“Pump your arms the legs will follow”… words that had come with me from bootcamp in New Zealand to running a half marathon in Canada. Although I had been really good about lots of healthy lifestyle changes, going to bootcamp before the sun came up for 12 weeks, I hadn’t been doing proper long distance training runs. I was a bit worried, but knew “she’ll be right” and just went with it.
It’s a known fact that running is not everyone’s cup of tea; somedays I’m not even sure I like it. Until it’s done – then I love it and the feelings of accomplishment that go with crossing the finish line. But love it or hate it, I’d already signed myself up and paid to be one of the 16, 000+ runners participating in the Vancouver Half Marathon.
The Night Before the race
We’ve been staying with family friends in Surrey, the suburbs of Vancouver since we arrived. Shirley and the rest of the Stewart’s have been too kind putting up with us, and showed nothing but the utmost of hospitality, but with a 7am start time on a Sunday morning it was going to be necessary to stay and wake up close to the start line. I’d received plenty of email updates suggesting hotels etc, but it wasn’t until I got here and realised just HOW BIG a distance we were talking about, that I thought “hmmmm maybe I do need to book us something”.
After scouring the internet, the best deal that we could come up with was $169 for the night. Except, welcome to Canada, the world of “plus tax”. This is taking some getting used to. I cringed at the price tag, but there was not much that could be done, we had to stay in the city.
Thom and I jumped on the Sky Train to Waterfront Station, taking in the mountains and the greenery amongst the city on the way downtown. The end of the line takes you right to Canada Place, where I had to pick up my race pack at the Health, Sports and Lifestyle Expo. I wasn’t interested in buying anything, but gladly accepted free samples of flavoured Greek Yogurt. Thom had the Vanilla, and I tried Key Lime. We combined our almonds and coconut toppings and both were delicious.
Looking for cheap pasta, we were unsuccessful. The clerk at the hotel suggested we head over to Gas Town, because all the hipsters hang out there and it would be cheaper. Passing the tweakers, we wandered and looked on skeptically at all the places that looked like more than we were wanting to spend at that moment.
We roamed the downtown kind of aimlessly and very indecisively. I’d kind of given up any hope of pasta and was now willing to settle for any sort of carbs. Off Robson, we found a series of Asian style restaurants that were fairly populated. We settled on a little hole-in-the-wall middle eastern place called Falafel Maison, because I’d spotted a girl with a delicious looking plate sitting outside. Thom and I each had a platter of chicken Shawarma on rice with parsley salad and hummus. Not quite the spaghetti that most runners would have, but that’s okay, I’m not that hardcore anyways.
We got back to our room around 10 and I set out my clothes to wear the next day, to avoid fumbling around or forgetting something important. I made sure to set my alarm and then tried to sleep. The programs had told me to be on the trains by 6am making my way to the start line at by 6.30am. The operative word being tried… damn you overactive mind, you didn’t help the body that was going to be active tomorrow!
The Morning of the race
Thom woke me up. Right away I knew something was wrong, because in all the time I was getting up for bootcamp, Thom would sleep peacefully undisturbed while I got ready. If he was awake before me, it must not be 5am… or 5.30…. no, it was 6.10. The do-gooder in me wanted to freak out that I wasn’t following the rules, suggested in all those emails. But the Kiwi in me knew that whether I was there on time or not, my official race time wouldn’t start until I crossed the start line anyways. Chill out and get dressed.
Thom walked me to the sky train station down the road and kissed me good luck. Having my own personal cheering squad and knowing that he was going to be at the finish line, waiting for me was all I needed.
One the train, I made a friend. A Czech lady named Marcella, now living in California, who was running the full marathon (good on her!), and this was her 14th! We found our way to the start line together and then parted ways. The excitement was building in the air as I followed the general direction of the masses of people. Somewhere along the way before I even got to the start line, I ended up talking to someone else, as Chatty Kathy, the nickname I earned as a kid, still held true. Anita was from Vancouver, running alone, and had similar timing goals. We decided to stick together.
The atmosphere at the start line was amazing. Last year, Forbes listed Vancouver as one of the top 10 marathon events in the world to travel for, and I can see why.
It took us over 7 minutes just to get to the start line, once the race started. I wasn’t in any rush though. A nice slow pace to start, and hopefully keep me going. I’m not much of a talker, while I run (more of a buffer and puffer, slightly wheezing) but having Anita to chat away to, meant that I had to pace myself that little bit slower so I could still get words out occasionally.
When I’d slow down, I’d remind me myself “pump your arms, the legs will follow” and they did. I did the first 5k in 33 minutes, a new record compared to previous races, which I’d generally do the first 5k in about 40 minutes. One of my favourite things about this race, was that it was mostly flat or down hill. No rolling hills like the Kerikeri Half.
We came across the Cambie Bridge and it was magically stunning. Anita was native to Vancouver, and her love of her hometown was contagious. As we went along she told me all sorts of tidbits about the Expo Centre and why it was built, about the government, and all sorts that you’d only get from a local. It was like having guided tour of the whole city, I loved it!
We ran through China Town, where we were greeted by dancers in traditional costume, who were right into it with motivational chants and beats. Appreciating the shade as we navigated the course through the old buildings of Yaletown, Anita told me about the affluent folk and the shops to match; we’re talking a place solely dedicated to eyelash extensions, and maybe tints and eyebrow shaping. I couldn’t get my head around it, but hey that’s the beauty of traveling.
Since I ran with my iPhone, to track my progress, I couldn’t help but take photos of all the cool and clever signs the supports had put time and effort into not only making, but standing along the sidelines to cheer us on. I was running (slowly) so my photos didn’t come out the clearest and aren’t perfect centred or structured, but I wanted to have them nonetheless.
The stunning course led us through Stanley Park, along the seawall. I couldn’t help but think this would be the perfect spot to run regularly, it was so pretty and such a perfect morning. I was getting tired again, and wanting to walk more, but kept hearing that voice in my head “pump your arms, the legs will follow”.
And they did.
At about the 16km mark I began to lose Anita. We’d been running for two hours. She kept at pace, and I’d slow behind, and then sprint to catch up. Eventually I stopped sprinting. I walked a bit, then ran a bit more, but I was slowing down, although my pace was still faster than any “training run” or long run I’d ever done. I was enjoying the view and the atmosphere, and the overall experience. There were heaps of music stations along the way. At one point we’d past the radio station blaring Green Day: “this is my life on holidayyyyyy” – how appropriate, I thought and giggled to myself.
Later, past the 18km mark, I was no going slow, but I was determined to beat my previous time of 2.53. Nearing in on the finish line I allowed myself to keep up the brisk walk until the crowd thickened. As I made it down the last stretch, I gave it heaps, “pump your arms, the legs will follow” repeating over and over in my head until I crossed the finish line – 2 hours and 45 minutes. Part of me kicked myself for slowing up in the last 5km, knowing that if I’d kept my pace constant I could have done it in 2.30… but I told that perfectionist part of me to quit the shoulda, woulda, coulda ‘s. It was done and I was happy.
I got a medal for finishing, too! My first one ever (everyone gets them, but that’s okay). Thom snuck up behind me and gave me a kiss. We got all the free stuff going, and then headed back to the hotel where I was ever so happy to have a bath and not be sweaty and stinky anymore.
After the race
We set off back down to GasTown, to take a few photos of the old Steam Clock, and then continued wandering to Canada Place, around the seawall and eventually over to Stanley Park again. By the time we’d done all over our aimless wandering, we figured we’d walked an additional nearly 7km. I clocked a lot of kilometres that day, but it was a great way to enjoy the stunning 30 degree weather and gorgeous scenery.