Race morning started at 5 a.m. when my alarm went off. I got up about ten or fifteen minutes later. Last night I had carefully put out all my clothes, shoes, gear, and the race bib and chip, so that I wouldn't be searching and digging this morning. So getting dressed was really fast. I was able to sit down with my book and read a little while I ate my breakfast of a banana and a mini-breakfast cookie.
Then I headed out to Starbucks. Having now done a bit of walking around the area on Sunday afternoon, I am aware of any number of Starbucks in the relatively near vicinity. But this morning the only one I knew was the one from Saturday, up on Blanshard and Fort, about a 15-minute walk from the hotel. I got there at 6:15 and met two women who were standing outside... waiting for it to open at 6:30 (although the clerk had told them they might open a little early). I stood there for a few minutes, until someone told us there was another one two blocks up and one over. So I decided to make the trip. That store was supposed to open at 5:30 a.m. on Sundays, but the door was locked and the people inside were clearly still setting up. They weren't letting me in! So it was back to the first Starbucks and by the time I got there it was open.
Of course, now it was so late (6:30 a.m., and somewhere out there the "early start" marathon runners were beginning!) that I only had time to drink a little of the latte on the way back to the hotel. After that I had to head out for a warm-up run and get lined up for the race.
I have a pre-race potty ritual that I swear by, which is to go three times before the run to squeeze out every drop possible. The first time is when I first arrive at the race (this would be in the hotel room before leaving for Starbucks); the second is before my warm-up run (back at the hotel room before going out again); and the third is after the warm-up and as close to the start of the race as possible, taking into consideration the number of porta-potties available and the length of the lines.
The start of the race was in Menzies Street, over on the far side of the Houses of Parliament. I jogged over that way, then looped around the large starting area. I noticed in Menzies Street that there were pace signs in the starting areas for both the half marathon and marathon. Conveniently for me, there was a small block of porta-potties not too far from the two-hour (half) sign.
The line was already long when I joined it at about 7:10. I knew that my chance of getting through it by 7:30 was questionable. I wanted to try, but I have started other races feeling (possibly psychologically) that I had to go and that abated after I was in the race for a while. Either it was all nerves or perhaps there was some evaporation going on due to sweating!
There were still quite a few people ahead of me when the announcer declared the wheelchair start at 7:25. Everyone in the line around me looked nervous. One older lady decided to give up and head for the start.** A teen-aged boy behind me was jumping around and looked very upset, as his mom told him to calm down. I felt sorry for him, but I had no intention of giving up my place in line as an act of charity.
The girl in front of me and I agreed that thanks to chip timing, it would be better to even miss the start (as unsettling as that would be) rather than lose time using one of the potties on the course. A moment after that she got to the front, ran to the next opening door, and then it was my turn. I simulated the race to the finish line when I saw an open door, hopped in, and was a little bit surprised when it appeared that the half a latte and a few sips of water I had drank really did make a difference. I was quite relieved that I'd made it to the front of the line in time! That would take quite a strain off the first part of the race.
I flew out of the stall and into the group of runners by the two-hour sign. Even though it had been clearly a close call, I still stood and waited several minutes before the starting gun. (And then I stood and waited longer before the crowd actually started moving forward.) I would have thought that my porta-potty victory would be a good omen for the rest of the race, but in some ways it was my most triumphant moment! (Not that finishing the race wasn't great too.)
I was wearing the hot pink shirt and light jacket that I had bought at the Expo. (The vest in the picture above was for pre-race warmth in the early morning hours.) I had been so concerned about being cold—as it turned out, that wasn't an issue. Sunday morning was just slightly cloudy (and the sun came out later), and it was balmier than the previous mornings had been. I started out wearing gloves, and soon realized I would not need them. I peeled them off and tossed them to my mother as I passed her in front of the Empress, about a mile into the race. I soon became rather warm and sweaty in my two layers. In retrospect, I could have been perfectly happy in just the long-sleeved shirt. But I didn't even attempt to take off the jacket. I had pinned my number to it, and except in cases of greater emergency, I don't like to take the time to change clothes, even just take off a jacket, in a race where every second counts.
Once the crowd around me started moving, we had several false attempts to break into a jog, before having to resume a walking pace again. There were more than 4,000 runners in the half marathon and that made for a slow march to the starting mats!
Even after I crossed the starting line and was able to start running, the pace was definitely constricted by the mass of runners surrounding me. I was able to weave around some people, but at other times just went with the flow. Which, as it turned out, was about a 10-minute pace for those two miles. 10:11 in the first mile and 9:50 in the second.
Which was bad news for me on so many levels. After those two miles I knew it would be almost impossible to finish under two hours. I already had two minutes to make up for, in addition to getting my pace up to a two-hour speed. I didn't have to do complicated math to know it was a highly unlikely proposition. The question was, how bad would it be? Oops, I mean (keeping positive), how well could I still manage to do?
Mile 3 was somewhat encouraging, an improvement at 9:15, but firmly cementing my realization that there would be no two-hour half today. And for the next ten miles I fluctuated between about 9:15 and 9:45, my mood fluctuating accordingly. Oh heck, here are my splits, just to show the crazy rollercoaster.... 10:11, 9:50, 9:14, 9:26, 9:15, 9:22, 9:48, 9:50, 9:26, 9:37, 9:45, 9:06, 9:14 (I did attempt, and succeed, at putting on a kick in the last two miles), and the final .22 mile (which is how far it was to the finish line) at 8:37 (7 mph) pace. (Not a single mile under nine minutes...an unfortunate record for me.)
On a different day I would have loved this course. There were no steep hills, only a number of gradual inclines both up and down. Usually I would do pretty well on the uphill in this type of route, and pick it up in the downhill. I did pick it up, I think (hence the faster miles) but just not enough.
One rather unusual thing about the course was the recurring out and back portions, two major sections of the run where the runners going the other direction were running opposite you. It was definitely better to be among the runners in the “back” portions! In the second of the outs and backs, we began to meet up with marathon runners early into their race. We had about four miles to go at that point, and they were pretty near their beginnings, relatively speaking. While it was exciting to see the first marathoners—they were going so fast!—I think from the perspective of the marathon runners it would be hard to see people finishing up just as you were starting.
Despite the huge number of runners in the race, or perhaps because of it, there were only a few people that I saw frequently enough to “compete” with them. One was a girl wearing a white shirt with a “14” on it. I saw 14 off and on throughout the first several miles, usually just a bit ahead of me. I lost track of her after a while, and you know what that probably means.
My next running companion (unbeknownst to her) was a tallish middle-aged woman with very thin legs wearing long black tights. We did a little bit of that back and forth, ahead and behind thing for the middle miles. While she was ahead of me, I was fixated on her backside. (Not in a pervy way.) Despite her thinness, she was unfortunately wearing tight bikini pants under the tights, which were alarmingly visible to the, um, naked eye. I think there was even a small hole in the seam of the tights, displaying a flash of pink panties. I ask you, where was her mirror this morning? The last I saw of her was her VPL's pulling ahead of me again and disappearing into the crowd ahead.
Finally, the last person I remember noticing was in about mile 10, a trim, spry woman with a face like crumpled tissue paper. She might very well have been the oldest woman in the race. Well, maybe not (since according to the results, there were two women over 80, neither with times fast enough to be in my vicinity at mile 10). She was running about my pace, just a few steps ahead of me. I lost track of her too, I like to think because I passed her and left her behind. I hope that is the case. I hate to think that I was beat by someone who must have been at least 30 years older than me! (Okay, 20 years, with too much sun time under her belt. Or under her hat, whatever.) Although I admit, it's very possible.***
It's not like I didn't pass anybody. Of course I did, thoughout the race, not just in the first few miles. I was passed a lot too. With the vast number of people running, we were passing and being passed constantly. Most of the time there was enough room in the road to pass easily. But occasionally it was crowded enough that I had to slow, or veer around someone to get past. This happened more in the first few miles, less as the crowd spread out along the way. I was always a little irritated when I had to work hard to get around someone who was much slower than me. Unfair, I know, because there were surely people who felt the same way about me. But I started by the two-hour sign, which should have meant that the people around me were planning to run about the same pace as me. So in theory, the people ahead of me should have been faster, not slower.****
And especially, there should not have been walkers ahead of me in the first two miles. That really ticked me off, when I had to veer around intentional walkers a mile or more into the race. Clearly, these were not people who were just taking a walk break—much too early for that. In order for them to be that far ahead, they would have had to start in the seven or eight minute mile blocks. What's up with that? Why weren't they back behind the twelve-minute miles? Chip timing does not make up for the delay in being held back by slow people ahead of you! This is a pet peeve that I have had in many different races, and if I do the Jingle Bell Run this year, you'll hear it again, because that run is the absolute worst for walkers infiltrating the running groups.
On the other hand, I had no problem with passing people walking in the last few miles. That made me feel quite strong, as I continued running while they chose to take a walk break. Even though I was running slower than I typically would, I never really had a desire to walk.
On one or two occasions I did, however, have the thought cross my mind—"I could just stop." I mean stop, not walk. It was just a momentary flash of a thought, and it startled me. To fight it off I drew on Dick Beardsley's talk from the pasta dinner, and on Dean Karnazes' directive, "If you can't run, walk; if you can't walk, crawl." I had no desire to crawl, or walk, so my only choice was to keep running. (The picture at left may look as though I am about one step away from crawling. The only reason I have included it—because it is surely the worst race photo ever—is because the people around me look just as bad as me, if not worse!)
And I thought about Deena Kastor and Paula Radcliffe. Did Deena stop in the 2005 Chicago Marathon, where she seemed to get thinner every mile and by the end was just nerve and pumping arms? No she did not; she won it! Did Paula stop in the Athens Olympics when she had crippling stomach problems?***** Well, yes she did, but not because of that, it was because of injury. And in Beijing she kept running to the finish despite her troubling stress fracture, even when she had no chance of winning a medal. Of course Deena had to drop out of the Beijing Olympics, due to her stress fracture.
But those exceptions really prove my theory. Paula and Deena are elite athletes forced to drop out of races they could not win, due to serious injury. I am not elite; there is no way I could win under any circumstance, and I was not injured. Hence, stopping was not an option.
I don't mean to suggest by this detailed discussion of stopping that I ever really considered that possiblity. It was simply a fleeting thought that crossed my mind, after which I spent several minutes reviewing the reasons I absolutely would not stop.
I worked really hard at not looking at the Garmin too much. I didn't look at the pace measurement at all, at least not until the last couple of miles. I probably glanced at the timer every half mile or so, not too bad. Of course seeing the split times didn't do to much for me. I realized as I was getting into the last few mile, the last 5K, that it would be a real challenge to even finish with a 9:30 (or so) pace. I vowed that after I hit eleven miles I would really work at putting some speed on for the last two miles. After all, what's two miles? And I did, picking it up to 9:06 and 9:15. Then as I got to what should be the last tenth of a mile—but turned out to be almost a quarter—I pushed harder and threw myself across the finish line just at 2:09 on the clock (2:06 on my watch).
I tried to throw my arms up triumpantly as I crossed the finish line, but I could only hold them up for a second. Who knows what the finish line photographer got. Probably my arms flailing in front of my face.
Speaking of arms, here's a strange phenomenon. My shoulders were achy during the first few miles of the race. I have never experienced that before in a race. It's like I was doing pushups yesterday...instead of just a few sun salutations with downward dog, plank, and chataranga in the hotel workout room yesterday morning. Hmmmm.
Regarding the hotel workout room, I do rather regret my time on the treadmill yesterday. Well, I don't regret the calorie burn, so that's something, but I really wouldn't recommend a difficult, tiring run on the day before a half marathon. I'm just saying. My quads were giving me a bit of a reminder today.
However, I must say that my other mildly disabling condition, my sore achilles tendon/heel/ankle, did not give me any trouble in the run. I warmed it up gently with the long walk to and from Starbucks, and did a ten or fifteen minute warmup run before getting in the pre-race porta-potty line. I hardly felt a twinge during the race. (So I guess I can't lay any blame there....)
And as long as I'm throwing out excuses, let's not forget my cold. Thankfully, I was much, much better by Sunday, but maybe, possibly I was still a little debilitated? My mom, who's been sharing a hotel room with me for the last two night, says she could hear me wheezing at night. Normally I am as quiet as the dead.
And I can't ignore that niggling thought, "two seconds per pound per mile," which could potentially make a big difference in a half marathon distance. Of course, when you consider my time in Victoria compared to the time I would like to achieve in Las Vegas, I would have to lose about 20 pounds to make it by this method alone. Rather unlikely. (Let me rephrase that. Not. Gonna. Happen. Nice as it would be!) So maybe ten pounds, and the rest of the time will have to be dropped the old fashioned way—training!
So after my return home I will work on those ten pounds, and I will work on my comeback training.
But on the day of the half marathon, I still had the rest of my Victoria weekend to enjoy, and Garmin said I had burned up 1600 calories in the run. So, bring on the post-race... recovery!
I had hoped that my mother would be able to find me at the end of the race, but it was far too crowded for me to spot her. I learned later that she had seen me after the finish line, but the fencing surrounding us prevented any good pictures or even making contact. But we had agreed on a back-up meeting place in the hotel at 10 a.m.
I shuffled through the channel of runners as we exited the race area. We passed into a tented area where food tables were lined up. I grabbed a couple pieces of banana, a couple orange sections, a chocolate chip cookie and, after some deliberation, a doughnut. I hesitated over the doughnut not because I was making a wise food choice—I was not—but because although there were several varieties of doughnut, none was a favorite of mine. Had they had maple bars, or old-fashioned doughnuts, or even apple fritters, I would have been all over the doughnuts. In the absence of something better, I grabbed a jelly donut. But after eating half—okay, two thirds—I threw the rest away. It wasn't worth it if I didn't love it.
When I finally got out of the race compound, I was in an area I didn't recognize. But I just walked down Douglas Street and soon made my way into the convention center and on to the Empress, where I found my mother in the upper lobby. Since she hadn't managed any race photos, we went outside for a few post-race pictures.
After the photo op, I headed up to the room for a partial change of clothes. I had signed up for a post-race massage, and I wanted to get out of the sweaty shirt and jacket, but not take the time for a shower and full change of clothes yet. So I swapped out my dripping tops for the official race shirt, brushed my hair (also wet) and gave it a quick fluff with the blow dryer, and then put my medal back on just to make it clear to everyone that I had finished the race!
When I checked for the massage, the registration gal said I had about half an hour before my name was called. So I took a quick jaunt into the expo to check out the final sales. I ended up with a very cool shawl neck running shirt in bright blue, as well as a wind-blocker jacket in the same shade. Then I went back and settled myself in the waiting room with a magazine to await my massage.
I didn't have to wait too long before my name came up. The massage therapist led me into the big room where massage tables were lined up like a Civil War hospital ward. I laid down on a table, fully clothed of course, and proceeded to experience one of my best massages ever. The therapist dug deep into my inexplicably sore neck and shoulders, my back, glutes, legs—every abused and achy part of me. The massage therapist I see here at home is good, but this was so intense and amazing. After the massage was done I thanked the therapist for the great massage. She said that I receive it well... and I most certainly do. Unfortunately Vancouver Island is a little far to travel for a regular massage... I wish I could import the therapist home to Everett! Maybe I need to look for someone at home who will beat me up a little more.... (I mean a massage therapist, of course!)
(However, I must say that even a great massage could not prevent me from being sore and achy later on and during the night.... Advil was called for.)
After hanging out in the lobby for a while taking advantage of the wireless internet (complimentary as I'm in the Fairmont's President's Club—the only freebie I came by this weekend), I returned to the room to shower and dress for tea.
Afternoon tea at the Empress is an elegant affair that almost compares to tea at Brown's Hotel in London.
As I settled into our corner table, where I could gaze out into the tea lobby but also out a window, I had the sensation of being back in London, back at Brown's Hotel before they redecorated the tea room from its classic country house style to a more contemporary—though very elegant—decor. The view here, however, was pure Victoria.
The afternoon tea is a traditional set menu. We began with a small dish of strawberries and cream and a large pot of Empress afternoon blend tea. Then the waiter brought the silver cake stand layered with tiny sandwiches (all my favorites—smoked salmon pinwheel, curried chicken, cucumber—and a couple of new kinds—mushroom pate and cream cheese mixed with grated carrot and pickled ginger, very tasty); scones with jam and cream; and assorted petite pastries (shortbread cookie, marzipan cake—like battenburg cake but in chocolate and white instead of pink and white—miniature lemon tart garnished with a strawberry and a swirl of meringue, chocolate mousse in a chocolate cup, and chocolate cake with a vanilla cream filling and chocolate ganache—like a high class hoho. Pun intended. Except that I really mean a dingdong, and that's just not as funny.) Note that I am making a point of saying "tiny," "petite," "miniature," so as not to seem too piggish!
The sandwiches, traditionally our favorite part since we always work up a good appetite by tea time, were on the bottom of the three-tiered cake stand. In the middle were the two scones, two little pots of strawberry jam, and a small cup of whipped cream. Finally, the sweets were at the top, a generous selection of rich treats. I will say, without shame, that I had no problem eating my way through all the courses!
After tea we took a walk outside the hotel. It was the first time that we had wandered out into downtown Victoria without being on the way to somewhere. Up until now I had been involved in race prep and a casual stroll about did not fit into that. Also, I had no compulsion to go shopping (beyond my splurges at the race expo) and, let's face it, that's usually the main objective of going out! As we walked, I saw across the street Munro Books and Murphy's Tea, two places that would normally appeal to me. But realistically, I certainly didn't need any books and I had plenty of tea, including the souvenir tins that came with the Empress afternoon tea. Along the way I saw at least two Starbucks (and one or two more when I was out later), making my desperate search for Starbucks this morning seem a little silly!
Our only real stop was at a small store where I replenished our supply of diet coke. At the cash register, I impulsively added two candy bars. One was a maple cream chocolate bar for my father. The other was this.
Back at the hotel I stayed in the upper lobby while my mother went up to the room to rest. I was typing away busily on my laptop when my mother reappeared at around 5:00. "Did you know the power is out?" she asked.
I did not. The table lamp beside me had gone out, but I thought it was a burned out bulb. I was using the computer on battery power and the overhead lights, apparently on generator, were still on. Additionally, it was still light outside so reduced lighting was not really noticeable.
Concerned about our dinner prospects, I hurried outside to see if the deli where we had planned to get sandwiches was still open. They were closing the doors even as I approached. All the other restaurants, delis and convenience stores, were either closed or closing as well.
On my way up the street I was aggressively panhandled by an older woman with grey hair. She asked me if I had any change. I said no automatically, not wanting to open my purse to dig for the change in the bottom. Unlike most panhandlers, she didn't just give up and walk away, but said (insistently), "you don't even have a dollar?" I said I didn't have any Canadian money. She said she could take American money. So I broke down, opened my purse, and pulled out a dollar. When she saw me separate the dollar bill from another dollar or two, she actually said I should give her two dollars, because she wanted to get some coffee and a sandwich. I wanted to say "So do I, but I don't think anyone's getting anything with the power out"—but instead I just said "no" firmly and walked away. I half expected her to follow me and rob me, but I figured she was skinny, I could probably take her, even if I couldn't outrun her (which seemed likely, given the outcome of the half marathon).
As I walked the darkened streets, I felt quite gloomy about the potential lack of dinner. After all, I had run 13.1 miles and I would like to have something more substantial than just the tea goodies from several hours earlier. I wished I had at least taken more banana pieces from the food tent! All we really had left was Fiber One bars and breakfast cookies. Although—and this thought cheered me a bit—there was probably still hot water in the pipes, so I could also make some oatmeal with tap water.
I phoned my mother to say I was coming back, and she told me that the power had just returned! I looked around and sure enough, there were lights on in some of the stores. None of the closed shops were reopening, though. However, with power back in the hotel, that meant that room service would be available!
And that's what we did for dinner. Instead of the very very expensive dinner entrees, we opted for pizza—not too expensive, and a rare treat for me. Since we were forced to turn to the room service menu, and after all I had run the 13.1 miles today, a calorie splurge seemed not unreasonable (how's that for a passive double negative).
Not only did we have the cheesy pizza, Sleepless in Seattle was on TV! Pizza and Tom Hanks, what more could I ask for?
My final venture of the day was a trip outside to take a picture of the Parliament Houses by night. Actually I did it twice. The first time I had forgotten that I had removed the picture card from the camera!
We were lucky to have had such nice weather for the run, because even when I went outside late in the evening I could feel moisture in the air. By Monday morning it was quite grey outside. I don't know what the weather was like for the rest of the day on Monday in Victoria, but by the time we returned home to Washington, it was raining and stormy. The wind was whipping leaves across the freeway in gusts reminiscent of the beginning of the Wizard of Oz!****** Since Monday was Thanksgiving in Canada, I'm sure that the race organizers were thankful that the marathon had been on sunny Sunday rather than murky Monday!
And that is the end of the Victoria Half Marathon story.
*Although I didn't check the chip time until the next day, Terri knew abouit the same afternoon! And check out her beautiful New England foliage pics as well!
**I had earlier heard this woman telling someone about a race where she didn't have a bathroom and she ended up "running wet." Lovely. I guess we know what her back-up plan was.
***Looking at the age group results, I can cling to the likelihood that I was probably not beaten by an old lady. Of the eleven women age 70 and up, none finished faster than my time. Of the 25 in the 65-59 group, only two were faster than me. But if she was 60-64, I was probably beat, as 14 of the 57 in that group were ahead of me by the finish.
****In retrospect, I think I should have started in the eight-minute pace group. While that is faster than I would ever be running in a half marathon, I think it might have let me start out at closer to the nine-minute pace I wanted.
*****Fans of the grotesque can read in detail in Paula's autobiography how Paula chose to, um, relieve herself of the stomach cramp problem. All I can say is that the skimpy underwear-like running costumes that elite runners favor cannot have been helpful in this situation!
******And who would be riding a bicycle across the sky? I'll just leave that to the imagination.