fringe a little bounce – one to match the speed of her footfalls.
Good thing I always have an extra bobby-pin.
I thought a lot during my run.
I thought about new jokes that I’ve yet to try out, and old jokes that could be made better.
I thought about Father’s Day coming up this weekend, and my dad’s impending visit.
Unfortunately, even the greatest of runs can be upset by the most inane of happenings.
Yesterday it was the sight of a pile of McDonald’s garbage lying off to the side of the beautiful wooded trail that marked kilometers six to eight.
The worst is probably individuals who spit, and don’t look around to see if anyone is approaching them from behind.
If I had a nickel for the number of times I’ve almost been spat on, I would have a handful of nickels.
This is too many nickels.
After the rogue loogie hockers, it has to be the drivers who never bother to look for pedestrians at designated crosswalks.
I’m running to extend my life, not cut it short.
Next, it’s walkers who refuse to briefly walk single file as you run past, forcing you off of the pavement (you can just see their inner monologues of TWO ABREAST! TWO ABREAST OR DIE!), and dog walkers whose leashes are about twenty-feet long.
Why such long leashes dog lovers?
But in the end, these things are just little annoyances that can’t take away from the overall greatness of a run.
If anything, they make you wilier, more adaptable – they ensure that you’re ready for anything.