Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Vancouver USA Marathon Race Report

Vancouver USA Marathon (26.2 miles)
June 19, 2011
Vancouver, WA

Time:  4:23:44 (10:01 pace)

Sometimes your well laid plans don’t go as planned.  You can spend half a year training and preparing for something and things just aren’t in the cards on that specific day.  That is what happened to me on June 19.  Ever since finishing the Portland Marathon last October, I decided that I was going to train to finish a marathon in less than 4 hours.  Just something about a marathon finishing time in the “3’s” sounds more appealing than 4-something. 

So beginning in January I teamed up with my Ironman coach from last year, got a new marathon training plan and dug in for 26 weeks of hard training.  In the beginning, I was pleased with the results.  I had crushed my 5K personal best time by a few minutes and less than 24 mins.  My heart rate threshold increased (max HR I can sustain for a period of time) and everything was going super.  I even had a phenomenal half-marathon race finishing way less than 2 hours in May.  Everything was looking good.

Race Day

Everything comes down to race day and I have to say I wasn’t completely prepared.  I had done the training, but in the last week or so, I was not well rested, nor had I stuck to my nutrition plan.  Above all, my dear grandmother had a stroke in the middle of the week and passed away on Saturday.  My thoughts and energies were elsewhere, that is for certain.

But no excuses, I still had a race to run and I was going to stick to my plan and take it one section at a time.

This was the first year for the Vancouver USA Marathon and I was totally impressed with the energy, organization and whole experience.  They did a fantastic job and I sure hope this event grows in popularity because it really does showcase the beauty of Vancouver and its people.  There were about 3,000 participants entered in both the full and half marathons.

We started out from Ester Short Park in downtown and started making our way out to Vancouver Lake.  This 14 mile out and back was going to be the most difficult in my mind because it is rather sparse out there.  Not much in the way of spectators or things to look at.  But thankfully, there were lots of people out there cheering and I even got to see Wendy at mile 10!  Yay!!!

The plan for the first 5 miles was to run a 9:22 pace (my overall goal was 9:07 to finish in 3:59).  I have a tendency to start out way too fast so if I am going to err in this first section, then I’d like to err on the side of too slow because I will need that energy later.  Although starting out much slower the first 2 miles, at Mile 5 I was right on time.

The next section (mile 5-20) I would boost my pace to 9:02.  In my training runs I noticed that after 3 miles or so I started feeling great and could tick off some amazing paces once I got going.  So I wasn’t worried about having to bump it up at this point.

All was going fine until after mile 13.  We had to climb a train overpass and here was where I had to walk for the first time.  I used this opportunity to chew on some pretzel sticks I had brought along.  I was feeling just kind of flat at this point.  I was slugging down my EnduroMax (protein/carb/electrolyte) drink and some Gatorade G2.  Plus I had taken in 2 PowerGels by now.  I was just feeling depleted already and this was way too early to feel that.

Once down the overpass I was able to get back on pace as we made our way into downtown Vancouver.  But I was hurting.  Not physically so much, such as muscles for example, but just little energy.  The weather was very humid and muggy.  I noticed I was sweating a lot and could feel the salt on my face, arms and legs.

The Wheels Come Off

Miles 15-18 my pace was getting slower and slower.  I wasn’t able to keep the 9:02 pace but slipped to 9:18, then 9:29 and 9:38.  I looked at my pace sheet and I was just 1 minute 30 seconds behind at mile 18 and knew I could still make my time if I could dig just a little deeper.  But there wasn’t any gas left in the tank.  I had sucked down the last of my 4 bottles of nutrition, I had 1 gel left that I was saving for mile 21 and I just wasn’t feeling right.

As we rounded a corner on the north side of Hwy 14 there was a hill that I hadn’t planned on.  Mentally, I think I cracked.  It wasn’t Mt. Everest, but it was still big enough that I was wondering how in the world would I get over this hill and still have enough energy to get me the last 7 miles?  In reality the hill wasn’t anything spectacular, but when you are extremely fatigued, just lifting your foot onto a curb can be challenging enough.

I was forced to walk and here’s where I pulled out my phone and text-walked that I was at Mile 19 and was in pain.  I came to the realization that I wasn’t going to make 4 hours, but I still had this personal record time of 4:27 that I wanted to beat and I wasn’t about to let that slip away.

The remaining 7 miles were really tough.  Luckily the event had an aid station every 2 miles.  I grabbed some Gatorade and filled my bottle with water.  I was able to find a gel and slugged that down.  But what I really wanted was bananas, licorice and potato chips.  I find that in these long distance events I crave solid food quite often.  The marathon course to an Ironman triathlon is well stocked with all sorts of goodies and there’s an aid station every mile.  Some Ironman triathletes declare that they won’t do a marathon outside of an Ironman, I am begging to see why.

My pace continued to slow as I had to run/walk even on the flats at times.  I tried to remember some of the strategies of my coach like focusing on your “box” of things that you can control and take things at one section at a time, or count my steps, or find a mantra or whatever.  But this wasn’t working.  My thoughts were with my Grandma and the family, my kids that were at home, with Wendy and her being up with her mom all night, and a bunch of other stuff that just kept me from focusing on the event.   


One minor complaint I have about the event and at first I didn’t think much about it until just before the finish.  The mile markers were off.  The mile marker signs they had posted on the course came up about a tenth sooner than what my GPS read.  I didn’t think much about it because it isn’t uncommon to have some variations in the distance.  But when I got to the mile marker 26, I was happy that I had just 2 tenths to go!  My GPS read that I had over 3 tenths.  Well, my GPS was right and I don’t know where I got the energy for that ‘extra’ 528 feet.

My finish time was 4:23:44 and beat my previous PR by 4 minutes.  One would say, “yay, congratulations!”  But if I was shooting to simply beat my PR by 4 minutes I would have executed an entirely different race plan and I would probably feel a 100 times better at the finish.  I can’t recall what hurt more, the finish of the Ironman last year or the finish of this marathon.

It was such a relief, though, to see Wendy at the finish.  She made me this awesome sign and greeted me with her beaming smile and warm embrace.

So….What Now?

This was my “A” race for 2011.  The rest of the year I am going to do what my coach says, “have fun with your fitness.”  Which means to go out and do whatever you like to do… hiking, biking, triathlons, climbing, etc.  I have to stay active because I just love to eat.  But more than that, I love the feeling I get from having an active lifestyle.  I don’t ever want to go back to lazy Mike.  So this summer I plan to do a half-ironman triathlon in a few weeks “just for fun” with no time expectations, but just to have fun and enjoy the moment.  There are a few shorter triathlons that I’d like to do in the local area.  I would love to do some long hikes this summer to places that I have never been.

This weekend is Ironman Coeur d’Alene which I am volunteering for.  My plan is to sign up for the event in 2012!!  I have a 40 week training plan I am going to do that will hopefully shorten my time by almost 2 hours.  This October my sister and I and her fiancĂ©e are going to Kona, Hawaii to volunteer for the Ironman World Championships!  That will be incredible and is a chance of a lifetime.  I can’t wait for that.

Thank you everyone for your support and for your prayers and warm wishes with the passing of my Grandma.