Four days before the marathon, in the middle of adjusting someone, I felt a sharp pain in my low back, and I suddenly could not standup. My interns took over, adjusting everyone the rest of the afternoon. By the following morning, my husband had to help me into a standing position. I was in tears the pain was so bad, wondering why now, what was I going to do. I was supposed to run a marathon in 3 days and I was headed to the airport. I was determined to go, since I’ve had this before and it often clears up in a few days, but running 26 miles is no easy task and this time it seemed bad.
I iced my back as much as I could (getting ice from the airport restaurants) as I took a combined 7-hour flight across country. I walked as much as I could, I stood in the back of the airplane but the long periods of sitting didn’t help. I piled on Traumeel as well as Deep Blue (essential oil). Later on as I awoke in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I could not push myself into a standing position. I crawled to the bathroom and eventually pulled/pushed myself up. The following day, I iced it often & continued to apply Traumeel & Deep Blue; alternating sitting, walking, standing & a lot of stretching. If I did anything for too long it hurt, but walking felt best. It was getting better but I was nervous if I was even going to make it to the starting line. I even (oh gosh am I going to admit this on the internet?), yes; I even took a couple Advil. Anything to make it better.
By Saturday it had improved, but the pain was still there. I went on a slow 2-mile run and felt that catching pain every ¼ mile or so, so I was extra careful about every step. I continued to stretch, walk & lie down. Walking felt best, but I didn’t want to walk too much to tired myself out. I didn’t take anymore Advil (can’t do those NSAID’s within 24 hours of endurance events) and prayed that all would be fine. At this point I knew I would make it to the starting line, but wasn’t sure how far I’d make it. I packed my credit card, train ticket, and money all into my race belt, thinking if I had to drop out, I’d have a way to make it back to the hotel. Never before had I questioned whether or not I was going to finish.
Race morning came and I felt much better, but still had pain in my left hamstring and piriformis. I arrived at the start (after a train ride and a one mile walk from the train stop!), and spent an hour relaxing, stretching, and sorting my thoughts. Anytime I had a vision of my back going out and me falling to the ground, I tried to immediately erase it and think of positive thoughts. I changed my thoughts to finishing, even if my back went out, I would somehow walk/crawl if I had to. I wondered if there was a time limit.
The skies were clear blue and it was warm; very warm so my plan of starting off with arm warmers and gloves did not happen (they went into the checked gear bag with the other clothes I didn’t have to throw away). They played “Oh Canada” and for some reason I was expecting the Star Spangled Banner as well (ah, I am in another country, why would they play that??). The gun went off for the 5,000 marathon participants, and after about 2 minutes I crossed the starting line.
I chose to not worry too much about my time; I just wanted to watch my posture, take care of my back, and just finish. My mile two, I was really sweating and reminded myself to make sure I hydrated at all the water stops. However, I don’t think they were ready for the heat as everyone was stopping at the water stops; they were all backed up. You couldn’t just run through and get water, often times you’d have to just take it off the table yourself or wait for water to be filled up, it was slightly chaotic. And this happened at almost every water stop.
It was gently up & down for the first 5+ miles and I felt okay, my leg slightly tight but no sharp pains. We then hit the real hills, including a long steady steep climb that was about ¾ mile long, followed by some slightly flat sections, but the rest was gradual climbing. I didn’t notice these little hills the day before when I was driving, but I was certainly feeling them. Everyone was running in the shade. Forget about taking the inside corner at turns, the shade was what runners sought.
A little before mile 10 we finally headed down the hills and onto the coastline. I was looking forward to 16 miles of flat (or so I thought). I finally looked at my watch: 9:10 pace and I was okay with that. I knew 9:09 was a 4-hour marathon and that was my initial goal, before I saw all the hills, before I knew it was going to be hot, and before I hurt my back. I wondered if I could keep it up. I kept thinking of the injured people of Boston. They were in pain, not me. This was nothing. My pain will be gone in a few days. Their pain is forever. Those who lost limbs will never run a marathon again on their own two legs. That is pain; my leg and back was not pain. I was doing a good job tuning it out and focusing on them. I felt okay and by this point, felt confident I was going to finish.
The run along the water was beautiful, looking out on the ocean and snow-capped mountains. It also was a little cooler, more shaded and a little less crowded, but water stops were still a challenge. Between miles 10-18 we ran up several more hills, nothing huge but big enough to throw off a nice steady pace. At mile 18 I figured I was more on a 4:04 finish, if I could keep going. But then came the bridge up over the water back into downtown. Damn bridges, I hate them. They are like fake hills. This one kept going and going, seemingly never ending. The sun was pouring down and though fans were cheering everyone, it still flat out sucked.
At the bottom of the bridge we turned into Stanley Park and headed out for a 6-mile run along the park. On the bright side, we ran along the seawall of this park, a small winding sidewalk with huge jagged rocks to your right and cliffs/ocean to your left. If it wasn’t huge cliff-like rocks, it was huge trees. I called them Redwoods but the locals told me they were Douglas Firs. Whatever they were, you’d need 2-3 of me arm-in-arm to go around them. Beautiful huge trees that shot high into the sky, and they were right next to us.
Despite this beauty, the miles didn’t seem to come fast enough. Even though my nutrition was right on target, I was achy, I didn’t have a lot of energy and I was feeling like I was going as fast as I could. I’d look at my watch & my pace kept slowing. While people passed me, I have never seen so many people walk in a marathon. Dozens of people were walking. I guess I wasn’t the only one feeling the heat.
A little after mile 25 we came out of the park and onto a city sidewalk. That was not fun. It wasn’t corralled off, so you ran along with fans watching & walking. It was a little crowded, and fortunately, after about ¼ mile we turned onto the street and you could see the finish line up ahead. Yes, UP…another hill. Not like the one at Marine Corps, but still a hill.
I crossed the finish line in 4:13 and got my medal put around my neck by John Stanton, runner, author, and Canadian hero. I walked a bit, sat down, and then broke down in tears. I had such mixed emotions. I was so happy to finish the race, when just 3 days earlier I didn’t know if I was going to be able to start it, let alone finish. At the same time, I was so disappointed I wasn’t able to be tougher for the people of Boston. And I was upset I didn’t break 4-hours, as I really wanted to. But with those hills, that would have been a huge feat. After all, nowhere on this race website does it say “fast, flat course” — it’s all about the scenery.
Two days later and I’m realizing that I was pretty tough on that course. Of all the people I talked to after the race, everyone went 15-30 minutes slower than they wanted to. The heat wasn’t expected (it was 69-degrees when I finished). I picked this race because I wanted to see Vancouver and I wanted cool weather. A majority of my friends would be thrilled with a 4:13 finish. I have nothing to complain about.
I have had a fantastic time. I loved the sights, I loved the cleanliness of the city, I loved the people I met, and the seafood was amazing. My post marathon dinner was the most amazing salmon I’ve ever had. Caught right there, never frozen, not shipped across country. And my indulgence was a margarita; after all it was Cinco de Mayo, even though it really isn’t celebrated there. I loved how they say washroom instead of bathroom; way out instead of exit; kilometers instead of miles; grams instead of pounds; liters instead of gallons. After all it was a different country.
I loved the trip and really encourage all my runner friends to add this marathon to your bucket list. Chances are it won’t be as hot, but it couldn’t get any sunnier. It was clear blue skies for my entire trip, 60-70 degree weather, and just amazing. I’m a very lucky person.