My First Marathon

I am invited to run the marathon by my sisters who run the half-marathon. I fly into Vancouver on May 4th and pick up our racing packages at the convention centre and then spend a couple days in Squamish with both my sisters and their lovely families.

Even though I take a couple melatonin tablets the night before, I awake at 2:30 am and can not get to sleep again. Salomé and I get up at 4:30 to cook a pile of oats and get our gear together. We are joined by Salomé's neighbour, Pauline, at 5 and drive to collect Saison. We head to Vancouver. We park downtown just 2 blocks from the finish line and take a crowded skytrain to King Edward and walk en masse to Queen Elizabeth Park. The three half-marathon runners start their race a little after 7 am and leave me waiting for another hour as marathoners began to arrive on site.

In the hours previous, I knock back an Advil, chasing it with 3 bananas, a granola bar and a big bowl of oats (that I couldn't finish). A little ibuprofen helps the joints keep from inflaming. I apply some lip balm. Attach my bib #3427 (I know right? 23 x 149). Bundle up my sweater and pants and check them for pick up at the end of the race. Tie and retie my runners. Attach band-aids to my nipples. Put my handkerchief and headband on my head. Go to the toilet again. Put my belt of drinks and energy gels on and put the two gummy fruit packets into my pockets. Wander the crowds hoping to glimpse some old college mates that I know have arrived to race. I never see them. Get into my group.

My corral is the 4:00-4:15 time and though I know that I have miscalculated my time, I decide to leave with them. The day, weeks really, before the race, I am filled with dread: I know I am going to suffer, the possibility of not completing the race or possibly injuring myself is real. The electric mood in the crowd of runners is infectious though and I think to myself, "if they aren't spooked, why should I be?"

I am impressed at how quickly the group thins as we take off. People are out cheering in the first couple kilometres - mostly family members. A wife and a couple kids hold a sign saying "Go Daddy" and parents raise a sign "Go kick some asphalt sweetie!" The first mile burns by and I cruise by the kind volunteers at that first table as they hold out dixie cups of water.

The air is cool during the first 90 minutes. The sky remains clear, but we run in the shade and it really doesn't heat up until the very end, and even then it isn't painfully hot.

The course leads us through residential streets to what is a side road beside a conservation area. It's a steady uphill climb. We get to run down the hill near the university and then run around the UBC campus to the beaches. Leaving the university at around km 15 I notice sharp pains in my left ankle. I had brief feelings like that during training, but never anything lasting, so I attempt to shake it out as I ran, rocking my foot front and back and consciously keeping my foot straight. It helps, but the pain returns a couple times each kilometre. As my mind drifts, my foot turns in to remind me. So I repeat my ritual through to the end of the run.

I come along side a man at km 17. Ron starts talking to me, saying we are running the same pace the last few kilometres - I am more recognizable than he is (the red bandana), so I take his word for it. Ron has run a couple marathons, but has only trained 4 weeks for this one. He is huffing and puffing and I am not. I chalk it up to the altitude training in Calgary. I leave him behind at km 21.

I sip my electrolyte mix dutifully and decide to risk some Gatorade after 10 kms. I never drink a whole cup, just tiny sips. I take water on occasion, two at some tables just to pour one on my head. I rely mostly on my own concoction.

As we run along the beaches toward the Burrard St. Bridge (km 29 I think), I begin to really enjoy the run. The sight of the ocean and the people out enjoying the day makes me realize how awesome it is to be there that very moment. Spectators start calling my name and telling me how great my pace is, how awesome I am doing and they are right. They are speaking the truth and I am able to hear it. Up ahead, a young boy, about Blaise's age, is holding out his hand trying to high five runners. He is on the left side of the track and I am on the right, so I veer over to where he is and give him a solid one and say "thanks dude." It is one of best high fives I've ever gotten. The run isn't a run anymore, it's a ride.

I slurp my first energy gel, a pinapple tangerine GU, at km 22. I take my second as I approach km 29 only to see that they are passing GUs out there. I take two and ingest them in the 30s. My stomach isn't affected negatively at all by any of the Gatorade or GUs for which I am very thankful. I don't feel weak or zoned out at any point during the run. Instead I rock to the music blasting from the half dozen bands along the course and I deeply breath the moist air.

Crossing the bridge brings us the closest to vehicles. Buses and trucks pass going the opposite direction just inches from my right elbow. It brings home how different I am as a runner among the millions of people in Vancouver that day. There is a thin counter-stream that I am caught up in and it feels enormously special.

We hang a left after the bridge and make our way along the sea wall around famous Stanley Park. It is at this point that I begin to see the fallen. Runners sit on benches, push against posts to stretch their calves, limp. It is sobering to realize that I have caught up to these people without injury (save my persistent ankle pain). Their faces speak pure disappointment.

A percussion group that includes steel drums hammer out a rhythm that drives me to sprint for a minute. I remember my ankle and slow to a jog.

At km 32, the 4:15 pace bunny passes me and I exclaimed "4:15 pace bunny! that's awesome!" He's an awkwardly tall runner and he sort of skips ahead of his pack. This group has set out 5 minutes after me, so if I stay with them I will finish at about 4:20 which is within range of my goal of under four and a half hours. I am delirious with anticipation.

I maintain my steady run and stay with the run 10 min walk 1min pace group for about 15 minutes, but their pace is not mine and they get ahead of me. I kept my pace knowing I won't finish more than 10 minutes behind them.

The km 38 sign appears much sooner than I anticipate. Burrard Inlet is on my left and the rock faces to my left periodically spout water which runs across my path. Four kilometres remain and I am no where near exhaustion and I haven't hit the inevitable "wall." My heart flutters.

The sky scrapers appear around a bend. The final 20 minutes lie ahead and I simply want to drink them in. They pass by too quickly. Everyone I pass knows that this is it and they cheer. I cheer back. As I am greeted by the massive steel structures, I note that I have the entire street to myself. Spectators are held back on the sidewalk with barriers and I am alone running in the city. My sisters are screaming my name. I see a banner and my name comes over the speaker. Medics keep eye contact with me. A silver and red medallion is strung around my neck. I am home.



Anonymous said...

Very fun to read...I cried of course! What an amazing experience! I'm very proud of you and your sisters!

Debby said...

I left the previous comment...

Dan the Man said...

Super Congrats! I've been waiting for this post, and almost called you tonight to find out what happened.

And thanks for not posting "after" photos of your nipples, although I'm perplexingly curious (to know how the band-aids faired, of course).

I'm going running tonight in your honour (second run this week!)

Zaak Robichaud said...

Thanks ma.

Thanks Danny. I wanted to take a bit of time to compose this one. It was such a profound experience.

Honestly, I didn't experience any chaffing at all. My running shorts were light enough and designed in such a way that I was fine south of the belt. My nipples were fine too and the bandaids stuck it out for the entire run. I think too that because my pace was not so aggressive, my shirt didn't move as much as it would on a 3.5 hour runner.

Good job running. Set some goals bro.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the wonderful description of that day. We were so excited to see you come around the corner and cross the finish line! You did a great job in your training and it paid off. :)

Dan the Man said...

Have been out running more in the past 2 weeks than all of last year.

Montreal Fall half-marathon is the goal. I've done it twice - once in 2:18 and the second in 1:58. Both times I walked small sections.

Goal would be to sub 2h again, but without walking (which may get me a great time - if I keep up the training).

Thanks for the inspiration!

Regarding leaving this comment, apparently I'm a robot. Twice now.