This morning I participated in the BMO Vancouver Marathon, my first race since arriving in Canada. Because I did not want to train for a full marathon I just did the half marathon (21.1 km), a distance that is doable without specific training if you are in decent shape and run regularly.
It was a warm day in Vancouver, with clear blue skies and temperatures up to 25 Celsius, so I was happy that the race started at 7 AM already. My dad drove me to the start line (he did not join today) where we had a drink together, and then drove to the finish line in downtown Vancouver.
At the start line I was assigned a place in the first start corral and because I was early I was at the front of all the runners. The atmosphere was very relaxed, very different from the races in China where I participated over the past years. Nobody was pushing or trying to get to the front, and people were talking with each other and having fun. The start was supposed to start at 7, but was postponed because there were problems with the course (no idea what happened, they didn’t announce it). People didn’t mind too much it seemed, and certainly nobody complained.
After the obligatory speeches, the Canadian National Anthem and a minute of silence for the victims of the Boston Marathon attacks, people thought we would start, but the course was still not ready. A short warming up session was organized and for some reason the elite athletes thought that the race would start right after that. So they started running, followed by many other runners but within 10-15 seconds everybody was stopped and had to go back into the corral. I had never seen that before!
A few minutes later was the official start and off we went. Because I was in the first (=fastest) corral I started off quite quickly, especially because the course was mainly downward sloping for the first 2-3 km. At 5 km I noticed that my time was about 20 minutes, which is too fast for me for a longer race, so I slowed down a bit. That was a good thing, because soon we hit downtown with a couple of uphill climbs. Quite heavy, especially if you know you still have 2/3rd of the race to go…
Because of the constant ups and downs in the course I did not really get into a running rhythm. Normally during a long race you run at one pace, but here you have to slow down on the uphills and accelerate on the downhills. I found it very tiring and the further I got into the race the more difficult I found the run. When we entered Stanley Park I thought we would mainly have a flat course from there, but the opposite was true: we did not run on the flat seawalk, but on the normal road that had some serious hills in it. I slowed down a lot over the last 5-6 km, I went from 4:30 min/km to almost 5 min/km.
But luckily we were almost there and after Stanley Park we only had about 1.5 km to go. Too bad that the last kilometer was uphill sloping as well: you could see the finish line in the distance, but you had to run slightly uphill to get there. But of course I made it and my time of 1:36:58 (gross time, net time is probably 10-20 seconds better) was not too bad considering the difficulty of the course.
My dad had managed to get behind the finish line (he convinced a race official that he should let him in!) and took a picture when I crossed the finish line. I was exhausted and immediately had some water, some coconut juice and a banana. I sat down for a few minutes and quickly recuperated. I noticed that my upper leg muscles were quite painful because of all the hills, another sign that this race was much harder than other half marathons that I ran over the past years.
All in all it was a difficult race, but also a very nice one. Friendly staff and organizers, a relaxed atmosphere before and during the race (with several bands playing along the route for example), and beautiful scenery along the course. I’ll be back next year, either for the half or the full marathon, but I’ll make sure I’ll do some longer and faster training runs with lots of hills in them!